The Four Deuces was the headquarters of the Chicago Outfit, managed by Johnny “The Brain” Torrio and his protégé Al Capone in the early 1920s. The three-story saloon, brothel and gambling parlor were named after its 2222 South Wabash Avenue address. The building was demolished in 1966.
But a popular red phone booth from the inside of the building survived.
And it has since enjoyed a larger-than-life journey. The phone booth is now a prized interactive artifact at the Mob Museum (National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement) in downtown Las Vegas. During the mid-1960s the wooden phone booth was salvaged by Bruce and Claire Newton of west suburban Aurora. The Newtons were television pioneers who entertained a generation of baby-boomer children in Chicago. They worked with the popular Garfield Goose puppet and designed the earliest studio sets for the “Soul Train” television show.
The Newtons were extreme collectors. During the early 1980s, I visited their four-story, eighteen-room house in Aurora. They built a vintage barber shop in the basement and a turn-of-the-century general store upstairs, all filled with antiques. A secret bookshelf door in the basement contained years of Reader’s Digest magazines. The door opened to a modest-sized workshop where dozens of marionettes and puppets were created, including Nautilus the Sea Dragon and Polly the Parrot, the latter of which was used for political campaigns of that era in the Chicago area. The basement also featured an old-time popcorn maker and ice-cream parlor. The Four Deuces phone booth watched over the sweet memories from a basement aisle.
The Newtons dressed in matching outfits, generally in mixes of bright red, white and black. They both wore their hair in black bangs. In June 2006 the Newtons left their beloved Aurora mansion and put their collection into an estate sale. Claire Newton died in July 2006 at the age of seventy-seven. Bruce Newton died in November 2007 at the age of eighty.
The Four Deuces phone booth did not sell at the estate sale. A sign described the relic as Al Capone’s phone booth. Aurora attorney Jeff Evers saw the item but took a pass on the $1,200 sale price. The phone booth went on the lam until Evers saw it again in an August 2006 auction in Yorkville, Illinois. He purchased it for $625 and invested $5,000 in parts and restoration. “It didn’t have fancy wood sides on it,” Evers says in a phone interview from Aurora. “It just had plywood sides which indicated to me that when it was in the Four Deuces Club it was embedded in a wall. The sides weren’t finished.”
Evers, sixty-three, developed his hobby of going to estate sales in 1998 after watching “Antiques Roadshow.” After snagging the Four Deuces phone booth Evers landed at a 2010 estate sale in Wayne Township, near Bartlett. He was in search of a more appropriate period telephone for his new acquisition. “I find out the decedent was an attorney who has been murdered by his client and his client’s friend,” Evers says matter-of-factly.
Carl W. Kuhn was a respected eighty-two-year-old Bartlett attorney and firearms collector. According to the DuPage County State’s Attorney, on August 21, 2009, Terry Bratcher of West Chicago, a former client of Kuhn, and Keith Allen of Chicago forced Kuhn to drink iced tea laced with dishwashing soap and smothered him to death. Bratcher and Allen then stole forty-six guns and collectible coins. Both men were convicted of murder. “The 1920s pay phone I found at the smothered lawyer’s estate sale is the same phone in the phone booth at the Mob Museum,” Evers says.
The Mob Museum was unaware of this particular twist until I started interrogating the involved parties.
Evers spent many hours researching the phone booth. In 2008 he obtained paperwork, demolition records, and photos of the Four Deuces building from the City of Chicago’s Department of Buildings. “During the 1950s and early sixties the Four Deuces became a tenement home and a chrome phone was installed,” Evers says. “That is what was in the phone booth when I bought it.” Evers purchased parts of three different phone booths to create his perfect booth: The original booth he bought that had been owned by the Newtons, a second booth he found at an Ottawa auction house that he used for outer panels, and the 1920s phone (sans the booth) from the deceased attorney.
Evers owned the historic phone booth between 2006 and the spring of 2019 when it was acquired by the Mob Museum for an undisclosed price. The museum opened in 2012 in a former federal courthouse and U.S. Post Office building.
The Four Deuces phone booth is now in front of the museum’s popular basement speakeasy. Tourists can take photos inside the booth. It is a prized artifact at the museum. During my visit a couple of docents told me not to miss the phone booth in the basement. One docent said it came from a Chicago media figure. They had no idea I was from Chicago. I wondered about tough crime reporters I knew: John “Bulldog” Drummond? Chuck Goudie?
It wasn’t until I returned to Chicago and put 2 and 2 and 2 and 2 together and thought, well, of course: The Garfield Goose puppeteers could have owned this. I remembered they had a lot of stuff. Like 2,222 items.
Geoff Schumacher is vice president of exhibits and programs at the Mob Museum. His daughter Erin and son-in-law Michael Stern are lawyers who live in west suburban Glen Ellyn. When Evers contacted Schumacher the first thing he did was dispatch the Sterns to Evers’ house to check out the phone booth. “They took a lot of different pictures of the phone booth,” Schumacher says. “They sent me their pictures and impressions. Then Evers sent me a lot of documentation. Verification of the provenance of the phone booth, the fact that it came from the couple who had the house with all the collectibles. And there was a declaration from Bruce Newton stating where he got the phone booth. We were never in touch with any of the Newton family.”
On August 2, 2006, Bruce Newton signed a notarized statement that he purchased the booth from the Four Deuces building. That lines up with the building’s approximate demolition date. Evers secured that document while visiting Bruce Newton in an assisted living facility in Aurora. Evers shared Newton’s statement with me. It reads, “I, Bruce Newton, purchased the phone booth (upright) (6 foot) from Al Capone’s headquarters in Chicago located at 2222 South Wabash, I purchased this phone booth around 1966. It is my belief that Al Capone used this phone booth when he needed privacy and couldn’t use the phone in his own office. All of the above I believe to be true.”
Kim Newton greenlighted the Evers visit with his father and he confirmed the transaction statement is his father’s handwriting. “Something of this nature and the pride of my father with this, I had to watch over it,” Newton says. Evers adds, “I met Kim once at the estate sale. That’s my involvement with him.”
Schumacher explains, “A lot of people go inside the phone booth, close the door, the light turns on and they take a picture. You can also take your picture with the door open. We decided it was an interactive element. We did not put it behind glass and made it where it was untouchable. And the speakeasy is a popular place.”
There has always been a tight connection between Chicago and Las Vegas, besides Wayne Newton and Bruce Newton. The Mob Museum features the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre wall bricks as well as the massacre crime scene evidence from North Clark Street. A .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver owned by Capone is on display on loan from the IRS Criminal Investigation Division. The museum recently acquired several rare letters written by Capone as well as a home movie he shot at his Florida estate in 1929. The interest in Capone artifacts is substantial: In 2021 an auction of Capone’s personal items brought in more than $3.1 million. More than 1,200 bidders from all fifty states and several countries participated in the auction.
“We know from the history of organized crime in America that Chicago was a very important place,” Schumacher says. “It was by far the most prominent mob city in the Midwest. We have a large number of artifacts from Chicago on display in our museum. The phone booth tells an important part of the story because the Four Deuces Club was the headquarters first for Johnny Torrio and then Al Capone. They embarked on growing the Chicago Outfit into this mammoth mob.”
Kim Newton and his four sisters were unaware they were growing up with an important piece of mob history in the far west suburbs of Chicago. (His sister Darry died in 1995.) Newton is retired from his longtime gig as an operations consultant for McDonald’s. He lives in downstate Edwardsville.
“I don’t remember much about the phone booth,” says Newton, sixty-eight. “There were so many things in the house. I do remember Dad trading maybe 800 new 78 RPMs to get the phone booth. There was brittle brown paper wrapping over each record. They were in the attic, and he’d say, ‘Here’s your college education.’ My parents didn’t trust the banking system.”
When Evers visited Bruce Newton at the assisted-living facility, Newton told him that a South Loop businessman helped him strap the triple-insulated phone booth on top of the family’s Pontiac Catalina station wagon. Newton then hightailed it back to Aurora. Kim Newton says, “It was picked up in the mid-1960s for sure. It sat in the basement by a popcorn maker on wheels. We’d watch 8mm films in the basement and my dad made popcorn. He took a lot of movies of the house.
“If he talked about it, it was brief, only that it was a Capone phone booth from somewhere in Chicago. As kids, maybe we’d sit in it for a minute and move on to something else. When I graduated from [Aurora West] high school in 1972, the house was done. There was no room for anything. It would have taken a wheelbarrow, a dolly and four to six people to get that phone booth out of the house. The side of the house had an [exit] ramp for tornados. That’s how they got stuff in and out of the basement. The only other way to get to the basement was through a spiral staircase.”
There were three segments of growing up in the whirling circus world of Bruce and Claire Newton.
“No one talks about the first half,” Newton says. “The second half has to do with Garfield Goose and the [Aurora] house tours. The first half is the early days of TV when we lived in a little five-room duplex on the east side of Aurora. Five kids all in one room. My father worked for the ‘Shock Theatre’ on ABC-TV in Chicago.”
The weekly horror showcase ran on WBKB-Channel 7 between 1957 and 1959. It featured a six-piece band called the Deadbeats that played song parodies. Musicians included Lenny Druss, who went on to play in the Chicago jazz outfit the Soulful Strings and bassist Harold Siegel, who also performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. “Our dad was Frankenstein,” Newton says. “Since this was live television he would give us hand signals as to which train he was catching to come home. We didn’t have much money but they were starting to get into antiques.”
Bruce Newton was writing for WBKB’s “Fun and Features” in 1952 when Frazier Thomas arrived in Chicago. He had been working at WLW-AM in Cincinnati where the first version of Garfield Goose appeared. “The Frazier Thomas Show” debuted on WBKB in 1952 with Thomas as the host, Garfield making his Chicago television debut and Newton working behind the scenes. A WBKB secretary was recruited as one of the first puppeteers. The show reached its largest audiences when it aired on WGN-TV from 1955 to 1976.
There was an unsettled lifelong dispute on who “created” Garfield Goose. During my 1980s house visit in Aurora, Bruce Newton recalled, “Frazier used to walk around with a hockey sock in his pocket with a button on it, so we got the idea of Garfield Goose.” Thomas once told me, “The whole thing stirs my liver a little bit.” Thomas died in 1985 after suffering a stroke before a taping of WGN-TV’s “The Bozo Show.”
Newton, who never threw anything away, kept his original 1952 sketch of Garfield and collected affidavits and notarized testimonials such as one from Gengler’s metal shop in Aurora that said they made the first metal beak for Garfield in May 1952.
Jim Engel is the longtime children’s television curator at the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago. “Bruce Newton created the first Garfield Goose puppet used in Chicago,” he writes in an email. “Bruce was an early pioneer in Chicago TV history. He was only involved in the first couple of months of Garfield Goose (perhaps twenty shows) before leaving over a financial dispute.”
Kim Newton matter-of-factly says, “If Frazier did create it, why didn’t he ever sue my father? My parents used Garfield in parades and shows right up to the end.” Engel counters, “Frazier didn’t own Garfield Goose, WGN did. They decided not to pursue it [legal action].”
According to the 2004 book “The Golden Age of Chicago Children’s Television” (Southern Illinois Press) by Ted Okuda and Jack Mulqueen, the WBKB general manager Sterling “Red” Quinlan told then-Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, “Frazier was quite mad at Bruce. And for his own reasons, he never gave Bruce any credit for his role.”
Newton left WBKB in 1964 to do a non-goose children’s show for WCIU-Channel 26, Chicago’s first UHF (ultrahigh frequency) station. (In 1968 WBKB became today’s WLS-TV.) Okuda and Mulqueen write that Thomas was upset with Newton’s departure.
John Weigel, a former commercial announcer for Miller High Life, Northern Trust Bank and other clients had established WCIU. (Weigel was the father of the late Chicago sportscaster Tim Weigel.) John Weigel also brought in vocalist-entertainer Dick “Two-Ton” Baker, an early influence on the late Memphis musician and producer Jim Dickinson (Bob Dylan, Big Star, the Replacements). Claire Newton soon joined her husband for side work at WCIU. The Newtons moved to their large house on the west side of Aurora in 1965.
The Newton’s third segment included their 1970 assignment of designing the earliest studio sets for the “Soul Train” dance show on WCIU. The sets were constructed by the Newtons on their front driveway and in the garage because the house was too crowded with antiques. The sets were cut and painted in Aurora because of limited space in the downtown WCIU studio at the Chicago Board of Trade Building. Sometimes Newton would help his parents.
“The sets were in the driveway and the neighbors would complain,” Newton says. “We never got along with the neighbors because we were out there at ten, eleven at night pounding and nailing. My mother always painted the sets. We’d work on those on Friday night and drive them down to the station on Saturday morning.”
The Newton family had settled in the Tanner Historic District in 1965 where they would live until 2006. Locals called their home “The Garfield Goose House.” Newton lets out a long sigh and says, “That’s when all the fun started happening. We got our own rooms. They really started going after the antiques. They would go out on weekend trips to Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. They dressed up as poor people so they could get better deals. It got to the point where they themed different rooms. The Lincoln Room. My room was ‘The Train Room.’”
Newton slept next to a model train set that was mounted on a four-foot by eight-foot sheet of plywood. The set included fully operational (small) N gauge trains, models, people and bridges. The contraption would pull down from a side wall with hinges next to his bed. He says, “I remember waking up with people popping in my room and turning on the lights to see ‘The Train Room.’ That was kind of weird. By the time I was in late junior high school it started becoming a very big deal. My parents would tell everyone stories about all these different antiques. Where did they come from? He had part of a fence from where Lincoln lived. Sometimes he dressed up like Abe Lincoln for a tour. He had a clock from the Aurora train station. There was a room upstairs where you could dribble around and play basketball until they turned it into a general store, guest bedroom and military room, the Capone phone booth.
“There was stuff from everywhere.”
John R. Jaros had a front-row seat in the Newton house. He is the longtime executive director of the Aurora Historical Society. The Newtons were Historical Society board members in the late 1970s. Every December during their tenure, they hosted board meetings in their house. The Newtons also had a community open house every winter, according to Jaros.
Jaros, sixty-four, is a Chicago native who came to Aurora in 1984 when he joined the Historical Society. He remembers seeing the Capone phone booth in the basement, but it was just a piece of an endless puzzle. “The Newtons dressed in red and black so the house was decorated in red and black,” he says during an interview at the Aurora Historical Society museum. “Even in the attic they had theme spaces. It was like constructing museum exhibits. Bruce would talk about how many telephones they had and he would name them by number. He’d say ‘We have forty-seven stoves.’ And it was forty-seven stoves. It was a wonderment. I was floored. The other thing was, ‘Do you need so many of anything?’ I guess if collecting is your love and you love everything, that’s how it goes.
“But I had never seen regular people collect so much stuff.”
Before moving to a former women’s dress store (circa 1920s-1970s) in downtown Aurora in 1995, the Historical Society operated out of the 1856 Italianate-style Tanner House which was one block away from the Newton’s home. A wooden front porch was added to the Tanner House in 1908. “It is brick with concrete steps going up,” Jaros says. “Every year Claire used to paint the steps red. That was her big thing. In 1985 a new president wanted to shake things up and Bruce and Claire didn’t want to be involved anymore. But we were always in communication because they were so close.”
The Newtons bequeathed one version of Garfield Goose and a dozen other puppets to the Aurora Historical Society. During my visit, Jaros retrieved a cardboard box that said “Garfield Goose.” He carefully removed a fleece goose from the box. He laid the foot-long puppet with bouncy black eyes on a table. For me, it was like having an intimate look at Babe Ruth’s bat in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
“This is the thing,” Jaros says before a pause. “The oldest puppets they had were in their basement. I think the first Gar that Bruce made was there. The original had red felt where the inside of the beak is painted. Starting in the seventies Bruce and Claire did 200 engagements a year where they would bring Gar and some other puppets. So Gar probably got replaced a couple of times. Bruce always promised me we would get a ‘Garfield.’ So we have Garfield. It is from Bruce and Claire Newton. But I can’t say which one it is.”
Kim Newton adds, “People wanted my parents in parades all the time. They used the station wagon. My Dad would drive with his hand out the window. Mom would be on the stage on top of the car with Garfield Goose, they did hundreds of parades: on Michigan Avenue during Christmas. State Street.”
Not to go down a rabbit hole on a goose trail, but Newton confirms that his parents made seven Garfields. He says the Aurora Historical Society has the final puppet that was used until the end. The Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago has the first 1952 goose used on Chicago television. Each of the Newton’s four living children was given a Gar as well as the Aurora beak maker’s secretary. Jaros says, “The Newton kids also gave us a couple of big traveling trunks. Painted red. They opened up and it would be a stage for the puppets. We’ve had them on display but they take up a lot of real estate.”
Bruce Newton was born in Saginaw, Michigan and attended Arthur Hill High School in Saginaw. After graduation, he joined the Navy and was assigned to the (second) USS Planter. So Newton established a “World War II Military Room” in Aurora. “My Dad went into Hiroshima the fourth or fifth day after the bomb dropped. He was a radioman on the ship. He had a lot of weird stuff from the war,” his son explains. “People were more interested in visiting my parents’ house than going to a museum. They never charged for tours. But for us children, it was a typical house. We had a modern washer and dryer, modern stove and modern refrigerator. We had one TV. But ninety percent of the house was antiques.”
The Newtons met at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and were influenced by Burr Tillstrom of Kukla, Fran and Ollie fame. When I saw them in the early 1980s they were operating a tele-puppets business from their home. Tele-puppet programming included an all-puppet magic show and musical revue and lectures about television production.
Claire smiled and told me, “We’re a fantasy living within a fantasy.”
Garfield Goose claimed to be “King of the United States” because the puppet wore a tiny crown. During my visit, Newton explained why Garfield Goose was mute. “First of all, whoever heard of a goose talking?” he asked. “But in the early 1950s, there were two ways of paying union performers.” With the emergence of the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists, “People were paid for five lines or more or five lines or less. We were on a budgeted show so Garfield didn’t talk.” In “The Golden Age of Chicago Children’s Television” Okuda and Mulqueen write that Bruce Newton wasn’t allowed to talk, but the puppeteer could bang on the stage with Garfield’s beak or have the goose ring a bell.
The house of memories still leaves Kim Newton a bit speechless. He was the executor of the endless estate. He had to dispose of thousands of items such as his parents’ collection of eighty oil lamps. Like his parents, he had a lot on his hands. “Growing up, you either loved the antiques or you hated them,” he says. “I cannot stand antiques. I don’t like anything about them. There’s a smell to them. I have three sisters that are alive. When we sold the house the kids picked out what they wanted. I may have five items from the whole house. One is an antique coffee grinder. I just never got into antiques.”