politics & history 13 Things You Didn't Know About Al Capone

Jeff Richard
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Who was Al Capone? For some, his name stirs up images of a cigar-chomping folk-hero-mobster involved in everything from racketeering to murder and drug-running (and what would ultimately put him behind bars, tax evasion). For others, maybe there's a desire to know the truth about the man who inspired Scarface. It's also possible you're just curious as his syphilitic dementia.

In any case, Alphonse Gabriel "Al" Capone is more than the sum of the above, an enigmatic, ruthless, and highly-respected individual who was one the 20th century's most infamous cultural figures before he was even thirty years-old. Have you ever asked yourself, "what did Al Capone do?" Are you interested in the realities of the prohibition gangster's life? Below are some things you may not know about the man who once earned the title Public Enemy Number One. 

Capone Came from Nothing (Sort Of)

Capone Came from Nothing (Sort... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 13 Things You Didn't Know About Al Capone
Photo: Photographer Unknown/Public Domain

Everyone loves a success story. It's the American dream come to fruition. Capone certainly fits the criteria for the classic American rags-to-riches narrative, albeit his hard work came in the form of racketeering and the occasional kidnapping. 

Still, despite his eventual infamy, Capone started out small. Born in 1899 to Italian immigrant parents in Brooklyn, Al was the youngest of nine children. The family lived in a rundown tenement near the Navy yard, their neighborhood overrun with sailors looking for booze and prostitutes. Unlike many other immigrants at the time, Capone's father was well-educated and cosmopolitan (from Naples). The Capone family was respectable and professional.

Although straight-and-narrow for much of his early years, Capone developed a wild streak in school that culminated in him hitting a female teacher at age 14. He was expelled, and eventually found his way into organized crime by way of boss Johnny Torrio who, like Capone's father, was from Naples. 

He Got His Scars from the Brother of a Woman He Harassed

He Got His Scars from the Brot... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 13 Things You Didn't Know About Al Capone
Photo: United States Department of Justice/Public Domain

After getting booted out of school, Capone found work as a bouncer at a local club called the Harvard Inn. It was in this position that, with one random insult, Capone earned the nickname of a lifetime.  

Supposedly, it went down like this: one night, while Capone worked the door at the Harvard Inn, Frank Galluccio strolled into the joint with his sister, Lena, who caught Al's eye. Capone offered to take her for a walk on the beach, to which she refused. Later that evening, Al called out to her, "I'll tell you one thing, you got a nice ass honey, and I mean that as a compliment."

Needless to say, Frank didn't take this so well. Outsized by Capone, Galluccio busted out a knife, slashing Al across his face three times. This left Capone with 80 stitches and his legendary nickname. 

He Rode in a Custom-Built Cadillac

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Photo:  RM Auctions

Capone had a thing for custom suits once he got a little change in his pocked. But what good is a tailored outfit if you're riddled with bullet holes and covered in blood? When you're shelling out $500 a pop just for fabric (about $6,500 in 2016), you gotta protect your investment. 

His solution? Outfit his ride, a 1928 Cadillac V-8 Town Sedan, with enough armor plating to laugh off anyone who might try to ruin his pin-stripes. Loaded with 3,000 lbs of steel plating and bulletproof glass windows, Capone's ride also came with some nifty extras, such as holes built into the sides and rear of the chassis so henchmen could return machine gun fire from would-be attackers.

His Friends Had Their Own Nickname For Him

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Photo: Chicago Bureau (Federal Bureau of Investigation)/Public Domain

It's one thing to earn the nickname Scarface, but Snorky? That conjures up an entirely different set of images. As it turns out, snorky was Chicago gamg slang for a snazzy dresser, making it a totally apt nickname for the man with the imported Italian silk suits. Capone's friends also called him "The Big Fellow," for obvious reasons. 

He Accidentally Shot Himself While Playing Drunk Golf

He Accidentally Shot Himself W... is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list 13 Things You Didn't Know About Al Capone
Photo: Pennsylvania Department of Corrections / FBI/Public Domain

On September of 1928, Capone teed off with buddies "Machine-Gun" Jack McGurn, Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik, and Fred "The Killer" Burke at Burnham Woods golf course. Capone was an avid golfer, and took to the course to raise hell as much as play the game. According to author John Binder, "His rounds were devoted to having fun with his gangster friends who drank plenty each hole, gambled recklessly on the stroke of a ball and carried loaded weapons in their golf bags for use in emergences."

On that fateful day in September, Capone accidentally discharging a revolver while rummaging through his bag for a club (why not put a revolver in with your clubs?). He was taken to St. Margaret's hospital under the name Geary, to keep a low-profile. 

He Would Be Worth More Than $1 Billion in 2016

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Photo: FBI/United States Bureau of Prisons/Public Domain

Even with all the big spending on expensive suits, fancy jewels, and a tricked-out '28 Cadillac, Capone never had to worry about pinching any pennies. His net worth was staggering. By the end of the roaring '20s, the Chicago mob boss had a hand in bootlegging, prostitution, gambling, racketeering, and various vices in between, all of which earned him about $100 million per year. Adjusted for inflation, Capone would be worth about $1.3 billion in 2016. 

He Owned More Than Half Chicago's Police

He Owned More Than Half Chicag... is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list 13 Things You Didn't Know About Al Capone
Photo: State Library and Archives of Florida/Public Domain

During Capone's reign in Chicago, the Big Fellow had one golden rule to ensure there was zero competition and no dissent: kill anyone who got in his way. From rival bootleggers to his own customers, Al was very clear on this point. Of course, this created a bit of problem, since murder is a big time no no. To solve any problems that might arise from his gang's murderous activities, Capone kept countless police officers, public officials, lawyers, and judges in his pocket, spending millions per year to make sure he always had plenty of the right people on his side.

His Mental State Deteriorated

His Mental State Deteriorated is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list 13 Things You Didn't Know About Al Capone
Photo: Federal Bureau of Prisons/Public Domain

Al Capone contracted syphilis at 18 and never received treatment. If you know anything about the disease, you'll know what comes next; the syphilis slowly eroded his mind, leaving him little more than a shell of his former self. By the early 1940's, a few years before his death, Capone was said to have the intelligence of a seven-year old due to the severity of his neurosyphilis. On multiple occasions, Capone lashed out at nurses. He was also often seen mumbling to himself.