The Hotel Sherman Treaty (10-21-1926)

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

It’s a famous scene in The Godfather.  But it really did happen—on this date, in Chicago.

During the 1920s, Prohibition was the law of the land.  The gangs of Chicago were supplying bootleg booze to thirsty citizens.  Warfare developed in the fall of 1924, when the two biggest mobs began squabbling over territorial rights.  It was another of those North Side vs. South Side conflicts—Dion 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.)

The Hotel Sherman

The South Siders struck first, assassinating Dion O’Banion in his florist shop.  Naturally, the North Siders retaliated.  After that 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 that all this outside attention could wreck business.  The U.S. Senate had begun nosing around, conducting an investigation into the Prohibition law and its effects.

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.  The gangs officially renounced violence as a matter of policy.  All standing grievances and feuds were called off.  The head of each gang would be responsible for punishing his own people.  Each group would operate only within its designated boundaries.

Sorry—wrong gangster summit!

The conference adjourned.  The delegates went back to their respective territories.  The immediate, unexpected result was that Chicago’s unsavory image was actually reinforced.  Only in Chicago would gangsters hold a press conference to announce their treaties.

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


3 Responses to “The Hotel Sherman Treaty (10-21-1926)”

  1. 1 Joe Urbanski October 21, 2020 at 7:34 pm

    During the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s was this hotel known as the Sherman House or Hotel Sherman? Somehow in my mind, it was always the Sherman House but older photos show it as Hotel Sherman.

    • 2 J.R. Schmidt October 21, 2020 at 8:32 pm

      From 1844 into the 20th century, the name of the hotel was the Sherman House. After a new building went up in 1911, the name Hotel Sherman became more popular, probably because it sounded more modern. I don’t know if the name was officially changed then. In any event, some people continued to refer to the place as the Sherman House until it was finally torn down in the 1970s.

  2. 3 benson October 22, 2020 at 4:34 pm

    The way you describe the summit, all I could think of the big climactic scene to “Some Like It Hot”. One detective? Pat O’Brien.

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