This Holiday, We Recognize the Generosity of Oldtime Wiseguys

Story contains link to PDF of Apalachin dossier 

"Christmas is a special time for most people, happy for those who have and sad for those who have not," Louis DiVita told me in a recent conversation.

A house near this intersection in New Jersey has an interesting history...

He lost a beloved relative only a few days before Christmas Eve, and all these years later, the holiday still holds a blending of different emotions for him.

"As a child our celebrations always recognized the previously deceased, including my great Uncle Benedetto Angelo “Buffalo Bill” Palmeri who died on December 21, 1932," he said.

"Buffalo Bill tried to ensure the less fortunate had Christmas Dinner," Louis said of his grandfather's brother.

Benedetto Angelo Palmeri died of natural causes at the relatively young age of 54. In a story on the Writers of Wrongs blog by Thomas Hunt, Palmeri is described as a "longtime leader in the Mafia of Western New York." Widely known as Angelo, he had a different name within the local Italian community: "Don Nitto."

On December 21, 1932, at about 1 p.m., he departed his Buffalo home (at 295 Jersey Street) and got into his car. He was reportedly planning to keep a scheduled meeting with a friend.

As Hunt wrote: "A pedestrian happened to observe Palmeri slump behind the steering wheel and summoned assistance from the firehouse across the street. Firemen took the unconscious and dying Palmeri out of his car and attempted without luck to revive him. Though no autopsy was performed, officials decided the cause of death was a cerebral hemorrhage."

The Italian colony of Buffalo's West Side was utterly distraught upon hearing news of Palmeri's death, Hunt noted, quoting the Buffalo Evening News:

"His death Wednesday brought sincere expressions of sorrow from hundreds of American citizens of Italian ancestry whom he had befriended in times of need... To the police he was known as a man who had close contact with many illicit enterprises, who had such power that he was able to bring peace between warring liquor runners – but to the citizens of the lower West Side he was their individual welfare department, a man who could and would aid them when pride kept them from appealing to the organized charities... Especially sad were the members of upwards of a score of families whose only source of food each Christmas for years had been Angelo B. Palmeri."

While newspapermen historically churned out tons of copy when it came to allegations against them, they distributed praise only grudgingly. And in the case of older wiseguys like Buffalo Bill, they were generous in substantial ways.

Louis's grandfather, Paul Palmeri -- Benedetto Angelo's brother -- also was known for helping his neighbors.

"In Niagara Falls, part of Papa’s popularity in the Italian community came from his good deeds," Louis wrote in A Wiser Guy. "Like his brother Angelo, he helped the less fortunate, organizing busloads of people to picnics and trips to Canadian beaches. For many, it was their only recreation. Papa shared his good fortune, as did many of his peers.

"Willie Moretti fed a lot of people. He ensured all of the people around him were financially OK — waiters, shoe shine boys, newsstand operators, etc. He was responsible for hundreds of people’s welfare. Willie, as with most of his contemporaries was charming, gentlemanly and had a great sense of humor. He loved practical jokes and pushing the envelope."

After Benedetto Angelo's death, Uncle Ernie revived the old family tradition and arranged for Buffalo Bill's daughters and their families to visit.

As DiVita writes in his book:

Eventually, Sunday dinners were not mandatory. Each family had their own Sunday dinner. We were still all together for holidays and special occasions, but that slowed over the years. A family that was once inseparable was hardly together a few years later. The main excuse was too many people, each family’s commitments to in-laws, etc. But in 1957, as a surprise for Mama, Uncle Ernie arranged for the cousins from Buffalo and their families to come to New Jersey for a traditional Christmas. In addition to the family and usual friends, there were new faces, including Angelo Petricca, who would two years later become Uncle Ange when he married Aunt Marie. It was quite an event. On Christmas Eve, at six o’clock there was the traditional striped bass sautéed with shrimps and clams served over linguine. As a child I hated this dish, as a teen I acquired a taste for it, as an adult, it is one of my favorites. Dinner was followed with fruit and pastries. There were presents for all. Then, at midnight, we could eat meat so we had sausage, Italian cold cuts, octopus, and more fruit and pastries. The amazing thing, as years went on, there were “too many” of us to get together, but that year we were 40 to 45 people, in a 1500 square foot split-level house. We ate in shifts. Everybody had a good time and a lasting memory of how things use to be.

The house where the Palmeri family's reunion took place, Louis explained to me recently, was subsequently sold to Alfred Angelicola.

He was the registered owner of the 1957 Cadillac driven to the Apalachin meeting by Natalie Evola, who was then running the troubled Bonanno crime family. (Interesting link to a dossier of "subjects" found attending the 1957 meeting that changed everything.)