Eighty-some years later, Virginia Smith recalls a particularly scary houseguest. Dark hair. Long scar. Good dancer. Al Capone. That's the caliber of visitor you might get when you run a speakeasy out of your home, as did Smith's mother, Marge Taylor. And Capone, one of her hooch suppliers, sometimes would drop by.
Eighty-some years later, Virginia Smith recalls a particularly scary houseguest.
Dark hair. Long scar. Good dancer.
That's the caliber of visitor you might get when you run a speakeasy out of your home, as did Smith's mother, Marge Taylor. And Capone, one of her hooch suppliers, sometimes would drop by.
"She was scared of him," says Smith, 87. "She had to deal with him, but she was scared of him."
Over the years, Marge Taylor would encounter many characters in her trade, even after she turned legit after Prohibition and opened Marge's Tavern, now the oldest business in Chillicothe. Daughter Smith literally grew up there and still owns the building. Even now, Smith - though usually blunt - is reluctant to tell the old-time tales, for fear of insulting any of the descendants of her long-dead contemporaries.
"You don't want to say that someone's grandma or great-grandma was a whore," Smith says.
Her parents, Marge and Dick Taylor, first lived in Yates City. But they moved to Chillicothe, where Dick Taylor - a whiz under a car hood - would have more work opportunities.
"He was an A-number-one mechanic," Smith says. "But he only worked long enough to make enough money to get drunk."
His wife was determined that alcohol would be not the family's downfall, but rather its sustenance. With three kids to feed, Marge Taylor became an entrepreneur: She jammed tables and chairs into their big kitchen, then quietly made connections for bootleg booze.
To keep the law from taking too close a look, her mother - like other such local proprietors - would pay off city officials.
"They'd squeeze the poor people to make a living," Smith recalls with a grimace.
The kitchen bustled with as many as 20 customers at a time - "some of the most sophisticated names in Chillicothe," Smith says - and the house filled with cigar smoke and loud talk.
Once in a while, Capone would stop by: He'd often hobnob downstate when things got hot in the Windy City. Though jittery inside, Marge Taylor put on a happy face for the mobster.
"He was one of the best dancers she ever danced with," Smith says.
When Prohibition ended, Taylor saw opportunity at a newer store on Second Street. She and a few investors bought the place, and it's looked pretty much the same ever since: long bar, tall ceiling, checkerboard tile.
Marge Taylor opened a small kitchen in the back of the pub. If customers didn't have money and were hungry, she didn't make them pay.
One of her more well-heeled patrons was Bernie Shelton, the gambling kingpin from Peoria.
"I saw my mother dancing with him," Smith says with a grin. "I never knew he was a bad guy. When you're a kid, you never knew who was a bad guy."
From age 11 on, Smith would help her mother with chores at the bar. Even as a teen and while attending Chillicothe High School, Smith would pour drinks nearly every day.
But she never took a sip.
"I haven't had a drink yet," she says. "I'm too scared to drink, because of my father."
Rarely of help to the business, he died in the '40s. Without missing a beat, Marge Taylor kept the tavern thriving.
"My mother ran a very respectable place, to an extent," Smith says.
Marge Taylor would remarry, to a former Capone henchman named Lige Asquith.
"I didn't like him, because he had very bad manners when he was drunk," Smith says. "But he had very good manners when he was sober."
After 12 years of marriage, he died in the late '50s, leaving Marge Taylor alone again with her bar. She died at age 81 in the '60s; with a smile, Smith apologizes for not being able to recall the exact year.
As for herself, Smith would run Marge's off and on over the past 40 years. She raised two kids and endured two marriages, both of which ended in divorce.
"I didn't get married again," Smith says. "After that, I said to hell with it."
Smith still owns the building her mother bought in 1933, and she still lives upstairs. In 2000, she began to lease the business to cousin Sandra Brian, who renamed the joint Aunt Marge's Tavern. She died two years ago; her widower, John Brian, now operates the place.
Just about every day, though, Smith toddles downstairs and has a few Diet Pepsis. She likes to chat and buy a few rounds with the regulars.
Tuesday afternoon, she told a small gathering that she ran a tight ship back in the day: "This was the best run place in Chillicothe."
Jerry Osburne, 62, grinned at her and said, "I know. You threw me out twice."
Smith laughed, then said, "I loved ya, but I couldn't stand ya."
She glances around the room, smiling, not far from the framed photo of her mother that overlooks the bar.
"I'm gonna live to be a hundred," Smith says. "I've made up my mind."
Peoria Journal Star columnist Phil Luciano can be reached at (309) 686-3155 or email@example.com.