The Volstead Act

Ratified in October of 1919, the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution, The Volstead Act, went in full effect on January 16th, 1920.  Prohibition had come to America.  And although police and Prohibition agents (‘Probies’) smashed and spilled millions of pints, quarts and gallons of liquor, the words and warnings of Tony Cermak and the ‘Wets’ rang cartoonishly true.  Taverns were immediately replaced by ‘speakeasies’, liquor distributors were quickly replaced by ‘bootleggers’ and the revenues of the market that once went to business owners (as well as cities and states) now become the propriety of a seraglio of gangsters that ran roughshod through America.  The ‘Roaring Twenties’ had started, as had the massive payroll of bribes going to cops, aldermen, and top legislators for ‘protection’ against the nation’s new law.

Thirsty Chicagoans

With the Volstead Act, came the ‘Age of Whopee’.  With Mayor ‘Big Bill’ Thompson on the mound, Chicago became a dangerous playground for hoods and henchmen from all corners of the country.  Al Capone became the town’s biggest bootlegger and speakeasy lord.  The cocksure Capone said to reporters: “I’m just a simple guy supplying a commodity to thirsty Chicagoans.”  With the machinery of law enforcement purchased through the Mayor’s office, the underworld activities of gambling, prostitution, burglary, strong-arming and racketeering came clearly into the light of day. Culture was also changing. Women obtained not only the right to vote, but greatly increased freedom to co-mingle in the elements of American nightlife.  Previously not allowed in city taverns, they now unflinchingly populated Prohibition speakeasies.  The ‘Wide Open Town’ of Chicago began a New Age for America that would not, and could not, be turned back on.

Dever And Decency

In 1924, the Chicago Democrats (still headed by primarily Irish Catholics) nominated Judge William Dever to run for the Mayor’s office.  Almost ten years of Thompsonism had turned Chicago into a synonym for lawlessness, violence and corruption.  ‘Big Bill’, who would take a powder amidst a sundry of criminal allegations, made it a race the Democrats could actually win.  Judge Dever ran on a strict platform of municipal reform, enforcement of Prohibition laws, and an immediate reinvention of the city’s police force.  His campaign struck an obvious chord of emotion and redemption on the streets of Chicago and he was easily elected the city’s 35th Mayor against a weak Republican opposition.

"Right Down Roosie Road"

Hassled by Mayor Dever’s booze raids and newly inspired police force, Al Capone moved his gambling, prostitution and bootlegging headquarters to Cicero, a town just southwest of the city limits. It was easy enough to buy that small town’s municipal principals, and Capone skirted the new Mayor’s reform tactics easily. Just past Roosevelt Road, all of ‘Big Al’s guests found a brand new “Caponeville” and a finely parlayed district of vice, enjoying the traditional fare of a free-flowing, and undisturbed, ‘wide-open’ town. Mayor Dever, vexed, had no answer to Capone’s hand of cards and suffered politically on the maneuver.

Murder City

In 1928, the Mob began to see it’s own end. So violent were the streets of Chicago that loitering gangsters sported ‘Tommy Guns’ at their hips, drive-by shootings were commonplace, and grenades were frequently tossed by gang rivals on city blocks and boulevards. ‘Big Bill’ was back in office, once again elected Mayor through underworld muscle and the failure of reform. By now Thompson had become the very carnation in Al Capone’s lapel. However, fed up with tactics of his Irish gang rival, ‘Bugs’ Moran, Capone went too far. He orchestrated the ‘Valentine’s Day Massacre’, a melee of machine-gun fire that executed seven of Moran’s men, yet somehow left the Irish Don alive. The nation was outraged. The Chicago Tribune declared Chicago, ‘Murder City’ and condemned it’s ludicrous Mayor’s office and Mob rule incessantly. The President unleashed J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI to hunt down Capone and end his reign.