Driving back to Chicago this past week by husband mentioned that Al Capone’s final resting place is just a few hundred feet off of the highway on our route home. Al plays a role in Homicide for the Holidays (and a role in my life just by my living in Chicago), so I agreed to stop and have a look. Actually, Mt. Carmel Cemetery on the west side of the city is the final resting place of several infamous locals. And if you’re wondering if Google really does have everything covered then wonder no more, because this map exists, people…
Al’s grave is actually right inside the entrance (along with his brothers Ralph and Frank). As I stepped out to take a closer look (and snap this photo) a white minivan drove by very slowly toward the exit, and I heard the driver hiss/growl in my direction, “He was a MURDERER.” Chicagoans have strong feelings about the man even after all this time. I assume the driver’s intent was to shame me for treating the grave like a tourist destination, but as you can see… I’m not the first.
Oddly enough, just down the road are two of the men that Capone has been rumored to have had killed during his reign. (Allegedly, because he’s only suspected of being involved with their murders or ordering their hits. He was never convicted of anything like that in his lifetime – not even arrested.) First is Dean O’Banion, the leader of the north side gang, who was gunned down in his flower shop in November 1924 after crossing Capone’s predecessor as head of the south side gang, Johnny Torrio. Gangster funerals in the early 1920s were massive affairs. Thousands attended O’Banion’s funeral. Why is there a quarter on his grave marker? Good question. I looked it up.*
Just a few feet away from O’Banion’s grave is the mausoleum of Hymie Weiss. Hymie (real name Henry Earl J. Wojciechowski) was Dean’s successor as leader of the north side gang. Hymie was a hothead and he didn’t last long. He was gunned down on the street in front of Holy Name Cathedral (and right across from Dean’s murder spot, Schofield’s Flowers) in the fall of 1926. There are supposedly still bullet holes in the stone of the cathedral from the tommy guns. Someone put their artist’s rendering of Hymie’s mugshot in the gate. There are also what look to be dried palm fronds from Palm Sunday.
Another of Dean and Hymie’s associates, Vincent “The Schemer” Drucci, is around the corner, buried in a $10,000 silver casket in his own mausoleum. He was known as a prankster and he made the papers in September 1922 for jumping the gap in the rising Michigan Ave bridge to elude police. But he couldn’t escape the police forever – he was killed in the back of a squad car in April 1927. We drove past the mausoleum and noticed the lovely stained glass window inside, but I didn’t make the connection to him, because the outside bears his real last name, D’Ambrosio. So no picture.
The Bloody Gennas are also buried at Mt. Carmel in elaborate mausoleums located between Capone and O’Banion. (True to their nickname, all met bloody ends related to crime and Capone.) Also interred here is Capone’s hitman “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn (who met his early end in a bowling alley).
If any of this interests you, I highly recommend the book Guns and Roses: The Untold Story of Dean O’Banion, Chicago’s Big Shot Before Al Capone by Rose Keefe. It seems to be out of print, but you might be able to find a copy in the library.
If you still aren’t convinced that Chicago was a crazy place in the 1920s, I present this graphic from the Chicago Tribune (updated daily in 1924) tracking deaths in the city due to Autos, Guns, and Moonshine. This one is from March 14, 1924.
The last “celebrity” I visited is unrelated to crime but she is infamous – in Chicago anyway. Julia Buccola Petta, The Italian Bride, died in childbirth and was buried along with her stillborn son. The legend goes that her mother began having dreams that her daughter was telling her she was still alive. The mother had the body exhumed six years later and Julia’s body appeared to be completely uncorrupted. It was apparently so amazing that they took a picture of it and put on her gravestone after they reburied her and had a statue commissioned of her in her wedding dress. It’s pretty creepy, to be honest.
*By leaving a quarter at the grave, you are telling the family that you were with the soldier when he was killed, eh? Dean O’Banion was never in the military and anyone that had been with him at the time of his death would be long dead. A little role playing by someone touring the graves perhaps? People get weird about this stuff – excluding yours truly of course.
Who knows what evils lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!
The Shadow is the crime-fighting alter ego of Lamont Cranston who has the ability to “cloud men’s minds so they can not see him”. Orson Welles played title role at the show’s inception in 1937, but he left the show in 1938. The radio version ran until 1954 with four more actors portraying Lamont during the run.
Listening to this now, I can see that this show influenced the fictional The Darkness Knows radio show in my series more than any other actual radio show – even though it’s not a “detective show” per se. This is also always the show people bring up when I talk old time radio with them. Everyone seems to know The Shadow…
Here’s an early episode starring Orson Welles.
Texas Guinan (pronounced Guy-nan) came to fame during the roaring 20s in New York City. She was a mistress of ceremonies, singer, and all around entertainer who held court in various speakeasies. Movie stars Ruby Keeler and George Raft were discovered as members of her dance entourage and Walter Winchell credited her with opening the insider Broadway scene and cafe society to him when he was starting as a gossip columnist (Walter Winchell pops up in Viv and Charlie #3).
Texas had some trouble with the government over violating the Volstead Act (aka Prohibition), so she brought her talents to Chicago’s infamous Green Mill in the winter of 1929/30, booming her trademark “Hello, Suckers!” from the stage of the cabaret. (The Green Mill still exists, of course, but I believe what was the cabaret on the second floor is now either office space or part of a Mexican restaurant.) As fate would have it, a very young Vivian Witchell snuck out of her bedroom one evening and attended a Guinan performance at the Green Mill.* You can read about it in HOMICIDE FOR THE HOLIDAYS.
Click here to read a first-hand account from a Tribune journalist who knew Texas and attended her run at the Mill. He also mentions Ted Newberry (who also briefly plays into Vivian’s memories of Mill, but you’ll have to read HFTH to find out how).
Unfortunately, Texas got into even more trouble with the law when her manager/boyfriend was involved in a shooting at the Mill in March 1930 that shut down her show.
According to the article in the Tribune she was quite the sass-mouthed dame: After the shooting, she showed up at the police station and said, “I’ve brought the Rolls who’s got the coffee?” (referring to her Rolls Royce). She is also quoted as saying, “This is my first record at this police station. I usually make them for the talking machine people.” She offered to type up her own statement (they declined), then she offered to take the policemen to dinner (they declined), and she finally left them with, “You can always reach me at any court in New York.” (referring to all of her legal troubles in that city).
She left the US for Europe with her troupe after that. Here’s a newsreel clip of her upon her return to the US where she recalls her infamous greeting by calling herself “the biggest sucker in the world…”
Sadly, Guinan died in 1933 of amoebic dysentery that she contracted at Chicago’s Congress Hotel. Here’s a clip of her appearance in a movie called Broadway Through a Keyhole that was released three days before her death (and written by Walter Winchell).
*The dates don’t quite line up, historically speaking, but I took some license and fudged it a year to get such a colorful character into the book. Hey, it’s fiction, right?
Ray Bradbury grew up in Waukegan, IL and there’s a storytelling festival each year around Halloween that honors him. I went to it a few times, and it’s excellent. I think Bradbury’s short stories are particularly well-suited to radio and that’s where I first heard most of them. I’m sharing two of my favorites today (because I couldn’t pick just one).
“The Ravine” is the first episode of the show Bradbury 13 from the early 1980s. The fictionalized ravine is based on a very real one in Waukegan. Waukegan itself was fictionalized often as “Green Town” in Bradbury’s stories. This story is chilling. There are 13 episodes in this series and all are fabulous.
“Zero Hour” is a Suspense episode from April 5, 1955 is chilling in an entirely different way. I don’t want to give anything away except that it’s very 1950s, and the main character is a seemingly sweet little girl named “Mink” (which I love).
Lights Out is one of my favorite shows. It was a pioneer of horror/sci-fi and was originally produced in Chicago (and Harold Peary of Great Gildersleeve fame, star of last week’s post, guested on it a few times). Lights Out began in 1934 to as “a midnight mystery serial to catch the attention of the listeners at the witching hour.” True to that aim it aired at midnight and soon switched to an anthology format with new stories presented for each program. Lights Out almost certainly inspired The Twilight Zone.
I have so many favorite episodes, but this one stands out as especially creepy. “It Happened” aired May 11, 1938. It’s the story of a girl trapped in the catacombs under Paris – and that’s all I’m going to tell you. (Despite the name of the show, you might want to listen to this one with the lights on.)
In honor of summer being in full swing I’ve chosen a summery episode of one of my favorite radio comedies, The Great Gildersleeve. “Vacation at Grass Lake” aired on August 29, 1943 and is a pretty typical episode for poor, put-upon, mildly bumbling, lovelorn Gildy. Harold Peary plays Gildy (and if you’re a child of the 70s or early 80s you may recognize his distinctive voice as that of Big Ben, the clockwork whale, in Rudolph’s Shiny New Year). The episode also starts with a stellar wartime Parkay Margarine commercial.
Peary originated the character of Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve on Fibber McGee and Molly in Chicago. (He also worked on another fabulous Chicago show, Lights Out, which will be featured in a future OTR Wednesday on this blog). The Great Gildersleeve is considered one of the first spin off shows… and probably one of the first modern sit-coms style shows.
I was introduced to the show through a strange coincidence (or perhaps a sign from the universe?). We moved to a new town in the fall of 2009, two months before I started writing THE DARKNESS KNOWS. It just so happened that the local radio station – actually the radio station of a local Lutheran church – broadcast old time radio shows from 6:30 to 9:00 every evening and the 7:00 hour was dedicated to comedy – often The Great Gildersleeve. I listened while I did the dishes. The station has about a 5 mile radius, tops, and our house received the station perfectly.
The show is really well done and holds up (unlike Fibber McGee, in my opinion. Fibber is based in that corny vaudeville comedy that the stars excelled in – the kind that seems old fashioned now). Anyway, give Gildy a listen. I think you’ll like him.
I’m giving away two more advance reader copies of HOMICIDE FOR THE HOLIDAYS! All you need to do to qualify is subscribe to my author newsletter. (If you’re already subscribed you’re already entered.) It’s just that easy!
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