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Entries in Gaspare Pisciotta (4)

Thursday
May172012

Hotel Mafioso

by Bluto Ray

The Mafia, it can be argued, begins and ends in prison. Creation myths abound about the criminal organization as a widespread social phenomenon, the most mystical and romantic tales believed by many self-justifying “men of honor” over the ages. The reality is no less colorful: a motley crowd was cast into Sicily’s dank jail cells during the tumultuous nineteenth century—street toughs and town bosses, revolutionaries and soldiers of lost causes—creating a peculiar Petri dish of hybrid criminal culture.

Gaspare PisciottaNumerous violent uprisings jolted the island after Ferdinand III consolidated the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily in 1816. The royal descendant of the Spanish branch of Bourbons (who changed his name to Ferdinand I of Sicily) was viewed as only the latest of conquerors by a people who had known oppressive foreign occupation for millennia. Fittingly, Ferdinand’s most lasting legacy is a massive stone fortress in Palermo that has served as a prison since 1837. Originally called La Vicaria, its current name evokes the notoriety of Sing Sing or Alcatraz to Italians: Ucciardone Prison.

Though the Bourbon regime fell in 1860 after Garibaldi’s forces raided Sicily and Naples, thus pulling the two kingdoms into the country we know today as Italy, Sicily remained a powder keg politically. Revolutionaries split into pro-unity and Sicilian autonomist camps, with Bourbon loyalists conspiring at the edges. Battles in the streets of Palermo broke out in a lawless bandit-ridden landscape. An autonomist rebellion in 1866 waged against government soldiers erupted both outside and inside the walls of Ucciardone, where imprisoned rebels battled the guards. It was, according to the city’s prefect at the time, a Mafia-led uprising.

Click to see the photosMafia. The buzzword of the 1860s that encapsulated both the tough-guy swagger of dandified hoodlums and the secret “brotherhoods” that provided stronger community protection than a brutal or distant government. The term spread beyond Sicily with the smash success of a stage play debuted in 1863 called I mafiusi di la Vicaria. The plot concerns the Sicilian patriotism shared by a revolutionary lawyer and his mafiosi cellmates in Ucciardone. The theme resonated with audiences; the prison populations of Sicily and Naples were known to be surrogate states run by the underworld bosses housed within.

James Fentress’ crucial history, Rebels and Mafiosi, characterizes the period’s strange bedfellows:

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Saturday
Apr282012

My Latitanza

by Bluto Ray

Time Off for Good Behavior Dept.: This blurb is a little sneak for my mammoth piece on the prisons of the Cosa Nostra, coming in a few weeks. You see, I’ll be “latitante,” a fugitive from the blogosphere, the object of whispered rumors and imagined sightings at illicit betting rooms in Palermo.

Actually, I’ll be out in the field through mid-May, but I’ll be back with photos of a few prisons all too familiar to the Mafia. If successful—for one should never attempt to take pictures of a maximum-security penitentiary in Italy—I’ll present the new images along with my shot of the notorious Ucciardone Prison, which you may have seen in an earlier post.

A list of the personalities covered in the upcoming essay, titled “Hotel Mafioso,” should, I hope, entice avid Mafia observers to return: Gerlando Alberti, Gaetano Badalamenti, Tommaso Buscetta, Vito Cascio Ferro, Matteo Messina Denaro, Giovanni Falcone, Salvatore Giuliano, Luciano Leggio, Salvatore Lo Piccolo, Francesco Madonia, Giuseppe Marchese, Cesare Mori, Gaspare Mutolo, Gaspare Pisciotta, Totò Riina and more.

If those names just flitter past like the credits of an old spaghetti western, then come back for the stories; they’ll depict 150 years of Mafia life under lock and key. But here’s one more teaser: Which of the characters listed above created this Sicilian-themed painting in his secret studio? The winner will receive a goat’s head.

Buon primo maggio a tutti!

 

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Friday
Apr292011

Keeper of Secrets

by Bluto Ray

On the morning of May 5, 1971, the Mafia called police headquarters in Palermo. “A shooting has happened in Via dei Cipressi,” said an anonymous voice. “Maybe two are dead.”

Pietro ScaglioneWithin minutes the Flying Squad pulled into the cypress-lined road that leads to the Cappuccini cemetery. There, agents found an official state car blocking the entrance to the necropolis. Two bullet-riddled bodies were pulled out and rushed to the hospital, but it was too late. When the shocking news spread that the city’s Chief Public Prosecutor, Pietro Scaglione, was killed along with his driver, many observers felt confirmed in their suspicion that the city’s highest magistrate was mafioso. After all, they reasoned, the Mafia only murders its own.

Pietro Scaglione’s forty-three-year career spanned the evolution of the Cosa Nostra from rural phenomenon to international menace. Rising through the judicial ranks to take the top post at the Palace of Justice in 1962, he waded through the murky waters of Sicilian conspiracies: super-bandit Salvatore Giuliano’s involvement in the Portella della Ginestra massacre of 1947, the police slaughter of Ciaculli in 1963. But Judge Scaglione tended to sit on his findings--some said deliberately--and often needed to be goaded into prosecuting a case.

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Sunday
Dec122010

Dead or Alive

by Bluto Ray

Salvatore Giuliano

Mafia Exposed’s inaugural blog post concerns one of the Mafia’s most enduring mysteries, the life and death of Salvatore Giuliano. He is commonly referred to as Sicily’s most famous bandit, but in his home town of Montelepre, many still regard him as a hero sixty years after his death.

Giuliano’s early career as a wartime black marketer led to deadly confrontations with carabinieri forces, so he took to the foggy mountains around Montelepre with a gang recruited from the dirt-poor field workers and army deserters of the impoverished region. This is the point at which opinions about dashing young “Turiddu,” as he was called, divide.

Turiddu epitomizes the idea that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Reporters from around the world descended on tiny Montelepre in hopes of scooping an interview with the Sicilian Robin Hood famed for his daring robberies and romantic peccadilloes. But his involvement with a radical separatist group eager to see Sicily made into United States territory led to a murderous bombing campaign against the police.

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