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    5 Things

    What you don’t know about Prohibition in Massachusetts

    A speakeasy in North Station which was raided and shut down in the early ’30s.
    Globe file photo
    A speakeasy in North Station which was raided and shut down in the early ’30s.
    Boston Public Library
    John Barleycorn’s “funeral” was staged in the South End in 1920.

    The years of Prohibition (1920-1933) were a wild time in history. Although the passage of the 18th Amendment outlawed the sale of intoxicating liquors, people continued to drink anyway. The alcoholic beverage industry went underground. When breweries and distilleries closed down, people began making their own liquor at home and setting up stills in secret locations. When barrooms and taverns closed their doors, they were replaced by speakeasies.

    Beer and liquor continued to be poured on the sly at pool rooms, all-night restaurants, and soda shops. Law enforcement couldn’t keep up. Police and federal agents found liquor in unlikely places: candy shops, fruit stands, auto garages, gas stations, cobblers, barber shops, office buildings — even undertakers’ rooms.

    Here are some of the ways people of Massachusetts tried to get around those pesky Prohibition laws.


    1. The first dry day. On Jan. 17, 1920, Prohibition went into effect, and a 27-year-old storekeeper in Dorchester was among the first to be arrested for violating the new “dry” law. Police claimed that he sold high-proof Jamaica ginger extract — known as “jakey” — to an undercover officer. Police raided his store at 107 Park St. in Dorchester and seized several bottles of the stuff.

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    2. Lady bootleggers. In April 1922, the Boston Globe reported on the sudden rise of “baby-carriage bootleggers” and described women as “champion booze hiders.” The article revealed the strategies that women used at the time: tucking bottles under blankets, under mattresses, and even hiding hooch on young children. “The most popular refuge picked by the woman for contraband booze is the pocket hidden beneath her skirt,” the article stated. “A properly tailored dress will secrete a number of bottles about the person without the hazard of clinking glass or gurgling nozzles.”

    3. Busted. On Jan. 23, 1921, the Boston Globe ran a front page story about the police raiding a “naughty” tea room known as the “Lighted Lamp.” The club was located in the basement of a yellow brick tenement house at the corner of Myrtle and Grove streets, and the “jazzy tunkle-tinkle of a piano could be heard from behind the closely drawn shades.” On the night of the raid, police found dozens of young men and women partying there. Seven young flappers got a ride in the patrol wagon, where they were scolded and given a “fatherly lecture” by Captain Fitzgerald. Instead of arresting the young partyers, the police called their parents instead.

    4. Hide and seek. In May 1930, police uncovered a new way of dispensing liquor at a drugstore at 2662 Washington St. in Roxbury. They discovered a phone booth at the place contained a sliding back door that led to a secret room where a clerk delivered the customers’ orders. When police raided the place, one cop went into the back room and took an order from an unwitting customer who requested a half pint. The police officer handed the customer a half pint of water and said it was “on the house.” The customer left the store, and the two store clerks were taken into custody by police.

    5. Club raid. The Club Garden was a fancy speakeasy at 153 Causeway St., across from the Boston Garden. There was a peephole at the entrance. In February 1932 it was raided by federal agents. Here’s what happened: Two undercover officers were drinking at the 50-foot bar, and one jumped over the bar and grabbed the bartender, and ordered everyone to stand still and instructed the other officer to “kill anyone who made a move.” A police whistle sounded, and they opened the barred doors to let nine other agents in. Five men were arrested and loads of liquor — estimated to be worth at least $6,000 — were confiscated. The club was stripped down, the bar was dismantled, and all the elaborate decorations and furnishings were taken away in trucks.

    Emily Sweeney can be reached at