Al Capone: Chicago's Most Infamous Mob Boss
The Young Boy
Shortly after Al was born, Gabriele moved the family to better lodgings in an apartment over his barber shop at 69 Park Avenue in Brooklyn (not to be confused with the posh Park Avenue of Manhattan). This move would expose Al to cultural influences well beyond what was supplied by the Italian immigrant community. Most of the people living around Park Avenue were Irish, although Germans, Swedes and Chinese were also in the neighborhood.
Moving into a broader ethnic universe allowed Al to escape the insularity of the solidly Italian neighborhood. There is no question that this exposure would help him in his future role as the head of a criminal empire.
A block from Al's home was the parish church, St Michael's, where the Reverend Garofalo baptized him several months after his birth. John Kobler captures the atmosphere of the neighborhood in The Life and World of Al Capone:
"Life in the sector where Al lived his first ten years was harsh, but never drab, never stagnant. Hordes of ragged children gave the streets an explosive vitality as they played stickball, dodged traffic, brawled and bawled, while their mothers, dark heavy-thighed women, bustled to and fro balancing on their heads baskets laden with supplies for the day's meals. Fruit and vegetable carts, standing wheel to wheel, made a bright, fragrant clutter along the curb. The fire escapes that formed an iron lacework across the faces of the squat tenements shook and shuddered as the El trains roared by close behind on Myrtle Avenue."
At the age of five in 1904, he went to Public School 7 on Adams Street. Educational prospects for Italian children were very poor. The school system was deeply prejudiced against them and did little to encourage any interest in higher education, while the immigrant parents expected their children to leave school as soon as they were old enough to work.
Bergreen describes the poor learning conditions for the children of Italian immigrants:
"Schools such as Capone's P.S. 7 offered nothing in the way of assistance to children from Italian backgrounds to enter the mainstream of American life; they were rigid, dogmatic, strict institutions, where physical force often prevailed over reason in maintaining discipline. The teachers -- usually female, Irish Catholic, and trained by nuns -- were extremely young. A sixteen-year-old, earning $600 a year, would often teach boys and girls only a few years younger than she...Fistfights between students and teachers were common, even between male students and female teachers...Al Capone found school a place of constant discipline relieved by sudden outbreaks of violence..."
Al did quite well in school until the sixth grade when his steady record of B's deteriorated rapidly. At fourteen, he lost his temper at the teacher, she hit him and he hit her back. He was expelled and never went to school again.
About this time, his family moved from their house on Navy Street to 21 Garfield Place. This move would have a lasting impact on Al because in this new neighborhood he would meet the people who would have the most influence on his future: his wife Mae and the gangster Johnny Torrio.