Lecture Date: March 21, 2024
The UMW Dining Lecture
In the early days of Prohibition, long before Al Capone became a household name, a German immigrant named George Remus quit practicing law and started trafficking whiskey. Within two years he owned 35 percent of all the liquor in the United States and was known as the “King of the Bootleggers”—and even served as an inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby. Pioneering prosecutor Mabel Walker Willebrandt was determined to bring him down. Willebrandt’s bosses at the Department of Justice office hired her right out of law school, assuming she’d pose no real threat to the cozy relationship they maintained with Remus. Eager to prove them wrong, she began a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with the bootlegger. Their bitter feud reached the highest levels of government—and ended in murder. Drawing on her book The Ghosts of Eden Park, Abbott Kahler (named a “master of the art of narrative nonfiction” by the Wall Street Journal) will explore the unforgettable, stranger-than-fiction story of a rags-to-riches entrepreneur and a long-forgotten heroine, of the excesses and absurdities of the Jazz Age, of America’s fascination with celebrity, and of the infinite human capacity to deceive. Fans of the HBO show Boardwalk Empire will recognize many of the characters in The Ghosts of Eden Park, and appreciate that George Remus—often forgotten in the annals of Prohibition-era gangsters—has finally gotten his due.
Speaker: Abbott Kahler
Abbott Kahler (previously writing as Karen Abbott) is the author of four New York Times
bestselling works of narrative nonfiction: Sin in the Second City; American Rose
; Liar Temptress Soldier Spy
; and, most recently, The Ghosts of Eden Park
, which was an Edgar Award finalist for Best Fact Crime. Her next nonfiction book, Then Came the Devil
, is about a disparate (and scheming) group of settlers on the Galapagos islands in the 1930s. Her debut novel, Where You End
, is inspired by a true story of identical twins and a strange case of amnesia, and will be published on January 16. Abbott’s has written for newyorker.com, New York Magazine
, the Wall Street Journal
, the Washington Post
, and Smithsonian Magazine
. She is the host of an iHeartRadio podcast, REMUS: THE MAD BOOTLEG KING
, about bootlegger George Remus.