The Story of Cicero
Suburban Cicero, once a major manufacturing center and home base to one of Chicago’s most notorious gangsters, is now a predominantly working-class Latinx community.
Before people settled in what would become Cicero and nearby Oak Park, Native Americans traveled a trade road, now called Ogden Avenue. By the mid-1800s, the burgeoning railroad industry had made Cicero a regular stop, and industry thrived in the community. Eastern European immigrants came to the community in search of factory work, like that at Western Electric. At its peak in the 1920s, the company’s 25,000 employees “supplied roughly 90 percent of all the telephone equipment used in the United States,” according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago.
It was those workers and their families, however, that were part of one of Chicago’s deadliest tragedies. In 1915, the SS Eastland capsized right after boarding; 844 people were killed, many of whom were Western Electric employees from the Hawthorne Works factory on a company outing with their families.
In the 1950s, racial tension arose in Cicero as black families sought to move into the community. In 1951, according to an old New York Times article, a white mob rioted and destroyed an apartment building after a black World War II veteran and bus driver named Harvey Clark, Jr. and his family tried to move into the building. More than a decade later, a Time magazine article called Cicero “a Selma without the Southern drawl.”
By the early 2000s, the community had become predominantly Latinx. The suburb is connected to Chicago via the Cicero Pink Line stop, as well as Metra.
Neighborhood Spotlight: Al Capone
In the 1920s, one of the most infamous gangsters in America brought his crime syndicate to Cicero. Al Capone used the suburb as his headquarters.
The son of Italian immigrants, Capone was born in New York. According to Biography.com, he became involved with organized crime as a teenager and got a scar on his cheek in a fight, earning him the nickname “Scarface.” When he was 14, he met mob boss Johnny Torrio and worked his way up through the ranks of Torrio’s gang. He followed Torrio to Chicago, eventually taking over as leader of the Chicago outfit.
When Chicago city officials began cracking down on crime, Capone moved his operation to Cicero. He and his brothers essentially took over the local government, wreaking havoc on local elections. His gang shot, kidnapped, and beat election workers and police officers during the 1924 local elections in Cicero.
Capone was also behind the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. He ordered the attack on his rivals, the North Side Gang, at a garage on Clark Street in Lincoln Park. Two of Capone’s men dressed as police, and the rival gang, thinking they were being arrested, gave up their weapons. But Capone’s men opened fire with machine guns, killing seven members of the rival gang.
Though Capone got away with this particular crime, it sparked national outrage and motivated law enforcement to find a way to charge Capone. He was eventually convicted on tax evasion charges in 1931. He served part of his time at the infamous Alcatraz prison in San Francisco. He was released in 1939 and died in 1947.
Things to Do
Grab a slice of pizza and have some gelato for dessert at Freddy’s Pizza & Gelateria.