Underworld Archaeology: Exploring a Rumored Detroit Speakeasy

Author(s): Shawn Fields; Brenna Moloney

Year: 2014


This poster highlights the 2013 investigations by Wayne State University students of a rumored speakeasy associated with the notorious Purple Gang located in the basement of a Detroit bar. During Prohibition, 1919-1933, the sale of liquor was the second-most profitable business in Detroit after the automobile industry. As immigrants and industries transformed the Prohibition-era landscape, so too did powerful criminals as they took advantage of the social and political conditions to consolidate and expand their wealth and power. The Purple Gang, a predominantly Eastern-European Jewish crime syndicate, dominated Detroit’s illegal liquor trade and also managed prostitution rings and extortion operations. Known for their ruthlessness, the Purple Gang still hold a prominent place in the oral history and urban legends of Detroit. Though this history has captured the popular imagination, its clandestine nature makes it difficult to trace through the historical and archaeological record.

Cite this Record

Underworld Archaeology: Exploring a Rumored Detroit Speakeasy. Shawn Fields, Brenna Moloney. Presented at Society for Historical Archaeology, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. 2014 ( tDAR id: 437420)

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Individual & Institutional Roles

Contact(s): Society for Historical Archaeology

Record Identifiers

PaperId(s): POS-99,09