On this day 37 years ago, Geraldo Rivera’s legendary two-hour live special “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults” was broadcast across the country.
“Directly beneath me, in this hotel’s rubble-strewn basement, a massive concrete chamber has been discovered,” Rivera said at the top of the broadcast. “And there is evidence to suggest that that vault once belonged to Al Capone, the richest, most powerful gangster of his time.”
He used explosives to open Capone’s vaults at the old Lexington Hotel, hoping to discover prohibition-era secrets.
Would it be dead bodies? Could it be cash? Weapons? Bootlegged booze?
Thirty million viewers tuned in, making it the “highest-rated syndicated special” in history.
In the end, the vault only held an empty whiskey bottle.
“I wonder if I can get a deposit on a 60-year-old bottle?” Rivera asked. “It seems at least, up to now, we’ve struck out with the vault. I’m disappointed about that, as I’m sure you are. This is one time in my life when finding a pot of gold would have been a lot more fun than chasing the rainbows.”)
Westgate and Tribune Entertainment produced the program through the facilities of WGN Television.
Looking through the archives at WGN, we discovered a safe of our own, locked for more than three decades.
It held vintage software, old movies, and the original tapes of one of the most notorious incidents in Chicago broadcast history: the Nov. 22, 1987 newscast, during which the WGN signal was hijacked for about 20 seconds by someone posing as the fictional 1980s character “Max Headroom,” the first digital TV presenter. It happened as former sports anchor Dan Roan delivered a report about the Chicago Bears.
“If you’re wondering what happened, so am I,” Roan said.
To this day, the person responsible has never been caught.