Chicago is rife with stories of mobs and mobsters, of shootouts and gangland slayings. Of crime bosses and G-men trying to take them down. Fortunately for us the hey day of the gangster has (mostly) passed. But there are still a few reminders of that former life if one knows where to look for them.
Al (Alphonse) Capone is THE name everyone thinks about when you think about Chicago and gangsters. Born in New York in 1899 he quickly fell into the lifestyle of crime and in his early 20's had relocated to Chicago where he was a lieutenant of a major boss who retired when a bullet came too close for comfort and turned over his operation to Capone. During the 1930's and Prohibition Capone used his close association with Mayor William Thompson to enjoy a relatively safe life. It was only after the St. Valentines Day massacre that his reputation became tarnished and led influential citizens to brand him as 'Public Enemy #1'. Pursued by the equally famous Elliot Ness he was finally convicted
for tax evasion and sent off to prison. Two spots on the tour he was known to frequent were the Uptown theater which had tunnels underneath the street that allowed him to enter and leave unseen to other destinations including the Green Mill cocktail lounge which Capone's gang had part ownership of. There was a special booth reserved just for him that gave him clear line of sight for anyone entering the building.
John Dillinger was a notorious gangster whose crime spree through the midwest lasted until 1934. Styling himself as a modern day Robin Hood, he robbed banks seemingly at will, was chased by many a lawman and was imprisoned twice. But he escaped both times. He's only known to have committed one killing in his career, Between himself and a police man in East Chicago, Indiana. His reign finally ended on July 22nd in 1934 when federal agents cornered him outside the Biograph Theater, betrayed by the infamous Woman in Red.
Earl (Hymie) Weiss was an early Chicago gangster who was a rival of Capone and reputedly was the only man that he ever feared. Born in Poland and growing up in Chicago he and a friend, Dean O'Banion along with 'Bugs' Moran started the North Side gang and competed with Capone for its share of illegal booze, prostitution and other activities. He was gunned down outside Holy Name cathedral on October 11th, 1926 by two men with a sub machine gun and a shotgun. In a bit of irony, he's buried in Mount Carmel cemetery, the same place as his bitter rival, Al Capone.
While a lot of our history is enriching and pleasant to reflect upon, other parts of it are not. Many thanks to Nick Bouslog for this special edition of Off the Beaten Path.