The Bootlegger With the Tin Bustle — 1886

Sloshing through customs…

by Paula Bosse

Have you heard about the woman who, in 1886, was caught attempting to smuggle Cuban rum through U.S. Customs in a hollow tin bustle? The bustle-shaped contraption was worn under her clothes, and after filling it with the demon rum, she was able to illegally transport a gallon of bootleg liquor, no doubt sloshing gently as she moved through the port of Tampa. Officials began to wonder why she was making so many trips to Cuba, and after one trip too many, women officers were called over to “inspect” the detained traveler, and the booze-bustle was discovered. I’m sure every single person involved in this caper talked about it for the rest of their lives. Too bad about the bootlegging charges, but thumbs up, lady, on the creativity. Utilitarian fashion! That might have been the only time a bustle was actually useful.

Below is the text of the wire story which ran in American newspapers in December, 1886 (read the article below, as it appeared in the Woodstock (Illinois) Sentinel on Dec. 30, 1886, here).

A UNIQUE BUSTLE, The Good Use Which a Female Smuggler Made of It

Tampa, Fla., Dec. 20 – The customs officials here have made the capture of a unique article, which is now in possession of Colonel John G. Gibbs, of the United States Secret Service., and which he will preserve as a curiosity. It is a bustle made of tin, in the shape of a crescent, so as to fit snugly. At either end it is very thin, but is expanded so as to be about an inch and a half wide about the middle, and, being hollow inside, holds exactly one gallon.

When discovered by the lady inspectors at Tampa, the owner had it on in its proper place, and it answered admirably for the purpose for which such things are used, but unfortunately for the owner it was found to contain a gallon of fine Cuban rum which she was evidently endeavoring to smuggle. For some time it has been suspected that this lady was engaged in some peculiar business which made necessary frequent trips to and from Cuba. After consultation it was decided to make the proper inquiry. When first questioned, the lady exhibited much indignation that she should be even suspected, and finally began to weep. However, the lady who was appointed to make the inspection was kind but firm, and the result was the discovery of the mysterious bustle filled with rum. All was seized, the liquid was poured out where it would do the most good, and the vessel was turned over to Colonel Gibbs.

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Copyright © 2017 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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