Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ice Cream And The Mayor

“On February 14, 1929, four men, some wearing police uniforms, entered a garage at 2122 N. Clark, owned by gangster George ‘Bugs’ Moran, and murdered seven men. The event came to be known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, and it marked the beginning of the end for Al Capone.”

“Law enforcement, as well as the public, was outraged by the incident (made even more embarrassing by the use of police uniforms as disguises by the killers), and increased attention was given to Capone’s crime syndicate. The result was Eliot Ness’s ‘Untouchable’ investigative task force.”

“The increased law enforcement effort to get Capone in the late 1920s included the investigations and raids by a young Chicagoan and federal agent named Eliot Ness. Despite years of work by Ness’s ‘Untouchables,’ Capone was not charged with murder, larceny, or violations of the Volstead Act. Instead he was undone by his failure to report the money he made from those illegal activities. In 1931, Capone was indicted on tax evasion charges, put on trial, and convicted. His 11-year sentence, though not a life term, effectively ended his career as a leader of the Chicago mob.”

John Russick

The accepted pop culture understanding of the 20s and 30s is that the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929 signaled the beginning of the end for Bugs Moran’s north side gang. And the work of Eliot Ness after the massacre signaled the beginning of the end for Al Capone’s south side gang.

Is that what happened after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929?

No more gangs?

* * * * *

In 1935, six years after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, two years after Prohibition ended, the Frejlach’s ice cream parlor was bombed. It doesn’t seem likely that this bombing was connected to alcohol or prostitution or drugs or gambling or counterfeiting—the most lucrative activities associated with the underworld.

The Frejlach brothers believed they were bombed because they did not hire union workers and they sold larger-than-normal servings of ice cream for the ‘standard’ price, undercutting their competitors.

* * * * *

This is the funeral of Anton Cermak.

In 1933 the mayor of Chicago, Anton Cermak, was assassinated.

Anton Cermak was shot while shaking hands with President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt. As would happen many decades later with the Kennedy assassination, conflicting ‘theories’ about Cermak’s assassination make trying to understand the event generally hopeless.

However, one very interesting fact about the shooting of Anton Cermak stands out:

The shooting of Anton Cermak happened on February 15, 1933. The day after St. Valentine’s Day.

* * * * *

It is interesting as an exercise to try and imagine a line drawn through Chicago history. It is interesting to try and imagine sorting out Chicago’s history by putting people and events from Chicago’s political history to one side of the line and people and events from Chicago’s organized crime history to the other side of the line.

It becomes very difficult very quickly.

Many of the social activists who fought for women’s rights and universal suffrage were the same activists who fought for the abolition of alcohol and the establishment of Prohibition which certainly played a part in the empowerment of the gangster underworld.

Many of the progressive activists who fought for fair wages and workers’ rights created a climate where gangster extortion of businesses could be cloaked in a pretense of respectability.

Many individuals seemed to exist on both sides this imaginary line.

Gangster Joe Esposito was shot and killed in front of his wife and daughter at an official Republican get together.

Crusading prosecutor William McSwiggin was assassinated while partying with friends of Spike O’Donnell. (We saw Spike O’Donnell’s car back on Tuesday.)

* * * * *

In the tin foil world of bizarre conspiracy theories, looking for links between the government and organized crime—especially between the military and organized crime—is one of the few activities that seems to get researchers into real hot water. [I’m thinking of people like Danny Casolaro and Mae Brussell.]

I don’t think we will ever see anyone actually create a comprehensive, hot-linked chart with a line down the middle, politics on one side and organized crime on the other with cross-linked lines and arrows and call-outs explaining the various cross-overs and linkages between the two sides, between the two different [?] worlds.

Most of us enjoy dancing. And most of us enjoy moonlight. But very few of us want to dance with the real Devil in the pale moonlight.

* * * * *

Silent eyes
Burning in the desert sun
Halfway to Jerusalem
Where we shall all be called as witnesses
Each and every one
To stand before the eyes of God
And speak what was done

Halfway to Jerusalem
Halfway to Jerusalem
Halfway to Jerusalem

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