Alphonse Gabriel “Al” Capone, the Babe Ruth of organized crime, may be better known for rising to rule the rackets
in Prohibition-era Chicago, but he was an Mafia kingpin, he was a product of Brooklyn.
In fact, a brawl in a Brooklyn waterfront saloon where Capone was bouncing produced the ugly slashing that inspired the nickname everyone knew not to call him to his scarred face.
Long before Scarface seized the spotlight as the most notorious Mafia gangster of his era, he was born in Brooklyn on January 17, 1899, one of nine children of Italian immigrants from Salerno. His father was a barber in Downtown Brooklyn, his mother a seamstress.
The Capone family lived at 95 Navy Street, in the rough Navy Yard section of Downtown Brooklyn, rife with criminal activity fed by the nearby waterfront. Yet Capone’s father was not a criminal, nor was his home life the kind you’d expect from the origin story of such a brutal gangster. Later, Capone’s father Gabriele relocated his growing family to Park Slope, moving into a nicer home at 38 Garfield Place.
A bright student for the brief time he attended school, Capone’s temper proved the undoing of his promising academic career. First attending Public School 7, Capone was later expelled from Public School 133 for striking a female teacher, after she belted him first. He never returned to complete his formal education.
Now unencumbered by school, Capone hit the streets hard, cycling through a mix of legitimate and illegal activities, drawing the eye of Brooklyn Italian mobster Johnny Torrio, who became Capone’s early mentor.
Capone joined Torrio’s James Street Boys gang. His criminal development continued in his association with some of the premier gangs of the era, including the Brooklyn Rippers, the Bowery Boys and the Junior Forty Thieves.
Capone gained employment from Sicilian gang boss Frankie Yale, who ran the Black Hand mob, Mafia specialists in extortion, labor racketeering, gambling, prostitution and other criminal activities. Yale gave Capone a job in his raucous dance hall in Coney Island, The Harvard Club. While working as a bouncer at that establishment, Capone insulted the sister of Frank Gallucio, a neighborhood heavy, who gashed Capone’s left cheek.
Capone was ordered to apologize, and even gave Gallucio a job as muscle in later years. Yet ever after, the vain Capone hid the scar when sitting for photographs, at times lying that he received the wound overseas during the war.
In 1910, Capone followed Torrio to Chicago. Torrio had relocated his Mafia faction to the Windy City a decade before at the request of James “Big Jim” Colosimo to help run the gang lord’s brothel business. After the enactment of Prohibition in 1919, Torrio brought out Capone, recruiting reinforcements to backstop his burgeoning bootlegging operation.
The rest is Italian Mafia history.
Those interested in taking a closer look can visit Public School 133 in Downtown Brooklyn on Butler Street where Capone attended school, as well as St. Mary Star of the Sea in Carroll Gardens where he was married.