If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Now

It seems that every large city has a housing complex or community whose advertisement loudly proclaims, “If you lived here, you’d be home now.” Of course, if one owns, rents, sublets or squats there, this is certainly true. Many of these communities are an homage to that relic of civic common sense, affordable housing; some are in communities where the street corners are more crowded after midnight than at rush hour.

Many residents can attest to being one of a generation raised, if not actually born there, but few can state with certainty that they will remain occupants there forever. Let’s face it, space is at a premium in these high rises; families needing more of it move, others seeking more of it between themselves and their neighbors flee to the suburbs; those that cannot afford to flee avoid the elevator and order out. But despite the transience, there are places, special places, where everyone who visits knows your name as well as their own.

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Some New Yorkers consider any borough other than Manhattan to be a way station en route to that island paradise, a remote, rent-friendly wasteland whose cultural pulse renders it brain dead. Take Queens , for instance. The second largest borough in New York, it is home to 31 known nationalities and considered by the U.S. Census Bureau to be the most ethnically diverse county in America. Tucked inside this pastiche of coif and color is a community—there are 33 of them in fact—whose residents register no complaints about, and are quite content with, their community and their borough, a place whose charnel air is its attraction: the cemetery.

Now, every borough buries its dead somewhere. But who knew these communities for the silent morbid majority would themselves shout so proudly their unique place in the city’s cultural history?

Consider the Calvary Cemetery in Woodside with 4,749 graves or interments. Under the dubious category of “somewhat famous,” one finds soldiers from the Indian, Civil, Spanish-American and Vietnam Wars, including 17 Congressional Medal of Honor recipients; 34 congressmen; 9 actors and actresses; 2 Hall of Fame baseball players; state representatives; senators; artists; a mayor; a novelist; a boxer; a 4-time Olympic gold medalist; the librettist for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; a victim of David Berkowitz, the notorious “Son of Sam” serial killer; and film director D.W. Griffith’s cinematographer.

Interesting? Maybe—but every corpus animusque has its share of revered local heroes. What is curious about this Queens cemetery (and its ilk) is its organized crime wing, with its 17 made markers. Consider a sampling…

Brodie, Steve; born sometime in 1863, died no later than 1901. Brodie was a small-time bookie and folk figure, allegedly the first man to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. On July 23, 1886, he claimed a $200 bet when he survived his leap from Roebling’s masterpiece and made front-page headlines. Like most urban legends, though, this incident was later proved to be a hoax, not because the odds of anyone surviving the 135-foot plunge are slim to none (a few have), but because the inebriated loudmouth later admitted that he simply climbed down the bridge.

Carfano, Anthony; b.—take a guess—1898, d. September 26, 1959. Known as “Little Augie Pisano,” Carfano was a capo in the Genovese crime family headed by “Joey the Boss” Masseria, an association Carfano would later regret. According to Joseph Valachi, famous federal songbird, “Little Augie” was murdered because he refused to meet with Vito Genovese after Genovese took control of the Family in 1957. Carfano was shot to death in his car. Mrs. Janice Drake, a dancer who happened to be in the car with him, also took a bullet or three. Carfano is entombed in the mausoleum of his father-in-law, John “Jimmy Kelly” DeSalvio, nightclub owner and Democratic leader from Greenwich Village.

De Sapio, Carmine; b. December 9, 1908, d. July 27, 2004. The last kingpin of New York City’s Tammany Hall, De Sapio was an odd mix of political corruption and social conscience, He successfully promoted the elections of Robert Wagner for mayor in 1953 and W. Averell Harriman for governor in 1954; he named Manhattan’s first Puerto Rican district leader and backed Manhattan’s first black borough president; he supported the Fair Employment Practices Law, endorsed rent control and help to lower the voting age to 18. Eventually though, he was denounced as corrupt and authoritarian, and convicted in 1969 of petty bribery and sent to prison.

Masseria, Joseph (Guiseppe); b.—pick a date already!—1879, d. April 15, 1931. “Joe the Boss” was murdered by four—count ‘em, four—mafia gunmen: Albert Anastasia, Vito Genovese, Joe Adonis and Bugsy Seigel. Masseria headed the most powerful organized crime family in New York City. During the Castellammarese war, he came into conflict with Salvatore Mararanzano—the leader of what today is known as the Bonanno crime family. Maranzano fought to free the New York Families of Masseria’s tyrannical rule. The Castellammarese war ended with the murder of “Joe the Boss” in a Brooklyn restaurant, elevating Maranzano to the top post in La Cosa Nostra. But his power did not last long; he was murdered in his business office in Manhattan on Sept.10, 1931, the murder having been ordered by Lucky Luciano and carried out by Meyer Lansky’s men.

Ferrigno, Stefano; b. May 12, 1900, d. November 5, 1930. Ferrigno was an underboss for Manfredi ”Al” Mineo, head of one of New York’s five Families. He and Mineo were Masseria allies—a big mistake. On the orders of Salvatore Maranzano, both were shot and killed while exiting an apartment building in the Bronx. One of the shooters was Mafia blabbermouth Joseph Valachi.

Lanza, Joseph; b.—oh, forget it, d. October 8, 1968. “Socks” Lanza was a capo in the Frank Costello/Vito Genovese crime family that held absolute power over New York City’s Fulton Fish Market, the largest fish distribution center on the East coast. He founded the Sea Food Workers Union and the Fulton Market Watchmen and Patrol Association, which forced every ship owner, peddler, and trucker to pay $50,000 a year in protection money to him.

Ruggiero, Benjamino “Lefty Guns”; b. April 19, 1926, d. November, 1994. As a youth “Lefty Guns” joined the Bonanno gang, and over the years became one of their top soldiers and hitmen with over 20 hits under his belt. In 1977 Ruggiero became a “made” man (member). Shortly thereafter, he met Donnie Brasco, who was actually FBI agent Joseph Pistone. Dum dee-dum dum.

Vernotico, Girad; b.—yes, another one—1904, d. March 16, 1932. Vernotico was the husband of Vito Genovese’s second wife, Anna. Genovese’s first wife had died a year earlier and he let it be known that he wanted to wed Anna Vernotico, who was already married. After a six-month period of mourning, Genovese ordered Anna’s husband Girad murdered. On March 16, Girad was found strangled on the roof of a tenement at 124 Thompson St. in Manhattan. Antonio Lonzo was murdered with Vernotico because he had been with Vernotico and witnessed the murder. Six days after Girad’s murder, Vito Genovese married Anna in a church ceremony in Greenwich Village.

Other mob figures who call Calvary home are Thomas “Three Finger Brown”; Ignatius Lupo “Lupo the Wolf” Luchese; Natale “Joe Diamond” Evola; Giuseppe Morello, a k a “The Clutch Hand,” a k a Don Petru; Bonaventura “Joseph” Pinzolo; Ciro “the Artichoke King” Terranova; Paul “Paul Kelly” Vaccarelli; Francis Crowley; Michael Vengalli; Gandolfo Curto; and Vito Bonventre.

Saint John Cemetery, Middle Village

Along with the requisite Congressional Medal of Honor winners, baseball players, mayors, congressmen and artist Robert Mapplethorpe, Saint John Cemetery, with its interment of 2121, is also home to Edward Bennett, born God-knows-when in 1903, died January 16, 1935. Bennett was best known as the Hunchback Mascot/Batboy for the New York Yankees, serving in that capacity from 1921 until May of 1932, when he was involved in a serious car accident. His position with the Yankees was never recast.

Saint John has 24 interments of organized crime figures, including such well-known names as Joe Colombo, head of the Family bearing his name; Neil Dellacroce, underboss of the Gambino crime family; Carlo Gambino, another boss bearing vanity nameplates; Vito Genovese, the “Boss of all Bosses”; John Gotti, the so-called “Dapper Don”; and Salvatore “Lucky Luciano” Lucania.

Mount Carmel Cemetery, Glendale

Of its 1228 interments, Mount Carmel is resting place to such non-criminal notables as Minnie and Samuel Marx, parents of The Marx Brothers, and Henny Youngman, king of the one-liners, but only two mobsters, neither of whom was of Italian ancestry.

Reles, Abraham “Kid Twist”; b.—an enigma, wrapped in a riddle—1907, d. November 12, 1941. Poor Mr. Reles either fell, jumped or was pushed out of his sixth-floor window at the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island while being held in police custody; he was given the nickname, “The Canary that Couldn’t Fly.” At the time of his death, Reles was about to testify against Lepke Buchalter and other fellow mobsters.

Weinberg, George; b.—ho hum—1901, d. January 29, 1939. An associate of Dutch Schultz, Weinberg handled the money end of Schultz’s operation. After the murder of Schultz and his brother Abe in 1935, Weinberg decided to turn informant and testify against his former associates. Weinberg committed suicide, ahem, while he was under police protection and hidden away in a White Plains, NY, safe house.

Mount Hebron Cemetery, Flushing

One of the largest cemeteries on our list with 4248 interments; Barbara Streisand has a plot reserved here. There are 7 mob figures interred here, most notably Louis”Lepke” Buchalter, the Jewish mob boss who was a part of the infamous Murder, Inc.

Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery, a k a All Faiths Lutheran Cemetery and Lutheran Cemetery, Middle Village

1972 interments. No mobsters but notable for Charles Stephen Schepke, the only peacetime Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient.

Mount Zion Cemetery, Maspeth

1812 interments and no gangland heroes? What’s going on here?

Saint Michaels Cemetery, East Elmhurst

951 interments. Someone should mention that Granville T. Woods, known as the “Black Edison,” whose numerous inventions revolutionized the railroad industry, rests here, but instead I’ll remind you that Frank Costello, the “Prime Minister of the Underworld,” and Joseph N. Gallo, Gambino consigliere, lie somewhat less peacefully.

Mount Olivet Cemetery, Maspeth

Of the 870 interments, Helena Rubinstein, the cosmetics magnate, may or may not have been of some benefit in preparing Jack “Legs” Diamond, known during Prohibition for surviving more bullet wounds than any other gangster—except for the three that killed him as he slept.

Montefiore Cemetery, a k a Old Montefiore Cemetery, Saint Albans

Only 808 interments but 6 of them drove black, steel-reinforced Packards. Three of the most vicious gangsters of the time, the Amberg brothers—Herman, Joseph and Louis—were executed together in an auto repair shop in Brownsville, Brooklyn by Murder, Inc.

Mount Lebanon Cemetery, Glendale

775 interments. Apparently the Shapiro brothers could not get out of their own way, as gangland associates murdered Meyer, Irving and Willie—in Willie’s case, he was buried alive.

Mount Judah Cemetery, a k a Highland View Cemetery, Ridgewood

Ah, the percentages are becoming negligible; 483 interments and only one gangland murderer, Augie “Little Augie” Orgen. Though he could have been killed for lack of imagination in coining his nickname, “Little Augie” gained control of the labor rackets in 1923 when he had “Kid Dropper,” a k a Nathan Kaplan, murdered outside a Manhattan courthouse. Little Augie was later shot to death on a Manhattan Street corner by Lepke Buchalter and Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro.

Flushing Cemetery, Flushing

Number 12 in the countdown with 460 interments and no mobsters.

Maple Grove Cemetery, Kew Gardens

403 interments; no organized crime members, but notable for interring a victim of the “Son of Sam.”

Mount Saint Marys Cemetery, Flushing

351 interments and quiet as a lullaby.

Union Field Cemetery, Ridgewood

Arnold Rothstein, who fixed the 1919 World Series, is one of its 286 interments.

Linden Hill Methodist Cemetery, Ridgewood

204 interments, with another victim of the “Son of Sam.”

Fresh Pond Crematory and Columbarium, a k a U.S. Columbarium, Middle Village

106 interments. Notable for the cracked sidewalks surrounding the place.

First Presbyterian Church of Newtown Cemetery, Elmhurst

94 interments, and not one mob rat among them.

Bayside Cemetery, Ozone Park

88 interments. Was there any reason why they couldn’t put the Bayside Cemetery in Bayside?

Prospect Cemetery, Jamaica

50 interments. Yawn.

Machpelah Cemetery, Ridgewood

41 interments. There were more kids in my first-grade class.

Beth El Cemetery, a k a New Union Field Cemetery, Ridgewood

37 interments, including pretend mobster Edward G. Robinson.

Mount Neboh Cemetery, Glendale

35 interments. No waiting!

Grace Episcopal Churchyard, Jamaica

30 interments and easily reachable by bus, subway or Long Island Railroad.

Zion Episcopal Church Cemetery, Douglaston

28 interments. Blink and you’ll miss it.

Linden Hill Jewish Cemetery, Ridgewood

20 interments. I blinked and I missed it.

Beth Olom Cemetery, a k a Congregation Shearith Israel Cemetery and Shearith Israel Cemetery, Cypress Hlls

With 14 interments and 2 aliases, who needs criminals?

Lawrence Family Cemetery, Astoria

6 interments. Hey, its a family operation.

Federation of French War Veterans Cemetery, Flushing

2 interments. Mon Dieu!

Ocean Promenade, Belle Harbor

One interment—the American Airlines Flight 587 memorial.

Saint George’s Episcopal Churchyard, Flushing

One interment.

Ridgewood Sailors Memorial Monument, Ridgewood

One interment.

Yes, one is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do, especially when you’ve done all you can.

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4 Responses to If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home Now

  1. Abbie says:

    Excellent piece. As someone who grew up in Queens (Astoria), it was very interesting learning about all of the cemeteries I used to see as a child. When younger, my daughter used to refer to cemeteries as dead ends. In a way I guess that sums it up pretty well. The little tidbit with Joseph Valachi also reminded me of the movie with Charles Bronson, back in the day when he was one of the big box office attractions.

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