Bootleggers & The Boom Boom Lodge
It is just after one o’clock in the morning when one Dartmouth student kills another over a quart of whiskey.
The year is 1920, and the 18th Amendment, which prohibits the sale, transport and consumption of alcohol in the United States, has been in effect since January. It is June 18 — almost graduation day — and an underground alcohol market has already emerged at the College.
Robert T. Meads is a junior and a notorious bootlegger. He smuggles whiskey across the Canadian border, buying it for $2.75 a quart and selling it to students for $20. He is also an avid shooter, and when he was a freshman, he shot and killed a fellow student in Sanborn Hall by accident.
Henry E. Maroney is a senior and a well-liked student. He served in the Navy; he is one of the best boxers at the school; he is a brother of Theta Delta Chi fraternity and a member of Sphinx senior society.
One night, Maroney, accompanied by some friends, visits Meads’ first-floor room in North Massachusetts Hall to buy a quart of whiskey. He later returns wanting more but doesn’t have enough money for a full quart. Maroney tries to bargain, but Meads does not want to negotiate.
The two men argue. Maroney grabs the whiskey bottle and jumps out the window. He runs away as Meads fires four shots, missing all of them. One shot hits a tree.
Meads does not give up, and an hour later, he sneaks into Maroney’s upstairs bedroom in TDX. Maroney walks in to find the bootlegger sitting at his desk. Neither man says a word. Maroney walks toward Meads; Meads rises to his feet and shoots Maroney through the heart, killing him instantly.
Meads leaves TDX and goes to a friend’s room in North Fayerweather, where he fabricates a story, saying that he has been in a fight and needs to leave town. He boards a train bound for Boston, Massachusetts but is soon caught at Canaan, New Hampshire and brought back to Hanover to face justice.
Eventually, Meads pleads guilty to manslaughter but denies murder charges, saying that he only intended to shoot Maroney in the arm. He is convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to prison. He dies in a Concord psychiatric ward in October of 1965.
The fatal encounter between Maroney and Meads gave TDX its nickname, “The Boom Boom Lodge.” It also provided an extreme example of the effects of Prohibition on Dartmouth’s campus.
The fallout from Maroney’s death sparked debate over the prevalence of alcohol at the College. Meads’ father purported that Dartmouth was host to numerous bootleggers and widespread immorality, and others alleged “extensive rum running by students,” according to a June 1925 New York Times article.
However, the accusations of rampant crime were largely unsubstantiated.
“I have the names of only three men who were engaged in and knew about the traffic in intoxicating liquors at your institution,” Grafton County Solicitor John Newman wrote in an October 1920 letter. “I mean by this three young men, including Robert T. Meads, who had knowledge of the smuggling for consumption and distribution.”
Moreover, a good deal of illicit activity was chalked up to the behavior that was to be expected of college students.
“Conditions in Hanover were nothing other than what might be expected in any college town,” a Boston Post editorial disclaimer said. “We hope it will go no farther.”
Bootleggers and rum-runners were not necessarily rampant in Hanover. But students found ways to get alcohol, as they have long been known to do.
“For Dartmouth students who like their liquor, and there are those who do, it is a pleasant jaunt of 150 miles to Montreal, that oasis of a somewhat dry United States,” an April 1923 Boston Evening Globe article said. “Hanover itself is wet, but only moderately so.”
The alcohol in Hanover was “watered or bad,” according to the article — obviously, not much has changed. Taking a trip north was the preferred option.
Some townspeople manufactured alcohol and sold it for $11 a quart, “a profit of 99 to 100 percent or more,” according to the Boston Evening Globe.
During celebrations such as Winter Carnival, it was especially easy to find alcohol on campus.
“The local bootleggers and girls see to that,” the Boston Evening Globe wrote regarding the reasons behind the uptick in alcohol availability during big weekends. “The students hate to waste good liquor in Hanover except during Carnival.”
Ernest Martin Hopkins, who was president of the College from 1916 to 1945, grappled with the best approaches to enforcing the Prohibition laws in an unruly student population.
Hopkins sought to prevent alcohol consumption without exerting excessive control over students. A 1920 Boston Post article describes his goal to “put [Dartmouth] men upon their honor and … encourage a development free from an atmosphere of espionage or minute personal supervision.”
In April 1923, Dartmouth and other colleges made efforts to control drinking on their campuses. Dartmouth passed a rule that any student caught intoxicated would be expelled. A Philadelphia Evening Ledger article described the result as “miraculous.”
“At the recent Winter Carnival,” the article said, “drinking was reduced to a minimum.”
Just a few years later, however, Prohibition began to lose support around the nation. A June 1926 poll of students published in The Dartmouth revealed that most did not support the Volstead Law, the law that carried out the intent of the 18th Amendment. Just 319 of the polled students were in favor of the law, compared to 810 against.
In 1930, a poll of 24 students at 14 colleges revealed, somewhat unsurprisingly, that most students not just opposed Prohibition but actively flaunted the law. Thirteen of the 14 colleges voted overwhelmingly against the dry laws, with the only exception being University of Pennsylvania.
Indeed, by 1930, Prohibition was losing support, and Hopkins condemned it that year.
“[Hopkins] had hoped for good results, but sees only more liquor drunk and a powerful underworld created,” a December 1930 New York Times article said. “Great areas which used to be wholly dry are now saturated, not only with alcoholic liquors, but with a spirit of complete abandon in regard to the control or use of these.”
Three years later, in December of 1933, the 18th Amendment was repealed by the 21st, and alcohol was allowed in Hanover again. Thirteen years had passed since Henry Maroney had been shot over a bootlegged bottle of whiskey.
Research compiled from Rauner Special Collections Library.