Guiseppe "Joe The Boss” Masseria


How the Mob Boss Really Did Dodge a Bullet

Joe Masseria East Village history

About Guiseppe "Joe The Boss” Masseria

 & why it made the Carpe City list

  • While this small apartment above an Italian restaurant may be easily overlooked, it’s the very place where Giuseppe “Joe The Boss” Masseria became an urban legend as “the man who could dodge bullets.”
  • Masseria was a famous Italian-American mob boss who grew up in Marsala, Italy. He moved to America at age 16 to avoid a murder charge and entered the world of organized crime by joining the Morello crime family.
  • By the end of the 1910s, Masseria rose to power and became rivals with Salvatore D’Aquila, who ordered a hit on Masseria outside of his apartment.
  • After leaving his apartment, two gunmen shot at Masseria, but the pudgy mob boss somehow elegantly dodged the bullets. Despite being a large target at point-blank range, the gunmen only grazed his suit and put a bullet through his beloved straw fedora.
  • By Mafia standards, revenge was in order — Masseria invited D’Aquila to John’s of 12th Street to “bury the hatchet.” Unfortunately for D’Aquila, it was a set-up, and D’Aquila was gunned down across the street by Masserio’s loyal hitmen, Vito Genovese and Charles “Lucky” Luciano.
  • To this day no one knows whether D’Aquila was able to enjoy his Chicken Parmesan at John’s of 12th Street before he ate lead.
  • Masseria was eventually murdered by his lieutenant, Luciano, while they were playing cards. Luciano left the room, and his men shot Masseria, who died holding an Ace of Spades.

Carpe City Trivia

What's the significance of the Ace of Spades?

If you notice in a deck of cards, the Ace of Spades is typically the only card with an elaborate pattern. Why? Because the Ace of Spades is usually the highest valued card in a deck. There’s a long, long history about arcane laws in England that forced cardmakers to include an ornate design, but what’s more relevant is what the Ace of Spades means. Throughout European history, the spade was a symbol of winter, and by western symbolism, winter goes hand-in-hand with famine and death, hence the Ace of Spades became known as the “card of death.” So, there’s a ton a symbolism associated with Masseria’s death. The New York Daily News wrote that Masseria died “with the ace of spades, the death card, clutched in a bejeweled paw.”

Ace of Spades

The Ace of Spades developed into something even darker during the Vietnam War. American soldiers believed that the Vietnamese deeply feared the symbol of the spade, so the soldiers would place Aces of Spades on the dead bodies of the Vietnamese. The American soldiers wanted to psychologically torment the Vietnamese this way. (Turns out it was merely an urban legend; the Vietnamese held no superstitions toward the card.)

What exactly is Marsala wine?

Marsala is a city in Northern Sicily, where Masseria was born. Like sherry, marsala is a fortified wine and is great for cooking as well as sipping. That is, as long as you are not buying that mystery ingredient imposter bottle you might find at your local grocery. The real stuff is good, and according to some menus in NYC, is making a comeback. Marsala comes in different styles: sweet, dry, demi-sec, and different colors and different ages. If you’re going to test out your grandma’s best chicken recipe, consider a bottle from one of these producers: Florio, Marco de Bartoli or Pellegrino.

Fun facts about the fedora: gangster edition

In the early 1900s, hats defined a man, and a fedora made you an instant stud. Many gangsters put a lot of attention into their style, competing to be the most fashionable. It all started with Arnold Rothstein, who was one of the original gangsters. Rothstein was known for dressing his “Sunday best” every day, and Rothstein’s outfits always included a fedora. Fedoras were first seen in France in 1882 when actor Victorien Sardou wore one on stage — the play was called Fedora, which was the name of the main character, played by popular actress Sarah Bernhardt. The fedora became a huge deal in the 1920s. While most men wore a fedora for practical reasons, like weather, gangsters preferred a fedora because they could tip the hat down and look mysterious.

By: Kelly McDermott

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