HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY! There are only a few acceptable options for celebrating:
SO WELCOME TO PROHIBITION ERA CHICAGO! On February 14, 1929, Al Capone’s crew shot and killed seven men in an auto garage. This is probably the most famous mob crime in American history, and I absolutely love that it forever taints this bullshit Hallmark holiday.
The shooting took place at the S-M-C Garage at 2122 N. Clark Street. It was a set-up by Al Capone’s Chicago Outfit, who wanted to assassinate rival gang leader Bugs Moran. Moran’s North Side Irish were based in Lincoln Park, and they owned the garage. Capone arranged a bootleg shipment of alcohol to arrive there to lure Moran in. The plan was to send gangsters dressed as cops into the garage to kill him.
Moran saw the fake cops and got spooked – he took off. The plan was already in motion, however, and the operatives lined 7 men up against a brick wall and shot them to death with Thompson sub-machine guns (Tommy guns). No one was ever tried or convicted of the crime, though some say the city turned on Capone after the massacre. He was convicted of tax evasion 3 years later, and let’s not forget that he served time here at THE ROCK.
The garage became an instant tourist attraction. Because of course it did!! You’re reading this post, right? You clicked on some *alleged* comedy about A MASSACRE! And you know what? You’re fine! People have been gawking at violence since the dawn of time, like they did on North Clark Street. Eventually the garage fell into disrepair and had to be torn down. All that remains is a weird little alley park with some random trees.
Our Buddy Al Capone
Obviously the story does not end there, however, because I have another thousand words to write. The bricks from the North wall – where the shooting occurred – were sold at auction. They went to a bar in Vancouver where I SHIT YOU NOT they were installed behind a urinal. The bar put plexiglass over the bricks and painted targets on it so men could piss on them???? I’m sorry. WHAT?? MEN! WYD?!!! The bar was called Banjo Palace which definitely checks out.
Once the BANJO PALACE went to the big urinal in the sky, the bricks were sold to the Mob Museum in Las Vegas. I would like to take a moment to plug this museum because it’s incredible. I have been three times. I would go another three! It’s entertaining, well done, and there is so much great information there. I am a huge fan of mafia stories, but honestly it’s full of straight up AMERICAN history. The bricks have been reassembled into a wall at the museum, complete with tasteful RED PAINT marking the bullet holes.
There are plenty of creepy stories to go along with this extremely creepy crime. First of all, criminals are fucking superstitious, and Capone and his guys spent a lifetime fleeing their imaginary AND real demons and curses. According to “Voices from the Chicago Grave,” one of the murdered men haunted Al Capone for the rest of his life. The ghost pledged to avenge Moran, and even Capone’s driver saw him. Prison guards report hearing Capone in his cell pleading with the ghost to go away. Al Capone was in the throes of syphilitic insanity by the time he got to prison, so it’s not surprising that he was hearing and seeing things, but the guilt and fear of retribution are quite clear here.
The bricks themselves are said to be both cursed and haunted. People who took them from the garage had bad luck – illness, crisis, bankruptcy. Chicago ghost tour operator Tony Szabelski reports that “When the garage came down, the bricks from the building became collector’s items. . This was especially the case if they had blood on them, or bullet holes in them. But then, a lot of stories started coming out that people were experiencing weird things after they got the bricks. Some reported they were being haunted. Some were getting in terrible accidents or getting horrific diseases. So people started to think the bricks were cursed.” He also notes that Banjo Palace went bankrupt, possibly (HOPEFULLY) because of the bricks. At the Mob Museum, people report hearing gunshots and men falling to the ground, but other sources say that’s marketing bullshit.
The little alley park at 2122 N. Clark is also said to be haunted. People report that their dogs are spooked walking by it. Phantom sounds are heard – screams, moans, and gunshots. Photographs taken show orbs and mists. The owner of the building next door told CBS2 that poltergeist activity takes place inside.
There’s no marker or plaque at the site of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. I think the city owns the land – it’s adjacent to a public senior home – so it’s not like they couldn’t put one up. Most people seem to think the city doesn’t want to acknowledge this part of its history. Scott Markus thinks if they would commemorate it maybe these spirits would rest. Chicago professor Bill Savage links the idea of ghosts to the ongoing problem of gang violence in the city: “To this very day, the city is haunted by gang violence in a very literal way. We don’t need guys with fedoras and Thompson sub-machine guns disappearing through walls to be haunted by gang violence.” He reminds us that modern gang violence is in part fueled by prohibition – you know, the war on drugs.
[Side note: Professor Savage was my favorite English prof at Northwestern. I was super stoked to see him come up in a search for this topic. I wonder if he knows his students are throwing away their respectable legal careers to write about ghosts].
I thought about this while I watched Detour Chicago’s video on the Massacre. The guide is standing on Clark Street talking about the location when a huge bus called CRIME TOUR CHICAGO pulls up. How many of the people that paid money to tour scenes of mob violence from a hundred years ago also tune into Fox News to repeatedly hear about the hellish urban nightmare of the South Side? Suburbanites complain about the VIOLENCE that is ALLOWED TO GO UNCHECKED in the city, but they eat at a mob-themed hot dog place for lunch.
Time and history are a buffer for mafia-themed entertainment, but so is race. In 1929 Chicago, it was the Irish against the Italians. Those groups weren’t necessarily considered white at the time, but they are today.
Now decades of segregation, redlining, and economic injustice have culminated in different kinds of organized crime in Chicago. Instead of the Chicago Outfit and the North Side Irish, it’s the Latin Kings and Vice Lords. To be clear, these are Latino and Black organizations on the South and West sides of the city. Time and distance have laundered Al Capone and Bugs Moran into flashy legends that give the city character. But the real, intransigent, messy and tragic crime that affects city residents in poorer neighborhoods is turned into fodder for the right wing hate machine. It’s used to increase police crackdowns, surveillance, and prison sentences. It’s also used to remind you that the racial other is the problem – just like the Italians were in the early 20th Century.
And with that tiny lecture, your Valentine’s Day is complete. Go send a meme! ❤️