What??!! A new historical mystery series? But, but . . .
One of my earliest memories is of my grandfather coming home from Revere Copper and Brass, yelling “Ann!” When my grandmother replied, he inevitably came back with “Huh?” the first sign of the industrial deafness that would plague his later years.
Related: Ann Amato Sestito: A Tribute
We lived next door to them in Rome, NY. It was a good place to grow up.
In 1825 the Erie Canal connected the Hudson River to the Great Lakes and spurred economic development across upstate New York. Rome became a bustling version of Jimmy Stewart’s Bedford Falls. In the early days of the 20th century, Italian immigrants like my great-grandparents flocked to the area after a stop at Ellis Island. People with names like Lombino, Sestito, Russo, and Ferlo settled in cities with names like Syracuse, Verona, Utica, and Rome.
Central New York voices have a lilt leftover from these immigrants that includes double and triple negatives. For example: “No, I didn’t give Tommy no five dollars.” My grandfather’s friends either worked “down ta mill” or “down ta muck.”
The mill meant the Revere Copper and Brass Rolling Mill, Spargo Wire, or one of the several other metal-based manufacturers along the Mohawk River. Muck referred to the small truck farms along Muck Road; so-called because their produce fit in the back of a truck, or so I was told.
My grandfather retired as a foreman after 40 years at Revere, but before that he was deputy sheriff of Oneida County. He was also City Marshal for years, leaving behind a pile of ledgers filled with entries about court cases and debt collection penned in my grandmother’s neat hand. He generally was paid a percentage of the money that was owed. Entries show debts repaid in installments; no doubt my grandfather didn’t get his fee until the debt was paid in full.
His ledgers are a snapshot in time featuring feuds, rivals, debts, businesses, lawyers, and judges. The Carissimo and Verro family feud resulted in 7 summons in the month of April 1958 alone, netting my grandfather $17.50.
No wonder he went out armed.
My grandfather’s stories
We always went to my grandparents’ house for coffee and doughnuts after Mass on Sunday. If we were lucky, somebody got my grandfather to talk about his deputy sheriff days, Prohibition, and the long arm of the Mafia. The Mafia wife with 22 children. Hiding out in a cemetery with his buddy Hank to catch thugs who’d buried illegal booze with a dead body. The double murder of feuding wedding guests.
He warned me about dating boys from Utica, too. Their fathers were all Mafia.
Announcing the Galliano Club new historical mystery series
All this is the run-up to my big announcement. I’m taking a short break from the Detective Emilia Cruz series (don’t worry, still much ahead for our intrepid Acapulco detective) to focus on a Prohibition-era trilogy inspired by my grandfather’s stories.
The Galliano Club mystery series has been in the back of my mind for some time. Last year I spent a day with Rome’s historian, sifting through old pictures like the ones below. Between those images and the visions conjured by my grandfather’s stories, a new cast of characters has taken shape in 1926 against a backdrop of brick storefronts, rattling Model T Fords, church steeples, and immigrant families.
Risk, power, & corruption in 1926
The Galliano Club is an Italian men’s social club in the fictional town of Lido, NY. Luca Lombardo is the bartender, supported by club owner Vito Bottini, former vaudeville dancer Ruth Cross, plus Mafia thugs, rum runners, a scheming mill accountant, and a crooked cop.
There will be true-to-life rivalries between the Italian, Polish, and Irish populations. The Mafia’s grip tightens as Prohibition-era moonshiners vie for business.
Incidentally, the real Galliano Club building still stands, a reminder of Rome’s heyday. It’s one of a handful of historic buildings that survived the sad wholesale razing of the downtown area to rebuild Fort Stanwix in the 1970’s. For 4 years, I took tap lessons from a dance instructor on the second floor.
I can’t wait to throw open the doors to readers!
Keep scrolling for a gallery of inspiration from the archives of the Rome Historical Society, with special thanks to Arthur L. Simmons III, the Executive Director.