"For nearly 30 years, Enoch "Nucky" Johnson lived the life of a decadent monarch, with the power to satisfy his every want. ... Johnson was a product of Atlantic City who couldn't have flourished anywhere else."
"Boardwalk Empire - The Birth, High Times and Corruption of Atlantic City"
They don't make corrupt politicians like they used to.
Whether they're today's homegrown New Jersey politicians selling their souls for less than the cost of cheap boat or Illinois public officials auctioning off seats in government to the highest bidder, they typically are small thinkers. I remember uncovering a story as a young reporter of a city official who offered a lease to a developer in return for a new Cadillac. Call them the "Small Change Guys."
Nucky Johnson wasn't about small change, and he wasn't just corrupt. He was, in effect, the emperor of Atlantic City during his reign in the early 1900s.
In the coming weeks, we will focus on Nucky and the history of corruption in Atlantic City, guided in large part by Nelson Johnson's "Boardwalk Empire" book. HBO has fictionalized the book - for example, Nucky Johnson becomes Nucky "Thompson" - and has produced what many critics say is an outstanding series that debuts on Sept. 19. And know that it is fiction: HBO didn't film it in Atlantic City, and the Boardwalk is actually a replica built for the show.
Nucky was uniquely Atlantic City. But his greed and power-brokering predated him throughout the world and continues today, although in a far less ambitious way.
Our goal in providing a deep look at our local history isn't to glorify Nucky or celebrate what he did. The man and his antics should be repulsive to anyone who wants our democracy to work well and represent everyone equally. We also should look on in disgust at today's corrupt politicians who violate the public's trust.
Our goal is two-fold. First, we believe that to understand many of the problems of Atlantic City today, it's also important to understand the legacy of dishonest politicians and government leaders of past decades who set the tone. Second, we want to provide our readers with a solid framework of fact before they turn to HBO in mid-September to enjoy the fiction.
And Atlantic City has not been unique in corruption. Look no farther than Philadelphia.
Our coverage includes:
- The serialization of the first seven chapters of Johnson's "Boardwalk Empire" book, beginning today and running every Sunday and Wednesday into September. Rest assured that we are not sacrificing news content for the serial - we've added space to accommodate. Special thanks to Plexus Publishing Inc. of Medford, Burlington County, and its editor-in-chief, John Bryans, for accepting our idea and allowing us to use "Boardwalk Empire."
- A special one-hour television documentary, "Boss of the Boardwalk," about Nucky Johnson's life produced by The Press of Atlantic City. The documentary has the feel of one you might see on the History or Biography channels. Clark and Good, who has worked in the television industry, devoted many hours to its production. The debut is at 7 p.m. Aug. 21 and 1 a.m. Aug. 22 on NBC40 in Atlantic City. Click here to see a preview.
The documentary also will be rerun five more times through Sept. 19. In this endeavor our partner was Ron Smith, general manager of WMGM-TV (NBC40), who agreed the Nucky story is a good tale to tell.
- An online blog by Nucky Johnson about the HBO series. Well, not Nucky himself. He died in 1968. But reporters Clark and Good will blog about the series from what their research suggests would be Nucky's point of view. The goal of the blog will be to provide often fun and irreverent commentary on the series, but also the "true story" or history behind the fictionalization. It will be available at BoardwalkEmpireblog.com.
We also will be reporting on other aspects of the series, including the set design and the actors.
As always, if you have any thoughts on what we are doing, write me at email@example.com.
Neill Borowski is executive editor/content director of The Press of Atlantic City.