Rum Running on Long Island
Presented by Eric Goldschrafe
On Tuesday April 12th, 2016, Eric Goldschrafe, President of the Farmingdate-Bethpage Historical Society engaged the audience in colorful stories about this notorious part of Long Island history.
The 1920's was an interesting time on Long Island, with the passage of the Volstead Act that prohibited the importing and consuming of alcoholic beverages, ushering in the prohibition era. Many residents turned to local baymen and other boat owners to help satisfy their demand for wine and liquor through illegal smuggling and the homegrown moonshine. They smuggled booze at night, confident in their high-speed watercraft which was purposely built to outrun the coast guard craft. Large ships from the West Indies typically anchored offshore at night so that they would not be detected while the baymen hid the cargo in their bay houses until it was safe to bring it ashore. Others constructed makeshift moonshine operations on the bay's marshlands.
The 'rum-line' ships were anchored offshore at the 3-mile international limit 24/7, and some even had large signs advertising the available liquor. The signs could be read onshore with binoculars, and the rum-runners would put out at night or on foggy days. Capture at sea wasn't too risky at first, but the landings on the beach was where the danger lay. The police or hijackers waited for them to come ashore. Later on, the Coast Guard became a much more viable source with better boats and the difficulty of making it to shore with the new 12-mile limit.
To give you and ideal of what this was like, in this picture, a 75' Patrol Boat with a load of seized whisky. The rum runners broke open the wooden boxes in which the whisky was packed and repacked it into potato sacks.
The sacks were easier to load and unload and if thrown down in the water, they would immediately sink. This made it difficult for the Coast Guard to retreive them as evidence. The one pound cannon is clearly visible on the foredeck.
From left to right: Society board members; Elaine Kurka, Chris Vanasco, Jim Vesely, Debbie Filipowski, speaker Mr. Goldschrafe, Arlene Goldman, John White, Madeline Hanewinckel, Valerie Schuster, Roberta Drake, Joan Sullivan.