Bootleggers and Moonshiners and My Granddad
The recent debate over privatizing our state liquor stores has brought to the forefront debate on "sin taxes" and revenue busters.
Useful arguments can be made on both sides of the issue. I believe folks are going to buy booze no matter who sells it to them. The question is how best to benefit the state budget.
In January, I attended the consecration of Scott Benhase as the 13th Episcopal bishop of Georgia. Since Scott is one of my closest friends, I thought I would welcome him back to the South with some homemade whiskey. I was surprised to discover that the ABC store in Southern Pines carries "moonshine" and that it even comes in a mason jar.
My grandfather is turning over in his grave.
My grandfather was chief of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) enforcement in Cumberland County for almost a dozen years. By all accounts, he was very good at his job - so good he was re-elected president the North Carolina association representing all county enforcement.
As former provost marshal at Fort Bragg, Col. Hans C. Larsen wanted to continue in his efforts to clean up the notorious Hay Street area of downtown Fayetteville. ABC enforcement seemed an obvious extension of these efforts
The provost marshal at Fort Bragg would tour the local prisons on occasion. Family legend has it that my grandfather met nf one of those visits.
In addition to inventing the Carbine rifle, which has for decades defended this country in the hands of American soldiers fighting battles in the Far East, Carbine served hard time for killing a federal agent who was trying to put his bootlegging operation out of business. The story passed down over the years has my grandfather stopping to play a game of checkers with this soon-to-be-famous inmate.
He would love to tell stories of the many colorful characters he met in the bootlegging business. The tales were charming in a "Dukes of Hazzard" kind of way - so much so that I would often forget that these folks were considered criminals by the law (my grandfather).
One story he loved to tell involved a seemingly very heavyset woman sitting surrounded by kids and grandchildren and insisting that the officers were barking up the wrong tree. He would always end with a big laugh. She was sitting on top of a few cases of full mason jars.
Looking through some old newspaper clippings, it is clear that they were exciting times that began when the booze was still transported by mule-drawn wagons. The bootleggers were often ingenious. One fellow hid 16 pints of Cumberland County's finest in the roof of his doghouse.
A newspaper reported one discovery like this:
"The delicate aroma that the drinkers of bootleg whiskey get in their favorite white mule tipple has been revealed as essence of old felt hat. ... It serves a useful purpose in removing from the hooch: blue bottle flies, drowned English sparrows, field mice, hoppy toads and other denizens of the woods."
Mmm! Give me another swig!
My grandfather was responsible for the arrest of what the courts called North Carolina's "biggest bootlegger," a fellow named Dan Graham. Setting out to bust up a gambling operation at a local filling station, he and his men stumbled upon 335 cases of moonshine. Graham eventually pleaded guilty, served time and was arrested again in New Jersey running a narcotics ring.
One poor soul got nabbed twice in three days transporting non-tax-paid liquor across state lines. He had, in total, 60 half-gallon jugs and 350 gallons of homemade stuff.
One night in May 1949, they took axes to 12 stills and poured 400 gallons of booze into the sandy woods of North Carolina - all while the bootlegger looked on in absolute agony. I can just picture John Belushi in "Animal House," freaking out when school authorities "took the stinking bar."
I keep in my living room a picture of one of those arrests. There my grandfather stands, pistol in holster, fedora hat cocked on his head, holding an ever-present smoke. He is significantly happier than the guy he had just busted.
A carpenter doing work on my house noticed the photo and asked, "Did the revenuers ever catch him?"
Why he would assume any grandfather of mine would be on the wrong side of the liquor laws, I do not know.
Chris Larsen, who formerly worked in public relations and lobbying in Washington, lives in Southern Pines. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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