She notices differences, too. In the kitchen, she remembers a staircase that Capone’s black servants used. In a bathroom, she remembers a different tiling. And there is something about the family room: “There used to be two bathrooms at the end of the room, one for men, one for women,” Deirdre recalls. The real estate agent nods affirmatively.
Miami was a perfect city for Capone’s retirement. It was far from Chicago, where in the late ’20 his success was beginning to haunt him. The gambling business was promising. The Caribbean was around the corner. “Yes, I like Miami so well that I’m going to vacation here all winter,” Al said after arriving in 1928.
Capone’s life in South Florida has been accurately reconstructed in two biographies, Mr. Capone by Robert Schoenberg and Get Capone by Jonathan Eig. He settled in, living his first few weeks in numerous hotels and renting a water view Miami Beach apartment at 3605 Indian Creek Dr., a mostly abandoned building today.
In March 1928 he bought 93 Palm Ave. for $30,000 in his wife’s name. He quickly turned its pool, which at the time was the largest private one in Florida, into a swank party venue.
Deirdre stops at the pool. She knows it, too, but doesn’t remember it for the parties. It was here where she learned to swim.
“I remember it so well because this was an odd pool,” she says standing on the edge of the basin. “It had salt water, and it was connected to the bay so the water level would rise and fall. There were fish and algaes and I thought, well, is this really what pools are like?”
Today, the 30- by 60-foot, 60,000-gallon pool is still the showpiece of the 30,000-square-foot compound. Apart from replacing the salt water with fresh, the architects didn’t change anything.
Whereas Chicago historically had tried to keep the Capone story out of public focus, South Florida is capitalizing on it. Realtors are promoting the house as Capone’s former mansion in an online video. Preservation advocates in city government urged architects to retain much of the home’s original flair. In 2010, the 11th Judicial Circuit Court in Miami re-enacted Al Capone’s perjury trial, and he was acquitted. Hotels where Capone is said to have stayed present themselves as historic sites — the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables even nicknamed one of its most exclusive rooms “The Al Capone Suite.”
It’s part of how movies, biographies and TV series such as Boardwalk Empire, which returned for a second season last Sunday on HBO, have softened his image to the extent that in the collective memory, Capone is seen as sort of a Che Guevara of crime rather than a brutal criminal and Public Enemy No. 1.
“He is seen as a celebrity,” says Chicago Federal Public Defender Terence MacCarthy, who got Capone acquitted in a mock retrial there in 1990. “People tend to block out that he was a criminal who had people killed.”
Not a monster
To Deirdre, the image change has been welcome. “He was a mobster, but not a monster,” she says of her uncle. After telling her four children about her identity, she went on a mission to un-demonize him, to fight what she viewed as damaging half-truths and rumors.
She wrote a 2011 book, Uncle Al Capone, a portrait of Capone’s human side as a family man, based mostly on conversations with relatives. It is garnished with several family recipes such as “Meatballs a la Capone” and “Grandma Theresa’s Ragu.”