2019 Event Details

Making the most of your visit!

So many choices, so little time . . . We've filled the schedule for the second annual Eliot Ness Fest with so many options that you may have a hard time deciding where to go and what to see or do. Stop at the Coudersport Theatre at 2 pm Friday (July 19) or 10 am Saturday (July 20) for help. You will be glad you did!

We'll preview all of the events, answer your questions, and send you on your way with a brief program titled, "Making the Most of your Eliot Ness Fest Experience." You’ll leave the theater not only well-prepared to choose among all of the events and attractions, but also with a smile on your face. That’s because we have some special mystery guests – entertaining to say the least – who will be joining us.

After a short slide show to introduce you to the real Eliot Ness, we'll preview each of the major events -- the re-enactment of Al Capone’s trial, realistic street theater that includes raids and other hijinks, entertainment options, fascinating presentations by historians and authors, your chance to trace the footsteps of "Eliot's Last Walk" and much, much more.

We'll wrap things up in 20 minutes, but Eliot Ness Fest Committee members and program participants will stick around to answer questions. See you there!


Capone Trial

'The People vs. Al Capone': don’t miss it!

All eyes will be on the courtroom of the historic Potter County Courthouse in Coudersport, Pa., when the infamous Al Capone goes on trial. A dramatic re-enactment of the fascinating 1931 tax evasion and conspiracy trial that sent the Chicago mobster to prison is drawing national attention. Organizers have arranged for two separate performances of “The People vs. Alphonse Capone” – at 5 pm Saturday, July 20, and again at 1 pm the following day.

Among the witnesses for the prosecution will be Coudersport’s Eliot Ness himself, portrayed by local thespian Jared Empson.

Author Paul W. Heimel, an Eliot Ness biographer, has written the script, which condenses a long trial into a 70-minute performance. It will feature about a dozen witnesses and no shortage of entertaining theatrical elements drawn from court records and media accounts. Veteran director Paul Herzig will not only supervise the production, but also serve as the host.

Portraying the determined prosecutor, George H. Q. Johnson, will be Scott Sroka. He is a federal prosecutor in real life and the grandson of Joe Leeson, a criminal investigator who served as one of the “Untouchables” under Ness’s command.

Capone, colorful and defiant as ever, will be played by seasoned performer Denny Bloss. Another popular local thespian, Jerry Bailey, will portray defense lawyer Albert Fink. Other actors will play the parts of witnesses ranging from gangsters, bookies and crimebusters, to a madam who ran a brothel for the defendant, and an accountant who tracked who tracked his ill-gotten gains.

Attendees will receive a program that summarizes the actual 1931 trial and directs them to sources for more information.


Larry Herbstritt

Eliot Ness Suite/Musical Journey: world class!

Eliot Ness Fest 2019 is being headlined by national debut of a major musical production, masterfully composed and arranged by an award-winning professional – and based on the life of none other than Eliot Ness himself. “Eliot Ness: A Biographical Suite” will fill the Coudersport Theatre at 7:30 pm Friday, July 19, with captivating music, narration and a poignant graphic display from yesteryear on the big screen. It will be immediately followed by “A Musical Journey to the Roaring ‘20s,” featuring outstanding musicianship, fascinating dialogue and some surprises, compliments of the eclectic band, the BluJayz.

Biographical Suite
Larry Herbstritt, whose body of work includes platinum albums, movie scores and television shows, has worked with a dazzling array of big names. For his skilled musical pen, the colorful events in the life of Eliot Ness served as his muse. From enjoying a little naughty life in a Chicago speakeasy; dealing with tommy gun-toting gangsters in the Windy City; falling in love with a beautiful woman, chasing down moonshiners with shotguns in Tennessee; and then the sad final years in Coudersport – Ness’s life is loaded with rich imagery for inspiring a tone poet. Those who have heard Herbstritt's new work agree he has risen to the task.

Musical Journey
And then there are the BluJayz, a one-of-a-kind band drawn from two states. Attendees should be prepared to step back in time to hear powerful, authentic and energetic performances of music that evokes the club setting of the 1920s into the '30s. The Blujayz’ instrumentation and broad range of solo and harmony voices are being geared to the rich musical settings of the times.

Dancing the Charleston or a Fox Trot, or freestyling in the aisles, anyone? Come prepared. The music will be there as the sounds of Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, Louis Armstrong, Jimmie Rodgers, Fats Waller, the Mississippi Sheiks, Sylvester Weaver and more come live and direct from the stage.

The BluJayz Dancing

Eliot Ness (right) confers with Cleveland Police during a criminal investigation.

Eliot Ness in Cleveland: Saving an American city

Historians generally agree that it was the magic touch of Eliot Ness that transformed one of America’s major cities from a cesspool of crime, corruption, danger and malaise to the official “safest city in the nation.” And he accomplished it in less than half-a-decade.

Rebecca McFarland The single most significant accomplishment of Ness’s life and career will be boiled down to a digestible 45 minutes, complete with pictures and other exhibits, at 1 pm Saturday, July 21, at the Coudersport Theatre. An eminently qualified Cleveland historian, Rebecca McFarland from the Cleveland Police Historical Society, will be the tour guide.

“While Eliot Ness was Cleveland's Safety Director, the city literally changed from being the most dangerous city in the country to being awarded the National Safety Award,” McFarland says. “He truly turned the city around.”
Here are just a few of his accomplishments:

  • Rooted out corruption, dysfunction and lethargy that had spread like a cancer throughout the police force.
  • Tamed the violent and destructive youth gangs that had run roughshod over many of Cleveland’s neighborhoods.
  • Cracked down on mob-controlled gambling operators who had gutted the economy of the Greater Cleveland area.
  • Exposed and jailed union racketeers who had strong-armed virtually every legitimate business in the city to pay “tribute” or else!
  • Established public safety measures that are now commonplace in the nation (911 emergency dispatching, professional firefighting and ambulance services, one-way streets, parking meters, community policing and more).
  • McFarland’s presentation will be much more than facts and figures: “I was fortunate to meet a number of people who knew him personally. I am grateful to have met them and to hear their stories of the real man, and not the one Hollywood version.”

    McFarland will bring along the Cleveland Police Historical Society’s “Museum in a Box,” containing items that are tied to the 1930s, bootlegging and Eliot Ness.


    Matt Luzi

    Fascinating story of Ness’s early career

    Eliot Ness's early career as a federal agent in gangland Chicago are fleshed out in dramatic detail by a special guest who’s attending the second annual Eliot Ness Fest in Coudersport, Pa. Matt Luzi, author of "The Boys in Chicago Heights," will discuss the thrilling start of Ness’s assault on organized crime during a 45-minute presentation, complete with a captivating slide show, at 11:30 am Saturday, July 20, in the Coudersport Theatre.

    Luzi discovered that this fascinating chapter in the history of organized crime, including Ness’s role in aggressively pursuing the Capone gang, had been lost in history.

    "I plan to focus my program on the massive law enforcement raid on the town of Chicago Heights in early 1929,” Luzi explained. "The dramatic undercover efforts of Eliot Ness and his team to infiltrate the gang uncovered critical evidence. Prosecutors used it to put together the test case against Ralph Capone and later to bring down his more famous brother.”

    Not to spoil the plot, but Luzi has documented how Ness posed as a corrupt G-man who would not only turn a blind eye to criminal activity, but also provide protection, in return for cash. One member of the Ness team, Frank Basile, was assassinated when the agents' cover was blown. Weeks later, as the body count continued to rise, a raiding party of about 100 agents swarmed into town and rounded up bootleggers, bookies, prostitutes and many other lawbreakers.

    Luzi has the goods and he’ll share them in dramatic tale at the festival.

    Book Cover

    Jacks Place Talent Show

    It's all happening at 'Jack's Place!'

    No Roaring ‘20s event would be complete without its own speakeasy, and Coudersport’s version of that will be anything but a secret during the second annual Eliot Ness Fest. In fact, “Jack’s Place” is likely to be the hottest spot in town, thanks to the generosity of the Jack Halloran family and the hard work of Coudersport Rotary Club. Stop at the former hardware store on the corner of Main and Second streets and check it out.

    By the way, Eliot Ness himself had a business office on the building’s second floor in 1956-57. There is no admission fee. However, being that it’s a speakeasy for the big weekend, patrons who want to be let in for all of the fun might want to know the secret password (“Jack sent me”).

    Jack’s Place will serve up beer, wine, soft drinks and food. Among the highlights is a talent show at 6 pm Friday. Prizes will be awarded in adults and children categories. Walk-ins will be accepted until all slots are filled. To pre-register, contact Sharon Fitzgerald at 202-494-1866 or visit the Coudersport Rotary Club site on Facebook. Come in, rest your tired feet, and have some fun. All are welcome! The clandestine operators of Jack’s Place have released their schedule of events (but don’t tell the cops!):

    Friday, July 20
    --Noon to 8 pm: Pull Tabs, Games of Chance, Beer, Wine, Soft Drinks, Food.
    --6 pm to 7:30 pm: The Untouchables Talent Show (free admission). Close at 8 pm.

    Saturday, July 21
    --10 am to 10 pm: Pull Tabs, Games of Chance, Beer, Wine, Soft Drinks, Food, and Roaring ‘20s Photo Booth by Curt Weinhold (9:30 to 11 am and 1-4 pm).
    --7 pm to 10 pm: Roaring ‘20s Dance ($5.00 per person/$10 per family cover charge). Music by EJ the DJ Sound Inc.


    Meet the REAL Eliot Ness

    Meet the REAL Eliot Ness & his ‘Untouchables’

    Eliot Ness Fest has the honor of hosting the first-ever gathering of descendants from the “Untouchables,” who served under Ness’s command in battling organized crime in Chicago. And you can be a part of it!

    Gathering for a presentation at 10:30 am Saturday, July 20, at the Coudersport Theatre will be descendants of the agents, including Joe Leeson and Don L. Kooken, who served with Ness in gangland Chicago and literally “wrote the book” on ethics in police service.

    It has all come together through the efforts of Scott Sroka, a modern-day federal prosecutor who is the grandson of Agent Leeson. He’ll team with author A. Brad Schwartz, who has recently published, along with Max Allan Collins (“Road to Perdition”) the critically acclaimed new book, “Scarface and the Untouchable” (HarperCollins), to introduce the other descendants and discuss Ness and his team.

    Brad will stick around the theater after the program for a book signing session.

    Sroka and Schwartz helped uncover personnel files and other records related to all of the agents who served under Ness. Chicago newspapers came to refer to the team as the “Untouchables,” due to their resistance to bribery attempts and their determination to accomplish their mission against heavy odds.

    It’s only fitting that the Untouchables’ descendants would gather in Coudersport – the town chosen by Eliot Ness to spend the final years of his life – for their first reunion.

    The presenters will display archival photographs on the theater’s big screen and moderate a discussion among the Untouchables descendants, bringing the personal stories of these brave agents to life.

    Scott Sroka (left) and A. Brad Schwartz

    Officer and Dog

    Don’t miss the Law Tent

    You won’t want to miss the prominent Law Tent on the courthouse square, where there will be fascinating programming and exhibits, as well as both vintage and modern law enforcement vehicles and equipment. On both Friday (noon to 8 pm) and Saturday (9 am to 8 pm), July 19-20, you’re encouraged to stop and meet our law enforcement officials from local, state and federal jurisdictions. Agencies will demonstrate tools of the trade and discuss law enforcement and public safety issues.

    The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) returns this year. That important agency still celebrates Eliot Ness’s service as an agent in the 1920s, when he attacked the mob’s stranglehold on Chicago. A special ATF program will be held from 11 to 11:45 am Saturday.

    Representatives from the Cleveland Police Historical Society and Museum will bring along artifacts and exhibits from Ness’s career as the city’s Director of Public Safety. Police Chiefs Curt McClain and Brad Buchholz will provide insights on a modern-day law enforcement challenge – the drug addiction epidemic – during a presentation from 10 to 10:45 on Saturday morning. Sweden Township Police Chief Bryan Phelps and his trained police dog, Jay, will be demonstrating investigation and tracking techniques on Saturday from 3 to 3:45 pm. There will be children’s activities at the Law Tent, including a visit by the popular “Chase” from the Paw Patrol. And the Pennsylvania State Police will be bringing a fully equipped, modern helicopter and a Harley-Davidson service motorcycle.

    “Chase” from the Paw Patrol

    ATF Award to PCHS

    ATF traces its roots to Eliot Ness

    We are honored to announce that a federal agency which proudly traces its roots to crimefighter Eliot Ness is coming to this year’s festival as a tribute to the famous lawman. Agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) will share insights into how Ness shaped its mission in ways that are still being employed today. ATF representatives will also discuss modern criminal investigation and response equipment and tactics as a featured presenter at the Law Tent, situated at the courthouse square. That program will be presented from 11 am to 11:45 am on Saturday, July 20.

    ATF protects our communities from violent criminals, criminal organizations, the illegal use and trafficking of firearms and explosives, acts of terrorism, and other crimes. Agents will take the audience through some of the ATF’s most challenging cases and emphasize how the legacy of Eliot Ness still resonates across the agency.

    “These are challenging times in law enforcement, but reflecting back on the days of Eliot Ness -- when enforcing the laws or doing the right thing wasn’t always the popular choice -- might be just what we need,” Special Agent Charlene Hennessy said. “It’s important to uphold the values of Ness: being honest and fair, and having integrity, even when no one is looking.” Charlene Hennessy is shown here presenting a special award to Potter County Historical Society treasurer Bill Franklin, honoring the agency for launching a festival that celebrates Agent Ness’s life and career.


    Ness funeral site

    Ness funeral site welcomes visitors during festival

    Recognizing its role in local history, the Thomas E. Fickinger Funeral Home (corner of North East and Third streets in Coudersport) will open its doors during the Eliot Ness Fest to allow festival attendees to view the official documents and site of his 1957 memorial service.

    Eliot’s widow Elisabeth, son Robert, and close friends Bill Ayers and Joe Phelps greeted friends and associates who came to the funeral home to pay their last respects.

    A free laminated obituary of the famed crimefighter, designed as a bookmark, will be given to the first 500 visitors. Doors will be open from noon to 4 on Friday and from 10 to 4 on Saturday. A historical timeline slide show will be playing in both the main chapel and in the old chapel, where the services for Ness where held. Light refreshments will be available free of charge.

    Fickinger Funeral Home

    Shoaibi Band

    Let there be music!

    There will be music everywhere during the second annual Eliot Ness Fest. You’ll hear plenty from the BluJayz, featuring a special blend of musical talents and experiences for a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The band delivers blues and jazz (now do you get it on the name?) along with popular selections with their own creative twists and turns. You can hear the BluJayz as the second part of Friday night’s “Eliot Ness: A Biographical Suite/Musical Journey to the Roaring ‘20s” (7:30, Coudersport Theatre). They’ll also be performing at the courthouse square gazebo from 3 pm to 5:15 pm on Saturday.

    We’re also pleased to welcome back R.S.V.P. for a performance at the gazebo on Friday from 5 pm to 8 pm. These experienced musicians combine their talents to create an exciting alchemy of traditional light jazz, big band and Latin music. They reveal their skills through improvised solos and thoughtful interpretations of the genres’ classics.

    Another headliner this year is Shoaibi. This blues-rock band hails from the Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia area, playing favorites from the likes of the Beatles, Eric Clapton and Neil Young to Tom Petty and U2. They’ll perform at the gazebo from 12:30 pm to 2:30 pm on Saturday.

    Festival planners have also established a second musical venue at the corner of Main and Water streets to entertain folks browsing the vintage vehicles and other attractions in that part of town. A concession stand there will benefit a local charity, Fill a Backpack. Performing from the stage will be (times tentative): 10:30 to 11, Steve Limeburner and Samantha Sallade; 11 to 11:30, Stephanie Symans; 11:30 to 12:30, Children’s Magic Act; 1 to 1:30, Brianna Blankenship; 1:30 to 2, Barbershop Quartet; 2 to 3, Burning Tractor and friends; 3 to 3:30, Blair Heimel.

    Also of note, Jack’s Place – the official festival ‘speakeasy’ at Main and Second streets in the middle of town – will hold a fun-filled Roaring ‘20s Dance from 7-10 pm on Saturday. The historic Hotel Crittenden has an old-time string band, the Haight Street Gamblers, entertaining on Friday starting at 8 pm. And the Fredtown Stompers will entertain at the Crittenden for the rollicking Speakeasy Swing/Costume Contest starting at 8 pm Saturday.

    Brianna Blankenship Blair Heimel

    Road to Perdition Movie

    ‘Road to Perdition’ Recalls Ness/Capone era

    For anyone seeking to understand the incredible pressure Eliot Ness was facing as he took on organized crime in the Windy City – enforcing the law at great personal risk when most other lawmen were bought off or ran for cover – Saturday night’s feature film is just the ticket.

    The award-winning “Road to Perdition” will be shown at 7:30 (July 20), beginning with a short introduction that puts the classic movie in perspective. There is no admission fee and the concession stand will be open.

    This is far from the typical gangster movie. Its stellar cast, headed by Tom Hanks and Paul Newman, along with its special scenery and settings, immerse the audience in a dark world that reflects the reality of gangland Chicago in the 1920s.

    Hanks plays a conflicted mafia man caught between his past and keeping his son sheltered from the consequences of his actions. Paul Newman portrays an aging crime boss who is also conflicted between his paternal feelings and his business obligations.

    “Road to Perdition” portrays how the criminal enterprises of the Depression era rose to prominence due to their ability to bootleg and their appeal to provide a good income to men without work.

    The plot really takes off in tragic and unexpected ways, leaving the viewer engaged in the storyline and the eventual outcome. The movie has a number of poignant and thought-provoking themes that stay with you even after the end credits begin to roll.


    First United Presbyterian Church

    Ness family returns for special church service

    Visitors to the Eliot Ness Fest have an opportunity to participate in a unique experience – attending an informal and music-filled worship service with the Ness family at the very church they attended in 1956-57.

    This collective step back in time will take place from 11 am to noon on Sunday, July 21, at the historic First United Presbyterian Church, located at the corner of Main and Fourth streets. Eliot, Elisabeth and Robert Ness walked to the church on Sunday mornings from their home, located less than two blocks away.

    We’ve arranged for the Nesses to return and occupy their usual pew. Character actors will portray them in music and in inspirational content -- drawn directly from the words of Eliot Ness himself.

    Pastor Don Caskey will lead this unprecedented service, under the theme, “Timeless Values: Holding Firm.” It will include a retrospective on Eliot’s life and its turning points. All are welcome. Attendees are encouraged to dress in period attire.

    “It’s clear from the documentation about Eliot Ness that he approached his calling in life with a dedication to serving others,” Rev. Caskey noted. “He stood strong when he was put to the test by temptation and the practical consideration of self-preservation. As one of his good friends later in life remarked, Eliot was uncompromising in his principles, even to his own personal loss.”

    Eliot Ness Elisabeth Ness

    Potter County Historical Society

    History museum offers
    Ness ‘virtual tour’

    It was an uncommonly muggy spring day in Coudersport, Pa., on May 16, 1957, when Eliot Ness drew his last breath at his residence on Third Street, directly behind what is today’s Northwest Bank.

    Through interviews with eyewitnesses and an examination of essays and media accounts, the Potter County Historical Society (PCHS) has pieced together a step-by-step guide to the final walk of the 54-year-old businessman as he progressed from his office to his home.

    It's available at the PCHS museum, 308 North Main Street, in downtown Coudersport. This guide will assist you in walking in Ness’s footsteps and locating the landmarks at your own pace.

    While you are at the museum, you will not want to miss a special event and related attractions. Hosts will present a “Virtual Tour of Eliot Ness Local History” on Friday (11 am, 1 pm, 3 pm); Saturday (11 am, 1 pm); and Sunday (1 pm, 2 pm).

    A 15-minute photo display with narration will discuss local Prohibition history and Coudersport sites related to Ness’s years as a local resident. Tour guide David Castano will then answer questions and provide pointers for those who plan to take the self-guided last walk tour.

    Eliot Ness

    Potter County Artisan Center

    Artisan Center joins
    in on Eliot Ness Fest

    Potter County Artisan Center is joining in on Eliot Ness Fest. Visitors can pick from a limited supply of souvenirs and mementoes from the inaugural festival – destined to be collectors’ items – and learn more about another Eliot’s wife, Elisabeth, a talented and accomplished artisan.

    The center, located at the corner of Main and Third streets, across from the courthouse square, is a juried collective of local fine art and master craftsmanship. Merchandise includes painting and drawing, photographs, pottery, fiber art, jewelry, quilts, wood art, music, literature and license local food products.

    Eliot married the former Elisabeth Anderson in early 1946. She had been a very popular artist at the Cowan Pottery Studios in Cleveland. Even today, many of her pieces are displayed in significant art museums around the country, as well as the Cowan Pottery Museum in the Rocky River (Ohio) Public Library.

    Soon after the family moved to Coudersport in 1946, Elisabeth soon became involved with the local artist community, often traveling with friends to area displays and theatrical events.

    More information about the Potter County Artisan Center is available at 814-274-8165.

    Elisabeth Ness Elisabeth Ness’s ‘Spanish Dancers’

    Cris Johnson

    Calling all kids!

    An interactive magic show is just one of the activities on tap for children at the second annual Eliot Ness Fest. Popular magician, illusionist and mind reader Cris Johnson from Niagara Falls, N.Y., will be performing at 11:30 am Saturday as part of the outdoor entertainment on the grounds of the Gunzburger Building, at the corner of Main and Water streets.

    Also for the younger set, inflatables will be set up Friday and Saturday in the vicinity of the courthouse square, where kids can enjoy pony rides and games. They’re sure to be impressed by the shiny old cars and trucks that roll up Main Street during Saturday’s parade.

    And then there’s the fireworks show that will be fired off from a hillside on the community’s southwestern border – easily visible from downtown – at 10 pm Saturday.


    Olga Gallery, Café, & Bistro

    Olga’s joining in on
    Eliot Ness Fest fever

    A highly visible business in Coudersport is once again getting into the spirit of things when it comes to the Eliot Ness Fest. Olga Gallery, Café, & Bistro at the corner of Main and Second streets is planning a “larger than life” exhibit of Eliot Ness and Al Capone inside its dining/bar area. To go along with that, proprietors John and Olga Snyder have tweaked their brunch, lunch and dinner menus with an Italian/Sicilian twist for the festival.

    Additionally, Olga’s is selling books from the three noted authors who are prominently featured during Eliot Ness Fest. And, the business will host an exclusive program/signing session featuring two of the authors on Sunday (July 21) at 3 pm, right after the final “The People vs. Alphonse Capone” trial re-enactment at the Potter County Courthouse.

    The People vs. Alphonse Capone

    Appearing will be A. Brad Schwartz, from Princeton, N.J., co-writer of the widely acclaimed “Scarface and the Untouchable”; and Paul W. Heimel, from Coudersport, the original Ness biographer and author of the 2018 book, “Behind the Badge: The Untold Story of Eliot Ness.”

    After a 15-minute presentation, Schwartz and Heimel will answer questions and sign copies of their books for buyers. Attendees will also be able to meet some of the cast members from the trial re-enactment. Olga’s will also have available copies of author Matt Luzi’s “The Boys in Chicago Heights,” a fascinating account of Ness’s early career as a gung-ho crimefighter in Chicago and its suburbs.

    Schwartz and Luzi will also be signing books following their featured programs at the Coudersport Theatre on Saturday at 10:30 (Schwartz) and 11:30 (Luzi).

    A. Brad Schwartz Paul W. Heimel Matt Luzi

    Visitors to Olga’s are stepping into a chapter in local history. The building was once a Rexall drugstore and a frequent stop for Eliot Ness to fill his heart medication prescription and pass the time of day with the friendly pharmacist.

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