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25 September, 2014

HOT METRO FINDS: We Meet Up With Al Capone – Chicago

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Ted Cantu meets Al Capone, Chicago, IL 2014

Ted Cantu meets Al Capone, Chicago, IL 2014

 

RIOT FEST: Finding Capone, The First Punk – Oak Park, IL

On Riot Fest Day 3, I took my time getting there. I had brunch and took a sightseeing tour before I walked through that rock festival gate. I wanted to see the homes of Frank Lloyd Wright and the gravesite of famous gangster, Al Capone. In many ways you can say that maybe Capone was the first punk, that is, keeping in theme with the Riot Fest music festival. Capone would have loved Riot Fest. His first job in Brooklyn, New York was working for gangsters in Coney Island. Luna Park was a fools paradise with rides, taverns, street food of the day and it was the go to fun place of its time.

There’s a lot of boasting when it comes to Capone’s gravesite. There are stories about people who break into the cemetery and physically steal his famous tombstone. From there the thieves are to have said to party with it or to use it as a conversation piece while entertaining. I know those stories. I am sure they are true. There are other stories about the tombstone having to be replaced repeatedly. There are other reports of Capone’s tomb and grave being moved in Mount Olivet Cemetery. I had stories about the grave being replaced by one gigantic ominous monument with simply the name – Capone.

Let me tell you about what I found….. there’s a bit of truth to all of these claims.

I know all the stories. I am offered a chance to see the great Al Capone and I think it is too far fetched to be true. But I am a good sport about it and am game enough to give it a shot. Once we get to Mt. Olivet Cemetery I have no idea on where to go. I know the cemetery is not going to put up signs all over for the tourists. I find the address on find a grave.com

My buddy says, “There it is….” and I get out of the car in awe. I see the monolith with the single name, Capone on it. There are bushes around the tombstone but this is not what I expected. To my surprise at the foot of the grave there are all of Capone’s family members. They each have small tombstones in the ground. I have read my history and know most of them by name. Ralph Capone, (Bottles) who helped with the family liquor business is there, Frank Capone, ( who was gunned down in Cicero) is there. I recognize Al Capone’s grave too and his tombstone is the same size as his siblings. But here is the interesting thing. There is an inscription on his stone that reads, “My Jesus Mercy” on it and as far as I can remember that has always been there. This could be a replacement stone but now I am wondering if people really did steal his tombstone at all.

People left quarters and dimes on his gravestone so I proceed to do the same. Maybe I am looking for luck, or street sense, or maybe I am just showing respect to the city legend that is Al Capone. I am somewhat disbelief that we really found it. I know Al had a sister named Mafalda and to my surprise she died in 1988. I can also see his parents laying not far away. The whole family, the whole story  — can be traced here if you know what to look for. I am impressed so I get my picture taken at the infamous gangster’s grave. Notice in the picture I am wearing two days of beer bands on my wrist on this shot. I think Al would have been proud.

The funny thing about this shot is that Al and I are the same age – we are both 47 but the only difference is I am above ground in the shot and Al is below ground. That feel’s weird to me because our lives are so totally different. Still, I feel some kind of connection. I later find out if you show any kind of disrespect at his grave his ghost will appear and physically run you off. But that sort of disrespect never once enters my mind. I am awe of Capone, I want to pray for him too on the spot but for now I just nod respectfully and set a quarter down on the right side of his tombstone and nod. It is understood between us that I will say a prayer for him at some point. This is our first meeting and I am respectful.

So now I am wondering if that tombstone is the original one and that all the stories are just a bunch of BS. I mean the bodies have been here a long time and the other stones do not look disturbed or that they have been moved in a long time if ever. I know not too far away are the bodies of his henchmen, and men who tried to kill him. These guys are just a few feet away.

Close by is the mausoleum of The Genna Brothers. These 6 brothers were soldiers for hire and were part of Capone’s mob and O’Banion and Weiss’s mobsters. Eventually they all crossed one another and were picked off and sent to the grave. Mike The Devil Genna is one that always stuck out because he was so violent. Capone mouthed off to him at the Wabash street whorehouse run by Johnny Torrio. The Genna brothers had a signature move where they would shake your hand and hold you while other guys moved in and shot you to death. This move, (substituted with a knife) was later used in the film, “The Godfather”.  The Genna’s are an interesting bunch and not a whole lot is written about them but what little I found is pretty gruesome and amazing.

I know Capone. Well, I know him better than most people because I read a lot about him and know that he died with a  lot of secrets.  He had a fascinating life and it was filled with a lot of half truths and speculation. I know  about the tunnels and how he started to use them after discovering their value while travelling in Mexico. I stood in the first casino he frequented in Ensenada. I also know about the circular walk way above the casino which served as the first, “eye in the sky”. The whore house casino that Capone worked at on Wabash avenue had a similar set up.

I know about the tunnels under the Green Mill bar and the Aragon Ballroom. Men who crossed Capone were hauled off down into these tunnels and killed. Other times the tunnels were used as a method of escape from the cops or each other.

I know about the tunnels at his old hotel. I don’t’ know EVERYTHING… but I got a better idea on his methodology than the average person. In the case of the tunnels in the Lexington Hotel they were used to smuggle in booze from Lake Michigan.

I also know about Bachelors Grove, the mysterious  and bizarre old cemetery where Capone’s mob supposedly dropped off dead bodies. This could be urban myth but again, I know about it. The place now is so haunted and so disturbing that the county has it roped off and will not allow anyone to go near it. There were stories about bodies being dropped off on the snow banks sometimes on a weekly basis. Other stories talk about how bodies were just thrown in the nearby lake.

Dion O’Bannion and Hymie Weiss are buried close by too at Mount Olivet Cemetery. These guys all went to war with one another and hated each other and now are spending eternity just feet from one another. Separating the myth from fact is part of my life long missions. I have the tendency to do this for just about any subject. I like the mythmaking but the truth is always more interesting.

You can find Al Capone’s grave in section 35 facing the road. When you pull in make sure you turn right. You will go down about 8 tombstone markers and you will see the big Capone family monument. For more information on Capone’s gravesite go to www.FindAGrave.com.

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