Carlos Marcello: Big Daddy In The Big Easy
Out of Africa
Tunisia is a republic of North Africa. Bounded on the north and east by the Mediterranean Sea and on the south and west by Libya and Algeria; its capital is Tunis. 15 kilometres to the north is the famous ancient city of Carthage. A deformation of "Kart Hadasht" (the new town) it was how the Phoenicians came to describe it, when they conquered the region in the 9th century.
Built on the hill of Byrsa, it was founded in the 8th Century BC. The city and nearby Salammbo Port, abound in vestiges of Punic and Roman empires baths, dwellings, temples and shrines. For over one thousand years, the Phoenicians were masters of the sea and pirating on the Mediterranean and trading assured the prosperity of Carthage and nearby Tunis. Under French rule from 1881-1956, the population of this area increased dramatically as thousands of Europeans were drawn to the area by growing commercial and industrial facilities.
In 1908, among the hundreds of workers who landed in Tunisia were a couple from Sicily. They moved to Carthage and worked hard for the next eighteen months. Guiseppe and Luigia Minacore both came from Ravanusa, a small village about seventy miles north of Girgenti, which is now known as Agrigento. The two immigrants would have been familiar with ancient ruins, as Agrigento is world famous as the site of some twenty Doric temples. Ironically its decline as a trading city can be traced back to when raiding parties from Carthage sacked it. But the wild, open beauty of hilltop medieval villages, rocky slopes pitted with olive trees and the canopy of a vast, endless open blue sky, was always overshadowed by what Sicilian peasants called malafortuna, the grinding, unending poverty. And so as a result, many of them left their land to seek opportunities elsewhere.
Guiseppe was short and squat with the rugged build typical of Sicilian peasantry. Luigia was a strong, handsome girl, talented and multilingual. She would eventually master six languages through her long life. At the end of September, 1909, it had been decided that Guiseppe would leave North Africa and travel to America. Their family had friends and relatives living in New Orleans, and word had travelled back that there were many more opportunities in Louisiana than in Tunisia.
Five months later, on a cold, chilly day-February 6, 1910, Luigia gave birth to her first child, a son she called Calogero. Later in the year, Luigia returned to Sicily and in October, she and the baby sailed away from Palermo to join Guiseppe and begin their new life in America. For Calogero, it was the start of an eighty-three-year odyssey. He would start it as a baby and end it in a state of childish innocence. But the years between would be filled with sound and fury, and he would become one of the most notorious gangsters in American history. Infamous in many ways, but especially for his connection to the public assassinations of three of America's greatest twentieth century icons.
Sometime, later in October 1910, the Italian steamship Liguria carrying 625 passengers, docked in New Orleans. All the immigrants were checked out by customs, immigration and police officers. The police were particularly interested in all Italians, especially those from Sicily, because of the problems they had with the dreaded [Mafia] brigands that had caused so much trouble in Louisiana over the last twenty years or so. Luigia and her son were cleared and were soon with Guiseppe who could now hold his son in his arms for the first time.
One of the first things Luigia found was that her name had changed. Her husband had been forced to adopt a different surname to avoid confusion with his immediate supervisor on the sugar plantation where he had started work. His overseer, also Minacore, chose as a new name for Guiseppe the appellation Marcello, which was more generally found in the north of Italy than Sicily. In due course, the family changed all their other names, and became Joseph and Louise and their son became Carlos.
With his savings and the addition of his wife's dowry, Joseph had purchased a small, run down farm on the bayou across the Mississippi River from New Orleans in an area called Algiers. Here he brought his wife and son and they settled down to run the property, a rambling structure of antebellum days, badly in need of paint and restoration. They grew fruit and vegetables, which they sold in the old French Market along Decatur Street on the fringe of the Vieux Carre, or French Quarter, in New Orleans. The couple worked hard and played hard. Over the next twenty years, Louise had eight more children, six boys and two girls. They were, in order of seniority:
Peter, Rose, Mary, Pascal, Vincent, Joseph, Anthony and Sammy. Along with their parents, the children became naturalized US citizens. For some, unknown reason, Carlos did not. It would cause him a lot of grief in later life.
Carlos grew into a squat, tough and muscular image of his father. He was always the leader of the pack among his siblings, who learned to accept the fact that he was the boss and gave him their untiring loyalty and support. He left school at the age of fourteen. By then, he was entrusted by his father to deliver the farm produce over the ferry to the market in New Orleans, and fight there for the best prices among the produce dealers and wholesalers. The vegetable and fruit markets had long been under the control of the Mafia and it was inevitable that young Carlos would become involved with people connected to the dreaded secret society that was already well established in this part of America.