–by Michael Pierce
THE GHOSTS OF EDEN PARK: THE BOOTLEG KING, THE WOMEN WHO PURSUED HIM, AND THE MURDER THAT SHOCKED JAZZ-AGE AMERICA by Karen Abbott. Published August 6 2019 by Crown. Photos courtesy of the publisher.
Illegal liquor. Bootleggers. Gangsters. Murder. Infidelity. Insanity. Suicide. Government officials on the make. An Assistant Attorney General of the United States at the top of her game. You’ll find it all in THE GHOSTS OF EDEN PARK.
George Remus is probably the most famous bootlegger that most folks haven’t heard of. Born into poverty he became a pharmacist, then an attorney, then the king of the bootleggers. He got into producing and distributing illegal liquor after seeing how much money some of his clients were making and discovering a loophole in the Volstead Act of 1919 that, as a licensed pharmacist, would allow him to produce and sell alcohol for medicinal purposes. Remus made the most of this loophole.
Remus quickly made a fortune as a bootlegger. His mansion in Cincinnati, Ohio was one of the most lavish homes in that city. Opulently furnished, it quickly became the scene of lavish parties. Remus always hoped to become a member of Cincinnati’s elite, to no avail. The elite would drink his liquor, and they might be on his payroll, but they dared not associate with him socially.
Just as quickly as Remus’ fortune rose, it disappeared.
Remus divorced his first wife and married his secretary, Imogene Holmes, the woman who was ultimately responsible for his financial downfall. Officials on his payroll, who had promised that if tried he would never be convicted, abandoned him. Remus could never forgive her for robbing him blind, as he saw it, but he definitely could not forgive her for an adulterous affair she had while he was in prison. Combine all this with Remus’ knowledge of the price put on his head by someone he trusted and by St. Louis gangsters and you have the perfect recipe for disaster.
Historian Karen Abbott tells this story in incredible detail, thanks to so many primary documents still existing at the National Archives. Combining the official documents with newspaper coverage of Remus’ life and trials, Abbott has pulled all the characters in her book from relative obscurity and brings them to life through her narrative skills. Readers can feel the heat in the courtroom, the pain of George Remus’ ‘brainstorms,’ and the terror of a foot chase through Eden Park.
THE GHOSTS OF EDEN PARK is a fantastic, engrossing look into some of the excesses of the Jazz Age. Women were enjoying newfound freedoms. Gangsters, bootleggers and robbers, as much as they were feared by the general public, were also viewed by some citizens as folk heroes, disregarding the law and sticking it to the government. It would definitely be worthwhile for you to read this book.