“The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vault” aired almost three decades ago this week, and at the time, it was the most watched syndicated television show in the history of the medium. The charismatic host of the show that evening kept viewers on the edge of their seats as he spoke of a recently discovered secret room at Chicago’s Lexington Hotel.
Broadcasting live, he promised the unveiling of long-kept secrets, the unknotting of historical mystery, and priceless artifacts where Capone once lived. Of course, it would take a character as ambitious as Capone himself to launch such an over-hyped, nationally televised treasure hunt like this, and “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vault” did not disappoint. The host that evening was Geraldo Rivera.
Yes, before he had his nose broken by a skinhead on daytime television; before he had fat sucked from his buttocks and shot into his forehead to remove the wrinkles; and before that infamous shirtless selfie went viral on Twitter, he had long ago revealed how ill-advised some of his decisions could be with this whole Capone affair.
With 30 million people waiting and watching to see mysteries solved and questions answered, the vault was opened revealing nothing – unless you consider an empty gin bottle to be of historical importance. The opening of Capone’s treasures was nothing more than fraudulent ballyhoo, propaganda to increase ratings. The story was as empty as the vault.
I must confess that Easter can sometimes leave us feeling like Geraldo. On Resurrection Sunday we gather with the sold-out crowd ( Easter remains the most well-attended church day of the year) and hear the report of Jesus coming back to life.
By the end of the show the grave stone is properly rolled away, we look inside for ourselves, sing a few celebratory songs, disperse to eat lunch with friends, hunt painted eggs, and stuff ourselves with bunny-borne chocolates. These are all fine activities, but rather anticlimactic given all the excitement; and given the fact that most of us shrug off the implications of Jesus’ resurrection as quickly as the baskets are put away and our Easter clothes are sent to the cleaners.