The Real Sermon on the Docks

Probably the most powerful sermon ever placed on film, Father Barry speaks of Christ and his crucifixion on the docks.  The best performance Karl Malden ever gave.  Elia Kazan’s masterpiece, On the Waterfront  (1954) was also his response to the criticism he received for naming names before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952.

 

 

The character of Father Barry was based on the actual work on the docks of a hardbitten Irish-Catholic Jesuit Priest, Father John Corridan.  From 1946-1957 he waged a one man crusade in New York against the gangsters who controlled the International Longshoreman’s Association.  One of the bosses who controlled the union was “Tough” Tony Anastasia,  a brother of Albert “The Madhatter” Anastasia, one of the former bosses of Murder, Inc.

In the face of these murderers, Father Corridan, son of a New York cop who had died when Corridan was nine, was completely fearless.  Teaching longshoremen Christian principles in labor\management relations at the Saint Francis Xavier Labor School, Father Corridan faced down a union thug sent to disrupt his class:  “If anything happens to the men I’m trying to help here, I’ll know who’s responsible, and I’ll personally see to it that they are broken throughout this port. They’ll pay and I’ll see that they pay.”

Father Corridan compiled information which eventually filled sixteen filing cabinets on the mobsters who controlled the ports and who made life miserable for honest longshoremen.  He shared this information freely with reporters, including Malcolm Johnson of the New York Sun who won a Pulitzer for his series in 1948 on “Crime on the Waterfront”.  Father Corridan realized the pressure that could be exerted on the mob and the crooked politicians who protected the mob by such stories, and he used every opportunity to expose them in the press.  He wrote scorching articles himself for America and other publications.  Gradually the public began to become aware of the problem of mob domination of the docks.

A turning point came in 1951 when a faction of the longshoremen rejected a union negotiated contract and went on a wildcat strike.  Father Corridan supported them to the hilt.  The strike shut down ports in New York and New Jersey for twenty-five days.  To refute a claim by the mob dominated union that the strikers were communists, Father Corridan held a public prayer service with the strikers.  He also successfully pressured Governor Dewey of New York to address the issue of mob control of the docks.

Father Barry in the movie had his sermon on the docks.  Father Corridan preached many of them and one of them had this memorable statement:  “I suppose some people would smirk at the thought of Christ in the shape-up. It is about as absurd as the fact that He carried carpenter’s tools in His hands and earned His bread by the sweat of His brow. As absurd as the fact that Christ redeemed all men irrespective of their race, color, or station in life. It can be absurd only to those of whom Christ has said, ‘Having eyes, they see not; and having ears, they hear not.’ Because they don’t want to see or hear. Christ also said, ‘If you do it to the least of mine, you do it to me.’ So Christ is in the shape-up.”

The shape up was the system by which the mob completely controlled which longshoremen would work and which would not.  Father Corridan succeeded in having the shape up banned by the time that he left the docks in 1957, and a New York\New Jersey commission was in place to regulate the harbors.

Father Corridan went on to teach economics at LeMoyne College in Syracuse , theology at Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City and was a hospital chaplain in Brooklyn until his death at 73 in 1984.  It is said of Father Corridan that he could swear like a longshoreman himself at the sight of injustice.  If true, then I imagine his language is pure in his final abode.

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Capone the Lawman

 

 

The oldest brother of gangster Al Capone, James Vincenzo Capone, led a life quite different from that of his notorious sibling.  Leaving home at 16 he ultimately settled in Nebraska, losing his New York Italian accent.  He served in the Army both during the Punitive Expedition and World War I, earning a Lieutenant’s commission and being decorated by General Pershing.  Returning from the War he changed his name to Richard James Hart, married and became a Prohibition agent.  Leading raids against bootleggers he acquired the nickname of Two Gun Hart.  Newspapers in the mid 20s discovered his relationship to Al Capone.

In 1926 he embarked on a career as a special agent for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  During his years as a special agent he is credited with bringing in 20 wanted killers.  He was accused of brutality in the performance of his duties, but from this distance in time it is hard to determine the truth of the charges.  Law enforcement was a fairly rough occupation during that period, and in much of the West, the rough and ready spirit of the Wild West was still a reality.   On the other hand. he was noted for learning tribal languages and having good relationships among the Indians whose tribes he helped protect from gangsters.

He ultimately was fired from his post at the instigation of a superior who was on take from bootleggers. During the subsequent time of financial stress he received a large gift of money from his brother Al, family blood counting for more than the fact that they were lawman and crook.  Hart became a prohibition agent again and ultimately a justice of the peace in Homer Nebraska.  He died in 1952 at age 60 of a heart attack.

Published in: on May 4, 2018 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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November 14, 1957: The Apalachin Meeting

A Mafia summit meeting was held at the home of Joseph “Joe the Barber” Barbara in Apalachin, New York on November 14, 1957.  Head of the Luciano crime family Vito Genovese  called the meeting to discuss various matters and to attempt to take control of the governing body of the Mafia in America, the Commission having long been divided between a “Conservative Faction” that wanted to run the Mafia in America as the Mafia was conducted in Sicily, and a “Liberal Faction”, led by Genovese, that wanted the Mafia in America to chart its own course free of any Sicilian traditions.  About 100 Mafiosi showed up, with local law enforcement and the New York State Police quickly wondering why all these expensive cars were showing up at a house in sleepy Apalachin.  “Joe the Barber” had been under occasional surveillance by the State Police prior to the meeting.  A raid was conducted and about 58 members of the Mafia, including Genovese, were picked up.  They all claimed that “Joe the Barber” had been sick and they had come to visit him.

For the Mafia the Apalachin meeting was a long term disaster as it confirmed in the public mind the existence of the Mafia.  After Apalchin, J. Edgar Hoover could no longer ignore the Mafia, and a long term war began between the Federal government and the Mafia which would eventually reduce the Mafia to a shadow of its former self.

Published in: on November 14, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on November 14, 1957: The Apalachin Meeting  
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February 14, 1929: Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre

 

Ironies abound in the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre by which Chicago gangster Al Capone sought to destroy his competitor gangster Adelard Cunin, known to infamy as George “Bugs” Moran.  Moran had made a failed attempt on Capone’s life, which led to Capone, leading the Italian dominated South Side Gang, to target Moran and Moran’s Irish dominated North Side Gang.  Capone had a false call made to Moran on February 13, 1929 tempting him with a truck load of liquor from Detroit that he could have at a bargain price.  Moran ordered that the truck deliver the liquor the next morning at 10:30 AM at the garage of the S.M.C. Cartage Company on North Clark Street where Moran kept his bootlegging trucks.  Instead, two of Capone’s men, disguised as cops, appeared at the garage and ordered the seven men present to line up against a wall.  Two professional killers then entered the garage with tommy-guns and, with the aid of the two fake cops, murdered the men, only gangster Frank Gusenberg survived long enough to make it to the hospital and honor the gangland code of silence prior to his death, refusing to say anything about who was responsible.  Ironies to take note of in this example of gangland savagery:

 

  1.  If Moran hadn’t slept in that morning he would have been among the dead.  Albert Weinshank, one of the dead, looked like Moran and probably when he was seen entering the garage caused Capone’s hit squad to go into action.
  2. Two of the seven men killed had the abysmal bad luck to simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time. One was optician Reinhardt Schwimmer who liked to gamble and palled around with members of the gang.  The other was mechanic John May who was working on a car.
  3. Moran was not put out of business by the murders, but kept control of his territory through the end of prohibition.  He would die in prison in 1957.
  4. The two probable Capone hit men involved in the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre did not live to see another Valentine’s day.  The bodies of John Scalise and Albert Anselmi were found in the wee hours of the morning on May 8, 1929 on a lonely road near Hammond, Indiana.  They were joined in death by gangster Joseph Giunta.  The three men had been severely beaten and then shot to death.  It is likely that they had been involved in a plot against Capone.  Capone, ever a fanatic baseball fan, had worked them over with a bat before having his gunmen finish the task.
  5. Public revulsion against the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre was so intense that the Federal government made a maximum effort to get Capone.  Capone’s tactical victory in the Massacre led directly to his eventual downfall for income tax evasion.
  6. Both Al Capone and Bugs Moran repented their sins before their deaths and may have stolen Heaven in the tradition established by Saint Dismas.
  7. I sat next to one of the last survivors of Al Capone’s gang back in the eighties during a Chamber of Commerce dinner.  Now a kindly great grandfather, he had gotten out of Chicago decades before and invested in farmland in Livingston County.  I resisted the temptation to ask him if any gangster bodies were buried in said farmland.

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Published in: on February 14, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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October 23, 1935: A Mobster Cheats Satan

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Come now, and let us reason together, said the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
Isaiah 1:18

 “The Catholic Church is for saints and sinners alone. For respectable people, the Anglican Church will do.”

Oscar Wilde

Arthur Simon Flegenheimer was born into a Jewish family of German immigrants in New York City on August 6, 1902, the Feast of the Transfiguration.  Early in his life his father abandoned the family, and life was harsh for Arthur, his mother and his younger sister.  He dropped out of school in the eighth grade to help support the family.  He quickly fell into a life of crime and by age 18 was serving a prison sentence.  He was paroled on December 8, 1920, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Going to work for Schultz Trucking, he swiftly returned to crime.  Among his gangland colleagues he adopted the nom de crime of Dutch Schultz.  Gangster Joey Noe hired him in 1928 to work as a bouncer at a small speakeasy, Hub Social Group.  Impressed by his brutality and ruthlessness, Noe took Schultz into partnership and soon he became wealthy owning with Noe a chain of speakeasies.  The Noe-Schultz gang quickly became a power in Manhattan, the sole non-Italian gang to rival the five Italian crime organizations that would later merge as the founding five families of the American Mafia.

The expansion into the upper west side of Manhattan, brought Noe and Schultz into conflict with Irish-American gangster Jack “Legs” Diamond.  War breaking out between the gangs, Joey Noe was gunned down and died on November 21, 1928.  Schultz was crushed by the loss of his friend and mentor.

Holding his own among the murderous New York gangs, Schultz pioneered the numbers racket at the end of Prohibition and also extorted “protection” money from restaurants.  In the summer of 1935 he was successful in beating a tax evasion prosecution.  During his trial he had portrayed himself as an honest business man, and he engaged in numerous charitable activities.  Secretly he began to study Catholicism, convinced that for some unfathomable reason Jesus had spared him from prison.

On October 23, 1935 Schultz was gunned down by Murder, Inc., the gangland Commission having ordered the murder, fearing that Shultz would attempt to murder New York prosecutor Thomas Dewey in revenge for his prosecution of Schultz, and bring the wrath of the law down on their heads.

Taken to a hospital, certain he was to die, Schultz begged to die as a Catholic.  Father Cornelius McInerney was summoned, gave Schultz some simple instruction in the Faith, baptized him and gave him the Last Rites. As  Schultz went into surgery, Father McInerney stayed at the hospital and comforted the three women in the life of Schultz, his mother, his sister and his wife.  Schultz died after the surgery on October 24.  He was given a funeral mass and buried at Gate of Heaven cemetery. (more…)

Published in: on October 23, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on October 23, 1935: A Mobster Cheats Satan  
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Murder, Inc.

In the late twenties of the last century, gangsters Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Meyer Lansky set up the National Crime Syndicate.  Organized crime needed a mechanism to keep anarchy from breaking out within its ranks between various gangs and factions.  Operating out of a 24 hour candy store in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, Murder Inc. ( the name was a newspaper invention) provided this mechanism.  Louis “The Judge” “Lepke” Buchalter and Albert “The Mad Hatter” Anastasia were the leaders of Murder, Inc.

The Syndicate, by majority vote, would order the slaying of an unruly gangster and Murder, Inc would carry it out.  The hitmen of Murder, Inc. operated under strict guidlines.  No innocent bystanders were to be killed.  No hits could be ordered against judges, police or prosecuting attorneys for fear of reprisals from law enforcement. (more…)

Published in: on October 5, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Murder, Inc.  
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