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Go up the river with gangsters and rumrunners

Historic boat ride up New River gives new meaning to 'booze cruise.'

It's difficult to recall a time when you couldn't get a drink in Fort Lauderdale.

That because there wasn't one.

Even during Prohibition, booze flowed freely in the boom town as rumrunners smuggled alcoholic beverages by the cases into Port Everglades and up the New River.

The city's not nicknamed Fort Liquordale for nothing.

Now, you can learn about Fort Lauderdale's party-hearty ways and bootlegging history while sailing up the New River, glass in hand, aboard the 112-foot paddle-wheel boat Carrie B.

"Cruisin' Down the River: Historical Adventures of Dreamers & Schemers," a two-hour tour sponsored by the historic Bonnet House Museum and Gardens, will set sail 5 p.m. Saturday, July 25.

Stephen Draft, retired curator of the eclectic Bartlett estate situated along A1A, shares stories about little-known gangsters and bootleggers who plied the river during the early part of the century.

"During Prohibition, things got pretty hairy on the New River," says Draft, who worked at the 95-year-old Bonnet House for six years until retiring in 2014. "In the 1920s through the '30s, there were warehouses in the Bahamas that sold top-shelf liquor, which made its way to Fort Lauderdale by boat and airplane.

"One of the people I will talk about is a bootleggin' pilot who gave an interview to a local historian about his illegal adventures. He started off with a seaplane that crashed, and then switched to a regular plane after convincing a bootlegger to clear a landing strip for him in the BahamAs so he could fly the booze back to Fort Lauderdale."

The use of an airplane was a novel way to elude federal authorities, who regualrly patrolled the shores and port searching for boats bringing in outlawed hootch.

"The cruise will also focus on World War II and tourism through the early 1950s," Draft says. "I will discuss how Fort Lauderdale got the nicknamed Fort Liquordale. It will surprise many."

Tickets cost $45 for members and $55 for nonmembers at BonnetHouse.org Call 954-653-1554. Tickets include light bites and wine.

dchristensen@tribpub.com

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