2005-06-02 / Little Old Canarsie

Little Old Canarsie

Bootleggers Paradise
John Denton

Doing a little rowing and hauling along one of the old creeks that jutted into Canarsie from Jamaica Bay. Above, the boaters enjoy rowing along what is now East 88th and East 89th streets.              (Photo from the Neuske Collection)Doing a little rowing and hauling along one of the old creeks that jutted into Canarsie from Jamaica Bay. Above, the boaters enjoy rowing along what is now East 88th and East 89th streets. (Photo from the Neuske Collection) When Prohibition was in effect from 1919 until May, 1933, all over the country the bootlegging business of imported scotch and the making of home brewed beer and bathtub gin started. And right here in Canarsie 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 enjoyed singing all the popular tunes of the day.

If you just wanted to have a couple of beers there was a house on Remsen Avenue and Avenue M. Another was on Canarsie Road and Avenue M, where you could get good home brew for fifty cents a pitcher full.

In all the fourteen years we had the law, it only put the legitimate business men out of business and bred a lot of bootleggers to make lots of money and the government was deprived of any taxes or license fees.

One of the old creeks that came in from Jam-aica Bay at the time between what is now East 88 and East 87th 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 everyone 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 burlap bags that they had loaded the boats with outside of the bay which was worth around $100,000 at the time. They were seen by someone who notified the precinct and when cop 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episode of the time of the very unpopular 18th Amendment of our government, which from time to time was attempted to be repealed until the coming in of the beloved President F.D.R., who promised the people it would be repealed with his backing. So, in May of 1933 the majority of Americans were grateful to see Congress get rid of it and return America to a legitimate way of getting their drinks to whoever wanted them.

Those who believed in dry’s could stay that way.

And so we end another chapter of “Little Old Canarsie.”

P.S. To inform all Canarsie residents the Sands Bay section mentioned here was from Avenue N to Belt Parkway and Rockaway Parkway to Fresh Creek with houses build on stilts and boardwalks to get to them.

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