The Hotel Sherman Treaty

October 21, 2011

The war has been getting out of hand. So Don Corleone calls for a summit meeting. All the gang chiefs sit down together and hammer out a truce.

It's a famous scene from "The Godfather." But it really did happen--here in Chicago, on October 21, 1926.

Prohibition was the law of the land then, and the gangs of Chicago were supplying bootleg booze to thirsty citizens. In the fall of 1924, Warfare had erupted when the two biggest mobs began squabbling over territorial rights. This was another of those North Side vs. South Side conflicts--Dion's O'Banion's mostly-Irish Cub fans against Johnny Torrio's mostly-Italian Sox fans.

(Okay, I don't know which baseball teams the boys followed, but you get the idea.)

Anyway, the South Siders struck first, assassinating O'Banion in his florist shop. Naturally, the North Siders retaliated. Then, the South Siders re-retaliated. And so on, and so on.

By October 1926, Chicago had gotten a national reputation for gang mayhem. The South Side outfit was now being run by Al Capone. He realized all the outside attention could wreck business. The U.S. Senate had begun nosing around, conducting an investigation of the Prohibition law and its effects.

So Capone enlisted the aid of Maxie Eisen, a labor leader with wide contacts. Eisen arranged a general conference at the Hotel Sherman. All the gangs sent representatives, and the list reads like a Who's Who of the Chicago underworld--Capone, Bugs Moran, Klondyke O'Donnell, Schemer Drucci, to name a few.

Nobody tried to keep the meeting secret. The newspapers published reports on the conference, and a police detective attended as a neutral observer. The general tone was set by Maxie Eisen, who told the delegates: "Let's give each other a break. We're a bunch of saps, killing each other this way and giving the cops a laugh."

The result was the Hotel Sherman Treaty. Chicago gangs officially renounced violence as a matter of policy. All standing feuds were called off. The head of each gang would be responsible for disciplining his own people. Each gang would operate only within its designated territory.

The gangland truce lasted for less than a year. But then, have the diplomats of nations done much better in negotiating peace?