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The Famous Capone Soup Kitchen
A lot has been said by many people about this subject. Was Al Capone was a real benefactor or was Capone just using the needy for his own self publicity etc....
Let's take a look at the facts on how and why this soup kitchen came to be. Even with words from Capone's own mouth!
Capone was known to help out. The reasons being probably most than not to attone for the bad things he did. We all do this to make ourselves feel better or look good in the eyes of others. This is especially true whenever our reputation is besmirched for some reason. Anyone high on their own horse will say Capone was just a self serving bastard. Before you do that, look around! Not many people do things without any ulterior motives.
For example, take a look at the people who went after Capone. They went after him not just to appease the public, but also to advance themselves for better jobs later on.
Very rare are those who do things without any merit. There are some, but not as many as those who seek compensation of some sort.
Miami News Record, November 14,1930.
True, Capone was a gangster, a killer. He had to be to climb up the rungs of the criminal ladder. Johhny Torrio while very smart could not stomach the violence. Capone could overcome that obstacle very, very easily. Now that we have established by that he was indeed a bonafide criminal, we can safely assume that whatever he did was not entirely on the up and up. So does his charity work. Capone did things that was win/win for everybody or at least for as many people who could have profited from it.
The Soup Kitchen Idea?
Green Bay Press Gazette, November 15, 1930
The original soup kitchen idea really had nothing to do with Capone. The idea was originally thought up by Daniel Serritella who later suggested it to Capone. On November 2, 1930, there was a gathering in Nick Circella's apartment in Berwyn. Capone had been hiding there often during of the investigation into the murders of reporter Jake Lingle, Jack Zuta and Joe Aiello.
Capone, Circella, and Read were discussing the general elections coming up on November 4.
Capone had deals going with candidates on both parties. Dan Serritella had just arrived at the apartment. Capone turned to Dan and said "By the way, Dan, I don't want that woman beaten badly in the First Ward. Keep your eye on that!" Capone winked at Read. "That's insurance! I told the top men she'd lead the Republicans in the First Ward and so she'd better." He turned again towards Dan. "What about that spot on State Street?" He asked.
"It's going to take about a C note a day to run, any way we figure it.' said Serritella. "That's okay!" said Capone "I don't want to be cheap about it."
"Opening a new place?" Harry Read asked.
"Sure! Now I got a soup kitchen!" exclaimed Capone
"A soup kitchen!" echoed Read in astonishment
"That's right! Affirmed Capone. "There are so many people hungry in the First Ward because of the depression that Dan asked me to back a free handout joint. He's got more starving people down there than he can handle -- all the bums that land in Chicago go to the First Ward. That makes it tough for the people who live there and so we figured if we could feed the drifters it would lighten the load for the regular charity rackets."
Read being the city editor told Capone that it would make a great story! Capone frowned and immediately retorted "Nothing doing! Nix on that! No story! I'd only be panned for doing it!"
Capone could be seen helping out a vet. This was conveniently done with the public watching.
Muncie Evening Press November 15, 1930.
935 South State Street. Hungry men line up to eat a free meal given by Capone.
Capone was very confident that Dan Serritella his protege, would have no difficulty getting elected State Senator from the First District. The fix was in.
Dan Serritella became State Senator just as Capone had predicted. He had been City Sealer for the William Hale Thompson administration.
Irregularities during his City Sealer days were later coming back to bite him. By this time, Capone was carted off to prison for hs income tax evasion.
Serritella and his one time Deputy City sealer (Harry Hochstein) were convicted of fixing the weight of food through grocers. Meaning that the public was short changed whenever they bought anything by weight. This resulted in a monopoly of millions of dollars received through bribes, extortion and defrauding the public. These are the same charges that were brought fourth against Hochstein and Serritella.
Just before Christmas 1930, several trucks from major food store chains pulled up to a warehouse on the Southside of Chicago.
Serritella had presented these stores a list of provisions they were to "Donate" to the cause. In exchange, Serritella would have their short change the public charges dismissed.
Deputy City Inspector Herman Levin that Serritella's secretary had directed him to go to 3022 South Wells (Santa Lucia Church) to direct the packing of Christmas baskets for the needy. December 23, 1930, during the whole day, trucks upon trucks arrived leaving goods to be used for the Christmas basket preparations.
A south side market chain brought chickens and ducks.
A National Tea company truck brought a 1000 cans of corn, tea, half pound bags of sugar, candy.
A Novak truck brought a couple of barrel of hams.
The General Markets truck brought a couple of barrels of raw hams.
Twenty to thirty men who were precinct captains in Serritella's ward were there packing the xmas baskets.
Al Tallinger, who was Dan Serritella's secretary had given the strict order to take the ducks that were delivered and hand them over to Capone bodyguard Phil D'Andrea. The ducks, instead of being used for Christmas baskets, would be diverted to the soup kitchen at 935 South State street.
Once the word was out the crowds multiplied. Once Capone's name was tied to it the authorities were mortified.
While whether or not partly a ploy for public sympathy by Capone just before went to trial, the soup kitchens he opened were still very appreciated by the hungry jobless men in photo who visited daily. In a sense ploy or not, Al did more than the government ever did at that time for the needy. It did personally cost Capone about a c-note ($100) per day to operate. This was beside the "Donated" food. Newspaperman Harry Read stated that he was in Nick Circella's Berwyn apartment with Capone and Serritella when the soup kitchen was planned. Upon hearing about it Read suggested that it would be a great news story but Capone was vehemently against it being publicized. He told Read"Nothing doing! Nix on that -- no story! I'd only get panned for doing it!" The reason Capone backed the soup kitchen was to help out Serritella, who said that there were too many hungry people in Serritella's First Ward because of the depression and that all the needy showing up in Chicago ended up at the First Ward. This made it tough for the people already living there so the soup kitchen was sure to alleviate the burden. In Capone's words "It would lighten the load for the regular charity rackets."
This intelligent statement is right on the money!
(Louisville Courier Journal, December 10, 1930).
Thompson giving a speech while Capone man /Thompsonite marked with an "X" Daniel A. Serritella looks on.
Serritella and Harry Hochstein (City Sealer and Deputy City Sealer) will both be convicted of graft through connivance with butchers and grocers in short weighting food to the public. One of Serritella's ideas was to have Capone open a soup kitchen for the needy in which grocers were co-erced into donating items such as ducks for Christmas baskets. The ducks quickly found their way not into baskets, but on their way to Phil D'Andrea's house. They then in turn they became the dinner at the soup kitchen. Serritella and Hochstein will get both one year in jail and $2000 fine for grafting $54,000,000 from the public through grocers and butchers.
(Grafting Info Chicago Tribune April 5,1931)
September 9, 1931, Daniel Serritella (Arrow next to Jack McGurn) behind Capone at Comiskey park.
To the left is politician Albert J. Prignano.
Al Capone's actual donations to the needy as assessed and recorded by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.
The needy being fed. You could eat as much as you want, but you had to eat it there. A few exceptions were made whereas food could be taken home if the unemployed man had a family to feed.
In Philadelphia, during his 1929-1930 prison stint, Al again showed some of his charity towards the needy. This action was expressed by Warden Herbert Smith of Eastern State Penitentiary.
(Anniston Star March 10,1930).
In conclusion the facts are the following;
1) Capone backed the soup kitchen that was suggested by his pal Dan Serritella in order to alleviate the influx of hungry showing up to his Ward. He did not want his name known, but the newspapers eventually fished it out.
2) Capone did give $100 day towards the operation of the kitchen.
3) Food was strong armed by Serritella via extortion. Stores with violations could have their violations disappear through the city channels with the contribution of food or money.
4) Serritella used the soup kitchen publicity for his First Ward in order to get William Hale Thompson votes from his First Ward constituents.
5) January 15, 1931, Enrico Bertocchi, manager at Al Capone's soup kitchen is shot to death while riding in a car with a dentist. In his pockets is found a paper mentioning purchasing machine guns and shotguns from St. Louis. It is believed Bertocchi wants to start his own gang.
6) On April 10, 1931, the soup kitchen closed. The reasons mentioned was that the economy had picked up and new jobs were on the market making the hungry line not so abundant.
7) During his trial, Capone vowed that the soup kitchen would re-open, whether or not he was found guilty. This statement did not follow through.
In the end, the reality was the soup kitchen had been primarily state senator Daniel Serritella's idea, and not Al Capone's at all! Serritella ran with the venture in order to garner votes from his constituents for Mayor William Hale Thompson's re-election bid. Once he saw that Thompson's chances were fading the soup kitchen was promptly closed!
Capone extends his charity even in his jail surroundings.
(Longview News Journal, December 27, 1931).
In May 1932, Daniel Serritella and Harry Hochstein were given each a year in jail and a $2000 fine for their grocers extortion role.
Daniel had been a well known friend of Al Capone and Harry Hochstein himself had even gone to see the gang chief off to prison at the Dearborn train station.
Was Capone a benefactor?
You be the judge!
On upon hearing of Capone's death in 1947, only the poverty stricken remembered Al Capone's kindness.
(The Times January 27,1947).