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Entries in Vito Cascio Ferro (5)

Sunday
Jun292014

Joe Petrosino: The Facts about the 1909 Mafia Murder that Stunned New York 

A braggart has just named one of the celebrated cop’s unknown killers

by Carl Russo

Joe PetrosinoMY FATHER’S UNCLE was named Paolo Palazzotto. He committed the first murder, the first murder, the first policeman killed in Palermo. My uncle killed him. Joe Petrosini, the American policeman who came here to investigate. He arrived from America, and he fucking came here to incarcerate and investigate the Mafia. So they killed him on behalf of Cascio Ferro.”

What sounds like someone ratting out his great-uncle is actually a grand boast by one Domenico Palazzotto to a fellow mobster, caught on police surveillance tape. “We’ve been mafioso for a hundred years!” he says, claiming that in 2009 his family celebrated the centennial of New York cop Joe Petrosino’s assassination, news of which was received as a national calamity in the United States in 1909.

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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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Saturday
May072011

Pompous Circumstance

by Bluto Ray

Some years ago, an old man opened a musty little shop of Mussolini souvenirs in the abandoned ruins of lower Ragusa. All your Fascist needs were priced and on display, from a painted antique trunk commemorating the dictator to postcards depicting his visit to the baroque city to black cigarette lighters bearing his face. In the collective memory of Sicilians, the Fascist reign over the island was an epoch of extreme repression and violence that followed Mussolini’s 1922 inauguration as the Prime Minister of Italy. But many old-timers still hold a flame for the Blackshirts who struck a decisive blow against the Mafia.

Cesare MoriThe crime bosses enjoyed a boost of prestige as the politicians they controlled were courted by early Fascists eager to align themselves with Palermo’s conservative leaders. But Mussolini’s suspension of electoral democracy in 1925 suddenly choked off their access to local politics.

Sicily was an unruly child in the mind of the Duce, and the only cure would be the firm hand of Fascist discipline. His methods had subdued the left-wing parties of the north--a success that increased support for him on the mainland. But reforming Sicily was essential if the strongman were to realize his dream of a totalitarian state. He had caught a glimpse of the island’s unique power structure a year earlier on the official state tour that passed through Ragusa.

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Sunday
Mar132011

Pushback

by Bluto Ray

You’re late for an appointment in downtown Palermo. The traffic was insane, the one-way streets ran you in circles, but, at last, you’ve found a space in a dark alley just big enough for your car. As you open the door and step out, a young man approaches.

“How long will you be?” he asks, smiling. You’re taken aback. You realize he wants money and you’re intimidated.

Vincenzo Conticello“About fifteen minutes,” you respond. It’s a lie but he might be a car thief. “How much is it?”

“Whatever you want,” he says with a shrug. You cough up a few euros and he thanks you graciously.

After an hour passes, you rush back to find your car safe and sound. As you pull out of the alley, you pass the young man who nods and flashes another smile. You feel taken and curse him under your breath. But as time goes on, you start to look for illicit parking attendants like him, and even feel uncomfortable leaving your car without paying somebody to protect it.

In southern Italy, paying the pizzo (in Sicilian, “u pizzu”) can feel like the natural order of things. The nineteenth-century grain farmers who turned over most of the harvest to overlords were expected to give an additional scoop, the pizzu, or beakful, to the estate guards. Thus, “wetting the beak” (“fari vagnari u pizzu”) became the tribute paid to the middlemen--the mafiosi who guaranteed distant landlords a smooth operation under threat of violence.

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