Interview with Richard Lindberg
By John William Tuohy
JWT: Rich I just finished Returning to the Scene of the Crime, its great book for crime buffs and general history readers. Lets step in to Returning to the Scene of the Crime and take a walk through Chicago's underworld. Lets start at the beginning. The Boss who built the Chicago Mob, Big Jim Colosimo, got his start in a place Chicagoans call the Levee. What was the Levee, where does the name originate and is any part of the Levee still there?
RL: The word "levee," according to Webster's, is a river embankment and wharfing area used for nautical commerce and the exchange of goods. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century the term acquired a whole new meaning. Because of the presence of disreputable houses, grog shops, gambling dens and clip joints near the waterfront of large American cities, "levee" acquired a new connotation. Thus, by the 1880s, the word had become a generic term for a segregated vice district; a place on the periphery of the residential and commercial areas of the city where the police and political leaders would be inclined to tolerate the presence of vice so long as it did not intrude upon the so-called "respectable elements" living in other parts of town.
There were several "levees" spread across the pages of Chicago history, beginning in 1857, at a place called the "Sands," on the shore of Lake Michigan north of downtown. Other levees sprung up and lasted well into the mid-twentieth century on the South Side, West Side, and North Side. The most famous one of all of course was the South Side area, near 22nd Street and Dearborn; home to the Everleigh Club, Freiberg's Dance Hall, Colosimo's, and other famous and infamous cabarets, bordellos and vice dens.
This particular Levee took shape around 1893, and continued in one form or another for the next thirty years. There is nothing left to see today. These buildings were demolished piecemeal beginning around 1917, and continuing through the 1930s. By the time I first explored the Levee in 1985 for my third book Chicago Ragtime: Another Look at Chicago 1880-1920, there were only a collection of empty junkyards, weed patches, and broken sidewalks. Today, it is being commercially redeveloped with spacious new town homes selling for around a million bucks each. I wonder if the Yuppie residents of these properties have any clue as to the history and character of this neighborhood?
JWT: Rich, in its day, Big Jim Colosimo's saloon was known around the world. Is the building still there?
RL: Colosimo's was torn down in 1957 after being declared unsafe and condemned as a public nuisance by the city. It had stood empty for a number of years. The famous nightclub on South Wabash Street was owned by Mike "the "Greek" Potson from 1920 until he closed the place in 1945. Today the site is an asphalt parking lot.
JWT: I'm sure you'll agree that no conversation about the Levee is complete without discussing the Everleigh Club, so lets discuss it. What was the club, Rich, and is it still standing?
RL: The Everleigh Club was also a casualty of urban renewal. It was torn down in 1933, twenty-two years after the sisters were forced to close by an indignant Carter Harrison II, mayor of Chicago. In its day it was the "rose of the scarlet patch" for its graceful amenities, opulent splendor, and the high-class clientele it attracted from all over the world. The club was opened at 2131 S. Dearborn in February 1900, and it operated until the fall of 1911. The sisters, Ada and Minna Everleigh, lent a touch of class to what was otherwise a vicious, depraved operation run by gangsters and thugs like James Colosimo, Ike Bloom, Johnny Torrio, Dennis "the Duke" Cooney, Ferdinand Buxbaum, Victoria Shaw, Georgie Spencer, and their political protectorate, the corrupt aldermen John "Bathhouse" Coughlin and Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna. Some of these names are well known, others are not. But in their day, they constituted the hub of graft and organized crime in Chicago. We are talking about the period 1900-1920.
JWT: Rich, I know you must be tired of answering this, but, with that said, the garage on North Clark Street where the St. Valentines Days Massacre took place, is it still there? What's happened to over these many years?
RL: I was fortunate to actually view the Massacre garage at 2122 Clark Street a few months before it was torn down in 1967. I was fourteen at the time, and I had just gone to see Jason Robards as Al Capone in the cinematic version of the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre" at the Roosevelt Theater and out of my abiding curiosity, I took the CTA bus up to Clark Street and gazed in wonderment through the window pane of what was once the SMC Cartage Company. It had become an antiques store in later years. Today it is a private park, adjacent to a senior citizen's residential home. The only reminders of that time are the "lookout" buildings still standing across the street, used by the Capone men to observe the comings and goings at the garage. Clark Street was a rooming house district then. Today, the ground level of one of the lookout buildings at 2119 Clark is a chic Italian restaurant.
JWT: In relation to that murder, was the Machine Gun Jack McGurn killing, which, as I recall took place in a bowling alley. I know the building was eventually used as furniture store in the 1950s, but what happened to it after that?
RL: The building is still in use as an office furniture supply house. It stands at 805 W. Milwaukee Avenue in the historic West Town section of Chicago. Bland, nearly forgotten and out of the way, only the gangster buffs, historians and authors recognize its significance.
JWT: As you know, Screwy Moore, who ran the Circus Gang played a role in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, I was surprised to read in Returning to the Scene of the Crime that the Circus Cafe when Moore held court still stands, isn't that correct?
RL: Well, a portion of the Circus cafe still stands. The outer facade at least. Because properties like this are not considered historical, they are usually demolished once their usefulness is at an end.
JWT: Rich will these places, former mob home, places where murders took place, or whatever, will they, in your opinion, ever be recognized by officials as having any value?
RL: The City of Chicago, Department of Cultural Affairs and the tourism office take a dim view of anything relating to gangland history and Al Capone. I was indignantly informed by one of the worthy representatives of the Department of Cultural Affairs at the grand unveiling of the new Sears Tower Skydeck visual display kiosk (celebrating aspects of Chicago history), that any film crew coming to Chicago desiring to film documentaries on this subject matter will not receive any cooperation whatsoever from the City. Much of this stems from Mayor Richard M. Daly's personal antagonism toward the Capone history, and what Capone represented. Personally I think the city should lighten up and realize that this is an integral part of our history, for good or for bad. There might even be some tourism dollars to be made.
JWT: I was pleased to read in your book that Al Capone's families home is still standing and that it just barely missed its place in official history. What happened?
RL: Again, the city "fathers" used all their political muscle to prevent the Capone family residence at 7244 S. Prairie Avenue from being entered into the ledger of historic places when the issue was on the table a few years ago. This has everything to do with the narrow viewpoints of Daley and his honchos in the city administration who are not enlightened to the tourism possibilities.
JWT: And Capone's headquarters, the Metropole Hotel, what's become of it?
RL: The Metropole Hotel was torn down years ago. It is an empty lot gathering weeds and junk. The sister hotel, the magnificent Lexington, designed by the architect Clinton Warren in 1892, was razed in 1995. It had remained empty for many years. Al Capone only spent four years at the Lexington, 1928-1932. And yet, his sinister presence in effect created such a negative notoriety that the place was doomed to the wrecker's ball.
JWT: Rich, what was the Four Dueces?
RL: The Four Deuces at 2222 S. Wabash is also a hole in the ground. It became a transient rooming house for poor southern blacks in the 1960s before it was razed. I've located and the only known photo of the building, and published it in my book "Return to the Scene of the Crime."
JWT: And Rich is this the same place made famous by Geraldo Riviera and his famous live TV show?
RL: Geraldo Rivera's 1986 TV "documentary" titled "The Secret of Al Capone's Vaults," was filmed inside the Lexington. But the place had already been picked clean by scavengers and ravaged by souvenir hunters long before Geraldo came along to explore. He was naive to think that anything of value would have survived, not in Chicago, especially not at the Lexington. Silly man!
JWT: You went to the Valley District to see the site where Fast Eddie O'Hare was killed and you write about it. Who was O'Hare?
RL: The Valley District encompassing the Near West Side neighborhoods and infamous "River Wards" of Chicago was a spawning ground for generations of gangsters and gunmen. Eddie O'Hare, father of World War II aviator "Butch" O'Hare for whom the airport was named, was slain in his car on Ogden Avenue near Rockwell, after his betrayal of the Capone interests was revealed. O'Hare ran Capone's racetrack, Sportsman's Park in Cicero, but he was secretly cooperating with the government in order to win an appointment for his son to the Naval Academy. It is one of a thousand unsolved gangland murders in Chicago history.
JWT: Tony Accardo's palace, the one with the gold fixtures in the bathroom and the bowling ally in the basement. Is it still standing?
RL: Accardo lived in two homes in River Forest, a Chicago suburb where no less than 32 gangsters took up residence in the 1950s and 1960s. The first home on Franklin Avenue was a palace; a veritable mansion fit for a governor or a king, the second, a less pretentious ranch house on Ashland Ave. I'm sure that the first house was an unwanted red flag inviting in the Feds, the curiosity seekers, the I.R.S. and the local cops. Accardo probably just got sick of all the attention. The second home according to legend might be cursed. Several owners or the property have since been forced into bankruptcy. Tony died in 1992.
JWT: You note in Returning to the Scene of the Crime, that while most of the Chicago outfits leaders and higher ranking members lived like British nobility, Sam Giancana's home, the same place where he was killed, is a rather modest bungalow. Is that right?
RL: Giancana's place is a cream-colored common brick bungalow, typical of what was being built all over Chicago for working-class people in the 1920s and 1930s. It is a "higher-end" quality than most bungalow construction but a far cry from Accardo's grandiose River Forest digs.
JWT: And Giancana's now famous headquarters, the armory lounge, is it still there?
RL: Yes, the old Armory Lounge at 7427 Roosevelt Road in Forest Park is still there. Once an important mob command post where it is a coffee shop and restaurant named Andrea's.
JWT: Rich in that same vain, in late 1950s and early 1960s, the Meo Brothers ran a restaurant that was, in effect, Paul Ricca and Tony Accardo's headquarters. Is it still in business?
RL: Meo's Norwood House is today the Old Warsaw, a Polish-American restaurant on Harlem Avenue, in the Northwest suburb of Norridge. The Meo brothers sold out years ago. The lingerie fashion shows staged for the benefit of the wise guys are a thing of the past. The place is an amiable family restaurant with a sumptuous buffet table of Polish foods. Very popular with the neighbors on Sundays after church.
JWT: Working backwards, I was pleased to read in Returning to the Scene of the Crime, that the Hawthorne Smoke Shop Building still stand. Would you tell us about the building and why it made its way into your book?
RL: No, the Hawthorne Smoke Shop and Anton's Hotel in the 4800 block of West Twenty-second Street, are both gone. Part of the lot remains vacant. The new First Federal savings bank occupies a portion of the site today. The location was the command post for Capone and his minions after they were temporarily evicted from Chicago and driven into exile in 1923 by a reform mayor named William Emmet Dever. Since that time, Cicero has played down an unsavory reputation as the "Main Street of the Mob." It is probably the last Republican "machine" town in the U.S. It is a most interesting and unusual place; haunted by its past, uncertain of its future. As my colleague, friend, and fellow journalist Ray Hanania often said: "In Cicero, never stand in front of an open window."
JWT: Rich tell us bout the Pony Inn. It still stands correct?
RL: Harry Madigan's Pony Inn, a shabby Prohibition dive east of Austin Boulevard at 5613 W. Roosevelt Road in Cicero has been re-bricked, and re-glazed, but yes, it still stands and it is now called Sarno's operating under new management. On the sidewalk outside this notorious café on April 27, 1926, Assistant State's Attorney Bill McSwiggin was cut down in a hail of machine gun fire with two cohorts. Capone was suspected, but no-one was ever arrested. It exposed the deep and pervasive links between Capone and the powers at City Hall.
JWT: Let's step outside the mob for a second and discuss the Biograph theater where the FBI trapped John Dillenger and killed him. Did you cover that in Returning to the Scene of the Crime and is the theater still there?
RL: The Biograph is a magnificently preserved neighborhood movie theater and art house on Lincoln Avenue, north of Fullerton. The vintage 1930s marquee has been saved for future generations to enjoy, and the alley where John Dillenger was cut down that hot summer night in July 1934 stands a few doors to the East where there was once an I.G.A. store. The grocery is today a Mexican restaurant. With a little imagination, it is possible to retrace Dillinger's final steps that fateful night.
JWT: Rich, I know you and another Chicago writer/ historian of some note, Bill Hilmer, have both reached the conclusion that it was, in fact, Dillenger who was killed at the theater. Yet the rumor that a look alike was killed persists today. Why do you think that is?
RL: The body-double theory involving a hood operating under the alias "Jimmy Lawrence" who was allegedly paid $30,000 to masquerade as John Dillenger for that one fateful night, strikes me as preposterous. The writer who has been pushing the theory over the years. But where is the proof? Who was Lawrence and what was his real name? Noone knows. After years of intensive research, a scholar and historian named Bill Helmer concludes that the "body double" theory is drivel. Helmer is the editor of an authoritative biography of Dillinger written by G. Russell Girardin back in the 1930s. It was published posthumously. I agree with Helmer. The conspiracy theory, like most conspiracy theories when you break it down to bare elements, does not hold water.
JWT: And now turning to one of Dillengers former partners, Baby Face Nelson. You located the intersection where he was killed by the FBI and you write about it. What happened there? Can you give us some back ground.
RL: "Baby Face" Nelson and his diminutive wife Helen Warzynski were motoring southeast, toward Chicago from their Wisconsin hideaway on November 27, 1934, when Nelson, hoodlum John Paul Chase, and Nelson's wife were intercepted by FBI Agents Herman Hollis, and Samuel Cowley in the northern suburb of Barrington, Illinois, up on Route 14. Then a rural country town, Nelson engaged in a kill or be killed shootout with the Feds outside a gas station. Nelson killed his pursuers and was fatally wounded in the affray. Nelson, a homicidal maniac even more crass and stupid than Texas badman Clyde Barrow, expired a short time later and his body was tossed into a roadside grading off of Niles Center Road adjacent to a cemetery in Skokie. The proximate location of the shootout is today the driveway separating a McDonald's and a Burger King in Barrington, now a densely populated residential suburb. A commemorative marker honoring the fallen FBI man stands in Langendorf Park, nearby.
JWT: Its not mob related, but I've always been interested in the tale of Mrs. O'Leary and her cow. Apparently you found the place where the house was. For the benefit of our readers who may not know the story, would you tell it to?
RL: Catherine O'Leary, a poor Irish washer-woman raising her hungry brood in Connelly's Patch on the Near West Side of Chicago is blamed for igniting the great Chicago Fire of October 8, 1871. My research into the matter indicates that her milk cow was indeed present in the haybarn, but whether or not the unfortunate bovine kicked over a kerosene lamp is a matter of speculation. In all likelihood, several neighborhood boys hidden in the loft were playing with matches during a welcome home party for some newly arrived Irish immigrants, when the deadly blaze started. Mrs.O'Leary was vilified and driven out of the neighborhood. Her son James later became a gambling kingpin of the South Side Stockyards district in the not-so-Gay 90s. Another O'Leary boy named "Con," was indicted for murder.
JWT: Leaping ahead to the 1970s to Richard Cain, a made member of the Mafia who was also a Chicago Policeman assigned to the Cook County States Attorneys Office. Many people in Chicago assumed Cain was Sam Giancana's illegitimate son. Cain was killed in a place called Rose's Snack Shop. You found the snack shop and write about it in Returning to the Scene of the Crime. Any clue's on why Cain was killed and what is the shop today?
RL: Rose's snack shop is a neighborhood pastry shop today. Richard Cain, a discredited ex-Chicago police officer and chief investigator for the Cook County Sheriff 1962-1964, was pulling double duty as a mobster, wheeling and dealing here and there, and working the angles. It is said that he was involved in the 1961 Bay of Pigs Operation, knew something about the assassination of JFK, and was preparing to take down several of the mob bosses when he was gunned down by assassins in 1973. I am at present developing an in-depth article about this enigmatic figure for publication in the Reader, a free weekly distributed in Chicago.
JWT: Stepping outside of the mob again, you cover the tragic and gruesome, Richard Speck Murders. The building still stands? Is it occupied?
RL: The Jeffery Manor neighborhood on the far South Side of Chicago is today an African-American community. In July 1966, when an itinerant seaman named Richard Speck murdered eight student nurses in a night of senseless slaughter, the area was a working class white neighborhood adjoining the rough and tumble Calumet Harbor section of Chicago. The imbecilic Speck was apprehended in Chicago within two to three days, convicted of the crimes and sentenced to death. However he caught a break when capital punishment was overturned. He died in the Joliet Penitentiary in 1988. No great loss there. Inspired by my account of the Speck murders, Chicago Sun-Times columnist called on the occupants of the house where the murders occurred. He knocked on the door, but no-one answered. The sagging townhouse is still there, filled with horrific memories.
JWT: Now Rich, when you went to these places, those that are still standing and occupied, generally, do the current tenants know the properties history?
RL: I'm sure that the more sensational crimes are known to the residents. They would have to be, don't you think? However, what I soon discovered in my travels is that so many of these sites evolved into worthless brown fields, abandoned and forgotten by time suggesting that where infamy occurred properties are permanently scarred by their reputation.
JWT: And in those properties with a dark past, do they have any one thing in common?
RL : A Realtor once said to me the hardest thing to do is sell a haunted house or a building where a murder occurred. It seems to follow.
JWT: On a different subject, you were one of the founding members of the Merry Gangsters Literary Society, what was it?
RL: For a short, but defining moment, the Merry Gangsters Literary Society of Chicago existed as the liveliest forum in town for writers, cops, crime buffs, collectors, students of the notorious and people with interesting stories to tell. I was one of the three founders, with my old friends Nate Kaplan and Bill Reilly, died-in-the-wool Chicagoans, who have since gone on to their reward. I was in my late thirties when the M.G.s got going in 1989. Bill and Nate were getting on in years, but they made things really hum through their organizational skills and devotion to the subject matter: Prohibition Chicago, and other aspects of the notorious. The crew from "60 Minutes" came out on one occasion. We received a lot of press, but like all good things, it had its day. The name exists in one form or another. John Binder has tried to hold it together, but it's a lot of work and besides, it 's often hard to get people to come out for things even when the subject is Al Capone.
JWT: Rich what makes Chicago....Chicago?
RL: Chicago is a metaphor of America; a great colossus standing at the threshold of Middle America. It is the fondest hope and dreams of the pioneers, the immigrants, the vagabonds, swindlers and swells who made it all happen in a spectacular flourish of imagination, creativity, and social license. It is an audacious, raw city impossible to understand, easy to love, and always great to come back to. A little bit of Chicago goes with me wherever I happen to roam in this great land. To me, Chicago is the standard by which all other cities are measured. Is it any wonder that nine of my ten books bear the name "Chicago" in the title?
JWT: You were born and raised here?
RL: Chicago born and raised. Recently I moved back into the house I grew up in. What does that tell you about my love affair with the Windy City?
JWT: What sparked your interest in her bawdy history?
RL: I've always been an avid reader and history buff. As a kid growing up in a broken home on Chicago's far Northwest Side, I kept to myself, and read a lot. I was made aware of the great literary masterpieces at an early age after buying copies of Classics Illustrated at Studstrups, my local dime store, for 15 cents a piece. It was the best investment I ever made. The great adventure stories, the history of World War II, the Civil War-it was all there before me at the library, and those events kindled my early interest, and made me to want to become a book author writing about historical topics when I was only eleven years of age. I published my first book in 1978 at age 25, just before I enrolled in graduate school to begin work on a Masters Degree in urban history. Since then I've written nine other books about Chicago history, politics, sports, crime, and ethnicity.
JWT: What fascinates all of us with side of history, Rich?
RL: I think people really enjoy reading aspects of true crime and the notorious. More importantly, it has only recently emerged as a viable field of study in an academic setting. The movement began in the 1920s when Walter Cade Reckless, John Landesco, and Frederic Thrasher, three pioneering urban sociologists at the University of Chicago, published their ground breaking treatises in book form. Reckless was the first to consider segregated vice districts as a historic process of urbanization. Thrasher studied urban street gangs, concluding that over 1,000 "kid gangs" permeated the streets of Chicago in 1929, and Landesco concerned himself mostly with organized crime. Less than a decade later, Herbert Asbury penetrated the popular reading market with a series of colorful and engaging books about historic crime in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, and other cities. Asbury mostly relied on the anecdotal reminiscences of local police reporters, and the newspaper clips he pulled from the big city morgue files, but he helped create the framework, and his books which are by and large all out of print today, were widely imitated by future generations of writers.
JWT: What's next for Richard Lindberg?
RL: Encouraged by favorable media reviews, good sales, and a number one ranking on AMAZON.com for published books about Chicago (January-April 2000), I am going ahead with plans to write an immediate sequel to Return to the Scene of the Crime. I expect to have it in print by 2001. I am also at work on a more personal memoir, titled The Whiskey Breakfast: My Swedish Family, My American Life, about my troubled relationship with an immigrant father and the genesis of the Swedish-American experience in Chicago. For the past several years I have been employed by Search International, Inc., a cutting-edge private investigations and research firm headquartered in Schaumburg, Illinois, outside of Chicago. I must say, I really love the challenges, and Tom Hampson, the company founder and president has been a terrific person to work for. That hasn't always been the case for me. The 1990s were an exceptionally difficult time, as I wrote and published books while trying to balance my dual persona as an author and salaried employee in several less than ideal employment situations.
JWT: Your a good man, Richard Lindberg, and I'm pleased to see the book is doing so well. Good luck to you and thank you for your time today.
RL: Thank you John.
Mr. Tuohy can be reached at MobStudy@aol.com
Copyright © 2000 PLR International