The Capitol Dome

Winter 2015-16

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11 Bootleggers "Infest" the Capitol: When Dry Spies and Whiskey Peddlers Roamed the Corridors of Congress by Jane Armstrong Hudiburg C ompared to the rest of the country, Washington, DC, seemed particularly "dry." In fact, some would even say, bone dry. Not in climate, but in temperance. e capital city's Prohibi- tion Era began in 1917, three years before the 18th Amendment banned alcohol sales nationwide, and ended in February 1934, three months aer the amendment's repeal lied the restriction in other jurisdictions. "Bone dry" members of Congress cheered when the District's saloons closed, while the "wets" rejoiced when they re-opened. During the intervening years, however, Wash- ingtonians could frequent one of the estimated 2,000 speakeas- ies operating in the city, or buy bottles of whiskey or rum from the thriving black market. In the Capitol, bootleggers happily obliged the anti-Prohibition senators and representatives, as well as the nominal teetotalers who voted "dry," but drank "wet." 2 According to many sources, dozens, if not hundreds of boot- leggers worked the corridors of Congress, including the first House and Senate Office Buildings, now known as the Cannon and Russell Buildings. 3 e most famous Capitol bootlegger, George L. Cassiday, commenced his career in the House Office Building (HOB), then moved his operation to the Senate side of the Hill. e so-called "Man in the Green Hat" claimed to serve "more dries than wets" at a time when pro-temperance members held a large majority in both houses of Congress. 4 In the course of conducting the door-to-door business, Cassiday and his rival salesmen had to dodge Prohibition Bureau agents, as well as the genuinely dry representatives and senators, who railed against congressional drinking. e oen unseen struggle between bootleggers, "dry spies," and pro-temperance officials came to a head in 1930 when the Washington Post pub- lished a series of articles written by "e Man in the Green Hat" and Roger Butts, a young undercover agent placed in the Senate Office Building (SOB). Full of intrigue and drama, these first- person accounts highlighted the difficulties involved in Prohibi- tion enforcement, while exposing the illicit alcohol trade occur- ring "right under the shadow of the Capitol dome." 5 *** A year aer Prohibition took effect nationwide, the Baltimore Sun declared, "ere are more distilled spirits in the Congressio- nal office buildings than ever before." One needed only to make "his wants known to certain employes [sic]," the reporter noted, "Many people would think that the dome of the Capitol would have a sobering influence on any one, no matter what his personal habits and beliefs might be. From my experience, however, the reverse was true." Capitol bootlegger, George L. Cassiday, a.k.a. "e Man in the Green Hat," 1930. 1

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