Chicago and gangsters are synonymous the world over. Before Michael Jordan and Oprah, Al Capone inspired a certain pride in the Windy City. But where in Chicago did it all happen anyway, and who were the key players?
On the Untouchable Tour, an easy paced two hours takes you through their haunts, hot spots, and finales. We went one weekday morning, meeting in front of the Rock & Roll McDonald’s at the corner of Clark and Ohio (if you are new to Chicago and covet the treasures that the interior of a McDonald’s possesses, come a few moments earlier to plow through the memorabilia tucked inside this Velvet Elvis of the world’s Happy Meal producer). We were greeted by a big school bus painted "gangsta" black and two tour guides dressed in their Prohibition era duds. They combined dinner theater with (not always hilarious) standup and history as we embarked on a tour of gangster Chicago. The tour began with an explanation of how the Prohibition led to Chicago’s infamy for its open warfare for control of the city’s hooch trade. There were Irish Northsiders like Dion O’Bannion (who ran his bootlegging from his flower shop) and Italian Southsiders like, duh, Al Capone.
We stopped in front of the Holy Name cathedral where O’Bannion was gunned down at 735 N. State and proceeded to head down Michigan to the South Side in Capone territory. We then passed through Chinatown, Pilsen (which housed some of the oldest breweries in Chicago), Little Italy (the Genna family once ruled Taylor Street, and a Godflowers flower shop nods to the area’s former glory), and Maxwell Street, the cradle of the Blues. We then headed northwest, stopping in front of the famous Biograph Theatre (you can still enjoy a movie there) where John Dillinger was betrayed by The Lady in Red and ambushed. Onward to the Holy Grail of the tour: the site of the bloody St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, where 7 men were gunned down on February 14, 1929 at the SMC Cartage Company, 2122 North Clark Street. This was not quite as thrilling as I thought it would be, as now it’s basically the backyard of an apartment building. 7 scraggly shrubs have been planted in memory of the fallen gangsters. From here it’s back to McDonald’s, immediately erasing the sense of 1930’s Chicago with the scent of french fries.
My one complaint is that we were held captive on the bus and could not get out to snap a few photographs, which is maddening on a tour where you are not likely to find any postcards of what you are viewing. Of course, there wasn’t all that much to photograph anyway, since the many of the infamous sites are long gone. Still, a snapshot of me looking menacing in front of the Biograph would have made a nice holiday greeting card.
If you want a long, drawn out replay of Capone’s days, this is not the tour for you. It’s entertaining and silly. They have their routine down, replete with soundtrack and toy guns. And you won’t go away empty handed, either You’ll get a carnation, a cigar, a garlic clove, and might even win some prizes if you’re lucky. You will definitely see neighborhoods of Chicago you might miss otherwise. Still, if you have an afternoon free in the Windy City and want something to explore Chicago’s crime legends, this is time well spent.
For reservations, call (773) 881-1195
Untouchable Times and Tours
P.O. Box 43185
Chicago, Illinois 60643
Phone: (773) 881-1195
Fax: (773) 881-7384