Eliot Ness arrests Madame Leslie

Eliot Ness (Jared Empson) arrests Madame Leslie (Leslie Empson) for operating a speakeasy at Madame Leslie Burlesque House of Sin during the 2019 Eliot Ness Fest.

The Eliot Ness Fest has been canceled due to the coronavirus, organizers announced on April 17.

“In the interest of public health and safety, this year’s Eliot Ness Fest has been canceled. This was a difficult decision, but the committee is confident that it was the right one,” organizers posted on the Eliot Ness Fest Facebook page. “We will return with a fantastic festival when conditions allow — hopefully in July 2021 — and we won’t skip a beat.”

The Ness Fest, which was gearing up for its third annual year, is a celebration of Eliot Ness, a Chicago native and a prohibition agent in the late 1920s. Agents weren’t paid well and many offset this by accepting bribes to “look the other way.” Unlike many agents, Ness refused payoffs and busted into breweries and distilleries controlled by mobs, including the infamous mobster Al Capone. Later in his life, at age 53, Ness moved to Coudersport. He died of a massive heart attack shortly after his move. Though he didn’t live here long, he made an impact on the town.

Downtown Coudersport transforms into the 1920s for the Ness Fest weekend, drawing in crowds and visitors from all over the nation. People dress up in 1920s attire, vintage cars line the streets and everyone gathers for one the festival’s staples, the street theatre. Eliot Ness, portrayed by Jared Empson, and his crew drive up and down Main Street, busting speakeasies disguised as regular businesses.

Another focal point is the reenactment of Al Capone’s trial, held in Potter County’s own courthouse, along with interactive programming with law enforcement, food vendors and a parade. Though the parade wasn’t planned to take place this year, a new beer garden was in the works.