Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Hometown history Little Chicago by Dennis L Marsilli

To appreciate this book, you would have to be from New Kensington, Pa and have lived there or grown up during the best of times, it's heyday when employment was full and the city was a population of some 20,000. the 1950's and 60's as I did.   We lived there in the American Dream, but e didn't know it.  The book back cover states it is the story of how two Italian American brothers from a small Pennsylvania "factory town" became influential power brokers as part of the most successful criminal organization in US history.  The Mannarino brothers, Samuel and Kelly, their family ancestral history, reaching back across the ocean to Italy as well as their influence and some admit control of our town, New Kensington  are the focus of this book  written by a retired New Kensington police detective, Dennis Marsili.  Today New Kensington is not even a good slum, no downtown businesses although from time to time a few try to establish themselves. The steel mills closed and Alcoa left, employment disappeared along with many people.  Homes were sold, the  old timers who stayed lock their doors and  try to maintain their homes.  I worried constantly about my mother living there but she would not move and now all my family is dead and residing in Greenwood Cemetery.  Most of us who lived there left long ago, after high school or college for many other parts of the country.  We return sporadically for family visits, funerals, perhaps class reunions.   I doubt there will ever again be a thriving New Kensington, it is not even a good suburb of Pittsburgh, although now there are highway bypasses and people commute to parts of Pittsburgh to work.  It is a ghetto overrun by druggies and  prostitutes, filth and unorganized crime.  The mob ran things well, clearly organized crime is different from the unorganized. The streets of that town were safe, day and night.  The available evening entertainment for the adults was first class at a time when men wore suits to go out and women dressed up in their finest.  The best of times. Problems were dealt with expediently and justice was swift. Charity happened anonymously often and when needed.  The author mentions that old timers are defensive of the mob days, yes for good reasons, no fright but respect and appreciation for what once was.  We grew up knowing about the mob, but thought nothing of them.  They were respectable church going people, and as Marsilli reveals, they controlled everything even the politicians from local to the state level.  I awaited the publishing and release of  this book for years and followed the author's occasional Facebook posts.  He has filled it with research and history back to the 1920"s and before.  Parts made me laugh,  the humorous explanations by Monsignor Fusco of the St Pete's ( the Italian) Catholic church about how "gambling is not a sin."  The town had 3 major Catholic churches when I grew up there, St. Mary's where I and those of Polish descent attended, St. Peter's for the Italians, and St. Joseph for the Irish and all the rest of the Catholics.  There was often almost an envy among the churches of the majesty and magnificence of St. Pete's compared to our parishes, and it was easily explained, "the mob goes there."  This book raises that speculation again about how they supported their church and how their church indeed supported them.  In only 174 pages there are fascinating tidbits.  It starts slow but then drew me in to where I had to read it in a  couple evenings.  Today when I visit "home" and talk with friends, we agree, "The boys ran a good town."  It was also amusing to read the names of the local politicians affiliated, "on the take" owing to the Mannarino's.  I suppose because some of those last names were relatives of some school mates who thought they were the high class of the area, I had to laugh.  Still I enjoyed this book, nothing shockingly revealing but insights and names.  I recommend it to anyone from "home."  5 *****