Posts Tagged ‘prohibition’

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

James Barry: Friend of the Working Man

James J Barry of Schenectady and KeesevilleNearly a century ago, a North Country man played a role in one the most remarkable murder cases in New York State history. Attorney James J. Barry was a Keeseville native, born there in late 1876 and a  graduated of Keeseville’s McAuley Academy in 1898. In 1901 he moved to Schenectady where he worked for General Electric. He later attended Albany Law School, graduating in 1908 and setting up shop in Schenectady, his adopted home.

The Adirondacks were his real home however, and he maintained strong ties here. To share with others the joys of spending time in the mountains, he helped form the Northmen’s Club, of which he was president in 1907. Many times in the ensuing decades, he took club members, friends, and public officials on visits up north. Jim Barry was never away for very long. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

High Peaks Happy Hour: Rum Runners Weekend

RumRunners1Nearly a century ago, the bootleg trail from Canada to New York City ran smack through the Adirondacks. Bootleggers risked life and limb transporting locally distilled hooch and smugglers ran whiskey from Canada, eluding dry agents and spawning crime and corruption. Chestertown and its surrounding communities recently commemorated this period in history with related activities.

It was a damp and drizzly Thursday night at Warrensburg’s Luck E Star Cafe where the Greater Warrensburg Business Alliance hosted a 1950s-era Car Hop. Among the vendors, we hawked books and passports as the drama unfolded. Those gathered were whisked from the 1950s to the roaring ‘20s when a carload of rumrunners screeched into the parking lot and piled out of their Model A. Within seconds, the law appeared on the scene in pursuit. Smugglers scattered like rats, slipping into any hiding place they could find. Perhaps the heat considered our Happy Hour in the High Peaks booth a likely refuge for Prohibition outlaws – they were on our tent like feathers on a flapper. We decided to scram before the bulls started asking questions and we were long gone before the feds pinched Wesley, his moll Giselle, and the rest of their gang. We’re no stool pigeons. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

High Peaks Happy Hour: Drinking is Popular Again

PopularWe’re back! Winter found us sequestered at Pammy’s Pub finalizing (and editing, editing, editing) bar reviews for Happy Hour in the High Peaks: An Adirondack Bar Guide. Add to that the preparation, primping, and posing of 46 cocktails for their close-ups, and it’s easy to see why we’ve been absent. Spring coaxed our creativity with a marketing plan and promotion schedule. Summer put us on the road throughout the Adirondacks, selling and signing wherever we were welcome.

With all that attention to detail and embellishment, the realization hit. The current trend toward drink artistry, rather than guzzling gluttony, has led to a focus on flavor and presentation. Complicated preparations, the use of local and home grown ingredients, and the almost daily arrival of spirited new flavors populating liquor store and beer aisle shelves have prompted an emphasis on savor over swill. Drinking is popular again. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Lost Brook Dispatches: Rinkema’s Auger

Before embarking upon our extended July visit to Lost Brook Tract (where we are as you read this) Amy and I made our food list.  Per my recent Dispatch it is quite a list, including a fair number of fresh or perishable items.  At the top of the list is bacon, we have to have bacon.  Now we both love bacon as much as the next person, if not more, but normally we wouldn’t opt for it as it is unwieldy, doesn’t keep well and makes a real mess.

But we need it: not for the bacon itself, but for the bacon grease. » Continue Reading.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Lawrence Gooley: A Pot Lover’s Paradise

Recent news stories about 420 events (groups openly indulging in the use of marijuana) used the terms protest, counterculture, and anti-establishment, calling to mind two things for me: life as a teenager in the 1960s, and the 40-year-old so-called “War on Drugs.” Just as invasive searches of elderly and very young airline passengers is a massive waste of money and resources today, the war on drugs has squandered untold billions of dollars battling the use of marijuana, a drug far less costly to the nation than alcohol. (And no, I’m not anti-booze.) Hard drugs deserve the attention of the law (their use leads to so many other crimes), and as a former employee of a major pharmaceutical firm, I’d suggest that many common, legal drugs should be used sparingly at best. But I digress. » Continue Reading.


Monday, June 20, 2011

The Unlikely History of Pigeons in the Adirondacks

Unlike eagles, hawks, and others, pigeons are an Adirondack bird surrounded by neither lore nor legend. Yet for more than a century, they were players in a remarkable system of interaction between strangers, birds, and their owners. Others were tied to noted historical events, and a few were undisputed participants in major criminal activity.

The bird referred to here is the homing pigeon. According to the Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State, the Rock Dove is “commonly known as the domestic or homing pigeon,” and is a non-native, having been introduced from Europe in the early 1600s.

They are often mistakenly called carrier pigeons, and the confusion is understandable. There are carrier pigeons, and there are pigeons that carry things, but they’re not the same bird. Homing pigeon are the ones used to carry messages and for pigeon racing.

Racing them has proven very popular. Regionally, there is the Schenectady Homing Pigeon Club (more than 60 years old), which in the 1930s competed with the Albany Flying Club and the Amsterdam Pigeon Club.

The existence of those clubs, the carrying of messages, and other related activities are all based on a long-studied phenomenon that is still debated: how the heck do homing pigeons do what they do? Basically, if taken to a faraway location and released, they usually return to their home, and in a fairly straight line.

Flocks have been released and tracked by airplanes, and transmitters have been attached to the birds, confirming their direct routes. They use a variety of navigation methods, the most important and least understood of which involves the earth’s magnetic orientation.

In recent decades, Cornell University’s famed ornithology unit summarized their findings after extreme testing: “Homing pigeons can return from distant, unfamiliar release points.” And what did these scientists do to challenge the birds’ abilities? Plenty.

According to the study, “Older pigeons were transported to the release site inside sealed metal containers, supplied with bottled air, anesthetized, and placed on rotating turntables, all of which should make it hard for them to keep track of their outward journey.” The birds still homed effectively.

This unusual ability has been enjoyed and exploited for centuries. In 1898, in order to keep up with European military powers, the US Navy established the Homing Pigeon Service. One use was ship-to-shore communication in any conditions—when pigeons sent aboard the ship were released with a message attached, they flew directly back to their home loft.

Their use during World Wars I and II is legendary, and many were decorated with medals. In 1918, pigeon racing was temporarily banned in the United States to ensure that all birds were available for the use of the military.

In peacetime, homing pigeons were treated with near-universal respect and were weekly visitors to the North Country. Whenever one with a metal band or a message tube attached to it was found, standard protocol was followed by all citizens. The birds were immediately given water and food. If they appeared injured, the information from the leg band was given to local police, who tried to contact the owner.

Caring for the birds, whether ill or healthy, was automatic, and it continued until the journey was resumed. For more than 130 years, Adirondack weekly newspaper columns mentioned the landing of homing pigeons (but usually called them carrier pigeons). If a bird somehow appeared to be off course, the leg band information might appear in a short article or in an advertisement.

That informal system was widely used and religiously followed. To further protect the birds (and the system itself) and to confirm their importance, New York State’s Forest, Fish, and Game Commission made it law: “No person shall take or interfere with any… homing pigeon if it have the name of its owner stamped upon its wing or tail, or wear a ring or seamless leg band with its registered number stamped thereon, or have any other distinguishing mark.”

“Homers” were often used for races from 100 to 500 miles. They didn’t always alight where the owner intended, usually due to stormy weather. Many of the birds that landed in the North Country came from Montreal, where their use for racing and message carrying was common.

In 1912, one Canadian visitor settled inside the walls of Clinton Prison at Dannemora. The warden dutifully cared for the bird and attempted to contact its owner.

In 1898, little Miss Gertrude Hough of Lowville received a letter by US Mail from the Los Angeles post office. It had arrived in LA attached to a pigeon that had been released by Gertrude’s father from Catalina Island, more than 20 miles offshore.

And in 1936, a homing pigeon landed on the window sill of a Malone home, where it was treated to the proper care. Well beyond the norm, the bird’s journey had begun in Montana.

Invariably, efficient systems like bank accounts, credit cards, the internet, and homing pigeons are usurped for other purposes. In recent years, pigeons have been used by ingenious crooks to smuggle drugs from Colombia and diamonds from African mines.

In both cases, the North Country was light-years ahead of them. In 1881, an elaborate case of diamond smuggling from Canada into St. Lawrence County was uncovered. A Rensselaer Falls farmer brought to customs authorities a dead “carrier pigeon” with part of a turkey feather, filled with diamonds, attached to the bird’s leg.

During the investigation, two more diamond-carrying birds were shot. It was discovered that baskets of birds were being mailed to locations in Canada, and other flocks were located south of the border, awaiting duty. Shipments of pigeons had originated at DeKalb Junction, Heuvelton, Rensselaer Falls, and Richville, and the value of diamonds successfully smuggled was estimated at $800,000 (equal to about $17 million today).

During Prohibition, both booze and drug smuggling were rampant. In 1930, US officials were tipped off that a number of homing pigeons were routinely being shipped north into Quebec. Upon release, they crossed back into northern New York.

Authorities at Ogdensburg were put on the case when it was found that each pigeon bore a payload of about one ounce of cocaine. At times it was literally a fly-by-night operation—some of the birds had been trained to fly under cover of darkness.

Homing pigeons also played a role in regional historical events. In 1920, a military balloon launched from Rockaway Point in New York City sailed across the Adirondacks. Last sighted above Wells in Hamilton County, it then vanished. Extended high-profile searches turned up nothing, and three men aboard the balloon were lost.

Such missions routinely carried homing pigeons for air-to-ground communication. It was believed that an injured pigeon (broken leg) found on a Parishville (St. Lawrence County) farm had been launched from the balloon, and that its message had been lost during the accident that broke the bird’s leg. It was suspected that the balloon had finally gone down over Lake Ontario.

One of the most famous kidnapping cases in American history occurred in 1932 when the Lindbergh baby disappeared. When the body was found, nearly every newspaper in the land covered the story the next day with multiple articles.

Among the first stories was one emanating from Lowville, New York, where a homing pigeon had landed at the home of Arthur Jones. The bird’s leg had a non-traditional attachment—a piece of twine holding a paper tag bearing the inscription, “William Allen, New Jersey.” It was William Allen of New Jersey who found the Lindbergh child’s corpse.

Lead investigator Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf (Stormin’ Norman’s father) followed up on the information and then issued a statement: “Reports from Lowville show that no registry tag was found on the carrier pigeon. This practically precludes the possibility of further tracing the pigeon unless the owner of the same voluntarily reports its absence.”

In June, 1936, before more than two dozen reporters and celebrities, former World Heavyweight Champion Jack Dempsey and his wife released a homing pigeon from the tower of the Empire State Building at 11:20 am. Less than five hours later it arrived at Scaroon Manor on Schroon Lake, bearing the first honeymoon reservation of the season.

It wasn’t for Dempsey’s honeymoon—it was just a publicity stunt to keep his name active in the media, and certainly raised the manor’s profile as well.

Photo Top: Homing pigeon with message in tube.

Photo Middle: WW I military troops in trench, sending messages by pigeon.

Photo Bottom: Winged members of the military.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Local History: The Search for Judge Crater

Amelia Earhart. Pattie Hearst. Jimmie Hoffa. Famous vanishing acts that obsessed the public and saturated the media. In their time, they were big, but it’s doubtful they topped the notoriety of New York State’s most famous disappearance, that of Supreme Court Justice Joseph Force Crater. And some of his story played out across the Adirondacks and the North Country.

The tale has now faded, but in 75 years it spawned fiction and nonfiction books, countless thousands of newspaper articles, was satirized in Mad Magazine, and formed the plot for movies. It was used for laughs on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Golden Girls, and others. It fostered a guaranteed punch line for standup comics, and produced a common slang expression that appeared in some dictionaries.

The basic details of the story begin with Joseph Crater’s rapid rise in New York City politics. A graduate of Columbia Law School, he taught at Fordham and NYU and aligned himself with the Democratic Party, a move that significantly boosted his private law practice. The New York City wing of the party was widely known as Tammany Hall, where corruption ran rampant and payoffs were routine.

Crater worked within that system, and in 1930, at age 41, he was appointed to the New York State Supreme Court, filling a vacancy. With a career that was flourishing, a dapper public persona, and plenty of power, prestige, and money, “Good-time Joe,” as he was known, had New York City and life itself by the tail.

After the June court session ended, he and wife Stella (she was still in her teens when he married her more than a decade earlier, after handling her divorce) headed for their retreat in Maine for some relaxation. On August 3, Crater received news of a problem in New York. He headed back to the city, leaving Stella with words to the effect, “I have to straighten those fellows out.”

The rest of the story has been repeated thousands of times. The main components are: he went to their apartment on Fifth Avenue; spent time at his courthouse office early on August 6; removed several files there and brought them back to the apartment; had his assistant cash several checks for him; and bought one ticket to see Dancing Partner on Broadway later in the evening.

He dined with attorney William Klein and showgirl Sally Lou Ritz, and shortly after 9 p.m., they parted company. Crater was said to have hailed a cab, supposedly heading for Broadway—and was never heard from again. Nada. Zippo. Nothing.

Because of Joe’s frequent comings and goings, Stella was only mildly concerned with his absence at first. She grew nervous when he didn’t make it back for her birthday, August 9. Within days, she sent her chauffeur to New York to look for Crater, but he only found assurances that Joe would eventually show up.

Finally, Stella hired a private detective, but just like the chauffeur’s efforts, it produced nothing of substance. Friends were confident he would soon be seen. Everything at the apartment seemed normal—travel bags, watch, clothing, and other personal effects were there—but no Joe.

An unofficial search ensued, but alarm really set in when court resumed on August 25 and he still hadn’t surfaced. For various reasons, no official report was made until September 3, a month after Stella had last seen him. An investigation began, and soon many lurid facts were revealed.

As it turned out, there had been plenty of women in Joe’s life, and he was deeply involved in the Tammany machine. It was noted that he had withdrawn $20,000 from the bank at about the time he was appointed to the Supreme Court. Coincidentally, in the ongoing political corruption probe, that was the figure named as the going price for judgeships and other positions.

Dozens of other ugly details were revealed as investigators kept digging. Meanwhile, there was one other important issue to deal with—where the heck was Justice Crater?

A month after his disappearance (but within a week of when the official search began), authorities had traced nearly every second of Joe’s trip to New York. After the dinner date, the trail went cold. The police inspector issued this statement: “We have no reason to believe he is alive, and no reason to believe he is dead. There is absolutely no new development in the case.”

At the time of that statement, a friend said that Crater had mentioned taking a trip to Canada (but gave no reason why). The focus of the continuous search was on far upstate New York. In fact, as far upstate as you can get. In northeastern Clinton County, Plattsburgh reporters were contacted by NYC police and urged to investigate rumors that Crater was in the vicinity.

At Champlain, north of Plattsburgh and less than a mile from the Canadian border, was a famed Prohibition hotspot, the Meridian Hotel. Just a few feet inside of Canada, it was a favored watering hole for thirsty Americans. Crater was reportedly seen at the Meridian, and, since he was a horse-racing enthusiast, it was assumed he had stopped at Saratoga on his way north.

Read Part 2: The search for Judge Crater spans the Adirondacks.

Photo Top: Judge Crater reward poster (the $5,000 is equal to $65,000 in 2011).

Photo Bottom: Judge Crater and wife, Stella, on the last day they were together, August 3, 1930.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Horse Racing Legends: Eddie "Peg Leg" Jones

Inspiring stories of success are often rooted in the lives of people widely perceived as being handicapped, yet have somehow managed to overcome daunting obstacles. A fine North Country example is Eddie “Peg Leg” Jones, who narrowly escaped death as a young boy but lost a leg in the process. For most people, the loss of a limb might well be the focus of the remainder of their lives. But Eddie’s story is one where outstanding achievements offered no hint on the surface that great physical impairment had been overcome.

Edward Jones was born in January, 1890, in New Haven, New York, southwest of Pulaski and just a few miles from the shores of Lake Ontario. Life on the family farm included hunting, and just a few weeks before his thirteenth birthday, Eddie suffered a terrible accident. While crossing a stone wall, he was struck by the accidental discharge of his shotgun. The injuries were severe, and amputation above the knee was necessary.

When he entered adulthood, Eddie engaged in the horse trade, buying and selling farm stock along the western foothills of the Adirondacks. Harness racing had long been a mainstay of North Country life, and dozens of communities hosted half-mile tracks. Through his love of working with horses, Eddie was drawn to the sport, so he jumped in with one foot.

The physical activity involved in training horses was challenging, but Eddie had no intentions of stopping there. He wanted to drive. Granted, it could be rough and rigorous, but it seemed a plus that this was a sport where the participant sat while competing.

That was true, of course, but without a second leg to provide balance and body control while racing, Eddie would have to improvise. A thick leather pad between his body and the sulky frame was all he used for support. He learned to balance by trial and error.

By the time he was 22, Eddie had proven he could drive. Using three main horses and racing at venues from Watertown to Batavia, he gained experience and earned several wins. Three years later (1915), behind five main mounts, Jones’ skills as both trainer and driver were unquestioned.

At Gouverneur, Canton, Watertown, Fulton, Rome, and Cortland, he was a multiple winner. More success came at Batavia, Elmira, and De Ruyter, and at Brockport, Ontario, Canada as well. Other forays outside of New York to Mount Holly, New Jersey and Hagerstown, Maryland led to more wins. In 120 heats, races, and free-for-alls, Eddie took first place 64 times, finishing outside of the top three on only 26 occasions.

While training and racing horses could be lucrative, it was also expensive. Eddie was married by then and needed a steady income, some of which was earned from bootlegging during Prohibition. He routinely smuggled booze in the Thousand Islands area until he and several others were arrested shortly before Prohibition was repealed.

After that, Eddie assumed a more legitimate lifestyle, managing hotels and other establishments while continuing on the racing circuit from Buffalo to Ogdensburg. In the winter he competed in ice races, which were often as well attended as the summer races. Heuvelton, one of the smaller venues, once drew more than 600 for an event held in February.

Through the 1930s, Jones continued to win regularly on tracks from Ormstown, Quebec to Syracuse, Elmira, and Buffalo, and many stops in between. The nickname “Easy Pickins” followed him, based on two things—his initials (for Edward Parkington Jones), and his uncanny use of pre-race strategies that helped him rise to the occasion at the end of a race.

In 1936, Jones took over as manager of the Edwards Hotel in Edwards, midway between Ogdensburg and Watertown. While working there, Eddie dominated the regional racing circuit and increased his stable of horses to 16.

He also began competing in Maine, but in the late 1930s, like so many others during the Depression, Jones fell on hard times. Though he was winning regularly, Eddie was forced to auction his horses, and in 1939, he filed bankruptcy. Life had taken another tough turn, and it looked like Jones, now 49, would end his career on a low note.

But “Peg Leg” Jones, as he was widely known in the media, was far from average. If losing a leg at age 12 hadn’t stopped him, why would he give up now?

And he didn’t. Eddie frequented the same tracks where he had raced over the years, now driving for other horse owners who were happy to have him. Eventually, Syracuse horseman Charles Terpening hired Jones to train and drive for him. Relieved of day-to-day money worries, Eddie flourished. In the early 1940s, despite his age, he began winning more and more races, particularly behind a famous horse, The Widower.

Soon Eddie was a big name in harness racing across the state, winning at Saratoga and many other venues, and competing on the Maine circuit as well. But the best was yet to come.

At the end of the 1944 season, Peg Leg Jones was the winningest racer in the US Trotting Association (covering the US and the eastern Canadian provinces). No one else was even close to Eddie’s total of 152 victories (86 with pacers and 65 with trotters).

Such a heavy schedule surely took a toll, and in the following year, Eddie (what did you expect?) took on even more work. Driving in 437 races across the Northeast, Jones, now 55, once again led the nation in wins with 118. His blue and red-trimmed silks became famous at northern tracks as he finished in the money in 78 percent of his races.

Jones had another excellent year in 1946, and continued racing and winning for several more years. In 1948, at the age of 58, Eddie set the track record at Booneville, just as he had done at Gouverneur in 1934 and Sandy Creek in 1942.

In the early 1950s, Jones began entering horses at Dufferin Park in Toronto. After an illness for which he was treated in the hospital at Oswego in fall, 1952, he went once again to Toronto in January. It was there that Eddie’s journey came to a sudden, tragic end.

On January 7, his lifeless body was found in the tack room. A razor lay nearby, and Eddie’s throat had been cut. More than $2,500 was found on him, and with no apparent motive for murder (like robbery), his death was officially ruled a suicide.

No one knew for sure the reason, and the truth will be clouded forever. As one report said, “The ‘backstretch telegraph’ laid it to a jealous husband or a money deal gone bad.” On the other hand, the suicide angle was supported by the money found on his person, and the fact that he had recently been ill. It was suspected that he may have had a serious disease or was in a lot of pain.

The tall, slim form of Eddie “Peg Leg” Jones would be missed by many. He won hundreds of races and thrilled thousands of spectators, and for more than four decades, the man with one leg had stood tall in the world of harness racing.

Photo Top: Saratoga Trotting Track.

Photo Bottom: Trotting scene from 1915.

Lawrence Gooley has authored nine books and many articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. He took over in 2010 and began expanding the company’s publishing services. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Franklin Historical Society to Feature Dutch Schultz

The Franklin County Historical and Museum Society invites its members and friends to the annual meeting of the Society on Thursday, October 7, 2010 at the First Congregational Church of Malone, corner of Clay and Main Streets. The annual meeting begins with a social hour at 5:30 pm, dish-to-pass supper at 6 pm, followed by the reports to the membership and culminating with a program on notorious beer baron Dutch Schultz. Please bring a dish to share and table service. Members are encouraged to make ‘old fashioned’ recipes and to bring copies of the recipe to share. There is no cost to attend, but membership dues for 2010 and 2011 are welcome.

The Franklin County Historical and Museum Society, founded in 1903, is a membership organization dedicated to collecting, exhibiting and preserving the history of Franklin County, NY. The House of History museum is housed in an 1864 Italianate style building, most recently the home of the F. Roy and Elizabeth Crooks Kirk family. A museum since 1973, the House of History is home to the headquarters of the Franklin County Historical & Museum Society and its historic collections pertaining to the history of Franklin County. The recently renovated carriage house behind the museum is the beautiful Schryer Center for Historical & Genealogical Research, which opened in 2006. The Schryer Center contains archival materials and a library of family history information and is open to the public. FCHMS is supported by its members and donors and the generous support of Franklin County.

The House of History is open for tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1-4pm through December 31, 2010; admission is $5/adults, $3/seniors, $2/children, and free for members. The Schryer Center for Historical & Genealogical Reseach is open for research Wednesday-Friday from 1-4 pm October 13-May 1, weather permitting. The fee to use the research library is $10/day and free to members.

Information about Franklin County History, the collections of the museum and links to interesting historical information can be found at the Historical Society’s website.

Please contact the Historical Society with questions at: 518-483-2750 or fchms@franklinhistory.org.

Photo: Gangster “Dutch” Schultz, the subject of the program at the Franklin County Historical and Museum Society’s Annual Meeting.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

During Prohibition my grandfather’s brother Denis Warren, a veteran of some of the bloodiest American battles of World War One, was left for dead on the side of Route 9N south of Port Henry. He was in the second of two cars of friends returning from Montreal with a small supply of beer. Going through Port Henry local customs agents gave chase and the car he was in hit a rock cut and he was badly injured in the accident. Figuring his was dead, or nearly so, and worried he would go to prison, one of Denis’s best friends rolled him under the guardrail, climbed into the other car, and sped off.

Joe Kennedy, the father of President John F. Kennedy, had a rather different experience with Prohibition – he got rich. Never really enthusiastic about World War One, he spent the war as an assistant general-manager of Bethlehem Steel and used the opportunity to buddy up to Franklin D. Roosevelt who was then Assistant Secretary of the Navy. During Prohibition Kennedy went to England and with the help of FDR’s eldest son James Roosevelt secured the exclusive American rights for Gordon’s Dry Gin and Dewar’s Scotch. Contrary to rumors, Kennedy wasn’t a bootlegger, he imported his British booze legally under a permit to distribute medical alcohol.

The story of these two Irish-Americans serves as a kind of microcosm of the story of Prohibition, when all of America seemed upside down. “In almost every respect imaginable, Prohibition was a failure,” Daniel Okrent writes in Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. “It deprived the government of revenue, stripped the gears of the political system, and imposed profound limitations on individual rights. It fostered a culture of bribery, blackmail, and official corruption. It also maimed and murdered, its excesses apparent in deaths by poison, by the brutality of ill-trained, improperly supervised enforcement officers, and by unfortunate proximity to mob gun battles.”

The medical exemption to Prohibition, along with the sacramental wine exemption, and the fruit exemption for homemade wine and cider, meant that Prohibition was fairly doomed from the start according to Okrent. In fact it’s a wonder that Prohibition even got started. In the late nineteenth century drinking was at an all time high, a central part of American life. But immigration was also at an all time high, along with the Protestant Christian reformers, xenophobia, and racism. An unlikely alliance emerged to battle “Demon Rum” that included racists (including the Klan), progressives, suffragists, and populists.

Okrent lays out the story of this coalition in a readable way, avoiding much of the political minutiae, while still illuminating the personalities – people like Mother Thompson, Frances Willard, axe-wielding Carry Nation, bible-thumping Billy Sunday, William Jennings Bryan (who helped bring the Democratic party on board), Wayne Wheeler (the long-forgotten man considered the father of Prohibition), and Mabel Willebrandt (the Assistant US Attorney General despised by the nation’s drinkers).

The usual suspects are all here: the rise of organized crime from scattered minor street gangs, the rum runners contributions to boat design, the rise of Sam Bronfman’s Seagrams empire. The most interesting parts of the book however, detail how leading suffragists sought the vote after being denied leadership positions in the temperance movement and then used that vote to secure first the income tax (considered crucial to weaning the government off the alcohol excise tax teet) and finally Prohibition. Okrent also clearly presents the brewers’ failure to band together with the distillers, and their lack of action against the Prohibitionist until it was too late. Mostly German-Americans, World War One sealed their fates.

Also illuminating is Okrent’s telling of how the Eighteenth Amendment, which along with the Thirteenth Amendment outlawing slavery is the only constitutional amendment to deal with personal property and the only one to have been repealed, came to be reversed. Last Call chalks it up to a few primary factors. The ease of access to booze which was no longer regulated, and so could be found everywhere, not just at bars (the old joke went “Remember before Prohibition? When you couldn’t get a drink on Sunday?”). The presidential campaign of solidly wet New York Governor Al Smith (defeated by mostly dry anti-Catholics) that changed the political mood of the country’s immigrants [video]. The Great Depression, and the need for the billions in excise tax (which helped fund the New Deal) that gave Repeal a push. But the biggest factor was perhaps the right-wing wealthy anti-tax (and future anti-Roosevelt) Pierre S. DuPont who believed so profoundly that Repeal would mean an elimination of the income tax that he bankrolled the fight himself. Fundamentally though, it was the Democratic title-wave that swept FDR into office [music] that changed the make-up of the Congress that allowed the crucial Repeal vote.

Okrent avoids the obvious comparisons to today’s Drug War, but even the causal reader, can’t miss them. The seemingly limitless supply, the institutionalized hypocrisy of legal tobacco and alcohol while pot smokers go to overcrowded prisons. The overzealous and expensive enforcement on the one hand (particularly in the inner cities), alongside marijuana buyers clubs and lax enforcement that amounts to a defacto local option.

It took about 10 years to understand that Prohibition only increased lawlessness, corruption, greed, and violence. Last Call leaves the astute reader wondering how long it will take us to come to the same conclusion about the War on Drugs.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

 


Thursday, December 17, 2009

1931: Prohibition Agents Sieze a Large Still in Hague

December 5th marks the anniversary of the end of Prohibition in 1933. To remember that time when the social life of so many Americans was made criminal overnight, I thought I would offer this little nugget from the July 2, 1931 Ticonderoga Sentinel. One wonders if the men arrested here ever served any hard time. I suspect they did.

Federal prohibition agents, assisted by state troopers, early Tuesday morning seized a [1,500-gallon] still in a remote section of West Hague, Warren county, and placed under arrest five men who comprised the “night shift” of the establishment.

The men were held in the Ticonderoga jail until Tuesday afternoon when they were arraigned before U.S. Commissioner David S. Fisk in Hudson Falls, who released the prisoners on bond of $1,000 each.

Two of the men, Natale Morino of Rutland, Vt., and Joseph Goricalo of Witherbee, were released pending a hearing tomorrow, and the remaining three waived examination, and
were ordered to appear before Federal court at Malone on July 7th. The trio gave their names as Patrick Natti and John LaFerne of Newark, New Jersey, and Patrick Chioffi of Troy.

The plant was reported as one of the largest ever seized in this part of the state, and it is believed by Federal authorities that the still served as a source of a large proportion of the alcohol illicitly sold throughout northern New York and eastern Vermont.

The distillery was equipped with the most expensive apparatus, and the raiders estimated the cost of the complete outlay at about $3,500. The agents reported they found 300 gallons of alcohol, sixty barrels of yeast, two tons of coke, 34,500 gallons of mash, four 3,000 gallon vats and one 1,500 gallon vat.

Also Included in the equipment was a 25-horsepower upright steam boiler, a 1,500 gallon still and a 50 gallon condenser.

All the apparatus was dismantled and taken to Albany. The alcohol and yeast were destroyed.


Friday, December 30, 2005

Hops Around. Hops Around. Get Up and Get Down.

A while back (a long while back) William Dowd’s Hops To It post got us thinking about doing a nice piece on the history of hops in New York and the Adirondacks; Especially now that the Beer Hawkers have returned to the Glens Falls Civic Center.

Over at the Northeast Hop Alliance, there is a nice recent NY hop history. While hops was a staple crop of New York farmers in years past it, only last year was the first beer brewed with all New York hops.

Hops, once a leading specialty crop in New York state, suffered from plant disease and insect pests. Prohibition in the 1930s also helped spell the crop’s demise, and 50 years ago, production ceased.

The last beer made entirely from New York-grown hops was brewed in the 1950s.

In the Adirondacks hops were an important supplemental crop for many farmers and hop picking provided income to many women and children as well. In Merrilsville George Lamson hired local women to pick his hops every year – Mrs. Henry Fadden wrote a poem about her hop-picking experience:

I went picking hops and though I worked with a will,
I had to go back with my box half filled.

To find my house in disorder, my dishes unwashed.
The children were sleepy, my husband was cross;

And because I didn’t get the supper before I swept the floor,
He kicked the poor dog and slammed the back door.

And said that if I would leaving picking hops alone,
He would give me a job of picking stone.

His advice was unheeded, I refused with disdain,
And resolved the next day to try it again.

Convinced if only I would do my best,
I could pick hops as fast as the rest.

But the weather was cold and I almost froze.
My fingers were numb and cold were my toes.

Thus for five long days I labored and toiled,
My work was neglected, my temper was spoiled.

And though you may think my experience funny,
I am resolved in the future to let the men earn the money.

The last reference I could find regarding the growing of hops in the Adirondack region was a 1949 notice of the arrival of “400 pounds of Bavarian beer hop roots” in Malone where “local growers hope to revive a once-flourishing New York industry.” Unfortunately, the importers were not mentioned by name, and how the experiement went was never revealed.

And who knew? Hops are good for you!

And while we’re at it:

Alan over at Gen X at 40, has our region on his mind – he’s looking forward to a trip to the Adirondacks, and at his Good Beer Blog, he has spotlighted Saratoga’s He’Brew 9 and declared his pick for Best Pub of 2005… drum roll please… is…..

Adirondack Pub & Brewery in Lake George

Have a great new year!


Suggested Reading

The Homebrewer’s Garden: How to Easily Grow, Prepare, and Use Your Own Hops, Malts, Brewing Herbs


Friday, December 2, 2005

Demon Rum: The Adirondack Winter Elixir

Alternet is offering a nice set of articles [one, two] on Rum the booze that changed the world. One of our favorite excerpts:

As the Prohibition and Temperance movements grew in strength patriotic prints of the first president and his officers were bowdlerized. The Currier and Ives print of [George] Washington’s farewell toast to his officers that was published in 1848 showed a glass in his hand and a decanter on the table. By 1867, the glass had disappeared, leaving him with his hand on his chest in Nelsonian mode, and the decanter had been converted to a hat! Successive biographers of Patrick Henry turned him from a former tavern keeper to an occasional tavern visitor, before dropping the tavern entirely from his life story.

And then there is this gem:

On January 15, 1918, a 58-feet-high tank built by the Purity Distilling Company split open and disgorged its 2.3 million gallons — 14,000 tons — of molasses. Like some glutinous volcanic lava flow, it gurgled across the North End of the city in a flood 5 feet deep that ran at 35 miles an hour, taking over twenty people in its path to the stickiest of sticky ends.

Molasses drownings aside, maybe its time for a Rum Revival! Check out:

Peter’s Rum Labels

Wikipeda: Rum Running

Rum Across the Border The Prohibition Era In Northern New York

A Coast Guard History of Rum Interdiction

The Epic Story of the Drink That Conquered the World

Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776

Rum, Romanism, & Rebellion: The Making of a President, 1884

We like beer, though we’ve commented before on liquor in the North Country, and on Homeland Security and Prohibition. – in case you missed it.