New police chief revived liquor war in Queen City

Posted April 25, 2010, at 6:59 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:26 a.m.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, April 5, 1910, Bangor’s finest marched into police headquarters in City Hall in full-dress uniform. They lined up in platoon formation at one end of the guard room. At the other end, chairs had been provided for the mayor, two police commissioners, two councilmen, five aldermen and, of course, the new po-lice chief, Lindley W. Gilman.

Without any oratorical embellishments, Chief Gilman stood up and told the assembled multitude what he expected of his men. His words came “straight from the shoulder,” remarked the Bangor Daily Commercial that afternoon. They “caused a stir across the city … a disquieting time,” reported the Bangor Daily News the next morning under a headline proclaiming, “POLICE TO ENFORCE PROHIBITORY LAW.”

“I might as well start out with the enforcement of laws and that means the enforcement of the prohibitory law,” said Gilman. Then he made this less-than-startling admission: “It has always been a seesaw who should enforce the prohibitory law. There is no question about the other laws but here is one law that all the officers seem to duck. I have ducked it myself, but I believe today that there exists a demand in our community that all laws should be enforced.”

So that was why hundreds of liquor dens existed in Bangor even though state prohibition had been on the books since the mid-19th century — no one knew who was supposed to enforce the law! But the good news was now they did know — and it turned out to be the police.

Doubtlessly, more than a few patrons of the Commercial rolled their eyes and shook their heads as they read their newspapers in their parlors that evening over a good cigar and perhaps a glass of sherry. How many times had a new police chief or county attorney taken such a valiant stand at the beginning of his regime?

Gilman was no stranger to Bangor or its politics. He had been appointed a patrolman 26 years earlier, the Commercial reported on April 1, the day after he took office. He had left the force eight years later to work in the post office for a few years before being picked to be police chief in 1893. Ten years later he was elected sheriff of Penobscot County and held that position for six years until taking the Bangor chief’s job again.

Enforcement of Maine’s first-in-the-nation prohibition law was like New England weather. If you waited 10 minutes, it would change. The storm clouds of enforcement would dissipate, and the sun would come out to shine on the liquor dealers and their patrons, who numbered among their ranks thousands of transient workers, especially unemployed loggers.

The state had created the Sturgis Commission to help establish state control over enforcement. Its deputies periodically invaded recalcitrant towns such as Bangor, smashing up saloons and mail express offices (and occasionally a few heads).

Bangor had been invaded twice in this manner and now there were rumors that the Sturgis detectives would be back soon, a development that only the most zealous temperance advocates wanted. In addition, progressive organizations such as the Christian Civic League and the Voters’ Club were increasingly restive. The latter group, which claimed a membership of 1,000 Bangor gentlemen, had unsuccessfully opposed re-election of Mayor John Woodman for not doing enough to stop the liquor trade.

After Chief Gilman spoke that morning, Woodman had a few words to say. He said he wanted speeding automobiles stopped. He wanted the crowds of men who gathered on certain street corners and expectorated on the sidewalks to be dispersed. He wanted teamsters prevented from blocking crossings. He wanted unlicensed peddlers arrested. He did not mention the prohibitory law at all.

But the message was out. It had been out since the day Chief Gilman took office. “POLICE GO ON WARPATH,” the Bangor Daily News declared on April 2. The Eastern Eating House on Exchange Street, the Globe Hotel on French Street, the Queen City Hotel at French and Hancock streets, the Waverly House on French Street, and the Riverside House at Washington and Oak streets were all raided. Two days later the newspaper reported the Globe Hotel and Pope’s Express were hit, as were James J. McCann’s and William McGuire’s on Pickering Square.

More raids followed, including “two Italian places” run by Joe Rich and Nicholas Rogers on Hancock Street. In one of them, about 50 customers “shot out doors and windows,” leaving their drinks behind, the Bangor Daily News reported on April 11. The writer claimed Gilman had set a record during his short time in office: 36 warrants, 20 successful raids, 17 jail sentences and two cases yet to be tried.

The old cat-and-mouse games were back. “The action of Chief Gilman has been the means of the re-establishment of the former wireless system and picket squad both maintained constantly to watch for the approach of the officers. With the departure of the Sturgis detectives, the ‘Where-are-they-now?’ army has sought new fields, but since the beginning of the Gilman regime the familiar faces have again appeared outside establishments where liquor is retailed.” It was harder for strangers to get a drink in many saloons, and bartenders were keeping less whiskey and ale on hand in case of a raid.

After just a few days in office, Chief Gilman had acquired a reputation. When the Maine Methodists Conference met in Portland a few days later, the Rev. Wilbur F. Berry, “one of the Christian Civic League secretaries,” attacked Portland officials for their lax attitude toward the liquor law, while praising Gilman for his recent mobilization. It was “the grandest proclamation [Berry] had ever heard in the State of Maine,” reported the Bangor Daily News on April 13. Only time would tell how long it would take before Bangor fell off the wagon.

An illustrated collection of Wayne E. Reilly’s columns titled “Remembering Bangor: The Queen City Before the Great Fire” is available at bookstores. Comments about this column may be sent to him at wreilly.bdn@gmail.com.

SEE COMMENTS →

ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business
ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business

Similar Articles

More in Living