Storm Slices Tree Capone Gave To Hospital

There Are Offshoots

February 09, 2010|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,

Gangster Al Capone's departing gift to Baltimore was heavily damaged in this weekend's blizzard.

A 70-year-old weeping cherry tree, which the legendary mobster gave Union Memorial Hospital after he was treated there for syphilis, split in two Saturday, causing a major limb to fall to the ground.

Each April, the East 33rd Street tree sends out cascades of pink blossoms.

"I can't care if Capone was infamous or just famous, that tree he gave us was like a still-life fireworks display," said Stephen Alexander, a woodworker who spotted the tree damage as he walked his dog. "And I wonder what's going to happen to all that nice cherry wood."

"We were already concerned about the health of the tree and then this came along," said Debra Schindler, the Union Memorial spokeswoman. "As soon as the weather clears, an arborist will examine it and tell us what we can do."

She said the hospital asked an arborist to make cuttings several years ago, ensuring there would be baby Al Capone trees. Some were sold as part of a fundraiser; others were planted on the hospital's campus that stretches from 33rd Street to University Parkway in Charles Village. At least one offshoot was planted in the 33rd Street median between Calvert Street and Guilford Avenue.

Schindler said Capone, who was released from Alcatraz prison in 1939, had syphilis and sought treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital, but its officials were concerned about his notoriety. A compromise sent him to Union Memorial, where he was treated by Dr. Joseph E. Moore.

Capone took over the hospital's entire fifth floor and brought in his own food taster (he feared poisoning by his foes), his barber, bodyguards, a masseur and family members. After a five-week stay, he gave the hospital a pair of trees to show his appreciation. One was cut down when a hospital wing was extended to house medical records.

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