Daniel Okrent: Prohibition on Ocean Liners and a Personal Connection

 Last week, at my local Borders bookstore, I met a true gentleman and scholar: Daniel Okrent,author of the newly released Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, and featured speaker.  The first public editor of the New York Times spoke with authority and eloquence, just like his interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air”, with Terry Gross. Unlike during the radio interview, his face showed some fatigue—undoubtedly from the exhaustion of book touring.

I wasn’t extremely curious about prohibition until I heard the Mr. Okrent speak. With compelling facts, author weaved in prohibition with immigration, gangs, politics, and taxes. But it wasn’t until I got home and began reading his book, that I realized prohibition was monetarily disastrous for American ocean lines. “The drunk Americans”, as was the stereotype, had no choice but to jump ship if they wished to imbibe, which meant sowing their wild oats on British, French, or other foreign lines.  Quoting from page 219:

“At first the stereotype careened around the decks and parlors of British and French

ships, for American liners, operating under the American flag and American law, went

dry when the rest of the country did. Unlike the rest of the country, though, US registered

ships were dry in fact as well as in name. The drop-off in business was so precipitous

they might as well have slammed into a field of icebergs.”

 As a fellow author and speaker, I try not to miss the opportunity to support my colleagues. But I had a special reason to meet Daniel Okrent. As I introduced myself after his talk, I explained, “We have a special connection.”  The author’s cerebral blue eyes looked up and asked, “And what might that be?” I replied, “Our mothers.” I explained to Mr. Okent that his mother Gizella and my mother were best friends. Both from Grosse Pointe, they often had lunch together.  It was a special bond that was cemented when Gizella wanted to retire from the Detroit Board of Education, but was lacking two days in her retirement bank. My mother, who managed the accounting office, labored through years of work files to find Gizella’s two golden days.

With love and gratitude, Gizella crocheted a beautiful lap afghan with a special label attached; it read, “Especially for you, from Gizella Okrent.” After hearing this brief intimate account, Mr. Okrent nodded with a gesture of understanding, knowing I was describing the special lady, who was his mom.

Recently, I sent him a picture of the afghan.  He replied with a gracious e-mail stating, “that’s definitely a Gizella Okrent afghan!…I know that our meeting will remain one of the highlights”. ..(of the book tour).

To complete the giving circle, I gifted Mr. Okrent a copy of my book, Alive in the Andrea Doria! The Greatest Sea Rescue in History.


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