I never thought about my grandfather as a young man, as someone my age. We all just knew him as “Papa.” He had one of those garage workshops that you could dig through for days and still not reach bottom. Years after he passed away, my father and grandmother came across a small locked safe in the corner of the garage. Age and thin plating made short work of the safe’s defenses to reveal a brown leather wallet inside.
I’ll never get to know for sure, but something tells me the wallet’s contents were reminders of what he left behind. The world of “Papa” and “Grannie” I would come to know my grandparents through had no room for the scandals that were hidden within.
Folded into its billfold were three old newspaper clippings, brittle and yellow with age. The ink was legible, but had lost its clarity. “THREE MEN HELD IN JAIL ON RUM CHARGES” it read. Among the trio were a William and Harold Dodd, my great grandfather and great uncle, respectively. They were picked up in Washington, Pennsylvania after having crossed state lines from West Virginia with “a large quantity of liquor.”
The Brothers Dodd were Appalachian rum runners. At the time of the “RUM” write-up, they were in their early 20s. Fast forward the plot 23 years to the next clipping’s headline: “ARREST DODD, LOCATE STILL”
William’s coverage went from news brief to feature headline in the intervening years. The clipping detailed the “federal and county officers” that raided the home of “William Dodd, 45” in the West Virginia town of Adamston – a town that doesn’t exist any longer. At the raid, the fuzz confiscated a 50-gallon still and 65 gallons of homemade hooch that was aging in five-gallon kegs.
My great grandfather appeared to have found what he liked doing for a living, god bless him for that.
What happened in the 23 years in between is largely unknown, save for one night, captured in the final clipping: “Honored at Dinner at Wm. Dodd Home.” The guest of honor for the “victory dinner” was Sheriff Harry Morrison. The county district attorney served as toastmaster. The brothers toasted the sheriff and DA that night, probably with illicit spirits distilled from the very grounds. Locals with names out of radio plays like “Reverend Dominic Desist,” “Mabel Westfall,” and “Speed Reynolds” were in attendance.
Considering the siblings’ enterprises, the publicized event was either a wildly brazen stunt or, much more likely, just part of doing business. Their continued ability to maintain operations over 20 years despite publicized arrests and growing notoriety may have been tied to questionable local connections, evidenced by the lavish dinners held for city officials on the brothers’ dime.
Then the bottom fell out. We can only speculate on who fell out of favor with whom, but it wasn’t long “ARREST DODD” was the headline for the day.
That’s where the deep dive ended. Three brittle still frames to a past none of us knew existed. It’s one whose full picture still eludes us. I tried to dig deeper, but the name of the paper and the dates of articles were not saved on the clippings. The papers that circulated throughout the area folded long ago.
That these were the three sole articles my grandfather held on to is not without import. They comprised a silent legacy that he locked away from the rest of the family. Their truth was his to take to the grave.
No one, not even my grandmother was ever brought into this inner-circle. My grandfather kept the stories of William and Harold Dodd apart from the family he would forge after leaving those West Virginia mining hills for Ohio. He cast off the weight of his father’s legacy, hoping to bring a conclusion to the cycle of danger and corruption he was exposed to as a young child. His entire life as a husband, father, grandfather, and in the end, great grandfather was in service to protecting all of us from our lesser selves.
With this all discovered this after my grandfather’s death, the only regret our family has is not having had the chance to thank him for leaving the past behind to give us all a better future.