Wednesday, August 10, 2016
"The Outfit" on Silver Street
With the current mini-series 'Making of the Mob: Chicago' on the American Movie Classics network, I was thinking of the connection between "the Outfit" and Hurley, Wisconsin during the reign of Al Capone. Actually the Capone organization was the forerunner of what later became known as the infamous Outfit in Chicago. There are a lot of articles online about the early notorious history of Silver Street in Hurley, Wisconsin. I don't want to link to any right now, as it would tend to imply that this harsh history had anything to do with todays residents of the Ironwood-Hurley area... which it doesn't. However, from it's beginnings as a northern frontier town in the late 1880's through the Prohibition era, it was northern Wisconsin's "seedy part of town"... and then some. The areas miners and loggers during that time who wanted some "action," would flock to Silver Street's underworld element for illegal goods and services. This underworld was more in the style of Al Swearengen than it was Al Capone.
In later decades, the mere mention of "The Outfit" would strike fear in the Midwest. It's not an exaggeration; anyone who crossed them after a warning or two would get an ice pick in the ear. The Capone organization had risen to the top of the Chicago underworld by killing off a particularly vicious and violent Irish/Jewish gang during Prohibition. It probably should be mentioned that this Chicago Mafia that developed did much harm to anyone in the Midwest with an Italian name. It didn't even matter if someone was Milanese or Venetian in origin. The Hurley underworld wasn't "Italian." This alliance of black marketeers seemed to know every trick in the book. The use of violence wasn't really necessary among the Silver Street criminal milieu, and vice had almost a free reign.
The Capone organization smuggled liquor back and forth from Canada. They made a special point to establish connections in northern Wisconsin. Al Capone owned a summer home along a lake near Heyward, Wisconsin. It didn't take very long for them to come face to face with the well established Hurley underworld. When reading about Capone in Hurley, it appears that he at least pondered about taking over Silver Street. However, from what I can gather, he was impressed with how well organized they were. He decided that it would be best to work with them. If he had just moved in and took over, it would have made it more difficult to establish and maintain connections in the North Woods..
Today, the only remnant of those days are Silver Streets many bars and night clubs. However, it's more of a place to have some clean fun. There are walking tours revolving around the infamous history of Silver Street, so it's not like it's something they are ashamed of in the manner of modern Las Vegas. Along with summer off-road vehicles and winter snowmobiles, it helps attract tourism to the area. Al Capone's brother Ralph, also a mobster, later settled in Hurley... although by then had apparently switched to legal pursuits.