Way We Were: Barber, Brawler, and Bootlegger Alex Hamlin | ParkRecord.com

Way We Were: Barber, Brawler, and Bootlegger Alex Hamlin

Way We Were: Barber, Brawler, and Bootlegger Alex Hamlin

Dalton Gackle
Park City Museum Research, Digital Services, and Social Media Coordinator

Alex Hamlin’s final arrest came as he walked past City Hall, pictured here ca. 1915-1917. Interestingly, this picture shows that a liquor store sat next to City Hall in the years leading up to Prohibition.
Park City Historical Society & Museum, Thomas F. Hansen Collection

This is the fourth article in a series on Prohibition in Park City.

Alex Hamlin, referred to as Alec Hamlin in the 1920 census, was a Finnish immigrant looking for new opportunity in Park City. A barber on upper Main Street in the late 1910s and early 1920s, his shop was located in a building at 236 Main Street that also served as his family’s home (the building stood where the parking lot south of Wasatch Brew Pub now sits). With his wife Josephine, he had one son born circa 1914, and two daughters, born circa 1915 and 1917.

While Alex could have lived a quiet life barbering and spending time with his family, he instead led his life with a brash temperament.

In the summer of 1918, Hamlin had a customer who stiffed him 75¢ after a hair cut and shave. A few weeks later, the man, F.M. Gunnarson, was walking along Main Street when Hamlin approached him and punched him square in the face. Gunnarson, reportedly, agreed that he had “had it coming” and decided not to call the sheriff about the assault. But another few weeks went by, and with Gunnarson still not having paid him, Hamlin repeated the assault, giving Gunnarson a “crack in the face.” Hamlin was arrested, but a jury of peers found him not guilty of assault and battery based on Gunnarson’s admittance of not having paid Hamlin.

By April of 1919, with Prohibition in full swing, Hamlin was involved in the bootlegging game. He was arrested that month and charged with possession of intoxicating liquor. He pleaded not guilty to this charge, his defense being that the alcohol equated to medicine. Although barbers were quasi-surgeons and dentists up until the 19th century, by Hamlin’s time barbering was strictly for hair. Additionally, alcohol would have made for a poor aftershave treatment. Despite no real reason for Hamlin to have the alcohol, the jury was split and the case dismissed.

Hamlin was arrested for assault once again in late August of 1920. He was released on bail, and before that case could go to trial, he was arrested again for bootlegging. The local police had been suspicious of him, perhaps because of a brand new automobile he was sporting that summer, and pulled him over on his way back to town from Salt Lake City. With his wife and young children watching on, the police seized three gallons of “white mule” (moonshine) hidden in his car and arrested him. He was fined $600 for this offense.

Only two months later, Hamlin was again arrested for “dealing in booze.” He had almost been caught a few weeks prior when he was chased by Marshal St. Jeor: Hamlin tossed bottles of liquor onto the ground as he fled, breaking them and draining them of their evidence against him. But in October of 1920, with more booze hiding in packages he carried, Hamlin was ambushed by officers from several directions as he walked past City Hall (where the Museum is today). They caught him with four gallons of alcohol. While in custody, Hamlin also reportedly attacked Sheriff Jim Sullivan while awaiting to process bail. He entered a plea of not guilty for possessing the liquor and was released on bail.

At his trial in November, Hamlin accused the sheriffs of planting the alcohol on him. The jury did not believe him and found him guilty. He appealed to the Third District Court, who heard his case in the summer of 1921. He was again found guilty but was then given a retrial based on a technicality of the court (it was not reported what this technicality was). He was retried in November 1921 and found guilty a third time. He was sentenced to pay a fine of $285 or spend sixty days in jail. It is not known whether he paid the fine or spent time in jail.

There were no further instances of Hamlin bootlegging reported after his fourth arrest. He and his family did not appear in the 1930 census, meaning he likely left town after his struggles evading law enforcement in his booze running.

Next week will discuss a potentially corrupt local sheriff during Prohibition. Watch the Museum’s most recent lecture – about Prohibition – on their YouTube Channel.

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