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Law and Disorder in Tioga County

© By Mike Keenan

  Weaned on the Godfather trilogy, Donny Brasco, Bugsy, Goodfellas and films of this ilk, I am literate in mob speak. I understand that the classic Mafia structure consists of the Capo di Tutti Capi (boss of all bosses), Consigliere (advisor), Soldato (soldier or made members) and Picciotto (a low ranking member who serves as an enforcer). The Don is the family boss, and unlike Rodney Dangerfield, commands total respect. He grants permission to "whack" or "make" someone, and he rakes in money from all family operations. If whack is too onomatopoetic, one might settle for burn, break an egg, clip, do a piece of work, hit, ice, pop or put out a contract on. Hitting the mattresses does not mean falling asleep but rather waging war with a rival family or gang. Omertá is the code of silence; only a rat would squeal or spill the beans.
     From Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, Mike Hammer and tough-guy actors Cagney, Bogart, Robinson and Raft, I am equipped to mutter impressive quotes such as - "I jammed the roscoe in his button and said, 'Close your yap, bo, or I squirt metal.'" or "You dumb mug, get your mitts off the marbles before I stuff that mud-pipe down your mush - and tell your moll to hand over the mazuma."
     Surprisingly, this remarkable criminal cache of knowledge did not exist in North America 50 years ago. FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, denied the existence of a "National Crime Syndicate," but his belief was shattered on November 14, 1957 when a mob summit, was busted by the police.
     I took a trip to Apalachin (pronounced A-pal-a-kin) - normally quiet and rustic, to celebrate the 50th anniversary, a long jaunt at 143 miles from Buffalo, but how often is one presented with an opportunity to merge with history, particularly the nefarious kind? Apalachin sits midway on the baseline of a triangle with Ithaca, home of Cornell University at the apex and Elmira and Binghamton at the opposite ends of each base point. A few miles north of the Pennsylvania state line and immediately above the Susquehanna River, it's a rural, out-of-the-way locale, not the typical Board of Directors venue. However, when the directors are heads of organized crime, "Joe the Barber's" quaint hilltop estate with seven bedrooms and two horse barns, seemed ideal.
     New York State Trooper, Edgar Croswell noticed much more than the average number of limousines (zero!) had congregated in the sleepy burg, after dutifully watching Sicilian-born Joseph Barbara, owner of a sprawling 58-acre estate, having served a speeding ticket to his house guest, drug dealer, Carmine Galante.
     As veteran Channel 7 newscaster, Irv Weinstein, (now retired) might intone; the cops witnessed 60 smartly dressed hoods in fedoras, dark suits and pointed-toe shoes, including Joseph Bonanno and Vito Genovese, desperately race to cars and the surrounding woods to avoid arrest.
     I talked to Jean Turner, then 34, who worked in the local grocery store. She recalls that locals were more amused than anxious when word spread from school bus driver, Maurice Braman, that he was stopped on Mc Fall Rd. by lawmen brandishing "machine guns."
     Barbara conveniently died of a heart attack at 53, under summons to testify about the meeting. The new homeowners do not relish publicity, but nonetheless, locals happily instruct visitors where to drive to view what is now called "Hidden Farm." In 1999, Hollywood filmed Analyze This on location in Apalachin.
     Although Apalachin remains miniscule and offers only a small pizzeria to travelers, nearby Owego in Tioga County capitalized on the fame with the Jail House Restaurant, an actual jail designed by T. I. Lacey of Binghamton, constructed in 1910. It's across the street from the Tioga County Courthouse where many of the mobsters were tried. The Tioga County Courthouse was the first building in Tioga County placed on the National Historic Register, December 26, 1972, remarkably the oldest functioning courthouse in New York State. In warmer weather, the Courthouse Square features myriad musicians including strolling banjo players.
     A peculiar coincidence for those who insist on decorum like the Cosa Nostra, is that Owego (where the valley widens) was home to General Henry Martyn Robert, author of international best-seller, "Roberts Rules of Order," employed unmercifully by officious types addicted to committee meetings. Four thousand books sold for 75 cents each in 1876, the entire first printing. Unfortunately, he is not buried in Owego but rather at the National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia; however, Evergreen Cemetery, opened in 1851, besides providing a panoramic view of the town and countryside, does contain several old and interesting graves, including that of Sa Sa Na Loft, a First Nations maiden and direct descendant of Joseph Brant, Mohawk leader during the Revolutionary War.
     If one pushes the law and order theme, hi-tech, Lockheed Martin, the largest defense contractor in the world, produces the Presidential helicopters in Tioga, and for pizza fanciers, Leprino Foods in Waverly is the world's largest supplier of mozzarella cheese. Pizza and the Mafia go hand in hand.
     Architecture buffs will be pleased to discover that Tioga County houses the largest collection of 19th century homes in the Finger Lakes Region with most of the 151 prized buildings located in downtown Owego. Take a walking tour in the historic district and visit the craft shops and boutiques.
     Tioga claims Richford as the birthplace of John D. Rockefeller, surprisingly born impoverished, living in an simple Owego home at 2453 Route 17 C where a historic marker now stands. The Tioga County Historical Society Museum offers Victorian tea parties and displays Civil War original photographs by Matthew Brady of Robert E. Lee, Ulysses Simpson Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman and Abraham Lincoln, like Elliot Ness, all great warriors in the cause of truth, justice and the American way.
     A great place to stay is the Hampton Inn on the north bank of the Susquehanna River. If you choose to visit in the fall as I did, take advantage of the "Leaf-peeping Tour" and watch for the infestation of giant spiders on buildings that locals use to help celebrate Halloween.
     A visit to Apalachin confers instant bragging rights with friends who obsessively watch CSI on TV or mob movies at the mall. However, I can't get into HBO's Emmy award-winning Sopranos series. Any mobster that frequents a shrink, well it's just not kosher if you know what I mean.

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan: Tioga County Courthouse, Evergreen Cemetery, General Robert's home, Jail House Restaurant, Lake Street architecture, leaf-peeping tour, Tioga County Historical Society Museum Victorian tea, Owego architecture, crafts, spiders, Susquehanna River

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Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tioga_County,_New_York
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