One Year: 1986

Season 3: Episode 3

The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults

How a live television special became a legendary American fiasco.

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Episode Notes

Rumors about the legendary gangster Al Capone’s buried treasure transform an abandoned Chicago hotel into the center of the entertainment universe. Will Geraldo Rivera’s excavation on live TV turn up money, skeletons, or nothing at all?

One Year is produced by Evan Chung, Sophie Summergrad, Sam Kim, Madeline Ducharme, and Josh Levin.

Derek John is Sr. Supervising Producer of Narrative Podcasts and Merritt Jacob is Sr. Technical Director.

Sources for This Episode

Books

Bair, Deirdre. Al Capone: His Life Legacy and Legend, Nan A. Talese, 2016.

Rivera, Geraldo with Daniel Paisner. Exposing Myself, Bantam, 1991.

Talese, Gay. High Notes: Selected Writings of Gay Talese, “A Matter of Fantasy,” Bloomsbury, 2017.

Articles

“An Al Capone Safecracking Party!,” Chicago Tribune, April 21, 1986.

Bates, James. “Westgate Found Gold in Al Capone’s, Titanic’s Vaults,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 24, 1987.

Baumann, Edward and John O’Brien. “Capone’s hotel vaults full of … TV publicity,” Chicago Tribune, April 22, 1986.

Baumann, Edward and John O’Brien. “Once-stately Lexington; Capone’s old hotel now just a tomb?,” Chicago Tribune, June 18, 1981.

Capone Dead At 48; Dry Era Gang Chief,” Associated Press, Jan. 26, 1947.

“Capone vault mystery could be solved on TV,” United Press International, Aug. 27, 1985.

Chicago Hotel Will Be A Women’s Museum,” Associated Press, Jan. 31, 1985.

Cordts, Michael. “Ex-brothel headed for world’s fair,” Chicago Sun-Times, Dec. 24, 1982.

Daley, Steve. “ ‘Capone’s Vaults’ a Mint to Producers Only,” Chicago Tribune, April 24, 1986.

Eig, Jonathan. “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and Al Capone—Excerpt from Get Capone,” Chicago Magazine, April 30, 2010.

Epstein, Nadine. “ ‘Bunch of dames’ uncover Al Capone’s secret,” Toronto Star, Feb. 15, 1986.

Finley, Larry. “Chicago’s bookstore bad boy,” Chicago Sun-Times, March 21, 2007.

“Gangster’s vault to be unsealed; Bones, booze, or dust may be inside,” Associated Press, April 20, 1986.

Gold, Anita. “Hotels with a past can be a treasure trove,” Chicago Tribune, Jan. 16, 1987.

Green, Larry. “Vault May Hold Capone Treasure,” Los Angeles Times, May 17, 1985.

Greene, Bob. “Sex in America,” Times and Democrat, May 1, 1980.

Hale, Debra. “Demolition of Capone’s Hotel Renews Mobster Memories,” Associated Press, Nov. 17, 1995.

Hutchinson, Louise. “Capone Slept Here, So Did a President,” Chicago Tribune,  Jan. 29, 1962.

Ibata, David. “Capone Hotel Can’t Shake Jinx Group Drops Rehabilitation Effort; Lexington for Sale,” Chicago Tribune, April 8, 1987.

Isaacs, Deanna. “Tim Samuelson may be retiring, but he’s not history yet,” Chicago Reader, Jan. 20, 2021.

Jensen, Trevor. “Harold Rubin, 1940-2007: ‘Weird’ life spent thumbing his nose,” Chicago Tribune, March 23, 2007.

Klibanoff, Hank.  “What will be found hidden in Capone’s ‘vault’?” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 21, 1986.

Miller, Julie. “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Missing Fortune,” Vanity Fair, May 12, 2020.

Murray, Noel. “When Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone’s vault, he turned nothing into ratings,” AV Club, Oct. 25, 2016.

Parks, Shoshi. “When Al Capone Ran a Soup Kitchen During the Great Depression,” Mental Floss, June 1, 2020.

Riedel, Michael. “Experience Al Capone’s early life in NYC,” New York Post, July 8, 2016.

Rosenberg, Howard. “A hole in the ground, a hole in the head …,” Los Angeles Times, April 23, 1986.

Rosenthal, David N. “Geraldo Rivera doesn’t mind taking risks,” Knight-News-Tribune, April 20, 1986.

Rossen, Jake. “Oral History: When Geraldo Rivera Opened Al Capone’s Vault,” Mental Floss, April 21, 2016.

Rumore, Kori. “How the rumor of ‘Al Capone’s Vaults’ became a highly-rated, live TV special hosted by Geraldo Rivera 35 years ago,” Chicago Tribune. April 21, 2021.

Smith, Nathan. “Seeking the Humanity of Al Capone,” Smithsonian Magazine, Oct. 24, 2016.

Thomas, Mike. “Tim Samuelson, the First Cultural Historian of Chicago,” Chicago Magazine, Sept. 17, 2021.

“Vault linked to Capone to be opened on live TV special,” Associated Press, Dec. 21, 1985.

“Weird Harold shut down,” Chicago Tribune, July 3, 1975.

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About the Show

The people and struggles that changed America—one year at a time. In each episode, host Josh Levin explores a story you may have forgotten, or one you’ve never heard of before. What were the moments that transformed politics, culture, science, religion, and more? And how does the nation’s past shape our present?

The third season of One Year covers 1986, a year when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, the mystery of Al Capone’s vaults got solved, and a sea lion named Herschel caused chaos in Seattle.


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