Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Marie Kerrigan Sues Colosimo

Marie Kerrigan was a cigarette girl at Colosimo's Cafe in 1919 when she was assaulted by a waiter and manager at that establishment. She subsequently sued Colosimo, making the tough characters who populated his restaurant a news item, and leading the city's biggest gangster to retreat from his life of crime. Kerrigan lived here, at 627 W. 46th St. Her home is gone, but has been replaced by another on the same lot. In her lawsuit, she claimed to live with her sister, and to be the only breadwinner for the family, which included her lame father and mother.

Kerrigan was working after midnight on May 19, 1919 when she saw a drunken woman stumble into the employee dressing room. As she went to assist and redirect, Marie Kerrigan was grabbed and manhandled by one of the cafe's waiters and one of Colosimo's business partners, Mike "The Greek" Potson. The two thugs dragged the hapless girl through the restaurant and threw her out into the alley.

Kerrigan sued the Cafe's owner, "Big Jim" Colosimo and Potson for $5,000, and her story made the papers. At this time, the Prohibition movement was sweeping the country, and soon to become federal law. At the same time, Colosimo's activities in Cook County, especially his suburban brothels in Burnham, were attracting the attention of law enforcement. This was not the kind of publicity "Big Jim" needed.

In fact, Kerrigan was not quite the angel she appeared to be, as one might expect given her employ at Colosimo's. Despite her sad story and her $5,000 demand, she settled for only $125. She signed the settlement papers at her other place of work, an exotic night club called the Midnight Frolic.

Nevertheless, Kerrigan's story made for good press, and brought public attention to Colosimo's vice empire and the continuing red light district in the old Levee. Reporters, investigators, and law enforcement agents increased their surveillance of Colosimo's businesses, eventually leading the gangster to try renouncing crime to live a life of virtue with his honest and pure new bride, Dale Winter.

Once in the underworld however, it is nearly impossible to leave, and Colosimo was assassinated in May, 1920.

Those not familiar with Chicago in the winter may wonder about the furniture strewn around the front yard in the photo above. This is a unique form of extra-legal property rights, in which Chicago residents lay claim to parking spots they have dug out after a big snow storm by placing old pieces of furniture in the spot during the day. City government perpetually threatens to shut down this informal system, but without it, there would be little incentive to dig out spaces on the street in high-traffic areas.

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