by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
November 8, 2004
EMBEDDED WITH THE MOB
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- It goes without saying, for the most part, that mothers are loved. (Perhaps Lizzie Borden's was an exception.) And my mother was loved to the point of reverence by all nine of us. If any one of us knew how to go about it, we would have submitted her name and life story to the Committee to Consider Canonization to Sainthood - if there were such a body. Surely, she is a saint in Heaven just as she was a saint on Earth.
So, how is it that her august body lays amid those bodies which once walked among us as infamous, notorious, members of the mob? Their notoriety as gun-wielding gangsters, a word coined because they didn't travel alone, was always front-page news nationwide, while they operated for the most part in New York City and Chicago. Cohorts were bodyguards, front men, hit men (I won't elaborate on their job descriptions), and, of course, accountants.
In planning a recent weekend in New York, I decided I must visit the graves of my mother and father. Their bodies were interred in St. John's Cemetery, Middle Village, Queens, New York. They were buried, 20 years apart, with family and friends weeping as the mahogany coffin was lowered into sacred, sanctified, ground. The mourners tossed American Beauty roses, lending brightness and fragrant beauty to a darkly solemn occasion.
To those of us who learned about life at her knee, seeing those living roses brought fresh tears - just as thinking of that funereal moment in 1969 brings tears to me as I write. During the Depression, our family of nine children was held together by Mama's midnight twisting of wires and puffing of crepe paper into the glorious long-stemmed roses she would sell the next day for 10 cents apiece. My sister would walk along holding her hand while I waited in the stroller at the foot of the many steps she climbed, going door-to-door selling her paper roses.
I tell you, she was a saint. There was never any doubt about that. So, where does the mob come in?
As with any trip I take, I plan ahead. I Mapquest, I Google, I print out the findings and tuck the information in with my airline itinerary, boarding passes and two forms of identification.
When the familiar Google program opened, I hastily typed St. John's Cemetery in the blank provided. I expected to zero in on the exact location of the cemetery and, with a few deft strokes, find my way through the maze of statues, tombstones and markers to my parents' marble tombstone.
Instead, the first entry provided was a two-year old Newsday article about Middle Village neighbors protesting the burial of John Gotti in "their" cemetery. They were already trying to duck the inference it was the "Mob cemetery" - a well-founded inference, since I've learned exactly who is buried there, six feet deep and in line with my sainted mother.
Not all gangsters ended up in the dark channel behind the Statue of Liberty dressed in the finest cement shoes. Many of them were buried by a loving family (see "Growing up Gotti" to get a glimpse of how these murdering, thieving, gangsters behaved at home) buried in the same "range" (cemetery lingo) as my mother.
She was fond of quoting St. Paul, desirous of being able to say the same thing: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith." As she settled in for the deep sleep, was she not secure in believing her bedfellows could say the same thing? Bedfellows, Goodfellows? Now it's the same thing for Mama. Poor Mama.
There she lies with - well, let's name names. You'll recognize them: Their reputation precedes them. There's Salvatore "Lucky Luciano" Lucania, for one. Some of you may think I have it wrong because he was deported to Sicily for his dastardly deeds - only to prove quite helpful in WWII as he helped Americans (his chosen allegiance) in the battle against Mussolini and Fascism. But, he is buried at St. John's - a family plot is a family plot!
Scattered among the 2,000,000 buried there are Carmine Galante, Al Gambino, Vito Genovese, Joseph Profaci, Salvatore Maranzano, Aniello Dellacroce, Frank "The Dasher" Abbundando, and Philip "Rusty" Rastelli, among others.
To give you an example of the caliber of corpse resting in peace, Maranzano designed a plot to kill off Luciano, Genovese and Chicago's Al Capone "quickly." Lucky Luciano heard of it, dressed associates as government agents, sent them to Maranzano's office and killed him. Then these would-be agents met Irishman Mad Dog Coll (a killer hired by Maranzano to kill Luciano and Genovese) coming up the stairs just as they were coming down after killing Maranzano (I have a scorecard; I can tell the players) and they told him (Mad Dog Coll) that the cops were raiding the place so he ran back down the stairs.
Everyone in that little blood bath is buried with my mother - except for the Irishman, Mad Dog Coll, whose remains are elsewhere, although I know he was born in Hell's Kitchen and shot in a phone booth. In between those events he was a kidnapper, murderer, loan shark and baby killer.
I'm particularly taken with the good and bad sides of Lucky Luciano. He was convicted for promoting prostitution by prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey (later three-time governor of New York), who was on the hit list of Dutch Schultz, and although Luciano wanted him to cancel the hit, he would not back away from the plan. So, Schultz was himself ordered hit by a gunman hired by the jailed Luciano.
Many of the tombstones carry the legend, "Rest in Peace." Somehow it doesn't seem fair; yet, in my heart I know if my mother were able, she'd be fingering the rosary beads buried with her. Her fingers, gnarled from years spent designing and selling paper roses to feed her family, would move from bead to bead, offering prayers for the souls in Purgatory, the buried goodfellows among them.
No, it isn't fair. Not to me, anyway. But I hear her say with that lesson-to-be learned look in her soft brown eyes: "You know that isn't becoming, dear. 'Judge not, lest ye be judged.'"
Mama's been dead for 35 years now and she can make me feel guilty with her time-honored thoughts from the great beyond. Obviously, she rests in peace. It was her nature. As for the goodfellows, I don't know, but with Mama there, they're in good company, perhaps for the first time in their lives.