Prescient Rum Runners Nabbed at the Levee

Authorities send teenage boys caught with alcohol to the Waif’s Home


Miner, Nancy E. New Orleans Alcohol and Distilling Corporation. 1940s. Charles L. Franck and Franck-Bertacci Photograph Collections, The Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans. 

On December 11, 1919, a teenage boy named Julius Valenti was caught with a full quart of grain alcohol with his friends, who were teenagers as well. These boys were taken to the Waifs’ Home where the federal officials investigated this case. Valenti mentioned how he and his friends saw several men stealing alcohol from the Seventh Street wharf by making holes in drums of alcohol and filling their jugs and containers with the liquid. Valenti said that since the way these men were obtaining alcohol looked very easy, Valenti and his friends were tempted to try this method out as well.

Prohibition had only been in effect for about a year, and still no one really supported it because alcohol was most people’s go to for entertainment. It was getting to the point where saloon keepers were violating prohibition laws more than once, which resulted in a $50 fine and could lead to a jail sentence with multiple violations. But enforcement was hardly strict, and the fact that Valenti was a minor probably contributed to his arrest.

Another event that showed how much people disliked prohibition laws was when in New Jersey, the chief of Christian Feigenspan, a brewing company, filed a bill of complaint in the US District Court asking for an order to restrain US District Court attorney Bodine and internal revenue collector Charles Duffy from enforcing prohibition laws. Basically, this bill of complaint pointed out the unconstitutionality of the Volstead Act and the Eighteenth Amendment, which both supported prohibition. The chief, Elihu Root, argued that prohibition was outside of Congress’ powers and violated states’ rights, leading to the amendment being null and void. He also argued that the Volstead Act took away people’s private property without any compensation and that it classified liquor that was not intoxicating to be intoxicating. These examples show some of the actions that people in this time period took in order to fight against prohibition laws and the government. Some of these counter arguments were successful, while others were not. 

Bohunek, Rudolf. Ould Irish Whiskey. 1909. The Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans. 

Furthermore, prohibition was not only related to the selling of alcohol across the US. In fact, in Mobile, Alabama, owners of news stands were arrested for selling newspapers and periodicals that contained advertisements relating to alcohol. Even though these newsstand owners had nothing to do with booze at all, because their newspapers still had content related to the selling and manufacturing of alcohol, they were put to trouble. 

It is worth noting that during this time period, there were two types of Waif’s Home. One was for white minors, and the other one was for non-white minors, and Julius Valenti, being of Italian descent, went to the former. There is not much information about the Waif’s Home that Julius Valenti was sent to; however, there is much information about the “Colored Waif’s Home” since this place is associated with the well known jazz musician, Louis Armstrong. Louis Armstrong was sent to the Colored Waif’s Home when he was eleven. It all started when he shot six blanks from his stepfather’s .38 revolver when he was attending a New Year’s Eve Parade. Armstrong was arrested and was later sent to the Colored Waif’s Home for a year and a half, which greatly impacted his life. Before the Colored Waif’s Home was established in 1906, black boys would be sent to the parish jail full of adults. The Waif’s Home, which was a reform school that took 40 years to be built, did not look welcoming at all from the outside. The building was very old and decayed, and it was surrounded by a malarial swamp. The building was enclosed with barbed wire and was near gloomy graveyards and farms. The boys slept on bare bunk beds with only one blanket during the cold nights. If any of these boys tried to escape, they would be harshly punished. From this description, it is clear that Julius Valenti and his friends were definitely going to learn their lesson for trying to steal booze.

In this way, prohibition in the past affected both adults and teenagers, as shown by the story in the beginning as well as by all the examples mentioned above. People would do anything to go out of their way to find booze. However, the consequences of people acquiring booze was very bad as these people would be punished in several different ways, depending on the situation.

Works Cited

Bohunek, Rudolf. Ould Irish Whiskey. 1909. The Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans. 

“Bootleggers Fined For Second Offense. Nineteen Face Judge Foster for Violating Prohibition Laws,” Times-Picayune, December 28, 1919, Access World News – Historical and Current.

“Boy 13, Finds Way To Obtain Booze Voyage of Discovery Winds Up With Bad Head,” Times-Picayune, December 11, 1919, Access World News – Historical and Current.

“Brewers In New Fight On Drys New Jersey Concern Attacks Validity of Eighteenth Amendment,” Times-Picayune, December 25, 1919, Access World News – Historical and Current.

Micucci, Matt. “Louis Armstrong and the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys.” JAZZIZ Magazine, July 4, 2016. https://www.jazziz.com/louis-armstrong-colored-waifs-home-boys/.

Miner, Nancy E. New Orleans Alcohol and Distilling Corporation. 1940s. Charles L. Franck and Franck-Bertacci Photograph Collections, The Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans.

“News Dealers Fall Afoul Of Dry Law Offered Weekly With ‘Ad’ About Making Liquor, Is,” Times-Picayune, December 28, 1919, Access World News – Historical and Current.