The Mangano brothers and Joe Profaci

The Mangano brothers and Joe Profaci

Vincent Mangano was made the head of a New York City Mafia Family in 1931, with the formation of the Commission. He took over his former boss, Salvatore D’Aquila’s Brooklyn based operation from Al Mineo, and with his brother, Philip, ran a profitable racket based on the Brooklyn waterfront until 1951.

There are sources that claim the Mangano brothers emigrated in 1921 with another future Mafia boss, Joe Profaci. A video from “Bloodletters & Badmen”, researched and narrated by G. Marshall Johnson, says Vincent Mangano immigrated with his father, brother Philip, and a young Joseph Profaci. The American Mafia History website repeats the claim. But is it true?

In 1927, when Profaci became a naturalized citizen, he reported having immigrated on the Providence, on 4 September 1921. These names appear on the manifest for that voyage:

  1. Gaetano Mangano, 39, married, a merchant. He leaves his wife Giovanna Giannone behind in Palermo, to join his brother-in-law, Francesco Giannone, at 25 West Broadway (Tribeca) in New York City
  2. Vincent Mangano, his son, is fourteen, a student. On his line, someone has written “Claims US born”. The record also tells us that Giovanna Giannone is his mother.
  3. Giuseppe Profaci, 24, single, is also a merchant. He leaves his father, also named Giuseppe, behind in Palermo. He is joining his cousin Calogero Profaci at 225 Elizabeth St (Little Italy).

Although this is a manifest for aliens to New York, Vincent appears here because he is under age sixteen, and traveling with his father, who is an Italian citizen. There are two clues on this manifest that this is not the gangster I was looking for. One of them is his age, and another, his claim to American birth. I proceeded to research this family, based on clues in the manifest.

The record of this traveler’s birth, on 6 January 1906 in Manhattan, confirms Vincent Mangano was born in the United States. It names his parents, Gaetano Mangano, and Giovanna Giannone, who were both born in Italy, and gives their ages at the time of Vincent’s birth. Gaetano’s age in 1906, and in 1921, are both a match for the birth date found on his WWII draft registration: 2 January 1882. But other records tell us that not only is Vincent Mangano, the gangster, older than this, his father’s name is not Gaetano.

Most sources tell us that Vincent “The Executioner” Mangano was born 28 March 1888 in Palermo. An Ancestry.com index of Find A Grave records, which are compiled by volunteers, gives this date of birth for Vincent. Other sources say he was born in December of that year. However, Vincent’s naturalization records, and draft registrations for both world wars, all say that Vincent was born 14 December 1887 in Palermo. In either event, a man born in 1887 or-88 would be between 32 and 34 years old in 1921, closer in age to the father on the Providence manifest, Gaetano, than to his teenage son.

There is no sign of a brother named Filippo/Philip on the manifest, or in any other records of Gaetano and Giovanna’s family that I’ve found. But longshoreman Philip Mangano’s WWI draft record is full of clues to the identity of the infamous Mangano brothers.

Filippo Mangano WWI draft card
Philip Mangano’s WWI registration tells us he worked as a longshoreman for “various stevedores.”

Following the trail leading from his draft record, which names his mother and his brother, Vincent, I found more evidence—draft cards, travel manifests, naturalization records, and census records—that all point to a different set of parents for Vincent and Philip: not Gaetano and Giovanna, but Serafina Simonetti and her husband, who was also named Vincenzo Mangano.

Philip’s birth date is also in dispute. Sources including Wikipedia give one birth date for Philip, 13 April 1898, but I have not found a citation that leads to a primary source for this date. I haven’t found either brother’s baptismal records. Philip’s WWI draft registration gives his date of birth as 10 September 1898. A travel manifest from 1932 naming Philip, his mother, and several of his siblings, reports an age consistent with this birthdate. The manifest also names Vincent Mangano, Serafina’s son, as the person meeting them in New York.

I’ve found Vincent’s passport application from 1920, the year before the Providence voyage. He planned to sail in June, and to be back in six months This is his photo from that application. He is 32 years old.

Vincent Mangano 1920 passport application
Vincent Mangano, 1920

The next year, the Providence sailed, carrying a fourteen year old American-born boy who was also named Vincent Mangano. Joe Profaci sailed with him. It’s definitely Joe: he reported the precise name and date of his voyage, when he became a naturalized American citizen in 1927. His age on the 1921 manifest is a match for his date of birth.

I expect to find a travel manifest for Vincent, either late in 1920 or early in 1921, based on the information in his passport application. I haven’t yet, but I have found another travel record for him, in 1930, when he returns to New York with one of Giuseppe Morello’s old counterfeiting associates, Tony Cecala.

Vincent Mangano 1920 and 1937
Vincent Mangano in 1920 and around 1937

By the time of the Castellammarese War, Vincent and Philip Mangano had already been in power on the Brooklyn waterfront for some time. They enjoyed good relationships with other bosses, including Lucky Luciano, who gave Vincent a seat on the Commission. Vincent was also reportedly close with Joe Profaci, Joe Bonanno, and members of the Buffalo and Detroit crime families. In 1946, Vincent appeared on a flight manifest, returning from Cuba to his home in Miami. He was accompanied by Willie Moretti, one of the biggest loan sharks in pre-Commission New York.

Five years later, in April 1951, Philip was found shot to death in Brooklyn, and his brother, Vincent, disappeared. Both are attributed to Albert Anastasia, who succeeded Vincent as boss of what would eventually be known as the Gambino crime family. Anastasia, technically the underboss in the Mangano Family, and Vincent had a long standing mutual dislike of one another. Anastasia never admitted to getting rid of the Mangano brothers, but most agree he was behind their deaths.

Anastasia and Vincent Mangano were subpoenaed to appear before the Kefauver Senate committee on the American Mafia, as was Willie Moretti. Moretti’s mental health was deteriorating due to advanced syphilis, according to Joe Valachi. Moretti testified, and for this he was killed, also in 1951.

Anastasia told the Commission that he believed his boss had put a hit out on him. This justification implies what he could not admit. Killing a Mafia boss without Commission approval was an act of war. He was allowed to succeed as boss of the Family, but the precedent would prove deadly. Anastasia was killed in 1957.

Philip Mangano never married. He was buried with his mother. Vincent married Carolina Cusimano in Brooklyn in 1912, and they had four children. Vincent, Carolina, their daughter, Serafina, and her husband, share a grave marker that gives a date ten years after Philip’s murder, 1961, for Vincent’s death. His body was never found.

The olive oil business

The olive oil business

When I started this blog, I told one of the earliest anecdotes I had about my family: a story about olive oil. My father’s paternal grandparents, Louis Cascio and Lucia Soldano, immigrated as teenagers with their families and settled in East Harlem, on 106th Street. After they married, Lucia and her youngest brother, Tony, sold olive oil to their neighbors, produced and exported by Louis’ brother-in-law.

In my first post, I was doubtful that this story was true, or at least that it was the whole story, and not a cover for some other, hidden events. Was it even remotely possible that the olive oil story was the extra-virgin truth, as it was told to me? If so, why did it smell like a second pressing of “The Godfather”?

 

genco tie tack
A Genco olive oil tie tack. Genco was Don Vito Corleone’s fictional import business.

 

The farmland around Corleone, in the 19th century, was used according to its distance from the city: closest to town were the household gardens, surrounded by vineyards and orchards, and then land used alternately for pasturage and to grow grain. In Corleone there was an outer ring of almost-feudal lands, called contrada (lands) or “feudi,” fief holds, based on the original Roman farms. Many are still in existence, if diminished; the locals can tell you where they once were.

The smallest of these traditional holdings in Corleone, around 1800, were five salmi, or about 8.75 hectares, in size. Many small landowners owned far less than this, with a bit of land in one contrada and another, some in vines, some in trees. Most farmers in Corleone did not own any property at all, not even their houses. 

A five salmi olive orchard could theoretically produce 39,000 kg of olives, if all of the trees were mature and healthy, and it was a favorable year for the olive harvest. That’s enough to keep 288 Italians in olive oil for a year, at today’s consumption rates. However, olives are a tough crop to rely upon, as a farmer. The trees tend to yield a good crop only in alternate years, like apple trees. They mature slowly, and do not produce saleable fruit for about ten years. But they can live for more than a thousand years.

Olive trees are extremely hardy and will usually recover from droughts and freezes. Growing anything here is tricky. Corleone is at 600 meters above sea level, where trees can sustain frost damage, and the land is dry for most of the year. The regulating agency governing olives in the Val di Mazzara, in which Corleone is located, limits olive production to no more than 8,000 kg per hectare. If the land is fully planted in the traditional way, with 28 feet between trees, that comes to around three and a third kilograms of olives per tree. This is well below the standards of ten or even fifty kilograms from a mature tree, reported by growers in other parts of the world.

biancolilla olive
The Biancolilla olive, one of three varieties grown in western Sicily

Every olive producing region in Europe has its own varieties, very few of which have been transplanted to the New World. Three types of olives are grown near Corleone, all for oil production: Biancolilla, Nocelara de Belice, and Cerasuola. Sicilian olive oils are usually a strong shade of green, with a golden undertone, good body, and a complexity of flavor. Traditionally, olives are harvested by hand or with nets. The fruit is slowly milled on a trappeto, which keeps the paste unheated, and then the olive paste is pressed in a frantoio to release the oil. Extra virgin olive oil is still produced using a very similar process.

When my twice great-aunt Biagia Cascio was born in Corleone in 1884, olive oil was likely regarded as a precious commodity. The future olive oil exporter was born at number 3, via Banditore, in the northern part of Corleone, the second child of Giuseppe Cascio and Angela Grizzaffi. They lived in the “Upper Area” of Corleone, above via Roma, in what is called the Borgo in old records: the suburbs. North of the suburbs is a great open area. To the east of this address is a via Trappeto. There must have been at least two olive mills in town, possibly at different times. There is another trappeto that appears in Church censuses of the older, southern part of the city, early in the century.

49.95.870(3)
Illustration of 17th century olive oil production. In the foreground on the left you can see the upright wheel in the olive mill, the trappeto, and in the midground on the right, three men turn the screw of a frantoio, a press.

Giuseppe Cascio was a farmer who suffered poor health, and died in 1899, when Biagia was fourteen. Her mother, older sister, and three of her younger siblings immigrated two years later, leaving her and her two youngest siblings in Corleone. I don’t know where they all lived, but it is likely they stayed with Angela’s brother, Leoluca. By this time, Leoluca and Angela’s parents had died, and Leoluca most likely inherited property from their father.

Angela, a young widow, and her older children joined her sister’s family in East Harlem. Two years later, her brother, Leoluca, brought Angela’s two youngest children with him to New York. Only Biagia did not immigrate. She married a man with the same name as her father—Giuseppe Cascio, her first cousin—in 1902.

Giuseppe was from a Mafia family. His godfather is also his namesake and maternal grandfather, Giuseppe Morello. His older cousin was the infamous gangster of the same name, named after the same grandfather. Giuseppe’s sister, Giovanna, married Pietro Majuri in 1897. Pietro was active in the Mafia in Corleone around 1900, under Giuseppe Battaglia. Two of their sons were active in 1962, under Luciano Leggio.

Biagia’s brother Louis and his wife, Lucia, my great-grandparents, married in New York in 1918. Immigrants made more money in New York than they did back in Sicily, and wanted the luxury goods they could now afford. Census records tell us that Louis worked in a laundry in 1920 and 1930. Even humble peasants from Corleone would, of course, know quality when it came to olive oil, and I expect many preferred the distinctive flavor of oil produced in their hometown, where they knew its provenance and production method, and it tasted like home. 

Long before the Mediterranean diet swept the United States, Ciro Terranova became the Artichoke King with a monopoly on small, “baby” artichokes, a Sicilian delicacy unheard of outside immigrant communities. Joe Profaci built his legitimate business empire on olive oil, beginning in 1920, around the same time my family was operating their own, far more modest import business out of their New York apartment. This niche product would go mainstream when Joe’s son, Joseph Profaci, Jr. and his Italian business partner, Enrico Colavita, founded an olive oil import business in 1978. American cuisine—and virgin olive oil—would never be the same.

 

Feature image credit: Herstellungsprozess von Olivenöl um 1600. After Jan van der Straet, called Stradanus (Netherlandish, Bruges 1523–1605 Florence),Jan Collaert I (Netherlandish, Antwerp ca. 1530–1581 Antwerp) – http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/427835