Gangs at the Congress Hotel

Few of the older hotels in town have never had a murder – most of them have played host to at least one. The Drake had the “woman in black” murder that we wrote about here a month or so ago. There was a really grisly stabbing at the Palmer House in the early 70s that remains unsolved.

But the Congress has played host to a really inordinant amount of killings. We find out about more of them all the time – in fact, we’re always finding out strange things about it. One time there was a big party in the Gold Room in which a woman spoke at great length about how apples are evil. Another night in the 1920s something called a “Pagan Ball” was held there. And one time, Jane Addams of Hull House made a speech about Archer Avenue, home of Resurrection Mary, in the haunted Florentine Room – a regular Tic-Tac-Toe of Chicago ghosts!

Today, we’re reading up on how the Congress figures into gangland history. It was not, contrary to what some websites say, ever owned or lived in by Al Capone. Oral tradition has it that he played cards in a room near the Florentine Room, though, and a mysterious phone call made to him in Florida from the Congress Hotel half an hour after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre shootings led to some arrests in the case. Capone certainly held meetings there, and once even had a guy held prisoner there for awhile, though guarding him was the sort of work he farmed out to others.

Before the gang wars really heated up in the mid 1920s, members of both the north side and south side gangs were living in the hotel at the same time. Vinnie “The Schemer” Drucci and “Greasy Thumb” Guzik have both been named among the residents, and Tony Genna of the The Terrible Genna Brothers was living in a $100 a night suite at the time of his own assassination.

It is not, however (and we’ve made a mistake here ourselves in the past) the hotel where the Dillinger gang was caught in 1933. That Congress Hotel was in Tucson. Chicago papers didn’t always specify this, which led to some confusion.

The most recent gang story there comes from 1993, when leaders of several street gangs held The National Gang Peace Summit a the Congress. It clearly wasn’t THAT successful, but no one was killed or anything. About 300 gang members gathered there, and the hotel was said to be “unfazed” by them.

So gangs have a long history of influence at the place. That one of them fired the a gunshot in or near the Florentine, the ghost of which we may have heard on two separate tours (so far), is hardly impossible.

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