Winston Churchill Gets a Doctor’s Note to Drink “Unlimited” Alcohol in Prohibition America (1932)

churchill alcohol letter

In December 1931, having just embarked on a 40-stop lecture tour of the United States, Winston Churchill was running late to dine with financier Bernard Baruch on New York City’s Upper East Side. He hadn’t bothered to bring Baruch’s address, operating under the incorrect assumption that his friend was so distinguished a personage, any random cab-driving commoner would automatically recognize his building.

Such were the days before cell phones and Google Maps….




Eventually, Churchill bagged the cab, and shot out across 5th Avenue mid-block, thinking he would fare better on foot.

Instead, he was very nearly “squashed like a gooseberry” when he was struck by a car traveling about 35 miles an hour.

Churchill, who wasted no time peddling his memories of the accident and subsequent hospitalization to The Daily Mail, explained his miscalculation thusly:

In England we frequently cross roads along which fast traffic is moving in both directions. I did not think the task I set myself now either difficult or rash. But at this moment habit played me a deadly trick. I no sooner got out of the cab somewhere about the middle of the road and told the driver to wait than I instinctively turned my eyes to the left. About 200 yards away were the yellow headlights of an approaching car. I thought I had just time to cross the road before it arrived; and I started to do so in the prepossession—wholly unwarranted— that my only dangers were from the left.

Yeah, well, that’s why we paint the word “LOOK” in the crosswalk, pal, equipping the Os with left-leaning pupils for good measure.

Another cab ferried the wounded Churchill to Lenox Hill Hospital, where he identified himself as “Winston Churchill, a British Statesman” and was treated for a deep gash to the head, a fractured nose, fractured ribs, and severe shock.

“I do not wish to be hurt any more. Give me chloroform or something,” he directed, while waiting for the anesthetist.

After two weeks in the hospital, where he managed to develop pleurisy in addition to his injuries, Churchill and his family repaired to the Bahamas for some R&R.

It didn’t take long to feel the financial pinch of all those cancelled lecture dates, however. Six weeks after the accident, he resumed an abbreviated but still grueling 14-stop version of the tour, despite his fears that he would prove unfit.

Otto Pickhardt, Lenox Hill’s admitting physician came to the rescue by issuing Churchill the Get Out of Prohibition Free Pass, above. To wit:

…the post-accident convalescence of the Hon. Winston S. Churchill necessitates the use of alcoholic spirits especially at meal times. The quantity is naturally indefinite but the minimum requirements would be 250 cubic centimeters.

Perhaps this is what the eminent British Statesman meant by chloroform “or something”? No doubt he was relieved about those indefinite quantities. Cheers.

Read Churchill’s “My New York Misadventure” in its entirety here. You can also learn more by perusing this section of Martin Gilbert’s biography, Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years.

via Boing Boing

Related Content:

Winston Churchill’s Paintings: Great Statesman, Surprisingly Good Artist

Color Footage of Winston Churchill’s Funeral in 1965

Oh My God! Winston Churchill Received the First Ever Letter Containing “O.M.G.” (1917)

Animated: Winston Churchill’s Top 10 Sayings About Failure, Courage, Setbacks, Haters & Success

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She lives in New York City, some 30 blocks to the north of the scene of Churchill’s accident. Follow her @AyunHalliday


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  • Mahmoud Ali says:

    The writer hasn’t understood Churchill’s description and the fact that in England they drive on the opposite side of the road. Churchill got out of the taxi on the left hand side, in the middle of the road, and instinctive looked left where he thought, as inEngland, cars might be approaching. In fact the cars were approaching him from the right.

    In addition to not understanding Churchill’s prose, the writer sarcastically goes on to say: “Yeah, well, that’s why we paint the word “LOOK” in the crosswalk, pal, equipping the Os with left-leaning pupils for good measure” when it is unlikely that Yeah, well, that’s why we paint the word “LOOK” in the crosswalk, pal, equipping the Os with left-leaning pupils for good measure. The writer hasn’t understood that Churchill got out of the taxi in the middle of the road and not at a crosswalk if in fact there were crosswalk signs as described by the writer in 1932.

    Mahmoud Ali.

  • Mahmoud Ali says:

    My apologies for the garbled second paragraph above, my iPad thought I should be using the quote twice when in fact once was enough to. Here below is the correct version.

    In addition to not understanding Churchill’s prose, the writer sarcastically goes on to say: “Yeah, well, that’s why we paint the word “LOOK” in the crosswalk, pal, equipping the Os with left-leaning pupils for good measure.” The writer hasn’t understood that Churchill got out of the taxi in the middle of the road and not at a crosswalk, if in fact there were crosswalk signs as described by the writer in 1932, and that he had to look to the right to see oncoming traffic.

    Cheers……………Mahmoud.

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