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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 27

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This is the grave of Eliot Ness. index

Ness of course is famous for his role with the U.S. Treasury Department during Prohibition. He joined the department in 1927, rising rapidly. In 1929, Herbert Hoover declared jailing Al Capone a top priority of his administration. Ness headed the team designed to do this, busting his distilleries and publicizing his successes, making himself a nationally famous individual. This infuriated Capone, who attempted to have Ness assassinated several times. This all eventually led to Capone getting busted for tax evasion and imprisoned. After the end of Prohibition, he was hired as Safety Director for Cleveland, where he targeted the mob. However, his (somewhat ironic) heavy drinking and failed marriage undermined his effectiveness. He remarried and worked for the government during World War II attacking prostitution near military bases.

Eliot Ness is buried in Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio.

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  • Murc

    When I was a kid there was a heavily fictionalized TV series about the Untouchables (based on the Costner movie) I recall as being pretty good. Had John Rhys-Davies in it.

    Then again, I was like 14, so maybe it actually sucked and I just don’t remember properly.

    • wjts

      I dimly remember that. But, frankly, most things with John Rhys-Davies in them are pretty bad (Sliders, King Solomon’s Mines, Lord of the Rings, etc.). But he gets a lifetime pass for Raiders of the Lost Ark and I, Claudius.

      • Murc

        I’ll fight you.

        • wjts

          Fuck you! I, Claudius is great!

          • Murc

            … well played.

    • Origami Isopod

      My dad liked that show.

      I have a better memory of the Untouchables movie from the ’80s, which had its ups and downs. I was watching it with my very authoritarian college roommate one time. You know the ending scene, where a reporter asks Ness what he’ll do if Prohibition ends, and he says, “Go have a drink, I guess?” My roommate approved of that immensely. Me, not so much. Ness did a good thing by putting Capone away, but dogmatically lawful people have never impressed me overall. And I wasn’t even all that well informed about the modern war on drugs at that point.

      • howard

        The untouchables was just before my time, but I’m in shock that there was a real Elliot Ness: it sounded like a great made-up name!

        • howard

          i should make clear that i mean “the untouchables” black-and-white tv series that ran from ’59 – ’63.

          • mikeSchilling

            In I, Claudius, John Rhys-Davis played a character called Macro. On TV, Elliot Ness was played by Robert Stack.

            I have this sudden urge to write something in PDP-11 assembly language.

            • Snarki, child of Loki

              “I have this sudden urge to write something in PDP-11 assembly language.”

              …and then I think about firing up PIP, and the urge passes.

              • njorl

                PIP a little
                POP a little
                PIP a little
                POP a little
                BEEP BEEP BEEP
                POP a lot
                PIP a little more

          • njorl

            Rico, Rossi, Youngblood, I picked the wrong week to give up drinking.

        • witlesschum

          There’s a great scene in Brian Michael Bendis’ autobiographical nonfiction comic Fortune and Glory, where he’s speaking to a Hollywood executive about an adaptation of Torso, his fictionalized account of a serial killer investigation Ness dealt with in Cleveland, and the exec has that reaction and then keeps refusing to believe Bendis when he tells him it’s a real guy.

          • Halloween Jack

            Yeah, the exec insists that they can’t do the story because Paramount has the rights to Ness. It’s still one of my favorite Bendis stories.

      • JonH

        Eh, I have no particular interest in smoking pot, therefore I don’t break the law in order to smoke it. (At least I’ve never bought or owned it, and haven’t smoked it since April of 2002, and only a handful of times before that.)

        If CT legalized pot, I might well smoke a joint afterward to mark the occasion. But in the meantime, my disinterest doesn’t have that much to do with desiring to follow the law.

        • Origami Isopod

          But you’re not prosecuting people who smoke pot.

    • cpinva

      the tv series The Untouchables came out in the early 60’s. it was originally done in B&W (as was most tv at the time, because few people had color sets) which, in my child’s brain, made it more believable (because, well, life was in B&W in the 30’s!). it did go color, shortly before it was cancelled. I think Robert Stack played Ness, I could be wrong.

  • Hogan

    He also kinda blew off a serial killer investigation.

    • howard

      how is it possible for one person to know as much and have as many references at the ready as you do, hogan? is there really a team working under one name or something?

    • It’s shocking that that Wikipedia article does not have a shout-out to Robert Bloch’s 1957 short story “Man With a Hobby” based on the Kingsbury Run Killer (in, I think, his collection Nightmares and Geezenstacks). Bowling bags play an important role. Since (1) I read the book as a boy in Cleveland, across town from Kingsbury Run and no more than 20 years after the killings, and (2) my father was a bowler, the story impressed itself upon me rather forcefully.

      • heckblazer

        I’m surprised it doesn’t mention the graphic novel Torso by Brian Michael Bendis.

        • I’m not surprised, merely ashamed, that I attributed Frederic Brown’s Nightmares and Geezenstacks to Bloch. “Man with a Hobby” was first collected (a year after its magazine publication in Alfred Hitchcock Presents) in the (as it were) B-side of Bloch’s Ace Double The Shooting Star / Terror in the Night and Other Stories. I think I read the story in the magazine; I certainly don’t remember ever having that Ace Double.

          • heckblazer

            “If the Holy Bible was printed as an Ace Double”, an editor once remarked, “it would be cut down to two 20,000-word halves with the Old Testament retitled as ‘Master of Chaos’ and the New Testament as ‘The Thing With Three Souls.’”
            — Charles McGrath, New York Times, May 6, 2007

          • wjts

            I thought I remembered “The Geezenstacks” as being by not-Robert-Bloch. (My suspicions were first aroused when I remembered that I think “The Geezenstacks” is a pretty good story.)

            ETA: Also, botched (Bloched?) link.

            • ETA: Also, botched (Bloched?) link.

              Gaah. Should be this.

              • wjts

                Not bad, but he used that same trick in “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper”.

    • ChrisTS

      That page reinforced my [vague] memory that he thought he had his guy but was in a political corner.

  • snarkout

    That’s a beautiful cemetery; I used to jog there. Also the final resting place for beaning victim Ray Chapman, early African-American novelist Charles Chesnutt, and man-about-whom-Loomis-probably-has-opinions John D. Rockefeller. (And it’s also the home of the wonderfully ludicrous James Garfield memorial tower.)

    Elliot Ness is probably best remembered in my household as the namesake of Great Lakes Brewery’s amber ale (although their porter is better).

    • Elliot Ness is probably best remembered in my household as the namesake of Great Lakes Brewery’s amber ale (although their porter is better).

      They ought to print a nature photo on the label and call it Eliot Porter, then.

    • Steve LaBonne

      Also John Milton Hay, first known to history as one of Lincoln’s private secretaries and in later life a distinguished Secretary of State. (He was married to a Clevelander.)

  • keta

    I especially like the shot-up outer edges of the headstone, a very nice touch. Or is it the result of weirdos wanting a piece of memorabilia?

    There’s a lot of myth-making in the Ness/Capone tale, but it appears Ness was kind of a trailblazer once he left Chicago for Cleveland, where he was Director of Public Safety:

    He took down gangsters (see above). He forced the mayor to let him hire secret investigators, masked as city employees, to investigate cops on the take. Today, every law-enforcement agency has an “internal affairs” division to do the same thing. Led by his mentor August Vollmer, he viewed drug and alcohol addictions as primarily medical problems, which today is commonplace. He emphasized ballistics tests, even soil samples, in building cases, the dawn of forensic sciences. He had squad cars painted an unusual tri-color combination so that people would recognize the cops. He put two-way radios in those cars so that officers could communicate.
    Some of these were original. All of them were cutting edge.
    “He was making innovations that have stayed with us ever since,” says Perry.

    • Origami Isopod

      Complicated individual. But I guess you can say that about most people who on the whole change the world for the better.

  • Denverite

    Technically he isn’t buried there; the headstone is just a marker. His ashes were scattered in a lagoon there in the 90s.

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      Then HOW do you explain the fact that nothing grows at the gravesite, then?1??

    • Steve LaBonne

      Yes, I’ve heard that from the docents there.

  • Morse Code for J

    I didn’t know Ness was an alcoholic. Makes Kevin Costner’s joke at the end of “The Untouchables” a lot darker.

  • Funkhauser

    I admit to mainly knowing about Eliot Ness through the Dr. Dre lyrics in Tupac’s “California Love,” then secondarily from the climactic scene of the Costner movie I’ve never watched in its entirety.

  • njorl

    “This all eventually led to Capone getting busted for tax evasion and imprisoned.”

    From what I’ve read, Ness had nothing to do with it.

    • cpinva

      “From what I’ve read, Ness had nothing to do with it.”

      true, it was agents from the Federal Treasury Dept. who eventually did him in, for failing to file his tax returns. then (or so the story goes), when his accountant prepared the returns, and after Capone signed them, they got him for criminal tax fraud, for massively underreporting his income for those years. he was given the maximum sentence, for each year. this was approximately 2 years each, for five counts.

    • heckblazer

      His investigations did lead to Capone being charged with 5,000 violations of the Volstead Act.

  • Frank Wilhoit

    Wordsmithing, please. I tend to doubt that Al Capone ever became Safety Driector of the city of Cleveland; but that is the literal reading of what you have written.

    Pronouns are just plain bad magic anyhow.

    • sharculese

      ?

      I don’t think it’s at all unclear who that ‘he’ refers to, in context.

  • AB

    Ness and staff had offices in the Transportation Building, on South Dearborn Street in Chicago. It was converted to rental apartments and is now condos.

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