Living on the edge of the law

During the late 1920s, Prescott “Bud” Cummings arrived in Eastham, aiming to make a living as a turnip farmer. Profit margins were narrow, and it wasn’t long before he turned to the transit of illicit alcohol, or “rum running,” a much more lucrative way to make a living during the era of Prohibition.

Labeled as the “Noble Experiment” by President Herbert Hoover, Prohibition was in effect from January 17, 1920 to December 5, 1933. Thanks to the 18th Amendment, the sale, transport and manufacturing of alcoholic beverages became illegal, but many Cape Codders just couldn’t resist the adventures—or the cash—that smuggling contraband booze could offer.

Cummings was among the more successful rum runners on the Cape. The gig paid him “five dollars for every case that he dropped from the rum runners to the shore,” according to a series of interviews that Don Sparrow conducted with Cummings for the Eastham Historical Society during the 1980s. The 40,000 cases that he brought in added up to $200,000. Manny Zora, a Provincetown rum runner whose adventures are chronicled in his book “The Sea Fox” (co-written with Scott Corbett), had similar success aboard his fishing vessel, Mary Ellen. “I’ve never known a law which was so enthusiastically violated with the possible exception of the 55-mile per hour speed limit,” Sparrow often said of the 18th Amendment.