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The Atlantic City Conference

"Heaven help us if they ever get organized"

Hi there- Bette Hardwick here from sometime in the 1920s. I’m Sherilyn’s Gal-Friday and a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

If you read the notes I did on Nucky Johnson, then you’ll be thrilled to hear that the newspaper has sent ME to Atlantic City to cover the Atlantic City Conference. (Take that, Mike Beamish and all the other male reporters at the Inquirer.)

Meeting

Nucky Johnson, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky

From May 13 to May 16 in 1929, Enoch “Nucky” Johnson hosted a historic summit for organized crime figures from all across America. By the time the “Atlantic City Conference” broke up May 16, the groundwork had been laid for the nation’s first organized-crime syndicate, a network that crisscrossed America and will take decades to disentangle.

A little side note: They picked Atlantic City because Meyer Lansky, a New York syndicate boss, was looking for a spot to spend his honeymoon.

The Who’s Who of the underworld

The largest delegation at the Conference came from New York-New Jersey and included Johnny “The Fox” Torrio, Charlie “Lucky” Luciano, Frank Costello, Benny “Bugsy” Siegel, Meyer “The Brain” Lansky, and the Gorilla Boys Louis Buchalter and Jacob Shapiro.

Al Capone, Bugsy Siegel, Lucky Luciano and one other

Chicago had a delegation that included Alphonse “Scarface” Capone, Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti, and Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik.

For fans of the Bootleggers’ Chronicles series, Philadelphia’s interests at the Conference were represented by Max “Boo-Boo” Hoff, Waxy Gordon, and Max Hassel.

Representatives of the big crime bosses from Cleveland, Detroit, Boston, Kansas City, Tampa, and New Orleans were also there.

A couple of the big old-world leaders were not invited to the Conference. They felt that the conference went counter to traditional values which did not include cooperation with rivals and established business practices.

I mean, you get a room full of gangsters together and is anyone NOT surprised when the objection is “we’ve never done it like this before”?

Oops!

The Conference started off with an apparent embarrassing incident for some of those invited who tried to check into the first hotel Nucky Johnson had them registered in, the exclusive Breakers Hotel on the Boardwalk. It had a ‘white Anglo-Saxon Protestant’ policy. Can you imagine the size of the cojones on the desk clerk that told those Jewish gangsters that they couldn’t stay there?

Apparently, Al Capone screamed at Nucky for not making the proper arrangements, and Al tried to take a swing at Nucky… right there in the lobby!

Nucky, who was a lot taller and heavier than Capone pushed him into a limousine and ordered the other non-WASP gangsters to follow him. They went to Nucky’s headquarters at the Ritz-Carlton.

When they got to the new hotel, Capone ripped several paintings and photos off the walls of the hotel and started throwing them at Nucky. Everyone concentrated on keeping Al Capone calm and quiet.

The Agenda

The first couple of days of the Conference were, what Sherilyn would call Team Building Exercises, (and Nucky called an open bar at a constant round of parties). There was plenty of food, drinks, and girls. All the wives and girlfriends who came got fur capes courtesy of Nucky Johnson. I thought that was a nice touch. Of course, our newlyweds, Mr. and Mrs. Meyer Lansky, got the Presidential Suite at the Ritz and a constant supply of champagne.

The main topics of the conference were the need to stop senseless fighting while creating nonviolent alliances against overzealous police and their informers and working together to minimize competition and maximize profits. There were a few awkward moments when the problem of Chicago’s violence came up, although Capone didn’t think it was much of a problem.

Other reports say they discussed preparing for the end of prohibition by investing in gambling, nightclubs, and breweries.

Not all the meetings were inside around boardroom tables. The best discussions happened with pant legs rolled up and bare feet in the ocean. Which of course, made the “secret” conference not quite so secret.

The Atlantic City Daily Press wrote that Al Capone himself, the person they labeled a “machine gun maestro, beer baron and nationally known racketeer” was seen in a Boardwalk rolling chair, smoking a black cigar, surrounded by a “half-dozen henchmen.”
“The past few nights found him making whoopee, boom-boom or what you have in several of the resort’s best-known nightclubs and on Monday night early he rubbed elbows with police and detectives at the All-Time boxing show at the Waltz Dream Arena,” the paper wrote.

Betting on the Ponies

While I wasn’t the only reporter covering the conference, I think I got the best scoop.

Al Capone and Moses Annenberg, who controlled the mob that enforced distribution of the William Randolph Hearst newspapers in Chicago, made a deal to tie in the national wire service for horse racing bettors with the Daily Racing Form and to lay bets throughout the United States. That was a very lucrative book of business and convinced the other delegates at the Conference that cooperation could be profitable.

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