An Al Capone Relic?

One of Capone’s first gigs in Chicago was working at the notorious Four Deuces club, 2222 S. Wabash, which was Johnny Torrio’s headquarters. It was here that Torrio taught Capone what he needed to know before passing the empire on to him.

The Four Deuces club is long gone today – there’s a vacant lot on the site, but some concrete remains here and there along the edge that are sometimes said to be the old concrete foundations.

A few months ago, while scoping the space out, we found a bizarre little thing poking out of the ground. After digging, we found that it was this:

At first I thought it was a decoration of some sort, but the wiring made us think it might be a railroad signal switch (the label DOES say “Made for Union Switch and Signal Co. by Ward Leonard Electric CO). But it actually appears, according to some readers who seem to know their stuff, to be some sort of heating coil-type mechanism. Was this a part of the Four Deuces? Just some railroad junk?

We’re guessing the latter, but you never know….

The Terrible Gennas 2: The De Cola Funeral Home

On Grand, near Racine, about a block and a half from the site where Tony Genna was killed (see previous post) stands the Bar Casablanca, a Mexican restaurant and bar. Here’s the front of it:

You wouldn’t know it now, but this was the site of the De Cola funeral home which was, according to one local resident, the site of a veritable who’s who of mafia funerals. Certainly it was the funeral home of choice for the Terrible Gennas. At the time, mob funerals tended to be insanely lavish displays – the equivalent of millions would be spent on flowers.

But Tony’s wasn’t like that – his body laid on the slab in the morgue at the place for a while before a very simple service was held, attended only by family. He was, however, given a $5000 coffin. About 30 or so people attended the burial at Mt. Carmel, the suburban cemetery where Capone himself ended up buried. Only one person – apparently Tony’s sweetheart – was seen to sob.

Capone was said to have been the one who ordered Tony’s death, but the police had no leads, and didn’t really seem to care. The papers said there was a lack of interest down at the police station, where the police were perfectly happy just to know that he had been buried without any further gang warfare flare-ups.

Much more information on gangsters can be found in our book, of course!

I’m going to endeavor to put something up here daily between now and Halloween – several posts are being prepared in advance, since we’re AWFULLY busy in October. If you have any subjects you’d like covered on here, let me know!

The Terrible Gennas – Part 1

When people think of Chicago gangsters of the 20s, they normally think of Capone and his south side gang vs. the mostly-Irish North Siders. But here were plenty more. In the center of these two gangs were a coupe of groups like the Circus Gang and the Terrible Gennas, a group of brothers known for being particularly bloodthirsty. Capone and the North Siders actually teamed up to get rid of them.

When prohibition became law, the Gennas hit on the idea of getting permission to make booze legally – you could manufacture industrial alcohol with the government’s permission. So that’s what they did. They would re-distill the stuff and sell it as a drink. In this manner, they soon controlled the Little Italy of the near-west side. They hid still in houses all over the neighborhood, paying the owners 15 bucks a day (roughly 400-500 bucks in today’s money). To be able to pay this kind of money, they must have been making a whole butt load of money. Of course, they got greedy and tried to expand out of Little Italy. Just as the north and south side gangs were going to war in late 1924, they started trying to undercut both gangs. Big mistake.

Bugs Moran, the target of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, got into a high speed chase with Angelo Genna and shot him to death. Mike Genna got into a firefight with the north siders and ended up shot by the cops. Then, in a rare show of unity with the north siders, Al Capone himself supposedly ordered the hit on Tony Genna, who was shot at a grocery store on Grand and Aberdeen.

The grocery store building is still standing. It’s not a grocery store any more, just an apartment that I’m not even totally sure is occupied; several apartments along the strip now serve only to prop up billboards to be seen by cars on the highway that half the neighborhood would eventually be torn down to make way for.

Here’s the place where it stands today:

The surviving Genna brothers wisely left Chicago.

“Al Capone, a punk hoodlum…”

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of running a mini walking tour of a Capone site for a group of 11 year olds from Evanston who were part of a book group that just read an excellent book called “Al Capone Does My Shirts.” We got snowed on pretty badly, but I, for one, had a great time.

Capone walking tours are tricky, because the few actual Capone-related sites left in the city aren’t really walking distance from one another. There’s hardly a building in the city that Capone isn’t said to have owned or used as a hang out, but practically none of those stories are true. Capone was only in charge of the city for about five or six years, spent most of that time at his Miami retreat, and had to keep a low profile when he was in the city to keep from getting killed. Buying up buildings wouldn’t have been safe for him, as it would have made it that much harder for him to cover his tracks and his finances. Strip away the myth from the man and what you have is a thug with a great sense of PR. It’s true that Capone and his fellow gangsters had tunnels all over the place, but they didn’t BUILD them; they just used them. Most of them were built for drainage, coal delivery, etc. They certainly were convenient for the gangsters, though!

By way of getting some of the real facts about him, the IRS has just released several historical records related to Uncle Al, one of which describes him as “a punk hoodlum.” Fascinating stuff!

Al Capone’s World War I Draft Card

From our extensive historical file:

Capone never served, but everyone had to register for the draft. This would have been a couple of years before Torrio brought Capone to Chicago to work at the Four Deuces club on South Wabash.

While digging through the draft card registry, I also found one for my great grandfather which indicated that he had served in the Russian infantry for three years. Boy, must THAT have sucked!