Please welcome Jeanne DuBois to the blog today as she explains the background to her short story, “Moonset” in the recently released anthology, Moonlight & Misadventure: 20 Stories of Mystery and Suspense.
“Moonset”--Some Historical Background
My story “Moonset” is set in Atlantic City in 1921, but notorious gangsters are not its focus. The inspiration came from my grandmother who lost her husband and two children in the flu epidemic of 1918 and never spoke of it. I found out by accident, looking up genealogy stuff on the Internet. By 1921, she was married to my grandfather and on her way to having three more children. What happened to widows who didn’t remarry?
Employment opportunities were opening up for women around that time, I found. Their salaries were lower than a man’s, no surprise. Still, my main character, the widow Loretta, could be a stenographer/typist, a job once closed to women. Scores of business conventions occurred in Atlantic City back then, I discovered. Visitors flocked by the thousands to its white sand beaches and famous Boardwalk, “the only one anywhere that deserves to be spelled with a capital B.”
Prohibition, in effect since January of 1920, was relatively painless in July of 1921, especially in New Jersey, where it went largely unenforced. The law didn’t ban the drinking of alcohol, after all. But I didn’t want my story to be about bootleggers, so I chose Haddon Hall, a Quaker-owned hotel, where alcohol was never allowed, as the scene of the crime. Haddon Hall and its Boardwalk companion, the Chalfonte, began their lives in the late 1860’s as wooden rooming houses, offering guests healthy salt air breezes and salt water baths. By the summer of 1921, the Chalfonte was a “brick-and-iron skyscraper,” Haddon Hall had its Boardwalk addition completed, and plans for a fireproof restructuring were about to commence.
A New Jersey Court Judge made headlines in July of 1921 when he accused the Atlantic City Police Department of being in cahoots with a band of con men working to relieve wealthy vacationers of their money. One of the incidents happened at the Chalfonte. A team of twenty private detectives from Philadelphia, funded by a secret source, descended on the city in mid-July to investigate. One policeman lost his job, but no one was ever arrested. A month later, the founder of that private detective firm was in Washington being sworn in as the new Director of the Bureau of Investigation. Got him out of town quick, didn’t they?
For those who don’t know, the most notable of all Atlantic City conventions occurred in May of 1929. One of its attendees was Al Capone.
Jeanne DuBois ©2021
Jeanne grew up in New Jersey, studied English and history at the University of Michigan and, after twenty-nine inches of snow in twenty-four hours, moved to the Florida Keys where she waited tables, drove the bookmobile, and fished. When her son was six, they headed north. She earned an M.Ed. at the University of Florida and taught elementary school. She lives with two retired greyhounds and still teaches, from time to time.