Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Remember When . . . Capone Ran Chicago

In spite of my title, we're going to go a few years earlier. The Mafia (and Chicago) changed a lot once Capone took over. Before that . . . well, it was still mean and nasty. But it had a surprising honor. So today I'm gonna give you a taste of Mafia history.

In Sicily, the government was corrupt. As in, so corrupt that people had to form organizations to protect themselves. That's how the Mafia started, and that was often the only thing standing between the people and a "law" that would have taken everything from them. When people started emigrating from Sicily to the U.S., their distrust of government came with them (go figure), and so did their ideas to combat it.

Experts insist that the American Mafia is not the Sicilian Mafia. By that, they mean that there was never a central authority in Sicily that ran things in America. But. Those were in the Mafia in Sicily more often than not formed or joined a branch of it on this side of the pond too.

In turn-of-the-century America, everyone just assumed that if you were Italian, you must belong to a gang. Street gangs roamed the cities, usually preying on their own kind. The most prominent of these were the Black Hand and the Camorra. They were . . . er, not very organized. That's were the Mafia differed. They earned that title of Organized Crime, boy, let me just tell you.

They lived by the rule of Omerta, which basically said that you could kill each other, but woe to anyone who turned another Sicilian in to the authorities. You just didn't do it. And in those days, another thing you just never did was hit a guy's family. Family was precious. You could kill the gangster, but his wife and kids had better remain untouched.

That tide started to change in the mid to late 20s . . . which is why I set my Little Italy Trilogy in the earlier half of the decade.

Come back next Wednesday for some more interesting Mafia tidbits!


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