The Prohibition Hullabaloo of 1922

Julia Ford, writer


My favorite part about her was that she was the only one in any audience who never noticed I was as drunk as a lord. Her innocence shielded her from my flaws, and her high regard for me preserved the picture of the seemingly benign, gallimaufry writer that I had become. It was, peradventure, because she had never truly seen me sober before. For the years that I had grown to love this vest-pocket sweetheart, she considered me to be her lionhearted paladin; a title I knew I’d never deserve.

My name is Luther Everett Cooney. I imagine if I had more agreeable friends, they would call me something less unwieldy such as “Ther” or “Luth.” This may sound somewhat daft to those with a three-letter name, but once you’ve been called using your full name by your sadistic, drunkard uncle, a name like “Luth” sounds quite pleasant. I began living with my uncle at the age of thirteen, when my mother contracted pneumonia and died shortly after. Since then, the only patriarch in my life has been Uncle Forest, a complicated bastard. I quickly learned that we only agreed when we were both indispensably hammered. So bad habits surfaced, and I soon became the spitting image of Forest. Twenty-three-year-old Luther Cooney, a tippler in a time that outlawed the very beverage that flowed through every one of my veins.


“Luther!” a voice dressed in bright yellow called from the front door of my rubbish apartment. “Have you seen the news! It’s shocking! I cannot believ— Luther! Why are you laughing at me?” I held my face in my hands to shield my hilarious expression from my presumptive girlfriend.

“It’s nothing,” I said as I coughed out the last of my giggles. “What’s the news, Evangeline?” She looked at me for two seconds and then proceeded to tell me a long, descriptive account of how a friend of a friend’s aunt heard that Chumley’s had been condemned a speakeasy.

“Everyone knows that Chumley’s is a bar. It’s no secret,” I spoke. “But they’ll never have any evidence.”

“That’s the thing!” Evangeline exclaimed. “This time they do!” I began to sweat profusely. Her voice turned into a muted haze as I sank deeply into regret. A line of questions filtered through my head, always ending on, “was it me?” I had been covertly working at Chumley’s since it opened earlier this year (1922), as a source of income. “As a prohibition-era speakeasy, Chumley’s became a frequent hangout for influential writers in New York City—including John Steinbeck, e.e. cummings, and William Faulkner” (Famous). Of course I never intended to be working illegally, -in fact, I’m rather good at writing. Romance novels mostly- but as it turned out, my publisher, a very conservative member of the anti-alcohol movement, would deny any piece of work I presented him accusing me of being “a drunken fool” and threatening to bring the law if I ever returned. Of course, his claim was undeniably true, but I was convinced that my inspiration was my alcohol, so what was the point in sobering up? Since I knew the business already for my own sake, I began working at Chumley’s so I could at least be able to pay rent.

To Evangeline, I was a first-rate novelist with no obstacles in making print. To my employer, Mr. Crowley, I was an obstinate fool and if I “slipped up again,” I’d be facing “a life without a tongue.”  I was incontrovertibly certain that he would fulfill his promise. I hoped with all my tongue that this “evidence” was not on account of another one of my slip-ups.

By the time I had gone through many conflicting emotions in my head, Evangeline was on a completely different topic.

“And I told her that the new Yankee Stadium will certainly bring some new business. Oh, Luther! Can we go look at the construction on the way back?” I snapped out of the stress-induced  state I was in and tried to recall what my plans were for this evening.

“Oh . . . yes,” I stammered. “Yankee Stadium after the AAPA meeting?” This meeting was “An organization of women calling itself the ‘Molly Pitcher Club’ [and] is violently opposed to prohibition” (Hanson). It’s not like she supported alcoholism, but her nature opposed the government in general especially when they took away personal freedom.

“Good! I’ll meet you outside the conference hall in two hours. Luther, maybe you should take a nap. Your eyes are as bloodshot as a bull with keratitis.” She kept talking as she made her way out my apartment door.

“And that’s why I love you,” I spoke softly to her phantom.

I waited two minutes after she left before I followed her footsteps down the stairs of my building. I didn’t want anyone seeing where I was going. I took a sip from the flask in my coat pocket and flew down the sidewalk on my bicycle, in a somewhat precarious fashion, towards Chumley’s.


“Mr. Crowley?” I inquired as I pushed down the top of the newspaper my boss was using to hide his face.

“Mr. Cooney. It took you long enough.”

“I came as soon as I heard.”

“You must be living under a rock. Come with me.”

Mr. Crowley got up off the bench outside Chumley’s and escorted me to the back alley. He hesitated a moment, looked me up and down, and then put one mammoth hand on my shoulder.

“Cooney, I have one more shipment before this whole thing goes to nothing. I can feel the raid coming. This time it’s sure.”

I looked him over. His eyes stared into my soul and I shuttered.

“One last shipment,” I said.

We shook hands as tradition, and he left me alone in the alley. I moved the wall of boxes behind me that made a makeshift car port to reveal a Durant Model A-22 that posed as the Chumley’s boozemobile. I began to feel the buzz from my earlier drops of courage as I turned the key in the ignition.

“One last shipment,” I repeated with a hiccup.

By the time I picked up the package I nearly collided with a group of four pedestrians, a rogue dog, and a fire hydrant. In my recklessness I had completely forgotten about my engagement with Evangeline.

“I’ll just go meet her now and drop this back afterward,” I thought.

Instead of heading back to Chumley’s I drove toward the conference hall near the hotel on 49th Street. By then, I felt drowsy and my vision became a blur.

“Keep it together, Luther. Just two more blocks.”

My vision faded and my arms and legs went limp as I began to lose consciousness, but in one last moment of clarity, an explosion of bright yellow crossed my front window to push -what I think was- a baby buggy out of the path of my rogue automobile.


Loud ringing, like a high-pitched bell that would not subside. Dusty haze mixed with the smell of burning rubber. Not a sound but the incessant buzz in my ear. I touched my forehead to watch my hand turn into a canvas for red paint. It finally registered what had happened. What did I hit?

Crawling out of my vehicle, a harrowing seen played before my eyes. About twenty feet from me, a pile of torn yellow lay in disrepair.

“It couldn’t be!” I whispered.

I pulled myself closer and closer, each movement opening my wounds. At last I arrived and turned over the small heap.

“Evangeline!” I cried out. “Evangeline, wake up!”

Her eyes painfully opened. She looked at me through two swollen slits as she tried to form words.

“Luther . . . you’re late.”

A mixture of blood and tears streamed down my face as I watched her eyes close for the last time.


It’s been ten years since that day, seven of which I sat in prison mourning. I ended the life of my greatest admirer and soulmate. Her death was sobering in itself, but after that day, I swore never to touch a drop of that traitorous poison. My biggest regret: I never revealed my true self to her. Knowing her, she would have supported me still. Even after her death, she supported me. I’ve authored nearly twenty six novels and short stories of all our times together, all of which have been published.

All those years I could have sworn it was the drink that prompted me to write but it was actually her. She was and still is the reason for all my inspiration.

Works Cited

“Famous West Village Speakeasy Chumley’s One Step Closer To Reopening.”Gothamist. n.p.,                  n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

Hanson, Ph.D. Prof. David J. “Molly Pitcher Club: Women for Repeal of Prohibition.”Alcohol                 Problems & Solutions. n.p., 27 Feb. 2017. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.


Blumenthal, Karen. Bootleg Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition. n.p.:                    Paw Prints, 2013. Print.

“Early American Automobiles 1921-1924.”Early American Automobiles 1921-1924. n.p.,              n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

Pow, Helen. “Inside the speakeasies of the 1920s: The hidden drinking spots that transformed                  New York City’s night life during the prohibition era and beyond.”Daily Mail Online.             Associated Newspapers, 26 Jan. 2013. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.