Saturday, January 31, 2009

El Rukn "Temple"

The El Rukns were a gang of ruthless drug dealers and pimps operative between 1977 and 1990, who attempted to shield themselves from federal inquiry under the facade of a religious organization. Between 1985 and 1987, the gang even dabbled in international terrorism, allegedly traveling to Libya and meeting with agents of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to offer their services as domestic terrorists in return for money and weapons.

Jeff Fort founded the El Rukns upon his release from prison in 1977. Most of the gang leadership were comprised of select members of the gang Fort led during the 1960s, before his stint in prison, the Black P. Stones. The name "Rukn" refers to stones or rocks in Arabic. In 1977, Fort purchased a building at this location, 3947 S. Drexel, to serve as the new gang's headquarters, which he rechristened the "El Rukn Grand Major Temple". Here is a contemporary photo of the building during its Rukn heyday:

The building was originally constructed as a theater in 1915, and was one of the city's first film-only venues, as well as one of the city's largest theaters, offering over 1,000 seats. The Oakland Square Theater remained in business until the late 1960s, when the decline of the movie theater industry, plus the changing demographics of the neighborhood, forced its closure. Ironically, one factor in the owner's decision to close was the continuing extortion attempts by the Black P. Stones.

For a few years, the "Affro-Arts Theater" took its place, and served as a major community center, offering African-themed productions to the largely Black residents of the neighborhood. The Theater offered some major attractions; Mohammed Ali and Gwendolyn Brooks both appeared there at various times. The radical politics of the Theater's ownership (for example, Stokely Carmichael spoke there in 1968) created recurring clashes with Chicago police, who shut down the Theater several times for trumped-up building code violations, and eventually the Affro-Arts closed in 1971.

The building sat empty for several years, until it was seized by the county and sold at auction to the Rukns, who referred to it informally as "the fort". The Rukns wore fur coats and flashy hats, changed their names to include the word "el," and offered public fealty to their leader, Jeff Fort, who they called "Prince Malik". In fact, however, the Rukns were not really a religious organization at all (a federal judge ruled so in 1986, clearing the way for RICO indictments of its leadership), but a ruthless drug-selling gang with enormous ambitions. With about 250 members, the Rukns' core business was the marketing of various inexpensive pharmaceutical substitutes for heroin, and they controlled big portions of the South side as their sales district. Prostitution, protection, and labor unions were subsidiary operations.

As their success grew, they branched out into real estate, forming a subsidiary business, the "El Pyramid Corporation," to manage their property holdings, which they usually acquired by intimidating the owners into selling below market value. The Rukns also opened their own private security service, which they offered for use at major events. They even started their own non-accredited "law" school, by which gang associates could receive degrees; these "attorneys" could then privately visit gang members in jail to transmit orders from leadership on the outside.

El Rukns were also active in politics. In 1982, election commissioners were surprised to see a group of Rukns bring in thousands of new voter registrations -- acting like the community organization they claimed to be, instead of the predatory criminals the police said they were. However, the fact is that an Illinois State Representative from the Temple's district, Larry Bullock, had paid the Rukns $70,000 to campaign throughout the South side for incumbent Chicago mayor Jane Byrne in the Democratic primary. When the newspapers published the fact that a known criminal organization was supporting Byrne, her campaign disowned the Rukns, but the publicity damage was substantial, and Byrne lost in the primary to Harold Washington.

The Temple was continually raided by police throughout the 1980s, who usually had to use battering rams and acetylene torches to break through the thick steel doors the Rukns had installed, and in June, 1982, Jeff Fort and several other top Rukn leaders were arrested for drug distribution charges. Fort, with his previous convictions, was sent to lockdown at a federal prison in Bastrop, Texas, for a 13 year sentence. Fort's telephone privileges in prison were not, however, curtailed, and he continued to lead the gang throughout the 1980s, using a sophisticated system of secret codes by which he communicated back to the Temple.

By 1985, the government managed to turn a top El Rukn into a prosecution witness, which led to a major RICO investigation. In the next year, they cracked Fort's codes, in which the Rukns' five fundamental "principles," love, truth, peace, justice, and freedom, could be combined in various ways to form numbers.

What they found in those codes astounded them. As Fort's indictment stated, "the conspirators proposed to perform...violent acts in the United States on behalf of or at the direction of the government of Libya," although these proposals had not been carried particularly far. In 1987, Jeff Fort was sentenced to another 80 years for the Libyan plot. In addition, he was also moved to a SuperMax prison in Colorado from which he was unable to communicate with the Rukns in Chicago.

Without Fort, the gang suffered a serious lack of business acumen and leadership. Rukn leaders began using drugs (Fort had strictly prohibited the use of any substance stronger than marijuana), and infighting between rival factions led to bloody confrontations. The Rukns had always been vastly outnumbered by their major rival organization, the Gangster Disciples, and without Fort's leadership, the paucity of street-level manpower showed.

The police seized the Temple in 1989 and razed it to the ground in 1990. With the demolition of the Temple, the "El Rukn" name fell out of use and the gang split into several "stones" gangs, each of which controlled a small amount of territory. There were attempts in the 1990s by Jeff Fort's two sons to reconstitute the Rukns, but neither had anything like the leadership skill of their father, and these attempts failed.

The lot on which the El Rukn Temple stood remained empty for a decade, until a large, attractive private home was built on the site.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Workingmen's Exchange

After finding success running his original saloon, Hinky Dink's Place, in 1897, Alderman/vice lord Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna opened an even bigger saloon here at 427 S. Clark, in the midst of the old Cheyenne district. The "Workingmen's Exchange," as he called it, became perhaps the most famous bar in Chicago history.

Hinky Dink was one of the famous "Lords of the Levee," the inveterately corrupt Aldermen of the First Ward, who ran an enormous protection and collection racket that kept every disorderly saloon, brothel, and gambling outfit open for decades, despite city and county laws to the contrary.

Almost every major Chicago criminal figure from the first half of the 20th century got their start working under Alderman Kenna. Ike Bloom, the owner of Frieberg's Dance Hall, was the official collector of protection money, until he was replaced by a promising newcomer, "Big Jim" Colosimo, the founder of the Chicago Outfit. Johnny Torrio and Al Capone were close friends of "The Hink", and used his political influence, which continued unabated until his death in 1946, to keep their operations running smoothly.

Andy Craig, bail bondsman and old-time saloon keeper, was a precinct captain, as was Max Guzik, father of Jake and Harry Guzik, two top Capone lieutenants and major underworld figures in their own right. The Everleigh Sisters, madams of the world's most famous brothel, were his special protectorate.

Legitimate businesses, too, supplied Hinky Dink with plenty of opportunities for graft. Did you own a hotel, restaurant, or department store anywhere between the Chicago River and 31st St.? Then when you needed a business license, zoning ordinance, street-level sign clearance, or parking permit, you paid Alderman Kenna.

Hinky Dink was crucial in the election of Democratic mayors for over 40 years. He could easily deliver -- or not, if he so chose -- thousands of votes from his First Ward Democratic Club, of which every First Ward resident was automatically enrolled, and who each received a personalized membership card. It was Kenna who brought Carter Harrison, Jr. back from retirement in California to run for mayor in 1911, and it was Kenna to brought Harrison down in the 1915 election after he bowed to public pressure in closing the Levee.

The Workingmen's Exchange was more than a name -- it was what actually took place there. If you were a street peddler and needed a license to sell pencils, bread, socks, or any other goods, you found your way to 426 S. Clark and exchanged your money for a license.

The saloon was one of the most spacious in the city, featuring a 30 foot walnut bar, and free lunches to any of the poor unfortunates (and potential voters) of the district who wandered in. It was not uncommon for 10,000 drinks to be served in a week. No doubt this had a lot to do with the low prices: for a nickel, you could have a "goldfish bowl" full of beer, known as a "tub", pictured here with an inset of Alderman Kenna himself:

No wonder then that the Workingmen's Exchange was Carrie Nation's first stop when she arrived in Chicago in 1901. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself to run such a hellhole as this. You are sending scores of persons to hell every day," she scowled to the besotted customers.

"O' shut up and get out of here," yelled the bartender as a crowd of drunks pushed the hatcheteer out the door.

The Workingmen's Exchange was closed at the start of national Prohibition in 1919, at which point Hinky Dink moved his political headquarters to a back room in a cigar shop a block north on Clark. As a tongue-in-cheek gift, he sent one of the famous "tubs" to the president of the Evanston Womens' Christian Temperance Union for use as a flowerpot. For the occasion, his fellow Alderman and Lord of the Levee, John Coughlin, wrote one of his (in)famous poems:
Dear gentle, gracious, efficient president of the WTCU,
This souvenier of pre-Volsteadean days I beg to present to you.
My compliments go with it, and as you gaze upon it filled with flowers sweet,
I prithee remember that it oft contained Manhattan "suds" on Clark Street.
A newspaper account of the event followed with "There are more of the verses, just as sad."

The Alaska House, a 30 cents per day lodging-house for hobos and other itinerants operated above the Workingmen's Exchange, providing the bar with a constant supply of nearby customers. In the 1950s, the name was changed to the Ewing Annex Hotel. Over the years, a variety of colorful characters lived at the hotel, including one Swan Carlson, who, upon his death, left a room full of stale bread, cheese, a box of cigarette butts he had hoarded over a period of years -- and $40,000. No one knew where the money came from. Another resident, David Steele, had to be rescued in 1965 by firemen after he climbed the 8th St. fountain in Grant Park to win a bet. A bevy of other small time crooks and robbers came and went from the tiny hovel rooms over the years.

The building that held the Workingmen's Exchange and the Ewing Annex still stands, in the middle of one rather seedy block in an otherwise gentrified downtown business area. The saloon has been divided into a pawn shop and a restaurant serving "deep fried lobster". The Ewing Annex hotel is still in business, and over 100 years later, it still offers cheap lodging to transient men.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Carrie Watson - Come in, Gentlemen

UPDATE: In a previous post on the house at 441 S. Clark, I accidentally photographed the wrong side of the street. The photo above is correct.

Between 1868 and 1897, Carrie Watson ran one of the world's most famous houses of ill-repute here at 441 S. Clark (since the renumbering in 1909, this is now in the 800 block). Her most famous advertisement was a trained parrot at the door who repeated, "Carrie Watson - come in, gentlemen!".

Carrie Watson (neƩ Caroline V. Storm) was born in 1850 to a middle-class family in Buffalo, New York. Surveying the sad state of the labor market for women, she decided as a teenager to seek her fortune in sin. She moved to the center of all that was sinful in the world, Chicago, in 1866 and took a job as a prostitute at Lou Harper's Mansion. After two years learning the madame business at Harper's feet, she set out with her solid man, Al Smith, to buy the two-story brick building at 441 S. Clark from Annie Stewart, whose run-ins with the law made her persona non grata in Chicago society.

Watson's house usually had around 25 women, experienced, well-mannered, and well-dressed, along with a variety of diversions for the strictly upper-class gentlemen who frequented the home, including a bowling alley, five parlors, and a billiard room. A three-piece orchestra kept the guests entertained at all hours. The splendor of the house made it famous during the 1893 World's Fair.

One of Watson's long-time employees, a Swede who went by the name Annie Hall, illustrated the wealth of the house. She was in possession of a large diamond star necklace worth over $1,500 -- and of which she was robbed not once, but twice. The first time, in 1890, the star was stolen in an assault and robbery by a famous Nebraska desperado, Patrick Crowe, who tried to pawn the item the next day, but was caught by a policeman. Crowe shot the officer, then ran through the streets of the city, firing indiscriminately into crowds, until he was mobbed and nearly lynched. Crowe served five years at Joliet prison before continuing his career as a jewel thief and train robber.

In 1893, the star was stolen again by a customer, and this time for good. The Tribune reported:
She says that a young man who said his name was Robert N. Weatherill called on her Friday afternoon and that together they made a round of the theaters and other places of amusement. At 1:30 in the morning she says that Weatherill proposed she should go to the Grand Pacific Hotel. She registered and was assigned room 253. At 12:30 the next day, she says, Weatherill entered her room, and, seizing her by the throat, pressed a hankerchief saturated with chloroform to her nostrils until she became insensible. He then robbed her of her jewelry, among which was the celebrated star.
Though most of Carrie Watson's clients were society men, and comported themselves well (or at least as well as one can in a brothel), there were exceptions. In 1886, residents heard two gunshots from an upstairs bedroom. When the police arrived and broke down the door, they found a customer had murdered one of the women, then shot himself and fallen on top of her. In another case in 1888, a delirious drunk jumped out the second-story window, stark naked -- a fact which made it into the next day's papers.

Later in life, Carrie Watson began working with Sig Cohen, and then Christopher Columbus Crabb. In 1897, under pressure from the city, she retired from the business and moved to a farm in Kankakee County, where she died in 1904. Crabb then began underwriting Lizzie Allen, who built the Everleigh Club building on S. Dearborn.

Carrie Watson's brothel was destroyed in the first decade of the 1900s to make way for expanded tracks at Dearborn Station, and since the closing of the Station, the property has been redeveloped for residential purposes.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Big Jim O'Leary

Want to place a bet? Call "YArds 628".

"Big" Jim O'Leary, Chicago's greatest gambler and the man who held that number for many years, was born into the city's most infamous and unfortunate family. It was Mrs. O'Leary's -- his mother's -- cow who started the Great Fire of 1871 -- or so the story goes. Big Jim was only two at the time, but that event set the course for the rest of his life in the underworld.

After the fire, the family was decimated financially and their reputation in the city was shot, so they moved to the South side stockyards district, where Jim grew up on the rough streets, among the slaughterhouses. With his infamous name, legitimate work was hard to find, and a large chip grew on his shoulder as he aged. In his 20s, he opened a saloon on Halsted St. near the stockyards, soon adding a handbook and other gambling enterprises.

With the profits from that enterprise, he opened the city's most palatial gambling mecca at 4183 S. Halsted, which included a billiards room, several bowling alleys, a saloon, a barbershop, and a sauna. The name "O'Leary" in giant electric letters (pictured below), proudly emblazoned the front door as a sign of Big Jim's pride.

Big Jim was "the man who would bet on anything." He had agents working in every downtown hotel, ready to take wagers on every sporting event imaginable. A daily set of odds quotes was distributed to office employees at the nearby stockyards. Ninety years before Intrade made it fashionable, O'Leary offered odds on the 1908 presidential election (4-to-1 on Taft, 5-to-1 on Bryan).

Big Jim's motto was:
There are three classes of people in this world - gamblers, burglars, and beggars. Nearly everybody gambles. Sometimes it's with money, sometimes it's with time, sometimes it's with jobs. Nearly every fellow is willing to take a chance. Other folks are burglars. They make their lives by stealing. The second-story man, the safe cracker, and the dip are not the only burglars. You'll find a lot of others in offices in the loop. A fellow that won't gamble or steal is a beggar.
Whatever that meant, O'Leary became the top gambler in the city, with a reputation for fair dealing. Chicago's longtime alderman-vice lord, Michael Kenna, said of him, "He was a square shooter. Big Jim never welshed on a bet. He was a good loser and his patrons had confidence in him that he would always pay off if he lost. His home life was ideal."

O'Leary's success attracted unwanted attention, both from rival gambling operations and the police. The resort at 4183 S. Halsted was constantly raided by the cops for twenty-five years, beginning in 1899, but Big Jim was always one step ahead, and though indicted four times, he was convicted for gambling only once, at the age of 53, three years before his death, and was fined $100 for the first offense. In 1906, the Mayor briefly revoked O'Leary's saloon license, but before long, O'Leary "sold" his gambling house to an employee, who reapplied for, and was granted, a new license, putting Big Jim back in business for good. Some of O'Leary's success in evading the police was political: his son, James, Jr., married the daughter of the city's top police inspector. Also, police officers, like most other men, enjoyed gambling, and frequently tipped off O'Leary if a raid was planned.

A bigger problem were rival gamblers. During the gambling wars, Big Jim's place was bombed with dynamite in 1907 (possibly as retribution for the bombing two months earlier at Blind John Condon's place), and twice in 1908. Each time, he rebuilt.

Late in life, O'Leary mused to a reporter about his success: "How much have I cleaned up? I'm satisfied with the results. I've got enough to take a trip around the world when I sell my shop. Then I'm going to settle down in some live little town."

Big Jim never got to do that, as he died in 1925. After his death, the O'Leary gambling house continued to be run by a business partner for a few years, until, somewhat ironically, the place burned down in the second-biggest fire in Chicago history, the 1934 Stockyards fire.

The lot stood empty for a decade, then was occupied by the Burlington Diner (pictured below), built inside an old train car, which was decorated inside in the "pop art" style, with every window a different color. The Burlington advertised "The best coffee in town. We never close." But in the early 1970s, with big demographic changes affecting the old "Back of the Yards" neighborhood, the Burlington did close. The site is now again an empty lot, as pictured at the top.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Johnny Torrio and Al Capone's Accounts Receivable Department

The Torrio-Capone Outfit could have been entirely rolled up in 1924, if not for some behind-the-scenes legal wrangling and judicial payoffs.

After Chicago mayor William "Decent" Dever, the "dry" Democrat, shut down Capone's headquarters at the Four Deuces, the gang moved all their accounting operations to the second floor of a nondescript brick shopping center on the northwest corner of 22nd and Michigan, at 2146 S. Michigan. The photo above shows the location today (taken from the perspective of Michigan Ave.); see below for a newspaper photo of the scene at the time of Capone's residence (taken from the perspective of 22nd St.).

The shopping center was busy most of the time, and featured restaurants, offices, and dry goods, so for awhile, no one noticed the unusual activities in the physician's office on the second floor, where hung a sign reading "Dr. Frank Ryan" (some accounts claim the sign used Capone's favorite pseudonym, A. Brown, but this seems unlikely, given the gang's expertise at discretion) . A peak inside Dr. Ryan's office revealed an ordinary waiting room, furnished with various vials of medicines.

But beyond the waiting room were file cabinets upon file cabinets, containing the gang's accounts receivable records. There, Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik, the Outfit's chief accountant, kept ledgers detailing the assets, income and trade secrets of the largest bootlegging and prostitution ring in the world.

When Chicago police raided the doctor's office in April, 1924, and arrested Guzik, Frank Nitti, and Johnny Patton (the latter two were top lieutenants in the gang), they found ledgers showing major beer customers, locations of all speakeasies under Torrio-Capone control, details of the gang's liquor supply chain from Canada and the Carribean, corporate control documents for breweries owned and operated, and detailed T-charts for the suburban brothels in Stickney and Burnham. Embarrassingly, they also uncovered a list of police officers and federal agents receiving hush money.

The incredible findings were enough to shut down Torrio and Capone for good. As Mayor Dever told the newspapers, "We've got the goods now." Not only Chicago and Cook County authorities, but the Bureau of Investigation and the IRS in Washington prepared to examine the seized documents. William McSwiggin, the county attorney, was ready to empanel a grand jury.

Capone's men worked furiously behind the scenes. In Judge Howard Hayes, they found their man. Shortly after the raid, he summoned all seized records to his courtroom. The following day, without notifying McSwiggin, he returned all of these documents to Capone's attorneys, on the basis that the police had no search warrant for the accounting records, only for illegal liquor. A few weeks later, he dismissed all charges against the arrested men.

McSwiggin and the feds were infuriated at being outmaneuvered by Capone and undercut by Judge Hayes, but Capone remained a free man until 1931. After the raid, he relocated his headquarters to the Hotel Metropole across 22nd street.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Bob Mott and the Pekin Theater

Robert T. "Bob" Mott was born in 1861 and arrived in Chicago in the 1890s, when he began operating a gambling house in the Custom House Place levee district on S. Clark St. He gained political power and used his success as a gambler to open a saloon in 1903 at 2700 S. State St., in the heart of the "Black belt," the segregated strip of city blocks running along S. State below 22nd St.

Gambling continued in the back rooms of the saloon, where it was well-known that police officers could have any drink they wanted on the house, in return for turning a blind eye. Mott's continued success and political influence allowed him to open the famous Pekin Theater at this location in 1906.

The Pekin became Chicago's leading African-American institution in the first decade of the 1900s, and its performances were widely renowned, as it was at the time the world's only Black-managed and operated playhouse. Luminaries including the Russian ambassador to the U.S. and Mrs. Potter Palmer enjoyed the performances of the Pekin players. Below is an advertisement for the Pekin from its peak years:

The Pekin's success (plus the death of "Mushmouth" Johnson, a rival underworld leader, in 1907) made Mott the city's leading Black power broker. When Chicago native Jack Johnson won the title of heavyweight champion of the world in 1910 (before celebrating at the Everleigh Club), it was Mott who led the celebratory welcoming parade and held a banquet in Johnson's honor at the Pekin.

After Mott's death in 1911, the Pekin was sold to Dan Jackson, and its reputation sank. Jackson turned the Pekin into a burlesque, and opened a scandalous "black-and-tan" cafe, the Beaux Arts, on the second floor, where racially-mixed customers danced to Jazz music. Hundreds attended on weekend nights. A 1917 police report states:
Lieut. Loftus...visited the "club" on the night of April 8 and found the dancing "very disgusting." There were 300 white and colored couples on the floor, the majority of whom were doing an underworld dance.
One can only imagine what an "underworld" dance would look like, but we get more details from a February, 1920 report published in the Tribune. The letter was clearly intended to raise an uproar, and uses every racially-insensitive term in existence, yet one can't help thinking the Beaux Arts sounds like a pretty fun place:
Lawless liquor - sensuous "shimmy" - solicitous sirens - wrangling waiters - all the tints of the racial rainbow - black and tan and white - dancing, drinking, singing - early Sunday morning at the Pekin cafe, 2700 South State street.

Those pleasure bent figures carousing about the gaudy second floor were not the ghosts of the long gone days of Chicago's roaring levee. They were real - the society man, the chorus girl, the gangster, the lawyer, the jazzbo - all heading the call of the bright lights.

It was a bit after midnight when the adventurers stopped under the soft red lamp that marks the Pekin. Half way up the stairs was a door with a peep hole, which framed a chocolate eye. At the top of the stairs the big brown man asked to see the card of admittance....

In came a mighty black man with two white girls. A scarred white man entered with three girls, two young and painted, the other merely painted. Two well dressed youths hopped up the stairs with two timid girls. Seven young men - they looked like the back o' the yards - came with two women, one heavy footed, the other laughing hysterically. Two fur coated "high yaller" girls romped up with a slender white man....

Meanwhile a syncopating colored man had been vamping cotton field blues on the piano. A brown girl sang.

"I'd take mos' any kind of chance," she screamed. Then she shimmied. A dollar turned the "shimmy" into a muscle dance that put the old time "hootch" to shame. Two black boys moaned and screamed on saxophone and clarinet....

Dancing "across the table" was in vogue. A painted girl would "give the eye" to a man across the hall and then they hurried to the dance floor. Once there, they picked a spot and wiggled. One girl returning from the floor found her chiffon waist disarranged and her hennaed hair was falling about her shoulders.
The fun ended in August, 1920, when two Irish police officers, who were being paid off by Jackson to allow the Beaux Arts to remain "wet" and in business, became involved in a physical alteration late one evening at the club, and ended up being shot and killed. In the ensuing political scandal, the Beaux Arts was closed, and the building was sold to the congregation of the Zionist Baptist Church (Rev. A. M. Martin, pastor), who held services there for several years.

In 1925, the old Pekin Theater became home to a district police station, which remained there until the building was demolished in the late 1940s to make way for a public housing project, Dearborn Homes, which still stands at the location of the Pekin today.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Al Capone Murders Joe Howard

Al Capone arrived in Chicago in 1921, working as a street-level thug for Johnny Torrio. Capone's business acumen led to quick promotion through the ranks of the gang. His capacity for violence didn't hurt either. An incident that occurred here, at 2300 S. Wabash, on May 7, 1923, proved early on Capone's willingness to employ the gun. The following day's Tribune reported:
Another murder in the liquor and crime serial was accomplished last night. Alphonse Capone, vice lord of the south side bad lands where he is better known as Al Brown of "Four Deuces" fame, is sought as the slayer.

The order to capture Capone went out thirty minutes after the body of Joseph L. Howard, beer runner and burglar, credited with three notches on his gun, was found lying in front of the cigar counter of "Hymie" Jacobs' saloon at 2300 Wabash avenue. Howard had been shot six times, four times in the face and twice in the right shoulder.
Howard was a low-level neighborhood hoodlum, and after one too many drinks, became involved in a physical altercation with a leading Torrio-Capone associate, Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik. When Guzik told Capone about the confrontation, Big Al hunted Howard down at Hymie Jacobs' bar, just a half-block from Capone's Chicago headquarters at the Four Deuces. When Capone arrived, he demanded an apology from Howard, and Howard replied by calling Al Capone a pimp -- a moniker he despised (though it was true). Thus, Capone's rage and violence.

After the command to find Capone went out, the police immediately checked the Four Deuces and Capone's home on Prairie Ave., with no success. Capone went into hiding for a month (probably in Cicero), while sending word through his lieutenants that any witnesses with loose lips had better think twice before talking to the police. In fact, though there were several eye witnesses in the saloon who say the murder, strangely it seemed that everyone just happened to be looking away at the exact moment of the killing.

"I'll bet 50 cents Al Brown didn't kill him, and I'll bet $50 they never convict him of the murder," was the word on the street.

Eventually, realizing the coast was clear, Capone walked into the police station one day, saying, "I hear you're looking for me. What's this all about?" A young assistant state's attorney, William McSwiggin, continued the investigation earnestly for a few more months, but was never able to put together enough evidence to prove Capone's involvement. A couple of years later, in 1926, McSwiggin himself met his end at the hands of Capone's henchmen, though accidentally, it seems.

Nevertheless, even years later, in 1931, Capone feared he might be prosecuted for the Howard murder, and sent Louis "Little New York" Campagna to "take care of" any remaining witnesses. But by that time, tax evasion was the more pressing problem for Big Al, and it doesn't seem that anything came of the order.

Interestingly, this wasn't even the first gangland murder to take place at this address. In 1913, Jimmie Kelly (nee James Fletcher -- for a time in the early 20th century, it was common for gangsters to change their names to sound more Irish) was found murdered in a hallway in the residence above the bar. Kelly was the leader of the Archer Avenue Gang, and was killed by rival gangsters.

The building that housed Hymie Jacobs' bar remained until the 1960s, when it was demolished. The lot currently serves as an industrial storage yard.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Arbeiter-Zeitung and The Alarm

"Workingmen, are you armed?"

The Arbeiter-Zeitung was the newspaper of the German Working-Men's Party, and the leading Anarchist newspaper in the country during the 1870s and 1880s. Along with a similar publication, The Alarm, it was edited and published here, at 107 5th Ave. (now 41 N. Wells). Both publications played a crucial role in the Haymarket affair of May, 1886.

August Spies, editor of the Arbeiter-Zeitung, and Albert Parsons, editor of The Alarm, used their publications to constantly agitate for workers' rights -- in particular, the eight-hour workday. Some of their rhetoric, especially that praising dynamite, was certainly intended to incite. A letter published in the Feb. 21, 1885 Alarm waxed philosophical:
Dynamite! of all the good stuff, this is the stuff. Stuff several pounds of this sublime stuff into an inch pipe, gas or water pipe, plug up both ends, insert a cap with fuse attached, place this in the immediate neighborhood of a lot of rich loafers, who live by the sweat of other people's brows, and light the fuse. A most cheerful and gratifying result will follow. In giving dynamite to the downtrodden millions of the globe, science has done its best work. The dear stuff can be carried around in the pocket without danger, while it is a formidable weapon against any force of militia, police or detectives that may want to stifle the cry for justice that goes forth from the plundered slaves....A pound of this good stuff beats a bushel of ballots all hollow, and don't you forget it.
This passage was quoted by the prosecution at the Haymarket trial, in which Spies, Parsons, and five other anarchists (several of the others were also linked with the newspapers published at this location) were convicted and sentenced to death. Spies claimed to have kept 9,000 dynamite bombs in his office at the Arbeiter-Zeitung (although this was probably more of a boast than a reality).

In the days leading up to Haymarket, the two anarchist newspapers attempted to rouse their fellow workers against their oppressors. On May 1, 1886, The Alarm editorialized, "Make your demand for eight hours with weapons in your hands to meet the capitalistic bloodhounds -- police and militia -- in proper manner."

On May 3, Spies drafted the famous "Revenge" circular in his office at the Arbeiter-Zeitung, which strongly suggested that the Haymarket meeting would be a violent one, and that attendees should bring weapons (although Spies attempted to delete the incendiary elements of the circular before it was published, a number of the unedited copies went out).

The afternoon edition of the Arbeiter-Zeitung on May 3 included two signals which were widely known to be signs of the start of The Revolution: a letter "Y" and the word "Ruhe" (rest) in the "Letter-Box" column on the front page.

The promotion of violence by the Arbeiter-Zeitung and The Alarm, plus the tension associated with a general strike for the eight-hour day in Chicago at the time, brought events to a head on May 4 at Haymarket Square, where an unknown assailant brought dynamite, and threw it into a crowd of police, who were attempting to disrupt the meeting. The police began firing their weapons, and an all-out riot began, in which ten died.

Spies and Parsons were hanged for their role in the riot, although neither threw the bomb. Their violent publications turned public opinion against them, and their trial, though a travesty, reflected the hatred of the populace towards these rabble-rousers. The Arbeiter-Zeitung continued publishing after Haymarket, in a new location on 12th St., but The Alarm never again appeared.

A sketch of the old building on Wells St. is below:

Monday, January 12, 2009

Minnie Shouse and Henry Foster

Minnie Shouse was the leader of a Southside gang of robbers, and one of Chicago's first great female criminals. Her practice was to lure men into an alley in Hell's Half-Acre, running longways between Polk and Taylor between State and Plymouth. This dirty alley, always piled high with offal, became infamously known as Dead Man's Alley, an estimate of the likelihood of emerging from it alive. The middle of Dead Man's Alley would have been about here (pictured looking north from 9th St. above, and south from 9th below).

Shouse worked with a strongarm named Henry Foster, better known as the Black Bear, for his propensity to overwhelm his victims with his powerful grip. Shouse was arrested over 300 times in the early 1890s, but typically paid off the police to intimidate the victim, or else did it herself. The Tribune of Aug. 17, 1893, describes one such incident:
Officer Frank Kalb was dismissed from the police force by Chief Brennan yesterday. Kalb is charged with bribery. Minnie Shouse, a notorious woman whom the police have been desirous of lodging behind the bars, stole $42 and a revolver from Napoleon Barland of Kankakee County April 29. She was arrested and Barland appeared as prosecuting witness. The woman left the courtroom and the trial was postponed. At the next hearing, Kalb paid Barland $20 to leave the city and the case fell through.
Shouse finally went to prison in 1895. Later that year, Henry Foster was working alone to rob a man in Dead Man's Alley at 4:00 a.m. one morning when a local saloon-keeper, George W. Wells, ran out in an attempt to stop the crime. Foster shot Wells twice dead. The Black Bear was hanged in January, 1896.

Dale Winter's Home

Dale Winters was born in 1891 in Ohio, and became a teenage beauty and singing talent. She arrived in Chicago in 1915 and auditioned as a singer at Colosimo's Cafe, by which time she was going by the singular, Dale Winter. Big Jim was impressed with her talent and he hired her on the spot at a rate of $40 per week.

Over time, Colosimo found himself increasingly attracted to this beautiful young woman, and her innocence awakened in him a desire to quit the rackets. A local clergyman, for whose congregation Dale sang, said, "she has the image of goodness written in her face." Colosimo paid for her to take singing lessons and attained for her a college scholarship to study music. During this time, Dale lived with her mother here, at 5716 South Parkway (now Martin Luther King Dr.).

Big Jim's wife, Victoria, was none too happy having her husband fawning over a teenager, and did everything in her power to separate the two. Finally, she could read the writing on the wall, and decamped for Los Angeles in 1920. Colosimo and Winter became more and more closely intertwined, and they were married on April 16, 1920 at the West Baden Springs Hotel in Indiana. After a short honeymoon, Dale moved into Colosimo's home on Vernon Ave.

Less than a month later, on May 11, Dale Winter was a widow. Colosimo was assassinated, probably at the behest of his lieutenant, Johnny Torrio. Dale Winter renounced all claim to Colosimo's money (no one else ever got much anyway), saying "All I want of Jim is the memory of him. I don't want his money or the things he gave me. I'm going to sing again. Maybe I'll sing better. I know now there isn't much to life except giving something to others. There'll never be anything in my life except singing and remembering and singing."

Dale Winter went on to a moderately successful career on Broadway, and occasionally, in film. She married again in 1924 and moved to California, where she and her husband operated a chain of theaters. Her husband died in the 1960s, and she remarried again twice, each time becoming a widow.

Dale Winter passed on in 1985 at Santa Barbara, California.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Blind John Condon

John Condon was born in Indiana, and became one of Chicago's great gambling kings. An early associate of Mike McDonald, Condon later developed major gambling innovations, including the world's first gambling boat, the City of Traverse, which he operated together with Big Jim O'Leary.

Condon's business was diminished somewhat by his declining eyesight, by which he earned his moniker. But he was still able to purchase a very large Victorian home here, at 2623 S. Michigan, which had previously been occupied by one of Chicago's foremost families. He was an avid art collector, once outbidding J.P. Morgan in 1905 for the works of an old master.

After McDonald's decline from power, Condon and Mont Tennes slowly monopolized the handbook business in Chicago, based from Condon's race track, the Harlem, in Forest Park. Monopoly is a dangerous business though; in 1907, a gamblers' war broke out between the Tennes operation and a Loop syndicate run by Tom McGinnis. The first shot over the bow was a bombing on July 9, 1907, here at the Condon family home. No one was hurt. Throughout the remainder of 1907 and 1908, dynamite was a common occurrence at the homes of the city's top sports, including three times at Tennes' home alone. Condon's favorite slogan was a gamblers' creed: "Every man has his price, somewhere between a cigar and a million dollars."

Blind John Condon died at age 61 in 1915.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Marshall Field, Jr., Shot

Marshall Field, Jr., heir to the department store fortune and holder of the most famous name in Chicago history, died here at his home of a gunshot wound on November 22, 1905. Who fired the shot? There are three theories.

The official inquest concluded that Field had accidentally shot himself while cleaning his gun. Practically everyone saw this as an unlikely story from the start.

A number of witnesses claim that Field was a guest of the famous Everleigh Club brothel that evening, and was shot during foreplay with one of the residents. Fearing public embarrassment, he asked to be driven home, where his wounds proved more serious than expected. However, some of these supposed witnesses cannot be considered reliable, as they stood to benefit from selling their stories to the press.

A third theory -- and possibly the most likely -- is that, regardless of whether Field was at the Everleigh Club that evening or not, he was severely depressed and committed suicide in his bedroom. On the other hand, no suicide note was ever discovered, although it is possible that a note may have been suppressed by his powerful family to avoid embarrassment.

Field's mansion on S. Prairie Avenue still stands, and is currently being renovated into a six-flat condominium. It's not clear whether buyers would find Field's history a positive attribute in a home, but the developer certainly seems to be making it a keystone of the advertising campaign.

Haymarket Square

Haymarket Square is a widened portion of Randolph Street, between Des Plaines and Halsted, which once served as a common market area for the surrounding working class neighborhood. On May 4, 1886, it became synonymous with one of Chicago's most famous incidents, in which at least ten men died, four were hanged, and another committed suicide in jail -- the infamous Haymarket riot between police and anarchists.

The riot did not take place in Haymarket Square, but instead around the corner, north on Des Plaines. The incident took place following a socialist/anarchist rally which was originally intended to take place in Haymarket Square, but since the weather was so poor that evening, the turnout for the rally had been underwhelming, and the organizers thought it best to move to a smaller venue.

Despite the fact that none of the action in the Haymarket affair actually took place in Haymarket Square, the city ordered an heroic 9-ft statue of a policeman built in the middle of the Square to honor the policemen who lost their lives there.

This obviously displeased anarchists and radicals who felt the police had been the chief cause of the violence. A disgruntled streetcar driver mowed down the statue in 1927 on the anniversary of the riot. The statue was rebuilt. Weather Underground terrorists blew up the statue in 1969. The statue was rebuilt. The Weathermen blew it up again in 1970. The state was rebuilt, and given its own 24-hour police retinue to ensure its safety. After a few years, the irony in using actual policemen to protect a statue of a policemen dawned on someone, and the statue was removed to police headquarters.

Pictured here is the eastern half of Haymarket Square. The western half, closer to Halsted, was demolished in the 1960s to make room for the Kennedy Expressway. Note the diagonal parking areas on both sides of Randolph, a highly unusual feature for a Chicago street, but evincing the original "square".

Monday, January 5, 2009

Myrick's Race Track

Williard F. Myrick was one of Chicago's original settlers, building a house on Vernon Ave., in what was then the open prairie. He was one of the city's leading citizens and a substantial philanthropist. He was also a master horseman, and in 1844, he developed Chicago's first horse track at this location, between 26th St., 31st St., and east of Indiana Ave.

Chicago early on was a gamblers' haven, drawing Mississippi River riverboat sharpies who fled prosecution in the South during the 1830s. Betting on horse races was a favorite pastime for many of Chicago's earliest residents.

Myrick died in 1889, and his race track has long since been developed, although Dunbar Park, pictured here, recollects the area's original use. The park was created in 1965, named after African-American author Paul Dunbar.

Hinky Dink's Place

Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna opened his first saloon at this location, 105 W. Van Buren (then 120 W. Van Buren) in 1881. He used the position to move into gambling, protection rackets, and politics. He was elected Alderman for the 1st Ward in 1897, a position he held until 1923, when he retired to become ward Committeeman, a position he kept until his death in 1946.

Kenna grew up on Chicago's west side, and earned the label "Hinky Dink" for his short stature -- he was only 5'1" tall, but tougher than most men a foot taller than him. After a adventure to the American West during the mining boom, Kenna earned enough money to buy a tiny, 5'x8' room here, which he operated as a crude saloon. He came to be known as a friend to those who needed cash for bail, an occupation that put him into contact with "a class of men who are extremely useful at primaries, in conventions, and at elections", as the Tribune put it.

Over time, Kenna opened up the second floor of his saloon as a gambling house, and despite some harassment from the police, his political power grew until he could operate unmolested. He expanded the bar, and started serving higher quality drinks, which attracted the patronage of some of the city's power elite. He changed the name of the saloon to the more rarefied "M. Kenna's Sample Room."

In 1895, he first ran for Alderman, losing to the Republican nominee, but he returned to win in 1897. Together with John "Bathhouse" Coughlin, he presided over Custom House Place, and later, the 22nd street Levee district, collecting protection money and allowing those businesses that paid to stay in business.

Upon Kenna's death, he left over $1,000,000 to his heirs.

The location of Hinky Dink's Place is still a bar, the Sky Ride Tap, which the Sun-Times describes as a "little-known but comfortable dive where day traders rub elbows with construction workers."

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Manhattan Brewing Company

The Manhattan Brewing Company was incorporated in 1892. Producing suds at 3901 S. Emerald, in Chicago, it always seemed to have an locational identity crisis.

For the first 27 years of its existence, it was a large, but otherwise ordinary brewery (one exception was an accidental explosion in 1908 that killed two workers, and could be heard throughout the South side).

In 1919, at the start of national Prohibition, Joseph Stenson, a top Chicago brewer, along with South side gang leader Johnny Torrio, bought the brewery, changing its name to Fort Dearborn Products -- although it continued to make beer. After Torrio's departure from Chicago, the brewery fell into the hands of Al Capone, and it became one of the largest manufacturers of alcoholic beverages during Prohibition.

In the early 1930s, with Capone in prison and Prohibition ended, the brewery came to be held largely by Capone's chief accountant, Louie Greenberg. Greenberg changed the name back to Manhattan, and later began producing a sister brand, Canadian Ace. That the brewery remained in the hands of organized crime is evident from the continued attempted bombings of the factory throughout the 1930s. In the 1940s, Greenberg attempted to open a sister brewery in New York with business partners including prizefighters Joe Lewis and "Sugar" Ray Robinson, but was turned down by state authorities due to his connections with the Outfit in Chicago.

In the 1940s, the Federal Trade Commission successfully sued the brewery on false advertising charges, since Canadian Ace was produced on the South side of Chicago, not in Canada (or in Manhattan!). Both Manhattan Beer and Canadian Ace were highly successful brands in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

After Louie Greenberg was assassinated in 1955, the brewery continued to operate, but faced with increasing competition and a lack of gang muscle, it finally shuttered in 1968. The factory was demolished in the mid-1970s. The lot is empty and overgrown with brush today.

For more about the Manhattan Brewing Company, including historic photos, see this fansite.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Capone Brewery Raided by Untouchables

Due to his penchant for self-aggrandizement and talent for publicity-seeking, Eliot Ness and his gang of "Untouchables" has come to be seen as a larger part of the effort to take down Al Capone than, in fact, it was.

Nevertheless, one of Ness' most successful raids took place here, at 2108 S. Wabash. Capone ran a brewery at this location, and on June 13, 1930, federal agents crashed through the doors with a battering ram attached to a ten-ton truck, atop which sat Eliot Ness himself. Five workers were arrested and 200,000 gallons of beer and mash were captured. The evidence was later used as part of the indictment that took down Capone.

The brewery was operated as a tire shop for many years after the bust. Today, it houses a bar and restaurant, "Room 21", which proudly advertises its historic relationship with the Capone brewery. Supposedly, the property houses a number of secret passages meant for quick getaways.

Black Hand Gang Eliminated -- by Johnny Torrio?

Late in the evening on November 22, 1911, three men were shot in the Rock Island Railroad underpass at Archer Street. Two died at the scene, the other was seriously injured and sent to the hospital. Why? There appear to be two theories.

The dead men were Pasquale Damico and Francisco Denello. According to the next day's Tribune, Damico was shot at close range nine times in the back, while Francisco Denello was shot twice, once in the head and the other through his left side. Denello's brother, Stephano, who was also shot, was discovered by a policeman dragging himself down the sidewalk a block away, and rushed to the hospital.

Under police questioning, Stephano refused to reveal any clues about his attackers. He did, however, ask that Levee big shot and Chicago Outfit founder "Big" Jim Colosimo be brought to his bedside. When Colosimo showed up, however, Stephano refused to talk with him.

Police identified the Damico and the Denellos as a Black Hand gang, sending extortion threats to prominent Italian businessmen in the neighborhood. The police captain interviewed by the Tribune said,
The city is rid of a bad gang. It is my belief that the three men were lured to the scene of the shooting by men whom they have blackmailed or were attempting to obtain money from through Black Hand letters. The Denello brothers and Damico have done most of the black hand work in this police district. We have known for a long time that they were black handers, but it has been impossible to get their victims to rap against them. Fear of death has kept them from giving the police information that might have sent the gang to the penitentiary.
As an important Italian businessmen, Colosimo was likely the frequent target of Black Hand gangs. Some historians believe that the fact that practically nothing was left of Colosimo's fortune upon his assassination indicates that he paid heavily to the Black Hand, although as the gangster king of the city, it is difficult to imagine that he would have suffered such indignities.

Instead of paying up, Colosimo may have dispatched his right-hand man (and his successor in leadership of the Outfit), Johnny Torrio, to "bump off" any would-be extortioners. The extreme manner in which Damico was riddled with bullets may have been a warning to other hoodlums that Big Jim was not to be taken advantage of.

Two weeks later, however, the Tribune advanced an alternative theory of the killings: they were part of a classic Italian love triangle. Police theorized that Mary Palaggi, a Levee saloon-keeper's daughter, was engaged to one man, but desired by another. The Denello brothers, it is claimed, were friends of the fiance (though he denied it), and Damico was an associate of the would-be paramour. The shootout under the railroad tracks, then, arose from a dispute among the parties, not an attack from assassins. The question of why the surviving Denello would have called for Colosimo in the hospital is left unanswered.

The underpass separates the Levee area, now dominated by the Hilliard Towers apartments and the Harold Ickes Homes housing project, from Chinatown, visible at the end of the road in the photo below.