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2003-11-20 / Little Old Canarsie

Prohibition Made A Lot Of People Here Rich

John Denton
Prohibition Made A Lot Of People Here Rich John Denton

When prohibition law took effect in 1919 until it was abolished in 1933, the bootlegging business across America, including home brewed beer and bathtub gin, boomed. Right here in Can-arsie there were many places you could go and get drinks behind closed doors. In the Sands Bay section, were two well-known shacks, known as "Big Johns" and "Big Dukes," where men and women drank home brew and en-joyed singing the popular tunes of the day.

If you just wanted to have a couple of beers there was a house on Remsen Ave. and Avenue M, and another on Canarsie Road and Avenue M, where you could get good home brew for fifty cents a pitcher. In the fourteen years we had the law it only put the legitimate businessmen out of business and bred a lot of bootleggers to make lots of money and the government deprived of any taxes or license fees.

One of the old creeks that came in from Jamaica Bay at the time between what is now E. 88 and E. 87 streets. And ran almost to Avenue M had a row of oyster shanties along its banks (until it was filled in by dredging sand out of Jamaica Bay around 1921). Just about the time around midnight and the boys thought every one was sleeping around town they came into the creek with a launch and a couple of boats in tow with a load of scotch wrapped in bur-lap bags that they had loaded the boats with outside of the bay which was worth around $100,000 at that time. They were seen by someone who notified the precinct and when a cops car was seen heading towards them, the men jumped overboard and swam to the other side of the creek and got away. The sacks were confiscated and no one knew what became of them.

This was only one episode of the time of the very unpopular 18th Amend-ment of our government which from time to time was tried to be repealed until the election of the beloved Pre-sident Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who promised it would be repealed with his backing.


Some of the houses in the background were built alongside creeks that ran in from Jamaica Bay. Photo: Nueske collection

In May of 1933 the majority of Americans were grateful to see Con-gress get rid of it and return America to a legitimate way of getting their alcohol. Those who believed in dry’s could stay that way. P.S. The Sands Bay section was from Avenue N to Belt Park-way and Rockaway Parkway to Fresh Creek with houses built on stilts and boardwalks to get to them.

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