Speakeasies and Secret Rooms
When the Northwest region, specifically Washington State, was first developing, much of the transportation was on our numerous water ways. Lakes, channels, straits, and rivers were busy and bustling with fleets of boats carrying cargo and people.
Thus, during Prohibition, having a home near the water made running illegal booze easier and, at times, safer.
During one of my readings of Whiskey Cove, my historical fiction novel on Prohibition in the Northwest, a 93 year old woman asked me what I thought of her story.
Years ago, she and her husband, who was a State Legislator, had recently moved to the Mount Baker area of Seattle, Washington. They were the third owners of a house where the elegant and sprawling older homes overlook Lake Washington. The large structures were extravagant, built for entertaining.
(These samples of Mount Baker homes are walking distance to Lake Washington, which graces Seattle with its beauty and provides numerous opportunities for boating and swimming.)
One day, when her husband was away working at the Capitol Building in Olympia, her youngest son came charging up the stairs with his friend right behind. Their eyes were large with excitement. “Mom, there’s a room down there.”
She dismissed them with, “Yes, I know dear. Now run along and play.”
“No, Mom,” the young child insisted, “there’s a ROOM down there. You better come and see.”
She half-heartedly followed the two alarmed young boys down the stairs. The family had lived in the house for over six months and had explored and cleaned every inch.
However, when she hit the bottom stair she stood in awe. It appeared the two friends, being boys, had been wrestling and knocked against a wall which gave way and opened partially.
The woman was absolutely stunned.
Neither the past owners, nor the realtor, had mentioned this bit of Prohibition history. For cleverly concealed in this fashionable neighborhood, in the bowels of their mansion, was a well sized secret room or speakeasy. The space provided the ultimate place to hide and enjoy coveted, illegal alcohol.
Mount Baker is also the area where Roy Olmstead lived, a former Lieutenant for Seattle Police. When Olmstead was fired from the police force for running illegal booze, he devoted all his time developing his very profitable bootlegging operation throughout the Pacific Northwest. He became known as “The Good Bootlegger” because he would not allow his men to carry guns and did not partake in prostitution or others crimes. By November 1924 the Feds had enough evidence to arrest him using wiretapping. This was the first case upheld by the Supreme Court for wiretapping, Olmstead v United States, in February of 1928.
And so it goes, that history always has a way of reappearing.
Photo’s by Denise