Meet Nucky Johnson

Filed under: Boardwalk Buzz — Boardwalk Empire @ 2:01 pm

Now that we are waiting for Season Two of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire you might want to take a look at Nucky Johnson, the very real man that Steve Buscemi’s “Nucky Thompson” is based on in the series.

Enoch Lewis “Nucky” Johnson was an Atlantic City political boss and racketeer who unofficially ran the Republican political machine that controlled Atlantic City and Atlantic County from the 1910s – 1930s. Born in 1883 in Smithville, New Jersey, “Nucky” (a nickname derived from his first name) was allegedly involved in promoting bootlegging during Prohibition, illegal gambling activities and prostitution.

Johnson graduated from Atlantic City High School in 1900. In 1905, he was appointed undersheriff (his father was sheriff), and in 1908, he was elected sheriff when his father’s term expired. He became secretary of the powerful Atlantic County Republican Executive Committee in 1909. In 1911, local political boss Louis Kuehnle was convicted on corruption charges and imprisoned; Johnson allegedly succeeded him as boss.

Officially, Johnson held various jobs, including Atlantic County Treasurer (1914), County Tax Collector, publisher of a weekly newspaper, bank director, president of a building and loan company, director of a Philadelphia brewery, and salesman for an oil company (after 1945).

Johnson’s trademark was a fresh red carnation in his lapel, and he frequently wore a full-length raccoon coat in the winter. He reportedly did business from a ninth-floor suite in the Ritz Carlton Hotel, handing out political jobs, favors, and goods to local residents in exchange for money and political support. Johnson was a fixture at local Atlantic City restaurants and nightclubs during the 1920s and 1930s.

He maintained a lavish lifestyle, documented during a federal tax investigation in 1936-1939. The investigation recorded Johnson’s annual expenditures of $5,000 for rent on the Ritz Carlton suite and a nearby cottage; $2,200 for a New York City apartment on Central Park; $3,000 for clothing; and $3,000 for food, with lobster, caviar, and 3-inch steaks being featured on his daily menu. By 1935, Nucky owned four new-model Cadillac cars. At the same time, he also had in his employ a valet/bodyguard, two chauffeurs and three maids.

In May 1939, after an extensive federal investigation, Nucky Johnson was indicted for income tax evasion in the sum of $125,000. He was convicted in July 1941 and sentenced to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine. He entered Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary on August 11, 1941, was paroled on August 15, 1945, and took a pauper’s oath to avoid paying the fine.

Read more at Boss Nucky Johnson at AtlanticCityExperience.org – a site produced by the Atlantic City Free Public Library. The ACFPL is a treasure-trove of historical documents and photographs dating back to the founding of Atlantic City.