Nucky Thompson - "Boss of the Boardwalk"

Enoch ("Nucky") L. Johnson - called Nucky Thompson in the HBO series "Boardwalk Empire" - was known as a kind of "Robin Hood" when he was "The Boss" of Atlantic City and its famous Boardwalk.

In his book on which the series is based - Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City - Nelson Johnson (a New Jersey judge) describes what once happened when a distraught woman sought Nucky's help.  The scene takes place on the 9th floor of Atlantic City's Ritz-Carlton, which Nucky had leased as his home and base of operations:

Luxury hotels weren’t something she knew about firsthand.  Until now, she had never been inside the Ritz Carlton.  The closest she’d come to the grand hotel was when walking on the Boardwalk.  But there she was in the anteroom of a large suite of rooms, seated in a chair that nearly swallowed her.  She was frightened, but there was no turning back.  She sat there trembling, folding and refolding her frayed scarf.

As a housewife and summertime laundress in a boardinghouse, she felt out of place and her nervousness showed.  Flushed and perspiring, she noticed that her dress and sweater needed mending and she grew more self-conscious.  It was all she could do to keep from panicking and running out.  But she couldn’t leave.  Louis Kessel had told her Mr. Johnson would see her in a moment and she had to wait.  To leave now would be embarrassing and, worse still, might offend Mr. Johnson. 

If it weren’t winter, and if there weren’t so many unpaid bills, she never would have worked up the courage to come in the first place.  But she had no choice; her husband had been a fool and she was desperate for her family.  Louis Kessel appeared a second time and motioned to her.  She followed him, not knowing what to expect.

As she walked into Mr. Johnson’s sitting room, he took her hand and greeted her warmly.  It was several years since she met him at her father’s wake, but Johnson remembered her and called her by her first name.  He was dressed in a fancy robe and slippers and asked what was troubling her. 

In an instant her anxiety vanished.  In a rapid series of sentences she recounted how her husband lost his entire paycheck the night before at one of the local gambling rooms.  He was a baker’s helper, and during the winter months his $37 each week was the family’s only income.  She went on and on about all the bills and how the grocer wouldn’t give her any more credit.

Johnson listened intently and,when she was finished, reached into his pocket and handed her a $100 bill.  Overwhelmed with joy, she thanked him repeatedly until he insisted she stop.  Louis Kessel motioned, telling her there was a car waiting to drive her home.  As she left, Johnson promised that her husband would be barred from every crap game and card room in town.  He told her to come back any time she had a problem.

Enoch “Nucky”Johnson personifies pre-casino Atlantic City as no one else can. Understanding his reign provides the perspective needed to make sense of today’s resort.  Johnson’s power reached its peak, as did his town’s popularity, during Prohibition, from 1920 to 1933.  When it came to illegal booze, there was probably no place in the country as wide open as Nucky’s town.  It was almost as if word of the Volstead Act never reached Atlantic City.

During Prohibition, Nucky was both a power broker in the Republican Party and a force in organized crime.  He rubbed elbows with Presidents and Mafia thugs. But to Atlantic City’s residents, Johnson was hardly a thug.  He was their hero, epitomizing the qualities that had made his town successful.

This clip is from "The Boss of the Town," a documentary about Nucky Johnson by the Press of Atlantic City.  The full documentary is available for online viewing.

Media Credits

Clip from "The Boss of the Town," a documentary about Nucky Johnson, is online courtesy the Press of Atlantic City's YouTube channel.  There, we read the following description of the film:


Nucky Johnson served as Atlantic City's political boss for 30 years - and his story is the inspiration for the HBO series "Boardwalk Empire."  Learn about Nucky Johnson's life - the highlights, downfall and legacy - with the documentary "Boss of the Boardwalk," produced by the Press of Atlantic City.

Quoted passages from Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City, by Nelson Johnson, pages xiii-xiv. 


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"Nucky Thompson - "Boss of the Boardwalk"" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Feb 23, 2020.
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