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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Al Capone stops by New Gretna

Looking at the 1920's old cars in the Job's Creek accident photo (See the Friday, January 2nd blog entry.) brought back to my mind a story I heard from Douglas Lambert a while ago at a New Gretna Old Home Society Memorial Day dinner at St. Paul's Methodist Church in New Gretna. I mention the event as there were many witness to the story which Doug emphatically stated as being true. Anyone who knew Doug Lambert knows he was a man of honor, so I'm sure you can take his story to the bank. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to verify the story; but considering the subject of the story, that should not be surprising. He was an expert in not leaving evidence.

Doug's father operated the gas station at the fork of the present day Route 9 and Hammonton Road in the 1920's. At that time the main road, called Old New York Road, was unpaved, and there was no fork as there is today. The present Route 9 curve to the left did not exist. The main road ran where the present Hammonton Road runs and then made a left turn at the present Old New York Road where it made a straight run over the meadows and to the iron draw bridge over the Mullica River.

The Lambert gas station in the 1920's. The dirt road running past the station is where the present day Hammonton road runs to the right of the present fork. There was no fork to the left. Back in the 1920's that road was part of Old New York Road, the main highway that was to become Route 4 and finally Route 9. (Photo courtesy of Douglas Lambert.)

The iron draw bridge crossed the Mullica River just upstream of the present Parkway bridge. (Photo courtesy of the William Augustine Photo Collection at Rutgers University Library.)

Doug was a young boy at the time and helped his dad out at the station pumping gas and running errands. Late one afternoon a big black touring car pulled into the station to fill up the tank. The driver in a black suit got out of the car, quickly paid the bill, and took off toward the iron bridge.The fancy car was not unusual, as the station was on the main road that ran from New York City to Atlantic City. Many wealthy and famous people made that trip. What was unusual was the rushed, nervous behavior of the driver. Doug tried to get a look at the passenger in the back seat, but could not make out the features under the shadow cast by the fedora hat. Doug remembered thinking, "They sure were in a hurry."

The big touring car quickly sped away down the road toward the iron bridge and Atlantic City beyond.

Five or ten minutes later another, smaller car sped into the station and screached to a halt. While filling up with petrol the two men, also in suits, got out of the car and asked Doug if he had seen a large black touring car pass by. Doug related the events that had just taken place and was surprised to find out that the two men were from the FBI and were on the trail of Al Capone who was believed to be traveling to Atlantic City. They thanked Doug for the information and sped off.

Al Capone in his trademark fedora hat.

Young Doug Lambert was the only witness that Al Capone had indeed driven through New Gretna. He couldn't prove it, but he knew it to be true. It was a pretty exciting experience for a young, country boy. One that he never forgot!

By the way, an irony of the story is that Doug's father was a Justice of the Peace here in New Gretna.

Pete S

PS- With the main road from New York City to Atlantic City passing through New Gretna, it is likely that many famous people passed through our little town when Atlantic City was in it's hayday. Any one out there know of any other famous or infamous people that passed through or stopped in New Gretna? Let's hear from you.


The following is an unsolicited eye witness testemony regarding Doug Lambert's story about Al Capone stopping in New Gretna.

I enjoyed reading about Doug Lamberts story about when Al Capone stopped in New Gretna.  I was at that meeting of the New Gretna Old Home Society in May 1998 .  I loved hearing the stories and memories from the older folks that attended.  I took photo's of all those in attendance that day, including one of Doug and his son, Don, which I'm attaching for you to include in the blog.

Elaine Mathis

Doug Lambert and his son, Don, at the May 1998 New Gretna Old Home Society dinner where Doug told about his pumping gas for Al Capone. (Photo courtesy of Elaine Weber Mathis.)

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