Prohibition in North Brooklyn

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It was easy to sympathize with Judge Harry Howard Dale’s frustration with enforcing prohibition in North Brooklyn.  It was April 1924 and prohibition of alcohol was supposed to be the law, but prohibition never took fi root in the Eastern District. The area was a hotbed of drinking and thousands of people were breaking the law and causing a backload of cases for the overwhelmed court system.

The victim of the good judge’s wrath was poor Thomas Solohoski, twenty years of age,  of Engert Street who was arrested for public intoxication. Judge Dale asked  Solohoski where he had had gotten that poisonous rum,  even if he knew, Solohoksi wasn’t telling. He told the judge he did not remember where he had been drinking.

The Judge could no longer contain his frustration. He responded to the accused.” Of course, you can’t remember. How could you when you drink that stuff they are selling?” Perhaps what irked the judge was that Solohoski was one of many people from the Eastern District who ended up in his court. The judge continued,” There are more speakeasies in the Eastern District, I feel, than any other place in the boro. You can get a drink in candy shops, in cigar stores, hat stores, bootblack parlors, hardware stores and finely appointed apartments.It wouldn’t take me long to get a line on them and if I got busy I would close up every one of these places and put those selling this poison in jail.”  The angry magistrate thundered,” If I had the time and could get together twenty-five red blooded men I would clean up the speak-easies in The Eastern District and Greenpoint in twenty four hours. Poor Solohoski was fined ten dollars.

Few Greenpointers would have supported the judge’s call to wipe out speak-easies. In a plebicite on ending Prohibition in the area 8,612 voted to end it, while only a hundred and two wanted prohibition to continue.

Although he did not drink himself, there was no greater enemy of prohibition than Alderman Peter J. McGuinness. No American lawmaker ever fought harder against the Eighteenth Amendment. Pete made more attempts to find a legal way around prohibition than any other American legislator. “America does not want to be a dry country,” he told his fellow aldermen. “New York will never be arid. Let us keep the parched desert in the torrid countries and permit New York and her sister states to be peopled by real humans.” No epidemic of flu could strike the city without McGuinness putting forward a resolution petitioning Congress to “so amend the Prohibition Law as to allow the sale of spirit liquors for the benefit of the sick. “It’s a criminal shame” McGuinness said, “to allow whiskey to lie idle while people are lying at death’s door who could be saved by it.”  McGuinness  even organized local  parades against prohibition complete with his marching band called “ Jimmy Walker’s Beer Parade. “

The Eagle also reported that speakeasies were breaking up marriages. Justice Mitchell May decided that John George of Jackson Street was entitled to separate from his wife without alimony in May of 1929. According to testimony at the hearing,   his wife Nellie had been a perfectly wonderful spouse until she developed a taste for Greenpoint cocktails. George testified that he had begged his wife to quite drinking booze from local speakeasies, but that she was so fond of drinking that even the parish priest could not make her desist.

In a 1926 article the Daily Eagle reported that Chester Mills, The New York State Prohibition director, stated  there were more than 15,000 speak-easies in the city and that the Federal Government in no way could close them all. By the early nineteen-thirties it was clear that prohibition would not work and it was stopped in 1933 by Constitutional Amendment.

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