Monday, October 15, 2012

Eddie Paul & The Al Capone Myth

Al Capone
This semester I am taking a class about international historical myths. The purpose of the course is to explore the myths themselves, but more importantly to understand the historical environment from which they derived and their significance within current society. Why do these myths exist? What purposes do they serve? Why sometimes when the falsity of the myth is exposed do people get angry? Why do people sometimes need to believe historical myths?

While considering potential topics for our final paper, I thought of Castlewood.

Over the summer I learned a lot about the history of Castlewood, but there were two things (an event and a person) that I never quite understood. Several park visitors interested in the history of CW mentioned Al Capone. The details of the story are fuzzy, but from what I gathered there is a circulating rumor that Capone owned land in CW, produced illegal alcohol, sold some to local taverns/individuals, and sent the remainder up the Meramec to be distributed. I have yet to find any evidence of Capone in or around CW. However, something had to have triggered this story.

The second thing was a person by the name of Eddie Paul. Paul was mentioned during several of my oral interviews. Everyone in CW seemed to know him or at least know of him, yet no one could or would give me many details. Today, he has long since passed away, and his land (home of the Lone Wolf Club) now belongs to the Wild Bird Sanctuary.  Last month I conducted an interview with a man claiming to be the oldest living Castlewood native. He and his lovely wife provided a wonderfully rich interview that helped me speculate on some aspects of the Al Capone myth.

Let’s start with Eddie Paul. From their account, Eddie Paul was one of the wealthiest men in Castlewood for most of the area’s decline (1930s – 1980s). He owned a large chunk of land, operated a local business, and supported the local community. It also seems that Paul may have been involved with the mafia or mob. According to my interviewee, in the 1970’s Paul attempted to disassociate himself from organized crime; the mafia responded by blowing up several of his automobiles.

Now let’s turn to Castlewood. As mentioned above, from 1930 – 1980 CW economy declined significantly. The once hoppin’ resort community was financially decimated by modern technology and historical events.  The availability of cars encouraged former patrons to drive further away from St. Louis (to places like Innsbrook) and the end of probation nullified the need for ‘private partying.’ Couple these phenomena with the Great Depression and you have got yourself a socioeconomic mess. According to my interviewee St. Louis County government did not provide much assistance to local families. Instead, local churches and wealthy residents privately eased the burden of those in need.

Ok, putting the pieces together: First, we have the financial decline of a once thriving river resort community. Second, we have a local celebrity both associated with organized crime and privately supporting the community in a time of need. Although it is too early to tell, I speculate that the Al Capone myth is really a romanticized version of CW’s experience with Prohibition and the image of Eddie Paul. Paul’s affiliation with the mafia or mob explains why Capone would even be mentioned. And Prohibition as the “glory days” supports the social and cultural need for the myth. For Castlewood residents, Prohibition was the foundation of their successful/ideal community identity. As a national figure associated with American Prohibition, Capone’s affiliation with the area somewhat legitimizes its claim of significance.

I feel that the Al Capone Castlewood myth deserves more attention. I hope to have an extensive paper proposal by the end of the semester.

Lone Wolf Club 1940's