Life of a Rum Runner

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March 6 cover by S.W. Reynolds

Although they didn’t know it, thirsty New Yorkers still had more than six and half of years of Prohibition to endure, and business was brisk for the rum runners who plied the coastal waters.

The March 6, 1926 issue featured the article “Rum Runners Must Live,” in which writer Emile C. Schnurmacher described the heroic efforts of bootleggers and rum runners in keeping New York’s countless speakeasies (and many home liquor cabinets) well stocked. Some 30,000 speakeasies were opened in New York City alone during the Prohibition era.

Schnurmacher described the risky game of running “overboard stuff:”

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He told of how one rum-running boat, the Sea Bird, made its way through Flushing Bay (to pick up bootleg Scotch) while evading the Coast Guard:

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The boat later successfully delivered the “Scotch” near Yankee Stadium:

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“The Talk of the Town” offered its regular update on bootleg prices. The local “synthetic” gin was reported to be of better quality than the imports, surprising given that synthetics poisoned a good number of folks back then:

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The blog Speakeasy Science notes that during Prohibition, police department chemists, “analyzing the so-called gin in the Brooklyn bar and around the city, reported that much of it was industrial alcohol, re-distilled to try to remove the wood alcohol content. The re-distilling was not notably successful. The poisonous alcohol remained and there was more: the chemists had detected traces of kerosene and mercury, and disinfectants including Lysol and carbolic acid in the beverages.”

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HE HAD THE GOOD STUFF…Not all bootleg was poison. Until he was busted in 1923 by government agents, one of the most famous purveyors to wealthy buyers was rum-runner William McCoy. (US Coast Guard)
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In order to destroy evidence, the crew of the rum-runner Linwood set fire to their vessel after being pursued by a patrol boat. (Photo circa 1923, U.S. Coast Guard)

In “Tables for Two,” Lois Long (who imbibed her share of bootleg alcohol) paid a visit to the Algonquin hotel and took some playful swipes at the denizens the famed Round Table:

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IS THAT YOU DOUG? Silent screen star Douglas Fairbanks could relax unmolested in the quiet confines of the Algonquin. (Meredy.com)

At the movies, Theodore Shane took deadly aim at the silent film version of the opera La Bohème:

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A “pop-eyed” John Gilbert and Lillian Gish in the 1926 silent film version of La Bohème.

And finally, Al Frueh’s sympathetic take on the wintertime toils of the rich:

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Next time: A Technicolor World…

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Published by

David O

I read and write about history from the perspective that history is not some artifact from the past but a living, breathing condition we inhabit every moment of our lives, or as William Faulkner once observed, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." I read original source materials, such as every issue of The New Yorker, not only as a way to understand a time from a particular perspective, but to also use the source as an aggregator of various historic events. I welcome comments, criticisms, corrections and insights as I stumble along through the century.

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