Byko: Step aside, Al Capone; there's a new big name at Eastern State Penitentiary

Joey Warchal is an antique-radio collector and has one to donate to Eastern State Penitentiary to make Al Capone's cell more authentic.

TUESDAY, AL CAPONE was not the most celebrated name in Eastern State Penitentiary.

It was Joey Warchal.

About a week ago, I told you how Joey, a precocious 13-year-old from Somerton, discovered what he called an "historically inaccurate" radio in the cell of Capone, likely the prison's most famous inmate, during a school tour.

The Chicago gangster was incarcerated in 1929 and 1930, but Joey, who is an antiques collector specializing in radios and record players, noticed the floor-model wooden radio in the plush cell was manufactured in 1942.

This he politely explained in an email to Sean Kelley, ESP's senior vice president. He also offered to help the prison find a historically accurate radio as a replacement.

Kelley responded positively and gave Joey a $400 budget. It didn't take Joey long to find the proper radio, which he presented to Eastern State on Tuesday afternoon after school, surrounded by relatives, teachers, and media.

Grandfather Tom Pavlow takes the credit for getting Joey interested in collecting and in '50s music, he told me with a proud smile before the ceremony.

"I was interested in flea markets and yard sales, and he was interested, too," said Pavlow.

The ceremony was hosted by Kelley, who said three things stood out about the way Joey conducted himself:

He was completely accurate about everything he said, he was "professional at every turn," and, most important, there was "the grace" he had in the process.

"He could have been smug" about catching the prison in a mistake, but he wasn't.

Joey made remarks from notes on index cards and, predictably, said all the right things, including that he collected to "preserve American history."

What he couldn't predict, or expect, was that Eastern State would make a gift of the "historically inaccurate" radio to Joey for him to add to his home collection.

With Joey watching, the radio he procured was moved into the cell.

After my last column ran, I heard from a couple of history buffs about Capone and his cell.

A quick aside: I suggested that Capone was the most famous inmate in the prison, which was opened in 1829 and was once the most famous and expensive prison in the world. Let me add - to save you the trouble - that bank robber Willie Sutton was an inmate, as was local murderer Elmo Smith.

We now know the radio is right, but is the cell shown as Capone's home away from home his actual cell?

"Capone moved around quite a bit during his time here," Kelley told me, "but at one point was definitely on the Park Avenue block."

Capone was actually jailed first at Holmesburg and was moved to Eastern State for his safety, but that's another story.

stubyko@phillynews.com

215-854-5977 @StuBykofsky

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