By Brooke Steinberg
Photos of Al Capone’s sunken speak-easy have been revealed.
The party boat was originally built as a lumber barge in 1889 but was converted into a floating dance hall with a bar and live music when it changed hands in 1928.
Local folklore said that the notorious gangster was the one who supplied the boozy parties during the Prohibition Era, from 1929 up until when the Keuka mysteriously sank in 1932.
Underwater photographer Chris Roxburgh documented the shipwreck in Lake Charlevoix, Michigan, while submerged with diver Lee Rosenberg.
Roxburgh explained that Capone had a house near the lake, and people claim to have seen him around during that time.
“He had several ‘hide out houses in northern Michigan’ – an easy drive up from Chicago,” Roxburgh told Pen News. “The rumor is that, after the manager of the ship was shot on board, it was scuttled by a local church group that was tired of the devil’s parties, booze, music, drinks and women.”
The photographer described the Keuka as a 200-foot-long ship and over two stories tall.
“The limelight shines through the portholes, casting shadows that move as we make our way through the party barge,” Roxburgh said. “The wreck is intact and upright with good lighting and very clear water. It eerily lurks under the surface with many stories to tell.”
Even before the wreckage, the Keuka wasn’t without damage.
The boat was old and deteriorating, so it had to be pumped out daily. It’s rumored that the man who did the dirty work was paid in whiskey.
Michiganders knew the ship’s reputation as a speak-easy well.
“The Keuka was just one of many open secrets around northern Michigan during Prohibition, one of the places where everyone knew you could get a drink,” local paper Northern Express reported in 2018.
The barge was used to give “night-time tours” of the lake or “cruises” — which provided a cover for the speak-easy, according to the Association for Great Lakes Maritime History.
Roxburgh shared that when he dives into the shipwreck he imagines “what it was like back in 1929 when the parties and gambling were going strong, and the booze was flowing like a river.”
He continued, “I would imagine somebody was getting paid off – everyone could hear and see the parties from shore.”
Although everyone could hear the drunken parties, the Keuka’s location in the middle of the lake also has a fair vantage point from any possible approach, giving enough time to prevent an ambush from police.
But the speakeasy didn’t stay away from trouble for long.
On New Year’s Day 1931, the Keuka’s manager Ed Latham was shot by an intoxicated patron, the Boyne Citizen, a newspaper based on the lake’s southeastern shore, reported.
While it’s unclear exactly what happened to Latham and his shooter, it’s said to have caused Captain J.H. Gallagher to shut things down.
The following year, in August 1932, the Keuka sank.
It’s still unclear how and why the barge sank. The Northern Express quoted a story that couldn’t find any explanation.
“The Keuka was riding safely Saturday with no evidence that a few hours later would find her in the bottom of the lake. Nevertheless, something happened, and the boat went down,” it read. “There was some cause for the changed conditions, but at this time the reason is indefinite and a subject of conjecture on the part of the public.”
While that might have been the end of illegal boozy parties for the Keuka, it was close to the start of the end of Prohibition in Michigan.
In March 1933, beer regulations across the country started to ease up, and one month later, Michigan was the first state to ratify the 21st Amendment repealing prohibition, according to Detroit Historical.
The Keuka now sits 50 feet deep below the surface of Lake Charlevoix, a short distance from the city of Charlevoix.