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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Chicago Mobster Charles Dean O’Banion

charles-o-banionCharles Dean O’Banion, better known as Dion O’Banion, is born to Irish Catholic parents in Maroa, Illinois on July 8, 1892. He graduates from the violent newspaper wars of early 20th century Chicago to become the chief bootlegging rival of mobsters Al Capone and Johnny Torrio.

After the death of his mother in 1901, O’Banion moves with his family to a North Side neighborhood populated largely by other Irish Americans. The neighborhood, then known as Kilgubbin after an Irish place name and now called Goose Island, is notorious for its high crime rate, and O’Banion by all accounts fit easily into that environment. In his teens, he forms a street gang with Earl “Hymie” Weiss, Vincent “The Schemer” Drucci and George “Bugs” Moran with whom he continues to associate throughout his life.

Chicago of the period is, according to Mayor William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson, a “wide open city.” Wide open for rackets such as prostitution and gambling, and wide open for violent competition among gangsters. Bombings and murder are met with token official resistance but are often settled by uneasy truces among the rivals.

The violence extends to the press. O’Banion and his friends are “sluggers” for, first, the Chicago Tribune and later for the Tribune’s rival, the Chicago Examiner. Sluggers intimidate sellers and readers of the wrong newspaper. Although played for laughs in stage and film in productions such as The Front Page, the Chicago newspaper wars are quite violent and include lethal gunfights in saloons and on the streets.

In 1909, O’Banion is arrested and convicted of robbery and assault.

The newspapers wars are a good warm-up for O’Banion’s work as a bootlegger when Prohibition comes into effect in 1920. Chicago, with its large population of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Italy and Eastern Europe, is a town that loves its beer, wine and liquor. Almost from the start, O’Banion’s North Side Gang is at odds with the South Side outfit led at the time by Torrio.

About 1921, O’Banion and Torrio, who actively wants peace with his rival, works out a deal that seems to satisfy both the South Side gangsters and O’Banion’s group. O’Banion not only keeps the North Side and the Gold Coast, a wealthy neighborhood on Lake Michigan, but he even gets a slice of Cicero, a suburb controlled by Torrio and Capone on the South Side of Chicago, and they all share profits from a lakefront casino called The Ship.

Eventually the peace breaks down. O’Banion is enraged by efforts of a third gang, the Genna crime family’s West Side Gang, to expand its bootlegging and rackets operations into his territory. The Gennas are allied with Torrio’s South Side gang. O’Banion seals his fate when he refuses to forgive a gambling debt that one of the Gennas had racked up at The Ship.

On the morning of November 10, 1924, O’Banion is in his North Side flower shop, Schofield’s, a front for his mob activities. A Torrio associate from New York City, Frankie Yale, enters the shop with Genna gunmen John Scalise and Albert Anselmi. When O’Banion and Yale shake hands, Yale grasps O’Banion’s hand in a tight grip. At the same time, Scalise and Anselmi step aside and fire two bullets into O’Banion’s chest and two into his throat. One of the killers fires a final shot into the back of his head as he lies face down on the floor.

Since O’Banion is a major crime figure, the Catholic Church denies him burial in consecrated ground. However, a priest O’Banion has known since childhood recites the Lord’s Prayer and three Hail Marys in his memory. Despite this restriction, his funeral is the biggest anyone can remember. Among those attending are Al Capone and members of the South Side Gang. But there soon will be other funerals. The Beer Wars, as they become known, are just beginning.

Torrio escapes an assassination attempt in 1925 and turns over his operation to Capone, the greatest gangster of all. O’Banion’s friend and conspirator Hymie Weiss, who is fingered as one of those who tried to kill Torrio, is gunned down in 1926. In 1929, in an effort to permanently put down the North Side Gang, led then by Bugs Moran, seven of the North Side mobsters are killed in the infamous Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, but Moran survives through the end of Prohibition in 1933.

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Accused Witch Ann Glover is Hanged in Boston

ann-gloverGoodwife “Goody” Ann Glover is hanged by the Puritans in Boston on November 16, 1688. She is the last person to be hanged in Boston as a witch, although the Salem witch trials in nearby Salem, Massachusetts, occur primarily in 1692.

Glover is born in Ireland as a Roman Catholic although her birth date and much of her background information is unknown. During Oliver Cromwell‘s invasion of Ireland where he rounds up thousands of Irish and Scots, Glover and her husband are transported as indentured servants to Barbados to work on the sugar plantations. Her husband is executed in Barbados for refusing to renounce his Catholic faith. Historians do not know the context but, at his death, he says that his wife is a witch.

By 1680, Glover and her daughter are living in Boston where they work as housekeepers for John Goodwin. In the summer of 1688, 13-year-old Martha Goodwin accuses Glover’s daughter of stealing laundry. This causes Glover to have a fierce argument with Martha and the Goodwin children which then supposedly causes them to become ill and start acting strange. The doctor that is called suggests it is caused by witchcraft because he could not diagnose or heal the children.

Glover is arrested and tried for witchcraft. It is unclear whether she can not speak English or just refuses to speak it. It is more likely that she simply does not know English. Instead she speaks her native language, Irish, and Latin. Reverend Cotton Mather writes that Glover is “a scandalous old Irishwoman, very poor, a Roman Catholic and obstinate in idolatry.” At her trial it is demanded of her to say the Lord’s Prayer. She recites it in Irish and broken Latin, but since she has never learned it in English, she can not recite it in English. There is a belief that if someone can not recite the Lord’s Prayer then they are a witch. Her house is searched and “small images” or doll-like figures are found. When Mather is interrogating her she supposedly says that she prays to a host of spirits and Mather takes this to mean that these spirits are demons. Two Puritan men who supposedly speak Irish say that she confessed to using them for witchcraft. The identity of these men and whether they actually speak Irish is unknown. Many of the accusations against Glover use spectral evidence, which can not be proven. Cotton Mather visits Glover in prison where he says she supposedly engages in nighttime trysts with the devil and other evil spirits. It is considered that Glover might not be of sound mind and could possibly be mentally ill. Five of six physicians examine her and find her to be competent so she is then pronounced guilty and put to death by hanging.

On November 16, 1688, Glover is hanged in Boston amid mocking shouts from the crowd. When she is taken out to be hanged she says that her death will not relieve the children of their malady. There are several testaments of what her final words are. According to some, she says that the children will keep suffering because there are other witches besides her who have been involved with bewitching the children and when asked to name the other witches, she refuses. Another account says that Glover says that killing her will be useless because it is someone else that has bewitched the children. Either way, Ann Glover does believe in witches. A Boston merchant who knows her, Robert Calef, says that “Goody Glover was a despised, crazy, poor old woman, an Irish Catholic who was tried for afflicting the Goodwin children. Her behavior at her trial was like that of one distracted. They did her cruel. The proof against her was wholly deficient. The jury brought her guilty. She was hung. She died a Catholic.”

Three hundred years later in 1988, the Boston City Council proclaims November 16 as Goody Glover Day. She is the only victim of the witchcraft hysteria in the Massachusetts Bay Colony to receive such a tribute. Although Ann Glover’s accusations and death take place before the commonly known Salem Witch Trials, she is the first Catholic martyr in Massachusetts and becomes the basis for many of the cases in the 1692 Salem witch trials.