As 1921 faded into 1922, two momentous historic forces shaped the country’s revelry: the end of the “Great War” (not yet called World War I) and the enforcement of Prohibition. The war’s effects were still being felt in Cincinnati. Many of our local doughboys were still on duty in Europe, wartime rationing was just starting to ease, and news of peace negotiations dominated the front pages of all the local newspapers.
On New Year’s Eve, however—despite several celebrations adopting a “Peace” theme—Prohibition dominated the discussion. It was still legal, according to federal law, to own and consume alcohol; only the manufacture, transport, and sale was outlawed. As a consequence, many imbibers celebrated New Year’s at home, often in their cellars to avoid prying eyes. Those who ventured out to party discovered various options for alcoholic availability, according to The Cincinnati Commercial Tribune [January 1, 1922]:
“The celebration last night took three distinct levels of revelry. At the hotels in town the celebration was noisy, but reasonably dry. In the road houses, near the city, whisky was in evidence, but the quieter element intermingled. In the country roadhouses, whisky flowed freely and revelry reached its highest pitch.”
At the downtown hotels, particularly The Sinton and The Gibson with 1,000 celebrants apiece, the entrances were guarded by cops and management placed cards at each table reminding customers that it was illegal to bring booze into the establishment.
“Whisky, beer and wines were in evidence as much last night as at any time since the prohibition amendment was passed. It was carried for the most part, however, by the revelers, as, with announcements from prohibition agents of the fact that they would keep a close watch, all places selling liquor closed up.”
The most exclusive, most lavish and, ultimately, most scandalous party of New Year’s Eve 1921 decorated Price Hill when George Remus, king of the bootleggers, dedicated the new indoor swimming pool at his mansion on West Eighth Street at Hermosa. The 100 guests, individually curated by Mrs. Remus to ingratiate herself with the cream of society, sipped champagne and whiskey while lovely young women dressed entirely in white served gourmet dinners and an orchestra serenaded. Professional divers exhibited their skills in the new pool, then gave way to speechifiers mounting the diving board as if it were a rostrum. The host himself, who had established a reputation as a competitive swimmer in Chicago, announced plans to get in shape for a 100-mile Ohio River swim from Cincinnati to Madison, Indiana.
Rumors of Remus’s extravagance echo through the ages. As party favors, he lavished $25,000 worth of diamond earrings on the ladies and diamond stick pins on the gents. If you listen to the legends, each woman took home a diamond necklace—or was it a brand-new Packard?—and the men scored luxurious jeweled watches. There are some reports that Remus jumped fully clothed into the new pool, but it seems out of character for that teetotaler. Although he sold it by the case, he abstained from alcohol. He never smoked in his life. More credible is the version in which, while his guests imbibed, Remus himself retreated to his library.
Remus told The Cincinnati Enquirer that he would present swimming and diving exhibitions at his pool and planned to eventually turn his estate, including the pool, into a public park. It was not to be. A couple of years after the fabled New Year’s Eve party, Remus was convicted of violating the liquor laws and was shuttled off to a federal penitentiary. His wife and her lover ransacked Remus’s multi-million empire, sold everything, hid the proceeds and tossed him $100 for his troubles. Bankrupt on his release from prison, Remus chased down his wife, who had filed for divorce, and shot her dead in Eden Park. His mansion crumbled before the wrecking ball in 1934, and the swimming pool was bulldozed in 1940 to make way for Delehanty Court, named for Alice Delehanty, a Newport pharmacist who bought the properties while Remus was engulfed in legal troubles.
For good reasons, Cincinnati was glad to see the old year of 1921 slip away. Statistics for that year were fairly grim. For example, in Hamilton County, 106 people died in automobile accidents in 1921, compared to 44 in 2020. The Cincinnati Board of Health celebrated the lowest death rate ever recorded (14.1 deaths per 1,000 residents) and applauded public health measures adopted in the wake of the 1918 influenza pandemic. Today, we would be appalled at such a high death rate. Even with an aging population, Cincinnati’s death rate in 2020 was almost half that, at around 8 per 1,000 residents.
On the other hand, there were only 733 automobiles stolen from Cincinnati owners in 1921, compared to 1,526 in 2020. So many people got married in 1921 that the Probate Court announced a reduction in cost for marriage licenses, effective in 1922. The Court issued 4,132 licenses for $1 in 1921, creating a budget surplus. With the new year, licenses would cost only 80 cents.
The Cincinnati Post [December 31, 1921] carried a prediction by psychic Hereward Carrington that would prove prophetic a century hence:
“We’re so used to the miracle of the telephone that we rarely stop to think what a wonderful invention it is. … We know we can talk across hundreds of miles of space instantaneously by means of the telephone and carry on a conversation with those at a distance. Now how much more wonderful would it be to do the same thing without any wire at all! … It is only a matter of time before wireless telephones will be so perfect and so plentiful that we shall be able to talk to anyone on our earth by means of them.”
All of that has come to pass. We are still waiting upon the prediction outlined by Carrington in the very next sentence: “And – who knows? – we may be able to talk to beings on another planet as well.”