THE BLACK SHIPS: Rum-runners of Prohibition by Everett S. Allen

THE BLACK SHIPS: Rum-runners of Prohibition

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More tales from the booze age (viz., Intermperance, p. 670). This anecdotal account of the battles between the Coast Guard and the bootleggers who tried to land liquor between Montauk Point and Boston--and especially around Allen's native Martha's Vineyard--adds little to our knowledge of Prohibition. Allen tells us that he knows ex-bootleggers, but he won't spill the beans. He won't even tell us who the businessman was who complained to Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon that the Coast Guard wasn't quite doing its duty. And he certainly won't tell us whose liquor was being transported--he's writing a history, he says, not an expos. But there is no historical perspective of development in this patchwork from Coast Guard files and newspaper accounts. He does tell us all about the problems of the rumrunners--bad weather, pirates, poor distribution techniques, and, of course, the Coast Guard. The fishermen-turned-smugglers relied on their knowledge of the coastline and their guerrilla-like ability to disappear. They had a ""heritage of hardship and hard work, of simple lives and sacrifice."" When caught, they are described variously as manful and remorseful (""sometimes there is close to a hint of tears in the record""). On the other hand, there were the gangsters--""desperate characters"" who favored bulletproof pilot houses, underwater exhausts, smoke-screen devices, false hulls, fake gas tanks, and very very large engines. They could be original--encasing liquor bottles in salt and dumping the block of salt near a beach; when the salt melted, the hootch would float to the surface. Allen does a good job of recounting the 1929 ""Black Duck"" affair in which the Coast Guard questionably killed three men, setting off a national outcry against the violence of Prohibition enforcement. But Allen also tells us that the Black Sox won the 1919 World Series--they didn't. Marginal.

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 1979
Publisher: Little, Brown