Seven to midnight I hear drums,

Loudly the saxophone blows,

Trumpets are breaking my eardrums,

Customers crush my toes..."

-- "Ten Cents a Dance"

Rodgers & Hart

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Cicero street scene 

The town of Cicero, Illinois, had been just one of the many quiet little mind-its-own-business burghs growing slowly beyond Chicago until the early 1920s when the Torrio combination moved in. With an escalating reform movement taking place within Chicago, the mob laid low therein, playing it subtle, turning to the outlands to introduce its latest vices. When Chicago’s corrupt mayor, "Big Bill" Thompson, surprisingly lost to reformist William Dever in 1923, Capone was put in charge of spearheading an all-out relocation (at least during Dever’s term) to the suburbs. He changed mob headquarters from his Loop address, the Hotel Metropole, to the Hawthorne Hotel in Cicero, where the municipal government had already proven itself "on the take". Mayor Joseph Klenha, while not outwardly supportive of mobster takeover, lacked the gumption -- and, let’s face it, the forces -- to battle the gangsters.

Twenty-Second Street, a central artery that ran straight through to Chicago, became a boardwalk of fun, frolic and mostly sin, much to the chagrin of the docile residents who lived in quiet bungalows within that vicinity -- and who could do nothing to stop what was coming. Where there was once a small-town aura, hustle and bustle now prevailed as the carnival atmosphere of roulette wheels, taxi dancers, streaming gin and jazz attracted droves of thrill-seekers around the clock. Cicero police squads drove meekly around the jam of automobiles and kept on going. No cop would intervene; they had heard about the time Capone threw Mayor Klenha down the steps of City Hall the one, and only, time he objected to a Scarface decision

Money poured into Cicero and most of it into the pockets of Big Al and Papa Johnny. But, now what had happened to them in Chicago was rearing its ugly head again, here in Cicero: REFORM. The suburban Democratic organization trusted that by using the greatest gift given to Americans, the vote, they could throw out Republican Klenha and all the garbage he allowed to walk in.

They didn’t know Capone. Nor did they know that Al had gotten wind of their plot through Republican boss man Eddie Vogel. He was determined not to let a town-full of hicks tell him what to do.

Cicero’s mayoral election day, April 1, 1924. At dawn, nearly 250 thugs, two dozen of which were supplied by Deanie, rode into Cicero’s town square. Their black limousines, one after another, formed a defiant parade; several men crouched inside each limo; two more on the running boards cradled a Thompson gun. From beneath the shade of their white or pearl gray fedoras, dark eyes peered. Those who witnessed this bad dream knew at a glance what it meant. The Democrats knew too. Capone was here to stay.

When the polls opened, the gangsters were there to threaten and harass; one look at their sullen faces said Vote for Klenha. The few citizens who dared to dissent were grabbed, dragged to the limo and never seen again. While one thug looked over every voter’s shoulder to check his or her ballot, another gleefully filled out scores of cards for himself, checking Klenha on each one before cramming the wad of tickets into the box. Police were barred from the premises and didn’t fight back. Judges and poll watchers were kidnapped. Homes of Democratic representatives were torched or bombed.

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William Dever 
Mayor Dever of Chicago, when finally apprised of these events late in the day, did the best he could under judicial circumstance and at the eleventh hour. He redirected seventy city detectives to Cicero, but by the time they mustered and arrived in the terrified town, most of the damage had been done. But, the conservative faction was given a little satisfaction in the end. Al Capone’s younger brother, Frank, and a small group of henchmen were loitering outside a polling place near the Hawthorne Smoke Shop when the emergency detail drew up in unmarked squads. Frank saw only the plain clothes they wore and naively mistook the brigade as a gang of townsmen fighting back. He opened up on them with a revolver, but within the instant a hail of bullets tore his overcoat -- and the man wearing it -- into shreds. Unsympathetic Ciceroans figured that, at least, Al Capone would remember Cicero’s election day fiasco as a very, very costly victory.

Deanie had demanded a payback for use of his men, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Reluctantly, Torrio allotted him a large section of Cicero’s beer rights -- an area worth about $20,000 per month -- and a quarter percentage of Cicero’s most popular gambling hall called The Ship.

And thus, the first of a series of incidences now occurred that would lead to the demise of Dion O’Banion.

Without approval from Torrio, Deanie convinced a host of saloonkeepers on the West Side of Chicago to move their speakeasies within his given perimeters in Cicero. As a result, his area began earning $100,000 every month, five times the agreed-upon take and more than the Capone-run saloons earned throughout the rest of the village.

To appease Capone, Torrio tried to bargain with the Irish trickster: If Deanie would allow Capone to take back a piece of his built-up business, Papa Johnny would hand over to him a like amount of their brothel business in nearby Forest View.

"Go peddle your papers," Deanie retorted, "a deal is a deal. You guinea bastards sell the flesh, but leave me out of it. Prostitution is against Our Mother the Church and I’ll have nothing to do with the stinking business."

The "mick’s" insults to their nationality were beginning to gnaw members of the Italian Outfit. Six of these were the Sicilian-born Genna brothers who controlled the district immediately west of the Loop called Little Italy. Killers without a conscience, they were not to be tampered with, nor derided. They held their territory in a death-grip, forcing thousands of residents to operate dangerous basement distilleries whose product, a low-grade rotgut whiskey, sold cheap and sold fast. While its quality was inferior, to the average Chicago drinker who sized price before quality, the Genna stuff was quite acceptable.

While Deanie was busy tending to his Cicero concerns, the Gennas began marketing, quite successfully, their caramel-colored manufacture in the North Side. When Deanie discovered a reduction in his whiskey sales in his wards, and found out the reason, he in turn stormed to Torrio to complain. Probably because Deanie earlier had rebuffed him, Torrio seemed pleased to give Deanie the bad news: "There is nothing I can do," he answered. "The Gennas are Sicilian blood, they answer only to the president of the Unione Siciliane."

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The "Terrible Gennas" dining together 

Deanie understood what that meant: Mafia. To other men not of the O’Banion temperament, that might have ended the argument. But, Deanie retaliated by hijacking Genna trucks and, when found out, told the Gennas to go to hell.

Under council light in the Genna home, the brothers decided to kill him. But, since their power did come from the Unione Siciliane, it was up to that power to decide whom they could and could not assassinate. The president of the local union was middle-aged Mike Merlo, a capo known for his erudite speech and extreme belief in the dove of peace.

"No," he told them. "Put your trigger fingers away; trigger fingers have no brain. I insist that there is a peaceable means to address this matter. I will intervene if it comes to that. I have met this O’Banion and because his tongue is sometimes sharp and his actions reckless, that is no cause for war at this time." Because Merlo had been told he was dying of a cancer, perhaps his tolerance might have been heightened. The luck of the Irish -- however motivated -- saved Dion O’Banion’s life. For now.

1. Leprechaun

2. A Normal Childhood

3. Lads of Kilgubbin

4. Volstead's Law

5. Them Damn Sicilians

6. The Flower Shop

7. Crazy Deanie

8. Cicero

9. An Impractical Joke

10. 'Night, Swell Fellow

11. Hello, Mt. Carmel

12. Bibliography

13. The Author
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