This week in history: 3 famous Chicagoans, 1 birthday

What do Al Capone, Muhammad Ali and Michelle Obama have in common? Though not all born here, these notable Chicagoans share a birthday.

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Portrait Of Al ‘Scarface’ Capone

Gangster Al Capone shares his birthday, Jan. 17, with two others with strong Chicago connections.

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As published in the Chicago Daily News and the Chicago Sun-Times:

What do gangster Al Capone, “the Greatest” Muhammad Ali and former first lady Michelle Obama have in common? Besides a strong Chicago connection, they all share a birthday — Jan. 17 — and their legacies have left quite a mark on the city.

Here’s a look at the first mention of each person in the pages of the Chicago Daily News and the Chicago Sun-Times:

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Al Capone

Born in New York, the notorious head of the Chicago Outfit has become so iconic and synonymous with the city that he’s practically a tourist trap. Though he moved to Chicago in 1918, Capone’s name didn’t make the front pages of the Daily News until April 3, 1924 when it showed up on a list of citizens granted the right to carry a weapon — all approved by justices of the peace.

“When [State’s Attorny] Crowe summoned the justices to his office with their revolver permit records so he might strike off the names of well-known toughs, the records of Justice Joseph Michka of Cicero bore the names of Ralph Capone and Alphonse Capone,” the Daily News reported. “According to Assistant State’s Attorney Thomas Marshall, Ralph was supposed to be Frank Caponi and Alphonse, Frank’s brother, who is known also as ‘Al’ Brown, proprietor of the beer runners hangout at 2222 South Wabash avenue, the Four Deuces.”

Capone listed his address as 6832 Sheridan Road “in a neighborhood that presumably has little contact with such men as frequent the Four Deuces,” the paper added. The state’s attorney revoked Capone and his brother’s permits.

The investigation into the weapons permits stemmed from the Election Day mayhem in Cicero just days earlier. On April 1, violence broke out when Outfit-tied gangsters, including Capone himself, took to the polling places to “convince” voters to back Republican candidates, who were perceived as more lenient towards organized crime.

Muhammad Ali

Ali may have been born in Louisville, Kentucky, but he spent some of his most important years in Chicago. He fought numerous fights here (both in the ring and in the courtroom), owned several homes, including a mansion in Kenwood, and joined the Black Muslims, who were based on the South Side.

He first talked to a Daily News reporter in 1959 – before he dropped the name Cassius Clay and adopted the one given to him by Elijah Muhammad – just after he won the light-heavyweight title against Australian Tony Madigan in the New York vs. Chicago intercity Golden Gloves bouts at Chicago Stadium.

“Now I know what they mean,” he told a Daily News reporter. “A scared man fights better. All week long, all I hear is Madigan-this and Madigan-that.” The win likely shocked the crowd. At just 17 years old and still in high school, Ali managed to beat 29-year-old Madigan, “veteran of 100 amateur bouts.” He later taunted Madigan, calling him the “old man” from “down under.”

Planning to go professional after graduation, Ali already had his next move in mind: “I’m going for Patterson’s title.”

Michelle Obama

The only one of the three listed actually born in Chicago, Michelle Obama grew up in South Shore and graduated from Whitney M. Young Magnet High School. After earning degrees from Princeton and Harvard, she moved back to the city to work for Sidley & Austin, where she eventually met her future husband Barack Obama.

Michelle Obama’s name first surfaced in the Chicago Sun-Times in 1992 when columnist Michael Sneed got wind of her appointment to City Hall:

“Watch for City Planning Commissioner Valerie Jarrett to hire Michelle Robinson-Obama, an assistant to Mayor Daley’s former chief of staff, Dave Mosena, as her new point person responsible for monitoring the city’s major business expansion and retention efforts,” Sneed told readers on Oct. 15, 1992.

The future first lady worked for the city government for several years before taking a position with the University of Chicago and later the university’s hospital system where she stayed until the 2008 primary election.

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