BALTIMORE - The year was 1939.
A guy walks into Union Memorial Hospital. And the nurse had to do a double check when she saw the name Al Capone. Yeah that legendary mobster released from Alcatraz.
It was at that time that the story of the Capone Cherry Tree began and its attraction for those who come to train at the hospital.
“When I first came to [Medstar] Union Memorial Hospital in 2001, I was fascinated by the many stories of our history, but the most compelling one involves this tree that I am staying next to which is the Capone Cherry Tree,” said Union Memorial Dr. Richard Heitmiller.
The tree was a gift from Al Capone given to the hospital in 1939 in gratitude for the care he received there.
“He stayed in a room just above this tree area on the sixth floor and he had a two-room suite,” Heitmiller said. “He had somebody who supposedly was a family member who was with him at all times.”
Heitmiller said Capone originally gave the hospital two trees, but only one still remains with the other having been removed during renovations in the mid-1950s.
“This tree still stands here and blooms beautifully for about two weeks every year at this time of the year,” Heitmiller said.
However, in 2010 a big storm knocked off the very top of the tree.
“That wood was salvaged, turned into wooden cherry artifacts that were sold in one of our foundation events to raise money for the hospital,” Heitmiller said.
The story of the hospital's notorious patient is sometimes used as a great recruiting tool.
"When I have resident applicants come looking at our program I tell them the story of the Capone Cherry Tree and have as part of our tour of the hospital show each of the residence the cherry tree,” Heitmiller said. “And I can tell you it is the one thing that the residents remember most about our hospital and probably about all of their residency trips because it is so unique to our institution."