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Season 4, Episode 2 · 5 months ago

Episode 402 - Bottles and Bootleggers

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Bottles and Bootleggers follows the exciting journey of smuggler Ben Kerr as he traverses the icy waters of lake Ontario during prohibition. He lands in Rochester, New York fueling Rochester’s alcohol craving. We investigate the ways alcohol is smuggled, how it's hidden and the ways it affects people. So, how far were Rochesterians willing to go to keep alcohol flowing, and how much violence and crime were they willing to tolerate?

You are walking down a familiar boardwalk. Tonight is a good night for boating. It's a crisp autumn night and the moon is hardly a sliver in the sky. Once a local plumber, you now spend your days enjoying the riches from your nighttime enterprise on the water. With just you, your boat and your smuggled goods. You have a cargo hold full of alcohol, a legal now in the United States, law enforcement is hunting you. Fellow smugglers and hijackers are out for your cargo. Each voyage could be your last. This is a day in the life of Benkur. Originally from the Canadian town of Hamilton on Terrio, cur was what you might call an opportunist. He began his smuggling business in one thousand nine hundred and eighteen. At this time, Canada had enacted a limited prohibition intended to last until the end of World War One. This is where Kerr started his smuggling escapades, smuggling alcohol from the United States into Canada. Canada had only recently begun postwar alcohol production. When the United States went dry, as he already had an operation in place,...

...it was a fairly simple matter for her to flip the direction of a smuggling enterprise. He started with beer. I'm Maddie Werry, I'm a Dina Gold scene and I'm Kathleen Love, and we are your host for here you are, Rochester, retold episode four, UN two bottles and bootleggers rhibition, where's the result of a long standing struggle to get men out of bars and so ober them up so they could be productive husbands and fathers. This is Morris Pierce, a professor in the history department at the University of Rochester who teaches a course on the history of Rochester and western New York. There was no penalties for possessing alcohol. He was only for selling it or drinking it a public place and all that stuff. So how far we're Roch to Stan's willing to go to keep alcohol flowing, and how much violence and crime were they willing to tolerate? Well, Rochester, interestingly, was then and still arch is, a conservative place. They felt that this was a government meddling in a private decision. You know, if you want to go buy a bottle of rum and have fun with it, that was your business, not the government. And so there's this kind of schizoid attitude, and people still recognize that. You know, it did cause damage, but this was a personal moral decision and really was not the business of the government, and so local politicians in Rochester just hoped it would go away for the most part. I...

...mean there were some who supported prohibition, but that seemed to be the kind of odd man out. When homegrown alcohol was banned, they looked for another way to source it. This gave rise to a new alcohol industry built upon organized crime. Here's problem was that large mobs came to control the manufactor and in distribution and even the speakeasies, and they attempted to drive out the little guys. And so there be a murderer, mayhem, and all this to control of the trade. Smugglers brought in illegal liquor from Canada, and Ben Kerr suddenly became a very well known figure in the Rochester area. Once alcohol hit the shores, bootleggers ran it to speakeasies. Yet this operation was more than a local phenomenon. Rochester became a center for the movement and distribution of a legal alcohol into the United States. Canadian distilleries often focused on filling larger orders from places like New York City and Boston rather than smaller ones from Rochester and Buffalo. This left lake smugglers with only beerd a smuggle during the early days of prohibition. Once distilleries unofficially opened their doors to lake smugglers, ker primarily did his business with Corby's distillery in Belleville, Ontario, the only operating distillery on Lake Ontario. Naturally, distilleries and breweries did not want to run into the legal trouble that would come with them officially exporting alcohol to the United States. So in order to get the alcohol for his shipment, Ker had to go through a long and complicated legal process. First, the American distributor, a bootlegger, would travel to the Corby's head office at one Sherbook Street...

West in Montreal. He would meet with the general manager, Harry Clifford Hatch. Hey, Harry, how's business? Don't too bad, you Americans, and you and you law have been great for me, and deposit a hefty sum of around twenty grand to ensure his credibility legally, the alcohol he secured would be headed to a shell company, likely in Mexico or Cuba. This would prevent a paper trail of their smuggling operation which might have been used against them in an American court of law. The bootlegger would then specify the carrier of the inventory, who, in our scenario, is been Kerr. Kur would take his boat to Bellevale where he would meet Jimmy Boyle, the corby worker in charge of shipping. A truck from Corby's plant would then take the shipment to government docks where a customs officer would sign the paperwork. Workers from Corby's would then load wooden boxes of whisky on to one of Kerr's boats. He was very protective of his boats and didn't want so much as a scratch on the Mahogany Trim. After securing his cargo, Kerr would then shake hands with J W dolmage, the outside customs officer, and tip him around ten dollars to thank him for his services. The whisky is now curs to transport legitimately under Canadian law. The fact that his boats were far too small to travel across the Atlantic Ocean to Mexico or Cuba was ignored, as was the fact that his boats would be back at his boat House in Belleville the next day. The next step in Kerr's journey was the crossing. His favorite craft,...

...the Barnimus, would carry twelve hundred cases of whisky or beer in a single trip. Perr made quite the impression on the locals of his chosen ports. Regg powers who worked on his father's farm in Premier Cove remembers that everyone was terrified of Kerr, saying that he always carried a big revolver and that we figured if he'd caught any of us in his boat, he should you. However, smugglers were not the only criminals on the lake and one of the most dangerous parts of the journey was the draw point. In the dead of night, Kerr was delivering cargo on a shore east of Rochester. He pulled his boat into shallow water, the bow facing into the lake and the engines idling so he could cut and run at a moment's notice. He was handing bags of Ale over the sides of the boat to bootleggers, some in a small rowboat and others waiting out up to their waist to carry the bags to shore. It was business as usual. Then hijackers who rated alcohol shipments had targeted Kerr's drop point. The bootleggers fled for cover as bullocks arched over their heads. Ker picked up his rifle and immediately began to return fire, giving his associates a chance to get clear. In expert shot, Kur drove the band of hijackers back down the beach on his own. They were at an impass and Kur made the next move. Taking his boat two hundred yards east. He landed quietly on the shore with his three hundred and three rifle in hand, a twelve game shotgun in the other and a forty five revolver...

...in his belt. He came up behind the hijackers, firing the three guns at random to sound like he had a whole band of men with him. Caught by surprise, the hijackers flood the shore. They had not taken a single case of alcohol. After Kerr had handed his cargo off to the bootleggers at the shore of Lake Ontario and turned back for Hamilton, the alcohol headed for this speakeasies, shrouded and missed and almost impossible to see from a distance. The lower falls cave in the city proper was occasionally stopped in alcohol's journey to Rochastarians, Maddie and I ventured down to lower falls to try to find the caves for ourselves. Like yeah, I couldn't get there. I tried to walk all the way down along the river, but the waters too high and going too fast. I eventually got to clearing and it was just the falls under the huge bridge and there are so much miss that I couldn't open my eyes to move forward. So I had to stop just shot of the cave. So that's something that the smuggler probably experienced too. Must have been super hard to get back close to the caves. Man Made during prohibition, for the Genesee River was dammed. The cave was used to store alcohol before bringing it up to speakeasies on the street. Thanks to smugglers like Kerr keeping a steady flow of alcohol coming into the city, Rochester had adopted speakeasy culture with fervor. Many of these low calls were in the same places where Rochesterarians had gone for alcohol before prohibition. Some were in more subtle locations, in apartments, houses, garages, Barber Shops, social clubs, cigar stores and...

...hotels. In one thousand nine hundred and thirty one, a raid uncovered half a barrel of beer from a supposed book store on Monroe Avenue that was secretly a speakeasy. College town stands on what was once Benedict Spiegel's hotel, which was rated four times during prohibition. In exclusive location called the Viper Club, was on the third floor of a building on East Avenue now used by the IRS. Louis Destin ran a beer flat, which was slang for a speak easy hidden in an apartment or other private location on Swan Street, which is right by Eastman School of Music's hatch recital hall. You may wonder how did all of these bars managed to avoid getting caught? Well, they had a few methods, some better thought out than others. One solution was to hide their identities by fronting as other businesses. Fancy naming schemes often came into play, such as calling themselves soft drink purveyors and secretly serving alcohol on the side. One Thousand Nine hundred and twenty four was a big year for rating in Rochester, and March alone prohibition agents rated twenty four speak easy's dismantled. Four Breweries import a hundred and twenty barrels, or about thirtyzero pints worth of beer into the sewers. But what happened after they got caught? Not very much. Even after being rated, most speak easies paid a fine and simply reopened. Despite participating in raids, law enforcement was unhelpful in curbing prohibition. In June of one thousand nineteen thirty two, four deputy sheriffs were suspended after being found drinking in an East Main Street speak easy at ten in the morning, with their uniforms on hand for their upcoming duty. A speak easy even operated on Exchange Street, a stone's throwaway from the RPD headquarters. Rochester became a...

...hub for distributing alcohol even further inland, due to its convenient location on the shore of the lake and its easy access to waterways. This also made a hub for organized crime networks composed of mercenaries and violent men like Kur the sneaking, smuggling and illicid drinking all came to a close when the Twenty First Amendment abolished prohibition in Nineteen Thirty Three. Much like when it was first announced, the prohibitions end was met with little fanfare in Rochester. Many of the speak easies that were open stayed open. One speak easy owner is quoted saying I don't think it was such a celebration. Help the saloons in Rochester were wide open anyway. Although life went on much as it had before after prohibition ended in Nineteen thirty three, the end was not always as peaceful for the criminals who had kept alcohol moving during that period. Kur himself would meet a mysterious and tragic end. His body would be found on the lake that made his career, floating lifelessly in the water. There was no big funeral for Kur. His family, ashamed of having his crimes associated with their name, buried him under an alias. But the industry he eventually sacrificed his life for continues to this day. Rosterarians still maintain a strong drinking culture and the same drinks made and speak easies during prohibition from alcohol that curse smuggled a cross Lake Ontario, are still made to day, and local bars like cure the daily refresher and good luck. Here you are is a podcast created by students at the University of Rochester. This episode was created by Mattie Wary, Adina Goldstein and Kathleene love. Our engineer was Mattie Wary, our lead researcher, with Kathleen...

...love and our head producer was Adna Goldstein. We'd also like to thank Morris peers for his interview. Here you are is created using faders, a collaborative online audio production workstation. It offers browser based audio recording and editing, all within and easy to use interface, all for free. Go check out fader's Dot I oh, the coordinating producer for this season of here you are is Celia Cono. The executive producers are Thomas Fleishman and Stephen Restner, and be sure to check out the other episode of here you are, season four, Rochester retold at here you arecom.

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