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>Costume Studies
>>1900 Black Hand mafioso
Subjectmafioso gangster 
Culture: Sicilian-American
SettingMano Nero 'Black Hand' organized crime, America late-19th - early-20thc
Evolution1861 Sicilian picciotto > 1900 Black Hand mafioso




Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Alt & Wells 2008 p4-5
"While the term Mafia is now commonly used, prior to 1920 the American Mafia was usually called the 'Black Hand' (Mano Nero), a  term which has now become recognized by many Americans due to its use in the popular film The Godfather II.  With the rise of criminal activity in the United States (particularly extortion demands from blackmailers), Italian-American writers attempted to determined [SIC] the origin of the term.  Some claimed that Carlo Barsotti, editor of Il Progressor Italo-Americano in New York 'coined the term in order to avoid using the word 'mafia.'  According to Gaetano D'Amato, former President of the United Italian Societies of New York, the term was first used in Spain during the Inquisition or in the early 1880s by thieves and murderers who thought of themselves as guardians of the poor against the wealthy.  D'Amato indicated that the term may have come into use by 'some Italian desperado who had heard of the exploits of these Spaniards and thought the term either elitist-sounding or one that would inspire terror.'  Eventually, by the beginning of the twentieth century, most newspapers across the nation applied it to any crime committed by Italians in the U.S."

* Asbury 1940 p231-232
"The Black Hand first became prominently identified with Chicago crime in the middle 1890's.  Its depredations were confined almost entirely to the Italian and Sicilian settlements of Oak and West Taylor Streets and Grand and Wentworth Avenue, where it was a source of great terror for more than thirty years.  During that time some four hundred murders were ascribed to the Black Hand by the police and by various organizations which were formed to combat the outlaws.  The focal point of this activity was the intersection of Milton and Oak Streets, in the heart of Little Italy, where so many murders were committed that the locality became popularly known as Death Corner.  This was the favorite slaughtering-place of a professional assassin called the Shotgun Man, who was believed to have been responsible for at least one-third of the thirty-eight unsolved Italian and Sicilian killings which occurred between January 1, 1910 and March 26, 1911.  Four of the Shotgun Man's victims were killed in a single seventy-two-hour period of March 1911.
    "There were probably between sixty and eighty Black Hand gangs at work in Chicago during the first two decades of the twentieth century, but all of them appear to have been independent units; no two were ever found to be connected.  Despite the magnitude of Black Hand operations, none of the extensive investigations undertaken by the police of Chicago and other American municipalities disclosed a Black Hand organization of international, national, or even city-wide proportions.  As the noted criminologist John Landesco said in the Illinois Crime Survey, the Black Hand was 'only a method, a modus operandi.'  It was used by individuals, small groups, and by large and well-organized gangs; in Italy and Sicily it had been employed for generations by bands of the Mafia and  the Camorra.  The method was called the Black Hand because as a general rule the extortion letters which formed its initial phase bore the imprint of a hand in black ink, as well as crude drawings of a skull and cross-bones, and sometimes crosses and daggers.
    "The procedure of the Black Hand was both simple and direct.  First, a victim was chosen, usually a man who had displayed signs of prosperity; the purchase of property, of the fact became public knowledge, was almost always followed by Black Hand activity.  Sometimes two gangs chose the same victim, in which case it was customary to recognize priority rights.  A letter, bearing some such signature as Black Hand, Mysterious Hand, or Secret Hand -- the word 'hand' was always present -- was sent to the victim demanding money.  If he ignored the letter or refused to pay, his home, office, or store was bombed.  If he still refused to pay, he was murdered.  Most of the Black Hand leetters were blunt instructions to put a certain sum of money, ranging usually from one thousand dollars to five thousand dollars, in a certain place at a certain time, but some were very politely worded, in the best tradition of Latin courtesy."

* Gage 1971 p30-31
"Mafiosi came to the United States with the first wave of immigration at the end of the last century.  The first recorded Mafia killing in the United States occurred on January 24, 1889, when a man named Vincenzo Ottomvo was murdered in New Orleans during a card game.  A gang war followed that ultimately led to two grand jury investigations.  The report of one jury concluded:
The range of our researches has devolved the existence of the secret organization styled 'Mafia.'  The evidence comes from several sources fully competent in themselves to attest its truth, while the fact is supported by the long record of blood-curdling crimes, it being almost impossible to discover the perpetrators or to secure witnesses.
    "By 1910 there were Mafia gangs in many major United States cities.  [Nicola] Gentile offers the best picture of the organization in this early period.  He relates that it preyed almost exclusively on newly arrived Italian immigrants and that its members were 'ignorant and practically all illiterate.'  Mafia groups in those days were 'very democratic,' Gentile wrote.  Groups of ten members chose leaders (capos), who in turn elected the head of the family (capo famiglia).  The heads of families and their lieutenants elected the head of all the Mafia, who was known as the boss of bosses (capo dei capi), or king."


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