In the 1920s, distilleries in England couldn’t believe their luck. Prohibition was declared in America and demand for their product was greater than ever. They cranked up their factories and ferried product for the booming trade to the Bahamas, then a British protectorate. If a bottle sold for $10 legally in Nassau, it was worth $40 after hair-raising jaunts to our coast, smuggled at night to hideouts like Whiskey Creek.
Obscured in the natural vegetation of what is now Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park, Whiskey Creek had the added advantage of being so shallow that the larger Coast Guard vessels couldn’t follow the smaller souped-up speedboats in. (In the pre-Port Everglades days, the rivulet was accessible by a sliver of a cut that is now filled in.)
Hidden on the inland side by mangroves and on the ocean side by beach dunes, the creek was in centuries past Tequesta Indian territory, where canoes plied the calm two-mile waterway. Besides hunting and fishing, the natives picked sea-grape leaves and dried them along the banks of the creek. When the Indians departed, the area remained undeveloped, a perfect place to disappear from government patrols, particularly if you headed south from the ocean cut. Going north up the New River would run you right by a Coast Guard station.
One-time Dania Mayor Lincoln “Dink” Frost recalled those days in a 1953 Fort Lauderdale News article. Dink was working at the Dania Beach yacht basin near the southern tip of Whiskey Creek as a mechanic when he made a comment that he soon regretted. He casually remarked that the boat’s motor he was working on was not too reliable. Unfortunately, it was a rumrunner’s craft.
“Before I knew what had happened I was shanghaied as a boat motor mechanic for the trip to Bimini and return. That is, I returned if I wasn’t killed or caught by the revenue officers,” Dink said.
He related stories of vicious mob guys like “Big Charlie” and “Curly” who worked for the Capone gang. They bought a new 1932 car, put the slogan M & M Grocery on the side and put a row of Post Toastie boxes in the windows for the whiskey run to Chicago.
Dink said bootleggers had other worries as well. Hijackers often hid in Whiskey Creek at night waiting for unsuspecting or unprotected rum hauls.
And he was there when the region’s bloodiest incident occurred off the coast, costing the lives of three Coast Guard officers and ending with Fort Lauderdale’s first and last (legal) hanging. The rumrunner who was hanged for the killings was never liked by other bootleggers, Dink said. “They suspected he was tipping off revenuers.”
Fort Lauderdale and Miami then were flowing with speakeasys where you whispered a password through a peephole to gain entrance. From most accounts at the time, everyone who was inclined to drink before Prohibition began in 1920 kept right on through 1938, when it was repealed. Tales are told of cars rolling up and down Las Olas Boulevard with contraband in the back seats, for sale to all comers. The bootleggers were definitely the good guys then. The Coast Guard officers were “the killjoys.”
Nowadays all that past is cleaned up. Whiskey Creek in Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park has a family-style pavilion and is a popular spot for kayakers, canoe paddlers and boats going at idle speed because it is also a manatee refuge. One of the few places on our coast preserving the natural ecology, it is home to ospreys, herons, turtles, crabs, mullet and stingrays.
Yet there’s something in the karma of this creek. Long after the bootleggers were gone, one of the world’s most notorious jewel thieves added a final inglorious episode in 1967. In the long and unfortunate tradition of major national news stories ending or erupting in South Florida, Jack “Murph the Surf” Murphy, an accomplished surfer and musician before taking up crime, left his tragic mark.
The man behind the biggest jewel heist in American history – the theft of the Star of India from a New York museum in 1958 – was convicted with an accomplice for killing two California girls and disposing of their bodies in Whiskey Creek waters.
One last thing about the Whiskey Creek Roaring ’20s era. Contrary to popular notions, it was during those days that we earned our famous appellation Fort Liquordale – not spring break (where we simply reinforced it)