Thursday, August 03, 2017

Moonshine, mayhem, Chicago Mike & old Tipperary

I wish we knew more about this vintage photograph on a "Bates Studio" card, added to the museum collection back in 1967 by the Glenn Curtis estate. Unfortunately, a story was not collected with the photograph.

It may be that Mr. Curtis's survivors were puzzled by the photograph's significance, too, since the event that it commemorates would have occurred more than 40 years earlier, at a time when old Tipperary --- the Pleasant Township mining camp --- was at its height as the moonshine and gambling capital of Lucas County.

Someone has written "Hoodlum Wagon" on the side of the vintage vehicle used as a backdrop for the components of an elaborate still, no doubt seized in a raid. The only reference to a "hoodlum wagon" I was able to find in old newspapers occurs in The Leader of March 27, 1923, in reference to the vehicle used by Sheriff Rosco Pedigo and Deputy Will Knotts in a raid earlier that month at Tipperary on the still of the legendary Marko "Chicago Mike" Vucich.

The photo probably was staged just east of the jail (now Veterans Memorial Park), looking east with the old livery barn and a brand new corner service station faintly visible in the background.


Here's a Leader story from March 13, 1923, that describes the raid --- but does not name the vehicle:

"The notorious Chicago Mike, whose name was really Mike Vusich (sic), has skipped the country and the hole in the hill that once knew him will known him no more forever. And this is much to the sorrow of Chicago Mike, because his secret has been found out.

"For years he has been operating a hidden still at Tipperary, but his ingenious concealment had until a few days ago baffled the officers, and Mike could stand upon the hilltops and laugh --- laugh right in the teeth of the searchers. But his occupation is gone.

"Last Saturday Sheriff Rosco Pedigo and Deputy Will Knotts went over to Tipperary determined to camp on the trail until they found the source of Chicago's inspiration, and they were rewarded. They went to his home a short distance north of the big shaft, and examined the gulch.

"Chicago Mike was not there to receive them, and was probably out dispensing his wares. He had a garage in the gulch, which they entered. Out of it opened a door into his habitation. Towards the back end of this a small side door was located. This opened, exhibited an underground passage which led a distance under the hill to a chamber carved out of the earth, about 10 feet square.

"Here was Chicago Mike's 45-gallon still, together with some mash in process and a quantity of the finest product, all of which the officers took possession of.

"The still was a fine one and very complete. The hole under the hill was a coy one to be sure. The drainage was fitted out with a sunken barrel and a pipe leading out to a swale in the bushes, which must have entailed a good deal of work. A hole led up to the top of the hill from the ceiling as though it had been dug with a well auger, which was lined with tile, and a tile stuck out on the top of the ground as though it had been carelessly thrown there in discard. As the heavy work was done at night no smoke or fumes could betray. Chicago had exhibited sufficient cunning to be an alderman in the Windy City.

"After seizing the contents of the cavern the officers placed them in their speed Ford and started towards Chariton, hoping to fall in with Mike somewhere on the road, and fate was kind to them. When this side of the Rock Island reservoir (now Williamson Pond), Mike came out of a side road, but when he discovered the officers with his 45-gallon still aboard, he stepped on the gas and fled before them like pirates. They pursued them on the Knoxville road. Then Chicago changed his course and they chased him to within a couple of miles of Lovilla and lost him, returning to Chariton.

"That night Chicago Mike stealthily returned to Tip and told his friends he was going to Chicago, and it is supposed he did. But his friends told the officers that Mike highly complimented his pursuers on the record.

"When the officers stored the still and other stuff in the jail, Pete Vukovitch, who is being held for violating the 18th amendment, was walking in the corridor, and after admiring it and pining for his freedom, said, 'Chicago Mike, he goin' yet: he go so far it take four dollar postal card to catch up with.'

"And all this happened in Lucas county."


If the author of this raid report seriously thought Lucas County had seen the last of Chicago Mike, he was mistaken. 

Mike was back in business in the mining towns of Lucas County before long and prospered until 1928, when he was killed in a high-speed car crash in Des Moines.

Although Chicago Mike's remains spent quite a few years in a Chicago cemetery after that, he's now at rest with his brother, John, in the Chariton Cemetery --- not that far from the final resting places of Sheriff Ross Pedigo and his deputy, Will Knotts.

1 comment:

Cindy Threlkeld said...

Frank, Chicago Mike was suspected of planting the bomb that blew up the Model T of my grandfather, JD Threlkeld, who at the time was the county attorney, working hand-in-hand with Sheriff Petigo. There was an article about it at the time in the Chariton paper. Would have been around the same general time period as the info you just posted. Cindy Threlkeld