Several members of the Terranova family contributed to the history of the American Mafia. Ciro Terranova was known as the "Artichoke King" for his domination of the produce rackets in New York. Nicholas Terranova was murdered in 1916 as he attempted to work out a truce between Manhattan Mafiosi and the Camorra of Brooklyn. Vincent Terranova was a casualty of a Prohibition Era feud with boss of bosses Salvatore D'Aquila.
July 20, 1888, to Feb. 20, 1938.
"Artichoke King," "Whitey"
Terranova was born in Corleone, Sicily, in 1889, half-brother to Giuseppe Morello.
Terranova came to the United States as a boy in the 1890s. His family included brothers Vincent and Nicholas, half-brother Giuseppe and several sisters. After brief stays in Louisiana and Texas, the family settled in New York City.
Terranova grew up in the street gangs of East Harlem and graduated to a position of lieutenant in the organization of local politician and racket king Giosue Gallucci.
Terranova's racket specialty became produce, and he cornered the market on artichokes, earning the nickname "the Artichoke King." He is also believed to have trafficked in narcotics, and some authorities credited him with christening cocaine "the white stuff."
Terranova's usefulness to New York organized crime was based on his ability to create and maintain relationships with corrupt political and law enforcement personalities as well as his influence among the young street hoods in East Harlem. Upon Gallucci's death in 1915, Terranova began organizing his own rackets.
Lower East Side Mafia boss Ignazio Lupo married Ciro's sister Salvatrese, bringing together the Terranova, Morello and Lupo clans of Corleone.
During the long imprisonments of Lupo and Morello for counterfeiting, the Terranovas attempted to maintain order in the New York underworld. They had a difficult time of it. Nicholas Morello was assassinated by the Brooklyn branch of the Neapolitan Camorra in 1916. By the early 1920s, the family was also fighting against other Sicilian Mafiosi. Insecure Brooklyn-based boss of bosses Salvatore D'Aquila decreed that the Morello clan should be wiped out. D'Aquila put prolific underworld gunman Umberto Valente on the job.
While the recently freed Morello and Lupo scrambled to find a diplomatic way to remove the D'Aquila death sentence, Ciro and Vincent Terranova teamed with the ruthless Joe Masseria to battle D'Aquila in New York.
During the gang war, Vincent Terranova was killed. Masseria used some trickery to avenge the death and eliminate Valente.
Ciro Terranova moved himself and his family a safe distance from the city, all the way out to Pelham Manor, and began driving around in an armored limousine. He established a solid working relationship with Arthur "Dutch Schultz" Flegenheimer and took in a share of Schultz's Harlem lottery. The two gang bosses shared some underlings, including Joe "Baker" Catania and Danny Iamascia.
The Masseria-D'Aquila underworld conflict was momentarily resolved in 1928, when Masseria finally caught up with the declining Mafia chief. Upon D'Aquila's death, Masseria took for himself the title of boss of bosses of the American Mafia.
In the following year, Terranova's important alliances with local officials were exposed as the result of a robbery at a dinner honoring City Magistrate Albert Vitale. Police investigation into the holdup (and the unexplained return of stolen items) showed that Terranova and the top men in his organization - all known criminals - were among the guests at the dinner.
At the end of the 20's, a new problem arose - Mafia gangs comprised in large part of immigrants from Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, became convinced that Masseria was determined to annihilate them. They rose up against him in 1930 and 1931 in what became known as the Castellammarese War. Terranova was viewed as a loyal Masseria ally. However, he and his friend Charlie Luciano secretly negotiated a surrender to the Castellammarese side. As a show of good faith, Terranova, Luciano and other turncoats were assassinated Masseria on April 15, 1931.
Immediately after the assassination, Mafia legend indicates that Terranova lost his nerve. Benjamin Siegel says Terranova was serving as driver for the team of assassins but was so nervous he could not get the car in gear. With that rumor, Terranova lost much of his prestige in the underworld.
Soon, Luciano and his aggressive young Mafiosi moved in on Terranova's rackets. By 1935, he might have had nothing more than a trickle of income from his old artichoke racket. That was shut off in December 1935, as Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia briefly outlawed the sale of artichokes until competitive distribution could be arranged.
In his final years, Terranova was declared persona non grata in Manhattan and was arrested for vagrancy whenever seen on the island. Broke, he was forced to surrender his Pelham Manor home in 1937. He moved back into an East Harlem apartment after that. He claimed to be living on borrowed money at the time of his death from a stroke at Columbus Hospital on Feb. 20, 1938.
Jan. 6, 1890, to Sept. 7, 1916.
Nicholas was the youngest of the three Terranova brothers. He was no more than a toddler when the family arrived in the United States from Sicily.
Like his siblings, he grew up in East Harlem gangs. Before his 19th birthday, he was arrested for extortion. The charge, while dismissed, illustrates that Nicholas was already learning the family business.
Nicholas was the only one of the Terranova boys to be arrested in connection with the counterfeiting case that sent his half-brother Giuseppe Morello and his brother-in-law Ignazio Lupo away to serve long sentences in Atlanta Federal Prison. Police arrested Nicholas on Nov. 15, 1909, as he attempted to warn members of the counterfeiting gang that the Secret Service was on to them.
Nicholas took on a leadership role of the East Harlem Mafia after Morello and Lupo were sent away. He and his brothers battled Camorra groups locally and in Brooklyn.
On Sept. 7, 1916, Nicholas and bodyguard Charles Ubriaco went out to Brooklyn for peace talks with Camorra leaders there. The men were ambushed and shot to death.
May 15, 1886, to May 8, 1922.
Vincent Terranova was born in Corleone, Sicily, one of a group of brothers who dominated New York organized crime for more than three decades.
Vincent rose to the leadership of a gang located on East 107th Street around 1900. He cooperated in rackets with the downtown-based Mafia organization of half-brother Giuseppe Morello and brother-in-law Ignazio Lupo.
When Morello and Lupo went off to serve prison sentences for counterfeiting, Terranova was welcomed as a group commander in the East Harlem organization of Giosue Gallucci.
In the 1920s, Terranova became wealthy as a bootlegger. But he also became embroiled in an underworld feud with then-boss of bosses Salvatore D'Aquila.
In May 1922, Vincent was shot to death from a car passing his home at 116th Street and Second Avenue.
© 2007 T.Hunt
The American "Mafia"