Roaring Twenties Facts That Are Stranger Than Fiction – Guest Post by Renee Rosen, author of Dollface

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the industry launch party for a really fun new book, Dollface by Renee Rosen. We took a version of the Untouchables Gangster Tour which had been customized a bit to follow some of the characters of the book and then had food and drinks in an authentic 1920s speakeasy.

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Our Untouchables tour guide

I had the opportunity to read Dollface before the party and it is a very fun book that provides a great look into 1920s Chicago and in particular the Northside Gang. I was able to chat with Renee Rosen a bit at the party, and she agreed to share a bit more about the Northside Gang with my readers. Check out her post, and then check out Dollface to bring their stories to life.

When it comes to Chicago during the Roaring Twenties, most people think of Al Capone. But when I began doing research for my novel, Dollface, I quickly discovered that the lesser-known gangsters from Chicago’s North Side were a far more colorful and fascinating bunch.

Take for example, Dion O’Banion, the big boss of the North Side Gang. He was a former alter boy and attended Mass every day. He was a florist and such a devoted Catholic that he even opened his flower shop, Schofield’s, directly across the street from Holy Name Cathedral. Now does this sound like a ruthless, murderous gangster to you? Yeah, well, don’t let Dion’s religious practices fool you. He may not have drank a drop of alcohol himself, but he was vicious bootlegger who carried a rosary and three guns and is believed to have whacked more than sixty men before Capone succeeding in gunning him down inside his flower shop.

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The door to the speakeasy

With Dion O’Banion out of the way, Hymie Weiss was next in command and took over the North Side Gang. Hymie was another bewildering figured. Widely assumed to be Jewish, Hymie’s real name was Earl J. Wojciechowski. Rumor has it that he borrowed the name from a tailor’s label stitched inside one of his suit coats. Hymie was perhaps the meanest of all gangsters and was the only man Capone admitted being afraid of. Hymie even shot his brother during a family quarrel and was reputed to have shoved a sawed-off shotgun in a U.S. Marshall’s face. He was a somber fellow and like Dion O’Banion, Hymie was a God-fearing, Church-going man. So devout was Hymie Weiss that he supposedly went to church each day and on bended knee prayed to God to help him kill Al Capone. Unfortunately for Hymie, he didn’t pray hard enough because Capone got to him first, gunning him down in front of Holy Name Cathedral. Legend has it that a Bible in Hymie’s breast pocket was the only thing that kept a bullet from entering his heart. Of course it was the other ten slugs that took him out on his way to the hospital. If you go by Holy Name Cathedral today you can still see a bullet hole in the south east cornerstone from that bloody day.

With two North Side members down, it was up to Vincent “the Schemer” Drucci to run the show. Drucci was my favorite gangster and I probably could have written an entire novel just about him. He was an Italian and yet he belonged to the predominantly Irish North Side gang as opposed to the largely Italian South Siders. His nickname “the Schemer” was most befitting, as Drucci was a bit of a whack-a-doo. The best pranks pulled off by the North Side Gang can most likely be traced back to Drucci.

For example, it was Drucci who orchestrated the plot to sneak into one of Capone’s warehouse and replace all their whiskey barrels with barrels of water. One of Drucci’s favorite bits was donning a priest robe for grins and standing across the street from Holy Name, outside of Schofield’s, making lewd comments to women passing by or throwing punches at Dion as passersby looked on in shock at the rowdy priest. Drucci also had a bit of the acting bug in him and starred in a blue film, a.k.a. a porno flick called Bob’s Hot Story.

Drucci was the only gangster of the North Side Gang to die at the hands of the police rather than a rival gang member. And because Drucci had served as a doughboy during WWI and because he had been killed by the police, they felt it was only proper to bury him with full military honors including a 21 gun salute.

You can’t make this stuff up, right? So when people ask me why I chose to write about gangsters during Prohibition and why I chose to focus on the North Side Gang members, all I can say is that these characters were just too good to resist.

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The Other Typist by Susanne Rindell – Book Review

The Other Typist by Susanne Rindell
Published by Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, an imprint of Penguin

As a typist in a Prohibition-era New York police station, Rose Baker holds a certain amount of power. After all, whatever is in the reports she writes up is taken as gospel truth in prosecuting criminals. It is about as much power as a single woman who grew up in an orphanage can have in 1923. But then Odalie enters the precinct and Rose’s life. There is something about this woman, something that inspires gossip and stories. Something about Odalie also inspires friendship and devotion in Rose. As their relationship continues, Rose’s world begins to change and it might never be the same.

Oh, I don’t know what to tell you guys about The Other Typist except that it is AWESOME. You can tell very early on as Rose reminisces about her time with Odalie that there is something off, both with the relationship and perhaps even with Rose herself. What follows is an absolutely tantalizing story, all twisty and turny and amazing. The first third of the book I read over a few days, but the last two thirds I read in all but a single sitting because once it gets going it gets going like whoa.

I can’t say too much more without spoiling the book for you, but OH MY GOSH GO AND READ IT.

Highly recommended, as if you couldn’t tell.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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City of Scoundrels by Gary Krist- Book Review

City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago by Gary Krist
Published by Crown Books, an imprint of Random House

At the beginning of 1919, Chicago seemed like a city poised for a wonderful future. It was a time before the Great Depression and Prohibition, and after the end of the Great War, and the mayor had great plans to revolutionize and beautify the city, a feeling of optimism was only to be expected. For the first half of the year, it appeared that this optimism might not be misplaced, but over the summer everything changed.

It started on July 21, 1919. Along the lake shore, the Goodyear company was showing off their new blimp, The Wingfoot Express. The blimp made several runs throughout the day, the more influential people who saw it, the better the publicity for the company. Shortly before 5 pm, the blimp began its last run of the day, flying out over the Loop, the better to be seen. While they were over the city, however, the blimp caught fire, and the passengers and crew were forced to jump, hoping their parachutes would be enough to save them. It was not only those in the blimp who were injured or killed; the blimp also hit part of the Illinois Trust bank, causing an explosion and killing many who were there at work.

Devastating as this disaster was, there was worse to come for Chicago over the next two weeks, including a sensational child murder, a transit strike, and a deadly and divisive race riot, all exacerbated by politicians who failed to act as quickly or decisively as was needed.

In City of Scoundrels, Krist describes the genesis of these disasters, the ways they fed into one another, and the ways the influenced Chicago throughout the remainder of the 20th century. He writes with a style that is reminiscent of Erik Larson’s modern classic of Chicago history, The Devil in the White City. If anything, in fact, Krist’s book is more accessibly written and easier to read, despite the lack of a serial killer in his narrative. The events of that summer are laid out in a clear and engaging manner, given proper context without going into extraneous and distracting details.

City of Scoundrels offers an instructive and fascinating look into the history of Chicago. Chicagoans in particular should read this book, but anyone who enjoys a good narrative history is likely to be intrigued. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, via Edelweiss.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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