Watch, in that entirety, "The secret of Al Capone"s Vaults." The Geraldo Rivera-hosted, two-hour, live television event on April 21, 1986, discover the depths of the Lexington Hotel for signs of Chicago gangster Al Capone"s rumored treasures. (Courtesy of john Joslyn)

three out of every 4 televisions in the Chicago area ~ above April 21, 1986 were watching “The secret of Al Capone’s Vaults” as hold Geraldo Rivera and also an excavation team blasted with concrete walls and also delved v piles the debris throughout a live, two-hour broadcast from the depth of the former Lexington Hotel at Michigan Avenue and Cermak roadway on the city’s near South Side.

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Geraldo Rivera master "The an enig of Al Capone"s Vaults" live native Chicago ~ above April 21, 1986. (John Joslyn)

countless viewers — some approximates say 30 million, others say 60 million — transparent the unified States and at the very least 13 other nations followed along throughout the expedition to find gangster Al Capone’s goods.

A few empty bottles and also a sign were the only tangible effects found in the an are during the show. The production — and also its referents — instantly ended up being a punchline or a pop culture reference, which has actually been featured top top “The Simpsons” and also Rivera’s very own turn ~ above “Dancing with The Stars.”

for answers, we searched the Chicago Tribune archives and spoke v those involved in the show’s development — consisting of Rivera and producer Doug Llewelyn.

The lead up to “Al Capone’s Vaults,” we discovered, was years in the making with a selection of real-life individualities buying into the dream, the facade, the hope the the long-dead head of organized crime throughout Prohibition in Chicago may have actually left behind money, bodies, or illegal booze in the basement the his previous command post.

and also if there to be a paper trail to paper when the fallacy the Capone buried his treasures in a subterranean level that the Lexington began, climate the first page could be indigenous the June 18, 1981, edition of the Chicago Tribune.


A story that published in the June 18, 1981 edition of the Chicago Tribune suggested the bodies of Al Capone"s enemies may be hidden in a "tomb" beneath the Lexington Hotel, the gangster"s one-time headquarters, at Michigan Avenue and Cermak Road. (Chicago Tribune archive)

practically five years prior to Rivera fired a maker gun top top live TV, Edward Baumann and John O’Brien educated readers of the Chicago Tribune the a substantial concrete slab under the Lexington Hotel “may be the tomb of few of Capone’s enemies.”

Memento hunters — many searching for relics linked to the building’s mobster past — uncovered the odd structure.

Both Baumann and O’Brien to be respected, decorated, longtime reporters because that the Chicago Tribune who additionally authored a bookcase precious of true crime titles. O’Brien was part of a team of reporters the won a Pulitzer compensation in 1973 for an exposé on vote fraud. Baumann was a three-time Pulitzer finalist. Each was recalled as competent, self-effacing and honest through friends and colleagues after your deaths — O’Brien in 2003 and Baumann in 2012.

Harold Rubin — the “founder” the the concrete wall “under the hotel’s vaulted Michigan way sidewalk” — had a an ext colorful reputation. The proprietor of monster Harold’s, an adult bookstore, massage parlor and also nude modeling studio in the south Loop in the 1970s, Rubin was recognized as the “king that Chicago pornography.” he scavenged marble from the Lexington ~ the residential hotel’s last 150 tenants — numerous on public help — to be ordered to relocate out in October 1980.


Harold Rubin screens a chunk the marble from the lobby of the Lexington Hotel, Al Capone"s old headquarters, in former of the north hotel ~ above Feb. 4, 1987. Rubin is marketing 600 chunks he got from the building years ago. Each is embossed through Capone"s likeness and also carried a it is registered number. (Ray Foli/UPI)

What to be the function of the 6-feet-high through 6-feet-wide concrete-filled space? A masonry experienced had no explanation because that the “sloppy job” that he suspected was “done by amateurs” in the 1930s. A city spokesman said the room wouldn’t be explored until funds were raised to raze the building, i beg your pardon was estimated to price $1 million.

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The imposing 10-story Lexington — with a brown brick and terra cotta exterior sustained by a steel skeleton — was developed for upscale guests to the world’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. The construction began in 1891 under architect Clinton J. Warren, who also designed the congress Plaza Hotel.

as soon as opened in 1892, the Lexington had actually 370 suite-style rooms — some v bay windows — and also public areas including “crystal chandeliers, a glittering ballroom, soaring arches, wrought-iron staircases and also a wide lobby lined through multicolored marble from France, Italy and also Vermont,” according to the Chicago Tribune. Native its beginning — twenty years after the great Chicago Fire — ads because that the hotel asserted the edifice was “absolutely fireproof.”

through 1976, though, the Tribune referred to the Lexington — renamed new Michigan Hotel around 1935 — together “picturesquely rundown.”

“Whose bones might lie moldering in the 125-foot-long solid concrete vault beneath southern Michigan Avenue follow me the structure of the old Lexington Hotel?”


A see of the exterior of the second floor of the former brand-new Michigan Hotel (previously Lexington Hotel) at 2135 S. Michigan Ave. In Chicago on Oct. 22, 1980. (Michael Budrys/Chicago Tribune)