Prohibition: A City Along a River, Dry as a Bone?
Adam Rybczynski looks at Havre de Grace in the prohibition era
Like much of Havre de Grace’s history, the prohibition era was layered with mystery.
Overnight, complex underground markets were established to promote the sale of alcohol. Legal boundaries were no match for the demand alcohol was in. Bootleggers established a profitable network of speakeasies through out Havre de Grace.
Several bootleggers in particular caught the eye of the National Dry Agency. During the course of the dry period, a large number of raids were executed on members of Havre de Grace’s underground world. Criminal behavior, such as smuggling liquor into Havre de Grace on airplanes, selling large amounts of alcohol, and the shooting of John A. Buongore, solidified Havre de Grace’s reputation as an unruly community.
If you have lived in town for a while, you have probably heard stories about this time period. My interest was sparked in the sixth grade, after a classmate told me he was related to Al Capone and how Capone had visited Havre de Grace. I have been fascinated ever since.
The first event I want to discuss took place in 1922. By then, prohibition had been going on for some time. However, it was well known that you could buy liquor in our bay-side town.
Local dry agents had noticed a suspicious airplane flying over the Havre de Grace racetrack. Meanwhile, they received tips that bootlegger Chris Martin, who lived near the racetrack, was receiving his alcohol via the airplane and entertaining a large amount of guests. Dry agents raided his home, finding one hundred pints of gin, two hundred quarts of whisky, and various other liquors ready to be sold. Next to Martin’s house was a lunch stand, in which he was associated, where alcohol could be purchased. Martin was arrested and the liquor was confiscated.
Two years later, things hadn't calmed down in Havre de Grace. Bootleggers and speakeasies were still able to make a profit. Those who wanted to purchase liquor could easily do so in within the city limits.
National dry agents were out to make arrests in Havre de Grace. Before they could do this, they needed to collect enough evidence to justify conducting a large raid on the town. Their approach to this was sending an undercover dry officer into the town to purchase alcohol. The officer was able to buy liquor at a number of establishments in town without any difficulty. The agent collected names and locations and brought that information back to his headquarters. Federal agents gathered enough incriminating material to obtain eighteen warrants within Havre de Grace.
With warrants in hand, fifteen dry agents came back two weeks later, conducting a massive raid on the bayside town. Agents searched cafes, lunchrooms, confectionery shops, poolrooms, and gas stations. While raiding a nearby saloon, one agent was pistol-wiped by a woman who ran the establishment. Ultimately, the small army of federal officers made up from teams from Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. arrested eighteen people and confiscated two large truckloads of liquor.
The 1924, a dry raid on Havre de Grace marked a notable law enforcement attempt to bring a halt to liquor sales in Havre de Grace. While large in nature, the raid had small success.
Dry agents continued to conduct raids and attempted to make arrests in Havre de Grace. One attempted arrest stands out more than the rest because of its outcome. It was 1925 when dry agent Joseph Furbershaw came to Havre de Grace to arrest local bootlegger, John Buongore.
Buongore, a convicted bootlegger, was placed under arrest at the Harford House by Furbershaw and his partner for the sale of corn whiskey. Just two years earlier, Buongore was convicted and served a jail sentence for selling alcohol at his establishment, The Columbus Hotel. After being arrested, Buongore asked the agents if he could call his wife and inform her about his situation. They granted him his request. Instead of making the phone call, Buongore took off on foot down St. John Street in attempt to escape. Instead of chasing the escapee, Furbershaw drew his pistol and shot Buongore, causing him to fall to the ground. Furbershaw’s first shot didn't kill Buongore, but his next bullet did.
As Bunogore’s cold, dead body laid on a busy street in downtown Havre de Grace in broad daylight, a crowd began to form. The assembly of on-lookers demanded Furbershaw be arrested. The federal agent was charged for the murder of John Buongore. A few days later, a coroner’s jury found the shooting to be “brutal and inhumane.” The Furbershaw case was taken to trial and the agent was eventually acquitted of any wrongdoing.
Prohibition represents a time in Havre de Grace’s history where criminal activity was prevalent. Widespread crime was a part of life in Havre de Grace and around the country. While alcohol was deemed illegal, its demand never went away.