Oakland Beach 2 - The Movies & the Speakeasies

Oakland Beach felt the effects of the so-called “Roaring Twenties” in a number of ways.  In 1919, World War I was over, many veterans returned to Warwick, the Treaty of Versailles was under way, and the Volstead Act to enforce Prohibition was passed over President Wilson’s veto. In the following year, the 19th amendment, which allowed women to vote, was ratified and Warren G. Harding, Republican was elected President of the United States.

For many residents of the Beach, it was a time of reaction and disillusionment. The beautiful, shiny, new world that was supposed to happen after the “War to end all Wars” never came about.  The act to banish the “demon rum” created new monsters, such as the bootleggers and the hijackers. The newly enfranchised women voters seem as naïve and foolish with their votes as did their male counterparts.  Political chicanery and corruption continued unabated.   The altruism and idealism of the Wilson years were replaced with selfishness and skepticism as the twenties decade continued.

Escapism through the movies and amusement parks was preferable to the stark reality of the day, and Oakland Beach was the place to go.  Many older residents remember with pleasure, the plays that were staged at the Casino and the thrill of going to their first movie at Joe Carrolo’s movie theater.  There were no streetlights then, and moviegoers had to carry their own lanterns when they ventured out at night.  The seats were nothing more than hard benches, the movies were silent, and music was provided by a lady at the piano.  Best of all, at least for a little while, war, graft, corruption and economic problems were forgotten.

In reality, of course, the problems continued.  The waterfront became notorious for the smuggling of liquor and Oakland Beach became infamous as an easy place to get a drink.  Because so many cottages were rented, it was impossible for the police to keep track of the “speakeasies.”  They would close one down and several others would open.  The word “moonshine” at Oakland Beach came to mean that on a moonlit night at high tide, the “bootleggers” would come up the Bay with another supply.  Nearly everyone knew where to go for the liquor, and for those who didn’t, laughter and piano playing late at night would provide ample clues.

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