Tuesday, March 15, 2011

120 years ago: Macheca gravesite

Excerpt from Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia:

"J.P. Macheca's relatives and friends passed through his Bourbon Street home in a steady stream Sunday. Curious onlookers, denied entry into the home, lined the banquette and spilled out into the roadway. The Daily Picayune noted that Bourbon Street 'was well nigh blockaded throughout the day.'
"J.P.'s body, dressed in a fine, black suit, was laid out in the black draped front parlor of the home he had shared with five of his seven children. His open, metallic casket, ornamented with gold and silver and lined with white satin, stood in the center of the room. A tall crucifix was positioned at the head of the coffin. A silver candelabra stood directly behind that, softly lighting the room and casting several faint cross-shaped shadows on J.P.'s remains.
"A large crowd squeezed into the house when the Very Reverend Hyacinthe C. Mignot, administrator of St. Louis Cathedral, arrived with Father Berronet to bless the deceased.
"In late afternoon, six pall bearers—Macheca Brothers employee Dan Fleming, stevedore Henry Peters, railroad fruit agent John Louis Grashoff, attorney Anthony Sambola, Special Officer Alphonse B. Donohue and Custom House Examiner John Thatcher—moved toward the center of the room. The lid of the coffin was lowered and fastened in place. It, too, was accented with gold and silver. An engraved gold plate on the lid held a single word: 'Rest.'
"J.P.'s children stepped forward to say goodbye to their father. Each fell into a sobbing hug with the metal casket. Family friends helped them to regain their composures.
"As the bells of St. Louis Cathedral tolled, J.P.'s funeral cortege moved along Hospital Street and then up Chartres Street. A great many carriages followed the hearse.
"Newspapers noted that none of J.P.'s numerous clubs and organizations attended as a group. Crescent City Democratic clubs, Pelican Hook and Ladder No. 4, the Red Lights Club and other local institutions apparently feared being linked with J.P. in the public perception. Their collective trepidation did not keep individual members from attending the funeral in large numbers.
"The procession halted for a time within the great cathedral as organist Gabriel Tusson played a funeral hymn and Father Mignot chanted prayers and offered words of hope for the family. Near dusk, the cortege moved on to St. Louis Cemetery, where J.P.'s remains were interred beside those of his wife."

Interestingly, the location of J.P. Macheca's burial site had been forgotten for some time. It had been misrecorded as lying in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Our good friend Andrew Dodenhoff recently discovered the gravesite in St. Louis Cemetery No. 2. The name "Jos. P. Macheca" is barely visible at the bottom of the stone in this photograph. The name directly above it, "Briget O'Dowd" was Macheca's wife, who died after a long illness in 1883. The name at the top of the stone appears to be that of Macheca's half-sister who died as a baby. Rosa Maria's death occurred during one of the worst periods of Yellow Fever in New Orleans history, but it occurred in April, which would have been too early in the year for the mosquito-borne disease to strike.

Monday, March 14, 2011

120 years ago: Parish Prison murders

On March 14, 1891, under the cover of a large, angry mob, teams of assassins hand picked by William Parkerson and other New Orleans political leaders, broke into Orleans Parish Prison and murdered eleven men held prisoner there.

An execution squad, supposedly assigned to bring Italian prisoners outside for trial by the mob, corners helpless men in the Orleans Parish Prison courtyard. While the men beg for mercy, the squad opens fire with rifles provided by its political bosses.
While the event is known as the Cresent City Lynchings and is recorded as the largest single lynching to take place on American soil, its cold-blooded and deliberate nature is at odds with our usual definition of "lynching," a spontaneous, emotional and violent uprising. Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia argues that the event was a calculated mass murder conducted for political rather than emotional reasons. The New Orleans Mafia, supposedly the target of the so-called "lynch mob," was left unharmed by the attack. Its boss, Charlie Matranga, was not even targeted by the execution squads.

Today, we recall the Italian-American victims of this attack:
- Joseph P. Macheca
- Manuel Polizzi
- Rocco Geraci
- Loreto Comitis
- Frank Romero
- Antonio Bagnetto
- James Caruso
- Charles Traina
- Pietro Monastero
- Antonio Marchesi
- Antonio Scaffidi

Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia (Softcover 2d edition)

Deep Water: Joseph P. Macheca and the Birth of the American Mafia (Kindle 2d edition)