Mike Jahn

UserpicSlats Thompson and the Good Ship '100 Proof'
Posted by Mike Jahn

Elsewhere in this narrative I printed my old man's description of his encounter with Dutch Schultz at the height of the Depression and in the waning days of Prohibition. Here in a 1975 column he recalls the effect of that especially ridiculous exercise in social engineering on our home town of Sayville, N.Y., lately best known as the place to catch the ferry to Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines, the gay towns on Fire Island. He was a newspaperman before me, and in many ways led a much more interesting life. Here's his piece:

Slats Thompson and the Good Ship '100 Proof'
by Joseph C. Jahn

It's been 42 years, give or take a drink, since the Volstead Act passed into blessed oblivion, but there are old timers out my way who vividly remember Prohibition's effect on their lives.

Rum Row was only a few miles off the coast, and ships that passed in the night included small vessels (local registry) whose bilges were awash with illicit bottled goods. A good deal of maritime money passed hands, allowing some blue collar workers to live in the same baronial splendor as politicians and cops.

Slats Thompson was nonplussed when he stood before his draft board, at age 35, in 1941, and volunteered for the Navy. "Have you had any sea experience," the chairman asked.

"In small boats," Slats said. 

That was modest. Slat's old speedboat wasn't called "100 Proof" for nothing during her heyday on the Great South Bay. Not only was she the fastest boat around, but Slats enjoyed 100 per cent protection from the law due to his generosity to parties of the second part.

But rum running was only one manifestation of local interest in the outside world during Prohibition. The ' worst booze Manhattan speakeasies served their customers did not come from Rum Row. It came from stills in and about my town. The odor of booze was as familiar to discerning natives as the smell of salt in the seaborne air. 

Oddly enough, just about everyone smelled it but the constabulary. "They allus seemed to have bad head colds," is the way old man Phillips explained their inability to detect the odor of ersatz Old Granddad fermenting in farm houses and barns.

The constables' vision wasn't any better. Among the things they never saw were speakeasies. And their hearing was even worse. Among the night noises they never heard was the roar of trucks carrying booze from the speedboats to the city. The free-wheeling trucks shook our houses, but never stirred the law.

These activities brought interesting visitors to town, including gangsters like Dutch Schultz, who immediately fell in love with the environment. It was an ideal place, Dutch concluded, to dispose of the bodies of members of other gangs who dast hijack his trucks.  

More than one native peered into an abandoned car to discover the remains of a hoodlum with a neat round hole in his noggin. Did they report their findings to the constabulary? Only if they were very dumb. To be called as a witness in a gangland rubout was the closest thing to suicide. It made insurance companies very nervous, too. A chicken farmer who lived north of town was painting his front porch one Sunday afternoon when two dapper gents in a long black Lincoln stopped to inquire the whereabouts of the town dump. The chicken farmer's curiosity was whetted by the presence in the back seat of a third party who appeared to be in need of an undertaker.

"Three blocks to the east and turn north," he told the visitors. When the long black Lincoln pulled away, the painter got his family into his old flivver and hauled stakes. He returned a week later to learn from a neighbor that in his absence a very deceased person had been unearthed at the town dump.

"You missed all the excitement," the neighbor said.

"The hell you say," the chicken farmer responded, and resumed painting his porch.

Published in the Long Island Press, February 21, 1975


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