Journal-News, Wednesday, Nov. 5, 1997
When Seven Mile smelled its best: whisky dumped in streets in 1922
By Jim Blount
Some Seven Mile residents believe the village never smelled better than the afternoon of Friday, Dec. 22, 1922. That's when Morris Y. Shuler dumped 1,900 gallons of whisky. At about $15 a gallon, it was worth about $28,000.
As both prohibition raider and judge, confiscated whisky soon consumed all the storage space at Shuler's residence in Seven Mile.
Each barrel was tested before it was dumped in the street. None tested less than 98 proof (or 49 percent alcohol), and some exceeded 100 proof.
The Seven Mile dumping -- probably illegal under present environmental laws -- was just one example of the lighter side of the Prohibition era, when Hamilton and vicinity earned the dubious title of Little Chicago
Hamilton police arrested a "real bootlegger" on an intoxication charge in November 1928. Arresting officers noticed the man had difficulty walking into the station. At first, it was attributed to his intoxicated state. Then police learned the man had a wooden leg, which could have contributed to his balance problem.
Finally, a search of the 56-year-old transient revealed the cause. Officers found five half-pint bottles of moonshine strapped to the wooden leg.
Probably the most brazen dispenser of bootleg booze in Little Chicago was a Columbus man who sold whisky at a stand at the Butler County Fair in October 1923.
The Journal said the operation appeared to be "an innocent-looking lemonade stand" when he was arrested at 4 p.m. on the second day of the fair. He was caught after officials noticed an unusual number of intoxicated persons at the fairgrounds.
The powerful lemonade cost the man $100 in fines and court costs. He also was ordered to return to Columbus.
A suspicious jailed played spoiler in February 1921. But it wasn't an escape which he prevented. Two Middletown men came to the county jail on Court Street in Hamilton to visit a pair of Middletown friends awaiting a hearing on liquor charges. The visitors asked the inmates if they would like some homemade pies. Permission of the jailer, Fred Brinkman, was obtained before one visitor fetched the pies from his car.
The visitor returned with two pies in a box, one for each inmate. Brinkman thought the box too heavy for pies and insisted on opening it. His inspection revealed a bottle of whisky hidden under the crust of each pie. The visitors fled, leaving Brinkman holding the box and the prisoners without their expected refreshments.
The "nerviest bootlegger" may have been the 57-year-old Maple Avenue resident who tried to get whisky into the Hamilton city jail in October 1926.
Tom Boli, Hamilton safety director, was walking through an alley beside the city jail early on a Saturday night. He saw the man standing on a window sill, apparently emptying a bottle.
On closer inspection, Boli realized the man on the sill was dumping whisky into a bucket held by a prisoner inside the jail.
"Just trying to help a thirsty buddy who happens to be in jail," the man said.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 1997
Scent of whisky attracted crowds after road and rail accidents in 1920s
By Jim Blount
One person's misfortune often presented opportunities for others during the Prohibition years (1919-1933), as exemplified by the following incidents in Butler County.
Three unfortunate Cincinnati men were southbound on Hamilton-Middletown Pike (Ohio 4) about 5 o'clock on a Sunday afternoon in July 1922. About three miles south of Middletown -- between Excello and LeSourdsville -- the driver lost control and the car overturned in a ditch.
Within minutes, a traffic jam developed as the curious arrived at the scene. Soon they turned into scavengers, attracted by bottles of whisky thrown out of the rum runners' car.
Some of the bottles had broken and, according to a newspaper account, "the aroma filled the air for miles around, for in a short space of time hundreds were on the scene. Passing machines (cars) stopped and the road became so blocked that the Middletown police had to clear the traffic."
That scene was almost a re-enactment of one on a Saturday morning in April 1921 south of Hamilton. A Journal reporter recorded the incident as a Baltimore & Ohio passenger train arrived at the station at South Fifth and Henry streets.
As the train stopped, he wrote, "persons on the platform were seen to sniff the air, and then their faces lighted up," as "that aroma of by-gone days filled the air."
"Everyone crowded toward old 56 (the train), and it was noticed that the front end (of the steam locomotive) was all wet," the reporter noted.
"One good whiff of this was enough to convince everyone that Conductor Connell had taken his train through a river of whisky. The front end of 56 had been literally bathed in whisky. Many persons fondly touched the old engine and silently wished that they had been the iron monster while that bath was taking place."
"The passengers were seen to get off the train and their pockets were seen to bulge suspiciously," the reporter said. "All were smiling broadly and the people thought that the B&O had suddenly decided to put on a real cafe car again"
The festive atmosphere followed an accident a few minutes earlier. The northbound train had struck a truck at Schenck's Crossing (then south of Hamilton where Ohio 4 traffic now goes through the underpass near St. Clair Avenue on the Hamilton-Fairfield border).
The truck, traveling from Frankfort, Ky., to Buffalo, N.Y., was hauling 200 cases of "legal" whisky to a drug company. Two men in the truck escaped injury.
The front of the steam locomotive was sprayed with whisky from some broken bottles. Most of the whisky -- in half pints -- survived the crash, but was tossed around the tracks.
When the train stopped at the accident scene, passengers rushed off to gather the unbroken bottles scattered in a nearby field.
Beverages of more than one-half percent alcohol content had been illegal since the stroke of midnight Monday, May 26, 1919, when Ohio got a head start on national prohibition. Federal regulations began later.
Federal law permitted the manufacture, sale and transportation of liquor for medicinal and industrial purposes. The truck struck by the B&O passenger train was hauling "legal" whisky.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Nov. 19, 1997
Candy truck fooled Hamilton police; Rum-runner given assistance in 1926
By Jim Blount
Unsuspecting Hamilton police -- who had faith in the signs on the vehicle -- allowed a rum runner to drive away from police headquarters in November 1926.
It started when a truck, believed to have mechanical problems, was founded abandoned on Tylersville Road near Hamilton. "Gordon Brothers Candy" was inscribed on the sides of the truck, that was towed to the police station in downtown Hamilton.
A few hours later an Urbana man arrived to arrange for the release of the truck. Police didn't inspect its contents because it was padlocked. They had no reason to believe it didn't contain candy.
Two weeks later, the truck driver was arrested in Urbana, Ohio, "in one of the largest seizures of whisky in that vicinity," a newspaper said. Also confiscated in the raid was the candy truck, but it was hauling bourbon and rye, not bonbons and opera cremes.
During Prohibition (1919-1933), local bootleggers and rum runners used many disguises in hauling their wares.
A woman who resided in rural Fairfield Township recalled seeing a neighbor's truck haul shrubbery in warmer months and Christmas trees in winter.
"It didn't fool too many people because few persons would buy Christmas trees then," she said. "And, you often saw the same truck hauling the same shrubbery for several weeks."
Whisky and beer also were hidden under hay and potatoes. Rum runners sometimes 1posed as potato peddlers. On at least one occasion, federal agents used the same cover while looking for rural stills and speakeasies.
In June 1924, a Hamilton bootlegger hoped sewer gas would disguise the fumes from his still, but police discovered it anyway.
Detectives Charles Morton and Charles Nugent were tipped to inspect a sewer outlet on the west side of the Great Miami River, just north of the Columbia Bridge.
After crawling about 100 feet into the sewer, the detectives found a tunnel leading south into a 15-foot square cave. Inside was a 50-gallon still in operation, but unattended.
The tipster said the bootlegger, who had knowledge of sewer construction and uses, had been producing moonshine in the cave for several months.
In September 1924, Sheriff Rudy Laubach and Deputy Fred Brinkman found a still in a creek embankment southeast of Oxford. It was near a bridge on Oxford-Millville Road (U. S. 27) at the edge of the village.
The sheriff said the cave was just big enough for the 50-gallon still and one or two men. The entrance was a narrow hole. The owner of the still wasn't apprehended.
In June 1923, Mayor William Stewart of Monroe led a raid on the island in the middle of the Great Miami River, south of Hamilton. He found three stills there, not one. Two men were arrested, some moonshine and 500 gallons of mash were confiscated.
The island -- now attached by a road and the site of the Hamilton sewage treatment plant -- was raided periodically and usually yielded at least one still each time.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 1997
Oxford warned of armed gang in 1921; fire bells alerted town to possible robbery
By Jim Blount
There was unusual excitement in the northwest corner of Butler County shortly before 8 o'clock Wednesday morning, Sept. 7, 1921. That's when officials in College Corner sounded an alert. A hold-up gang had passed through the state-line town and was headed toward Oxford.
With only about six miles between the towns, Mayor James S. Hughes didn't have much time to react to the warning from College Corner. He notified the banks and ordered Oxford's fire bells rung to caution residents.
"The citizens hastily assembled, and had a real hold-up gang put in an appearance, it surely would have gotten a warm welcome," reported an Oxford correspondent.
Apparently it was a load of whisky -- not cash in Oxford's banks -- that was at risk because the two cars didn't stop in the town.
The first car -- a Buick with a man and woman inside -- whisked into town over the College Corner Pike and exited toward Millville on the Colerain Pike. Not far behind was a Packard hauling three men. "Their speed showed no respect for the law," the correspondent observed.
Later, Mayor Bishop of College Corner said the occupants of the two cars had exchanged shots in a moving gun battle on the road between College Corner and Oxford.
About a mile and a half south of Oxford, the shooting resumed, obviously without effect. No evidence was found to indicate that anyone had been shot.
"The only explanation . . . that seems plausible," the correspondent surmised, "is that the occupants of the racing cars were whisky runners who had quarreled among themselves." The occupants of the trailing car (hijackers) wanted to steal the whisky or beer being hauled in the lead car (rum runners).
It was one of many indications that rum runners and hijackers clashed on Butler County's rural roads during Prohibition (1919 until 1933). Because of the illegal product, the encounters were seldom reported to the sheriff or local police.
Beverages of more than one-half percent alcohol content had been illegal in Ohio since the stroke of midnight Monday, May 26, 1919. Federal law permitted the manufacture, sale and transportation of liquor only for medicinal and industrial purposes.
As noted in previous columns, rum running and hijacking were risky, but lucrative ventures in the Hamilton area in the 1920s and early 1930s. That's when the region was known as Little Chicago because of blatant violation of the state and federal dry laws.
A hijacker's income was potentially much greater because he would have little, if any, expense. Someone else would buy or produce the whisky, then the hijacker would steal it while it was in transit. He could possibly sell both the truck and its contents at a substantial profit.
Rum runners during Prohibition feared hijacking more than arrest in Butler County. Road patrols were almost nonexistent because of the scarcity of law enforcement officers in the county. Others attributed the volume of rum running and hijacking to laxity or corruption in law enforcement.
There were other reasons for the frequency of rum running through Butler County. One was its location on good paved roads (by 1920s standards), including the Dixie Highway. Others factors were the proximity of Butler County to so many distilleries, and the realization among Prohibition violators that Ohio penalties were less stringent than neighboring states, including Indiana.
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