Mobilians with a taste for rum cocktails like the Cuba libre, mojito, Mary Pickford and El Presidente were not much daunted by Prohibition. After the 1919 passage of the Volstead Act, they flooded into the Munson Steamship Line’s reservations department at Pier 8 riverside (near the GM&O Station) and locked up trips to Havana a solid month in advance. But not all of these travelers were simply thirsty tourists seeking a little relief in a Caribbean bar. Some were business-savvy smugglers working extensive mainland and island contacts. During a well-publicized 1924 corruption trial, the reach and sophistication of one Mobile-based smuggling network astonished newspaper readers. The so-called “rum ring” included a long list of public officials and prominent citizens, among them the city police chief, the county sheriff, a state legislator, a judge, merchants, lawyers, future congressman Frank W. Boykin and the president of the People’s Bank, who regularly secured loans for Cuban liquor buys and made payments up and down the line to politicians, schooner captains, shipping clerks, inspectors, stevedores, bag men and lookouts. The ring would typically purchase hundreds of cases of beer, gin, rum, scotch, wine and whiskey at a go. Ship captains then loaded it with the claim that they were Honduras bound. Once out of Havana’s harbor, however, the ships made a beeline north, heaving to along “rum row,” an area just outside the limit of U.S. national waters, at that time three miles from shore. Fast boats then scooted out from secluded Alabama bayous and coves to pick up the contraband and sneak it into Mobile. Local speakeasies and bigwigs bought some of it, but a large part headed by truck or train to New Orleans, Chicago and other points. The profits were stupendous, each shipment netting as much as $20,000 (approximately $322,000 today). Many locals applauded the smugglers’ activities. A New York Times reporter wrote that after each shipment’s arrival, “Mobile appears to beam pleasantly and to talk a little thickly.” Authorities were less pleased and stepped up their efforts to disrupt the smuggling, but they enjoyed only limited success in a port city where a tolerant Latin heritage and Mardi Gras were so deeply rooted.
Recipe By Maggie Lacey. Makes 1 Cocktail
6 mint leaves, plus more for garnish
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tablespoons simple syrup
3 tablespoons Anejo rum
2 dashes Angostura bitters
In the bottom of a tall glass, muddle the mint leaves with lime juice and simple syrup. Add the rum and bitters
and fill the glass with crushed ice. Top with a plash of soda water, garnish with additional mint and enjoy.