I am from Chicago and when I travel abroad, even the younger generations seem to know to mention Al Capone when I mention my home. It is intriguing because notorious Al Capone and his gangsters have long since been members of the distant past—Chicago’s gangster stories all come from before the Second World War! But the names remain constant—Capone and Dillinger above all. So, in the modern era, how can you experience the history of Chicago gangsters on a visit to the city?
Tommy Gun’s Garage
Located in downtown Chicago on Wabash, this show and dinner joint is a good place to get into the mood of the gangster era. Although a bit corny, you’ll find that after a few drinks or even if you’re just open to fantasy, you’ll sink happily into this 1920s speakeasy-themed atmosphere of singing Cole Porter gangsters. Come on, you knew what you were getting yourself into just by the name of the place!
Image source: colleen-lane
Once the I-can’t-believe-I-did-something-that-touristy sensation rubs off, you can start your search for the real locations of gangster history. Perhaps it’s easiest to begin at the end. Al Capone is buried in an unassuming cemetery in Hillside called the Mount Carmel Catholic Cemetery. It’s always interesting to see how such vibrant lives are laid to rest.
Site of Dillinger’s Death
Image source Biograph Theater: 39234220@N03
You’ll find the Biograph Theater on Lincoln Avenue. If you’re reading this article, it means that you’re interested in gangsters, which means you might have seen Public Enemies with Johnny Depp portraying John Dillinger. The man was shot dead outside of this theater, which, for the film, was reconstructed as it had once existed in the 1930s.
Hollywood sometimes oversteps its mandate and creates of history non-history. However, in so doing, they sometimes create a real, albeit relatively fictional historical site. The Union Station scene from The Untouchables, that movie in which Robert DeNiro plays our madman Capone, sees a shootout take place. Although this never happened in the real story of Capone, the movie was so good that now it’s worth seeing the steps where that baby carriage rolled down!
Image source: diziet
Now that we’re on that vein, you should be aware that all your gangster questions and curiosities can be answered by going on one of these tours. They hustle you around in a black bus to all the important sites where things like the Valentine’s Day Massacre happened, and to the places where the gangsters once mingled. As the guides themselves are dressed as gangsters and act and talk likewise, there’s the unexpected but pleasant result that you feel immersed in the history.
The Chicago gangsters no longer exist, but the Chicago mob is very much alive, albeit without prohibition to mark its popular struggle. I suppose that if one day something so greatly desired by the public as alcohol was then is again outlawed, we may see a reemergence. It’s interesting, though, how interested we are in such themes—these gangsters were not heroes but murderers, much as Napoleon was. And yet history loves to watch their stories replayed in class and cinema again and again.