Former Oak Park native, Ernest Hemingway, who left Oak Park in 1918, described the town where he was born and raised as a community of "broad lawns and narrow minds."
Shortly after Hemingway left Oak Park, some of the most powerful gangsters from the Chicago Outfit, who had the means to live anywhere, were drawn to those "broad lawns" many of which housed stately mansions.
If you were a big time mob boss during the 1930's, '40's and 50's, you brought your family to Oak Park and neighboring River Forest, not only to show you had arrived, but also to achieve some measure of normality.
Many of these men (yes, it seems they were all men) lived quietly with their wives and families in beautiful estates set on perfectly manicured lawns--like mob boss Tony Accardo's River Forest estate, pictured here, located at 915 N. Franklin.
They conducted their "business" elsewhere.
Unless fate got in their way. Like in 1975, when former outfit head, Sam Giancana was killed gangland style by 5-bullets in the basement of his Wenonah Street home, pictured here.
"They got him in the place he lived,” explains John Binder--and Binder ought to know. Binder, a historian and author of The Chicago Outfit is the go-to guy for information about the mob.
He is the creator and tour guide for the "There Goes the Neighbor Hood Tour" that visits the exterior of 15 Oak Park and River Forest houses that were once home to Chicago's most notorious and feared.
His tours, along with his excellent commentary, provide a snapshot of the major hoodlums during their "glory" or perhaps more accurately "gory years."
These larger-than-life gangsters that we know from books, TV shows and movies like "The Godfather" and "The Sopranos" come to life on Binder's tour back in time.
While viewing the homes, tour-goers will hear the behind-the-scenes stories of the "mob men" such as "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn, whose crime spree ended abruptly in 1936 when he was gunned down in a bowling alley. Pictured here is the first of two of McGurn's Oak Park residences.
OR, Jack "Three Fingered Jack" White who meet his end, shot dead in 1934, in his third floor apartment at 920 S. Wesley (on the SW corner of the building--if you must know).
The bigger, the better, was often the case as this 3-story, 11,000 sq ft concrete and marble structure, built in 1955 for Paul "The Waiter" Ricca, illustrates. The building which has been converted into a two-flat is currently on the market for $875,000. Check it out here.
The "There Goes the Neighbor Hood Tour" offers scheduled and private tours. The tours, via minibus, cover organized crime in Chicago from Prohibition to the present day. Two more tours are scheduled for 2015. They will take place on Sunday, September 20 and Sunday, October 18, at 11 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. Contact Oak Park Visitor Center, 1010 Lake St., Oak Park, (708) 848-1500 for tickets and information. For custom tours contact John Binder.
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Filed under: Tours