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Al Capone Goes to Cuba
Al Capone first takes a trip to Cuba in 1925, along with his boss, friend and mentor John Torrio. After recovering from an assassination attempt, Torrio spends a couple of months in a well guarded cell for Prohibition violations. After his release he takes Capone on a special trip to Havana Cuba for relaxation and to hand over the reigns of the Chicago operations over to Al Capone. Their respective wives have joined them along for the trip.
The S.S.Cuba sailed Capone and Torrio back to Florida from Cuba in 1925.
(Mario Gomes Collection).
Ship's manifest with erroneous entries. Moe for Mae. Torrio along with his wife both fib on their birthplaces.
Capone had heard about Cuba from Torrio. Even Tribune reporter Jake Lingle who had also been to Cuba back in 1921, for health reasons touted the beauty, warmth and relaxation. His brother Ralph Capone even enters his race horses at several meets in Cuba. After his trip with Torrio, Capone decides to return again since he is living in Miami, Florida, which is a short distance via hydroplane. He is purportedly there for a little R&R, but there is even talk of a booze deal while visiting Cuba.
The April 1930 trip wasn't at all Capone's idea. It originally was just supposed to be a trip for his Miami Lawyer James "Fritz" Gordon who decided to take his father R.A. Gordon to visit Cuba. When Capone found out Fritz was headed there he wanted to tag along. Fritz then proceeded to recruit others in order to get a total of 8 people in his party so that the plane could be reserved just for them.
Al Capone is on the list along with Chicago Evening American editor Harry Read, Capone Miami lawyer James Francis "Fritz" Gordon, his dad R.A. Gordon, Alderman Albert J. Prignano, Capone hoods Nicholas Carew (Nick Circella) and Sylvester Agoglia (New York) and Miami Dr. A.J. Bertram.
NC660-M was N.Y.R.B.A. Airlines which stood for New York, Rio, Buenos Aires.
Capone flew / sailed on this plane. The plane was later destroyed in a hangar fire on April 16, 1935.
Capone and company lodged in 3rd floor suites at the Sevilla Biltmore Hotel in old Havana.
The Hotel today boasts with plaques Capone's stay in a sixth floor suite there which is erroneous.
(Mario Gomes collection)
Wooden triangular souvenir trinket box picked up by the Capones while in Cuba circa 1925 - 1930.
(Mario Gomes collection)
Various 1930 newspaper headlines mentioning the Capones in Cuba.
(Al, Ralph and Mafalda).
Inside of trinket box. Al visited Cuba from 1925 to 1930. His brother Ralph went there with his wife in November 1930 to promote his racehorse. Their sister Mafalda also went to Cuba for her honeymoon in December of 1930.
(Mario Gomes collection)
Sevilla Biltmore crest
Inside the Sevilla was a beautiful spanish patio where the elite like Capone would meet.
(Mario Gomes collection)
Here and for the first time, is unveiled the inside information on the Cuba trip Capone took with seven members of his entourage. They consisted of a lawyer and his father, a city editor, two gangsters, a doctor and a Chicago alderman. The info comes from City Editor Harry Read's memoirs of that fateful trip in 1930.
April 23,1930, the Capone party arrived in Havana with their plane making a perfect landing at a sunlit harbor in Havana. They were then driven to the Sevilla Biltmore Hotel in old Havana. There they had reserved
a ten room suite for a party of 8 people.
Upon arriving on a blistering hot day in Havana, they immediately ordered alcoholic beverages which was legal to obtain in Cuba. Fritz Gordon's father regaled the party with stories of his career in Georgia. He had been on Atlanta's city council and had once been an interim Mayor. The Capone party lunched in their suites while drinking beer. After lunch they jumped in two hotel automobiles available to the guests. Harry Read, Chicago American city editor, Nick Circella, Albert Prignano rode with Capone.
The hotel drivers took the tourist route around old Havana then to the Cuban countryside where they encountered goats and little children asking for a penny.
The final stop was to the Tropical Gardens and their open air bars. Connected to the brewery it as where free beer flowed and a party atmosphere that was all the tourist rage. While Capone's party was making small talk with a uniformed policeman,
Capone spotted a an aged photographer and his wife sitting beside their tripod camera. Capone talked to them and then waved his hand to summon his party over for a group photo. They had several shots taken in different poses. One of them with the policeman who had no clue who Al Capone was. John Dillinger later got a kick out of doing the same thing at the Chicago world's fair in 1933.
Each one in the party had several prints made. Capone insisted that the negatives be destroyed to which the old photographer obliged.
After that the Capone party enjoyed a day of sightseeing, shopping, drinking and eating.
Later that afternoon until the evening they all went to dinner at a restaurant. The Capone party visit several cabarets that evening for entertainment in which they drank beer, wine and Champagne. Gordon's dad and Harry Read went back to their respective suites at the Biltmore and hit the sack. Prignano was asleep on an adjoining twin bed in Read's room. The rising sunlight came through the windows when all of a sudden the silence was disturbed by shouting "Secret Police!"
"Come on in" replied Capone through the door. No one entered. Capone again told them to come in and to put away their pistols. The seven puny looking detectives entered the room.
Albert Prignano who had just awoken in the adjoining room walked in and saw the seven short swarthy men and asked Capone if this was another banquet. Despite the tense situation, Capone let out a laugh at Prignano's remark.
"Nope! It's a pinch I guess." Capone said. The police commander asked Capone and company to follow them down at the Cuban Secret Police bureau where his chief was waiting to question Capone.
Fritz Gordon's dad made a fuss about the police presence and asked what right did they have to do this to Americans! Capone convinced the senior Gordon to calm down and let him take charge of things.
Before departing for the police bureau, Capone demanded that the police search the rooms first. He stated he would not go until they did. Capone told them he was savvy to police planting things and frame ups.
Harry Read, who was city editor for the Chicago American was also present. He asked Prignano where was lawyer Fritz Gordon? Prignano replied that Fritz had met up with some old friends from Miami and decided to have breakfast with them. Prignano said that was always the case with lawyers not being present when you are in trouble.
6 AM the search was completed and no contraband found, the party then accompanied with the police made it's way to the elevator.
When the reached the lobby they were greeted by a swarm of police, some in uniform and some undercover.
The motorcade made it's way to the the old Spanish building that housed the police bureau. While waiting for the chief to arrive Capone asked his hosts if they could eat something as they were hungry. The reply was no.
Capone's personality slowly got to the curious hosts as they later brought out some food to eat.
At 10:00 AM the police chief was waiting in his office. Capone entered the office and took Harry Read with him in Fritz Gordon's absence.The police chief who wore a chestful of gleaming medals did not speak english but had an interpreter there.
The interpreter said "The chief wants to know what you are doing in Cuba?"
Capone replied "Tell him I came over here for a little rest, to drink some wine and spend some money."
The chief smiled when Capone's words were translated. The interpreter then asked the following;
"The chief wants to know whether your trip here has anything to do with bomb plots against public buildings here?"
Capone looked at Harry read blankly. He had no clue what this meant. Read on the other hand knew of the significance. Tomorrow meant it was May 1st which was a radical movement significance in Cuba. Read told the interpreter that Capone has no knowledge of Cuban political affairs.
The chief finally satisfied and with cordiality shook Capone's hand. The interpreter told Capone and company that they were free to go. The same detective group returned the party to the Sevilla Hotel for brunch.
Later on while recanting the days events in their hotel room Capone's voice is interrupted by a knock at the door. Capone tells Nick Circella to go see who it is. Circella replies It's another copper." after peering through the cracked opened door.
Capone told him to let him in. Through the door stood a uniformed man announcing himself as captain of the police. He spoke perfect english and told Mr. Capone how sorry he was for the morning inconvenience he had suffered through the secret police. He stated the mayor himself had asked him as police captain, to represent the mayor for a luncheon with Mr. Capone.
Capone extended his hand and welcomed the police Captain. "Glad to meet you Captain. These are my friends. We were just waiting for some Champgne that I ordered." He immediately turned and flashed a wink at Sylvester Agoglia also known as Buttsy. Buttsy immediately went into the next room like he was looking for something and made good on Capone' statement by ordering some Champagne on the telephone.
The captain and the Capone party went down to the Sevilla's dining room which was six feet above street level. By then news had reached people of Havana that big time gangster Al Capone was in Cuba.
After lunch the Captain said good-bye and Capone and party went for a drive. They saw a cock fight pit and then visited a seashore resort. After the brief outing, they returned to the hotel to find the police captain had returned and was waiting for them.
"The mayor has assigned me to entertain you at dinner." Capone faked a smile accepting the invite but frowned stating that "Something funny about that guy." " Wonder what his racket is?"
During dinner the Captain sat next to Capone. He made sure to chat with everyone in the party (Capone, Agoglia, Circella, Read, the two Gordons, Bertram and Prignano).
"This guy has something one his mind", muttered Capone to lawyer Fritz Gordon as they walked out the lobby. "Stay close and listen." The automobile sped past the Hotel Nacional that was then under construction. They turned on narrow side street which brought them to some sort of distillery. Inside the warehouse there were bottled goods stacked on the floor all the way up to the high ceiling. The Capone party looked around in amazement."What do you think of it Mr. Capone?" asked the captain.
Capone replied "It's quite a sight, but of course it's legal here."
" There's a big fortune under this roof." said the captain.
Capone said nothing to which the captain continued, "If this stock were only in the U.S., it could be bought here very cheaply and then someone here with a position to handle the shipments, that would be a simple matter would it not?"
Capone just grunted not showing acceptance or rejection to the captain's ramblings.
Capone said he would think about it.
The police captain collected the rest of the Capone party and headed back to the Sevilla Hotel.
When they reached their suite Capone burst into laughter. "A copper is a copper the world over!" he exclaimed. "That racket has been worked over to death in Chicago". Read stated that he didn't understand Capone's reasoning.
Capone explains "Well, suppose I make a deal here. I pay some of the money down. I've got to trust them to deliver on the American coast. Do they deliver? I don't know. While I'm standing on the beach waiting for them to unload, a Coast Guard cutter shoots in. Do I wait to see who they are looking for? Not me! I'm gone like my dough! That warehouse full of stuff has probably been sold to ten different outfits at variuos times. That's why I'll take the beer business for mine.
Then Capone paused and stared at the wall. He began piecing the past days events and coming to a conclusion that sometiung was in store for him by the Cuban police. Some sort of frame up. After a brief moment of reflection Capone exclaims "The hell with it! Let's go out and find a nightclub!"
Near the touring cars a man sidled up to the Capone party giving a whining story about his wife and starving babies. Capone thrusted him a bank note as he got into the automobile. They Capone party was enroute to the cabaret for some fun time when all of a sudden the automobile stopped then Nick Circella jumped into the street and ran to the back of the car. There hanging on the automobile's frame was the beggar who earlier asked for money. Now in a different tone of voice he explained that he had heard their destination and decided to hitch a ride unbeknownst to the Capone crew. Capone eyed him sliently and said "Let him go!"
"Back to the hotel right away!" ordered Capone. Back at the suite of the Sevilla hotel Capone sat on the edge of the bed and stared frowning down at the carpet.
"This place is getting too hot for me and I'd be a sucker not to know what this means!"
Pacing back and fourth he tells the party that he is leaving in the morning and not to mention this to anyone outside the group.
"We'll stay in the hotel tonight, though." he said.
"Every move I make is being watched. Someone may be trying to make a big shot of himself by framing me in a jam. We'll leave in the morning first thing!"
The next morning Capone and party waited twenty minutes before the plane took off to announce their departure from the hotel.Thy immediately got on the seaplane headed for Miami. When the plane was circling over Havana Capone drew a deep sigh of relief and let out a laugh. "Bye, bye Cuba!" He exlcaimed. The party returns to Florida on May 1,1930. They manage to pass through customs an another port of entry and had one of Capone's boats pick them up for the ride to 93 Palm Island. This was done to avoid the waiting press who had already received word about the Cuba trip.
The Tropical Gardens where partying and free beer drinking brought together tourists galore. It was also a good place for relaxation and mob business.
(Mario Gomes collection)
Miami lawyer James Francis "Fritz" Gordon, Al Capone and ex- Atlanta Councilman / furniture businessman Robert A. Gordon (James' father) at the Tropical Gardens, Havana, April 23,1930. In this commonly seen photo, R.A. Gordon is mistakenly identified as Havana Mayor Julio Morales. This is a mistake because the Mayor at that time was actually Mariano Gomez. Julio Morales Coello was a Cuban Navy Commander.
R. A Gordon will pass away at age 61, almost a year after this photo was taken.
Subject Identification research Mario Gomes (Photo Credit : State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/55382).
Robert A.Gordon seen above with Al was even once identified as Babe Ruth by a Capone relative. Besides the obvious age gap, this wild assumption is totally way off base as Babe Ruth's presence was accounted elsewhere for the entire time Al Capone was in Cuba. From the April 23, 1930 - May 1,1930, Babe Ruth was in New York, either in limbo due to two days of a cold wave, practising or playing at home or in a visiting town.
Same spot today at right where this famous photo was taken.
(Right photo courtesy of Mr. Vicente Monzón)
The background where Capone stood was also a tourist store selling Alligator goods and Cuba's finest cigars.
(Mario Gomes collection)
Top; Illinois State representative Albert Prignano, R.A. Gordon, former Georgia councilman and father of "Fritz", Al Capone and James Francis " Fritz" Gordon.
Bottom; Miami Dr. A.J. Bertram and Chicago American city editor Harry Read. Harry Read's detailed memoir account of the Cuba trip finally explained here as to what went on those couple of days there.
Tropical Gardens Havana, Cuba April 29,1930.
Courtesy: The American Catholic Historical Research Center and University Archives (ACUA), The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC
Al Capone and Illinois State representative Albert J. Prignano raising a glass in Cuba.
(Mario Gomes collection)
Old New York Capone friend Sylvester "Buttsy" Agoglia. Once arrested in 1925 with Capone for the Adonis massacre, Agoglia later followed Capone to Chicago where he took care of paying the rent at the Lexington and acted as bodyguard there. He was on the plane manifest for Capone's trip to Cuba. (New York Police lineup photo)