Friday, February 26, 2010

Valentine's Day and the Home Grown Gangster

Now that the corporate "holiday" known as Valentine's Day has come and
gone, I wanted to put a spotlight on someone whose name will forever be linked to the day. Now I'm not sure if this gentleman was a regular Rudolph Valentino in his day but it wasn't his sexual prowess that is linked to the date February 14. It was his aggression, not love, towards his fellow gangster Bugs Moran and his gang, The North Side Gang that is famous, or rather infamous. On the morning of the 14th of February of 1929, seven men were gunned down in cold blood in a warehouse on North Clark Street in Chicago, Illinois. Now you may ask why am I talking about a gangland hit that occured in The Windy City on a New York City history blog site. Well folks, the believed architect of the whole shebang and who would end up being known as Public Enemy Number One was born, raised and learned his craft here on the streets of good old NYC. That man was Al Capone, otherwise known as Scarface.

Alphonsus "Al" Capone was born on January 17, 1899 in what is now the Red Hook section of Brooklyn to Gabriele Capone and Teresina Raiola who hailed from Naples, Italy. His family would eventually settle down in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn on the edge of Park Slope. Though Capone was a bright child, the lure of the street proved to be too hard to resist. It was on these rough and tumble streets that Capone started his hands on education in the life of crime. Capone would leave school while in the sixth grade at the age of 14, never to attend school again. Capone had joined a number of kid gangs such as the Brooklyn Rippers and the Junior Forty Thieves. These gangs proved to be a minor league of sorts for the major league of New York City gangs: The Five Points Gang (along with fellow gangster Charles
"Lucky" Luciano). The leader of the gang was none other than Johnny Torrio. It was while associated with Johnny Torrio that Capone's path would be set in stone.

Johnny Torrio took Capone under his wing while with the Five Pointers and in 1917 got him a job at Frankie Yale's Harvard Inn. The club was located in Coney Island Brooklyn and would be famous for the place where Capone would earn his nom-de-guerre. After making some inappropriate comments to a female patron, Lena Gallucio. Her brother, Frank Gallucio, would later return to the club looking for and confronted Capone. After all was said and done, Capone's face had been slashed leaving a nasty scar on the left side of his face earning him the nickname of Scarface. In a later twist concerning Capone and Yale, it is believed that Capone ordered the hit that would lead to Frankie Yale's assassination July 1, 1928. The suspected hit came about due to a disagreement about the protection of Capone's bootlegging merchandise. It is believed that a number of the hitmen that executed the hit on Yale also participated the St. Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929.

It was around this same time that Capone met a young lady named Mary "Mae" Couglin. They would end up having a son together whom they named Albert Francis "Sonny" Capone on December 4, 1918. They would be wed on December 30th of the same year at the St. Mary Star of the Sea Church which is located in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

Capone's criminal activities would eventually catch up to him in the form of a prison term at Sing Sing Prison, located in Ossining New York in 1919. Once released from prison in 1920, Capone was asked to join Torrio who was in Chicago working gangster James "Big Jim" Colissimo. Capone worked in various bars and clubs owned and operated by Torrio until the day that Torrio took over Colissimo's empire after his assassination. With Torrio as the boss, Capone would become his right hand man, eventually becoming the boss in 1925. The rest as we know it is history.

For further reading check out these websites:
The Gridskipper has an amazing page on Al Capone's Brooklyn with pictures. Click Here.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Webpage on Al Capone. Click Here.
A Webpage called Blood, Roses and Valentines about the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Click Here.
The Chicago Historical Society page on Al Capone. Click Here.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Why is there a Castle Hill in the Bronx if there is no Castle or Hill

So, for years now my wife and I have been joking about why is the Castle Hill area named as such since there are no castles or hills in the area. So as I've been known to do, I searched around and found out. Here goes folks.

While Adriaen Block of Dutch New York fame (I'll get back to him in a later post) and his crew sailed from New Amsterdam to Holland on the newly built Onrust (Restless) loaded with furs and goods, the ship sailed along what is now known as The East River (To see a replica of the ship that was constructed by the Onrust foundation for the NY400 celebration click here). While following the shoreline of what is now The Bronx, the crew noticed what to them looked like a large castle on a hill. As they grew closer, they saw that it was large fortification of logs which rested on a sixty foot promontory. The fort was given the name Kasteel (Which is Dutch for Castle) by Adriaen Block and since it rested on a hill the name for the area
became "Castle Hill"

Who did the Kasteel belong to?
The fort belonged to The Siwanoy tribe. They were a branch of the Mohegans which in turn were a sub-tribe of The Algonquins. The Siwanoy inhabited the land along the coastlines of the Long Island Sound, Eastchester Bay, and Pelham Bay, between Connecticut and the southern Bronx. As was documented in Russell Shorto's The Island at the Center of the World, The Siwanoy was famous for their massacre of members of the Split Rock settlement (including Anne Hutchinson among others) located within current day Pelham Manor. This attack came in retaliation of New Netherland governor Willem Kieft's February massacres of Wappinger refugees from Wecquaesgeek at Corlaer's Hook and Pavonia across the Hudson River in New Jersey.

So there it is.

For additional reading:
For more information on Split Rock and how to get there, click here
For more information on the Siwanoy, click here.
New York City Parks Department page on the Siwanoy Trail, click here
The Onrust Project 2006-2009, click here