I’ve decided to retire my blogs on Lady Ada, Programmer, and The Extraordinary People of New York in the 1920s, consolidating my research outtakes here.
From the title of this post, you may think that I’ve a deli story to tell, and that I misspelled “ham on rye.” Nope. Today’s story is about the art, and sometimes the science, of rumrunning from Nassau, Bahamas to the coasts of New York and New Jersey.
Every inch of hold and surface space on a rumrunner was precious, think of the overhead compartment on an airplane. But instead of cramming roller boards into every cranny, skippers loaded gin, bourbon, and the very popular rye whiskey under and over their ships’ decks. Unfortunately, cases of booze, like the other guy’s carry-on, are awkward to store. Bring on the hams.
Let’s allow the Founding Father of Rum Row, Bill McCoy, to share the first time he saw a ham production line in Nassau: “At the packing tables were scores of [workers,] sheathing each bottle in corrugated paper, stacking them into pyramids of six each, packing straw around them, wrapping them in burlap, sewing the cloth fast with double sail twine—preparing more emissaries of the Demon Rum to corrupt further the morals of America.” (The Real McCoy, Frederic F. Van de Water, 1931)
Hams also sank faster than wooden cases, a benefit when Treasury cutters were bearing down. Fortunately, when Bill’s favorite ship, the Arethusa, couldn’t outrun the Treasury agents, he outthought them and seldom had to dump his cargo overboard to the quench the thirst of the phantom sailors in Davy Jones’ locker.