Al Capone's legacy lives on

Union Memorial is selling on eBay, for charity, wood carvings made from the felled limb of a Japanese weeping cherry tree that gangster Al Capone donated to the hospital. (Courtesy of Union Memorial Hospital / March 26, 2012)

Who says Al Capone was a bad guy? Well, lots of people do. But he did at least one nice thing in his life. He donated two Japanese weeping cherry trees to Union Memorial Hospital in 1939.

Now, the hospital is selling carvings from a broken limb of one of the trees on eBay and in an upcoming auction, as part of a hospital fundraiser.

In November 1939, Capone, then a sickly mobster recently released from Alcatraz after serving nearly eight years of an 11-year sentence for tax evasion and Prohibition violations, was referred to Johns Hopkins Hospital for treatment of paresis, or syphilis of the brain, but Hopkins, leery of his reputation, refused to admit him.

He ended up on the fifth floor of Union Memorial — as the lone patient and with food tasters to protect him from poisoning — and was said to be so grateful for the compasionate care he received that he donated two cherry trees to the hospital. One of the trees was removed to make way for a new wing of the hospital in the 1950s.


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But the other, known as the Capone tree, lives on after more than 70 years and is now in full pink bloom outside the East 33rd Street entrance.

"It's a landmark tree," said hospital spokewoman Debra Schindler. "We're happy to say it's doing very well."

An arborist has replanted clippings of the tree, known as "Caponettes," around the hospital campus.

When one of 2010's back-to-back snowstorms split the tree in half and claimed a 10-foot limb, Union Memorial commissioned Nick Aloisio, a wood turner from Abingdon, Va., who'd called the hospital and offered to make mementos from the wood of the felled limb. He made an assortment of food-safe bowls, lidded trinket boxes, decorative wine stoppers, pens and even a small vase from the wood of the felled limb.

Now, several boxes, bowls and wine stoppers are up online for bidding on eBay, and were expected to fetch several hundred dollars apiece when the bidding period ended this week, said Schindler, who put them up on eBay on March 20.

"I know there's great interest in them," Schindler said. "They're obviously one of a kind."

Proceeds from the eBay auction and a silent auction at Union Memorial's Champions of Care gala April 21 will go to the hospital's Office of Philanthropy to support surgical services, Schindler said. The hospital holds the fundraiser every two years.

This year, the event at M&T Bank Stadium will include the presentation of the inaugural Champons of Care Award to the Baltimore Ravens, for what the hospital said is the NFL team's "outstanding service to the health and well-being of our community," according to a press release.

The arborist decreed that the tree was in "general decline," but hospital officials are nursing it along.

"We invest every year in this community landmark," Neil MacDonald, hospital vice president of operations and a woodcarver himself, told The Sun last spring. "We keep working to keep it healthy."