Most people don't know much about Al Capone except for what they see in movies and sensationalized headlines: that of a violent bootlegger whose name was among the most notorious during the days of Prohibition.
But one of the last people on Earth with actual memory of Al Capone, his niece Deirdre Marie Capone, doesn't see him this way and is trying to change how history views her uncle.
Capone and South Florida share a special connection. After serving his prison sentence at Alcatraz for tax evasion, Capone retired to a mansion in Miami-Dade County's Palm Island for nearly seven years before dying there in 1947.
Even though his niece Deirdre was only 7 years old when he died, she holds many fond memories of her uncle, and she wants to share them with the world. She's made several public appearances over the years dispelling what she considers an inaccurate version of her uncle's character. Despite Hollywood's previous depictions of her uncle, Deirdre herself alludes to a soon-to-be-released movie telling what she considers a more accurate story of her uncle's life. Deirdre tells more about her uncle at her website, UncleAlCapone.com.
She talks about the discrimination she faced when growing up with the last name of Capone in Chicago in the years following her uncle's death. She eventually married and moved to Minnesota with her husband in 1972 before eventually relocating to the Fort Myers area in Florida, where she's been living for the past 19 years.
Templeton whiskey was Capone's favorite, according to his niece. This Saturday, he would have been 116 years old. Clean Plate Charlie recently got a chance to talk with Deirdre about her uncle.
CPC: How well did you know your Uncle Al?
Deirdre Capone: I knew him very well. People remarked that he died on my seventh birthday. But people have to understand that my grandfather, Ralph, was Al's older brother and his business partner. And I had my grandfather teaching me things, telling me things, and reminding me of things until I was 34 years old.
What's your most memorable experience with your uncle?
I would go every spring and I would help Ralph's mother, my grandmother, pick dandelions to make dandelion soup because she felt that it cleaned the body out. So I did that, and I went outside, and Al and his mother were sitting on these chairs, and they had their faces up toward the sun just trying to get the vitamin D from the sun. And I went over to my uncle, and I said, "Uncle Al, can I climb this apple tree?" So he said yes but go and be careful. So I climbed the apple tree and I slipped and I fell backwards, and of course it knocked the air out of me. And that was the first time in my life where I've ever had the air knocked out of my lungs. And it scared me. I don't know if that's ever happened to you, but you can't breathe for a minute. Al came over and picked me up, and I heard my father yelling, "Dierdre, are you OK?" And he said, "Yes, she just had the wind knocked out of her," and he picked me up and put me on his shoulder and I started breathing again. And then he took me into the house upstairs where he lived where he taught me how to play the mandolin. And he taught me an Italian lullaby that I would sing to my children every night when they were little.
You see your uncle as a family man, but other people only know him from popular media depictions as a gangster. Only knowing him in this way, do you think it's a fair estimation of his character?
Yes, because what I believe is the character that has been created is a Hollywood deprecation. You know, the only thing that they got Al Capone on is income tax evasion. You know, there were major bootleggers in every big city in the United States of America, and there were only four bootleggers that ever served time in the federal penitentiary. All of them were arrested for income tax evasion, and all of them were in Chicago. I know the real story behind it, and it's going to be in my movie. But my grandfather was first arrested for income tax evasion for the same years, for the same amount of money, and he stood trial first. Well, the papers all over the world were covering the trial. Hollywood saw a chance because Al Capone was going to be tried six months from now. So they saw a chance to get publicity free, free publicity because of the trial. So they came with three movies. The first movie in 1931 was Little Caesar. The second movie was Public Enemy. The third movie was The Untouchables. All three of those movies, if you look at the playbill, the subtitles "Shame of a Nation," "Young Hoodlum grows up in Brooklyn and Becomes This Horrible Monster." The people in the city of Chicago in 1930, 1929, 1928 knew Al Capone. They knew him for what he was: a businessman, a gentleman, and a really good citizen. Do you know when the stock market crashed in 1929, my family opened the first soup kitchen this country has ever seen? And they fed people every day for six months.
Did people treat you any differently because you were a Capone?
When my father entered me into Catholic school, he was trying to protect me. So he used his middle name as though it were my last name. My father was Ralph Gabriel C. Al Capone was Alphonse Gabriel Capone. They were named after my grandfather, Gabriel Capone. They both had the honor in that Italian family to have that man's name. So he entered me in school as Deirdre Gabriel. So when this story came out, how many Deirdres do you think were in the city of Chicago in 1947, let alone this little school? There was only 40 second-grade students. Well, two weeks later, every boy, every girl in that second grade class was invited to a girl's birthday party, but not me. After that, I was never invited to a birthday party. I would try to have a birthday party; no one would come. Why? Because my classmates' parents didn't know anything about Al Capone. So when he died in 1947, they reprinted all of this horrible stuff that they said he did. They thought I was this horrible person from a family of monsters, and they had nothing to do with me. So yeah, it was tough to grow up. People can have their own opinion but not their own facts. I can show you over and over things that have been written in books, things that have been written in newspapers where the reporter or the journalist or the historian wants to say something that nobody else knew, and they make up facts. And I've had to suffer from it.
How do you want your uncle or your family name to be remembered going forward?
There is nothing I can do to change history. Nothing. I cannot do that. A I can do is be a representative for my family. When I appear, when I talk, when I am interviewed, I am representing my husband, my ancestors, and my God. And I will speak the truth, and I will be bold, and that's all I can do. I have a movie ready, and hopefully the movie will be out in 2016. All I want is a chance to give people an honest look at that era. You know, there is no bootlegger in the world that could have done business for more than a week without the cooperation of politicians and policemen. When the politicians found that they could line their pockets by only allowing certain beer trucks into their wards, into their city blocks, their towns, that's what started the beer wars.
Tickets are still available for The Al Capone Templeton Rye Whiskey Dinner at $125 each. To reserve a spot, call 954-935-6699. The dinner starts at 7 p.m. at the Seminole Casino in Coconut Creek. All guests receive a signed copy of Deirdre Capone's book, Uncle Al Capone. The event also includes a predinner cocktail reception featuring a cocktail called the Chicago Typewriter and an after-dinner birthday cake celebration at the Legends Lounge with live swing jazz music.
First course of the dinner is NYY Steak crab cakes paired with Conundrum White 2012 from Rutherford, California, followed by a baby green salad. The main course is a bone-in filet Oscar topped with Alaskan king crab and paired with Midwest Manhattan. Dessert includes a NYY Steak chocolate trio paired with JUSTIN Obtuse 2011 from Paso Robles, California.