Since I’m writing a 1920s Chicago gangster novel, naturally I would be all about finding out the gangster history of the city. Part of this was done via the Newberry library, and part of it was done via a tour with Untouchable Tours. For me, being in a city where I don’t drive and I’m not familiar with the area, a bus tour worked perfectly.
The tour started at quite possibly the largest McDonald’s restaurant I’ve ever seen in my life. (600 N. Clark St.) Two floors, an escalator, and a food service counter on each floor. A black-painted school bus drew up to the curb, and we piled on.
First stop was the Holy Name Cathedral, opposite which was the flower shop where Dion O’Banion (leader of the North Side gang) was murdered. Alas, the flower shop is now a handicapped parking lot, but that’s progress. The cathedral is still there, with pits in the stone from where the bullets killed Hymie Weiss, O’Banion’s successor. Then, to more stops, including the former location of Colosimo’s Cafe (now a 1920s themed dinner theatre), an old brewery, the former location of the Lexington Hotel where Al Capone used to stay (shame that was gone), and a short tour of the South Side, and Little Sicily (now near to the university campus).
Perhaps my favourite part of the tour was seeing the Biograph theatre, where Johnny Dillinger was killed by G-men. Likely that’s because I’d only recently watched the film ‘Public Enemies’ (Johnny Depp, Marion Cotillard), and thus the scene was fresh in my mind. The theatre (and I wish we could have stopped) looked like it could have come straight out of the 1930s. When I next go to Chicago, I’d like to find out what plays there, and go so I can see the interior.
The final stop on the tour was the location of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre in 1929, where Bugs Moran was nearly killed, and seven of his associates were gunned down in cold blood. As the guide pointed out, the event brought Chicago and its gangsters into the national and international news. According to him (and I’ll take his word for it), a Chicagoan traveling cannot escape the relation to this event that occurred over eighty years ago. Capone and his men went down in history.
In all, nearly two hours of gangster tales and history, and a very charming delivery by the two tour guides. Next up… the Tall Ship Windy.