Last summer, Mayor Domenic Sarno proclaimed June 2017 Immigrant Heritage Month in Springfield, Massachusetts. To kick off the event, Sarno was quoted on the city’s Facebook page:
“I’m a first generation Italian/American. My parents, Alfonso and Clara Sarno are Italian immigrants, who as children survived underground in Italy during the Nazi occupation of World War II. My dad, a barber, and my mom, a seamstress, legally immigrated to Springfield and became American citizens. They opened their own businesses. They made sure to make myself, my sister Giovanna and brother Alfonso Jr. proud to be American, but they never let our family lose touch of our Italian roots and foundation of family – “a familia,” [sic] – faith, education, traditions and of course our food. I continue to instill these values in my own family with my wife Carla and daughters Cassandra and Chiara.”
Although Mayor Sarno calls himself a first generation Italian-slash-American, the truth is more complicated. The mayor’s paternal great-grandparents lived in West Springfield as early as 1906. While they lived here, their son, Domenico, was born.
They returned to Italy sometime before 1920, taking their young family with them.
That year, Prohibition began in the United States, as did a period of ascendance for American fascism. The Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 put a quota on Italian and other non-WASP immigrants, greatly reducing their numbers. The war in Europe slowed Italian immigration to the US to a trickle.
In the decades after WWII’s end, many families from Italy immigrated and settled in Springfield, including a young Al Bruno. The Sarno family moved back to Springfield in 1948. Domenico Sarno, who was born here in 1910, returned with his wife and their children, all of whom were born in Italy and yet, American citizens through Domenico’s status. Their son, Alfonso Sarno, the popular barber shop owner and father of the mayor, was twelve years old.
Today, Mayor Sarno uses his office to harass and intimidate South Congregational Church and the families they shelter from federal immigration. Advocates for refugee families criticize Sarno as “publicly inhospitable” to new immigrants. The mayor plays the respectability card when immigration comes up, such as when Trump called Haiti and African countries “shithole countries,” and Sarno pointed out that Dr. Harry Dumay, the president of Elms College, in Chicopee, where his oldest daughter is a student, is a native of Haiti. Sarno is quoted saying “No one is against legal immigration aspects, especially those who have played by the rules.” But he criticizes the legal activities of Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts, a resettlement agency, describing them as “using” Springfield as a ‘designated resettlement site.’
Springfield may not be a proclaimed sanctuary city, but that doesn’t mean Mayor Sarno can’t make different choices, ones that are more honest and less wasteful. He could prevent local law enforcement resources being diverted to assist a federal agency, refrain from launching a targeted investigation into one church’s status, and tell his family’s whole immigration story, not a version that make his political points.
Sarno’s personal and political base is an immigrant community that maintains close ties to its ancestral home, language, religion, and culture. He has many relatives on both sides of his family who have made Springfield their home. Not everyone who has sought refuge on these shores—from poverty, conscription, corruption, and war, as many southern Italians have—has been as lucky. Mayor Domenic Sarno, the son of immigrants, had the good fortune to be born the grandson of a native-born American citizen.
The Mayor did not respond to my requests for an interview.
The friends of Angelo di Carlo turn out to be “friends of friends.”
When Angelo di Carlo was interned during WWII, he was labeled by American intelligence as an alien enemy potentially dangerous to the United States, for several reasons. One was that confidential sources described him as a “man of respect” in the Italian community of New York. People called him “Capitano.” His reputation extended even to the Italian Embassy.
Angelo’s business associate in Esperia Film, Francesco Macaluso, says that Angelo had occasional business with the Embassy, regarding their films. For his part, Angelo claims he went merely to ensure his military pension was being paid out properly. In either case, he was granted private audiences on his visits to the Consulate: an uncommon courtesy. Angelo’s military rank—stripped from him when he failed to appear on murder charges in 1926—was also given as a reason for American intelligence to be concerned, during the war.
Angelo was found not guilty of murder by the Italian court in 1926, due to lack of evidence. But in 1930, he was found guilty of criminal association, which would make it difficult for him to conduct business in Sicily when he returned there in 1937, at the death of his father.
Mafia association is not a crime in the US, but it’s still an excellent detection method. Most crimes are never prosecuted, and with the exception of the occasional state’s witness, most mafiosi do not reveal their membership to non-members, not even to their wives and children. For Mafia genealogists, the challenge is not to find judicial proof, which is rare, or a membership roll, which is nonexistent, but to demonstrate that an individual does what mafiosi do. This includes having close business and personal contacts among men who are known members of the Mafia.
All of the men testified that they knew Angelo well, that he was no threat to the US government, and that they would sponsor him if he were released. Three of the affidavits are from men with close ties to Tommy Gagliano, boss of the Lucchese crime family:
Nunzio Pomilla is Tommy Gagliano’s brother-in-law and lathing business partner.
Leoluca di Frisco, who is known as Louis, is married to Tommy Gagliano’s niece. He owns a bakery and a lathing company.
There is another man by this name, a known Giuseppe Morello associate, who is also from Corleone. That Ignazio Milone is twenty years older, born in 1878. He is this man’s third cousin. The older man was killed in 1934.
(Another man who swore on Angelo’s behalf was Stefano la Sala, who I wrote about here a couple weeks ago. Like Milone, La Sala has a same-name cousin, a powerful member of the Lucchese family.)
All three of the Lucchese connections are men from Corleone. Ignazio Milone has been a blacksmith, a stone cutter, and a plasterer. Never married, he lived in the Bronx with his sister and brother-in-law. Milone and Pomilla both knew Angelo since they were children. Milone and Leoluke Calcaterra, a milliner, affirmed Angelo’s difficulties in Sicily. Each of them was in Corleone, visiting family, at some time during the two years Angelo was there. They claim that his harassment by the police, and fruitless efforts to secure a passport for himself and his wife, were generally known to people in Corleone. Costantino Castellano, who is from Palermo, was in Sicily in the summer of 1937. He was in contact with Angelo during that time, and confirmed Milone and Calcaterra’s statements.
A common thread is proprietorship in the construction trades. Louis di Frisco and Nunzio Pomilla owned lathing companies. Stefano la Sala was a building contractor. Pietro Castro, also called Peter, who is both Stefano and Angelo’s brother-in-law, was a plasterer who owned his own business. Pietro’s son, Anthony, was also a plasterer. Two of Angelo’s brothers were plasterers. Rosario Loiacono was a plasterer, as were two of his brothers, his father-in-law, Joseph Tavolacci and his brother-in-law, Domenick. Domenick Tavolacci is Peter Castro’s son-in-law, and was business partner in a plastering business with Angelo’s brother, John.
The Honorable Charles Buckley, who would lead the Bronx Democratic machine in the 1950s and 60s, was a bricklayer with his own construction business when he entered politics, breaking the unwritten rule that district leaders had to own saloons. The successor to “Boss Flynn,” Buckley was a strong believer in the political machine. If you needed something done in the Bronx, you saw your assemblyman, and if he couldn’t fix it for you, Buckley might. In the 1930s and 40s, he served fifteen terms in Congress. Among Buckley’s achievements in the Bronx was to bring in federal funds to pay for housing projects and highways: a boon for those in the construction industry.
At Peter Castro’s request, Buckley wrote a letter to the Attorney General. The letter made its way to the director of the Alien Control Unit, Edward J. Ennis, who wrote Peter Castro to suggest that his brother-in-law apply for a rehearing.
The Di Carlo family was persecuted by Italian Fascists in Sicily. That didn’t stop them from becoming propagandists for Mussolini.
A couple weeks ago on Mafia Genealogy, I introduced “Capitano” Angelo di Carlo. Calogero di Carlo, called “Lelio” or “Leo,” was the youngest child of the Di Carlo family, and Angelo’s business partner.
Seven brothers immigrated: Antonino (Nino), Giuseppe (Piddu), Giovanni (John), Angelo (Capitano), Francesco (Frank), Salvatore (Toto), and Calogero (Leo). Two sisters also immigrated: Marianna and Rosa. All but Angelo lived the rest of their lives in the United States, with several of the siblings settling together in Yonkers.
Their father was a butcher in Corleone, and at least two of the brothers, Nino and Toto, were butchers in the US. John owned a plastering business, and Frank worked with two of his brothers, sometimes with Toto as a butcher and other times with John as a plasterer. Lelio and his brother, Angelo, were entrepreneurs: before the war, as film importers, and after WWII, as travel agents. According to the Italian police, the brothers were suspected of international drug smuggling as early as the 1930s.
Angelo was in Sicily from 1937-39, having gone to assist their father, who died in Corleone in 1937. Angelo had a prior conviction for mafia association, and was unable to secure a visa, or even a driver’s license, under the Fascists. Despite these difficulties, Lelio says that Angelo may have helped acquire two of the first films Esperia distributed in the United States.
The Esperia Film Company was formed by Lelio in January 1939. He originally called Esperia the “Modern Film Company.” The company was called Esperia by March, when Angelo returned to New York. After two years in Italy, Angelo’s wife, Luisa, contacted a relative, a judge in Palermo, who secured visas for their return to New York. Angelo and Luisa lived with Angelo’s brother, John’s family in Yonkers. Angelo joined Esperia as a salaried employee.
According to IMDb, the films Esperia distributed were made between 1936-40, and distributed in the US between 1939-41. Other than those first two, Francesco Macaluso, Esperia’s president and general manager, selected all of the films Esperia licensed. He made a number of trips to Italy during the 1930s to obtain films for distribution. He is seen on manifests, returning to the US with his wife and two of their children in 1933, in 1936 with his adult daughter, who worked for Esperia as a bookkeeper, alone in 1937 and again in 1939. The records list Macaluso as a lawyer, until the last trip I found, in 1940, where “lawyer” is crossed out and replaced with “film merchant.”
Lelio claimed in a 1943 affidavit that all of the funds used to purchase the film licenses were his own, with some of those funds acquired from unspecified family members, and some quantity borrowed. But in 1942, when the FBI investigated Esperia, thirty percent of the stock was owned by Francesco Macaluso. The majority shareholder was Lelio, the treasurer, with sixty percent. His brother, John, owned the other ten percent.
According to the FBI, Esperia ceased operations in 1941. On 9 December, immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, several of the Di Carlo brothers were arrested. Angelo and Luisa were still living with John’s family. According to John’s son, Vincent, who was ten years old at the time, Angelo, Toto, Frank, and Leo were arrested, because they were not yet citizens.
John was also arrested, according to Leo’s affidavit. In fact, his letter suggests only Angelo, John, and Leo were arrested, not Toto and Frank. Angelo, Calogero (Leo), and Frank appear in a list of persons of Italian ancestry who were taken into custody during the war. Only Angelo appears in the list of those initially rounded up after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and he is also the only one interned. That Toto was also arrested, soon after his brothers, is confirmed in FBI Agent Burleson’s report from Ellis Island, the following month.
Calogero, who wrote in 1943 in an effort to have Angelo released from internment, downplayed his brother’s involvement in Esperia. Based on the contents of his affidavit, he understood the propaganda charges to be the main reason Angelo remained interned. He writes:
“My brother, Angelo di Carlo, came into the organization solely on a salary basis. He contributed no money to the company’s capital. His connection with the company was solely as a salaried employee, although he nominally held the title of Vice-President. He had no control over the bank account.”
John’s son, Vincent, who wrote a family history in 2013, and worked for his uncles as a teenager, provides a different impression of the brothers: “They were business partners but Angelo ran things and made all the major decisions.”
Though by the time of their 1943 affidavits, the Di Carlos and their supporters were careful to distance themselves from fascist governments abroad, domestic fascism enjoyed broad support in the 1930s, when Esperia began importing films. American heroes of the time included the pilot and widely known white supremacist and isolationist Charles Lindbergh, auto manufacturer and anti-Semite Henry Ford, and real life “Citizen Kane”: the yellow journalist William Randolph Hearst. “Hitler’s Mountain Home” was featured in the Hearst publication, “Better Homes and Gardens,” in 1938, the same year as Kristallnacht.
All 29 of Esperia’s 1940 releases “attempted to convince spectators that under the leadership of Mussolini Italy was a strong and mighty nation.”One feature film distributed by Esperia is described as propaganda in the book “Equivocal Subjects.” “Under the Southern Cross” (1938) (on YouTube) is seen to “naturalize” Italian occupation of Ethiopia, which began in 1898. A second Italo-Ethiopian War was fought in the years just before this film’s release. Recall that Angelo’s service to Italy, from which he derived his lifelong nickname, was in the occupation of Libya. His evident pride in his role in Italy’s colonial “Scramble for Africa” may have extended to the subject of his countrymen in Ethiopia. Angelo told FBI investigators, following his arrest, that he was not pro-Fascist, but he was still pro-Italian.
Lelio calls Esperia “a private business venture, absolutely in no way connected with the political regime in Italy”. In their defense, Lelio notes that the films Esperia imported, were also shown in other theaters around the United States. Individual Esperia releases, reviewed in contemporary newspapers, are depicted as light entertainment, exotic dramas and comedies of variable artistic merit.
The News Research Service, produced by Joseph Roos, describes Esperia as a propagandist specializing in short films. The typical distribution method was to screen a full-length feature along with two or three short pieces of propaganda. This article singles out two film houses in New York City, the Roma Cine Teatro at 1662 Broadway, which “flourished under the management of the notorious, one-time anarchist, Pietro Garofalo,” and the Cine Citta, at 250 W 54th St, managed by Signor Macaluso, a “widely known… Fascist agent.” The Rome Cine was one of the theaters in which Angelo di Carlo was invested.
By 1936, Francesco Macaluso had been active in American fascist leadership for almost two decades. The Di Carlo brothers were well aware of their business partner’s politics. Vincent knew Francesco personally. He visited his uncle Angelo during his internment, at two different camps. Vincent says of Macaluso: “His relationship with Angelo was strictly business. They were on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Macaluso was a hardcore Fascist. At my visit to Fort Meade I witnessed him trying to impress visiting family members of the POW with shouts of ‘Viva il Duce’ and making Nazi/Fascist salutes.” (Personal correspondence, 11 March 2016.)
Since internees were rated on their behavior in the camps, his association with Macaluso may have harmed Angelo’s chances of being released. Luckily for them both, the war was coming to an end.
Affidavit signed by Calogero di Carlo, 28 July 1943. Released electronically by NARA on 9 March 2016 to the author.
“Fascismo Says It With Movies.” Research Supplement Published by News Research Service, Inc. Vol. 5. No. 142. 23 April 1941.
Federal Bureau of Investigation report made at New York, NY, on 23 January 1942 by J. Burleson regarding Angelo di Carlo. File no. NY 100-17523. Released electronically by NARA on 9 March 2016 to the author.
XIII Legislatura – Disegni di Legge e Relazioni – Documenti. Legione Territoriale Carabinieri di Palermo. Oggetto: Vito Calogero Ciancimino gia’ Sindaco della Citta’ di Palermo. Senato della Repubblica. Camera dei deputati. N. 3209/1064-2 di prot.llo. Dated Palermo, 14 April 1971. Accessed at http://legislature.camera.it/_dati/leg13/lavori/doc/xxiii/015_RS/00000008.pdf on 24 January 2016.
Feature Image: Promotional poster for “Il Sogno di Butterfly” [English: “The Dream of Butterfly”], a 1941 Esperia release (Source: IMDb)
Dr. Michele Navarra and his successor, Luciano Leggio, dominated the Corleonesi Mafia after World War II.
A few months before Domenico Liggio married, in the summer of 1834, he lived with his widowed mother and an older brother, Salvatore, near the ancient Ospedale dei Bianchi in Corleone: the same hospital Dr. Michele Navarra would run, a hundred years later.
Even in a place known for its poverty, misery is not evenly distributed. To one side of the hospital, in the 1834 census, live the families of the more fortunate: the skilled artisans, petty nobles, and priests. Meanwhile, on the other side, beyond the arch, Domenico Liggio and his family live among peasant farmers and their widows. One of his neighbors was my first cousin, seven times removed, Gaspare Cascio.
Ninety-one years after this census was taken by the local priests, Domenico’s great-grandson Luciano Leggio was born, a ten minute walk south of the center of town, on via Lanza.
Though some sources claim Leggio’s name is misspelled “Liggio” due to a court reporter’s error, in fact both are common spellings of this surname in Corleone. Luciano’s grandfather and great-grandfather both appear in Church records as “Liggio.” Sometimes the name is “lo Liggio.” In 1834, there was a courtyard named after Maestro Pasquale lo Liggio, near via Macaluso, in the southeast of town.
Genealogists would not be surprised to find multiple spellings of a Sicilian surname, in records maintained on behalf of illiterate peasants, which were kept in ecclesiastical Latin by the Catholic Church. My own family’s surname appears variously as Cascio, lo Cascio, and most confusingly, as Castro, in both church and civil records. There is another family in Corleone called Castro, from which I am also descended.
My last name, Corleone natives tell me, is most likely related to cacio, or cheese. “Castro” is Latin for “castle,” of which there are the remains of two in town, and probably the descendants of those who worked there are called by this name. Other surnames in town include Palazzo and Palazotto. There are a wealth of names related to apples (pomo, or mele) in my family tree: Pomara, Pomilla, and di Puma; Mangiameli, which means “apple eater.” A “leggio” is a lectern or music stand.
Luciano’s early life story is marked by tragedy and poverty. Thom L. Jones describes Luciano’s childhood home as a “hovel” near the police barracks. If you look at it today on Google Maps, it’s an undistinguished, shabby building on a narrow street, like many others in Corleone. In 1834, via Lanza would have been just beyond the southern limits of the city. When Luciano lived there, the animals would have lived inside the house with them, just as people have done there for centuries. Luciano suffered from Pott’s disease, a form of tuberculosis that attacks the bones, and gave him the ingiuria “mulacciuni,” or hunchback. His condition was probably contracted in early childhood, from drinking unpasteurized goat’s milk. Even while on the run, Luciano frequently sought treatment for his symptoms, running successful criminal operations in mainland Italy while checked into hospitals under assumed names.
When Luciano went to prison, he left his associate, Toto Riina, in charge. Toto, born Salvatore Riina, grew up in Corleone, poor like Luciano. Toto’s father, Giovanni, was a poor farmer with seven children. After World War II, the countryside was littered with unexploded ordnance. One day, he brought home a bomb on mule back, to harvest the gunpowder. The explosion killed Giovanni, leaving young Toto, just thirteen, as the man of the house. His youngest sister was born a month later.
Despite his physical frailty, Luciano Leggio made a reputation for himself, first in the 19th century trade of cattle theft. His first conviction, at age 18 or 19, was for stealing wheat. Ultimately, he would succeed, not only in the traditional activities of the Mafia, but by dramatically altering the tenor and scope of the organization. Liggio’s use of violence, and his disregard for traditional values, were as much a part of his legacy as his expansion into international drug trafficking.
The SC 250 was one of the most common bombs dropped by the Germans in WWII. It weighed 250 kg (over 550 lbs). (Source: Wikipedia.) Smaller bombs were also used, sometimes in combinations. See Days of Glory: Luftwaffe bombs.
Corleone was an early seat of the Italian labor movement. In 1893, Bernardino Verro was killed for opposing the landowning class—and more importantly, their protectors, the Mafia—through his organizing. Fifty-five years later, on a March day in 1948, labor organizer Placido Rizzotto made plans to meet Dr. Navarra in Corleone, coming off the bus from Palermo. Instead, at the doctor’s orders, Rizzotto was bundled into the back of a car, taken to a deserted farmhouse, and shot. When his body was found, Rizzotto’s fiancee swore to eat the heart of his killer. Leggio was arrested, but the charges were dropped. Leggio is still widely regarded as Rizzotto’s murderer.
In 1963, thousands of mafiosi were being arrested. When the police found Leggio, he was in the home of Leoluchina Sorisi, the fiancee of the murdered Placido Rizzotto. She had been hiding the Mafia boss upon whom she’d sworn vengeance, in her home on the Mangiameli courtyard, a three minute walk from where Leggio was born. Upon his capture, she wept and stroked his hair.
There were murder trials, for Navarra’s killing and others, but Leggio and his associates were acquitted. The only crime the tubercular Leggio was ever convicted of, was the murder of the physician, his predecessor, Dr. Michele Navarra.
In addition to heading the Corleonesi Mafia, Navarra was the director of Corleone’s ancient hospital. According to John Follain, when a second hospital was built, Navarra was not made its director, so the vengeful physician successfully prevented the hospital from opening in his lifetime.
This was not the only development in whose way Navarra stood, and he’d already sensed the danger from his former underling. A foiled attempt on Leggio’s life by the doctor sealed his own death certificate.
Michele Navarra was violently assassinated by Leggio and his men. The physician’s body was torn apart by more than a hundred bullets, fired into his car. The attack came on an isolated country road, in the hottest part of the Sicilian summer. It must have been like a bomb going off.