Breaking News Bar

Birger car gets a facelift

  • Red Talley spent last Friday morning detailing the 1912 Huckster that once belonged to Charlie Birger. The owner of Talley Detailing said he was 'honored' to be chosen for the task. The car is among several on display at the Franklin County Garage 1910 Museum. The museum is also home to other Birger memorabilia including the handcuffs he wore when he was hanged.

    Red Talley spent last Friday morning detailing the 1912 Huckster that once belonged to Charlie Birger. The owner of Talley Detailing said he was 'honored' to be chosen for the task. The car is among several on display at the Franklin County Garage 1910 Museum. The museum is also home to other Birger memorabilia including the handcuffs he wore when he was hanged.
    Photo by Holly Kee

  • Charlie Birger was laid to rest in St. Louis' Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, which was ravaged by vandals last month. Birger's marker is under repair.

    Charlie Birger was laid to rest in St. Louis' Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, which was ravaged by vandals last month. Birger's marker is under repair.
    Photo courtesy of Ethan Schuman, DDS, St. Louis

 
Posted on 4/4/2017, 5:00 AM

Red Talley cleans a lot of cars, but it's not often that those cars are more than 100 years old -- or that they belonged to local gangster legend Charlie Birger.

Birger's 1912 Huckster is on display at the Franklin County Garage 1910 Museum on North Main Street in Benton.

According to Robert Rea, president of the Franklin Count Historical Society, the car is owned by Mark Bailey of the Huck's corporation. Bailey's father, Frank, originally loaned it to the museum about 20 years ago.

"Even though it stays in here, we still need to maintain it," Rea said. "That kind of care is not entrusted to just anyone."

Rea and museum officials decided to contact Talley, owner of Talley Detailing, to do the job.

"That's quite an honor," Talley said, "for someone to trust me enough to polish and work on something worth this much."

Talley said working on this car is not like detailing a "normal" car. "There's a lot of brass, wood and paint," he said. "I want to do it right."

Birger, the next-to-last man publicly hanged in Illinois, was a Robin Hood-like character. Residing near Harrisburg in the small settlement of Ledford, Birger, a Russian immigrant, operated a grocery store and was regarded as a "hero" for his philanthropic contributions to his local community.

Most of Birger's fortune came from bootlegging. When the United States adopted prohibition following World War I, Birger saw it as a business opportunity. He eventually built a fortified speakeasy, Shady Rest, just over the Williamson/Saline County line on old Highway 13. A barbecue stand just off the highway served as the guard shack.

Birger and the Shelton Brothers Gang fought for control of the local coal fields, but soon joined forces to defeat the local Ku Klux Klan, which worked to uphold prohibition.

The truce did not last long, and the two gangs continued their turf war. In June 1927, Birger was arrested on a charge of ordering the murder of West City mayor Joe Adams. Birger was hanged at the Franklin County Jail April 19, 1928.

Birger is buried in Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, Mo.