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Prohibition and Saranac Lake

October 15, 2011
By HOWARD RILEY (hjriley@adelphia.net) , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

There are so many stories that surface about the roaring 20's because that decade was a time of fast cars, fast women and gangsters all brought about by the law known as the Volstead Act. That law prohibited (thus Prohibition) the sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States. It was actually passed as the 18th Amendment in 1919 and not repealed until 1933.

Phil "Bunk" Griffin has turned out a great documentary on the legendary Saranac Lake bootlegger Pete Tanzini. His story has been covered a few times but never have I seen the detail and research that went into Bunk's story. So, with his permission, we will be quoting at length from that story next week.

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Article Photos

Legs Diamond’s NYPD mugshot
(Wikipedia.com)

Famous gangsters in Saranac Lake

Legs Diamond and Dutch Schultz were two of the most infamous gangsters in the United States in the Prohibition era and both had visited Saranac Lake on more than one occasion. At the time Schultz was listed as "Public Enemy No. 1".

Bill Madden was with his father in the Saranac Lake garage (now the Madden storage building on Main Street) in 1933 when Bill was age 5 and saw a car (he believes it was a Cadillac) with two men standing beside it with guns partly visible under their suit jackets. His father explained that they were Dutch's bodyguards who would deliver Dutch to visit his wife or girl friend, (Bill did not know which was the status of the woman) who was curing of TB at a cottage in the Shepherd Avenue section. They would then bring the car back to the garage to be out of sight and the car was guarded 24/7, probably to prevent someone from wiring a bomb to the starter.

Now it is amazing to me that both of these gangsters were in Saranac Lake and maybe even at the same time. Legs Diamond, born Jack Nolan in 1897, and also know as Jack Moran would visit Saranac Lake because his brother Eddie had TB and was curing here.

Now stick with me here because this is a bizarre connection. Legs Diamond was gunned down and killed in Albany, supposedly by the Schultz gang (other sources claim it was the police) in December 1931, at age 34. You see, it could have happened in Saranac Lake.

Schultz was killed on Oct. 25, 1935 at a restaurant in Newark, New Jersey at age 33. There were other men with him who were killed including his bodyguard, Bernard "Lulu" Rosencrantz. Maybe Rosencrantz was one of the men Bill Madden saw in the Saranac Lake garage.

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Another note on the Adler story

A few weeks ago we wrote a column about Phil Adler who had a small hotel on Dorsey Street, with a reputation as a house of ill repute, and a friend, Ray Stark believed he had a connection with the famous New York City Madam, Polly Adler, who wrote a best seller, entitled "A House Is Not a Home."

I got on my high horse and put a note in my column that I could find no connection between Polly Adler and Phil Adler, etc. It seems that I just love being wrong. Now this piece does not connect Phil and Polly but it sure connects Polly to Saranac Lake.

Ray's daughter went online and bought a paperback copy of Polly's book and Ray sent me these excerpts:

Polly talking about her boy friend who she called Casey Booth, (probably an a.k.a) a well known band leader of that era, she wrote:

"A specialist confirmed that he had tuberculosis and said he must leave for a sanatorium immediately. He recommended Saranac Lake Sanatorium, and as Casey was unable to travel alone I went with him. A few of his so-called buddies called to say good-bye and wish him luck, but most of the tinhorns from Tin Pan Alley didn't bother; now that he was no longer fronting a band, he was no use to them.

"I stayed with him until he was settled, and arranged with the doctor to take care of all expenses. I visited with him as often as I could and as soon as he was on the mend suggested that he be transferred to the N.V.A. [Will Rogers] Sanatorium where he could be with other people in show business. He was discharged from there a year later and I staked him while he was getting a band together."

Now here is another Saranac Lake TB patient who pops up in the book:

"But what a shock I got when I opened the door on a group of the town's [NYC] toughest boys headed by George McManus, Mike Best and Eddie Diamond - Legs' brother."

 
 

 

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