The Brick Wall

By JULIE SMITH | Published: February 14, 2010

“I’m going to Florida…take care of Bugsy. And make sure Egan’s Rats get their shit in order!”

Al Capone put his coat on, lit a cigar and grabbed his hat. “Happy Valentines Day guys,” he smiled, and left with three bodyguards trailing.

On the morning of Thursday, February 14, 1929, the wind was biting cold on Chicago’s North Side. Capone, who was now sunning it up in Florida with an alibi, had set up a meeting with Bugsy Moran, using the Rats gang as a go between so his henchmen could murder his arch-rival and his lieutenants. The stated reason for the meeting was to merge the two gangs and then spread out and take over the country’s bootlegging business.

In a black, shiny Cadillac, two men looked down the long warehouse-studded street. “Hey Bugsy, look at that,” Jack McGurn nudged his boss, pointing down the road.

“Yea, let me off here. This don’t look good. Two police officers and two regulars…something’s up.” Bugsy scratched the 4-inch-knife scar on his neck…a reflex the street-smart warrior gave when he got stressed. He got out of the car and walked down the alley, turned the corner and waited alone in a coffee shop.

Dean knocked on the glass partition separating the driver. He flicked his hand in the direction of the warehouse – a signal to continue. Two black Cadillac’s followed.

When the seven men emerged from their vehicles, they were relaxed and believed the policemen were authentic.

“What’s going on here?” McGurn asked.

“Line up, all of you and face the wall. Time for some hardware rescue,” the policeman retorted.

“Hey, don’t worry Gusenberg,” McGurn whispered. “We got this precinct tied up all the way to the mayor.” A smile crossed his face and he winked.

The two Capone’s men dressed as uniformed police and carrying machine guns, pushed the seven, dandy-dressed men up against the inside brick wall of a garage. Two other street-clothed men in long trench coats, carrying shotguns stood nearby.

“Hey copper, do you know who we are? McGurn laughed confidently.

“Yea, but it won’t matter much,” replied the uniform.

It was a complete surprise. There was no resistance. The two trench coats swung their shotguns around aiming at the line of fancy dress. The two uniforms started shooting; one containing a 20-round magazine and the other a 50-round drum. Bugsy’s most senior gang members were shot down in a volley of seventy machine-gun bullets and two shotgun blasts before the minute hand on McGurn’s watch could repeat its cycle.

“It’s 10:30.”

“Hey, Scalise, let’s go.

“Hold on, Albert,” he whispered as the rank odour of gunpowder mingled with the morning mist. “I’m now the most powerful man in Chicago. Bugsy's dead.”

Look at that wall. You ever see such a mess? Jesus, a Mississippi River of blood and guts. God, it stinks.

Bugsy heard the shooting as he sipped his coffee. Like the street rat he was, he slithered out the door and went underground.

Car doors slammed after the killers ducked into their cars. They would find out later that Bugsy had escaped but until then, Scalise was smiling like he was king of Chicago. Only Capone stood in his way now.

Onlookers, frozen with fear and shock, panned the funereal get-away. Gang killings happened…the best thing was to get on with it. It’s just the Italians fighting the Irish for booze.

The famous massacre took place at 2122 N Clark Street and drew quite a crowd on auction day. The bricks were to be sold among sordid rumours of death, financial ruin and bad luck to any purchasers. A tall Canadian entrepreneurial by the name of George Patey attended the auction with three other bidders.

“Going once, going twice, three times to the man in the brown suit.” CRACK went the gavel with finality.

George grinned. What a coup! He couldn’t wait to tell his brother, Neville, in Vancouver. His brother’s restaurant, The Chicago Retreat, would be home to the brick wall of The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. They’d be lined up for hours just waitin to get in. Money falling off trees…too easy.

“What do you mean you’ve changed your mind, Neville? I just bought it!”

“Sorry George, it’s too morbid and the reaction here – well, it just wouldn’t be appropriate.”

Son of a bitch! Tricia, George’s second wife, looked at her husband with squinted eyes. “What in the hell do you want with that wall? You think people are really going to pay to see it?” she laughed. Patey grabbed her arm and jerked her towards the car. “Those bricks are going to feed us for the rest of our lives so get use to it.” His eyes, just moments before lost to anger, now riveted towards the wall. “Come here,” he said almost passively. They both walked over and he pointed out the holes and gouges. “This is where the most famous massacre in gangland history took place - Bugsy Moran’s crew, wiped out without a whisper.”

Tricia, looked bored and focused on her red nails. “Okay, but aren’t you getting a little to emotional about all this?

“They are mine now. Come on. We gotta get a truck and have them shipped back to Vancouver.” Three days later, labourers dismantled the wall, brick by brick, all 414 of them. The truck driver waited patiently while they loaded the bricks and then left for the 2,000 mile journey to the West coast.

Anxious to find a home for the wall, Patey rented a building and turned it into a gangster wax museum. Seven life-like figures dressed in The Great Gatsby fashion, lined the wall. Two uniformed policemen were crouched with their Thompsons aimed at the gangsters. The sound effects of gunfire added to the grisly scene. Two months later he had to close it down. There wasn’t anyone standing in line waiting to relive the St Valentine’s Massacre.

George decided to take the wall to the people along with his third wife, Annie. She was a knockout and “has some smarts” he would brag. Whatever the reason, America loved Patey and Annie with their brick wall. The tour ended after 20 successful years on the road.

“Time to retire, Georgie,” Annie said one day. I’m ready to start knitting in a rockin chair and enjoying my home. He stored the wall in a warehouse, took to the mountains and ‘retired’.

George never realized how much the wall was a part of him - like an arm or a leg. He felt amputated without it and even felt the roughness of the brick on his hands like a phantom itch. He had to keep going, try something else. Annie left with a big payout and Patey surged ahead alone.

He opened a nightclub with a Roaring Twenties theme and called it The Banjo Palace.

“Look at this guys! The Valentines Day Massacre Wall in my nightclub, in the men’s room with a plexiglass shield with targets. You can urinate on the gangsters!” he would often jump up and down with excitement. It was an instant success…Jimmy Stewart and Robert Mitchum were some of the more famous patrons known to visit the club; the demographics included everyone. He had hit the target – bullseye.

Although the nightclub continued to be successful, his obsession started to dwindle. “This is it for me. Finally made the big payoff and I’m too old for this shit,” he told his brother. He tried to auction the bricks on Jet Set On The Net but it fell through. The last offer for the wall was from a Las Vegas casino offering $175,000 but Patey refused. He’d find a buyer sooner or later but he wasn’t going to have it shipped down to ‘Sin City’ - no way.

Vancouver has gangs too. The Red Scorpions wanted to buy the wall and send it back to Singapore. George refused their offer and a week later was found dead, slumped against the wall, behind the plexiglass in the mens’ room, reeking with urine, with a Roaring Twenties theme. The wall was going to auction next month.

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