How The Chicago Outfit Made A New Uniform

For some, this is old news; for others, it's very old news. For us, it's timeless ....

To be “made” in Chicago meant one was 100 percent Italian and had committed at least one murder.

The making ceremony was one of the closest-held events in the “secret organization hidden in the shadows,” according to the federal government.

Getting made entitled one to a greater share of the proceeds from illicit gambling, loans, and street taxes.

A Mafia initiation ceremony described in Mario Puzo’s novel the Godfather is “very close” to the truth, according to Frank Calabrese Sr. while speaking to his son in 1999. Both were in prison at the time, only Frank Calabrese Sr. didn't know what his son was truly seeking from him.

Frank Calabrese Junior  was wearing a wire as part of a personal quest to keep his homicidal father in prison for the rest of his life. As per that mission, he was cooperating with the FBI against his own father — hence, the significance of the name of the historic “Family Secrets” investigation of the Chicago Outfit.

In the first undercover tapes played at the Family Secrets trial,  Calabrese Sr. described to his son the ceremony at which Outfit members were made.

New members were initiated by burning on their palms a picture of a saint like the ones commonly distributed at funerals, as Calabrese Sr. said. A fingertip is pricked with a pin so blood is drawn but the blood isn't dripped onto the picture. He emphasized how  a point of the ceremony was to display one’s ability to endure the pain of the burning picture on  the hand. In fact, the bosses watched to see if anyone flinched.

Calabrese’s sponsor, Angelo LaPietra, was boss of the 26th Street crew in the early to mid-1980s, when Frank Calabrese Sr. and his brother Nicholas were made together  in a single ceremony.

“I didn’t want it. I would be strapped down and if I wanted to do something else, I couldn’t.”

Calabrese’s son, Frank Junior, said his father had told him that to qualify, a candidate had to have committed at least one murder. The initiation could take place years after the fact.

At the time the tapes were made, Frank Sr. believed that he was growing closer to his son while the two were behind bars.

“I lived the life I practiced,” Frank Calabrese Sr. told his son. “I preached, I lived it.”

While others knew only what they’d read about the ceremony, Frank Sr. knew the truth about what happened when the Chicago mob “made a new uniform, " as he called it.

“I thought that was just in the movies,” the son answered.

Well, Frank Sr. said, the making ceremony depicted in The Godfather was pretty close to the real thing. “So whoever wrote that book, either their father, or their grandfather, or somebody was in the organization,” he said.

He had been made, Frank Sr. said, as had his brother Nicholas. The fingers were cut, blood spilled, pictures were set afire and dropped into their palms.

“Pictures of …” Frank Jr. asked, drawing the information out.

“Holy pictures. And they look at you and to see if you’d budge … while the pictures are burning. And they, and they wait till they’re getting down to the skin.”

Frank Calabrese Sr  died in prison on Christmas Day 2012. 

The capos in attendance observed each candidate.

“They’re watching you,” Frank Sr. said, watching for any show of fear of the flame.

“You know what I regret more than anything,” he told his son. “Burning the holy pictures in my hand. It bothers me.”

But what about the other things he had to do? Frank Jr. asked. An order came, and his father had been required to act, and to kill. And sometimes he didn't even fully know the reasons why, as his son reminded him on the tape. Didn’t that bother him?

“The real model here was not to hurt innocent people,” his father answered.

“That was the real model from back when it started. There were people who were trying to hurt our people or people who are stool pigeons. Very few people ever got hurt—for money. "