Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Pony Inn

Harry Madigan ran an Al Capone-controlled bar called the Pony Inn at this location, 5613 W. Roosevelt, Cicero, in 1926. In Spring of that year, the sidewalk in front of the saloon became the scene of a famous crime that haunted Capone throughout the rest of his career. The building still stands, now known as Sarno's Restaurant.

William McSwiggin was Assistant State's Attorney in Chicago, and had vigorously pursued an indictment against Al Capone in 1924 for killing Joe Howard in a South side bar. While unable to successfully prosecute Capone (despite the presence of several eye-witnesses), McSwiggin became known as a "hanging" prosecutor. But there was more to him than met the eye.

McSwiggin was also a card player, gambler, and drinker, and that naturally brought him into close contact with Capone and his associates on a regular basis. In fact, with the passage of time, Capone began to consider McSwiggin a friend. One night in late Spring, 1926, after dinner at his parents' house, McSwiggin and a few close friends went out for a night of gambling and drinks. Shortly after leaving the house, their car broke down and they ended up joining a couple of other friends in their car. These friends were the O'Donnell brothers, rival bootleggers who had a growing feud with Capone.

The O'Donnells' shiny new Lincoln went cruising through Cicero with McSwiggin and friends, hitting bar after bar, until they ended up here, at the Pony Inn, not far from Capone's Cicero headquarters. When word came to Capone that his rivals were encroaching on his territory, he sent a convoy of lieutenants, armed with machine guns, to make his displeasure known. No one told him his friend McSwiggin was with the group.

As the drinking party left the Pony Inn, bursts of gunfire sent fifty rounds into the group, killing three, including McSwiggin (the O'Donnells, the targets of the attack, escaped unharmed).

Public outcry at the gangland death of a state prosecutor pushed the police into action. Chicago police invaded Cicero, arresting Ralph Capone and raiding several Capone-owned joints. Al fled the city, spending the summer of 1926 among friends in the Italian community in Lansing, Michigan, until the heat died down enough for him to return to the Chicago area.

Never again, however, was Capone completely unmolested by the police. Though he had never intended to hurt McSwiggin, he had lost his standing with the public, who began to put increasing pressure on the police to shut down gang operations.


viagra online said...

I remember so many years ago I went to a drinking party at Pony Inn. I have already told this anecdote, but just a few people believe me

Peter M. McSwiggin said...

The story of my distant cousin would make a great movie.
Peter M. McSwiggin

TJ said...

Back in the late 1960's through the early 1970's during the Summer months on Sunday afternoons, Irish Hurling and Irish Football matches were played across the street from Sarno's at Rockne Stadium.

After the games were finished in the early evening, we would file out of Rockne Stadium and meet at Sarno’s Lounge. The place would be filled with players and fans. Of which the majority were from Ireland.

Ray Sarno treated the crowd very well and especially treated us children fantastically. He made me many a sandwich with a couple extra slices of his delectable tomatoes. I believe Ray Sarno had an arrangement with the Teams to open up and accommodate the crowd after the games finished up. The area around there at the time was all factories and very desolate on a Sunday.

Needless to say, the bar was filled with plenty of drinking, good cheer and singing until the late hours in a cloud of smoke you could hardly see through.

I have many fond Summer memories in Sarno’s. The place was filled to capacity, including his back room as us children ran around without a care in the world.

In the early 1970’s the Gaelic games were moved down the road to Hanson Stadium on Central and Fullerton and that was my last time in at Sarno’s

I will have to get in there for a visit and some lunch.

Quite an interesting history attached to Sarno’s that I was unaware of. As I’m sure many are unaware of this bit of Irish History in Chicago/Cicero at Sarno's.