[N]ot only the home park of the big soap-chip and sausage-stuffing tycoons, the home cave of the jukebox giants and the mail-order dragons, the knot that binds the TV waves to the airlines and the railroad ties to the sea, but also the psychological nerve center where the pang goes deepest when the whole country is grinding its teeth in a nightmare sleep.
—Nelson Algren, “Chicago: City On The Make” (1951)
WHEN I WALK INTO the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge in broad daylight on a Wednesday afternoon, I’m their only customer.
Three workers are complaining that the place is falling apart.
“Are you guys even open right now?” I ask.
“Well, yeah, that’s why you’re in here,” one woman says. I can’t really tell who the bartender is, so I walk around, and wait to order a drink.
The place is lowly lit in red with old wall murals and intricate woodwork. There’s an open stage in the back for live bands. And a little shrine to Al Capone behind the bar, complete with an American flag. It looks like Vegas.
This was Capone’s favorite bar. A place he spent much of his time — making deals, eating meals, bossing people around. And having a good time. It is rumored that if Capone walked in at any given time, night or day, the band would immediately stop whatever they were playing and switch over to his favorite tune, “Rhapsody In Blue.”
There’s a small television on, above the door — and the late afternoon news reports another murder. I ask about the recent rash of homicides plaguing the city, and they blame the weather. The second news report on TV is about the extreme heat. One-hundred degree temperatures pound the city and crops are withering in other parts of the state.
“We offended God somehow,” says the man.
“This is what happens before the Ice Age — it gets very hot, and then it all freezes over,” says the woman.
Chicago is America’s middle child — the one with broad shoulders. They have a beloved baseball team that never wins, a subway that goes in a loop, and a mob history that runs so far back, you almost can’t see it.
As I made my way through town, I wanted a guide. And I thought another journalist’s account of mob action would help me. I’ve researched and written about the mob in Las Vegas — my hometown. But Vegas is another world — a made-up place in the middle of nowhere; Chicago, I thought, would have deeper roots — ones that I could see. I wanted to retrace mob history.
X Marks The Spot: Chicago Gang Wars in Pictures...read more