WHAT, WHERE, AND WHEN IN OLD KENILWORTH: Prohibition Days – Part 1 of 3

(above) Confiscated liquor dumped down sewer in an American city. Photo: Internet public domain

Prohibition Days – Part 1 of 3

The 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, aka the Prohibition Amendment, took effect in 1920. It banned manufacturing, selling, transporting, importing and exporting, delivering, or possessing “intoxicating” liquors.  The Volstead Act was passed to enforce it. In Kenilworth and across the country, Prohibition often was ignored and the law flaunted. Federal agents and Kenilworth police conducted raids, made arrests, and confiscated or destroyed what they seized. 

On Saturday night, April 4, 1925, armed with a search warrant from justice of the peace Anthony Grippo, a raid was conducted on Washington Ave. near today’s Opacity Funeral Home. Chief Alfred Vardalis, Officer George Ridge, and five local marshals found tables inside occupied by about a dozen patrons. The bartender-owner tried to dump liquor down the sink drain to avoid it being discovered, but his actions were halted by Officer Ridge.

Contraband included rye whiskey, wine, and gin which were turned over to the Union County prosecutor. The bartender was held on $500 bail by Grippo pending action by the grand jury.  Among the marshals were George Conklin – a future police officer and later a chief – and brothers Allen and James Arthur, Jr., local marshals. 

On Saturday night, April 29, 1926 a double raid took place. Again, Washington Ave. was the scene. Both proprietors ultimately were arraigned before Grippo and held on $500 bail. The matter proceeded to the grand jury. Here’s how it started.

The first traces to April 12 when an undercover person went to a store near the firehouse and bought a pint of whiskey for two-dollars. Grippo issued a search warrant for the 29th. That evening a force consisting of Officer Conklin, local marshal Dante Cera, and two Union police officers raided the place. They found 30- and 50-gallon barrels of wine, and a bottle of whiskey.

The second started April 27, when a representative entered another neighborhood

establishment and procured two drinks for 50 cents and a half-pint of whiskey for $1.50.  Grippo issued a warrant also for the 29th. Chief Vardalis, Deputy Sheriff Robert Neville, and special officer Andrew Ruscansky, of town, conducted the raid. They confiscated a quart of moonshine. 

Read about “The New Year’s Eve raid” in Part 2 of this series. The article will appear in the May issue of Kenilworth Business Life.

Research provided by Walter E. Boright, Ed. D., historian, and Historic Signs, Inc. Unless otherwise noted, the source of data is the Cranford Citizen and Chronicle newspaper archives, 1920s-1930s. Persons with inquiries about this or other aspects of Kenilworth history may contact Dr. Boright at drbori@aol.com or 908-256-5200.

(above) Chief Alfred Vardalis (L) led raids; Anthony Grippo (R) issued search warrants. Photo: Kenilworth Historical Society
(above) Washington Ave. between 20th and 21st streets today where 1926 raid took place. Photo: Historic Signs, Inc.
(above) Washington Ave. between 19th and 20th streets today where 1925 raid took place. Photo: Historic Signs, Inc.
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