Previous posts have told of both Lemont’s Smokey Row and relations to the Chicago mob. You might say today’s story embellishes on that theme. The story is part of Lemont lore, and likely is essentially true, as the original versions quoted names and gave more details. I’m giving an abbreviated version here.
An establishment once existed at 108 Stephen Street in Lemont, named The Palm Garden, registered as a “soft drink parlor”. The classification was a misnomer, as many such places were in those days, as it catered to appetites for something stronger than “soft drinks.” Food, drinks, pool, and dancing in an upstairs room were available. The owner was described as debonair, and his place took on that personality. His name was not one that would normally be associated with mob activity, but who knows?
On an evening in August, 1932, federal agents entered, barred the door, and announced a raid. As patrons poured out the back door, agents arrested the owner and ordered the patrons to go home. The patrons did not go home. Typical in Lemont in those days, they were not about to be deprived of the excitement of the occasion. They gathered in the street to watch, and soon were joined by patrons of other such “parlors” when word of the raid spread. Thoroughly enjoying themselves, and likely not completely sober, they stood around listening, hearing breaking glass, and other sounds of demolition emanating from inside the building.
No place in Lemont had been raided for many years, and no raids were expected. Neither the local nor county police were participating. Was it a real raid, someone in the street asked, or a clever scheme to rob the place? The idea caught on. The county police (in Justice, IL) were called and told there was a holdup in Lemont.
The federal agents inside had become nervous of the large crowd, and called for backup. When additional agents arrived, they were stopped by the crowd, who refused to let anyone into the building until county police got there.
The county police chief and four officers soon arrived, sirens blaring and carrying sawed-off shotguns. They pushed past the crowd, ignored Lemont’s police chief and mayor who had arrived on the scene, surrounded the building and demanded the agents open the doors.
The feds didn’t open up. They were afraid of the crowd. This led the police to think it WAS a real holdup, so they broke down the doors, to cheers from the crowd.
After a brief, nonetheless frightening, confrontation, the real situation was determined and the Palm Garden owner was handed off to Lemont’s police chief, who arrested him and took him to the Village Hall.
While Lemont officials were dealing with the prisoner, a new Lemont officer arrived on the scene to assist. He was not recognized by county police, was treated with suspicion and ultimately held and brought to Justice for further processing. Lemont’s police chief now had to rescue his own officer.
When all was said and done, federal agents demolished much of the Palm Garden, hauled off or destroyed furniture and fixtures, destroyed an extensive inventory of liquor, and by 3 o’clock in the morning everyone, including patrons, had gone home.
The next day the owner was released on bail and returned immediately to clean up his place, intending to reopen as soon as possible.
There were no more raids in Lemont. One can only guess at the reason. I’ll let you in on my guess: I think the Feds decided to let Lemont take care of Lemont.
This story is typical of Lemont lore, and one of the things that makes me glad to live here.