restricted access 4 The Bad Pennies
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4 The Bad Pennies Gus Winkeler always envied those whose station in life was superior to hisown.Inhisownwordshelikedto“putontheRitz,”butlackofmoney prevented him from improving his acquaintances. Although he associated largely with the criminal element he resented their uncouthness and was disgusted with the complete lack of refinement in most of them. So when I planned his twenty-third birthday party for March 28, 1923, I decided to invite only his very best friends—those I felt would have enough respect for him to conduct themselves properly. Homebrew,thealmostuniversalbeverageatthattime,hadbeenageing for weeks in the basement of our home on Gravois Street in St. Louis County.Ihadarrangedforasmallorchestra,acanvashadbeenstretched across the grass as an improvised dance floor, long tables flanked the canvas, and the trees were festooned with Japanese lanterns to light the scene. Ispenttheentiredaypreparingchickens,sandwiches,salads,sweetmeats and dozens of other dishes identified with the party lunch. Knowing only a few of Gus’ friends I took Tommy O’Connor and his wife, Jack Britt, and Lou McConroy into my confidence. [Not the same“TerribleTommy”O’Connorwho,threedaysbeforehisscheduled hanging, escaped from Chicago police in 1924 and was never found.] “YouknowwhoGus’friendsare,”Itoldthem.“I’mgoingtotrustyou to invite some nice people.” The hour for the party arrived, and the guests I had invited personally arrived with it. The lanterns were lighted, the orchestra played, and 28 the bad pennies 29 as Gus and I stood arm in arm viewing the scene I was proud of my work. But I was not prepared to reap the whirlwind, which drew up at the curb in front of our house in the shape of a rickety old car decorated with all the known wisecracks. The car was followed by others. Britt, McConroy and O’Connor had done their work too well. The word had gone out that there was a “blowout” at Gus Winkeler’s house. Out of the cars poured safecrackers in boiled shirts, pickpockets in checkered suits, bank robbers with bristling hair, holdup men with furtive eyes—in fact, the cream and the skimmed milk of St. Louis’ gangland.Allwereaccompaniedbywomen—mostofthemgaudy,some shoddy, and all of doubtful character. “Good lord, Gus!” I cried aghast. “Are these ruffians friends of yours?” The newcomers had taken possession of the place without greeting the hosts. They shouted, cursed, and jostled each other as they made for the tables where the beer was ready to serve. Bottle caps popped. The overflow of guests could not find enough glasses. They dashed into the house and brought out stew pans, soup bowls, flower vases and anything that would hold beer. While Gus and I stood helplessly by they wrecked our party. Most of them were partly or completely drunk and becoming more and more objectionable. They brawled on the dance canvas and indulged in all kinds of vulgarity. AllIcoulddowaswringmyhandsandsay:“Myparty,oh,myparty.” The life had gone out of Gus. He leaned dejectedly against a tree, his shoulders slumped and his hands in his pockets. “This is the work of Lou and Jack,” he said. “I’ll show ’em.” As the party fever mounted Gus moved over to me and dropped his arm around my shoulders. “I’m sorry, honey,” he said. “I’ll make this up to you. I’ll quit this gang of riff-raff. I’ll be somebody if I have to go straight to do it. All I want is ten years, just ten years, honey, and we’ll give a party that’ll wipe out the memory of these damned hogs.” “We’ll have friends that are somebody, and that’s a promise.” “Bring out the eats and let’s get it over with.” 30 al capone and his american boys I started carrying the food from the house. There were not enough forksandspoons.HardlybeforeIcouldputthebowls,baskets,andplates on the table the food was scooped out by the hands of the guests and devoured standing. There was a general rush, centered at the tables. The lunch disappeared as if by magic. The visitors were too far into their drinks to care to dance. Gazing around and finding nothing else to eat, someone shouted: “Let’s go where there is some excitement, gang,” and the whole crowd staggered away, and departed boisterously down the street in their flivver. What a scene they left behind. The dance canvas and yard was ankle deep in napkins, bottles, dishes, discarded food and other rubbish. Tables and chairs were broken. The music of the orchestra was a mockery. I leaned on Gus’ shoulder and...


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Subject Headings

  • Crime -- Illinois -- Chicago -- History -- 20th century.
  • Murder -- Illinois -- Chicago -- History -- 20th century.
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