Strange Times 100: "Gurgling Overcoats"

Strange Times is a newsletter that explores the weirdest news of 1921, one day at a time. If you like it, forward it to a friend or back me on Patreon. And while you’re at it, why not grab yourself a copy of Westside, my 1921 mystery novel, or preorder the looming sequel, Westside Saints?

Today, the hundredth issue of the newsletter, brings a hatless ten-year-old on the lam in Philadelphia and a police department desperate to stop New Yorkers from having fun with their hips. Sneak a slug of liquor to celebrate…

April 10, 1921

  • After convicting plantation owner John S. Williams of murdering Lindsey Peterson, a black farmhand allegedly held in peonage on Williams’ property, the Georgia jury recommends the accused be given less than the life sentence called for by the law.

  • A Cherokee grandnephew of Zachary Taylor files suit against the state of Oklahoma, claiming 14,000,000 acres on behalf of the Cherokee nation, based on a recently discovered treaty endorsed by President Van Buren that granted the land to the Indians “forever.”

  • Several weeks after his fever abated, Caruso is able to walk around his hotel room, but has not yet tried to sing.

  • The Weather: Fair and much colder today; Monday, fair and continued cold; strong northwest winds.

Suspect is hatless—repeat, hatless.”

Abraham Auerbach, 10 years, who is described by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Auerbach, 703 Amsterdam Avenue, as an habitual runaway, is being held by the police of Philadelphia until his parents decide what disposition shall be made of the lad. He disappeared from the tailor’s supply store of his father, 685 Amsterdam Avenue, last Thursday night, when he was sent out to get a paper. He was bareheaded and his mother was surprised that he should have started off on one of his jaunts without his hat.

Soon after the boy disappeared from home on March 8 last and was discovered ten days later in Winchester, Pa., his mother laid her plans to send him to a farm school. She is waiting to learn whether this institution will undertake to care for the lad before she communicates with the police of Philadelphia.

To celebrate our hundredth issue, here’s an interesting look at the living nightmare the New York City police experienced while trying to enforce prohibition, a law so unpopular, they couldn’t even find jurors to try violations of it.

Drinks could be obtained by appointment only in New York City yesterday by persons who had no home stocks, according to reports from all the boroughs.

More arrests were made, increasing the total to about 275. The surface supply of liquor had disappeared. It no longer was on shelves behind or under bars or in restaurants. The little that remained in public houses was locked in safes.

Many saloons and restaurants, however, had been transformed into booking agencies where the thirsty could make their appointments. Only drinkers of standing could procure passports to the grottos and chambers where liquor was guarded as though it were the golden fleece and sold at fabulous prices.

Police inspectors, whose jobs depend on the fight they make against liquor, ordered plainclothes men to discover the “haunted” rooms in hotels and apartment and tenement houses. Detectives were busy as ghost-breakers in every inspection district. The close watch kept by Commissioner Enright over the work done by inspectors is revealed by a table kept at Police Headquarters showing how many arrests have been made and how much liquor has been confiscated in each inspection district.

Commissioner Enright issued special instruction to the police yesterday to capture “walking cellars.”

One of the first effects of the seizure of liquor in saloons has been to bring into existence the perambulating saloon—the man with flasks or bottles in “sideboard” pockets, who finds his own customers and sells liquor by the “swig” in secluded spots. Suspects are to be smitten hip and thigh, according to Commissioner Enright.

“The police are not expected to go about slapping everybody’s pockets,” said First Deputy Commissioner Leach, “but if a man is suspected they may jostle him and find out that way.

“Anyone carrying liquor is just as much a violator of the law as if he carried a pistol or dirk. Commissioner Enright has called particular attention to the fact that many waiters and others are carrying liquor on the hip.”

“Gurgling Overcoats”

The police were instructed particularly to watch for men who, on warm days, were wearing overcoats which gurgled or clinked.

“Any hotel man who permits a guest to store or sell liquor in a hotel room may be convicted and forced to close for a year under the new law,” Commissioner Leach explained.

Something like a new draft law will be needed to get the jurymen to try those accused of violating the new State laws, according to the present rate of arrests and the probable difficulty in obtaining unprejudiced men to serve.

Arrests have been made at a rate of about sixty a day. Supposing that each person goes to trial and demands his right to have a jury under the new laws, citizens would have to be impressed for jury duty at a rate of about 18,000 a day, it is estimated. Figuring on past difficulties in getting juries in liquor cases, it is computed that there are only twelve unbiased men fit for jury duty in every 200 empanelled.

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