Down East 2013 ©
Prohibition originated in Maine — the Pine Tree State passed the nation’s first ban on alcohol way back in 1851, led by teetotaler Neal Dow, and supported the Eighteenth Amendment that made it federal law in 1920 — and yet this photograph from 1926 shows that Mainers were also adept at undermining the very laws they helped create. Inventing the conical still at left, for instance, took undeniable ingenuity. The crockery jugs at far left might have just as easily been used to hold maple syrup or cider as moonshine. And the briefcase full of beer, at bottom, was a testament to both Maine’s burgeoning reputation as a vacationland and the bootlegging industry that flourished on the peninsulas, islands, and back roads that form the state’s porous border.
In this obviously staged photograph, Sagadahoc County Sheriff Albert McClure, at center in a wool cap and leather boots, and three associates have precariously stacked nearly a dozen metal cans of confiscated moonshine in the basement of the county courthouse in Bath along with a keg, dozens of bottles of scotch whiskey, and various bottles of wine that he and his deputies had seized during the year. (Deputy Roscoe E. Perkins, at far left, must have removed the light bulb at top right just to accommodate all the contraband.) The tubes of another still sit coiled in an empty cask at far right. Sheriff McClure made sure Bath photographer Herbert Douglas’ film captured him actually dumping some of the eight hundred gallons of confiscated booze, an almost stock scene that police used to reassure their constituents that all the hooch, including the half-empty flask on the shelf at left, would end up in the sewer and not in a local speakeasy.
That reassurance, however, became increasingly empty as organized crime groups and other less than scrupulous characters took advantage of Prohibition as a way of turning huge profits. In Bath that temptation even extended to McClure’s successor, Albert Henderson, who posed in photographs practically identical to this one after taking over as sheriff in 1927. Henderson, who was just a deputy when this photograph was taken, was indicted in 1935 for assisting bootleggers and was sentenced to eighteen months in federal prison. Despite such embarrassments demonstrating Prohibition’s failings, Maine kept laws controlling liquor sales on the books until relatively recently, as the ban on Sunday liquor sales was not repealed until 1990. In the end, just as in the beginning, the desire to control what people put into their tumblers at night proved no match for the attraction of putting some extra money in Mainers’ wallets.