The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults
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Hosted by Geraldo Rivera, the special centers around the opening of a secret vault once owned by noted gangster Al Capone. The program is now perhaps best known for the vault being ultimately empty except for debris.
Al Capone was born January 17, 1899 in New York City to immigrant parents. He moved to Chicago in 1919 where he became a notable criminal figure and gangster. He played large parts in gambling, alcohol, and prostitution rackets and in 1925 Capone took control of the Chicago Outfit for which he had served as the second in command, after an assassination attempt on former head Johnny Torrio. He was listed on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list, sold alcohol during the Prohibition era, planned the St. Valentine's Day massacre, and was eventually indicted and convicted of income tax evasion in 1931. He was released from Alcatraz prison in 1939 on humanitarian grounds due to acutely advancing syphilis. He died January 25, 1947 in his palatial estate on Palm Island, Florida from cardiac arrest after suffering a stroke a week after his 48th birthday.
Capone had previously housed his headquarters at the nearby Metropole Hotel, but in July 1928 moved to a suite at the Lexington Hotel. Capone ran his various enterprises from this hotel until his arrest in 1931. A construction company (Sunbow) in the 1980s planned a renovation of the Lexington Hotel and while surveying the building discovered a shooting range and a series of secret tunnels including one hidden behind Capone's medicine cabinet. These tunnels connected taverns and brothels to provide an elaborate potential escape route in case of a police raid. These discoveries led to further investigation of the hotel, notably by researcher Harold Rubin. Rumors said Capone had kept a very secret vault beneath the hotel to hold some of his wealth.
Geraldo Rivera had been fired in 1985 after criticizing ABC for canceling a report on an alleged relationship between John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. He then hosted the special The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults which was broadcast live on April 21, 1986. The two-hour special (including commercials) was greatly hyped as potentially revealing great riches or bodies on live television. This included the presence of a medical examiner should bodies be found and agents from the Internal Revenue Service to collect any of Capone's money that might be discovered.
When the vault was finally opened, the only things found inside were dirt and several empty bottles including one Rivera claimed was for moonshine bathtub gin. Despite the ending, the special became the most-watched syndicated television special with an estimated audience of 30 million. "Seems like we struck out," Rivera was quoted as saying after the show, though he later wrote of the event in his 1991 autobiography Exposing Myself that "My career was not over, I knew, but had just begun. And all because of a silly, high-concept stunt that failed to deliver on its titillating promise."
Pop culture 
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- On May 3, 1986, Monkee Micky Dolenz served as a guest VJ on MTV, and announced in played-up Geraldo fashion that there was a secret door discovered inside of MTV that would be opened for the first time in ages, and that viewers would see the possible treasures ("It could be a Monkees episode we don't remember filming" was one possibility touted by Micky) inside whatever room the door led to. When the door was later "forced" open, it merely led out to the street.
- The special was parodied in "Weird Al" Yankovic's 1989 movie UHF, where George Newman (Yankovic) hosts a special uncovering the secrets of Al Capone's glove compartment. Newman's discovery is highlighted by the line "A-ha, road maps!"
- In the 1993 "Homer's Barbershop Quartet" episode of The Simpsons, Homer Simpson pens an incomplete song about the television special with the lyrics, "There was nothing in Al Capone's vault, But it wasn't Geraldo's fault! D'oh!"
- In "The Spooktacular New Adventures of Casper" (1996–98) "Elusive Exclusive" episode, while watching Perry Piscatore's report from Whipstaff, a parody of Geraldo says that the report is "worse than when he opened Capone's vault."
- In the 1997 movie, Titanic, Brock Lovett opens a salvaged safe that disappointingly does not contain "The Heart of the Ocean," while being filmed. His assistant states, "You know, boss, this same thing happened to Geraldo and his career never recovered."
- The Colbert Report referenced the vault on its August 14, 2006 episode, when Colbert quipped, "Why are you closing yourself off from Geraldo? He came to unlock the vault of your heart and when he opened it, it was empty. An empty vault. And he had a camera crew. It was very embarrassing."
- A 2007 Time Magazine Culture Complex article refers to James Cameron's Tomb of Jesus promotion as having "a showbizzy, Al Capone's vault feel [...]"
- On March 23, 2011 on FX's "Justified", a reference is made to Geraldo and Al Capone's Vaults when U.S. Marshals are about to open an old evidence lockup, supposedly containing money.
- In the season 7 episode of the CW's "Supernatural", entitled "The Mentalists", the main characters Sam & Dean Winchester dig up a grave. When they find no bones contained in it, Dean exclaims, "We've been Geraldo'd!"
- In the Sealab 2021 episode "The Policy" the character Dr. Quentin Q. Quinn announces that "It's all Al Capone's vault all over again" when he and other members of the crew are sent to find pirate treasure on a sunken wreck.
- Geraldo himself made light of the special on the sitcom Nurses. In the episode "Dirty Laundry," Geraldo comes to the hospital to do an exposé on wasteful hospital spending. At the episode's climax, Geraldo opens up the hospital dumpster live on television, only instead of finding the expected evidence of wasteful spending, he only finds worn-out, discarded scrubs. Geraldo quickly says that the scrubs are the evidence, saying that they could have easily been mended and re-used.
Lexington Hotel today 
The Lexington Hotel (renamed the New Michigan Hotel in 1938) was demolished in 1996. The site remained a deserted lot in the South Loop neighborhood of Chicago for over a decade, until the area was revitalized in the mid-2000s. The 31-story Lexington Park Condominiums was completed on the site in 2008.
- "Capone Vault-Cracking An Unrewarding Blast". Toledo Blade.
- List of The Colbert Report episodes#Season 2, Wikipedia List of The Colbert Report episodes (2006)#August
- Ponieozik, J. (2007). Hollywood vs. Jesus. Time Magazine. 169 (11) p. 57.
- "The Lexington Hotel". Buildings. The South Loop Historical Society. Retrieved 15 September 2012.
- The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults at the Internet Movie Database
- Al Capone's Vault on TV Acres. Retrieved July 8, 2006.
- Geraldo Rivera on the Museum of Broadcast Communications by Susan Murray. Retrieved July 8, 2006.
- The Lexington Hotel on Prairie Ghosts in 2003 by Troy Taylor. Retrieved July 8, 2006.
- Al Capone on the FBI homepage. Retrieved July 8, 2006.