Shoot-out at the C-U corral

According to the book The Countess and the Mob by Maureen Hughes, someĀ of Champaign’s noted families (Robeson and Davis) helped keep Champaign wet during Prohibition. Another name connected with gangsters were the Sansones, an 11-member family born in Sicily that had immigrated through Ellis Island before settling in Champaign.

Michael Sansone’s profitable taffy concession stand was kept at Crystal Lake when it wasn’t touring the summer county fairs, while his brother Henry’s popcorn wagon was parked near the Virginia Theater. That popcorn had the most amazing taste and I’m sure many others tried to coax out the secret ingredient to no avail.

Local lawyer Julius Hirshfeld was one of Henry’s regular customers and Henry’s stories of pheasant hunting on his property somehow spread through Hirshfeld all the way to Al Capone, and thus began the annual pheasant hunting pilgrimages to the Sansone property just outside Champaign.

According to local legend, sometimes Capone and his boys would rent out the entire Turk’s Head rather than drive back to Chicago. The other option was booking the top three floors at the fanciest hotel in Champaign, located across the street from the train station. Turk’s Head may have used by his crew when they wanted to keep a low profile while in town, as the police station and newspaper office were all clustered within a block of that train station, while Turk’s Head was buried in campus-town.

Henry realized that setting up hunting trips could be quite lucrative and decided to expand his hunting schedule to include George Bugs Moran, an enemy of Capone. This shouldn’t have been a problem, writes Hughes, Sansone scheduled Moran and his boys on opposite weekends from when Capone was down.

This would have worked well, except the scheduling was done by word of mouth, and one weekend the dates got mixed up. One particular Saturday when Moran was hunting, three black cars pulled up two hours later, and five men got out, including Al Capone. Everyone was dressed in hunting gear, so it was hard to positively identify anyone. By mid-morning, the men from both gangs were just two or three hundred feet apart when one of Capone’s men asked why Moran was there.

That’s all it took for the shooting to start.

Both gangs retreated to their cars, and several had to lie in the back seats all the way to Chicago because they had lead shot in their rear ends. So ended the hunting trips to Champaign.

Boardwalk Empire fizzles out

I had high hopes for Boardwalk Empire when the show first arrived, but got alarmed after I realized there was zero attempt to maintain historical accuracy. After the shark jumped ten times, I began losing my passion for the show, so I was not shocked by the fizzle-out ending.

If they had only told the real story of Nucky Johnson and his epic feud with William Randolph Hearst, but I guess that was too close to the real oligarchy. Nucky was not rubbed-out on the boardwalk, but jailed for tax evasion, the same fate that brought down his buddy Al Capone. After four years in jail, he returned to a much downsized Atlantic City, which had been crushed by the 1929 stock market crash. Although production qualities and acting remained peerless on this show, the script was mostly concerned with creative staging of moments of extreme violence. But meaningless violence is on the rise everywhere these days.

I was especially annoyed how they transformed Harlem numbers king Casper Holstein (left) into a completely heartless dope peddler. In fact, Holstein was the genius who figured out how to engineer a gambling racket based off the daily stock market tally and was a great supporter of charities and known as the black Andrew Carnegie.

Boardwalk Empire pretended to tell the story of the birth of organized crime, but they distorted the story beyond recognition. Lucky Luciano is mostly known as the first gangster who made a deal with an intelligence agency. He did not invent the concept of a Sicilian “Commission of Peace.” According to Joseph Bonanno, who was there at the beginning with Luciano, the idea of this commission predated Bonanno’s arrival in the United States (1908). National conventions had been held infrequently over the decades and the network was not uncovered by law enforcement until the 1950s, but the concept had been floated after a war broke out between two Italian families in New Orleans over rights to unload banana boats owned by Italian shipping lines, resulting in a lot of bad publicity and crackdowns against Italian-Americans nationally. The society was organized similar to the many Masonic secret societies, only with one grade instead of the usual three. The important part of these secret societies is promising to keep the secrets or give the society permission to snuff out your life. These vows proved effective as the first turncoats from inside would not emerge until the 1960s.