By Arthur Smith
The Bad Guys Arrive
Ed Swiss, back in the
It wasn’t what he planned to do so how did he get there?
Injured as a logger “hitched his get-along” and so
he moved to town, became a cop, with his new wife in tow.
There wasn’t that much happening when he began the job.
No one had any money for the cheats and crooks to rob.
Until the Volstead Act was passed and bootleg trade begun,
Swiss now spent evenings probing damage caused by booze and gun.
Bootlegging and rum running, two new crafts, were born in town,
And some leading locals joined in, causing Swiss to frown.
Those young men, Blink and Frenchie, got their kicks from smuggling booze.
The “rush” they felt was really great, what did they have to lose?
But what was of concern to Swiss was not the local gentry;
‘twas pros arriving from Detroit and starting to gain entry
to the small boats being run across the St. Clair River
filled with whisky that the Purple Gang planned to deliver.
The irony of prohibition, meant to make things better,
provided what was needed for these criminal go-getters.
The smugglers and bootleggers built a network to provide
that huge supplies of liquor cross the river to our side.
Large profits from these enterprises fueled the growth that came,
Along with lots of criminals with foreign sounding names.
Abe, Ray, and Izzy Bernstein, Harry Fleisher, Phil Keywell,
all members of the Purple Gang, Detroiters knew quite well.
The Licavoli brothers, Pete and Tommy, battled for
control of smuggled liquor, caused a terrible turf war.
Between their gang and all the others, vicious fights broke out
to see who’d dominate the biz, that’s what it was about.
Three other bad guys joined the scene and set a nasty tone
after being run from Chi-town by the big boss Al Capone.
Joe Lebowitz and Izzy Sutker, plus Herman “Hymie” Paul;
Those dudes cut in on Purple business and their liquor haul.
These three, ‘twas rumored, had a meeting at the Cadillac
with Blink and Frenchie, not good news, the “Pros” were on attack.
“St. Clair will be just like Detroit,” it really worried Swiss.
“We can’t have gangsters in our city acting bad like this!”
Another rumor at that time was Blink and Frenchie’s boat,
a skiff, stacked high with liquor, it could barely even float.
A customs cutter forced the boys to run ashore at Walpole
Both boats were damaged but the skiff had many a bullet hole.
The feds then told the boys they had to beach their contraband,
but then, upon returning, there was nothing found but sand.
No evidence, the boys released, the mystery’d remain.
Who fired those bullets? Might have been the evil Purple Gang.
Strange sights were now being seen around, bootleggers everywhere.
They’d prowl about the whole night long, for Swiss a real nightmare.
Large black Cadillacs now travelling through the darkened streets
inhabited by low-lifes, they were surely crooks and cheats.
So what is St. Clair going to do to deal with this unrest?
The local cops have lost control yet tried their very best.
A move’s afoot to put in place a post of state police
To bring about some law and order, and restore the peace.
For sure they’ll run the Purples back across the eight mile road
Along with other gangsters, least that’s how the story’s told.
So St. Clair will return to normal like in days gone by,
and that will make police chief Swiss one real happy guy!
Arthur C. Smith, 77 of Port Huron, is a 3rd generation funeral director at Smith Family Funeral Home. He graduated from Port Huron High School in 1958, Albion College in 1962, and played varsity tennis at both schools. In 1964 he received his Mortuary Science license. In the early 1980s he became a Little Caesars Pizza franchisee and was involved with stores in South Texas, Northwest Ohio, and Oakland County, MI. His community service over the years has included March of Dimes, Boy Scouts, Salvation Army, Grace Episcopal Church, Port Huron Hospital, Blue Water Hospice, and Kiwanis. In 1972 he was named Jaycees Young Man of the Year. He has played in all 60 Robinson Tennis Tournaments and is an avid runner having completed 18 marathons including 5 Boston Marathons. Because of his Scottish lineage Art has been instrumental in organizing the local Burns Supper held each January. He and his wife, Sue, have been married over 54 years and have three children and 6 grandchildren.
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