New York City

Prohibition was an interesting time for New York City, and the era is full of compelling stories.

  • In his book, Dry Manhattan, Michael Lerner tells of a cop using incredibly excessive force in an attempt to enforce prohibition: “in July 1921, Detective Charles Tighe went on a one-man rampage in a Ninth Avenue saloon. Outraged at four men who shrugged off his announcement of a raid and went back to following baseball scores on the news ticker in the bar, Tighe went berserk and began smashing up the saloon and beating customers with his nightstick. When a crowd gathered on the avenue to investigate the commotion, Tighe went out onto the street and began beating people at random before locking them in the back room of the saloon. According to eyewitnesses, Tighe appeared intoxicated as he allegedly choked a seven-year old girl, knocked a shoeshine man off his crutches, and struck five women, including one with a baby in her arms, before his superiors subdue him.” He was “summarily brought up on charges of assaulting forty people and sentenced to two years.”

  • Lerner also notes that “in the unregulated world of the Prohibition era, the city's murder rate more than doubled. In 1921, the Magistrate's Court had recorded 712 arraignments for homicide in the city, but by 1931, the number had crept to nearly 1,500.”

  • Besides overzealous enforcement, New York also had a problem with poisonous liquor during Prohibition. A 1920 article in the New York Times mentioned a man by the name of Thomas Brennan who made some “instant home brew” and, when a friend wouldn't try it, drank it. He then “fell to the sidewalk” and an ambulance was called.

  • This is not the only incident of possibly tainted liquor posing a health risk in Prohibition era New York. A newspaper article of the era reported after Christmas in 1924 that: “Three men are dead, thirty-one others are ill in Bellevue Hospital, four of them seriously...Yesterday's fatalities increased to thirty-four the number of deaths in the city from poison liquor during the month.


Lerner, Michael A. Dry Manhattan. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard UP, 2007.

POISON RUM FLOOD SCARES N. Y. DRYS, The Hartford Courant (1923-present); Dec 27, 1924; ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1764 – 1984), pg. 5

SEIZE $75,000 LIQUOR IN BIG 'DRY' DRIVE, New York Times 1857; Sep 2, 1920; ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2004), pg. 1