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Bootlegging raid puts Savannah in the Prohibition spotlight

Published: Aug. 16, 2021 at 11:21 AM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - On August 16, 1923, Savannah was home to one of the most significant early moments in Prohibition history and the Hostess City made headlines across the country.

The 5,500 square foot American Prohibition Museum in Savannah’s City Market traces the fight to ban alcohol across the country. It also highlights the black market businesses that flourished during the era and Savannah was at the forefront from the very beginning.

“Not only were we the first place on the American continent to have a successful law banning alcohol, way back at the founding the colony in 1735, but we were also a major part of the national bootlegging ring in the first three years of prohibition,” the museum creative director Travis Spangenburg said. “The largest federal raid happened right here in Savannah.”

In the early 1900s, bootleggers used large ships to bring liquor to the Georgia coast. Speedboats helped them shuttle liquor to the mainland, using the marshes to avoid the Coast Guard. Then the alcohol was sent north and west with help from some of America’s most notorious gangsters.

“They had connections to Bugs Moran in Chicago, they had connections to Al Capone,” Spangenburg said. “It was this massive national thing.”

In early August 1923, federal agents started trickling into Savannah, preparing to break up the largest known bootlegging ring in the country.

“When it comes time to write warrants, all of them are written out of a single room in the DeSoto hotel, instead of at the local police precinct,” Spangenburg said. “When August 16 comes, the raid basically comes out of nowhere and they indict 84 people on that day alone and over 120 indictments when it’s all said and done.”

Prohibition started January 17, 1920 when the 18th amendment was passed prohibiting the sale of alcohol. It ended December 5, 1933 when the 22nd amendment passed.

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