Winston Churchill Gets a Doctor’s Note to Drink Unlimited Alcohol While Visiting the U.S. During Prohibition (1932)

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.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2016.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What Hap­pens When Mor­tals Try to Drink Win­ston Churchill’s Dai­ly Intake of Alco­hol

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

Win­ston Churchill Goes Back­ward Down a Water Slide & Los­es His Trunks (1934)

Win­ston Churchill’s List of Tips for Sur­viv­ing a Ger­man Inva­sion: See the Nev­er-Dis­trib­uted Doc­u­ment (1940)

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

by | Permalink | Comments (5) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (5)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.