Thursday, October 30, 2008

Lager Beer Riots

Until 1855, Chicago's streets were policed by a few county constables. That was the year the Chicago Police Department was founded. It was also the year of Chicago's first riot, in which CPD played a large role.

Chicago was always a town of newcomers, and that was certainly true in the 1850s, when over 60% of the population was foreign-born. The flow of primarily Roman Catholic German and Irish immigrants raised the degree of xenophobia in the native population, embodied politically in the Know-Nothing Party, which briefly held substantial legislative power in Chicago as elsewhere. At the same time, early Prohibitionists were active in the Illinois legislature, and had passed a state prohibition ordinance, which was to be voted on in 1855.

Chicago's German population, concentrated on the North Side, enjoyed their neighborhood beer gardens, and abhorred prohibition. The newly-elected Mayor, Levi Boone (a distant relative of Daniel Boone), lobbed a bomb into this incendiary atmosphere by ordering the police to enforce the city's Sunday closing laws, which had been mostly forgotten by that time. The police, composed almost entirely of native-born Americans, forced the North side bars to obey the ordinance, but allowed American bars on the South side to stay open.

On April 21, 1855, a mob of five hundred Germans massed outside the city courthouse at Clark and Randolph (pictured above), where one of their own was to be tried for liquor law violations that day. Mayor Boone ordered the newly-formed police squad to disperse the crowd, which they did at the business end of their clubs.

A few hours later, a squadron of over a thousand Germans marched back to the courthouse to continue the battle. The Mayor ordered the ends of the Clark street bridge (pictured below) opened, trapping about half of the rioters on the south side of the river, and a few hundred more on the bridge. The mob attacked the police, who had lined up in formation to defend the courthouse, and a firefight with pistols and shotguns, as well as clubs and chains, raged for over an hour. Some of the protesters stuck on the bridge claimed the police specifically targeted them.

In the end, however, while there were many injuries, there was only one recorded death, although rumors spread quickly that a score or so of the rioters were killed, leading to additional tension between the immigrant population and the police.

The police arrested sixty during the Beer Riots, but one two were convicted, and none were ever actually imprisoned. Later that year, the prohibition law was voted down, and open taps were the law in Chicago for another 65 years.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Capone's Chicago Home

Al Capone had been in Chicago only about a year when he purchased this home at 7244 S. Prairie Ave in the summer of 1922. Capone was finding success in the Johnny Torrio organization, and had earned enough to afford this middle-class house in a sleepy South side neighborhood, about eight miles south of downtown Chicago, and 13 miles from his business operations in Cicero. It remained Capone's official address for the rest of his life, and the deed remained in the family until the 1950s.

Here, Capone installed his long-suffering wife, Mae, his only child, Sonny, plus his widow mother Teresa, and younger siblings Albert, Mimi, Matthew, and Mafalda. The home, fortified by iron bars in the basement windows (still visible today) and a massive brick garage with a car always at the ready, remained a safe place for the Capone family for thirty years. Teresa continued living here until her passing in 1952, after which the house was sold.

Starting in the 1950s, the Irish and Italian immigrants who had previously populated the neighborhood, were replaced primarily by African-Americans. Other than that, the neighborhood remains a quiet, family-oriented area to this day.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Walsh School

The John A. Walsh School was founded in Chicago's "Bloody Maxwell" district in 1866. Between 1880 and 1905, it served as the primary battleground for two vicious street gangs of boys, the Irishers and the Bohemians. The school sits on Peoria St., then known as Johnson St., which was the border line between the Irishers' territory to the east, and the Bohemians to the west. During the 1880s and 1890s, blackjacks, clubs, and pistols were frequently used, both inside and outside the school, leading to the death of several students, and leading up to the final battle in December of 1905.

In that month, around 50 Irishers and Bohemians faced off in a gun battle at the school in which between forty and fifty shots were fired. When the police arrived, they found no boy older than 15, and many as young as ten.

Following the battle, no one was allowed to enter the school without a thorough search.

The building of the Walsh School has since been rebuilt.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lincoln's Coffeehouse

No, not that Lincoln. In the summer of 1835, Solomon Lincoln, who had up until then made his living principally as a tailor in Chicago, opened the city's first saloon at this location on the corner of Lake and LaSalle Streets, known as Lincoln's Coffeehouse. The coffeehouse quickly became the most popular drinking establishment in the city, which wasn't saying much since Chicago's population was under 4,000 people at the time.

Unlike the tattooed and pierced barista at your nearby Starbucks, Lincoln was a noted hunter of wolves, which at that time were a persistent nuisance in Chicago. In fact, the area around the confluence of the Chicago River, just three blocks west of the Coffeehouse, was known in the 19th century as "Wolf Point," for the ubiquitous animals. In Gem of the Prairie, Herbert Asbury quotes an "old-time Chicagoan" as saying: "Many a time, I have seen Mr. Lincoln mount his horse when a wolf was in sight on the prairie toward Bridgeport, and within an hour's time come in with the wolf, having run him down with his horse and taken his life with a hatchet or other weapon."

No wolf sightings at this Bank of America, which currently occupies the site.

Tremont House Hotel

The Tremont House Hotel, first built at the corner of Dearborn and Lake in 1833, burned and was rebuilt three times. During the 1860s, when all the buildings in Chicago were lifted several feet out of the mud, the Tremont was the largest building in town, and resisted all efforts in lifting her foundations, until George Pullman, later of train car fame, managed to engineer the feat.

The second floor of the first Tremont House became home to Chicago's first billiard hall in 1836, and was the favorite hangout of an itinerant criminal named John Stone, who in 1840 became the city's first executed criminal, having been convicted of the rape and murder of a Mrs. Lucretia Thompson.

In 1862, a heavily-inebriated Cap Hyman, the famous Hairtrigger Block gambler and shotgun-spouse of Gentle Annie Stafford, invaded the lobby of the third Tremont house and used his pistol to hold everyone in the hotel hostage for an hour, until police reinforcements arrived.

The fourth and final Tremont was also the site of a shooting in January 27, 1897, according to the New York Times on that date:
D.B. Chandler of New York, agent for the Colgate Soap Company, was shot in the left hand and kicked and beaten until unconscious in Room 203 of the Tremont House at 4:45 o'clock this morning.

According to Chandler's story, he was assaulted by Edward Kirkland, manager of the house, Smiley Corbett, an ex-deputy coroner, and B. McIperson, a former ticket broker. "Early in the evening," said Mr. Chandler, "I went to the Schiller Cafe, where I remained until after midnight. Kirkland, Corbett, and McIperson were also in the cafe. They insulted me several times, and I requested them to stop. At last, I left the cafe and returned to my room. As I was winding my watch, I heard John Bruno, the night watchman, say: 'Open the door.'. I was about to do this when I heard some other person say: 'Break it in.'

The door was finally broken in, and I ran into the bathroom. Then somebody fired three shots through the door, one bullet striking me in the left hand and the others barely missing me. Then the men burst in the door. They jumped on me and kicked me on the head and body until I fainted.
The Times story concludes, "The hotel proprietor will discharge manager Kirkland," which seems awfully unfair, as only one of the bullets hit the guest.

The site of the original Tremont is now the "Theatre District Self Park," a twelve-story parking garage built in 1987, catering to the nearby Randolph Street theaters.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Johnny Torrio Shot

After Dion O'Banion double-crossed him at Sieben Brewery, Johnny Torrio's south side organization came into constant conflict with the North side gang. With encouragement from the Genna brothers, Torrio had assented to O'Banion's murder.

In retaliation, O'Banion's followers targeted Torrio. After the bust at Sieben, Torrio had turned over his major operations to Al Capone, making him think he was safe from rival gangsters. However, Hymie Weiss and Bugs Moran, two of O'Banion's lieutenants, were motivated by revenge, not business matters, and about 4:30 p.m. on a cold January morning in 1925, they ambushed Torrio in front of his home, pictured here, at 7011 S. Clyde Ave.

Torrio and his ever-loyal wife, Ann, had spent the day shopping in the Loop, and had just returned to their South Shore home. Accompanied only by their driver, they walked up to the front door, with Torrio carrying a load of packages, unaware of the blue Cadillac that had arrived moments after them. Weiss and Moran jumped out and unloaded a hail of bullets, first at the Torrios' car (wounding the driver, who was still inside), then at Johnny Torrio himself. One bullet in the arm, another in the groin, both at point blank range. Finally, Bugs Moran put his pistol to Torrio's head for the coup de grace. Click. No bullets left.

Torrio survived the hit, though barely. After four weeks in the hospital, protected by Al Capone personally at his side day and night, Torrio served his nine-month sentence for the Sieben bust at Lake County Jail, then departed immediately for Italy, where he lived for several years before returning to New York. He never set foot in Chicago again, and Al Capone took over the leadership of his organization.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Al Capone's Cicero Hangout

Al kept his wife, mother, and son at the family home in Chicago, but also kept this apartment building at 1600 Austin Blvd., in Cicero, as a crash pad for late night parties. Not far from his Cicero business headquarters, this unassuming home was protected by a heavy steel door (which appears to have been replaced -- see below), a 8 foot backyard fence, underground escape tunnels, and two or more bodyguards prowling the grounds at all times.

The block is one of the most well-kept in Cicero, but the current owners seem to have purposely allowed the shrubbery to obscure the entry and windows.

The Holmes Castle

Herman Mudgett was a New Hampshire-born medical student with an interest in the macabre. Mudgett, or H.H. Holmes, as he began calling himself (among a number of other aliases) came to Chicago in 1886 and quickly charmed his way into work at a pharmacy in Englewood on the South side of Chicago, at 63rd and Wallace. After the widow who owned the pharmacy mysteriously disappeared, Holmes took over the business and grew it successfully, largely by charming the neighborhood women, who took pains to visit and patronize his business.

With the money from his drug store, Holmes purchased the lot across the street (pictured above) and designed and built his "castle," which included retail shops on the first floor and rooms on the second. It wasn't until much later that the interesting aspects of the castle came to public notice: the rooms with locks on the outside and gas nozzles on the inside, the vats of acid, the corridors that led to nowhere, the kiln hot enough to disintegrate flesh in the basement.

Before, and especially during, the World's Fair of 1893, Holmes tortured and killed scores of visitors, especially women, to whom he was preternaturally irresistible. He became Chicago's first serial killer, the "Jack the Ripper of America." Holmes married several times (usually without divorcing the previous wife); during the Fair, he moved his wife to an apartment in Lincoln Park.

He was eventually caught, and hanged in 1896.

Holmes was no architect nor engineer, and his castle was neither well-designed nor built to particularly high standards. In addition, in order to conceal his misanthropy, the building was erected by a continually changing cast of workers. Holmes' practice was to hire a crew one week, then refuse to pay them, then hire a new group of workers when the last ones gave up. The castle would not have stood long, but its demise was hastened by an unknown arsonist, and it burned to the ground shortly after Holmes was arrested. The location is now a U.S. post office.

UPDATE: Based on information from a commenter, it appears that, after the fire, the building was largely rebuilt, and continued to be used until January, 1938, when it was purchased by the city for use as a post office. The photo below shows the building as it looked in 1938, when the address was 601-03 W. 63rd. Thanks to Adam Seltzer for the tip.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Maxwell Street Police Station

The Maxwell Street district, termed "Bloody Maxwell" by the Chicago Tribune, was the chief breeding ground for criminals during the 19th and early 20th century in Chicago.

Most of those criminals ended up at one time or another, here, at the 22nd precinct police station at the corner of Maxwell and Morgan St. During its heyday as a terror district, the station was surrounded on all sides by "corners, saloons, and houses that have seen the rise, the operations, and often the death of some of the worst criminals the land has ever known," according to the Tribune.

Likely the newspaper had in mind Dead Man's Corner, located just two blocks away from the station.

Built in 1888, the station was in continued use by the Chicago police for over 100 years. Fans of the 1980s hit television series Hill Street Blues will recognize the station from the opening credits.

Today, the station is still in use by police as the headquarters for security at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"Bloody" Maxwell

From the mid-1850s through the 1930s, the area bordered by Harrison St., Wood St., 16th St., and the Chicago River, was the toughest neighborhood in town, and the nation's foremost foundry for criminals. Termed "Bloody Maxwell" by the Chicago Tribune in 1906 for its violence, the district was populated first by Irish immigrants, then by Germans, Russians, Greeks, Poles, Jews, and many other ethnic groups, making it Chicago's version of the "melting pot."

The Tribune wrote, "Reveling in the freedom which comes from inadequate police control, inspired by the traditions of criminals that have gone before in the district, living in many instances more like beasts than like human beings, hundreds and thousands of boys and men follow day after day and year after year in the bloody ways of crime."

The "inadequate" police operated out of the famous 22nd precinct station nearby.

In the 20th century, the area became populated primarily by Jews, then by African-Americans relocating from the South. Over the last ten years, this "terror district" has come to be populated primarily by students at the nearby University of Illinois at Chicago. New construction is prominent (while taking these photos, a real estate agent asked whether I was looking for a condo and handed me a brochure on a nearby development).

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ralph Capone's Home

That is not Ralph Capone's 1996 Dodge Grand Caravan. That is, however, Ralph Capone's house behind it, at 1924 S. 49th Ct., in Cicero.

Born Raffaele Capone in Naples, he immigrated to New York with his parents in infancy, and came to Chicago about a year after his brother, Al. For awhile, he helped Al run a call flat in Rogers' Park, working for the Johnny Torrio syndicate. Later, Ralph became the right-hand man of that organization when Al took over, and ran the entire organization during period when Al was in jail or otherwise away from Chicago. During the salad days of the Capone bootlegging operation, "Bottles", as Ralph was known, organized the distribution of liquor, and also ran several speakeasies and brothels, including the famous Cotton Club in Cicero.

Ralph also became the government's test case in prosecuting racketeers for income tax evasion. Never as smart as his brother, government prosecutors noticed that practically all of Ralph's bank deposits were in multiples of 55, notable since the going rate for a barrel of beer was $55. In addition, after his indictment, Ralph continued operating his distribution business, never considering that his telephones might be tapped. Ralph Capone was the first racketeer to serve a prison sentence for tax evasion. He spent three years at McNeil Island Corrections Center in Puget Sound before being released in 1934.

After release, Ralph continued his job in the Capone organization, working for Frank Nitti, since Al was, by that time, in prison. The government continued to dog Ralph throughout the rest of his life, primarily on income tax charges, although he never went back to prison, and eventually retired to Mercer, Wisconsin, where he died in 1974.

Mafalda Capone Maritote

Mafalda, named after an Italian princess, was the youngest Capone sibling and the only sister. Born 13 years after Al, she grew up spoiled, and retained a reputation as a profane and sharp-tongued woman throughout her life.

Born in New York, Mafalda arrived in Chicago with the rest of her family as a toddler. She attended the old Lucy Flower Vocational High School on the West side, once one of the city's best (it was closed in the late 1990s).

On December 14, 1930, she was married at the church pictured here, St. Mary's of Czestochowa, at 3010 S. 48th Ct., in Cicero. Located in the family-run town, but safely in the Polish section of town, near the Chicago border, St. Mary's provided a safe locale for the wedding event of the year. Mafalda wore a satin gown with a 25-foot train and carried a bouquet of 400 flowers down the aisle, where she was given away by her brother Ralph. At the time, Al feared arrest in Chicago and so did not attend.

The groom was John Maritote, the younger brother of a Capone organization affiliate Frank "Diamond" Maritote, who later went to prison in the Bioff/Brown Hollywood extortion case in 1943.

Mafalda was a loyal Capone family apologist throughout her life, although she was never directly known to be involved in any racketeering. Later in life she ran a successful bakery and catering service. She passed in early 1988.