COUDERSPORT -- The second annual Eliot Ness Fest is planned to take over the borough July 19-21.
The long weekend event is a celebration of the life and career of Eliot Ness.
Ness, a Chicago native, began his law enforcement career as one of 300 prohibition agents in the late 1920s. Agents weren’t paid well and many offset this by accepting payoffs and bribes to “look the other way.” Unlike many of them, Ness refused payoffs and busted into breweries and distilleries controlled by mobs, including the infamous mobster Al Capone.
The government wanted to bring down Capone; Ness was put in charge of the “Capone Squad” to conduct aggressive raids to cut off Capone’s source of income. Eventually a second team of Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service investigators developed the tax evasion case that sent Capone to prison.
Ness spent the last couple years of his life in Coudersport. He died in 1957 at his home here. The Potter County Historical Society sponsors this annual event and is looking forward to many visitors from all over.
“We have reservations pouring in from Chicago and Cleveland, where Eliot Ness is well-known, but also from as far away as California, Florida and two Canadian provinces,” David Castano said in a press release. Castano is president of the Potter County Historical Society,
The weekend has some speakers planned throughout the weekend, including Scott Sroka, an Assistant U.S. Attorney and grandson of “Untouchable” Joe Leeson, who worked with Ness on the Capone investigation; A. Brad Schwartz, co-author of a critically-acclaimed book shedding light on Ness’s battles against Al Capone’s criminal outfit; and agents from the U.S. Dept. of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, where Ness got his start in law enforcement.
A re-enactment of the tax evasion trial that took down the Capone are planned for 5 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. Those and the “Eliot Ness: A Biographical Suite/Musical Journey to the Roaring ‘20s” at 7:30 p.m. Friday are ticketed events.
This year’s festival will serve as the first reunion of descendants of agents who served with Ness.
“Scott Sroka ... the grandson of the Untouchable Joe Lesson ... has been working for some time and thinks he’s really gotten this pulled together to start a group club of descendants of the Untouchables, where they would meet, discuss their family member’s stories, history,” Jennifer Rossman, marketing and communications chair of the Eliot Ness Fest, told the Potter Leader-Enterprise in January.
Sroka will be joined by at least three other Untouchable descendants, they have a presentation and will answer questions at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the theater.
Other highlights of the festival include a speakeasy-themed gathering spot known as “Jack’s Place,” attendees can follow a script on the path of “Eliot’s Last Walk,” taken moments before he died of a heart attack in May 1957, author Max Allan Collins will introduce an award-winning movie based on his crime novel, “Road to Perdition,” and explain its ties to Ness and Capone at the theater, more than 100 vintage vehicles will take part in the car show and parade and the Hotel Crittenden is hosting a “Speakeasy Swing” dance and costume contest.
Details on the festival are being regularly updated on a Facebook page, titled Eliot Ness Fest, and a website, eliotnessfest.com.