A Stairway to Danger

Ryan Columbo


1) From 1920 to 1933 Prohibition was in place in the United States. This meant that the sale, production, and transportation of alcohol was prohibited.

“I wish we were crossing Brooklyn Bridge,” said Louise. “I’d like to peek in the River Bar, but my daddy said he’d kill me if he caught me drinking in the there.”

“They can’t serve liquor there since prohibition, can they?” asked Tom.

“Not supposed to, but everybody says they have it, or can bring your own,” said Will. “I’ll stop at Nave’s and get you some pop instead. Will that be close enough to booze Louise?”

2) Al Capone was an American gangster living in Brooklyn, NY during the 1920’s prohibition era. He ran a smuggling operation which illegally transported alcohol.

“This is such an honor, Mr. Capone.”

The boys eyes locked. They dared not even whisper. The short hairs on Tom’s neck bristled. He remembered reading about Al Capone in the newspapers in the library. The gangster was thought to have committed murder, extortion, and robbery, but was never caught. He bribed and threatened any witnesses, and now he and his goons had come to Shakertown.

3) Al Capone and his operation illegally shipped alcohol using the rivers and rail lines in the US all across the country.

“‘I didn’t recognize the smell in the barge because we figured that they were making booze here, but that ain’t it. They’re smuggling the stuff in. And did you smell the house? The smell is everywhere. I bet their bottling there, too.’

‘Why here? In Mercer County, Kentucky?’

‘Think about it. We have the main north-south rail line and the river with all its locks and dams. The barge could go all the way to Ohio, then to Mississippi. They could run liquor to New Orleans.’”

4) The gasoline engine for motorboats had just been invented in the early 1900’s.

“‘Look an outboard motor.’

‘A What?’

‘A gasoline motor. Something new. I have only one. Read about em in a magazine. Untie us and start rowing. I’ll see if I can get it started.’”

5) The FBI was established in 1908 to fight against corruption in police departments, government offices, and other law enforcement agencies.

“‘Daddy read in the paper about a new government group, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI. They don’t take bribes and one of them is in Lexington.’”

Story Place in Time

Women earned the right to vote


Alcohol is declared illegal. The law is called Prohibition


The Empire State Building opens in N.Y.C

becomes the worlds tallest skyscraper


Alcohol is now legal. Prohibition is repealed.


Jackie Robinson becomes the first african american to play in the MLB.


J.F.K is assassinated in Dallas, Texas by Lea Harvey Oswald


“The Mriacle on Ice.” The USA hockey team beats Russia. This was one of the best game in the world.


Two planes crash into the Twin Towers and kill over 2,000 people.

-September 11, 2001

Turning Point 1

Tom and Will know they’re in big trouble when they come face to face with Al Capone. He was an American gangster who was known to kill people who got in his way.

Turning Point 2

Tom and Will jump off a bridge to escape Capone’s men. When they think they’re doomed, but then they find a small motor boat and are able to escape. Motor boats were newly invented in the 1920’s

Turning Point 3

Tom, Will, Helen, and James go into the city to go get help from the FBI because the local police were corrupt. They tell the agent the whole story and he offers them protection, but they decide to help secretly capture the gangsters.

Character Trait - Tom

Tom is a teenage boy who is one of the main characters in Stairway to Danger. In this book Tom is extremely curious and will go to any lengths to find the answers he is looking for. Tom is obsessed with the mysterious barge on the river, and he convinces his cousin, Will, to investigate the barge one dark night.

Tom couldn’t concentrate. All day he thought of the barge and what was on it. Had to be something important. Otherwise, why armed guards, and why would Toothy try to kill them? His chest tightened thinking about the scary man.” 28%

One example of just how far Tom will go to find out the secrets of the barge is when he pretends he is dead.

“In the book Huck and Jim, the runaway slave, have an accident and people think they’re dead. If you’re dead you can do things because people aren’t expecting you to be around. As of right now we’re dead.” 31%

Tom’s curiosity gets him into a lot of trouble in the story. For example, Tom and Will discover that Al Capone is behind the illegal operation on the barge. Tom knows how dangerous it is to get involved, but he can’t help himself. When the boys realize they will soon be discovered, they try to run away.

The leader then spoke to Capone. “Let’s go down and take a look at the barge.”

Tom’s throat tightened.

“Run,” whispered Will.

They leapt to their feet and bolted down the steps. The men heard the noise and flooded the tunnel with light.

“Stop!” a voice bellowed. “Get up here. Now.”

But the boys kept running until a shot echoed through the tunnel. The bullet ricocheted from wall to wall and whizzed past Tom’s ear.

Tom and Will had no choice. 50%

Tom’s eagerness to learn about the secrets of the barge and of the operation of the gangsters gets him into a lot of trouble, but in the end of the novel, he is a seen as a hero in the town for solving the mystery and helping the FBI arrest the gangsters.


The novel begins with a scene that grabs the reader’s attention. The two main characters, Tom and Will, see the dead body of a Deputy Sheriff. Tom and Will are cousins in their late teens living in the 1920’s outside of Chicago in a rural area. Prohibition was in effect in America at this time, which means that the manufacture, storage, production, transportation and sale of alcohol were illegal in the United States. The story is an exciting mystery surrounding the murder of the Deputy and a mysterious old barge that the boys see on the river. The local Sheriff can’t be trusted, and the boys know that they must solve the mystery on their own.

The boys are very curious about the old barge on the river. One night the boys decide to investigate with their friend, Helen. As they get close, they see an old man with a rifle who is guarding the barge. The man yells at them, and they run away. Now they are even more curious about the barge. What is so important that it needs to be guarded?

The boys live on a farm where one of the farm hands is a black man named, James. At this time the civil rights movement hadn’t happened yet, so black people were not treated as equals. James was picked on and not treated well by most people. The boys treated him well and worked right along side him on the farm. James warns them to stay away from the barge, but that only makes them more curious.

One night they decide to borrow the neighbor’s boat to get to the barge and take a closer look. They observe Al Capone and his gangsters on the barge and hear them discussing their illegal operation. They end up running away and jumping off a bridge to escape. From now on they are going to pretend that Tom is dead, so that he can spy on the barge day and night. He learns that one of the gangsters murdered the Deputy Sheriff.

They know that they cannot trust the local law enforcement, so they decide to go to the FBI to get help. The FBI had recently been established in the United States because of the corruption in the local police departments. They tell the FBI agent everything they have seen and heard about Al Capone and the mysterious barge on the river and the murder of the deputy. The FBI agent offers them safety in Cincinnati, but they refuse to go. They are determined to help solve this crime and arrest Al Capone and his gangsters.

The last part of the novel is an exciting shoot out involving the FBI and the gangsters. The gangsters blow up a bridge; meanwhile the boys have discovered that the gangsters are using the barge and the railroad to smuggle the illegal whiskey to places all over the U.S. Tom is able to set the gangsters hideout on fire by shooting flaming arrows at the roof of the building. In the end the FBI captures the gangsters and the boys are seen as heroes in their small town.