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Al Capone's Personal Cuckoo Clock
From his Lexington office suite 230 and later suite 430.
Known as "The Outfit clock".
Description from Caponeestate.com
Black Forest Cuckoo Clock
***Hanging behind Al Capone’s desk, this large black forest cuckoo clock made a real statement. Made by Hubert Herr, this antique German clock measures a massive 36 inches tall and 26 inches wide.
Pretty unusual size for a cuckoo clock compared to the standard clock. This clock was for sale at Caponeestate.com
So says the statement there. The item and most of them listed there come from Madeline Capone whom was Ralph Capone Sr.'s wife.
Ralph as we all know was Al's brother. I have purchased several items there. After research, I can vouch for the authenticity of the items such as Al's silver photo locket watch fob, which is undeniably his. But what about this cuckoo clock?
*** This clock was not behind Al Capone's desk, but was on the North wall of his office facing him when he was seated at his desk situated at the bay windows.
ATR 2015 press release
"Collection of Infamous Capone Family Estate Items Available for Purchase
Kenosha, WI. – ATR Estate Sales is pleased to announce that items from the infamous Capone family are now available for purchase. The historic collection is being liquidated from the Capone family lodge in Mercer, Wi., and contains pieces from the Al Capone and Ralph Capone families collected before and after the Capone brother’s incarcerations, and through the development of the Rex Bar and Mercer Lodge."
Fast forward to 2018.
I looked at this item on numerous occaisions when I was bored and had nothing to do. One day while looking at it I decided to pick up some of my old Capone books and give them a run through again after so many years of letting them collect dust.
In Fred Pasley's 1930 Al Capone biography we can find on page 349
Intricate detailing carved by German artists. The clock gives off a sweet, musty musk type of smell. I can imagine Capone and visitors to his office smoking cigars that eventually seeped into the wood.
Interesting, but not conclusive.
More time passes. Re-reading Kobler's book on Capone published in 1971.
Another clue, but Kobler may have just gotten it from Pasley's book. More time passes.
One day, I come across some documents that were memoirs / diary of a reporter. His name was Harry Cyril Read and he happened to be a good friend of Al Capone. In 1929, Mr. Read was city editor for the Chicago American newspaper, and later the Chicago Herald Examiner. He covered many gangster stories during that tumultuous era in Chicago.
Made in Germany by Hubert Herr.
In the early part January of 1929.
Harry Read as most reporters did back then, wanted to get the edge on other newspapers with a scoop on the underworld. Al Capone fascinated him. So much so that he wanted to meet him personally. This would be almost 5 years since the first time he crossed eyes with Capone. Read was at the Cook County building when Capone was being questioned in 1924, about the Joseph Howard murder. Read remembers well the hulking figure that sat in the chair being interrogated by Assistant State's prosecutor William McSwiggin. Read was surprised to hear Capone's high pitched voice give the answers. Read was almost expected a deep basso.
1929 had Mayor William Thompson in the seat guiding the city of Chicago. One of his men was Daniel Serritella, who became city sealer. (City Sealers are employees responsible for checking standard weights and measures of businesses). Daniel Serritella was also known as being part of the Capone crowd vsiting The Lexington Hotel often to visit the "Big Guy". Read knew Serritella well and dropped in to see him. "Can you do me a favor?" he asked. "Can you arrange for me to meet Al Capone?" And so after a promise of non divulgence, Serritella, who knew Capone told him he would see what he could do. A week later the call was made to Read. Serritella vouched for Read's honesty and Capone agreed to meet him.
X to the right of photo shows Daniel Serritella listening intently to William Hale Thompson's speech.
Harry Cyril Read
Photo courtesy of Mr. Dave Read.
Below is from from Harry Read's unpublished memoirs recounting his first official meeting with Al Capone in suite 230, (Registered under the name George Phillips) which was the original office setup before Capone and crew moved up to Room 430 in mid 1929.
It was shown through witness testimony during his income tax trial that Al Capone bought a huge amount of furniture at 1353 South Wabash, which was then the Peck & Hills furniture store. It is possible that is where this clock came from, that, or it may have been gifted to him.
The Capone brothers, particularly Al and Ralph were avid hunting enthusiasts. This cuckoo clock was called Black Forest or Hunter.
We are now in Al Capone's office in The Lexington Hotel.
This excerpt below is taken from Harry Read's unpublished memoir called "Capone as I knew him."
By turning his chair he could look directly down on the four corners of Michigan Avenue and Twenty-second Street. A second desk stood against the south wall immediately to my left. Opposite, against the north wall, was a beautifully carved Chinese cabinet with the largest cuckoo clock I have ever seen hanging above it. A third desk was pushed against the west wall and across the room, facing it, was a radio console between a fireplace and the door through which we had entered. The only pictures were conventional prints of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. A threadbare carpet, a number of substantial arm chairs and an electric adding machine thrust into a corner completed the furnishings. The place was an amazing hodge-podge with its modern office equipment and radio, its historical pictures, its Chinese cabinet and German cuckoo clock. When Capone noticed the frequency with which my eyes strayed back to that enormous timepiece his foot again sought the buzzer.
"Rocky," he ordered, "play the cuckoo clock, will you?"
"S'broke," replied Rocky in one syllable.
"Broke! Who broke it?"
"Some of the boys were making it go," said Rocky with a grin.
Capone walked around the desk. "Come on let's look at it anyway," he said. "That's a swell clock. Got two birds in it. One comes out every fifteen minutes end chirps once for the quarter, two for the half, three for three-quarters and four on the hour.
"He's a little bird. When he starts his four squawks his big pal pops out and cuckoo's how many hours it is. And a gong bangs inside. A deaf man could hear it. I had a hard time getting used to it when it first ran and the outfit nearly drove me nuts touching it off when I wasn't expecting it. They would wait until I got a long distance telephone call and then make it strike twelve.
"Maybe you can have it fixed," I suggested.
"Nothing doing!" he replied. "One of these days I'd drop it out the window. Don't get it fixed -- you hear, Rocky?"
His attendant nodded and dropped a terse inquiry.
"Yes; but bring in some more drinks."
Diagram shows North wall where cuckoo clock hung above a cabinet.
Rocco Fischetti, also knicknamed Rocky or Rocks.
Rocco Fischetti was Capone's get it done guy while in The Lexington. Read stated Rocky was there for Capone 's every beck and call. whether it be drinks, food or to do something. Rocco even signed money transfers sent to Capone in Miami.
Top; Illinois State representative Albert Prignano, R.A. Gordon, former Georgia councilman and father of "Fritz", Al Capone and lawyer James Francis " Fritz" Gordon. Bottom; Miami Dr. A.J. Bertram and Chicago American city editor Harry Read.
Tropical Gardens Havana, Cuba April 29,1930. SEE CUBA
Courtesy: The American Catholic Historical Research Center and University Archives (ACUA), The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC
Al Capone signed photo given to his friend reporter Harry Cyril Read. Capone liked Read because he had proven to keep his word by keeping their conversations out of the papers. Capone did not divulge any important gang activities to Read, but only the current gangland happenings that were appearing in the newspapers at that time. Read was eventually denounced by St. Louis Star reporter Harry T. Brundidge as being buddies with Al. Newspaper reporters were being exposed as being on the take and being paid off by gangsters. Some semblance of this rang true when Chicago Tribune reporter Alfred Jake Lingle was shot and killed. After the initial uproar of his murder which almost rose him to sainthood, investigators soon found out that Lingle was lining his pockets and playing both sides of the street with various gangs. During the Lingle murder investigation, Brundidge's allegation of reporters being on Capone's and other mob's payroll put in motion for a grand jury investigation.
Brundige had interviewed Capone. Capone agreed but warned him not to print their conversation. Brundidge nonetheless printed the story to which Capone denied everything. Brundige called out reporters Harry Read (Chicago American) and Ted Todd (Herald Examiner). According to Brundidge, Read was supposedly on the Capone payroll while Todd was in the George Moran camp. During the grand jury investigation into the death of Jake Lingle, no evidence was ever found to support Brundidge's claims.
Excerpt of actual documents from Harry Read's memoirs.
Courtesy: The American Catholic Historical Research Center and University Archives (ACUA), The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC
Rocky in the story above is none other than Rocco Fischetti.
Final verdict; The cuckoo clock that was in the ATR Capone family estate sale is indeed the same clock that was originally in Al Capone's Lexington Hotel office suite room 230! It was then later moved up to suite 430 when the outfit finally got the freed up space on the fourth floor that they originally wanted in 1928. SEE LEXINGTON
Immediately after Al was hauled off to the county jail and then prison, his brother Ralph immediately took charge of all Al's effects and had movers take many of Al's personal items out of the Lexington hotel suite. He had them sent back to his family home for safe keeping. By November of 1931, and after a series of raids, the Lexington suite was now deserted. Even Capone's cook and dishwasher were taken away. During his trial Judge Wilkerson had declared this suite and the surrounding suites as an outlaw camp of criminal types. Before Al's death, the clock ended up at Ralph's Wisconsin home. It was appropriate seeing as his abode was decorated as a hunter's lodge.
1) The precise details by Capone's friend who saw it and was amazed by it's huge size. Normal cuckoo clocks are not 36"x 26"
2) It also has 2 birds. Most clocks only have one.
3) It's made in Germany just like Harry Read stated it was. How did he know and why would he even bother mentioning this detail of the clock being German? By the Made in Germany words on the face dial which he probably saw and took note of.
4) He stated in his memoirs that it didn't run because one of the outfit members broke it trying to make it go. When asked by Harry Read if he wanted it fixed Capone replied no, because while he loved it, sometimes it also drove him nuts! The clock hasn't run since that day the gangsters broke it and to this very day the clock hasn't worked just the way Capone wanted it. When I contacted Reinhard Herr from the original clock maker in Germany, he told me to not repair it because of it's age. He told me repairing it with new parts would decrease the value. I did manage to make it work long enough for all the history buffs to see and hear it in action. Who doesn't want to see what big Al saw or heard? I did manually blow some air into the flutes to hear the original bird cuckoos. While no automatic cuckoo sound due to the bellows having since deteriorated after 90 years, there is still nonetheless the bird mechanism that is working. You can hear the gong sound how many times the bird is supposed to be chirping for the 1/4,1/2, 3/4 and hour intervals. Read below.
5) So yes! It works exactly how Capone had described it! "Got two birds in it. One comes out every fifteen minutes end chirps once for the quarter, two for the half, three for three-quarters and four on the hour.
"He's a little bird. When he starts his four squawks his big pal pops out and cuckoo's how many hours it is. And a gong bangs inside."
See recent Video of Exact bird configuration described by Capone in 1929.
The 80 year old clock was in Ralph Capone's family's possession. Ralph had most of Al's possessions removed from the Lexington suite after he was sent to prison.
6) It comes from the Capone family estate via www.caponeestate.com
I have dealt with Mr. Josh Beam and his team at ATR in the past. I had purchased Al's locket with the photos of Mae, Sonny, mom Theresa and sister Mafalda.
What became of Harry Read?
After the Capone era, Harry Read went on to work on several newspapers. He later wrote several works such as writing a history of World War 1, a biography on Woodrow Wilson and a manual on parlimentary law. Interested in Unions, Read founded the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists in Chicago. He later moved to Washington D.C. where he became assistant to the treasury secretary of the the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.
Harry Read will pass away on October 22, 1957. Being a WW1 veteran, he will be interred with honors in Arlington National Cemetary.
Rest in peace Mr. Read.
Photo courtesy of Mr. Paul Hays.
"That's a swell clock." - Al Capone 1929.
Clock age confirmation from original Herr company who made the clock. They are now in their fifth generation at the company.
The same cuckoo clock from their original catalog.
When purchased, the deer head and two gun attachment was missing. It was either broken, lost or possibly misplaced by the Capone family. Since it was detachable, one can maybe assume this add on probably made the already huge clock piece too massive and the deer head probably touched the top of the ceiling in the Lexington suite. At this point, one can only guess!
Clock museum contacted me after my initial email to the Herr company was sent to the museum.
A bit of the cuckoo clock history via the Herr company.
(Scanned document courtesy of the Hubert Herr Company)
Certificate from ATR.
Affidavit from Ralph Capone's wife.
Special thanks to Josh Beam and the whole ATR team!
Thank-you to Shane MacDonald at The Catholic University of America. His tireless research helped me out immensely. This web page is dedicated to the memory of Harry Cyril Read. Without his meticulous memoirs, the authentication of this clock would have never come into existence.