Chicago in the 1920’s was a city of political corruption and gang warfare, and the embodiment of the failure of Prohibition. Three of its key figures happen to be buried near each other in an old Catholic cemetery outside of Chicago. This cemetery just happens to be right near my house.
I will admit that I find cemeteries interesting, and not creepy (not during the daytime anyway!). They carry a very local history, and allow us some small but tangible connection to the past. It has been on my to-do list for some time now, to walk through the Mount Carmel Catholic cemetery, where the notorious Chicago mobster Al Capone is buried.
The beginning of Prohibition in 1920, which made the manufacture and sale of alcohol illegal, was just the beginning of Chicago’s problems. If Chicago was already known for corruption, then Prohibition was the impetus for an alliance between organized crime and corrupt politicians. “As Prohibition laws were openly violated and men were murdered on crowded streets, notorious criminals made little effort to conceal the weapons they invariably carried”.1
In the early 1920’s, rival gangs battled for their share of the city and the profits. The Irish-American Dean “Dion” O’Banion led the North Side Gang, against his Italian-American rival Al Capone and his Mob. Dion was the first to lose the fight when he was murdered in 1924 by Mob gangsters, in the back room of Schofield’s flower shop. He was initially buried in unconsecrated ground at Mount Carmel, because of his gangster lifestyle, but was later moved to consecrated ground. 2
O’Banion’s murder ushered in “a period of vicious, almost uninterrupted, gang warfare that lasted until Al Capone’s conviction for tax evasion in October of 1931”. 3
There were to be more startling murders, particularly the St Valentines Day Massacre, and just over a year later, the murder in broad daylight of Chicago Tribune crime reporter Alfred “Jake” Lingle. Any confidence in the Police Dept. to control gang violence seemed to be lost, but the murder of a reporter caused a firestorm in the press. Only later did it become known that Lingle had been playing both sides, and had a questionable income that was well above his Tribune salary.
The inability of Chicago Police or any political officials to apprehend the gangsters reeked of political corruption, but “the Lingle murder marked a new seriousness in the war on crime”. 4
If Chicagoans could have guessed that it would not be local law enforcement that would eventually arrest Capone, but that the federal government would have that honor, they would have been angrier still. Capone was convicted for tax evasion and sentenced to 11 years in federal prison. He eventually died from syphilis, and several of his family members are also buried in this prominent spot at Mount Carmel Cemetery. 5
1. Mcdonough, Daniel. “Chicago Press Treatment of the Gangster, 1924-1931.”Illinois Historical Journal 82.1 (1989): 17-32. JSTOR. Web. 06 July 2014. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/40192250?ref=search-gateway:64e408e6356230f1c2ac8aefda9fd29c>.
2. http://www.cookcountyclerkofcourt.org/?section=RecArchivePage&RecArchivePage=o_banion 3 & 4. Mcdonough, Daniel. “Chicago Press Treatment of the Gangster, 1924-1931.”Illinois Historical Journal 82.1 (1989): 17-32. 5. http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/history/famous-cases/al-capone