Toasting our spirited past

Included in the exhibit is one of the first crates of Budweiser produced after the 1933 “Beer Act,” which changed the legal limit for “intoxicating” beverages.

While the Constitution is revered as the founding document of this country, not much of it lends itself to car chases and shoot-outs. Those distinctions are largely reserved for the 18th and 21st Amendments, the enactment and repeal of Prohibition.

The National Constitution Center fully embraces the potential of that era of flappers, gangsters and moonshiners in “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition,” which vice president of exhibitions Stephanie Reyer calls “5,000 square feet of wonder and whimsy.” In addition to the usual info and artifacts, the surprisingly playful exhibition dedicated to that bleak, sober period in American history includes a re-created speakeasy complete with a dance floor and a Rube Goldberg-like gizmo to illustrate the machinations behind the 18th Amendment.

This raucous display of tommy guns, cloche hats and whiskey stills comes together in an attempt to answer an important question, posed by Daniel Okrent, author of “Last Call” and curator of the exhibit:  “How did a freedom-loving people instill a 14-year proscription — thought to be permanent — against buying a legal glass of beer at the same level as freedom of the press or freedom of religion?”

If you go

‘American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition’
Through April 28
National Constitution Center
$11-$18, 215-409-6700


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