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Boardwalk Empire

I'm watching HBO's Boardwalk Empire with fascination. It deals with the advent of Prohibition in the United States, and illegal bootlegging and manufacture of alcohol. I'll tell you what, I wouldn't want to drink that stuff they were selling that contained diethylene glycol.

During Prohibition all alcohol sales were banned. However, the federal government made an exemption for whisky, which could be prescribed by a doctor and sold through licensed pharmacies. Alcohol had been widely prescribed by physicians for therapeutic purposes. During this time, the Walgreens pharmacy chain grew from 20 retail stores to almost 400. They were like the medical marijuana dispensaries of their time. What is the medicinal value in liquor?

Evidently before prohobition Americans drank nearly twice as much liquor as today. I'm doing my part. When I get a cold, and if I don't have NyQuil, I'll take a shot of bourbon before bedtime -- for it's medicinal properties.

Is anybody else enjoying this show as much as I am?

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  1. I've sort of been watching the show, but I'm not sure I like it.....it's OK....I like the actors & the roles they portray as they evolve, but I'm not sure I like it all put together...

    1. I love the show.
      Also Gin really took during prohibition because it didnt require aging like Wiskey and thus was eisier to illegally produce.

      1. I've been watching & sort of enjoying the show. However, although I'm not disabled in any way, I find following it - particularly the early episodes - REALLY confusing. The photography is very dark, & many of the main characters look alike. I literally have to watch each episode, like, three times in order to get everything in perspective.

        Alcohol as a medicinal has been around a long time. When we were tiny little tots & had bad colds or the flu, mom's favorite drink for us before bedtime was hot tea with a tiny shot of "Rock & Rye", which was a bottle of rye whiskey that had sticks of rock candy in it. Sweet & soothing.

        And yes, yes, before the flamers show up - I'm not advocating giving alcohol to children. Just reliving a childhood memory.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Breezychow

          And I think every family has stories of rubbing wine or whiskey on a teething baby's gums to provide relief.

        2. Just when you get a cold?
          I know I'm doing my part too. Cheers!

          I've been enjoying the series and there sure are some similarities between the prohibitions of yesterday and today.

          1. I'm the daughter of a pharmnacist (he would be 98 now, if he were still alive); his father was a pharmacist too. There were lots of things thatwere used as remedies back in the day that are no longer legal. Alcolhol was said to be "for medicinal purposes" as a way to make it's usage by teetotalers (religious and otherwise) OK. Think Auntie Maude pouring a little brandy into her tea when she had the vapors. Paragoric (tincure of opium compound) was a common remedy for stomach problems. My granfather used to sell something called Mother Fletcher's Soothing Syrup, to be given to babies with colic. It contained an opium compound & sure quieted those fussy babies. "GI gin" was a cough syrup, and that was elixer terpinhydrate with codiene. It was clear, like gin, and had am ornage-ish taste. I remember that being sold in my dad's store back in the 60's, although it was considered a "controlled narcotic" at that point. That meant you could buy it without a prescription, but you had to "sign" for it, so (hopefully) the pharmacists could track the number of times you bought it. He had one particular customer who would make the rounds of all of the local stores so that she only hit each one every 2 weeks or so. My dad used to talk about being in Pharmancy school in the 30's and making bathtub gin at his frat house.

            17 Replies
            1. re: PattiCakes

              "GI gin" was a cough syrup, and that was elixer terpinhydrate with codiene
              Ahh, yes - it IS an elixir! LOL Mom always got had a bottle on hand for our really bad coughs. You can get something similar now (codeine cough syrup), but it must be an Rx. Often it's the only thing that will calm a cough in the middle of the night. AND help you sleep. :-)

              I've been watching this show and I'm enjoying it very much.

              1. re: LindaWhit

                I have my grandfather's old reciept (recipe) book from the pharmacy, which was in a mining and farming community in up-state Pennsylvania. It's a hoot. There are formulations for remedies for heaves (in livestock), gonorreah paste, ice cream and colic. Some use herbs, and some use ingredients, like opium, that you could not use today. Those were the days when a pharmacist (apothocary) was often called "Doc", and actually performed all manner of medical procedures when a real doc was not available.

                I also have the "sample" kit that my dad had to put together as part of a project in pharmacy school in the '30s. Consisting of mostly botanicals, there is a jar of marijuana amongst the collection.

                1. re: PattiCakes

                  WHAT a treasure, Patti! Both the old receipt book AND the sample kit! Serious collectibles - but I'm sure the sentimental value to you is far greater than anything else!

                2. re: LindaWhit

                  Actually, cough syrup with codeine is legal to buy without a prescription. The law changed quite some time ago. It is difficult to find a place that will sell it you, but if you have a pharmacist that knows you, he probably will. Just have to ask at the counter, and sign a log book.
                  What sucks is that it isn't covered by insurance, so instead of a co-pay it's about 15.00 for a small bottle.

                  1. re: Bobfrmia

                    Thats only true in some states. Most still require a prescription.

                    1. re: jla1960

                      Thanks for the clarification.
                      I guess they figure we need the codeine to get through the Winter.

                3. re: PattiCakes

                  "Paragoric (tincure of opium compound) was a common remedy for stomach problems." When I was having frequent problems of the lower GI tract, the only remedy was Immodium PG, which I had to sign for because it contained paregoric. Worked like a charm. And then one day the pharmacist told me it had been banned and pulled from the shelves. And then I was advised to stop my lifelong habit of chugging large glasses of milk, and that worked too …

                  We're stuck on "Boardwalk Empire", totally entranced. Yes, it's damned hard to keep everyone straight, especially since too many of the characters look too much alike, but this is the most involving HBO thing since "Deadwood". I think casting Buscemi, especially casting against historic type - "Nucky" Johnson, the real-life boss the character is based on, was a big bruiser of a guy - was a stroke of genius. Buscemi doesn't do menace so much as he does annoyance. He hates having to kill people, wishes the women would just do what he wants and stay out of his way, would much rather his rivals and henchmen both would try to accommodate each other and just concentrate on screwing the public instead of him. His level of sustained peevishness is wonderful to watch. My very favorite moment in the opening credits is when the filthy, foamy water washes over his shoes and retreats, leaving them perfectly dry. That's Nucky's self-image right there.

                  1. re: Will Owen

                    I didn't get into Deadwood, but I LOVED "Carnival" and, of course, "Band of Brothers" on HBO.

                    And you nailed the Nucky Johnson character. I didn't realize it was based on real life - and what a difference from real life it is! If Buscemi doesn't get an Emmy for this, they're crazy. :-)

                    1. re: LindaWhit

                      The (nonfiction) book that the series is based on is called Boardwalk Empire by Nelson Johnson. I wonder if that's where they got Van Alden's first name (I don't believe he is a real person).

                      1. re: Philly Ray

                        Excellent - thanks for the info! Might be a good book to get my Mom for Christmas, although she doesn't have HBO, so she's not able to see the series. I just think the period history would interest her.

                        1. re: LindaWhit

                          I bought it for my dad last Christmas. My dad used to hang in AC during the '50s and he told me that he saw Nucky Johnson in a club one night.

                        2. re: Philly Ray

                          I just downloaded the book on my Kindle, but probably will not get to read until after the holidays.

                      2. re: Will Owen

                        "My very favorite moment in the opening credits is when the filthy, foamy water washes over his shoes and retreats, leaving them perfectly dry. That's Nucky's self-image right there."

                        That's my wife's favorite part as well.

                        Oh do I remember my mom pouring the Paragoric down our throats when we had a stomach ache.

                        1. re: scubadoo97

                          My mom used to mix the stuff with some water, creating an milky-colored, kind of anise-flavored concoction. bleh (shuddering).

                        2. re: Will Owen

                          I love it! "sustained peevishness" hits the nail on the head! We truly enjoy this show. I am fascinated by the creepy IRS agent Van Alden.

                          1. re: Whinerdiner

                            Word is the character was based on J. Edgar Hoover. I am inclined to believe it. One of the creepiest experiences of my youth was lining up and shaking hands with Hoover. It was exactly like shaking hands with a … well, a handshaking machine. In a suit. In an airless room in the FBI building, in line with eighty other kids, and he's got this hulking young fellow behind him, and he's saying, "How do you do. Pleased to meet you. How do you do. Thank you for coming …"

                      3. When I was in medical school in the mid-80's, I did a rotation in a primarily Italian neighborhood and I remember the attending telling us to write orders for some wine at night for some patients. I can't remember the exact wording of the order, it was in Latin.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: saeyedoc

                          We had to have a script for the same written for my mother when she was recouping from heart surgery in a local nursing home. The doctor. felt a small glass of wine at dinner would perk up her non-appetite, and the nursing home would not let her have it without a script (afraid of a law suit?). It also gave us the opportunity to tell her she HAD to drink it because the doctor ordered it. Sure enough, it helped.

                          saeyedoc: your mention of the Latin prescriptions brought back memories. I actually learned rudimentary Latin working in my dad's drug store just from reading the scripts. He was forever sprinkling his eveyday writings with prescription latin or latin abbreviations as well (like PRN for "as needed"). I also learned to read very bad handwriting.

                          1. re: saeyedoc

                            In our neighborhood, the Italian matrons would have a small glass of red wine with an egg dropped in each doay.

                          2. I am loving this show - and in its honor, I will reprint here a posting I made a couple of years ago on another thread discussing Prohibition:

                            I have a copy of a privately printed book dated 1926 (right in the middle of Prohibition!), "Life and Letters of Henry William Thomas, Mixologist" by Charles V. Wheeler. It appears that Thomas was a much-admired bartender in the early part of the 20th century at various clubs and restaurants in Washington DC, his longest tenure being at George Driver's bar, described as "the first irrigation or service station on the east side of the [Pennsylvania] Avenue as one came away from the Capitol."

                            It's a fascinating little volume, containing a brief biography of Thomas, anecdotes from his career, real and imaginary toasts, recipes for drinks, quotes and quips on the subject of booze and bartending, all in all a delightful read.

                            In one particularly evocative passage, the author waxes nostalgic about the pre-Prohibition era:

                            "It is a tantalizing experience today to dip into a classical Hand Book of Bar Information for the year 1911. There are to be found the amazing wine production of the countries of the world for 1909. There is a list of the importation into this country of over two-hundred and fifty thousand cases of Champagne in 1910. There follows the Tariff rates on Ales, Wines, and Spirits and a table of the contents of different kinds of casks; comparative tables of liquid and proof spirits of all lands; the Chateaux wines of France and their classification; American equivalents of foreign measures and money; full instructions for cellar management; and price-lists wholesale for every kind of wine and liquor used in the trade, whether imported or domestic. A mighty business was toppled over by fanatics who knew the traffic only as RUM.

                            Just read these case-prices for quarts - and weep!
                            Guiness' Stout $2.80
                            Bass's Ale 3.10
                            Munich Beer 4.00
                            French and Italian Vermouth 6.00
                            Italian Chianti 6.00 to 20.00
                            German Wines 7.50 to 25.00
                            Clarets and Sauternes 6.00 to 40.00
                            Burgundy 10.00 to 40.00
                            Madeira 9.00 to 20.00
                            Port 9.00 to 50.00
                            Sherry 9.00 to 20.00
                            Hungarian Tokay 11.00 to 30.00
                            Sparkling Chambertin 28.00
                            Champagnes 24.00 to 100.00
                            Absinthe 15.00
                            Cordials 15.00 to 27.00
                            Gins 10.00 to 18.00
                            Three Star Brandy 14.00
                            14 year Brandy 20.00
                            30 year Brandy 30.00
                            60 year Brandy 50.00
                            U.S. Whiskey 6.00 to 16.00
                            Canadian Whiskey 12.00
                            Irish Whiskey 13.00
                            Scotch Whiskey 14.00 to 30.00

                            At a good restaurant, or in the expansive dinner served at home, we thought but little of serving beverages at each course..."

                            Man, imagine living through prohibition with memories like these! Thirteen years of hell.

                            1. I am also enjoying the show.

                              The mother of a close friend was a pharmnacist at a large metro hospital and she tells stories about how they would stockpile the leftover grain alcohol in a large jar in the closet for use at holiday parties so I am guessing the they must have used grain in the mixing of some medications.

                              My family definately gave small amounts of alcohol for coughs and colds. My German father (who was most definately not a drinker, maybe one drink a month) thought a bit of strong schnapps was the best medice for a cough.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: cleobeach

                                And just in case anyone needs to know, warmed blackberry brandy gets rid of the hiccups. :-)

                                1. re: cleobeach

                                  You are correct about the grain alcohol.

                                  My father's favorite remedy for a bad cold was to make a hot toddy with copious amounts of rum or brandy, hot water, honey, butter and some spices. The deal was that you had to drink it as fast as you could while it was a hot as you could stand it, then get into bed with the covers piled high and sweat it out. When I was pregnant & could not do the hot toddy cure, he made me an old-fashioned mustard plaster to help get hid of a bad chest cold. It wasn't nearly as much fun as the toddy.