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01907 Summer 2018

The police department in

The police department in front of Swampscott Town Hall in 1926 after the firing of the police chief and reorganization of the department. THE RUM DIARY Spirited bootleggers cruised coast during Prohibition BY BRIDGET TURCOTTE Swampscott made headlines nationwide in the 1920s for a scandal involving members of the town’s police force, who were in cahoots with bootleggers storing illegal liquor along the shore during Prohibition. Months after voters in the town sought the help of legislatures to allow alcohol to be consumed at more establishments, the illegal transport of liquor put the town under a microscope and led to an overhaul of the police department. Nearly a century ago, Swampscott became a popular landing place for rum-runners. The act was not unique to the oceanfront town, but some say Swampscott was under more scrutiny because it was where then-President Calvin Coolidge had chosen to spend his summer months. After a scandal unfolded surrounding police involvement Police Chief William L. Quinn. with rum-running, it has been said that Coolidge chose not to return. During the early days of Prohibition, liquor was often smuggled into the United States by sea. The boats carrying thousands of dollars worth of forbidden cargo were dubbed “rum-runners.” Ships followed the shore line and eventually, cargo would be unloaded and hidden on a deserted beach or vacant summer estate, as was the case in Swampscott, according to “Swampscott, Massachusetts Celebrating 150 Years,” a book created by the Swampscott Historical Society in 2002. The illegitimate industry of smuggling spirits from other countries became lucrative, especially in the Boston area, which was littered with hotels and speakeasies where alcohol was easily accessible to customers 18 | 01907

who wanted it. Swampscott’s scandal began during a cleanup that preceded Coolidge’s stay at White Court, an oceanfront mansion. The property, which later became known as Marian Court College and is now being transformed into housing units, is located on Littles Point Road in Swampscott. It was rumored that rum-runners could be easily seen from the lawn on a clear summer day that year. “All the homes were closed up for the winter,” said town historian Lou Gallo. “In general, it was deserted. Nobody was on there except for caretakers (for the properties).” More than $50,000 of liquor stored in vacant homes on Littles Point Road, including White Court, was soon discovered during a raid and confiscated by Swampscott Police, said Gallo. “At some point in time, they went to get it from the police station and it was gone," he said. “The chief of police and a couple of other cops lost their jobs.” It is unclear whether former Chief William L. Quinn was fired because of his involvement or simply because he was tasked with overseeing the department, said current Swampscott Police Chief Ronald Madigan, but Quinn was only chief for about two years before he parted ways with the town. “When I think back to that time - if the officers were involved, they probably made a lot more money than what they made from the department,” said Madigan. "Police weren't paid well back then.” According to the Swampscott Historical Society's book, which quotes town documents, Swampscott had become “a habitual landing place for rum-runners who operated without any genuine interference on the part of the police.” The 1925 report of the Board of Selectmen says that on April 29, 1925, the board preferred charges against Quinn. Hearings were held to determine whether the action of removing him from office was justified. The courts ruled that the board was warranted in drawing conclusions that SUMMER 2018 | 19