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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Bootleggers and Rum Runners Revisited

The Wednesday, December 22nd Blog featured a 1929 New York Times news article about a skirmish in the Mullica River involving the Coast Guard and some local rumrunners, preportedly from Atlantic City. You can read that Blog entry by clicking on the link below.

At the end of the article I invited anyone with ancestors in bootlegging and the rum running trade to email me their stories. I was pleasantly surprised when my history buddy, John Yates, emailed me three stories with a map and accompanying photos. It is my pleasure to share them with you.

John sent the following email.

Your blog entry on rum running has jogged my memory. I have three rum runner stories that were passed down in my family. I think the statute of limitations is up as well as any political ramifications. :-)
Story #1

I remember my grandfather, Harry W. Yates, telling a story about finding their shanty stuffed with liquor during prohibition.

The Egg Island Shanty was South-East of Great Bay. This chart hung on John Yates' bedroom wall in the 1960s when he treaded clams as a summer job

It wasn't long before a boat came with some armed fellows who asked their help in navigating the waterways to take it away. It seems they needed to ditch it for a while until the heat was off, and the duck hunting shanty was an ideal place for temporary storage. They were very cordial fellows, just armed and in an illegal business, as I recall from the story. I heard this at family gatherings around the dinner table when I was in elementary school. So I don't recall or never found out more details. I do remember my grandfather's Egg Island Shanty in my youth. The Shack on Egg Island was one-third owned by my grandfather. He was a carpenter by trade. I remember being there a number of times, but after Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge bought the land, hunting was no longer permitted. They did "grandfather" in the shanty until all of the three original owners passed away. My grandfather was last, and sure enough, they burned it down some months after he died. It still appears on many nautical charts, even though it hasn't been there since the early 1970s. This however, was not likely the shanty involved in the rum running story above. Hurricanes had a habit of taking them, and I remember hearing about probably half a dozen shanties that the hunters in several families had out along the inland waterway over the hunting years.

Story #2

I remember one of my Uncles, who shall remain nameless (but he started life living in one of the Sears residences in New Gretna ;-) ) who was a Teamster truck driver by trade. He made extra money by driving a truck for the rum runners. He told me the story that they would pull a loaded truck onto the ferry (I am not clear at this date which ferry) and leave the truck, but watch it from the passenger area. A number of times the Feds would approach the truck and discover its contents. The driver then would exit the ferry with the passengers, leaving the truck behind, and call Harry L… (oops! ;-) ) to tell him he'd have to go and pay to claim his truck back! It seemed to be an established cat and mouse game that they played! I remember the smile and gleam in my Uncle's eyes as he told the story.

John Yates' Uncle Sear's house on Hammonton Road in New Gretna

Story #3

The third story is from the side of the law. Harry W.'s father, Harry E. Yates, joined the Atlantic City Police force and became a Detective.

He was called on a number of times to investigate tips of gangsters like Dillinger holding up in Atlantic City, but they always somehow "just" got away. He was in on a raid of the Karpis-Barker gang, and the gangsters got away, but barely. The odd thing though was he almost lost his job because of it, so the family story goes. The story I heard was that he was supposed to tell his superiors before conducting the raid, and after being unsuccessful with that previously, he decided to quietly hold the raid. Why would telling his superiors compromise the raid? Well, Atlantic City corruption back then is well known, and gangster payoffs for police protection would come under that. Nothing I can prove, dinner table stories are dinner table stories. And I never knew my great grandfather. I just discovered a year or so ago that his participation in this gang raid is documented in the book "J. Edgar Hoover and his G-Men" by William B. Breuer, pp. 149-151. He gives the date as January 20, 1935. Two fellows, "Creepy" Karpis and Harry Campbell, escaped guns blazing, but their two girlfriends were captured, one of them slightly wounded. One of them was the younger sister of a member of the John Dillinger gang. Only one detective was also slightly wounded, a bullet grazing his cheek. The shoot out in Atlantic City is also mentioned at:

I remember seeing and handling my great grandfather's revolver at my grandfather's house. I believe my Dad and Uncle turned it over to the police rather than keep it in the family. This would be the revolver my great grandfather accidentally shot himself in the foot with. In Atlantic City's City Hall restroom, the gun fell to the floor, went off, and luckily only hit him in the foot. My grandfather was on the AC life guards at the time, and he ran from the lifeguard tent (not sure which one, but possibly States Ave) to the Hospital. This too was a story I heard around the dinner table as a youth. But a few years ago, I found a November 23, 1936 Time Magazine article on line that confirmed it!

Clipping from 11/23/1936 Time Magazine

PS- As I was writing about the Karpis raid, I discovered the date was 1935, and Prohibition was over in 1933, so it doesn't exactly fit under the rum running gangster umbrella, but why waste a good gangster story! Especially after I wrote it down! :-) .

I hope you enjoyed John's stories as much as I have. They show that many local people were involved, in one way or another, in bootlegging and rum running operations in the area.

Pete S

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