Friday, December 2, 2011

Prohibition and "The Pelicans" in the Florida Keys

     Prohibition provided  the United States gave us a lot of gangland  names that have become synonymous with rum running, crime, and speakeasies.    Al Capone, Meyer Lansky, Frank Nitti, and Baby Face Nelson  just to name a few.    The Keys had the Pelicans, a group of looters who started out plundering the sailing sloops and launches that were anchored off of the southern coast of Key West.     They would boast that "no anchor was too large, or no fish hook too small to be carried off once they visited a boat."      The owners would return to find their motors and everything else missing.

     During Prohibition when the rum runners would drop their cargo in the shallow waters off the keys in the middle of the night until such time that they had it sold, then return for it at that time,     The Pelicans, a gang of men named for the flock of birds that frequent the shores in all hours of the day and night, would take their cargo and sell it them selves.      The Pelicans did show some honesty in their endeavors though with the rum runners and split the profits 50 - 50.   The hidden goods were divided equally between the raiding Pelicans and the smugglers,"they were entitled to that much the pelicans often boasted.

     Later on the rum runners, who now had began to fear the Pelicans more than the government officials found new hiding places away from the roving eyes of the Pelicans.     Times became hard for the Pelicans after the rum runners were finally able to hide from the Pelicans, members could no longer roll with large bankrolls partying like they were accustom to.

     The Pelicans turned to stealing batteries, tires, gasoline, and other automotive accessories to fill their coffers.    On a Monday night they hit the waterfront parking lot of the Key West Athletic Club basketball practice stealing tires, rims, batteries, tools and gasoline.     They had no respect for the law,  they stole the tires off of club manager Judge J. F. Busto's ford as well.

     The Pelicans for all of their bad traits did however show some compassion when they spotted a disabled picket boat.    They rescued three U.S. Customs agents that had been missing for five days off of Key West.    This picturesque gang of beachcombers and alleged rum smugglers remembered the law of the sea and notified the U.S. Coast Guard of their location saving their lives.    I guess that it is all a part of life in the prohibition era.    ;o)
Funny how the parties on a seclude beach today all seem to end up the same way as they did back then