I wonder what my grandparents, John and Rose Major, said when their middle daughter, Viola (better known as Lola), announced she was going to marry Tony Kane.

The marriage took place, I believe, in 1921, the beginning of a turbulent and interesting period in the United States. Tony was a veteran of World War I, something he had in common with characters in a 1939 Warner Brothers movie which could have been based on Kane's life. That movie was called "The Roaring Twenties" and it starred James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart. I believe Tony Kane would relate more to the Bogart character than the more virtuous Cagney, but that's a moot point because Kane didn't live long enough to see the film.

I'd known since childhood that Kane died in a boating accident on Lake Ontario and that he was in the business of sneaking booze into the United States during Prohibition. However, relatives did not provide details. Now, thanks to a remarkable website, http://www.fultonhistory.com, I've been able to get those details from several stories published by newspapers in Oswego, Rochester, Brookfield and Syracuse.

Here's what I read about the fatal voyage of Tony Kane, plus his other brushes with the law, including an arrest for violating the Volstead Act, which resulted in a short stay at Atlanta Federal Penitentiary:

Oswego Palladium-Times, August 3, 1927
Seize Boat For Law Violation
Charging that her owner, said to be Anthony Kane of Syracuse, failed to declare his official entry into a U. S. port after having cleared with cargo from a Canadian port, border patrolmen in charge of William E. Allen, seized a 40-foot speed boat at Fair Haven Bay Tuesday evening where the boat had been tied up to a dock.

No one was on the boat, which men on board had told residents of Fair Haven they had been obliged to run into shelter when a squall of unusual severity broke on Monday night. They fought the storm for a time, but the gas was running low and they went to a dock and deserted the craft. The latter bore serial number 1105-Q and was registered in Rochester, under the name of Anthony Kane.

Formal charges have been made against the owner, who will be given a hearing before Collector Weldenmann in Rochester, where the boat will be taken as soon as weather conditions permit.

The boat is heavily engined and has a speed of 25 or 30 miles an hour. She had no cargo when seized.


The Brookfield (NY) Courier, October 17, 1928
Troopers Capture Auto and Booze
A twin six automobile was ditched after a wild chase by state troopers on a road near Lakeport Tuesday morning and 36 bags of alleged Canadian ale found in it were seized.

Anthony Kane, driver of the car, admitted to prohibition agents that the liquid had been transported across Lake Ontario in a motor boat by Syracuse and Solvay men engaged in this business. He got the load, he said, from the boat at Oswego and came to Syracuse Monday night to dispose of it, but someone else apparently was ahead of him because he found that proprietors had been supplied and were unwilling to buy.

Fearing to leave the car and that driven by a companion in a garage, where it might be found by hijackers, Kane started for Utica to sell the loads.

Agents say the market for Canadian ale in Syracuse is poor at this time because a “wildcat” brewery recently was raided here, where alleged Canadian ale was manufactured, and proprietors of speakeasies suspect that any of the imported beverage now offered is fraudulent.

The wholesale price has dropped from $22 a case to less than $16.

Notice that quantities of ale are measured in bags. According to what I found online, a bag of Canadian ale contained 24 bottles.

Nine months later, in July, 1929, Kane was found guilty of two violations of the Volstead act. Whether this was in connection with the October, 1928, incident or a later one wasn't made clear in the story. What was mentioned is that the charges involved transporting whiskey across Lake Ontario and for transporting ale near Brewerton, NY. Kane, who was living with his wife, Lola, and his in-laws on Alice Avenue, Solvay, was fined $450. This did not discourage him.

Syracuse Journal, April 10, 1930
Overpowering two customs inspectors who tried to arrest them when caught unloading a boatload of Canadian ale, two rum runners fought a gun battle with the Federal officials, took away their guns, kidnapped them, took their car and left them at a farmhouse.

These were some of the details of a spectacular capture at Snake’s Swamp on Lake Ontario, near Fair Haven, brought to light today before Federal Judge Frederick H. Bryant at the trial of Anthony Kane of 100 Kane Road, Solvay, on charges of liquor smuggling.

Details of the affair, from a statement by Customs Inspector Thomas to his superior officers, read like a movie thriller. With Inspector Willis, Thomas said he was patroling the lake shore on August 10, 1929, when he saw four men wading to their waists in the water carrying bags from a boat to shore. The inspectors called upon the men to surrender, but, instead, bullets began to fly. Two of the men fled, but the officers captured the other two.

Then, according to the officer’s statement, Kane offered him $1,000 to set him free, claiming he had a number of previous convictions against him and it would go hard with him. The officer refused, handcuffed the men together and, putting them in a car, started to take them to jail.

The manacled men started a fight in the car and eventually succeeded in freeing themselves of the handcuffs and in securing the guns of the two officials. Then in possession of the car, they drove several miles to a farm house and got out, telling to officers to come back later for their guns.

The officers instead drove to Solvay, where they secured more guns, and returned to the scene of the battle. One of them guarded the confiscated boatload of ale, while the others trailed the men.

Practically the entire morning was spent today selecting a jury to try the case. At noon there were seven jurors in the box tentatively accepted by both sides. Assistant District Attorneys Genewich and Harrington are prosecuting the case for the government, while Richard P. Byrne represents the defendant.


Syracuse Journal, April 11, 1930
Pleads Guilty, Ale Runner Gets Year
After a jury had been drawn and the taking of evidence started, Anthony Kane of Solvay halted his trial on charges of smuggling ale into the United States by entering a plea of guilty. He was immediately sentenced to a year and a day in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary by United States Judge Frederick H. Bryant.

His action ended what had promised to be one of the most sensational trials of the present term of court. With three other men Kane was caught unloading ale from a boat, the government contended. Two of the men escaped, but Kane and a companion were caught. The government claimed that the two men overpowered their captors, disarmed and kidnapped them and made their escape, only to be captured later.

Kane and 23 other prisoners were transported to Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in May. Though sentenced to a year, Kane was back home about seven months later, obviously unaware that his next boat trip across Lake Ontario would be his last.

Syracuse Journal, January 7, 1931
Although his wife and his employer both declare him safe in the city, Coast Guard units on Lake Ontario continued their search for Anthony Kane, 113 Alice Avenue, Solvay, and two companions believed adrift on the storm-swept lake Wednesday.

Kane is reported to have been in a small power boat with Capt. William Sheridan of Rochester and Cecil Phillips of Bath, Ontario, who set out from Kingston last Friday and who have not been heard from since.

Mrs. Kane and George D. Snyder, 412 Cayuga Street, Kane’s employer, maintained Wednesday that the Solvay man was working as usual. They branded the report that Kane was missing as “nonsense.”

Coast Guard officials, prepared to enlist the aid of airplanes in making a search of the lake for the missing powerboat, took an entirely different view. They said they believed the tiny craft had capsized in the severe storms which have raged since Friday or that the three men in it were drifting aimlessly.

Snyder, who operates a trucking business, told the Journal that his job list for the day revealed that Kane was driving a truck to Cazenovia Wednesday and would be out of town for the day.

On April 10, 1930, Kane was sent to Atlanta federal penitentiary for smuggling ale across Lake Ontario. He was released on parole several months ago and has been working for Snyder since.

Another boat in which several men set out to seek the missing craft in which Kane was reported a passenger, has also failed to reappear. Coast Guard officials are seeking this boat also.

One of the men aboard was known by two last names, Sheridan and Sheldon, and he was identified by both during coverage of the fatal voyage.

Oswego Palladium-Times, January 8, 1931
Hope for the safety of three men who left the Main Ducks Islands last Friday for Bath, Ontario, was given up Thursday, following the discovery of a piece of the speedboat in which they set out for the mainland, washed up on the beach at Amherst Island in the Bay of Quinte.

Those missing and believed victims of a winter gale and storm are:

• Captain William Sheldon, Charlotte, New York
• Cecil Phillips, Kingston, Ontario
• Anthony Kane, Solvay, New York

A searching party consisting of Stanley Fairbanks, Russell Wemp and Walter Riley took a power boat Saturday to endeavor to locate the missing men, setting out from Bath, and were themselves caught in a heavy sea and rising water and were forced to take shelter at the False Duck Islands, and with the wind and sea moderating were able Thursday to reach Amherst Island, from where they sent word to Kingston, Ontario, that they were safe, but that unquestionably the other boat and its crew had been lost. They searched all possible island refuges and found nothing but a piece of the engine cover of the missing speedboat and a cushion, both readily identified.

Sheldon, Phillips, Kane, and a fourth man left Bath, Ontario, in a heavily powered motorboat on December 24, and were missing for several days until they were finally located on the Main Ducks, where they had put in to make repairs to the 12-cylinder motor of their boat. Airplanes were sent out from Kingston and located the boat there, and then a fishing boat made the trip from Kingston to the islands, on which the fourth member of the crew returned to Kingston and came to Oswego. It was his return that gave rise to the report Wednesday in the Palladium-Times that the other three were safe and that the boat was somewhere on the south shore of the lake.

Instead, after the departure of the fourth member of the crew, Sheldon and his two associates left the Main Ducks, probably for Bath, although they did not make their destination known. That was the last seen of them, but shortly after their departure there was a change in weather and a shift of wind, with the start of bad weather.

Efforts earlier in the week to get a plane from Kingston to make a search failed when the plane crashed trying to take off on a snow-covered field. The tug, Salvage Prince, made a trip from Kingston, but failed to secure any information other than that which had already been known.

Sheldon is well known along both sides of Lake Ontario. He is not a bootlegger, according to border patrolmen, but has been master of small boats in smuggling ventures from Canada to the United States, and had been known for his hardiness and willingness to take chances in all kinds of weather. He operated for several years through the channels made in the ice floes on the lake between Charlotte and Cobourg, Ontario, and once was arrested by border patrolmen off Sodus Point when his motorboat froze in the ice.

Phillips is a Canadian, either a former aviator or an aviation mechanic and an expert on motors.

Kane has been operating in and through Oswego for several years and owned at one time several fast motorboats running between the North and South shores. He had recently been convicted of violating the Volstead Act and customs laws in smuggling illicit alcoholic beverages into the country, and had served 12 months* in the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta, and had been paroled. One of the conditions of his parole was that he remain away from Lake Ontario and former associates. He was said in Syracuse to work for his brother-in-law, George Snyder, and relatives said last night he was not missing. However, Thursday morning they called Oswego again and asked for information on his whereabouts.

John Major, his daughter, Lola Kane, and his wife, Rose McLaughlin Major, pose aboard the ill-fated Firefly in a photo taken, we believe, in Alexandria Bay on the St. Lawrence River. The man in the background is unidentified.

Oswego Palladium-Times, January 13, 1931
Locate Kane's body near Cape
CAPE VINCENT, N. Y., Jan. 13. (AP)- A man's body in a jacket life-preserver was found floating in Lake Ontario, two miles west of here today. Investigation was underway to determine if he was one of the three men aboard the 30-foot craft Firefly which disappeared ten days ago en route from Main Ducks island to Bath, Ontario.

Anthony Kane of Syracuse, Captain William Sheldon of Rochester and Cecil Phillips of Bath, Ontario, were aboard the Firefly, parts of which have been found.

Examination of the body was made Tuesday afternoon at Trout Hole, between Wilson Bay and Fuller Bay, three miles west of Cape Vincent by Jefferson County authorities. In a pocket of the coat was found a New York state automobile registration card made out in the name of Anthony Kane, of Solvay, said to be on the ill-fated Firefly when the speedboat left the Main Ducks for Bath, Ontario, or some other destination.

The body showed a scar on the back and two teeth had gold crowns. Acquaintances of Kane in Oswego said the description answered that of the missing man whose relatives until today when notified the body had been found had stubbornly insisted the Solvay man was not in the boat but was employed in driving a truck for his brother-in-law, George Snyder of Syracuse. The body will be taken to Syracuse for burial in accordance with instructions sent by Kane’s relatives Tuesday afternoon.


Syracuse Herald, January 18, 1931
Duck Islands Claim Three Lives
Exclusive Dispatch to The Herald
Kingston, Ont., Jan. 17. - The Ducks - "Charbydis and Scylia" of Lake Ontario have claimed three more victims - Anthony Kane of Solvay, whose body was found in Wilson's Bay, three miles southwest of Cape Vincent last Tuesday; Cecil Philips of Bath, Ont., and William Sheridan of Rochester, whose bodies have not yet been recovered.

The Ducks are two small islands in the vast expanse of Lake Ontario, halfway between Bath, Ontario, and Oswego. They have been the scene of many wrecks and have caused the loss of more than a score of lives. The recent tragedy there brings once more to the public mind the sinister name of these islands.

Mariners of past years now living in the cities and towns of both the United States and Canada are always ready to tell of incidents which took place in the neighborhood, and each new disaster recalls memories of the past.

Alfeus Turcotte of Kingston, Ontario, veteran mariner of sailing days and later an expert ship carpenter, recalls a sinking at the False Ducks of which he was an eye witness. (Sept. 30, 1880). The old sailor describes the incident as follows:

"We had been lying in shelter behind Timber Island during a terrific gale, and when we put out the weather was still bad. Just as we rounded the north end of Timber Island I caught a glimpse of another sailing vessel too close to Duckling Reef on the False Duck Shoal, for safety. I was at the wheel of our craft, the 'Malone,' and could see the whole thing.

"The wind was shrieking through the rigging, and the mighty waves pounding on Duckling threw their spray as high as the masts. I watched the 'Olive Branch,' as I later discovered her name to be, fascinated and horror stricken at the fate she could not escape.

"Driving before the wind, on bare spars, she cleaved the water, burrowing deep in the mighty combers. As I watched, she rose on the crest of a giant wave, and seeming to hesitate for a moment as if for a last look at all things earthly, plunged to destruction on the reef. I could not tear my eyes away and absolutely was powerless to go to their rescue.

"I called our captain, who gave the order to stand by and pick up survivors if any were able to wind through to us. I saw the life boats lowered and dashed to pieces against the hull before the men in them could pull out of harm's way. Many of the crew leaped overboard in their frenzy and were hopelessly smashed against the ship.

"She wasn't long breaking up and we were unable to do anything. We stood by helpless and were forced to witness at least one tragedy when a proud ship and brave men gave their lived in a hopeless battle against wind and sea."

OLD NEWSPAPER FILES at Kingston disclose accounts of many such occurrences. In 1910 the "John Sharples" stranded on Galloo Island in a storm but did not break up and the crew was saved.

In 1918 some new freighters were built on the Upper Lakes for the United States Shipping Board. Too large to take down through the canal locks in one section, they were made in two pieces, bulkheads keeping out the water at the division. The "Minola," one of these freighters, was in tow during December of that year when a storm broke. The bow section came loose from its tug near the Main Ducks in a terrific gale and was lost with 11 men aboard. The tug made port safely as did the stern section, which was being brought the lake at the same time.

A wreck that caused a great deal of excitement in 1920 was that of the steam barge "John Randall," which sank 300 feet east of the Main Ducks. After staying aboard their sinking ship until the last moment, the crew took to the water and were all able to make the island. They remained there five days before being found by search parties. Captain John Randall and his crew had been given up for lost when their vessel did not reach port and great joy greeted the news of their safety.

JUST THE NEXT YEAR, on November 25, 1921, the steam barge, "City of New York," commanded by Captain Harry Randall, son of Captain John, foundered off Stony Point. The same kindly fate which saved the father and his crew did not come to the lot of the son, for he and all on board his ship were lost.

The steam barge was loaded with phosphate and while thus heavily laden was caught in one of the terrible storms of the fall shipping season. Five of the crew were found dead in a lifeboat in which they had made a desperate fight for safety after their ship foundered. They were Mrs. Harry Randall, wife of the captain; Wesley Warren, mate of Seeley's Bay near Kingston; Robert H. Dorey, Gilbert J. Dorey and Francis Gallagher of Kingston.

The other members of the crew, Captain Randall, his small child, Joseph Gallagher and a boy named Stanley Pappa, never again were seen. The discovery of the lifeboat, too late to save the lives of its occupants who had died from exposure, was made by the crew of the steamer "Isabella."

As recent as 1929 a modern freighter, the "Sarniadoc" on her maiden voyage in Canadian waters, and only one year after out of the yards at Scotland, went ashore on the reefs of the Main Ducks. All the crew were saved by the "Valley Camp" which stood by and took them off in boats. Later, the "Sarniadoc" was freed from the reef and part of her grain cargo saved. A few years earlier, the tug "Concretia" went aground at the Ducks and later was salvaged and put in service again.

ANOTHER WRECK, of which very little detail is available, was a lake steamer which went ashore near Oswego. Several lives were lost before the rescuers could find means of getting the crew to land. This boat was blown ashore in a gale and broke up on a shoal just off the mainland shore.

The islands which make up the intricate barrier at the eastern end of Lake Ontario are commonly referred to as The Ducks. In reality there are several islands of different names. The Main Duck group rank first in tragedy, another group called the False Ducks and northeast of these islands, lonesome and buffeted by wind and wave is Pigeon Island, lying in wait for the unwary mariner. These islands are in Canadian waters while just south of them across the international boundary lie the two American islands of Galloo and Stony. They have also figured in their share of marine disasters.

All of the shipping of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario passes through the channels formed by the islands, and the cross lake traffic from Oswego, to the towns and cities along the Canadian shore runs close to them.

IN DESCRIBING the dangerous territory in terms for the landsman, a convenient start can be made at Stony Point, a rocky headland on the United States shore about 28 miles northeast of Oswego.

Following the islands on the map the next point of interest is Stony Island about two and a half miles northwest of the headland. The channel between is broad and deep. Rocky shoals extend out from Stony Island and they have crushed and splintered sailing vessels in the old days even the steel ships of today on their cruel ledges.

Northwest another two miles or so is Galloo Island, notable because there is no harbor on the entire shore line.

Eight miles westward, across the unseen boundary line, is Main Duck Island. It is fairly large and its small brother, Yorkshire Island, is just off the eastern extremity. It is on the shoals near these islands that many vessels have foundered and in the icy waters which cover them a score of brave sailors have perished.

The history of the Main Ducks is not at all bad, however, for ships buffeted by wind and sea, on occasion have been able to seek the precarious shelter of the north shore and there ride out the storm.

In a few cases, too, the islands have proved a haven for sailors, who, driven from their foundering vessels have been able to swim through the surf to its shores.

West of the Main Ducks are two islands called the False Ducks, actually Swetman Island and Timber Island. They are about two miles off Prince Edward Point on the Canadian shore line.

Timber Island, one of the group comprising the so-called False Ducks, instead of being regarded with dread and suspicion by sailors, long has enjoyed an excellent reputation.

Behind Timber Island is the safest shelter point in the region in which to ride out a storm. In the days of sail it was used constantly and even today in the age of steam, provides a harbor on occasion.

MAIN DUCK ISLAND is the property of Claude W. Cole of Cape Vincent and has many interesting features besides its gruesome history of wreck and disaster. Mr. Cole has used it as a fox farm and a buffalo ranch. The buffalo experiment was not a success — one drowned and the others escaped across the ice to the mainland, via Galloo Island, and had to be destroyed.

The regular passenger route from Kingston to Charlotte, the port of Rochester, runs past the Main Ducks and the steamers "Kingston" and "Toronto" alternate on this route each day during the summer season. After losing sight of land, as the shore line of Wolf Island fades into the distance, the boat sails west. A feeling of the mightiness of the inland seas is experienced with tumbling waters on every side and not a glimpse of land.

Rising on the horizon a pleasant, tree covered island appears and as it gradually grows larger looks serene and friendly to the warm glow of the sunset. Hot it looks as it looms up in front of a crew driving before a howling gale of late fall, only the mariner who has seen it and come through to tell the story fully can realize.

The body of Cecil Phillips of Kingston was recovered near Wolfe Island in April. Three weeks later, on May 10, the body of Capt. William Sheridan of Rochester, was found on nearby Grenadier Island, off Capt Vincent, New York.