Myths and legends are what keep people alive long after their physical demise. In Chicago, and many parts of the world, Al Capone's legend still lives. If you travel to the remotest corners of the world and mention you are from Chicago you will hear "Al Capone, rat-a-tat-tat-tat" while someone does an impression of a person shooting a "machine gun". Al Capone is Chicago's most famous person.
Al Capone is not just a legend and a myth. He is an allusion. His name is used whenever perceived strong arm tactics are used, whether by the government or by powerful individuals. Al Capone is still alive and making news, in myth, legend, and now at auction.
During his youthful reign as the supposed head of organized crime in Chicago, Al Capone was a larger than life figure. He was a hero to some of the downtrodden. He was a nemesis to the elites, who bought his booze, gambled, and rented his prostitutes. Some rather famous elites even borrowed money from the infamous "Big Guy" during the depression when the banks ran dry.
Capone was fond of saying, "All I ever did was sell beer and whiskey to our best people. All I ever did was supply a demand that was pretty popular. Why the very guys that make my trade good are the ones who yell the loudest about me. Some of the leading judges use the stuff. When I sell liquor it's called bootlegging; when my patrons serve it on silver trays Lake Shore Drive it is called hospitality."
There are many myths that surround Al Capone and his rule over organized crime and politics in Chicago. Two of the biggest myths were he was the boss and only the government was out to end his rule. Unlike New York, with its Mafia, Chicago was run differently. First and foremost, the syndicate was multi-ethnic, except for the highest positions. Greeks, Poles, Germans, Jews, Irish, and other ethnics were part and parcel of the Outfit. Capone did not rule in a vacuum. There were people with intelligence and skills who stayed in the shadows running the day to day operations of the mob. In many respects they were more powerful than Capone. He was the face of the mob. They were the power of and behind the throne.
Capone's trial for income tax evasion was a travesty of justice, as proven decades later during a moot court reenactment. While the government would use any illicit tactics to put him in prison, his own people wanted him out just as bad. The government and mob may have been working on parallel paths to the same end, but they may as well been working hand in hand. Capone was hot. Too hot for local and federal politicians and too hot for his own people. The St. Valentine's Day Massacre was the straw that broke the camel's back for everyone.
Capone had to go and that was that. Capone was known for his erratic behavior, murderous and violent temper, and other aberrations. What was not known at the time was Capone was suffering from tertiary syphilis. Capone had contracted syphilis years earlier. He knew he was infected. There were no real cures for the disease at the time. What he did not know was the disease had progressed to the tertiary stage where it affected his mental abilities. This was only discovered after he was imprisoned.
Al Capone died in 1947 from the ravages of syphilis. He was 47 years old. Now, he is in the news again, as if he were walking among us. Certain documents, letters, and papers will be auctioned off by RR Auctions of Amherst, New Hampshire. They offer a glimpse into the final days of Capone's descent into madness and eventual death.
Chicago is known for many noted people who succeeded in various endeavors in life.None are as famous as Al Capone. Movies and documentaries will be produced. Books, historical and fictional will be written. Every St. Valentine's day we will be reminded that Al Capone walked among us. The legend and myth will continue. Big Al will be Chicago's most famous person for a very long time. Al Capone will live as long as the legends and myths do. Myths and legends die hard.
Filed under: Uncategorized