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'Rum-runners' find their way to Ohio

• Sep 1, 2017 at 11:00 AM

As I research for this column, I never cease to be amazed at the variety of stories in the newspapers and court records through the years.

One of the most interesting times to read about was Prohibition, that long decade after World War I ended and (in theory) the country was liquor free. Northern Ohio was especially active in the production and distribution of contraband alcohol, due to its proximity to Canada.

In the summer of 1925, the Coast Guard had been aware that “rum-runners” were carrying liquor from Canada to several American ports, including Huron. In early October of that year, a Canadian craft called the Ranger was attempting to approach Huron without having its running lights on. Several shots were fired before the Ranger’s captain halted.

The federal agents found 510 cases of Canadian whiskey, beer and ale on board and arrested two men on the ship. They pleaded guilty in Cleveland to smuggling and were bound over to a federal grand jury on $5,000 bond each. The Ranger was confiscated to be sold, but was leaking at the seams so badly when towed to Cleveland, that it was taken out into the lake and sunk.

Two weeks later it was reported that another rum-runner named the Zarkin had grounded on the beach west of Vermilion at Rumsey Park. The 600 cases of contraband was removed by the federal agents, but they still could not free the Zarkin, so they sold it “as-is” to the Kishman Fish Co. of Vermilion. I presume it was moveable once the cargo had been removed.

A number of people, especially rural residents, were active bootleggers during Prohibition. Bootleggers was the name given to these lawbreakers, supposedly because they wore tall boots in which a bottle or flask could be hidden quickly if a federal agent showed up. There may be other definitions of its origins, but that’s what I was told once.

If sheriff’s deputies made an arrest, the case was tried in probate court, whose judge had the powers of what we now know as municipal court. Mayor’s courts also heard the cases sometimes, depending on what enforcement agency had made the arrest. I was told that in the Huron County probate courtroom during a trial, the deputy would pour a small amount of liquor on the floor and set it afire to show that it contained alcohol and would readily burn. There was a minor incident in one case when a quantity of confiscated liquor disappeared from the sheriff’s evidence room, but I’m not sure that anyone ever was held responsible for it.

On the lighter side, I find a story from 1925 in the newspaper, wherein a schoolboy in Lorain was required to fill out an enrollment card. He did so, but left his father’s “occupation” space blank. The teacher questioned him about it, and he replied that his father didn’t have to work because he was a bootlegger.

As we can imagine, the police were notified and commenced an investigation.

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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at Colonial Flower and Gift Shoppe at 7 W. Main St. in downtown Norwalk. These preserve my earlier columns in permanent book form.

Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.


DON’T FORGET!! My “Just Like Old Times” books can be purchased at Colonial Flower & Gift Shoppe at Seven West Main Street in Norwalk. These contain my earlier columns fully indexed in permanent book form.

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