Concise Summary Mixed with Lesser-Known Anecdotes Makes A Winning 'Cocktail' On Prohibition
Apr 11, 2011
I’ve read several books on Prohibition, but I approached Sally J. Ling’s RUN THE RUM IN: SOUTH FLORIDA DURING PROHIBITION with some trepidation. It’s a shorter work than some others that have focused on the most controversial social experiment in America’s history, so I wasn’t sure how in-depth the research would be. Also, it appeared rather narrowly focused – even the title specifies that Ms. Ling wanted to hone in on Prohibition activities as they related to a single state – again underscoring the risk as to how much material could be provided. I’d read a few other books by authors who’d undertaken specific geographic reviews of Prohibition, and, frankly, I wasn’t all that impressed; those works concentrated more on weakly substantiated peoples, places, and events, and, as the time period in question is nearly a century old, I would imagine that some verifiable facts associated to some possibly dastardly undertakings by equally reclusive (if not deceased) people might be hard to come by. I’m happy to report that I came away from RUN THE RUM IN fairly elated.
To my surprise, Ms. Ling’s book had far greater balance of major and minor events that contributed to a greater understanding of Prohibition as a multi-national phenomenon. From my reading, I was personally aware of Canada’s involvement in providing manufactured liquor; I was familiar with the fact that several islands in the Bahamas also housed alcohol that was provided to America during these ‘dry days.’ What I learned was to what extent citizens living and operating in certain areas – such as south Florida – went to profit greatly by circumventing the law and continuing to provide folks with their favorite drinks, the risks they took, and the prices – both financial and lethal – they paid for their spoils. Ling underscores national events – such as the U.S. government’s eventually increase of manpower and materials to the Coast Guard – and then gives them local focus, something I’d found missing from other regional explorations of Prohibition.
It’s clear that she’s done her research. LET THE RUM IN spends time with such national figures as Al Capone, Mabel Walker Willebrandt, and even Al Capone while healthily balancing out south Florida’s participation with the Ashley Gang (first time I’d read about them!), “Cap” Theodore Knight (first time I’d read about him!), and the Coast Guard’s Base 6 (knew of the Guard’s prominence in curbing illegal liquor imports, but this was the first time I’d read of the Florida connection). Also, this was the first time I’d read of the famous rum-running ladies – Gertrude Lythgoe and “Spanish Marie” Waite. Actually, I found much of RUN THE RUM IN to be filled with some pleasantly surprising (and downright evil) new faces that help one to further understand the mindset of folks willing to put their lives and fortunes at risk against what they had to gain during this era.
As I said before, Ling’s research provides great balance between the national phenomenon and how regional players – the “little folks” – dealt with Prohibition, and the book certainly deserves to be more widely read. I’ve learned through my reading on investigative journalism into this era that it’s been extremely difficult for authors to get people willing to go on record to discuss their families and friends involvement in the illegal manufacture and sale of alcohol, and I can only imagine how many anecdotes have been sadly lost to history. That’s not the case here, or, at least, it hasn’t appeared to have hampered Ms. Ling. While some of her players wished to understandably remain anonymous, she’s clearly backed up the lion’s share of the facts through research into public records. It’s a handy little look into one area’s dabbling into unlawful activities, and she backs it all up with a winning cocktail of facts and legends.
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