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In November of 1939, notorious mobster Al Capone was released from federal custody after serving almost eight years in Alcatraz for tax evasion. Capone traveled to Baltimore for treatment of paresis — a psychotic dementia caused by widespread brain damage in tertiary syphilis — at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Wary of Capone’s reputation, Hopkins refused to admit him. As a compromise, Capone was treated at Union Memorial Hospital, where many Hopkins doctors had admitting privileges.

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At Union Memorial, Capone was allowed to take over the whole fifth floor. Obsessed that foes would try to poison him, Capone brought a food taster during his five-week hospital stay. His entourage also included bodyguards, his barber, a masseur and various family members. After his release from Union Memorial, Capone spent several months recuperating at the Mt. Washington home of a Maryland State Police sergeant, returning to his Florida villa on March 20, 1940.

Bowl by Nick Aloisio. Photo: Union Memorial Hospital
Bowl by Nick Aloisio. Photo: Union Memorial Hospital

To show his appreciation for the hospitality and care provided by Union Memorial, Capone he gave the hospital two weeping cherry trees. One of the trees was removed the early 1950s for the construction of a new wing. In February of 2010, the remaining tree split in half after a heavy snowfall. From the felled branch, Virginia artist Nick Aloisio crafted several bowls, trinket boxes, wine stoppers, pens and other items that were sold on eBay in 2012 as a fundraiser for the hospital. All of the younger weeping cherry trees on the Union Memorial campus are descendants cultivated by an arborist from Capone’s original tree.