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boulash

Looking for a US town/region that the mob might "want" in 1920

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boulash

Hi there,

 

I'm currently building a scenario (jazz age) but I can't find a proper location in the US (I already have a location if the scenario is played in Europe).

 

- It has to be a small town, not a village but small enough that there is room for gossips, social control and such.

- It has to be old enough that one family (aristocrats or upper-class landowners) has a reasonably long history (which I could expand with everything that happened before they came to the US)

- The mob "wants" it (they want to own the authorities there so that they can run all kinds of operations), for whatever reason. Ex: To allow smuggling, coastal town near Canada, lots of cliffs with caves to allow discreet approach by sea, river or railroad to dispatch goods in the whole country,...

 

I welcome any suggestion, thanks in advance!

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windandfire

First thing that comes to mind would be Innsmouth, or Newburyport in Massachusetts which was the inspiration for Innsmouth if I remember correctly.

 

It has a long history, three or four old and powerful families, nearby sea cliffs at Falcon Point (a mile or two south), a defunct railway station leading to a major railroad junction in Rowley, hidden undersea caverns and air filled Chambers, and nearby islands that make great places for illegal activity (plum island and devil's reef just outside the harbor).

 

The book Escape from Innsmouth has a lot of information on the town and it's history, and goes over every neighborhood and it's major inhabitants. There's two (or three if you have the second edition) scenarios that are designed to be played in a short campaign. While there is a plot point in one of those about illegal smuggling operations, you'll have to do some work to tie in a straight up mafia interest. And if you want to ever run the Innsmouth scenarios with the same group you may want to look elsewhere.

 

Still, Innsmouth as a town has everything you call out and with some tweaking you could use it as a starting point for your town.

 

For a more mundane and less fictional town, I'd recommend looking near the Great Lakes area in the Northern Midwest US. I live near Lake Michigan and know the coastline is dottet with small towns built along the lake. On the east side of the lake (Michigan) they're mostly tourist towns and some have known chicago mobster hangouts or old safe houses. On the west side of the lake you have the classic mob city Chicago and numerous smaller cities nearby.

 

For something a little different you could look at the upper peninsula of Michigan (it's a weird state) around Lake Superior. It's a heavily forested area attached to Canada that's know to have a lot of mines and mining towns.

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yronimoswhateley

For some options with direct Lovecraft links:

  • I'm with Windandfire on this - Innsmouth is a great choice - the mob and the Deep Ones would both be interested in it for the same reasons that smugglers and pirates and Obed Marsh would have been interested in it.  If you set your scenario after the Deep Ones were scoured out of Innsmouth, there would be something of a power vacuum for the mob to fill there.
  • "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" is set, I believe, in Providence, Rhode Island, where smugglers were apparently able to sneak all sorts of unspeakable awfulness up creeks and through tunnels and such into Curwen's dungeon.  Providence wouldn't have been a very small town, but small enough.
  • "Pickman's Model" is set in Boston, Massachusetts, another not-so-small town, but it too refers to smuggler's tunnels riddling the ground under the town, now haunted by ghouls - seems like an interesting setting for gangsters to try to set up shop in.
  • New York City's Red Hook neighborhood, setting of "The Horror at Red Hook", was a favorite setting for my old group's adventures with gangsters and such.  Not much of a small town, but I suppose that even an isolated dockside slum is a sort of neighborhood unto itself.
  • Kingsport, Massachusetts is a relatively under-utilized little city invented by Lovecraft; I don't know much about it, but it was the setting for at least "The Festival", if I remember correctly, and seems like a likely small-town seaside location suitable for smuggling and other such operations.

 

 

If you're looking for something a bit further off the beaten track, try Collinsport, Maine, the setting for the old gothic horror soap opera "Dark Shadows":  dominated by the cursed Collins family, whose fortunes were made from smuggling, piracy, over-fishing the area, and from the town's only real industry, a cannery owned by the Collins family, it's a little, isolated fishing village full of dark secrets that ought to fill most, if not all, your requirements.  Canonical unnatural troubles in the town include witchcraft, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, the Deep-One/Serpent-Man-like Leviathans, and a handful of other popular monsters from gothic literature, and of course there's plenty of room for you to add your own monsters.  One might easily imagine gangsters trying to muscle in on the local businesses, get involved in smuggling schemes using the disused Collins fishing fleet, or just hide out from the law in this quiet, isolated little village, only to quickly tread on the Collins Family's toes, become embroiled in a heated Collins family rivalry or conflict, and very shortly find themselves on the wrong side of one supernatural nasty or another.....

 

And, of course, you can always make up your own Lovecraftian small town - it worked for Lovecraft and his friends; I recommend making up something familiar to you, based on a town you already know, and not sweating the details of American history and culture too much (anything you invent probably won't be much weirder than America's diverse and mixed-up history and culture, anyway)....

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boulash

Thanks a lot for the great suggestions!

I actually thought about Kingsport, but I felt it wasn't "remote" enough to not have already been tackled by the mob if they had an interest in it.

 

Maine would probably work really well, and I had never heard about Collinsport so great tip :)

 

I can't believe I hadn't thought about just making stuff up, it might just be ideal (I need the "old family" to be kind of aristocrats, or at least really upper-class landowners, with lots of traditions, an heritage to be preserved...).

 

What do you think could be other features (geography, history, people,...) that would make the place extremely valuable for the mob?

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GBSteve

The mob could want the town for any number of things:

- bootlegging, moving liquor across the boarder or landing it from boats

- hijacking lorries, either liquor or something else, so near a heavily used route

- gambling, there's a track - off course betting was illegal but wire services relayed the data to Chicago and other cities

- racketeering, taking control of the union in the local factories and diverting the subs to criminal ends

- banking, got to stash those illegal profits somewhere, and nowhere better than a bank

- counterfeiting, the local print works does more than books and newspapers

 

Some of the locals would have to be in on the scams, perhaps through family ties, greed or fear. Who might rat them out, and what would that cost them? Does the whole town live in fear? Or are they doing unusually well out the influx of money so keen not to rock the boat?

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MrHandy

How about St. Alban's, Vermont? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Albans_(town),_Vermont

 

It's close to the Canadian border, so it's good for smuggling bootleg alcohol, which would make it profitable for the mob. It's on the shore of Lake Champlain, where a lake monster has been sighted. It also has quite a history, with interesting events having occurred there.

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Gaffer

If you want landed (if down on their luck) "aristocracy" try some of the coastal towns of the southeastern USA, especially the Gulf Coast from Tampa around to Galveston. Louisiana and Mississippi add voodoo into the mix and the whole region can contribute the KKK to the background. Tampa and New Orleans are firmly mob-controlled (as BTW is Providence RI), but there are lots of homegrown rum runners and bootleggers.

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yronimoswhateley

In the case of Innsmouth, you have a pretty easy setup to work with (minor spoilers for "The Shadow Over Innsmouth"):

 

 

 

  • 1820s:  Formerly a successful fishing town, the supply of fish dries up, hurtling Innsmouth into bad times.
  • 1830s:  Suddenly, Obed Marsh shows up with a handful of mysterious gold trinkets, starting several years of prosperity, at least for the Marsh family. (Marsh is actually trading victims to the Deep Ones in exchange for their weird gold artifacts.)
  • 1838:  Marsh returns shaken from a one of his trading trips:  the islanders Marsh was trading with the Deep Ones through had been slaughtered after his last visit, upsetting his scheme; desperate, Obed arranges to deal with the Deep Ones directly, by importing the Deep Ones' arrangement with the islanders to Innsmouth.  To make it more palatable to Innsmouth folks and to maintain secrecy, Marsh dresses the whole thing up as a sort of secret society, folding the whole thing into the local Masonic lodge.  The Innsmouth fishing business suddenly and "miraculously" picks up again, allowing Innsmouth to prosper again.
  • 1840s:  In spite of the regained prosperity, the newly formed "Esoteric Order of Dagon" quickly gains a bad name, and the town is scandalized by reports of "devil worship" and human sacrifice as Marsh trades Innsmouth children for Deep One gold. 
  • 1846:  The town rebels and arrests Obed Marsh.  The Deep Ones at last step out of the shadows and retaliate, with a large part of the Innsmouth population killed in the resulting "epidemic"; Marsh is freed, but no longer in control of Innsmouth - the Deep Ones deal directly with the town, implementing the Three Oaths. 
  • 1860s:  The first children born from the Third Oath "marriages" with the Deep Ones are maturing, and begin showing signs of the infamous "Innsmouth Look", as the town disintegrates further.... 
  • 1870s:  News of the peculiar artifacts Obed Marsh had been melting into gold ingots leaks out into the outside world when someone smuggles a peculiar tiara out of Innsmouth.  Obed Marsh is tasked (unsuccessfully) with retrieving the tiara, the smuggler dies in a "mysterious brawl", and Marsh dies (apparently of old age) a few years later.
  • July, 1927:  the narrator's tale from "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" occurs.
  • 1927-1928:  Raid on Innsmouth ("The Innsmouth Incident").
  • February, 1928:  News of the Innsmouth raid begins leaking out to the public.

 

 

 

So, in the case of Innsmouth, you have a few interesting "business" possibilities: 

  • Up through the 1830s, the Innsmouth fishing fleet isn't catching very much.  These ships might better be used for other, less savory purposes.
  • In the 1840s, the Marsh family has come upon a mysterious supply of refined gold which he has been privately (and suspiciously) smelting down into ingots before turning it into proper money.  The source, location, and control of this gold would all be of interest to blackmailers, smugglers, embezzlers, and racketeers of all sorts.
  • In 1846, something goes really, badly wrong in Innsmouth, resulting in a shift in the town's balance of power, while the "epidemic" there leaves a power vacuum, and the fishing dries back up again.  Once again, Innsmouth looks like a place of opportunity for anyone in need of a ships and people who aren't inclined to talk about what the ships are used to import or export.
  • In the 1870s, the gold tiara smuggled out of Innsmouth might reawaken the interest of adventurers and opportunists.
  • In the 1920s, Prohibition would awaken a market for illegal alcohol imported from Canada; heavily publicized international incidents involving such illegal imports, sometimes arranged between Canada and state government officials in secret, would challenge federal authority, and would begin making a quiet port town with a mostly forgotten fishing fleet capable of quietly importing Canadian whiskey would start looking really attractive.
  • Through the raid over the winter of 1927-1928, there will probably be a lot of people in Innsmouth with a lot to hide who would be willing to pay dearly for quiet and quick transportation out of Innsmouth; someone capable of bribing or extorting cooperation from officials enough to allow key figures from Innsmouth to escape the raid could quickly line their pockets with alien gold.
  • After the raid ends in 1928, control of Innsmouth is left once again in doubt, allowing great opportunity for the right (or wrong) sorts of people to step in and take advantage of the lawlessness, disorder, and confusion.  There might even be caches of military weapons and ammunition, leftover stashes of Marsh gold, and other treasures to loot from the town.

 

I'll have to refresh my memory on opportunities in Collinsport, but the history of Collinsport is similar in many ways to Innsmouth, minus the whole Deep One and Innsmouth Raid affair, and the opportunities are similar.  One of Collinsport's big running Mythos gimmicks would be vampires:  several members of the Collins family were vampires, and Collinsport is only a short distance away from the location of Stephen King's Jerusalem's Lot ('Salem's Lot).  You might get a lot of mileage from a criminal gang that makes a deal with the vampires, helping to transplant vampires from Collinsport and Salem's Lot to other locations in "Lovecraft Country", for example, or importing a steady supply of victims for the vampires to feed from.  The cult of the Leviathans might work with gangsters in order to retrieve artifacts such as "Naga Boxes" (containing gateways between the Leviathans' prison and our world) from private collections and prisons.  Criminal gangs might move into Collinsport for any of the usual reasons (drugs, prostitution, gambling, racketeering, money laundering, etc.), only to find that the cult of Leviathan and the Collins family already behave like criminal organizations, leading to uneasy truces, or open warfare, or both.  Collinsport runs a successful cannery, a struggling fishing fleet, corrupt and backwards local government, and any number of local businesses that might be exploited for "protection" and other rackets.  Deep Ones, Deep One hybrids and collaborators, and other shady characters fleeing from Innsmouth might think Collinsport looks like the next best thing to Innsmouth, and might pay organized criminals to help smuggle their way out of Innsmouth and into Collinsport....

 

If you want landed (if down on their luck) "aristocracy" try some of the coastal towns of the southeastern USA, especially the Gulf Coast from Tampa around to Galveston. Louisiana and Mississippi add voodoo into the mix and the whole region can contribute the KKK to the background. Tampa and New Orleans are firmly mob-controlled (as BTW is Providence RI), but there are lots of homegrown rum runners and bootleggers.

 

Oh, I like the sound of Gaffer's suggestion here.  Check out Season 1 of the TV Series "True Detective" for pulp detective/horror story set in the Southeastern USA, mixing organized crime, small-town corruption, and voodoo with the King in Yellow mythos....  Just brush up on your Southern Gothic tropes (link) and invent a small southern town full of shady characters to corrupt, and you're most of the way there!

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Nightbreed24

The Italian-American Houston or Dallas crime families (or a fictional one from a city a little bit closer to the border) could support the Tequileros down in South Texas:

https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/jbt01

 

Lots of small towns to choose from, and not the usual New England countryside.

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joe adams

Or if you're into Boardwalk Empire, there are small family-oriented fishing villages all along the eastern seaboard of the US. In the case of Atlantic City, Somers Point is the kind of place I'd look at. 

 

The place offers privacy, access to a distribution center, and a mob presence. 

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boulash

Again thanks a lot for all the great tips :)

I hadn't heard of Boardwalk Empire, it looks great for inspiration and visuals.

Somers Point might just be the place, it was still pretty small in 1920 (843 in.) and it is the home to the largest crabbing tournament in the United States (I'm sure I can find something creepy with crabs :) ).

 

In my story, the mob already sent a first team that disappeared without a trace, then a second one with enforcers that suffered the same fate. So the investigators are send "incognito" (they all owe a favor in one way or another) to figure out what is happening there and solve the problem.

 

 

They will eventually discover there is some kind of supernatural vigilante at work.
I'm thinking about a few red herrings (a very strong and agile teenager that frequently disappears into the woods and spends a lot a time at the church - actually a boy eager to escape country life and training and studying to get a university grant on athletic merits) but the investigators will eventually figure out the culprit is a very kind nobleman whose family has "watched" over the community for decades.
He's the last of the line, but before him all male members of the family died before they reached the age of 40. The real reason is an hereditary disease (some kind of huntington chorea) but the family believed in a curse and wanted to protect him by granting him a "guardian angel".
Unfortunately the guardian angel is actually a demon. It granted the nobleman incredible strength and resistance but had to be fed with innocent souls (the crime rate in the town is incredibly low, appart from disappearances, almost never solved).
If the scenario works as I hope, the investigators will have to make a significant choice: getting rid of the demon and giving the happy community to the mob (maybe allowing a "deep one connection" as well) or letting the vigilante at large and allowing the occasional child to be devoured.

 

 

I'm also thinking about a scene that could be really exciting to play

(where one investigator has to enter some other plane to find the demon's name)

, I'll certainly come back to you guys for fresh ideas :)

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boulash

I have another question, quite trivial so please don't go out of your way to answer :)

 

One of the characters that are going to playtest the adventure can dance, so I thought there might be a scene with a ball or something similar (a wedding maybe ?). What kind of community socials would be usual in a small NJ coast town in the 20's ? Would people dance, and what kind of dance ? Would the social pressure be tightened at such events or would it be released ?

 

I've seen the movies and read the books, so I know about Charleston, dance marathons and such, but I'm wondering about the kind of things one could find in the countryside (I'm going for Somers Point).

 

Thanks a lot !

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yronimoswhateley

You might find the Wikipedia article on Territory Bands useful; the short version is that these were traveling bands of up to a dozen musicians that worked small regions of the US, playing stock dance music in Veterans of Foreign Wars halls, Lyons clubs, Elks lodges, and so on; these bands helped popularize dance tunes and dances across the U.S. in areas that would have been neglected by big-name performers.  The article might help suggest what the bands might have been like, where they would have performed, the sorts of people who would go to the dances, the culture that rose up around them, the music and dances involved, etc.

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HJ

How about Twin Peaks?

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