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  • Writer's pictureDon Wilding

Coast Guard: No booze from Santa

During the era of Prohibition, many Cape Codders turned to rum running as a way to make a quick buck. Many fishermen and farmers, in search of a more lucrative way of making a living, took to speedboats and headed out to “Rum Row,” where they could buy large loads of contraband liquor to sell ashore.

One thing that a rum runner didn’t want was to get caught by the Coast Guard. If the Coasties were in pursuit, it often meant that the liquor was thrown overboard, with the hope that it could be recovered later.

On some occasions, the booze would wash ashore, much to the delight of Outer Cape Codders. One such incident occurred just before Christmas in 1924, when hundreds of “five-galIon cans of.alcohol in wooden cases came bobbing ashore, or else floated along outside the surf,” according to the Jan. 1, 1925 edition of The Chatham Monitor.

Coast Guard officials “denied that Santa Claus had any responsibility for the appearance of liquor in the holiday season,” the Monitor noted.

In Eastham, a dumped liquor load became the main attraction of a birthday party at a bayside home during the holiday season. “The liquor load was left at the end of an inlet on the man’s property, containing over 100 burlap sacks of whiskey, brandy, and champagne, and he quickly carted it all off in his truck,” The Cape Codder recalled in 1952.

Whether it ended up being for one’s own consumption or for sale, the Dec. 25, 1932 edition of The Boston Globe noted, “the finding of a large liquor cache along Cape Cod shores really is a Christmas present in an economic way.”

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Learn all about the Prohibition era and Cape Cod rum running in Don’s five-week course, Cape Cod Contraband: Rum Running and the Era of Prohibition, Fridays at Open University of Wellfleet, Jan. 18 through Feb. 15.

Read more about Outer Cape history in Don’s books, A Brief History of Eastham: On the Outer Beach of Cape Cod, from The History Press, and Henry Beston’s Cape Cod: How The Outermost House Inspired a National Seashore, from the Henry Beston Society.

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