Friday, August 31, 2012

An Al Capone Mystery Quote

"They call Al Capone a bootlegger. Yes, it's bootlegging while it's on the trucks, but when your host at the club, in the locker room, or on the Gold Coast hands it to you on a silver tray, it's hospitality."

The above quote shows up in several Al Capone bios, and was paraphrased in the film of The Untouchables. But the exact source of the quote seems to be a mystery - as does the exact quote itself: whether he said "silver tray," "silver platter" or "silver salver" varies every time the quote comes up.

One bio pinpoints the date Capone gave the quote as around December 20, 1927, when Capone was in Chicago after a disastrous trip to L.A. when he was ordered to get out of town. Back in town, he served eight hours in Joliet for carrying a concealed weapon. He spoke to reporters a lot during that brief stay before heading to Miami, but I can't find a paper or contemporary account with that particular quote. It would be more in line with the kind of stuff he was saying at the conference he gave a couple of weeks earlier, just before heading to California in the first place (the Trib's headline was 'YOU CAN ALL GO THIRSTY' IS BIG-HEARTED AL'S ADIEU.

For a while I thought it was one of those Capone quotes that was made up years later (like "You can get further with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word,") but most of it (minus the first sentence and using "silver salver") turns up at the head of an editorial about Capone in the Christmas, 1927 issue of the Milwaukee Journal. 

Anyone out there have a better source?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Al Capone Meets the Cops

Ninety years ago this month, in late August of 1922, Al Capone was involved in the first dust-up big enough to get his name into the Chicago paper. They referred to him as Alfred Caponi (they'd keep calling him "Caponi" for years) in the brief item describing an altercation in which he comes off as a massive douchebag.

Al, it seems, was driving around the loop, drunk out of his mind, and crashed into a parked cab at Randolph and Wabash, injuring the cab driver so badly that he needed hospital attention.

A classier gangster would have run around spreading out cash to keep people quiet, but Capone lacked class in those days. As the Trib put it, "Caponi jumped from his machine, pulled a revolver, flashed a deputy sheriff's badge and threatened to shoot one of the witnesses, who declared the accident had been Caponi's fault."

Capone was arrested and taken to the Central police station, where he threatened to have the arresting officer fired, and told anyone who would listen that he had "pull" that would make life miserable for all of the cops present. "I'll fix this thing so easy you won't know how it's done," he declared.

Christ, what a douchebag.

Capone was booked on three charges: assault with an automobile, driving while intoxicated, and carrying a concealed weapon. True to his word, he was bailed out and never went to court to deal with any of the charges. At this point in time he was still working for his mentor, John Torrio, who may have been the first gangster ever to say "I own the police" and mean it. You wouldn't have caught Torrio out driving drunk and waving guns around, though. Capone got better at P.R. later; in 1922 he was just a kid in his early 20s and acting like a frat boy whose daddy is on city council.  He was right, though, about being able to "fix" the thing - the case never went to trial.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Tree That Dripped Blood?

On the old Sobieski Street, where once upon a time arch-fiend H.H. Holmes had a "glass bending factory" (which was more likely a place for cremations; the man had no real idea of how to bend glass), we've had plenty of odd nights on the tour. Even in the summer, the trees on the sidewalk, right near the space where the entrance to the factory would have been, look menacing if you look up into their twisting branches. In the winter, when the leaves are gone and the branches are like rattling bones twisting towards the sky, they look like trees from a Tim Burton movie. And the other night, a woman on the tour pointed something out to me: one of the two trees was oozing with blood red sap.

Now, don't get me wrong here: I'm not honestly saying that the tree was dripping blood. It LOOKED like it was, but there's likely a scientific explanation; indeed, the woman who pointed it out was a geologist, and explained that sap can turn red if the tree has absorbed a lot of iron oxide out of the soil (and standing next to a vacant lot that was a junkyard once, and right near the railroad tracks, it's quite likely that it absorbed a LOT of iron oxide).

 Still, sometimes it's the details like these that make haunted places stand out. And, anyway, who's to say that high levels of iron oxide don't act as a catalyst for making ghosts appear? That sounds like the kind of thing they'd say on any number of those ghost hunting TV shows.

update: also, this seems to be one of those cases where for every expert, there's an equal but opposite expert. A biochemist on the tour recently told me that iron oxide wouldn't get into a tree, and that this would more likely come from a fungus. The tree is now dripping from TWO places. The good news is that if it drips on your clothes, it's washable. I found this out the hard way.


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