7/11/13 - the american mafia started in new orleans

In today's encore excerpt - the Sicilian Mafia got its start in America in New Orleans in the mid-1800s. That same Mafia got a boost in Italy from the Americans in 1943:

"The first that America heard of what it would later call the Mafia was in newspaper accounts of certain events in New Orleans. In the spring of 1869, the Times of that city noted that the Second District had become infested by 'well-known and notorious Sicilian murderers, counterfeiters and burglars, who, in the last month, have formed a sort of general co-partnership or stock company for the plunder and disturbance of the city.' Emigration from southern Italy then was still largely to Brazil and the Argentine; New Orleans, with its busy port traffic to and from South America, was a natural destination for Sicilians, among them the mafiosi whose presence became known in 1869.

"The Mafia was, and is, una cosa puramente siciliana, a purely Sicilian thing; and even in Sicily it was never a concerted, homogeneous force. One cosca might do business or conspire with another, but even when marriage brought them together they remained leery and covetous. They coexisted, but they did so da lontano, at a distance. Whenever that lontananza was breached, it was more often in hostility than in harmony. And as much as these men distrusted one another, so much greater was their animosity for outsiders. The purely Sicilian nature of the Mafia was sacrosanct. This idea of Sicilian purity -- part Greek, part African, part Italian, part French, part Spanish: no matter; the Sicilian could tell an outsider at a glance -- was ingrained as deeply as greed in the nature of the Mafia. A cosca's business might extend to the Italian mainland, to the cities of the world beyond. But men who were not Sicilians would never be part of that cosca; they would never be mafiosi. It was a matter of blood pride; and a similar sense of exclusivity, superiority, and natural enmity governed the black forces to the north, the Camorra of the Campagna, the 'ndrangheta of Calabria.

"Mussolini was the only man who succeeded in driving down the Mafia in Sicily. In 1926, when the first laws against the Mafia were decreed, sixty-four-year-old Don Vito Cascio Ferro of Palermo, the most powerful mafioso on the island, was seized and committed to the Ucciardone prison, where he remained until his death. Conspiracy charges were brought against his successor, Don Calogero Vizzini, in 1929; and the dark forces remained subdued under Il Duce's dictatorship throughout the decade that followed. But Mussolini's dream of power came to its end in the summer of 1943, and in Sicily the Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories (AMGOT) set about its business of restoring order.

"Under AMGOT officers such as forty-year-old Colonel Charles Poletti, a former lieutenant governor of New York, the mafiosi who had been driven down by Mussolini's reign were placed in positions of sanctioned power. Sixty-six-year-old Don Calo Vizzini, whose indictment under Il Duce in 1929 had signified the suppression of the honored society, was in the summer of 1943 appointed mayor of his town of Villalba. He would remain the Mafia's patriarch until his death in the summer of 1954. Other honored men in other towns, victims and enemies of Fascism all, were placed by AMGOT in like positions. Poletti, the Harvard-lawyer son of northern-Italian emigrants to Vermont, was received by the pope and decorated in Rome for his work. After returning to New York in 1945, he founded his own law firm on Madison Avenue. The mercenary ease with which he moved from American law and Democratic politics to Mafia vassalage and back illustrates that the two spheres were not wholly dissimilar."


Nick Tosches


Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams


Dell Publishing a division of Random House, Inc.


Copyright 1992 by Nick Tosches, Inc.


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