Re: Willow Springs Cemetary
Date: June 23, 2011 03:29PM
I’m glad this thread got bumped, and notified me via email. I had forgotten about it. I hope Mary sees this and responds to your post regarding the family names.
I’m a local historian, born and raised in Willow Springs. In recent years I have chased the Capone legends when time permits. I have to tell you that I found that nearly every suburb outside of Chicago has some kind of Capone story, but with a few exceptions (like Cicero) I have yet to get anything verifying that Capone owned any speakeasy or any building out here personally along Archer at least. There were plenty of little watering holes set up in restaurants and houses during prohibition. I found a number along the line from Summit to the Sag. I would assume that guys like Capone would not have had his name on a business for obvious reasons. In the cases I found, the underlying mob connection was through some minion that was perhaps connected to Capone through the line somewhere – the minion controlling a section of the suburbs. Obviously there were only a few gang bosses that controlled the organized distribution of molasses in Chicago and suburbs. This is similar to the Motorcycle clubs. What is not known about some of these small groups is that they are generally backed by, sanctioned, or approved by either the Angels or the Outlaws. If a guy is wearing his colors from some little group that is not approved by one of these two main outfits, that is fine, but if you get cornered by a member of one of these two outfits, you will most likely get some hassle.
As for making and selling molasses, sure there were farmers, citizens in general and tavern owners out there making stuff. Some of these guys were producing for the common stock for the Boss, but these little producers rarely if ever dealt directly with the head. When I hear a story “Grandpa made liquor for Capone”, I say, “He may have, but that doesn’t mean Al came over to pick the stuff up”. In fact Capone probably didn’t even know who grandpa was. It all came through the vine. That is how you protect the boss, with buffers, or smaller gangs working for the greater cause.
One issue with the Capone stories, the speakeasies and the like is that most of these stories have come down to us through double hearsay from people who may not have known the area well that they are describing. One building may get a speakeasy label when in fact the real speakeasy was next door, or half a mile away. When trying to pinpoint speakeasies out here in the woods down Archer, another problem comes into effect – that most of these buildings were torn down years ago. There are a lot of myths about buildings in Willow Springs, some true, some partially true. There are stories of tunnels and the like. Most of this was created by people years ago who didn’t know what they were talking about. For instance there is a myth about a tunnel from the old Dietrich house in Willow down to Spring Forest Deli – not true.
Capone did travel down Archer to visit a few of his favorite places or further to meet with his confidants. He liked the horses so he went out to Santé fe Park often, traveling down Lawndale into Summit (where he would sometimes get his hair cut at Mike the Barber’s in Argo) and continue on down the road. Mike stated Capone had a “hangout somewhere nearby”, but he never stated where this was, if he even knew. He may have been speaking of a house in Tiedtville.
Prohibition started in 1920 and ended in 1933. However, prior to that some of the Townships in this area had dry Sunday laws, which created some comical stories growing out of the local suburbs. A man must be able to drink any day of the week! The mayor of Lyons used to post policemen outside the taverns to keep the Cook County police out. He threatened once that he would place a cannon at the entrance to his town to keep the county out. The villages of Stickney and Justice for instance were incorporated so as to control their own liquor licenses, and to keep the county out – and those irksome temperance women who threatened the politicians.
Many of the picnic groves and taverns got raided by the County Police on Sundays. The excuse being generally that the alcohol was for church purposes etc… I have read every issue of the Desplaines Valley News from 1914 to 1929. I can state that for stills, brothels and speakeasies from Summit to Sag, I have found mention of these off the top of my head (there were a few more but I don’t remember the locations. They were not large anyway):
A large still built north of Archer at about Hunt - this being on West Archer just before the turn to South Archer Road (still existent).
The old Michigan Central railroad yard at 59th and Archer (partially existent) was a location where barrels of booze were brought through with the help of Summit Mayor Elias Wilson and sent off to Chicago via the stockyards under control of Polack Joe – that is confirmed.
There was a hotel in Argo that was raided numerous times east of Archer at about 61st (I forgot the street – burned down in the 80’s).
In Justice there was the Rainbow Inn – speakeasy and brothel – across from Resurrection Cemetery – long gone. The Klondike brothel on the land between Bethania and Resurrection was still occupied by a family during this time.
Leafy Grove aka Justice Park Gardens – long gone, but a big picnic grove. The owner was a Lithuanian named Blinstrup who died in 1918 or so. His widow married Diamond Tooth Eddie and Eddie was gunned down in his driveway in Willow Springs. Leafy Grove was at Archer and Kean Avenue and headed the entrance to Kean Avenue where later a row of taverns owned by mob sanctioned entities once flourished. These places along Kean were owned by Lithuanians and were erected in the late 20’s. There are plenty of illegal activity stories out of Kean Avenue but those are post prohibition.
The most notorious speakeasy in Willow Springs, fronted as a restaurant (with great corned beef sandwiches) was Dinty Moore’s which was located where Old Willow shopping center is at now – the Royalty West etc…
Across the street was Zenk’s Hotel. I think he may have been raided once or twice, but that was rumored to be a whore house with the rooms upstairs. Zenk was a fine German Lutheran, but this was Willow Springs in the 20’s, and anything goes. Old Hotels are good places for brothels for obvious reasons.
Then I hear of no more speakeasies until you hit what is now Rt. 83 and Archer – or back in those days 107th and Archer, down the hill where Jerry’s valley junk yard was – was located the infamous Hanrahan’s. This place was a safe haven for the beer runners coming up and to Joliet. It was so heavily infested with mobsters that the County Police were afraid to go in there. Hanrahan’s is long gone.
I scoured the Chicago Tribune for gang activities in these suburbs along Archer. I found the Green Corner speakeasy and brothel in McCook (now) – long gone - at Joliet Rd. and Lawndale.
I have never ever read of any illegal activities at Spaitis’ Grove. Then again, it was not built until 1928-29, so I may not have gotten to any articles in the Desplaines Valley News yet. The Willow Springs historians know nothing about any brothel there, or speakeasy. But then again, what is a speakeasy? A guy running a picnic grove or a tavern turned ice cream parlor serving out some beer to patrons? That was so common, how can anyone stick a Capone label on it? I have heard stories that Frank McErlane was shot and buried behind Spaitis’ Grove in a shallow grave – This is not true. Who is McErlane? I took this from Wikipedia:
Shortly after the start of Prohibition, McErlane began running a gang with partner Joseph "Polack Joe" Saltis, operating in the "Back of the Yards" section of the South Side. In 1922 McErlane and Saltis allied with the Johnny "The Fox" Torrio-Al Capone Chicago Outfit against the Southside O'Donnell Brothers. McErlane was known as an especially ferocious assassin. Standing 5'8" and weighing 190 pounds, he was described as looking like a "butter and egg man". McErlane carried a rosary in his pockets along with a pistol. Frank was known to drink too much of what he sold and frequently slip into alcoholic psychosis. McErlane's face would grow redder with each drink, sending apprehension throughout his toughest criminal associates... Frank thus retired to a lavishly furnished houseboat located on the Illinois River in Beardstown, Illinois. In the fall of 1932, Frank fell ill with pneumonia. In his delirium, he was convinced that rival gangsters were coming to his hospital room to kill him; it took four attendants to hold him down in his rage. Frank McErlane died at the age of 38 on October 8, 1932.
The Spaitis building was built relatively late in the prohibition era. McErlane and Polack Joe had already separated in 1929. The building was constructed with rooms above to house Joe’s family, not to use as a hotel. When Dean Stump bought the building in the elate 80’s or early 90’s, he created the gangster myth at the place to bring in business. I even asked back then right after he opened the place, and he told me it was all a publicity hoax. Stump had these little menu cards on the tables and the bar with made up gangster stores involving the building. All of it was myth. Yes, there was a hidden room in the basement, but who knows what it was for. I did not see a door into it. It was only revealed after removing one of the wooden planks which enclose it. Maybe Joe was hiding beer in there as everyone did back then, or some other private articles, but that does not make it a speakeasy or a Capone hangout.
There is a myth that a tunnel existed between Spaitis’ and O’Henry’s – coming out in the old ballroom kitchen. This is false. Dick William’s showed me the old kitchen and there was no evidence of a tunnel – nor was there a need for one.
The County Police came out and made raids when it was politically beneficial for the sheriff, or if the owner wasn’t paying his fees. Out here in the woods, the local constables would come out and warn the taverns before the county showed up if they could. Heck the police chief of Lyons would run down the street with his siren going if he saw the raiders coming to warn the taverns to hide the booze. The county had to send in undercover agents to bust the places.
107th Street and Archer were rough places back then – especially near Sag Bridge. They called 107th St. Beer Alley. There was bootlegging going on, and bodies of mobsters dumped out along 95th street and in the woods - that is a fact, but as for Joe Spaitis, he seems to have gotten caught up in the south suburban myth pool. There is nothing there. The myths probably came about because of Hanrahan’s and since time has passed, and stories retold through the generations, Spaitis, with the only existing building, got the label. Of course, little is known about the Hall of 1000 Bargains building. We cannot seem to find out when it was built, or any early history on it. Perhaps something was going on there, but I cannot confirm it. Again, everyone was hiding booze back then. Farmers were brewing their own beer, makeshift stills were in garages, and who knows what.
By the way, I have a real Resurrection Mary story told to me by my old deputy chief that happened in the early 1970’s. This man, who I will not name, is born and raised in this area. His father was from the old town of Sag Bridge, and you know what he told me? That the woman they call Resurrection Mary is not buried in Resurrection Cemetery, but Fairmont.
p.s. when it is all said and done, there isn't much to give a tour on along Archer because there are few existing structures, and no ghost stories - except Mary, which I think is also a hoax borrowed from an old ghost story from the UK. It's not even an original ghost story. When comparing the different elements of the many myths of Mary, there is always something that is historically incorrect in them that shoots down the story. If anything did happen back then - whenever that was, the real story surely is much different than the myths. My sister-in-law believes in the Mary myth, and thinks she saw the ghost - Ba Humbug. widely different then the,myths we are reading about now.