Inspired by this
thread and my own desire to get better at wikiboxes, here's my firmly tongue-in-cheek take on America's favorite bootlegger-turned-businessman, Joseph Steele
. I will note that I was intoxicated while coming up with this (and while writing it tbh), so keep that in mind, especially with how utterly implausible the central premise of the scenario (Stalin becoming an American gangster) is. Credits to @marathag
for the "Chicago is well worth a Mass"
quote and to @sts-200
for this post
from their timeline Dread Nought but The Fury of the Seas
, which I read as inspiration while writing this.
"Chicago is well worth a Mass."
- Joseph "Big Joe" Steele
(1878-1953), born Ioseb Besarionis dze Jugashvili
and sometimes known by the nicknames "Big Joe"
or "Mr. Joliet"
, was a Georgian-American gangster and businessman best known as the boss of the Chicago-based Steele Outfit
and as the founder of the Uncle Steele's
chain of restaurants, hotels, and casinos. Born in Georgia, then a part of the Russian Empire, Steele immigrated with his parents to the United States a few years after his birth, where they settled in Joliet, Illinois. It was in Joliet that Steele would grow to adulthood, having gained a reputation for fighting both in and outside of school as a youth, in spite of the fact that he otherwise excelled academically. Though he grew up in Joliet and would eventually retire there, by the time the Volstead Act
was announced in 1920, Steele had already made a name for himself within the Chicago underworld as a thug, stick-up man, and occasional Democratic "bagman". There, with the assistance of his criminal protégés, the Rusyn Joseph "Little Joe" Saltis
and the Irish Frank McErlane
, as well as Illinois State Senate candidate John "Dingbat" O'Berta
, Steele began to supply illegal alcohol to speakeasies in Chicago's Back of the Yards
neighborhood. Soon enough, the Steele Outfit
(as Steele's organization came to be known) grew in size, as several immigrant criminals such as Frank "Lefty" Koncil
, Charlie "Big Hayes" Hubacek
, and Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik
embraced the equal opportunities for profit offered by Steele. Steele's organization profited immensely during Prohibition
, expanding in size and power while still remaining on amicable terms with their neighbors in the Chicago Outfit
(run by Al Capone
) and the North Side Gang
(run at first by Dean O'Banion
, and later by Hymie Weiss
, Vincent Drucci
, and George "Bugs" Moran
As the bloody war waged between the Chicago Outfit and the North Side Gang continued throughout the mid-to-late 1920s, Steele and his associates maintained a strict stance of neutrality, a stance which Steele enforced with ruthless efficiency, determined not to get embroiled in the conflicts of those criminals that he viewed as "lesser men". Instead, Steele put his efforts into maintaining ties with the Democratic establishment, with particular care taken to support the career of Chicago Democrat Anton Cermak
, who Steele saw as a useful ally in opposition to the Republican mayor William "Big Bill" Thompson
, a man firmly in the pocket of Al Capone and the Chicago Outfit. This stance of neutrality as part of Steele's so-called "Five Year Plan"
to become legitimate would prove to be a wise one, as his eventual alliance with Cermak and the increasingly immigrant-based Democratic establishment kept the Steele Outfit and Steele himself out of the spotlight following the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre
, which put a bloody end to the conflict between Capone's Outfit and Moran's North Side Gang. Unfortunately for Capone (and the federal government seeking to prosecute him), his victory would be short-lived, with the two years of peace being suddenly (and bloodily) cut short on June 7th, 1931
, a few days after Capone was released on bail, as gunmen (at the time alleged to be from the North Side Gang, but later revealed to be led by Lithuanian-born Steele associate Nicholas "The Little Man" Yezhov
) ruthlessly slaughtered Capone and his associates as they left for Sunday Mass. In the wake of what would come to be known in the press as the All Saints' Massacre
(named as such because the killings took place on the Russian Orthodox Church's Feast Day of All Russian Saints
, an irony that was not lost on Steele, who was in fact a lifelong member of the Georgian Orthodox Church), Steele came under scrutiny, though his political connections managed to ensure that he didn't face any serious charges in the long-term. By the time Prohibition ended in 1935, Steele had become a legitimate businessman, moving from the profitable world of bootlegging to the cutthroat world of real estate. He would go on to open the first of his Uncle Steele's
locations a year later in downtown Joliet, operating out of a riverboat casino he'd acquired for a "premium fee" (in reality, Steele's associates had threatened the previous owner into signing over the deed to the property before tossing him a few bucks in compensation).
As the decades went on, Steele continued to grow his business empire, putting the money earned from taking the Uncle Steele's
chain nationwide back into his adopted hometown of Joliet, and rumors about his criminal past gradually faded over time. In spite of his growing wealth, Steele continued to support the Democratic party and maintained his connections with his old ally Cermak (whose life Steele's men had saved during an attempted assassination of Cermak and President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933), although he never sought any sort of public office. Speculation about a rumored presidential campaign in 1956 to oppose the incumbent Republican Walter Elias Disney
came to an abrupt end in 1953 when Steele died of a sudden cerebral hemorrhage at the Rialto House
(Steele's personal residence, previously a vaudeville movie palace that the gangster frequented in the 20s, before he bought it and refurbished it on a whim) in downtown Joliet. Nevertheless, Steele's legacy is well-known throughout the United States, a testament to the popularity of the Uncle Steele's
corporate chain, with the genial image of Steele's smiling face still serving as the company's logo. In Joliet, he's honored as "Joliet's Georgian Son"
, with the Rialto House now serving as a museum dedicated to the life and accomplishments of a man whose rags-to-riches story is seen by some as the embodiment of the American Dream.