A Mob Scene Chicago's Not Wine & Dine, It's Capone And Dillinger

Posted: June 20, 1986

Every big city looks for ways to attract tourists and their dollars. They build convention halls, sports palaces, and tout their museums, theaters, restaurants, beaches, racetracks, and anything else they think might sell.

Chicago is no exception. We're constantly looking for ways to pull in the rubes. Only this week, the governor said the state will contribute several million to help expand the Shedd Aquarium, so we can show visitors even more fish.

I suppose the extra fish might be a draw for people who are already here, but I doubt that many tourists will plan a trip to Chicago just to press their noses to a piece of glass and go eyeball to eyeball with a giant catfish.

I'm more inclined to agree with Tom Purdy, a public relations man, who thinks that Chicago is still wasting one of its biggest potential tourist attractions - its unique heritage.

Many cities exploit their heritage. New Orleans, for example, with its French Quarter, Cajun cooking and Dixieland music. San Francisco, with its cable cars, Fisherman's Wharf and Chinatown. And Washington, where you can go up in the gallery and hear live politicians babble like they've been smoking illegal herbs.

But, as Purdy points out, Chicago has not only failed to promote its heritage, it tries to act as if it doesn't exist.

I'm referring, of course, to Chicago being the ancestral home of the the modern-day Crime Syndicate.

Oh, New York can brag about its five families and some of the big names who have breathed their last in its barber chairs and on the floors of its Mulberry Street clam houses.

But in most of America and the rest of the world, it's Capone and Chicago, the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and Chicago, John Dillinger and the Biograph Theatre in Chicago.

Before writing this, I looked at the national news wires to see what the biggest Chicago news story was today. Was it the new fish coming to the aquarium? The latest political mischief?

The big story was the disappearance of mobster Tony Spilotro, who runs the Chicago gang's interests in Las Vegas, and his brother Mike, both of whom are now presumed to be resting peacefully in the trunk of a car.

One of the most popular shows in the history of television was "The Untouchables." Was it about gangsters in New York or New Jersey, Detroit or Miami?

Of course not. The TV producers knew that if they wanted the very finest in mugs, they had to use Chicago's mugs.

One of the biggest TV shows of this year was the search for Capone's hidden stash in an old hotel vault. Sure, the show established nothing more than that Geraldo Rivera is a boob and that the show was almost a hoax. But it still

drew an enormous audience.

"That just proves that people still think of Chicago in those terms," said Purdy, the PR man.

I agree. And if we're interested in attracting tourists, we should stop being embarrassed by this part of our history, and start capitalizing on it.

Obviously, we can't advertise that people should come here to see our real live gangsters, because most of them are shy and probably wouldn't come out on the front porch to wave at a tour bus.

But there's no reason we can't do what many Western towns do when they have their Wild West Days, their re-enactments of famous shootouts, and other such diversions.

Tourists would flock to Chicago if we offered, say, a re-enactment of the St. Valentine's Day massacre. The Daley Center plaza would be packed for hourly performances.

Special tours could take visitors to an almost endless number of historical landmarks.

"That is the sewer where they dumped the body of . . . and in that sandwich shop, two guys wearing ski masks walked in and blew away . . . and in that shopping center, they jumped out of a car and blasted . . . we are standing on the very spot where ice picks were used to dispatch the legendary . . . "

So the governor should forget about all those new fish.

When it comes to Chicago, what people want to know is: Does Tony Spilotro now sleep with the fishes?

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|