Monday, January 17, 2011

Al Capone and St-Pierre

In Chicago we have Capone sites such as the St Valentine's Day Massacre lot and Holy Name Cathedral. But I ran into more Capone recently while working on the island of St-Pierre.

St-Pierre floats 15 miles from eastern Canada, near the province of Newfoundland (which I cover for Lonely Planet's Canada book). The fog-mantled little land mass is a territory of France, complete with berets, baguettes and Bordeaux. Back in the day it was forsaken and lawless.

Enter Capone. When Prohibition dried out the U.S.'s kegs in the 1920s, he set up shop in St-Pierre. He transformed the sleepy fishing harbor into a booming port that hauled in 300,000 cases of alcohol each month. Bottles were removed from their crates, placed in smaller carrying sacks and taken secretly to the U.S. coast by rum runners. Cutty Sark whiskey crates piled so high on St-Pierre's docks that locals started using the wood to build houses. Some homes are still around - as is the bootlegging supposedly.

So they may be toasting Capone on St-Pierre today, as Jan. 17 is his birthday. In Chicago, groupies typically mark the day at Capone's gravesite at Mt Carmel Cemetery in suburban Hillside, leaving offerings of whiskey or a Cuban cigar.

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