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Under the patronage of St. Tammany
Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
"Altar Boy Gone Wrong" is the title of this Paul Sann essay on Irish-American mobster Deanie O'Banion, whose slaying in his Chicago flower shop in 1924 touched off a five-year gang war that culminated in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.
O'Banion, who'd provided opulent floral arrangements for other gangsters' funerals, was given a fittingly grand send-off:
The carcass lay in state at the Sbarbo Funeral Home in a $10,000 bronze casket, with solid gold candlesticks and silver angels at either end. Forty thousand persons filed past the bier in three days and the funeral itself, ablaze in flowers and regal trappings, drew 20,000. The mourners included [the South Side rival who ordered the hit on him, Johnny] Torrio--"From Johnny," his floral tribute said--and Capone, and Angelo Genna, newly installed as president of the Unione Siciliana. O'Banion's forlorn lieutenants stood on the other side of the grave, weeping real tears in copious amounts. The choir boy gone bad was denied Catholic rites but the Reverend Patrick Malloy came out to Mount Carmel Cemetery without his priestly vestments and said three Hail Mary's and the Lord's Prayer. Father Malloy had grown up with Deanie in Little Hell; he would not abandon him at the end.
O'Banion's last resting place lay only forty feet from a granite mausoleum where a Bishop and two Archbishops reposed, so when Viola O'Banion built a tall shaft over his grave with the inscription, "My Sweetheart," George Cardinal Mundelein asked her to take it down in favor of a less ostentatious headstone. Viola did that, but she paid the deceased -- linked to twenty-five unsolved killings but never once arrested in such unpleasant circumstances -- the ultimate tribute. "Dean loved his home and spent most of his evenings in it, fooling with his radio, singing a song, listening to the player piano. He was not a man to run around nights with women. I was his only sweetheart . . . He never left home without telling me where he was going and kissing me good-bye."