Dierdre Capone, Al’s grandniece, writes of the mobster’s softer side
BY KARA SPAK Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org December 3, 2012 7:49PM
‘Cocktails and Capone’
◆ Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark
◆ $40, $30 for members
Updated: January 5, 2013 6:05AM
It’s bottom’s up at the Chicago History Museum for “Cocktails and Capone,” a look at America’s most famous Prohibition-era gangster served up with some vintage cocktails.
The event focuses on a historical period that continues to draw visitors with lots of questions to the museum.
“For many people this is one of the periods in Chicago history that is much talked about but not understood,” said John Russick, the museum’s director of curatorial affairs. “All of this stuff is happening in Chicago and it’s all in the dark and in secret and under the table and behind the door.”
Largely in the shadows was Capone’s personal life. Capone’s great-niece, Deirdre Marie Capone, wrote “Uncle Al Capone” and will be at the history museum event to offer her take on “Public Enemy No. 1.”
“Was Al Capone a mobster? Yes, he was,” Deirdre Marie Capone said. “Was Al Capone a monster? He was not.”
Deirdre Marie Capone’s grandfather was Al Capone’s oldest brother. She grew up with the last name Gabriel, but even that was not enough to shield her from the backlash of being a Capone after local Chicago newspapers covered the family gathering following her First Communion.
Al Capone died soon after, but the damage was done, she said.
“I never had a birthday party because no one would come,” she said. “I was date raped by a guy who wanted to be part of the outfit. I thought nobody would want me.”
Despite the trauma, she married well — next year will be 50 years — and moved to Minnesota. There, her life really began.
“Nobody knew me out there,” she said. “My wings just spread.”
The mother of four and now grandmother of 14 said she was terrified to tell her children that “they had gangster blood surging through their veins.”
She got the opposite reaction then the one she anticipated.
“All four looked at me and said in union, ‘Cool, mom,’ ” she said.
In 1987, when the film “The Untouchables” was released, she first thought about putting her childhood memories down on paper.
“That movie put a monstrous face on the Prohibition era,” she said. “It was never that monstrous. ... The only things my family was involved in were alcohol, gambling and prostitution. All those things are legal somewhere today.”
Because of the enduring fascination with Capone and Prohibition-era Chicago, the history museum has material in its permanent collection related to him as well as plenty of archival information, available to the public, in the museum’s research center. They’ve previously offered programming around Scarface and bus tours of Chicago gangland history.
The “Cocktails and Capone” event will be “a little lighter in terms of the lecture side,” Russick said. The $40 ticket ($30 for museum members) includes complimentary cocktails from Templeton Rye Whiskey, first produced in Iowa during Prohibition.
“It should just be a good time,” Russick said. “It’s more of an opportunity to meet other people interested in this topic, and taste some Prohibition-era liquor from one of the distilleries that claimed to provide the liquor.”