Since I started blogging about Boston area history, I've come to the conclusion that 95% of what goes on is lost to history. Perhaps the Internet has changed that, but for the times I'm looking at here I think it holds pretty well. I have an example of this phenomenon here below. Although baby boomers tend to imagine that they (we) invented illegal drug use, of course use of such substances goes well back in the history of the Republic. It wasn't until 1914 that the Harrison Act required narcotics to be restricted to prescription sale and use only. Various bureaucratic and legislative actions soon blocked even those legal sources of narcotics.
The two articles transcribed below do not represent the first notices of narcotic drug use in Boston. There are earlier examples, going back to the 1920s. It seems as if the South End was the first illicit narcotic district in the city (I'm discounting what may have been done by sailors in the North End during earlier years or in Chinatown for lack of documented cases). The South End had begun as a residential district that might rival the Back Bay, but quickly failed that aim and turned to a mixed district of boarding houses, factories and institutions.
So what was the South End really like in the 1930s? Was it a high crime district, or was it just shabby? Did the neighborhood attract the narcotics dealing, or did the narcotics dealing help create the neighborhood? The answer to these questions would require a dissertation's worth of effort, so I'll leave such questions hanging.
Daily Boston Globe September 6, 1933
Hides Narcotics In Flower Bed
Seller Uses Public Garden as Base - Four Arrests.
An alleged seller of narcotics, who, it is charged, his wares among the flowers in the Public Garden and peddled them to addicts among the crowd watching horse-shoe players on the Charles-st. Mall of Boston Common, was arrested, yesterday, by Federal Narcotic Agent Charles E. Burrows and Inspector Daniel J. Curran of the Boston Police.
The arrest was one of four the two officers made during a period of three hours yesterday afternoon. Three men were charged with being sellers of narcotics, the fourth being an addict and having narcotics in his possession.
The men taken into custody were booked as Andrew Oreno, 41, Broadway, South Boston; George Rochman, 30, Wellington Hill st, Mattapan; William Pratt, 34, Dudley st, North Cambridge, and Nathaniel Fox, 30, Main st. Charlestown. Fox was listed by Police Commissioner Hultman, recently, in his list of public enemies, submitted to the Suffolk County Grand Jury.
Oreno is the man, police say, who used the flower beds of the Public Garden as hiding places for narcotics. Oreno would contact addicts on the Common, learn how many grains the customer wanted, then cross Charles st. to the Garden, obtain the drug an return to deliver it, police say.
Agent Burrows and Inspector Curran watched Oreno Lean over a flower-bed near the bridge across the pond in the Garden. As he started through the gate from the Garden to Charles st the officers grabbed him. They found a deck of heroin, 10 grains, on Oreno, the officers said.
The other three arrests were made in the South End. Nathaniel Fox was sighted on Davis st, near Washington st by Agent Burrows. Fox saw Burrows and fled. He was chased to Washington st, where Burrows collared him.
Rochman and Pratt were arrested on Washington st near Dover st. Rochman, an addict, according to Agent Burrows, put up a fight when Burrows grabbed him. Inspector Curran grabbed Pratt. Rochman had five grains of the narcotic in his possession and Pratt 10, the officers said.
Pratt has twice served terms in Leavenworth Penitentiary for violation of the Federal narcotic laws All four will appear in Federal Court today.
Daily Boston Globe February 28, 1937
'King' Of South End Is Taken By Raiders
Narcotics Net Also Traps 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' Pair
Following up a narcotics clean-up campaign started by Capt James F. Daley, formerly in charge of the South End police district, Federal and Boston narcotic squads yesterday afternoon broke into a three-story apartment house on Columbus ave, South End, and arrested five men and a woman. All six arrested are Negroes.
The raid was precipitated by a sale of a small quantity of heroin in an automobile outside the Columbus av address. Police arrested John Preoleau, called the 'King of the Colored District,' and John Thornton and Reba Morris, both of whom are said to have played in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" on one-night stands several years ago. All three resided at the Columbus av address, the woman on the second floor of the building, and the two men on the ground floor. Only a small amount of heroin was seized.
Others arrested are Chester Smith of Putnam st, Cambridge; Wilbur Harkins of Amory st, Jamaica Plain, and Jack Wilson, who gave an address on Northampton st.
Smith and Preoleau were arrested in the automobile outside the house after police had said they had made the sale of heroin to a police informer. Following the arrest of the two men, the Boston police narcotic squad, Sergt Frank Sliney and detectives Frank Sweeney and Daniel Curran, broke into the first floor rooms aided by Wade H. McCree, William J. Ford and William J. Kelley of the Federal Narcotic Bureau and special officer William Becket of Station 10, who had been assigned to the case by Police Commissioner Joseph Timilty several weeks ago.
Marked money passed to the sellers of the drugs in the automobile, officers said, was found on Smith.
Federal agent McCree, who had worked with special officer Becket on the case for seven or eight weeks, had all the groundwork laid for the raiding officers. Charges of violating the Harrison Narcotics act will be preferred against Preoleau, Thornton, Smith, Harkins and Miss Morris tomorrow morning when they are arraigned before United States Commissioner Harry N. Guterman in Federal Court. Wilson will face narcotics charges in Roxbury Court Monday morning.
Novel Method of Sale
Agents discovered a hypodermic needle in the hallway of the building and two capsules, containing heroin, which had been partially dissolved, in the first floor apartment.
Police declared that the sale of narcotics had been going in the district for years.
Police said that a rather ingenious system of selling has been used in the South End district. In response to a telephone call, a package of heroin is hidden outside the building, under an ash barrel, under a sidewalk brick or a milk bottle and the buyer, after he had paid his money to an agent, was told where to pick up the drugs.