1920 Bootlegging and Lakewood Avenue

January 5

It is a Sunday dinner at Joe and Johanna’s house on Collington Avenue. Joe invites his brother and sons for a ham dinner and to talk. Joe, James, Leo and Eddie discuss the upcoming meeting with James Connelly. They will produce rye whiskey and Connelly will sell it for them. They won’t be able to age it properly, but it will be whiskey. They have had a still in the Shop for years. A demonstrator used for display and occasionally for use for customers. To make any volume of good rye whiskey and keep it a secret will take some planning. Joe knows the best results come from good Maryland rye barley. They are familiar with the process of distilling. It takes a few days for the full process. They are fortunate. The men who work for the Kavanaghs have done so for some time. They can be trusted. Eddie can guarantee that they always have their regular crew due to his involvement in Local# 80. He has spoken to them as union brother and co-worker. He has explained the situation. They are doing what they have to do to survive. The crew promises to keep their secret. They want to have jobs. As Eddie has told them, if this works everyone can still be full time. There will be no salary cuts. Everyone gets paid. The crew are in. One thing Eddie does not tell them is who they are working with on this. There is no mention of James Connelly. It has been agreed that his name will stay within the family. Also, they will conduct all business with Connelly on Saturdays. No crew, but the Kavanaghs will be there. Joe, Leo and Eddie will have to experiment a bit to get the right recipe and the proper procedure to get a consistent good rye. They are sure they can do it. Joe makes a point of letting them all know that not one of them can enjoy their product too much. He is clearly referencing his older brother, Martin. Martin had done some bootlegging in the past, but his love of the drink and his mismanagement turned it into a disaster. All four agree on this. They certainly enjoy a glass of whiskey. Each of them, but none to excess and particularly with Martin’s mistakes in mind. The money will be used firstly for expenses and to maintain everyone’s salary at the present level. They all agree that anything beyond that will be split evenly among them. James insists that his son, Guy receive a share. He has been working the last several summers as Joe’s assistant in the office and will be full time in June. After some discussion, everyone agrees. The money is settled. They decide to begin their test runs of whiskey as soon as Joe can acquire the proper ingredients. They have an agreement. They will put all sales in James Connelly’s hands. They will make the liquor but have no involvement once it leaves the Shop. They will cover their expenses first. Then, they will pay themselves and their crew at their normal rate. Any funds leftover will be divided evenly five ways.

January 7

The Kavanaghs and all baseball fans are shocked to read of the sale of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. He is sold for $ 100,000 cash. Joe reads the story first and quickly heads out to the Shop to inform his crew. His son, Eddie a big Ruth fan is floored. He can not believe the Red Sox would give up on a guy like Babe Ruth. A talented pitcher and a great hitter with tremendous power. This event is discussed throughout the coming days. They are working on their standard winter work. Confectionery kettles and the associated equipment to go with it. The valves and fittings which they make. It is a cold day in the Shop, but it seems to pass quickly as they speak of the surprising sale of Ruth to the Yankees.

January 10

A chilly Saturday finds Joe, James, Leo and Eddie Kavanagh at the Shop. Today they meet with James Connelly. James is married to Kitty Kavanagh, Joe’s niece and goddaughter. They are nearly inseparable. They are usually together, but today is business so Kitty does not accompany James. Joe speaks for the Kavanaghs. He tells James that they can produce a good rye. They have the experience and they have a still. They can make it all here. They can bottle or barrel it here. Joe makes it clear that once it leaves the Shop they want no involvement. James is fine with this idea. He assures Joe and the other Kavanaghs that he is familiar with this market. He has done some bootleg whiskey sales before. He has many contacts that would sell to pubs and after hours clubs. In addition, there may be a market outside of Baltimore. James will do all the legwork and handle finding the market and all sales. He thinks they should start fairly small and find some customers who are interested. We can always make more he tells them all. Joe wants some assurances that there will not be any legal issues. James says not to worry he will take care of all of that. There is no state level enforcement of the Volstead Act so James does not anticipate any problems. He promises that if the situation changes or if he runs into trouble, he will keep the Kavanaghs out of it. He impresses on them that they can trust him on this as Kitty is a Kavanagh. He would not want any trouble for her. Joe is pleased to hear this. James has some associates that will help him with moving and selling the rye. They are tough fellows, but he trusts them. They will keep everything quiet as they can. Finally, he tells the Kavanaghs that his friends in the whiskey trade know him by a different name. It is a nickname or work name. His friends know him as Jack Hart. He brushes it off as Jack is just an Irish nickname and the Hart comes from his days as a ladies’ man. He quickly adds that those days are in the past. He loves Kitty and always will. The name has just stuck. It is what he is known by on the street or with most of his contacts. He asks that they call him Jack around his associates, but around the family he wishes to be called James. He likes this separation of his “work” and his regular life. The Kavanaghs are a bit puzzled by this, but not stupid. They know that Jack Hart must be a pseudonym to protect his true name. Not just to keep his name from any illegal connections, but perhaps to keep it unknown to any police or authorities. Joe agrees. He even tells Connelly that they will swear they know no Jack Hart. Jack likes that. They shake hands and all agree on meeting again soon. The Kavanaghs will make some rye and Jack will find a market for it and determine how much money they can make.

January 16

On this Friday, Prohibition goes into effect. The law was passed a year ago on this date and today the ban on strong spirits is official. No whiskey, wine and only low alcohol “Near Beer” can be produced or sold in the United States. Most states have a mini-Volstead Act that provides for enforcement of the law. Maryland stays a “wet” state. Never passing a mini-Volstead and much of the bootlegging and such was ignored. Any legal concerns could be avoided with the use of discretion. If a violation is found on the federal level, that would be another matter. The Shop has work. No distillery work as that stopped last summer. The distilleries worked hard to produce all they could before this day arrived. They were not doing any repairs or replacements though. Prohibition’s effect on the Joseph Kavanagh Company started last year. They do have some cooking kettles for sweets and they are also working on some brass parts for a large boiler. Leo and Eddie begin the process of cooking down the corn and rye for their whiskey. They are making the mash or slop which begins the distilling process. It is cooked and then must sit and ferment for several days. The crew work around them. The usual day of heating and hammering now mixed with the smell of mash cooking.

Cards with the Kavanaghs
Some notes on making rye whiskey from Joseph A. Kavanagh’s book.

January 24

The Kavanaghs finally have their first run of rye. A rye that they consider to be pretty good quality. They do two passes to get the taste and potency they want. They can tweak it on the next batch. They are looking to sell and this is a fair quality whiskey. That will do for their purposes. They use well charred riveted barrels for storage. They fill one and leave for the day.

February 7

Joe calls Jack and he stops by for a taste test. Two weeks of aging is hardly aging, but it’s the best they can do. They fill a glass for Jack. He likes it. For bootleg alcohol, this is a good whiskey. They fill several bottles. Jack takes them for samples. He will begin finding a market for their rye. Leo and Eddie have repeated the process this week. They fill another barrel.

February 14

Jack Hart visits the Shop. He has begun pushing their rye whiskey to several after hours clubs and some individuals who are interested. Many folks have stocked up prior to Prohibition going into effect, but these supplies will not last long. He fills a crate with twelve bottles of whiskey. He guarantees to Joe, James, Leo and Eddie that in a week he shall return with some profits for them all. After he leaves, Leo and Eddie get another barrel ready. Joe mentions a new baseball league has been formed. This is the Negro National League. African-American players who are banned in Major League Baseball will have their own chance to play on the big stage. The Kavanaghs are interested. Baseball is baseball to them. Joe and his sons, in particular, are huge baseball fans. All three hope that perhaps Baltimore will field a team in this league. The chance to see more baseball locally is something they would love.

February 21

Jack has found a market. He has put the word out and there is interest. He passes along some cash and leaves again with 20 bottles of rye. The Kavanaghs are relieved. They didn’t make much, but the opportunity for money is there. They check on the mash from last night then refill the first barrel.

March 20

Another Saturday spent making whiskey on a lovely spring day. The Kavanaghs work and test their product to be sure it remains consistent. Jack Hart arrives with their whiskey pay. He says things are going well. He has several clubs or speakeasies as they will be called that are buying. He is hustling and trying to sell anywhere he can. Jack fills his crate with bottles and passes along their money. They have more than they need for supplies. They put the rest into petty cash for now to be sure they can all be payed as well as their crew.

April 18

A beautiful spring day is spent at a local park. The Kavanaghs have gathered for a picnic and a farewell to Joe’s and James’ brother Frank. Frank has been visiting for a few months. He works as a coppersmith at the Panama Canal. He may not be back for several years. He returns to visit his family including his son, Charles who lives with his sister-in-law. He misses his boy and the rest of them, but he is payed very well to work at the Canal Zone. They eat, drink and play cards. The attached picture has survived nearly 100 years and is dubbed “Cards with the Kavanaghs”. In the picture are Joe, James and Frank. The three brothers. Also, Joe’s sons Leo and Eddie and his daughter Anna. And James’s sons, Guy and James Jr. The only non-Kavanagh in this picture is Mr. Fairbanks. A long term employee of the Shop. He worked for the original Joe. He is one of their most trusted men. He is not a full smith, but more of a general helper. Though he lacks some smith training, he makes up for it with knowledge and years of experience working copper.

May 8

Another Saturday of distilling whiskey. Frank has returned to the Panama Canal. The work has stayed fairly consistent though at a markedly lower level than in the past. So far so good. Jack comes by every Saturday. Drops off money and picks up rye. They have doubled their output due to increasing demand. Jack has made more connections with the local whiskey market. The Kavanaghs are making more and more money each week from their rye. They have a stash of cash for supplies. They have petty cash to back up their crew’s salaries and a bit more this week. For the first time, the last of the cash is divided up five ways. It is approximately $100 so each man gets $20. Not a bad bonus for a week’s work in 1920.

June 7

Guy returns to work at the Shop. He is Joe’s assistant in the office. He is full time now that he is finished with school. Another decorative fountain is made. They drill holes in copper sheet then after heating it, they roll them into tubes. The tubes are then curved into the desired diameter. Once installed, water is pumped through and sprays from the holes. It is a complicated process, but one they have done many times. In addition to this fountain, Joe has brought in some steamship work. The typical pump ballast chambers that they make. The still is working as well. Leo and Eddie are finishing up another run of whiskey. Every day now they are either cooking mash or distilling to keep a steady flow of product. A busy day at the Joseph Kavanagh Company.

July 3

At a Saturday evening meeting of Local # 80, Eddie receives a letter from Bartholt H. Hubbert. They are a coppersmith and contracting company in Baltimore. They are registering some complaints about two apprentices that have been assigned to them by the union. It is one of Eddie’s duties to deal with such issues. He quickly reads the letter. He adds it to his list of things to do. Eddie is a big supporter of the union and his brothers. He will have to find some fair solution for both the business and the apprentices.

First page of letter to Local# 80. Complaining about two apprentices. June 26, 1920.
Second page of letter to Local# 80. Complaining about two apprentices.

July 16

Today, the Shop is focused on some repairs at Gunther’s Brewery. Eddie is on the job with James Woods and three helpers. In the Shop, they are making some kettles and doing some more ship work.

It is a hot July day. They are accustomed to this and work through it. Some rye mash is cooking. The bootlegging has become more profitable. They are still nervous with this new enterprise, but they have had no problems as yet.

August 17

Joe reads a shocking story in the newspaper today. He rushes out to the Shop to tell his sons and the rest of the crew. Cleveland Indians shortstop, Ray Chapman, was hit in the head with a pitch the day before. Carl Mays of the New York Yankees was the pitcher. Chapman was horribly injured as the ball struck him in the temple. Very early this morning, he dies. It is the first and only fatality to occur during a baseball game. The Kavanaghs are stunned. They have never heard of such a thing. Having a ball thrown at a batter is always a dangerous thing, but part of the game. This was a tragic event. The crew discuss this through the day and they follow the story in the newspaper after that.

August 20

Eddie and Joe spend part of the day at Arrow Brewery. Eddie and several helpers working on a repair while Joe talks to the foreman about work. He is scouting for more jobs. The brewery is not as busy as it has been in the past. They can make the “Near Beer” which sells, but not as well as typical beer. They assure Joe that if they need anything at all, they will call him. As they drive back to the Shop, the topic of baseball comes up as always. Joe and Eddie discuss the situation with the Chicago White Sox. They won the World Series last year, but now are accused of throwing the championship. Losing on purpose. Apparently all part of some scheme by gamblers to make money. The story is that the gamblers paid the players and they deliberately lost. Both Joe and Eddie have trouble believing it. They have such a love of the game. Eddie does say that the White Sox certainly seemed like a better team on paper. It was a surprise that they lost to the Cincinnati Reds, but it is not unheard of for the favorite to lose. They both will have to wait and see how the story plays out.

September 11

Eddie, Anna and baby Ed move to 434 N. Lakewood Avenue. After a Saturday morning of making whiskey, Eddie packs the Shop truck with their belongings from Collington Avenue and they move to Highlandtown. They are thrilled to be out on their own and out of Joe’s house. The Kavanaghs will live on this street for 67 years. When Jack Hart came to the Shop this morning, he spoke to the Kavanaghs about increasing their volume even more. He is considering running some of their rye down south to other states. This could really make some money fast. The Kavanaghs are interested, but would have to plan how to do more distilling. Joe tells Jack that they will consider it while he explores the idea.

September 20

Joe and Johanna buy their first automobile. Joe has resisted, but he knows it is way past time for them to buy a car. He purchases a Ford Model T. His son, Leo accompanies him. Leo drives and gives his father his first driving lesson. It does not go well. Joe seems to have trouble coordinating clutch and gas. He stutters and speeds and finally has Leo drive him home. Joe will practice on the street with little success.

October 12

The Cleveland Indians defeat the Brooklyn Robins in the World Series. Winning 5 game to 2. The Series is discussed at the Shop just as it is every year. The yearly Cobb/Ruth comparison is all Ruth this year. The Babe hits .376 while walloping 54 home runs for the Yankees. He shatters his own record and out homers several teams. He leads the league with 150 walks and accumulates 99 total extra base hits. His pitching days may have passed as he only starts one game. His value as a hitter outweighs anything he can do as a pitcher. Cobb has a good year. He bats .334. Good for tenth in the league. Ty Cobb misses some time due to injury and showing his age. Regardless, this is a far cry from Cobb’s typical season. Along with Cobb, all other players’ stats this year are dwarfed by the explosion of power displayed by Ruth. This year Eddie wins the Cobb/Ruth debate with his father easily. The Series and Ruth’s numbers are still over-shadowed by the Black Sox Scandal as it is now called. The Kavanaghs and crew like much of America find it hard to believe a ballplayer would throw a game for money. The evidence says otherwise and the money must have been tempting. The Shop’s crew are baseball fans and this is something almost unfathomable to them.

October 22

The Eight members of the so-called Black Sox are indicted on nine counts of conspiracy. A grand jury was convened to investigate gambling and fixing games. Eddie Cicotte and then several other players confessed to their involvement. Joe cannot believe it, but all the evidence reveals that a conspiracy was in place. A few key players including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson admit to accepting money. Jackson’s performance in the Series conflicts with any notion that he was not trying to win. Still, he took the money. All will stand trial next year. The men of the Shop shake their heads at the idea. To them, these ballplayers are paid to do what they would dream to do. To be paid to play a game you love must be incredible. It is not that simple and players were still underpaid. The crew return to their work still wondering about it.

November 2

Jo votes for the first time. Joe drives her on a rather wild ride to the polls. He is a new driver and shows it at every corner. They bump and swerve their way to vote. Despite this, they arrive early. Johanna becomes one of the first women to vote in Maryland. She feels a great sense of satisfaction. As a member of the Fair Government League, she and her fellow members have campaigned for years for suffrage. She proudly casts her ballot. Joe and Jo vote for Warren Harding who defeats James M. Cox to win the Presidency. The Kavanaghs are Democrats at this time, but they felt a certain dissatisfaction with President Wilson and his handling of the war. This cast a bad light on Cox. Much of the country felt the same. As they make their way home, Joe asks his wife if she enjoyed voting for the first time. Johanna answers that she did. She declares she will vote in every election. Only next time she will drive.

November 12

MLB owners hire Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis as commissioner of baseball. The owners feel they need to hire a leader. An authority to answer fans’ questioning the integrity of the game. He is given full power to discipline players and teams for rule infractions and behavior. The Kavanaghs take this as a good thing. Landis is a federal judge and highly regarded. Hiring a man to safeguard the game seems like a good plan.

December 24

Christmas Eve is always a party at the Joseph Kavanagh Co. In the middle of the afternoon, work is stopped. The crew begin making space for the party and setting out tables and chairs. Guy is dispatched to pick up food. Leo and Eddie take the truck and buy a tree. It is quickly stood and decorated. The party starts as customers, family and friends visit through the afternoon into the evening. Rye is served and “Near Beer”. James and Kitty Connelly are there. Songs are sung including a duet between Joe and Kitty. A festive party. Leo, Eddie and Jack Hart step out into the street. They have a smoke on the corner and Jack tells the Kavanagh brothers that he thinks he has a buyer out of state. He can take care of getting it there. It would be barrels of whiskey and not bottles. Jack emphasizes that he will take all the risk. They produce it and he distributes. It would be an opportunity to make a lot of money with one sale. Leo and Eddie are interested, but both know that they will have to discuss it with their father and their Uncle James. They return to the party mid song and Jack finds Kitty in the crowd. Leo and Eddie join their families. Joe and James are enjoying their party. They have found a way to keep the Shop open and they have made some money. They have been smarter than Martin. Joe and James are bootlegging as he did, but they are doing it better. Martin was alone. They have each other. They trust each other. They feel safe and insulated by Jack Hart. They can trust him. He loves Kitty and she is a Kavanagh. She loves them especially her Uncle Joe. As Christmas toasts are made, Joe thinks of Martin. Maybe Martin wasn’t sloppy. Maybe he just had no one he could trust.




Woodrow Wilson finishes his second term as President. Warren G. Harding wins the general election defeating James M. Cox. The 1920 census puts the U. S. population at over 100 million for the first time. The Senate votes against joining the League of Nations. Congress fails to ratify the Treaty of Versailles. The League of Women Voters and the National Football League are founded. The first commercial radio station opens in Detroit. Westinghouse sells the first home radios for $ 10.00. DeForest Kelley, Bella Abzug, Shelley Winters, Ray Bradbury and Mickey Rooney are born.

There are 48 states in the Union.

Cards with the Kavanaghs 1920
Cards with the Kavanaghs. All Kavanaghs but one. Left to right: James Sr., Eddie, James Jr.(standing), Frank, Leo(standing), Joe, Guy(back to camera), Anna. Mr. Fairbanks(Shop employee) on the far right.


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