Prohibition tales abound  
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Ed Patenaude So I’ve Heard


There was a time in this country, January 1920 to April 1933, when the sale or manufacture of alcoholic beverages was illegal. The National Prohibition Enforcement Act became effective Jan. 16, 1920, some 88 years ago this week.

Information from selected news stories offers a glimpse into a constitutional amendment that was opposed by most people in this area.

•Prohibition enforcement officers arrested a Southbridge bakery delivery man Dec. 5, 1923, after a wave of drunkenness was reported in the Thompson village of North Grosvenordale. The deliveryman sold moonshine “of man-sized strength and containing a kick in every drop,” an officer said.


•Claiming “moonshine” caused her husband to go blind and then die, a Thompson woman sued a Dudley man in May 1924, seeking $15,000 in a jury-waived trial. Her husband was in a continual state of intoxication and his health was broken by the moonshine, the woman testified. He had died in June 1933 in a Worcester hospital. Based on testimony given over three days, the judge dismissed the lawsuit.

•The national Prohibition Commission issued a ruling April 30, 1924, that added peaches, apples, pears and other fruit to a prohibition ban if their juice was allowed to ferment. The ruling riled “wet” forces in the Congress, but the commission warned: “Watch your cider and your grape juice.” A Webster storekeeper posted a sign, “Premium fruit, almost ready to ferment.”

•Police confiscated five fully loaded rifles, 90 gallons of alcohol, 210 bottles of Canadian ale, 180 bottles of home brew, 10 half-pints of moonshine, 20 quarts of choice mixed liquors, 300 pounds of sugar, 20 cases of empty bottles, and a complete still on Aug. 15, 1926, at a farm in Sturbridge. It turned out the farmer rented his property to a Worcester County moonshine ring, receiving $100 a month rent, a small percentage on the profits, and a $500 retainer to cover lawyer fees, should he be arrested.

•Webster sewer commissioners reported in 1926 that an 8-inch sewer line behind Main Street “is carrying a volume of (sewage) to its capacity.” A correspondent for a Boston newspaper discovered that waste increased after illegal stills were set up around downtown. The reporter irritated police by locating five “bathtub booze” places that were flushing mash waste into the Main Street sewer.

•June 25, 1925, was a tough day for Webster police. Thieves broke into the police station and made off with alcohol and whiskey that had been confiscated five days earlier in a raid at a Dudley farmhouse. The department didn’t have a midnight-to-6 a.m. desk officer at the time. Twelve five-gallon cans of alcohol, 16 cases of beer, 10 quarts of wine, nine quarts of whiskey, a quart of cognac, a quart bottle of rye, a capping machine, and paper labels of well-known brands of whiskey were in a locked cell, and the station was locked from without. “The mystery feature of the case is the fact that keys were used to unlock both the cell door and the outside door, fitted with a Yale lock,” reported the Webster Evening Times. Police declined to say if any keys were missing, or how many sets they had.

•An auto salesman was on his way home May 19, 1926, when his car got a flat tire. He was about to change the tire when a motorcyclist happened by and offered to help. His benefactor, a state police officer, smelled liquor on the salesman’s breath, turned his attention to the car, and found 18 quarts of Gordon Dry Gin under the back seat. The salesman was charged with the illegal transport of alcohol and driving under the influence of alcohol. He appealed district court findings, posted bail and wound up paying $200 in fines when his case was reviewed in Worcester Superior Court.

•A still capable of producing 3,500 gallons of moonshine a week was uncovered by police Jan. 19, 1929, in a raid at 13-1/2 Mechanic St., Webster. Police learned the<
-Courtesy Of
Telegram & Gazette

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