Monday, January 13, 2014

D.C. building for Eliot Ness?

Let me state up front that I’m not fond of naming buildings or streets for people. There’s always the stink over whether someone’s achievements are really worth it.

And what happens decades from now when a future generation decides they’d rather honor someone else with a structure whose sole purpose is to provide work space for public officials and civil service workers?

WOULD WE BE better off if we thought of the Daley Center as merely the county courthouse? Probably. Erect a statue to Richard J. somewhere if you want to pay tribute.

Which might be the best way to honor the memory of Eliot Ness, who about 90 years ago was one of the Prohibition agents based in Chicago who was supposed to enforce the laws against alcohol that were put in place in this nation back in the 1920s.

Instead, they spurred the creation of Italian gangs into an organized crime entity that exists to this day.

We’re talking about the days of Al Capone, who of course we like to joke never got caught selling liquor or engaging in any violent crimes to enforce his liquor empire. He got caught by not reporting all the money he made on his income tax returns.

WHICH MEANS THE Internal Revenue Service busted him, then gave him over to the Justice Department for prosecution. Not the “mighty” Prohibition agents – whose men have morphed throughout the decades into the modern-day Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms unit (with most of their emphasis placed on the latter part of the title).

So why is it that there are government officials who want to name the building that houses the ATF division in Washington, D.C., as the “Eliot Ness ATF Building.” The Chicago Sun-Times reported that both of our senators – Richard Durbin and Mark Kirk – are eagerly trying to attach their names to the effort so they can get credit for it!

The REAL reason we remember Eliot Ness
One could make the argument that you’d be honoring a federal agent who couldn’t catch Capone in the commission of crimes that were done pretty much in the open in 1920s-era Chicago.

Although anyone who has ever read the Oscar Fraley (a United Press reporter-of-old in Chicago) book “The Untouchables” gets the impression that Ness viewed his job more or less as harassing the Capone organization until other federal agents could build up the criminal case that resulted in that 11-year federal prison sentence.

Should we remember Dan Aykroyd's Ness portrayal?
OF COURSE, I realize Ness gets some serious publicity points because – after all – he was portrayed in a 1950’s-era television program AND in a 1980s film. Who else can claim to have had both Robert Stack and Kevin Costner portray him?

Even if those portrayals are so far from the actual man that they can be called complete fiction.

You’d be better off hanging photographs of Stack and Costner inside the building, instead of one of the actual man (whom nobody these days would recognize).

There’s another point to argue. If you really were going to honor the memory of Ness, why do it in D.C.? I suspect the agents in the capital city back when Ness was active thought of him, if at all, as someone too incompetent to bring a conviction.

PERHAPS THEY COULD name the Chicago ATF office, in a suite at 525 W. Van Buren St., for the man whose book would have you think of him as an incredibly honest man who couldn’t be corrupted.

Although I’m not interested in getting into a debate over the “real” Ness – who I know had his own struggles during life and was far from heroic in any sense.

More dangerous than the Outfit?
Personally, the part of the Ness story that most amuses me is that after Prohibition, he eventually got transferred out of Chicago, and wound up being one of the “revenuers” in the mountains of Kentucky busting illegal stills – claiming that those ‘hillbillies’ with shotguns were just as dangerous as any of Capone’s men.

Does this mean that every one whose family contains a “colorful character” engaging in the production of “moonshine” will now crawl out of the woodworks to oppose this move?


EDITOR'S NOTE: Dan Aykroyd's portrayal of Eliot Ness in a Saturday Night Live sketch is less memorable than that of Desi Arnaz' portrayal of master criminal Frank Nitti -- whose plot to sell amphetamines to local teenagers is thwarted when wife "Lucy" brings him a "Tommy Gun" loaded with blanks!!!

No comments: