Speakeasy

A look inside the redone speakeasy in Bucyrus, found beneath the Historic Weaver Hotel and Crazy Fox Saloon, 112 W. Mansfield St.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is in response to a reader-submitted question through Open Source, a platform where readers can submit questions to the staff. In this instance, a reader wanted to know about crime boss Al Capone's visits to north central Ohio.

BUCYRUS -- It was about 800 miles by train from Chicago to New York when gangster Al Capone was riding the rails, far from an easy trip a century ago.

So it should come as no surprise the legendary mobster would appreciate pit stops along the way. A place where he could stretch his legs, have a drink in a speakeasy, visit with the ladies at nearby brothels and gamble a bit before resuming his journey.

One such site was a basement speakeasy in Bucyrus at 112 W. Mansfield St., home of the Historic Weaver Hotel and now the Crazy Fox Saloon.

Capone rose to power during the Prohibition Era (1920-1933), a time created by the largely unenforceable Volstead Act banning alcohol production and sales.

The ban allowed lawless men like the New York-born Capone to flourish. It was a time of crime and violence that ultimately led to the ban being lifted by the successful passage of the 21st Amendment.

People didn't stop producing, selling, buying and consuming alcohol, regardless of the government's ban. Prohibition simply pushed the entire industry underground, creating an environment in which criminal entrepreneurs took advantage.

It was an era that produced Capone, aka Public Enemy No. 1, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Johnny Torrio, Bugs Moran and Bugsy Segal, leaders of crime organizations that often warred with one another for control of territory and customers.

In a study of 30 major U.S. cities during the first two years of prohibition, the overall crime rate shot up by 24 percent. Theft and burglaries increased by 9 percent, homicide by 13 percent, assaults and battery rose by 13 percent, drug addiction by 45 percent and police department costs rose by 11 percent.

Capone himself was once quoted as saying, "Prohibition has made nothing but trouble," though he also said, "You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone." He was also credited with the 1929 "St. Valentine's Day" massacre in Chicago during which seven gang rivals were gunned down in broad daylight.

At one point in his career, Capone made $100 million a year from booze smuggling, gambling, racketeering, prostitution, and other illegal trade.

Capone photo

Photos of Al Capone adorn the walls of the Bucyrus speakeasy he was said to frequent during Prohibition.

BUCYRUS CONNECTION: Brian Rockwell, executive director of the Crawford County Solid Waste District, purchased the West Mansfield Street property from Larry Williams in October 2017.

"My plans are to renovate the hotel back to its (original) 1916 look and to make the Crazy Fox Saloon a fun, clean and safe saloon for people to meet up and to just enjoy a ice cold beer in the saloon or out on the patio this summer with music, band and entertainment," Rockwell said. "The speakeasy is always available for tours to people that wish to see it, as well as to let people use it for parties and get-togethers."

Audrey Morris is the building manager for the property, which includes the five-story hotel and its 40-plus rooms, the Crazy Fox Saloon and the speakeasy in the basement.

Speakeasies were illegal drinking dens, saloons or nightclubs that sold illicit alcoholic beverages during Prohibition. Some say the nickname was chosen  because patrons often had to whisper code words to enter the establishments.

elevator

A small operator can take guests down to the basement speakeasy at the Historic Weaver Hotel and Crazy Fox Saloon.

Last week she accessed the speakeasy using a tiny, key-operated 103-year-old elevator, which she said is the oldest working elevator in the state.

The site was a perfect stopping point for Capone, about halfway between Chicago and New York City. The train tracks are just north of the building, allowing the gangster to park his private Pullman sleeper car on a side rail while he visited the speakeasy.

Morris said she doesn't think Capone stayed overnight in the hotel.

"I don't think he stayed here for prolonged periods of time. I think this was just a pit stop," she said, adding she also didn't think he entered the property through tunnels located at the north and south sides of the building.

Instead, she said, those would be easy routes for escape had the need arisen.

"Al Capone was a very open man. I can't see him using a tunnel to hide. He was open about his life. He wanted people to know where he was at all times," Morris said.

The brick walls of the speakeasy are 14 inches thick and the brick booths used by drinking and gambling patrons were also designed for safety in case someone started shooting -- criminals or law enforcement.

Capone booth

This was likely the "brick booth" used by Al Capone when he stopped at a Bucyrus speakeasy while traveling by train between New York and Chicago.

Morris said the booth Capone would have frequented was on the north side of the speakeasy, which would have protected his back and kept everyone in the joint in front of him. There are photos of Capone on the speakeasy walls.

CAPONE DOWNFALL: It's not known exactly how many times Capone stopped off in Bucyrus.

But he was prosecuted by the federal government in 1931 for tax evasion when he was just 32 years old in a case made famous by Elliot Ness and his "Untouchables."

He was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in federal prison. He showed signs of neurospyhilis and gonorrhoea early in his prison sentence and became increasingly ill, finally being released after almost eight years behind bars, a term that included a year at the infamous Alcatraz facility.

After his release in 1939, Capone spent the last years of his life at his mansion in Palm Island, Florida, dying on Jan. 25, 1947, at age 48.

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