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Boss Nucky Johnson

Nucky Johnson - the "Boss" of Atlantic City in 1925. (H009.VF.enochjohnson001. Alfred M Heston Collection, Atlantic City Free Public Library)

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.

Johnson was married twice, first in 1906 to Mabel Jeffries. Mabel died in 1913 of consumption. Johnson later married Florence "Flossie" Osbeck the day before his sentencing for tax evasion.

Johnson died on December 9, 1968 at the Atlantic County Convalescent Home in Northfield, New Jersey, and he is buried in a cemetery in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey.

Resources in the Atlantic City Free Public Library Atlantic City Heritage Collections:

Grace Anselmo D'Amato. Chance of a Lifetime: Nucky Johnson, Skinny D'Amato and How Atlantic City Became the Naughty Queen of Resorts. Harvey Cedars, NJ: Down the Shore Publishing, 2001.

Frank Ferrry. Nucky: The Real Story of the Atlantic City Boardwalk Boss. Margate, NJ: ComteQ Communications, 2013.

Nelson Johnson. Boardwalk Empire: the birth, high times, and corruption of Atlantic City. Medford, NJ: Plexus, 2002.

William McMahon. So Young, So Gay! Atlantic City, NJ: Press Publishing, 1970.

Martin Paulsson. The Social Anxieties of Progressive Reform: Atlantic City, 1854-1920. New York University Press: New York, 1994.

John Stoneburg. The Boardwalk Empire: the Nucky Johnson story. [S.l.: n.p.], [1968].

US Department of Justice and US Department of Treasury. The Case of Enoch L. Johnson: a complete report of the Atlantic City investigation conducted jointly by the Treasury Department and the Department of Justice. [United States: n.p.], [1942].

Chick Yeager. The Republican Boss Era of Atlantic City, 1900-1971. [S.l.: n.p.], 1981.

Local History Biography File - Enoch "Nucky" Johnson.

Local History Subject File - Organized Crime.

ACFPL Collection of Atlantic City Photographs (H009). 

ACFPL Living History Project (interviews that mention Nucky Johnson include #2 Leon Binder, #23 Frank Hires, # 27 Leslie Kammerman, #33 James Latz, #52 Eddie Solitaire, and Anonymous Interview #5 "Chester").

Atlantic City Board of Trade advertising pamphlets, various years.