Wyrick: It’s 75 years since humorist H. Allen Smith took the first legal post-Prohibition drink (column)
Today marks 75 years since a reporter knocked back the first legal drink at the repeal of Prohibition.
Have a drink. H. Allen Smith did.
H. Allen Smith was a reporter with United Press International, as was your Beloved Uncle Randy. However, Smith took the first legal drink 75 years ago when Prohibition ended, not Uncle Randy.
Lots of self-important types in New York City claimed they took the first legal drink. They didn’t. H. Allen Smith did.
He tells us how he did it in Chapter 6 of his famous 1943 humor collection, “Life in a Putty Knife Factory.”
Greenwich Mean Time was the official timekeeper of everything in our spiral arm of the universe. In those days, cables and messages were dispatched from the New World to the Old World by means of the Transatlantic telegraph cable.
Along the way were placed repeaters to push messages along their way.
So, when the ill-conceived Prohibition experiment finally ended, Greenwich Mean Time marked the moment. The message flashed through those repeaters on its way to New York. At one of those repeaters between Greenwich and New York, H. Allen Smith was poised, his shot glass at the ready. When the message flashed through the repeater where he was stationed, he knocked back his shot, moments before the Noo Yawkers got their message.
We can bless or blame Gerrit Smith for Prohibition. Smith, no relation to H. Allen Smith, was an ardent abolitionist until 1865, when the Civil War ended (what was so civil about it?) and the 13th Amendment abolished slavery.
Gerrit, a man of great passions, cast about for four years before he landed on the evils of demon rum.
“Slavery is gone, but drunkenness stays,” he said. And the Prohibition Party was born. In 1919, exactly a half century after the party was founded, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, banning “the manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors,” unless you were Joe Kennedy, patriarch of the Kennedy clan and a bootlegger.
While we remain saddled with Kennedys, Prohibition was repealed in 14 years, Dec. 5, 1933.
Today, raise a glass to stealth and skullduggery. Here’s to you, H. Allen Smith.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.