Tony D’Andrea got his start in the dark corners and alleys of the Levee. Through hard work, muscle, and not a little violence, he rose to become Chicago’s leading Italian politician. He met his end in the bloodiest political feud in the city’s history, shot to death on the front steps of his home here at 902 S. Ashland Ave.
Born in Sicily in 1872, D’Andrea showed an early gift for languages, and graduated at the University of Palermo before making his way to the United States in 1896. He disembarked at Buffalo, New York, then found his way down to Baltimore, where he entered St. Mary’s Academy, a seminary where he trained for the priesthood. After three years at St. Mary’s, and with additional training at St. Bonaventura’s Academy in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, D’Andrea was appointed to a pastorship at St. Anthony’s Italian Catholic Church on the far south side of Chicago in June, 1899.
The clerical collar fit poorly. Six weeks after his appointment, D’Andrea fell in love with a woman, Lena Wagner, who he met in the barbershop of a friend on W. Grand Ave. The two eloped to Milwaukee and married there. D’Andrea was subsequently excommunicated from the church, and maintained a distant relationship to Roman Catholicism throughout the rest of his life. At his death, he was refused a church funeral.
After leaving the priesthood, D’Andrea became a private language tutor, and also held part ownership in a macaroni factory in a warehouse district on the South side. To be close to the factory, he settled with his new wife in an apartment at 2125 S. Archer Ave., in what is today Chinatown. At the time, Mayor Carter Harrison was leading a political attack on the old Custom House Place red light district, and so this formerly-quiet neighborhood where the D’Andreas lived was quickly growing into the city’s premier red light district, soon to be known throughout the world as “the Levee”.
The facts were that when a counterfeiter was trailed by the government official to my house and placed some counterfeit money in our pantry during my absence, Mrs. D’Andrea, a most lovable and charitable woman, in order to remove the stain of suspicion from the sacredness of her own home and family, discovered that in some inconceivable manner the money was hidden in her pantry, took it out for the purpose of reporting her findings to me, and to remove the odium of guilt from my happy and cheerful home.
In the meantime, as she was about to leave the house, the government officials arrested her and kept her in custody for many hours, before I was allowed to see my wife, who had already become a human wreck from anguish, sorrow, and disgrace. With the most profound love for her and with the hope that not a stain should be placed against her character nor the character of our little girl, and with the promise that if I took the blame, my wife would be liberated, under the most inscrutable circumstances that could be imagined, and with the promise that if I gave to the government officials information regarding the gang of counterfeiters and plotters that I would be released, I remained silent, so as to shield them who had already threatened my life and that of my family if I spoke.
As a result of which I was forced to keep within my bosom the secret which, if exposed, would mean my immediate death, and I became a victim of the most unparalleled conviction that was ever had in the federal court.
I wouldn’t care if they threw a bomb at my house. That’s all in the game, and it wouldn’t hurt any one else but me. But to throw one into a meeting where there are a lot of workingmen, that’s another thing.
When police arrived, they found two clues in the first-floor apartment assassins’ nest: a soft brown hat, size 7, with the initials “S.P.” inscribed inside, and a $20 bill in the hat band, along with a card reading “For Flowers”. Police also found a handprint in some freshly laid paint, presumably left by the killer.