Family History: One Degree From Al Capone

I love the six degrees of separation thing, because I believe it. On the McArthur side of our family I’m one degree from O. Henry, Mark Twain and Walt Whitman — my great-grandmother went to her grave deploring Whitman’s personal hygiene. And that’s just one degree of separation!

On the Rovai side, I’m one degree from Al Capone, and he might have eaten from the old set of Limoges Troy pattern I set out on the table for holiday dinners. We inherited it from Lou’s great-aunt Lucy Ronga.

Lucy was married to the dapper and debonair Dr. Ronga, whose office at 1208 W. Lexington in Chicago was two floors down from the flat we lived in when Honor was born. My late father-in-law Joe Rovai was a staunch member of the American Italian Anti-Defamation League, and one of the most honest, clean-living men I’ve ever known. He spoke of his dapper uncle with emormous pride, and acted as his chauffeur, when he was eighteen, in that gorgeous Packard convertible to Ravinia and the Lyric Opera  to treat the thoats of Caruso and Galli-Curci. Joe adored his impeccably tailored and generous uncle, and it’s taken his children awhile to get the real deal on his dude.

He was the doc to the Chicago mob. His daughter Anna married Frank Nitti, Capone’s capo.

And Joe never, ever mentioned the mob connection. Surely he knew about it? Was he just fed up with the idea that if you were Italian-American in the twenties and thirties and hailed from Chicago, you had to be mobbed up? The haughty Tuscan Rovais deplored this stuff, but Nonna’s Neapolitan relatives were pragmatic.

Joe spoke fondly and often of his across-the-alley dear friend Johnny D’Arco. They’d go to Sox games together, swim at the 12th Street Beach, and Johnny drove my mother-in-law to the hospital an hour before my husband was born. Could Joe really have been so loyal, so upright, so blind to not have known that his best boyhood buddy went to jail on crime charges? John D’Arco Sr., the immensely powerful First Ward Alderman. And Joe never, ever mentioned the mob connection. Surely he knew about it? Was he just fed up with the idea that if you were Italian-American in the twenties and thirties and hailed from Chicago, you had to be mobbed up? I found this tonight. http://www.suntimes.com/special_sections/crime/37614,cst-nws-mob23.article

I think Johnny D’Arco was one of Joe’s groomsmen, as well as the reason my husband wasn’t born at 1208 W. Lexington, but at Presbyterian-St. Lukes. It haunts me: Joe must have known, but from pride, loyalty and his own honesty he never let on.

I’ll air the McArthur/Moss laundry sometime soon.

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6 Comments

Filed under Born in Chicago, History

6 responses to “Family History: One Degree From Al Capone

  1. You, too, my Dearie—not just skeletons, but skells. I DO love you.

  2. Wow this is great, M.

    Love the Rongo to go with the Rovai. Not to mention the D’Arco.

    And Nonna was Neapolitan? And she made pizza! Could it be, Neapolitan pizza???!!! Yes I think so.

    And now for the McArthurs and the Mosses.

    • My sister-in-law Patty has been busy since this post went up. It seems that Ronga saved Nitti’s life — and that he spent time in Joliet/Leavenworth for abortion deaths. His car? A bullet-proof limo.

  3. Patty

    The Doctor’s full name was Gaetano Ronga. I found 9 references to him in the following book, it tells about his life -all sounds so familiar, exactly as dad described him…dapper, honest, loyal…and a terrific doctor. You can read about it in “After Capone – the Life and World of Chicago Mob Boss Frank Nitti” by Mars Eghigian Jr. The story relates how he saved Nitti’s life…. in the wrong place at the right time perhaps…stayed with him even while arrested since he had a bullet in his neck…got him to a hospital and pulled him through…. what evidently followed was a relationship between Ronga and Nitti, and other members of this elite group needing medical help.

    There are other connections as well, Anna Payne, a professional maid, worked for Capone, Ronga, and Nonna …eventually was lured away from Lexington St. in the early 40s by Nitti to his Riverside home. But evidently returned to Lexington St. after Nitti’s death, as I remember mom talking about Anna who did her ironing when she was a newlywed in ’42.

    I am still investigating was Ronga really a Dr. Rongetti? Found an article that listed this name as an alias for Ronga, but only the one article. Stated this Rongetti was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to the electric chair for a murder while doing an abortion; maintained his innocence, was pardoned a few months later and never went back to prison. This all happened in the late 20s. Perhaps dad never knew of this since he was not yet 10 yrs old.

    The saving grace – he was only an uncle by marriage. Aunt Lucy’s 2nd husband. Lucy’s stepdaughter Anna became Nitti’s 2nd wife. I never asked the right questions, just didn’t know all this stuff.

    You got china, we still have his dresser in our guest room!

  4. Thanks, Patty. You’ve done awesome supersleuthing.

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