Gangsters > Enoch Johnson

Enoch Johnson

Background

Atlantic City - Enoch Johnson

Birth: January 20th, 1883 - New Jersey

Death: December 9th, 1968 - New Jersey (Age 85)

Enoch Johnson, also known as Nucky was the undisputed boss of Atlantic City, New Jersey from the 1910's to his arrest in 1941. He was the boss of Atlantic City during its pinnacle at Prohibition when the town was a safe haven for bootleggers, partiers and gangsters alike. In addition to getting kickbacks from bootlegging operations he also got commission from gambling and prostitution as well.

Nucky Johnson took the reigns from Louis Kuehnle after he was sent to prison.

Early Life

Enoch Lewis Johnson was born in Galloway Township, New Jersey to Smith E. and Virginia Johnson in 1883. When he was three in 1886, his father Smith Johnson was elected the sheriff of Atlantic county for three years. The family moved to Mays Landing for the job. Due to the laws in place at the time the sheriff could not get re-elected so he simply alternated between sheriff and under-sheriff for the next twenty years. Along with County Clerk Lewis P. Scott and Congressman John J. Gardner, Johnson made up the triumvirate that ruled Atlantic City prior to the rise of "Commodore" Louis Kuehnle.

Due to this, Nucky was exposed to the politics and methods of controlling Atlantic City from a very young age. When Louis Kuehnle was convicted and imprisoned in 1913, it was easy to see Nucky was the successor to the throne.

Rise to Power

Nucky began his career at the bottom, however he was no stranger to the ways and practices that the politicians had controlled Atlantic City for decades. In 1905 he became his fathers undersheriff and in 1906 he married his teenage love, Mabel Jeffries. In 1908 when he was 25 he was elected the Sheriff of Atlantic County until he was removed by a court order in 1911.

In 1909, Johnson became the secretary of the Atlantic City County Republican Executive Committee, the early political machine that Louis Kuehnle had built. In 1911 when Kuehnle was convicted of corruption related charges, Johnson was the chosen successor to control all aspects of Atlantic City and the government.

In 1912 Johnson's wife Mabel died and he never remarried until after his arrest and imprisonment. Before her death Enoch didn't drink a lot however, after he threw himself completely into the world and became a prominent icon. He dated showgirl after showgirl and completely assumed the role of his boss of Atlantic City.

Enoch Johnson - Enoch Johnson With Girl

Johnson held many different positions in politics over his 30 year rule over Atlantic City. These included the County Treasurer which allowed him to control the finances of Atlantic City along with being the publisher of a weekly newspaper. He also served as a bank director, president of a building and loan company along with the director of a Philadelphia brewery.

When asked if he would run for higher office such as senate he said that it was beneath a real boss to stand for election. He was more content to rule over Atlantic City and was responsible for electing several Governors and Senators from his seat of power.

Conviction of Kuehnle

In 1913 under heavy prosecution from future president Woodrow Wilson, Louis Kuehnle was convicted and imprisoned on corruption related charges. In order to continue the success of the political machine, the reigns were passed to Nucky Johnson, the obvious candidate.

Louis Kuehnle - Louis Kuenle

Louis Kuehnle

When Nucky inherited the organization from Kuehnle there were many facets in place that helped give it a head start during Prohibition. As Atlantic City was an extremely popular tourist spot, city leaders knew that they needed to provide visitors what they wanted. People during this time wanted to drink, gamble and have sex and Atlantic City was the perfect spot for people to retreat every once in a while.

Johnson once famously said:

"We have whisky, wine, women, song and slot machines. I won't deny it and I won't apologize for it. If the majority of the people didn't want them they wouldn't be profitable and they would not exist. The fact that they do exist proves to me that the people want them."

Enoch Johnson - (1921)

This meant that alcohol was sold on Sundays which was against the law at the time and the prevalence of prostitution and gambling would give Atlantic City a competitive edge over other resort towns at the time. In exchange for permitting these vices, the proprietors must pay protection money to Kuehnle and Johnson's organization. Nucky continued the previous corruption such as contract kickbacks, bid fixing and the protection of vices that existed under Kuehnle.

Election of Walter Edge

In 1916 Johnson served as the campaign manager for Walter Edge's run for the office of Governor. In addition to help campaign and fundraise for Edge, Johnson and the political machine also helped by reaching out to Frank Hague who would assist in the election. Hague recommended everyone in his own Democratic party vote for Edge over the Democratic candidate Otto Wittpenn and Edge was soon elected.

Law Enforcement - Walter Edge

Walter Edge

He appointed Hague with the Clerk of the State Supreme Court and Johnson was free to pursue his rackets in New York City with the protection of the state government.

Prohibition

In 1919 Prohibition began to be enacted across the nation. In 1920 the 18th Amendment was officially ratified and alcohol was banned throughout the United States. Lasting until 1933, the lack of law enforcement for alcohol in Atlantic City was what helped propel the city to the heights seen during the 1920's and 1930's.

Atlantic City - Atlantic City Boardwalk Postcard

During this period the city began to call itself "The Worlds Playground" and was a popular vacation spot for gangsters, vacationeers and the everyday folk alike. Throughout Prohibition the Volstead Act went unenforced by Johnson, pending he collected a percentage on every gallon of alcohol sold along with prostitution and gambling.

"Czar of the Ritz"

During the zenith of Johnson's power during Prohibition he lived in a suite of floors on the ninth floor of the Ritz-Carlton. The Ritz opened at 1921 and was the host of massive parties by Johnson and his associates. He was nicknamed both the "Czar of the Ritz" and the "Prisoner of the Ritz" for he was forced to live a certain lifestyle in order to maintain the power and connections necessary to control his empire. Johnson was protected and valeted by a Germany man named Louis Kessel.

Atlantic City - Ritz Carlton Atlantic City

Johnson was not a greedy, selfish boss either. Like Kuehnle before him he donated much to the local citizens and helped them during the winter season by often providing coal and food, even to the much impoverished Northside where many African Americans resided. According to some his philanthropy was legendary and that Johnson himself one said:

"When I lived well, everyone lived well"

During his later investigation, the government accused Johnson of receiving income totaling nearly $500,000 per year ($5,000,000 in current money). He rode around Atlantic City in a powder blue limosine that cost over $14,000 and wore extremely expensive clothing. One of these items was a $1,200 raccoon coat. He also wore a personal trademark of a red carnation that would be his signature long after his reign had ended.

AC Convention Center

Atlantic City had always been restricted by the weather, however Enoch Johnson had different plans for the city during Prohibition. In 1926 Johnson oversaw the construction of the 650 foot by 350 foot Atlantic City Convention Hall, the largest of its kind during this time period. Opening in May of 1929, this Convention Center was completed.

Atlantic City - Atlantic City Convention Center

Atlantic City Convention Center

The economy of Atlantic City was completely dependent on tourism and the efforts to build a year round flow of people had not proved successful. Johnson hoped that the Convention center would attract a new type of crowd that was interested in year round conventions and gatherings.

If this was built before Prohibition it would have really launched Atlantic City onto the world stage. However, even in the four years it was available for Prohibition it made Atlantic City the premier location for hosting events. An example of one of these events was the Atlantic City Conference, a major summit of mobsters that occurred right after the opening in May of 1929.

Atlantic City Conference

Under Nucky Johnson Atlantic City became one of the major ports for importing alcohol into the United States. This was due to the fact the coast guard was in the pocket of the Commodore and thus Nucky and there were an abundance of small inlets and waterways to traverse with small boats.

In 1927 Johnson agreed to participate in a loose confederation of other bootleggers and mobsters along the East Coast including Charles Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Al Capone. This group was to be later known as the Big Seven or the Seven Group.

Atlantic City - Alantic City Conference

(This photo may be fake... shows some signs of editing and lack of continuity)

In 1929, it was decided that the Big Seven would hold a massive mob summit at Johnson's controlled Atlantic City. Called the Atlantic City Conference and performed under the guise of a wedding for Meyer Lansky, over the course of three days these mobsters hashed out a plan for a National Crime Syndicate.

Legal Troubles

Eventually Nucky's own vices were what did him in. Johnson started sleeping with a showgirl that was also the Atlantic City girlfriend of newspaper magnet William Randolph Hearst. In a fit of jealousy (Hearst was like this) he published a crushing series of articles about the blatant prevalence of alcohol, prostitution and gambling in Atlantic City in the New York Evening Journal.

Soon Johnson came under scrutiny from the government under Franklin D. Roosevelt. Some say Hearst went as far as to lobby directly to administration officials to seek the prosecution of Johnson. Soon the wheels of the justice system started moving and in 1933 a lien was filed against Johnson for unpaid taxes on income he earned in 1927.

Prohibition Ends

In 1933 Prohibition ended across America. This soon eliminate a major source of revenue for both Johnson and the Republican political machine. The loss of this income meant the group could no longer bribe major politicians and its influence declined across the state. In addition to removing a major source of money for Johnson, the legal availability of alcohol across the United States also decreased Atlantic City's tourist stream every year as more options became available for people to vacation to.

The end of Prohibition also marked the end of Atlantic City in general. While the process occurred over many years, in a sense the rise and fall of Atlantic City can be tied to the rise and fall of Johnson himself.

The continuance of vices and a burgeoning vacation spot was unveiled a few years later with the opening of Las Vegas in the desert of Nevada. Here the National Crime Syndicate hoped to replicate what Johnson and Kuehnle had built by constructing their own metropolis of sin.

Indictment & Conviction

On May 10th, 1939 Johnson was indicted by the federal government for money that they could prove came from numbers games during 1935, 1936 and 1937. This total income amounted to about $125,000 and during a two week trial in July of 1941 he was convicted of tax evasion. This was the common method the government was using to take down mob bosses such as Al Capone along with many others.

Enoch Johnson - Enoch Johnson Arrested

Johnson was sentenced to ten years in federal prison and fined $20,000. Before going to prison Johnson made things official with his 33 year old Swedish-American girlfriend named Florence "Flossie Osbeck" who was a former showgirl from Philly. He had been engaged with her for three years and the two officially got married on August 1st, 1941. Ten days after the wedding on August 11th 1941, Johnson entered the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary.

After his conviction the time honored process of handing down the reigns of the political machine meant that Frank. S Farley was in charge. However, much like the Commodore many years before the power transition was that of a peaceful one, in stark contrast to the brutal wars and power struggles of the Italian mafia.

Parole

Nucky was paroled from prison on August 15th, 1945 after serving four years and was forced to pay a $20,000 fine (~$262,000). However, he avoided paying this fine by taking a paupers oath and moved in with his wife and brother into a house in South Elberon Avenue in Atlantic City.

Later Life

After he was released from prison most of Atlantic City believed he would run for elected office. Instead of continuing into politics he ended up joining the sales team at the Richfield Oil Company while his wife joined Renault Winery.

During his later years he would occasionally attend a local political dinner or rally and like the Commodore before him he would be seated right at the head table. He never lost the red carnation in his label and would continue to support the Republican political machine right up until his death.

Johnson even helped advance Farley's leadership as he once helped rally the African-American community that resided on the Northside during a tough election year. Throughout his career and after Johnson always remained popular within this community.

Death & Legacy

Enoch Johnson died on December 9th, 1968 at the Atlantic County Convalescent Home in Northfield, New Jersey. However, his legacy was the city that he had helped build. While it had fallen into disrepair by the late 60's, during its heyday Atlantic City was the pinnacle of resort destinations in America. Only being surpassed by Las Vegas in the later years, Atlantic City still exists today and Johnson's legacy lives on through HBO's Boardwalk Empire.

Johnson's life paralleled that of his mentor, Louis Kuehnle very closely. After being convicted and imprisoned for corruption related charges both returned to Atlantic City with their reputation intact, even if they did not command the same power within the political machine that they did years before.

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