Geraldo and Al Capone’s Vault
We’ll admit it, we were sucked in. Sitting there huddled around our TV on the night of April 21, 1986, we had no idea what we would see inside Al Capone’s secret vault. Would there be dead bodies? Piles and piles of cash and gold? At the very least, there must be all kinds of cool 1920’s-era artifacts; we were about to be let in on a super-cool time capsule, and some guy named Geraldo Rivera was to be our tour guide on this fascinating journey.
Yes, before he launched his own Sally Jesse-ish talk show (and got his nose broken during the famous skinhead brawl), our man Geraldo saw an opportunity in the basement of Chicago’s Lexington Hotel, and he jumped at it.
While crews were looking over The Lexington in advance of some renovations in the mid-80s, surveyors tripped on an elaborate tunnel system and a huge hidden vault. Geraldo jumped at the opportunity, and immediately set to work on a 2-hour syndicated show that would culminate with the vault being blasted open to reveal its vast fortunes.
…which brings us back to the night of the April 21st. For two hours we sat there, learning everything we could ever hope to about Capone, Prohibition, Chicago, the 20s, ‘The Untouchables’, tax evasion, The Lexington Hotel, how to blow up concrete wall, hidden vaults, and what should (or could) be inside. Medical examiners were invited to the site, so they could be there to take care of the corpses that would undoubtedly be inside. And IRS agents were there to scoop up all the booty.
And there in the middle of it all was Geraldo… openly giddy at the prospect of what we were all about to see.
Then the moment came, and with a series of booms and a strong yank, the huge, heavy vault door was opened. When the dust settled, well…
Dirt. And a bottle.
No dead bodies, no money. No nothing. Just a huge pile of dirt and one, lowly, empty bottle.
Geraldo later went on to say that the moment didn’t destroy his career, it created it… and the fact that he’s still around today certainly makes you think he had a point, but for us, well… Sorry, but we still can’t look at him (even 25 years later) without thinking how embarrassing that moment was. And how duped we all felt. The show may have held the top spot as the most watched syndicated program for a while there, but it was all for nothing. Zip. Zilch.
So, Geraldo… you might still be around, but guess what? The term ‘Al Capone’s Vault’ (meaning ‘all hype with no payoff’) is, too, pal. And for us Children of the 80s, you and that term will always go together. Just like peanut butter and chocolate.
We ♥ Geraldo and Al Capone’s Vault.