Jackie Caruso Larsen was too young herself to be a witness to anything about prohibition. But she still remembers the names and people she knew as a child who were part of that fascinating part of American history in Atlantic Highlands.
One of Jackie’s stories focuses on the boarders at her grandmother’s rooming house on the west side of the compound the family owned on Center Avenue. Jackie’s parents, Dominick Caruso and his wife, the former Mae McAllister, lived in the bungalow on the east side, their first home after getting married. This gave her mom a bird’s eyes of the comings and goings of her next door neighbors, Jackie said. And she continues the story.
“And come and go they did. From what I was told the men met for dinner in Grandma’s enormous kitchen, ate, made their plans for the evening, played cards and then headed for bed.
Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, dressed in boots and rain gear, they took off. It’s rumored that they went down to the bay, rowed out to a large boat and unloaded crates of Canadian whiskey.
Around daybreak they returned. This went on several nights a week. The year was probably 1929.
Then I’m told one night was different.
There was a lot of commotion in the early morning hours. Jack Rungayne, a Russian immigrant, had his leg smashed between two of the boats. The other boarders, Nick Perfetto, Joe Sceina, Tony the shoemaker and my uncle Lou carried the injured man to his bed. No doctor was summoned because of the secret nature of the injury, but the man managed to survive.
Soon after this, Mom and Dad moved to their own house on Avenue D. By then, Rum running was near its end. But I do remember hearing of other another related incident.
The man living across the street was involved in hijacking trucks. One day his victim surprised him with a gun and chased our neighbor all the way down Avenue D. They couldn’t quite make it to his house so he dashed into Mamie Mardorf’s house, ran up the stairs and hid under her bed. Apparently Mamie possessed great powers of persuasion and got the man to leave.
Years later, I remember sitting at my Grandma’s table with these very men, the boarders. They must have liked the food and lodging! Nick was always joking, Tony never spoke, Jack with his horrible limp frightened me and Joe, also a barber, played the trombone right in that very kitchen!
One such occasion was Uncle Joe’s return from World War II where he served in the Navy on a mine sweeper. There was a huge party and the whole neighborhood showed up. There was food, drink, dancing, singing, and of course, card playing.”
Some of the good old days in Atlantic Highlands
This article was posted on Muriel Smith's website, Veni Vidi Scripto. If you are interested in reading more about local history and current events, visit Veni Vidi Scripto.
Collier photograph #C40761, Illegal distillery bust circa 1920s-1930s, Local History Collection, Plainfield Public Library, Plainfield, New Jersey. http://collections.plainfieldlibrary.info/collections_browser/search;collection=photos/search_resu lts;photoid=C40761/photo;id=10769/