Wikipedia: Enoch Johnson

Enoch Lewis "Nucky" Johnson (January 20, 1883 - December 9, 1968) was an Atlantic City, New Jersey political boss and racketeer. From 1911 until his imprisonment in 1941, he was the undisputed "boss" of the Republican political machine that controlled Atlantic City and the Atlantic County government. His rule encompassed the Roaring Twenties, when Atlantic City was at the height of its popularity. The organization he led was also involved in bootlegging during Prohibition, gambling and prostitution, and he derived substantial income from those activities.


Nucky Johnson was born January 20, 1883 in Galloway Township to Smith E. and Virginia (Higbee) Johnson. His nickname "Nucky" was derived from the name Enoch.

In 1886, Smith E. Johnson (1853-1917) was elected sheriff of Atlantic County for a three year term, and the family moved to Mays Landing, the county seat. Since the sheriff could not succeed himself, Smith Johnson spent the next two decades alternating between terms as sheriff and undersheriff. When he was not the sheriff living in Mays Landing, Smith Johnson was undersheriff and lived in Atlantic City.

Smith Johnson was, along with Atlantic County Clerk Lewis P. Scott (1854-1907) and Congressman John J. Gardner, a member of the three-man group that dominated the governments of Atlantic City and Atlantic County prior to the rise to power of Louis Kuehnle.

In 1905, Nucky Johnson became his father's undersheriff, and in 1906 he married his teenage sweetheart, Mabel Jeffries of Mays Landing. In 1908 he was elected sheriff when his father's term expired, a position he held until ousted by a court order in 1911. In 1909 he became secretary of the Atlantic County Republican Executive committee, an important position. In 1911, local political boss Louis Kuehnle was convicted of corruption related charges and imprisoned, and Nucky Johnson succeeded him as leader of the Republican political organization that controlled the Atlantic City and Atlantic County governments.

Atlantic City was a tourist destination, and city leaders knew that its success as a resort depended on providing visitors with what they wanted. What many tourists wanted was the ability to drink, gamble and have sex. City leaders realized that permitting a vice industry would give the city an edge over its competitors. Therefore, the organization inherited by Nucky Johnson permitted the service of alcohol on Sundays (which at the time was prohibited by New Jersey law), gambling and prostitution, in exchange for the payment of protection money by vice industry operators to the organization. Support of the vice industry was to continue and expand under Nucky Johnson's rule. He also continued other organization corruption, including kickbacks on government contracts.

In 1912, Johnson's wife Mabel died. According to tradition, Johnson had previously been a teetotaler, but began to drink after Mabel's death.

Johnson held many jobs during his thirty year rule, including county treasurer (which allowed him to control the county's purse strings), county collector, publisher of a weekly newspaper, bank director, president of a building and loan company, and director of a Philadelphia brewery. He declined requests that he run for the state senate, believing that it was beneath the dignity of a "real boss" to stand for election.

As the most powerful New Jersey Republican, Johnson was responsible for electing several Governors and United States Senators.

In 1916 Johnson served as campaign manager for Republican candidate Walter E. Edge's successful run for governor. In addition to raising money for Edge, who was then the state senator from Atlantic County, Johnson engineered Edge's election by reaching out to Democratic Hudson County boss Frank Hague, who disliked Democratic candidate, Otto Whittpenn. Edge provided Hague with a pledge of cooperation and Hague instructed those in his Democratic organization to crossover and vote for Edge in the Republican primary. Thereafter, Hague did not support Whittpenn in the general election, and Edge was elected. Edge rewarded Johnson by appointing him clerk of the State Supreme Court.

It was during Prohibition, which was enacted nationally in 1919 and lasted until 1933, that Johnson's power reached its zenith. Prohibition was effectively unenforced in Atlantic City, and, as a result, the resort's popularity grew further. The city then dubbed itself as "The World's Play Ground". Most of Johnson's income came from the percentage he took on every gallon of illegal liquor sold, and on gambling and prostitution operations in Atlantic City. Johnson once 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 wouldn't exist. The fact that they do exist proves to me that the people want them."

Investigators charged that Johnson's income from vice exceeded $500,000 a year. He rode in a chauffeur-driven, $14,000 powder blue limousine, and wore expensive clothes, including a $1,200 raccoon coat. His personal trademark was a red carnation, fresh daily, worn in his lapel. At the height of his power, Johnson lived in a suite of rooms on the ninth floor of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, located on the Boardwalk. The Ritz, which opened in 1921, was a dazzling pleasure palace, and it was there that Johnson hosted most of his lavish parties. He was known as both "the Czar of the Ritz" and "the Prisoner of the Ritz". [Note: the 1933 Miss America contestants were housed at the same Ritz Carlton-dlh.] He freely gave to those in need, and was widely beloved by local citizens, among whom his benevolence and generosity were legendary. Johnson once explained that "when I lived well, everybody lived well".

Since its founding, Atlantic City had, like other summer resorts, been burdened with a seasonal economy, and efforts to promote tourism there during the colder months had not been successful. The free availability of alcohol during Prohibition, however, made Atlantic City the nation's premier location for holding conventions. In an effort to promote a 12-month convention supported economy, Johnson directed the construction of Atlantic City Convention Hall. Work on Convention Hall began in 1926 and it opened in May 1929. A 650-foot by 350-foot structure, it was a state-of-the-art convention building, and contained what was then the largest room with an unobstructed view in history.

Under Nucky Johnson, Atlantic City was one of the leading ports for importing bootleg liquor and, in 1927, he agreed to participate in a loose organization of other bootleggers and racketeers along the east cost forming the Big Seven or Seven Group. He was the host of the Atlantic City Conference in 1929, a meeting of national organized crime leaders, including Al Capone. The meeting resulted in a photograph of Johnson and Capone walking down the Boardwalk, side-by-side.

Nucky Johnson's name was mentioned frequently in a series of articles about vice in Atlantic City published in 1930 by William Randolph Hearst's New York Evening Journal. According to some accounts, bad blood existed between Johnson and Hearst because Johnson had become too close to a showgirl who was Hearst's steady date when he visited Atlantic City. Johnson subsequently was the focus of increased scrutiny by the Federal government, allegedly as a result of Hearst's lobbying of Roosevelt administration officials.

In 1933 a property lien was filed against Johnson by the Federal government for additional taxes he owed on income earned in 1927. 1933 also saw the repeal of Prohibition, which eliminated a major selling point for Atlantic City among tourists and conventioneers, as well as a source of income for Johnson and his machine.

On May 10, 1939 Nucky Johnson was indicted for evading taxes on about $125,000 in income he received from numbers operators during 1935, 1936 and 1937. A two week trial concluded in July 1941, and Johnson was convicted. He was sentenced to ten years in federal prison and fined $20,000.

On August 1, 1941 Johnson, then fifty-eight years of age, married Florence "Floss" Osbeck, a beautiful former showgirl who was thirty-three years old, to whom he had been engaged for three years.

Ten days later, on August 11, 1941, Johnson entered Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary.

After Johnson's 1941 conviction, Frank S. Farley succeeded him as the leader of the machine.

Johnson was paroled on August 15, 1945, and took a pauper's oath to avoid paying the $20,000 fine.

After his release from prison, Johnson lived with his wife and brother in a house owned by relatives of his wife on South Elberon Avenue, Atlantic City.There was speculation that he would seek elective office, but he never did.Instead, he worked in sales for the Richfield Oil Company, and, with his wife, for Renault Winery.During these years, Johnson and his wife would sometimes attend local political dinners or rallies, where they would be seated at the head table. He continued to dress impeccably, including a red carnation in his lapel. Johnson steadfastly supported Farley's leadership, and in 1952, when the Farley organization faced a particularly strong election challenge, Johnson campaigned on his behalf in Atlantic City's predominantly black Northside area, where Johnson retained enormous popularity.

Johnson died on December 9, 1968 at the Atlantic County Convalescent Home in Northfield, New Jersey.According to the Atlantic City Press, Johnson "was born to rule: He had flair, flamboyance, was politically amoral and ruthless, and had an idetic memory for faces and names, and a natural gift of command"�"[Johnson] had the reputation of being a gargantuan trencherman, a hard drinker, a Herculean lover, an epicure, a sybaritic fancier of luxuries and all good things in life."


• Learn, Paul. "Boss 'Nucky' Johnson is dead at 85 - Unconscious 25 Hours Before �Time Took Him'", Atlantic City Press, December 10, 1968, p. 1

• "Enoch L. Johnson, Ex-Boss in Jersey - Prohibition-Era Ruler of Atlantic City, 85, Dies", The New York Times, December 10, 1968, p. 47

• Johnson, Nelson. Boardwalk Empire, Medford, N.J., Plexus Publishing, 2002 ISBN 0-937548-49-9

• McMahon, William. "So Young...So Gay!", Atlantic City, N.J., Press Publishing, 1970

• James H. Charleton (1985-06-17), National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Atlantic City Convention Hall, National Park Service

• "TWO HELD SEEKING JOHNSON'S MANTLE; Senator Farley Claims It -- Mayor Taggart Not Talking", The New York Times, July 28, 1941. Accessed August 18, 2008.

Further reading

• Fried, Albert. The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Gangster in America. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980. (ISBN 0-23109683-6)

• Johnson, Nelson. Boardwalk Empire, Medford, N.J., Plexus Publishing, 2002 (ISBN 0-937548-49-9). Undoubtedly the best single source of information about Nucky Johnson.

• Pietrusza, David. Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003

External Links

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