Lemont and the Capones
Okay, so this picture isn’t the Capones, but this early Lemont saloon does show you what taverns were like in the early 1900s. Note that there are no stools, and men gathered at the bar or around the stove. It was also common to allow children in saloons, although it wasn’t likely they were served.
Many Chicagoland suburbs claim ties of various kinds to Al Capone, and Lemont is no exception. There are a number of credible reasons that make it likely he had some attachment to Lemont.
Al’s brother, Ralph (Bottles) Capone, had a business in Lemont for many years. A major business for the Capones was the distribution of illegal alcohol, which of course needed to be bottled, and profits were greater if their own “business” provided the bottles. Wold Beverages in Lemont manufactured bottles for local distribution of “Wold’s Wonder Water”, a soft drink, and Ralph’s granddaughter, Deirdre Marie Capone, remembers the bottle manufacturing company in Lemont. It stands to reason that Al would have spent some time with his brother and possibly that he financed and controlled the business to some extent, although this is conjecture.
Al was an avid golfer (but terrible, per his caddy). In the forest preserves along 107th Street between Archer and Kean Avenues there was once a golf course, built in 1921 and managed by the Cook County Forest Preserves. It was know by a number of names, most commonly as Palos Golf Club, and is one of the courses Al played. The course was located in a geographic area called Mount Forest Island, which in prehistoric times was an island in Lake Chicago, before the water receded, leaving Lake Michigan. One approached the golf course from 107th Street, across from Saganashkee Slough.
The course was popular in its day, secluded back in the woods, unseen from the road, and carved into the side of a hill, which prompted golfers to say it was a great course for players who had one leg shorter than the other. It had a large, attractive clubhouse, which was said to be one of Al’s “hideouts”, or at least a meeting place to discuss business with some expectation of privacy.
Today the course is forgotten, because its closing was shrouded in secrecy. During World War II, when at the University of Chicago, U.S. scientists were racing German scientists to produce the atomic bomb. The Manhattan Project was moved from Chicago to this secluded area, adjacent to the golf course. The project was, of course, top secret, so the golf course was closed, demolished, entrances to the area secured, and any mention of its very existence discouraged. It is hard to find anyone who remembers it.
“Suburban” legend has it that Al Capone also had a home along Bluff Road on the outskirts of Lemont. Deirdre Capone denies that Al ever had a home in Lemont, however, she does remember Al and Ralph golfing in Lemont. She also shares that he was fond of the toboggan slides at Swallow Cliff, which have since been demolished, leaving only a sledding hill and steps popular today for exercise. She used to accompany them on these trips, and also to other places they frequented in Lemont, but cannot remember the other names.
Deirdre has written a book about her famous family and what it was like growing up as a Capone, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Her book is titled Uncle Al Capone, and you can also visit her web site at www.unclealcapone.com.