Bootlegging in West Newton

A short story about West Newton, Prohibition, crime, and a bootlegging operation that went terribly wrong

I started with a desire to teach history and ended up a cop. I’m retired now and I satisfy both those passions by writing about the history of crime.  My mother introduced me to one of my favorite “crime stories” which touches a little bit of what interests me. 

My mother is 92 and has lived in West Newton all her life.  She has a vivid recollection of being in grade school one morning and hearing a loud explosion that violently shook her classroom. She still whispers to me about the rumors she heard back then about “an explosion on River Street and people dying”.  This was not typical of the stories she often tells me about West Newton, but she couldn’t or wouldn’t provide me with any more details. 

The site of the school she attended on River St. is now a playground.  About ½ mile from the playground, at the intersection of River and Lexington St, there stood untouched for many years a stone foundation.  I have passed it hundreds of times, and I wondered if that foundation might have something to do with my mother’s story.  Only recently a brick office building was built on the site.  When the construction of the office building began I couldn’t resist stopping and asking one of the workers if this was the site of that explosion, many years ago, where  some people died. He just nodded but didn’t say a word.   

His response convinced me that I had to know more about this story. The first thing I learned was that during Prohibition the Newton Police Deparment, like many other police departments, was busy raiding local stills.  In fact, one of the biggest stills raided by the local police was in Belmont,Massachusetts. 

All the information I was looking for surfaced very quickly in newspaper archives and I found the story that I was looking for.  In January and February of 1928 there were several headlines about a “mysterious explosion” in West Newton where several people died, and one individual was badly burned. I have included some of the headlines and one small paragraph which completes the story my mother only hinted at.

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Jerry Reilly February 29, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Great story Bob. I love the incongruous image of West Newton as a prohibition era moonshine factory with exploding buildings that were either due to "dynamite or a still".
Linda Fawson Veiking March 06, 2012 at 12:59 PM
I remember my father telling me the name of that corner, (the corner of River and Lexington Streets) was called "Night Caps Corner." Your guess is as good as mine as to why it was given that name. Pharmacy's on Sunday's was a great place to "cure your ills". Liquor was said to have medicinal purposes and could be sold on Sundays. Wateres Drug Store on Washington St. opposite Chestnut St. and Dooleys Drug on Washington Street, a few doors down from the old Blue Bell Restaurant were some favorite "Sunday Cure" spots. Linda Fawson Veiking
Sandra pasqualone July 08, 2012 at 01:20 AM
Hello Bob, My grandfather died in this explosion leaving my grandmother with 7 children with one on the way.My mother grew up in Waltham on trepelo road,she told me she was only 2 when her father was killed and that she was going to go with him but my grandmother said no.It was my grandfathers either brother or sisters home.My grandmother never spoke only italian and raised her children by her gardens and her hard work and raising 4 sons who worked became military one dying while flying having his plane shot down.My grandmother loved my grandfather deeply,and her son she was devastated by these 2 tragic events.But she maintained her dignity as well as her childrens my aunts uncles and my mother.They all worked very hard,this story has no findings of ilegal bootlegging.One of my great uncles was a masonary he used dynamite to break stones,the story is there was dynamite in the basement which somehow was egnited.Please respect what close family has shared in details rather then rumors.Thank you Sandra


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