Boardwalk Empire Season 5: Enoch Johnson, the Real Nucky Thompson
The Boardwalk Empire series finale hits tonight. Enoch Johnson, the real Nucky Thompson, made it all possible.
Enoch “Nucky” Thompson is based on Enoch Johnson, who politically ran Atlantic City when it one of the biggest bootlegging ports. Johnson was part of the Big Seven group of east coast bootleggers. He hosted the Atlantic City Conference in 1929, which Boardwalk Empire didn’t cover. Johnson wasn’t really a gangster, he never shot anyone or ordered anyone shot. He never made his bones, he just took a cut. Nucky won’t get busted for the numbers rackets until 1938 and won’t go to jail until 1941. He won’t die until the sixties when he’s 85 years old. Johnson really did have his own Eddie, no, not the kind that Frank N. Furter built in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Enoch had a German personal assistant and valet named Louis Kessel.
On Boardwalk Empire, Enoch Johnson is called Enoch Thompson and is played by Steve Buscemi.
Enoch Lewis “Nucky” Johnson unofficially ran Atlantic City’s Republican political machine from the 1910s to the 1930s. Johnson was born in Smithville, N.J. in 1883. He graduated from Atlantic City High School in 1900. Johnson’s father was sheriff of Atlantic City and in 1905 Nucky became undersheriff. When his father’s term expired in 1908, Nucky was elected sheriff. In 1909, Enoch became secretary of the Atlantic County Republican Executive Committee. He became boss in 1911, when Louis Kuehnle went to jail for corruption.
Johnson married Mabel Jeffries in 1906. Mabel died of consumption in 1913.
Johnson was named Atlantic County Treasurer in 1914. He was also the County Tax Collector, and put out a weekly newspaper. Johnson was known as a nappy dresser. He wore a red carnation in the lapel of his suits. He conducted his affairs from Atlantic City’s Ritz Carlton Hotel where he had a valet/bodyguard, two chauffeurs and three maids on his personal payroll.
Nucky Johnson was the “Boss” of Atlantic City in 1925.
Nucky Johnson hosted The Atlantic City summit that split up the criminal empire of America in May, 1929. Meyer Lansky had just gotten married and spent his honeymoon in Atlantic City. Between May 13–May 16 all the biggest big shots danced and drank and had the time of their lives while at the same time putting together the National Crime Syndicate.
Along with newlywed Lansky, the Atlantic City Conference was thrown by Johnny Torrio, Lucky Luciano and Frank Costello. Rooms and entertainment were provided by Nucky Johnson, who also paid the cops to watch the sand on the beach. Giuseppe “Joe Adonis” Doto and Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia, who as still known as “The Mad Hatter” at the time not the Lord High Executioner, Frank “Cheech” Scalise, Vincent Mangano, Gaetano “Tommy Brown” Quarico “Willie Moore” Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro, Abner “Longy” Zwillman, Dutch Schultz, Owen “the Killer” Madden, and Frank Erickson and Benny “Bugsy” Siegel, represented New York. Alphonse “Scarface” Capone, Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti, Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik, Frank “Frank Cline” Rio, represented Chicago. Irving “Waxey Gordon” Wexler, Harry “Nig Rosen” Stromberg, Max “Boo Boo” Hoff, Irving “Bitzy” Bitz and Charles Schwartz took a train in from Philadelphia. Morris “Moe” Dalitz and Louis “Lou Roddy” Rothkopf came in from Cleveland. The Purple Gang came in from Detroit. Santo Trafficante and Sylvestro “Silver Dollar Sam” Carolla came in too.
Al Capone and Nucky Johnson almost got into a fight over hotel accommodations. What a party
In the year that precedes this season on Boardwalk Empire, 1930, Nucky Johnson made headlines when William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal ran a series of articles exposing corruption in Atlantic City. I had predicted that Johnson’s affair with one of Hearst’s favorite showgirls would have been touched on this season, but Boardwalk Empire ignored it. The feds didn’t ignore it, though and they hounded Johnson almost as much as Hearst hounded FDR about going after Johnson.
The feds filed a lien against Johnson’s property for owed income taxes in 1933, the same year Prohibition was repealed. Legalizing booze hit Atlantic City and Johnson hard because they had been so good at circumventing prohibition.
Nucky Johnson moved into the numbers rackets. Nucky was indicted for tax evasion on May 10, 1939. He didn’t report about $125,000 that he made running numbers during 1935, 1936 and 1937. He was convicted in July 1941. Johnson was fined $20,000 and sentenced to ten years in federal prison.
One of the last things Johnson did before he was shipped off was to marry Swedish American Florence “Flossie” Osbeck on August 1, 1941. Nucky and the Philadelphia showgirl had been engaged for three years. Johnson was 58 years old. Flossie was 33. After a ten day honeymoon, Johnson went into Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary on August 11, 1941.
Frank S. Farley became Atlantic City’s big political honcho.
Johnson was paroled four years later on August 15, 1945. He skipped out on the $20,000 fine by taking a pauper’s oath. He and his wife lived with his brother in a house their family owned on South Elberon Avenue, Atlantic City.
Nucky never went back to politics. He was a salesman for the Richfield Oil Company and Renault Winery. In 1952, the Atlantic City political machine did get Johnson to put on his red carnation and glad-hand the mainly black Northside area, where Johnson was always beloved.
Johnson died on December 9, 1968 at the Atlantic County Convalescent Home in Northfield, New Jersey.
The Atlantic City Press obit said Johnson “was born to rule: He had flair, flamboyance, was politically amoral and ruthless, and had an eidetic memory for faces and names, and a natural gift of command … [Johnson] had the reputation of being a trencherman, a hard drinker, a Herculean lover, an epicure, a sybaritic fancier of luxuries and all good things in life.”
Johnson is buried in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey.
You can read about all the other real stories from Boardwalk Empire right here.
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