Monday, December 22, 2008

Capone's Soup Kitchen


By late 1930, the U.S. attorney's office had obtained income tax-related convictions against Ralph Capone and Frank Nitti, two of Al Capone's right-hand men, and it was obvious their next target was going to be Big Al himself. The famous racketeer decided it was time to manufacture some good publicity for himself, and the onset of the Great Depression offered him the perfect opportunity.

With thousands laid off from their jobs and the economy worsening, Al Capone turned himself into a one-man relief operation, feeding over 1,000 of Chicago's hungry every night at his own soup kitchen, located here at 935 S. State St.

The building was located deep in one of the city's poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhoods (a hardboiled 1921 Tribune article describes a valorous police officer who shot and killed a transvestite who had tried to to attack the officer and steal his gun at this address), and on Thanksgiving Day, 1930, Capone triumphantly fed 5,000 of the neighborhood's neediest.

The press ate it up, and those who dined on Capone's dime supplied the newsmen with plenty of quotes about how this bootlegger was doing more for the impoverished than the entire U.S. government. Capone's federal pursuers were furious at the development, and ordered even closer watch on his activities, raiding the Cicero hangout the week after Thanksgiving.

While Capone received an enormous amount of positive publicity for his efforts, Bergreen notes that much of the food may have come from local merchants who were blackmailed or otherwise coerced into supplying it. Then again, does the government do it any differently?

Nevertheless, it was all to no real avail. By June, 1931, Capone had been indicted for income tax evasion, and by October, he was in prison, where he stayed for the next eight years.

The building remained a flophouse for the next 25 years, until the city shut it down for fire code violations in 1955. Today, all that remains is a parking lot.

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