It's said that everyone gets their fifteen minutes of fame. If there's a similar fate for towns, Apalachin's "15 minutes of fame" occurred forty years ago, on a cloudy, rainy Thursday afternoon.

It was in Apalachin on November 14, 1957, that two New York State Troopers interrupted the best-known Mafia summit in the United States and proved - for the first time - that an organized crime syndicate did exist.

In 1957, two members of the Mob - Frank Costello and Vito Genovese - were competing for the position of boss of bosses. On May 2, 1957, Genovese ordered a hit on Costello, who walked away from the attempt when the bullet merely grazed his head. Genovese feared revenge from Costello, who was now in alliance with Albert Anastasia. On October 25, 1957, Anastasia was assassinated in a barbershop in the Park Sheraton Hotel in Manhattan.

Vito Genovese summoned the leaders of organized crime throughout the country. He originally wanted to hold the summit in Chicago, but Buffalo boss Stefano Magaddino suggested the Apalachin estate of his lieutenant, Joseph "Joe the Barber" Barbara, Sr.
Frank Costello & Vito Genovese

On the summit's agenda were the fate of Anastasia's territory, plans for dealing with the Bureau of Narcotics, the banning of drug trafficking in the organization, and the annoiting of Genovese as the new boss of bosses.

The summit ended prematurely - and all because someone wrote a bad check.

On Wednesday, November 13, 1957, New York State Troopers Sergeant Edgar Croswell, 44, and Investigator Vincent Vasisko, 31, were at a Vestal motel investigating a rubber check when they overheard Joseph Barbara's son reserve six rooms for a "convention of Canada Dry men."

Sgt. Croswell had heard rumors that Barbara, an Endicott soft drink distributor, was involved in bootlegging and had ties with organized crime figures. Croswell had been keeping an eye on Barbara and was intrigued by this "convention" that was about to take place.

The two state troopers spent the rest of Wednesday, November 13 watching the motel, Barbara's Canada Dry Bottling plant, and his home in Apalachin.

At 12:40 pm on Thursday, November 14, 1957, Sgt. Croswell, Investigator Vasisko, and two Treasury agents, Arthur Huston and Kenneth Brown, were in an unmarked car outside Barbara's large, stone house on his 53-acre estate on McFall Road in Apalachin. More than 30 large, expensive cars - some with out-of-state plates - were on Barbara's property. A large party was in progress out by the barbecue pit.

The troopers, who were in uniform, began taking down the license numbers of the vehicles. Barbara's guests spotted the police, panicked, and began rushing about.

Croswell, Vasisko, and the two agents retreated. While Vasisko went to get help, Croswell and one of the Treasury agents set up a roadblock at the end of McFall Road.

A car left Barbara's house. In it were Emanuel Zicari and Dominic Alaimo. Croswell let them go through his blockade, but radioed their license number to reinforcements a few miles down the road.

When the guests saw that the first car was traveling freely down the highway, they believed the coast was clear. Others started to leave, driving down the only lane that led away from the estate. However, Sgt. Croswell did not let these cars through his blockade. He stopped them.

In the first car that Croswell stopped was Vito Genovese, who asserted that he didn't have to talk to the trooper. As more vehicles were stopped by the blockade, the line of cars could be seen from Barbara's house and the remaining guests realized the coast was not clear. As they fled into the woods, the city slickers in silk suits and expensive shoes slipped on wet autumn leaves, tore their fine coats on barbed wire, and muddied their shiny shoes. Some threw away guns and wads of cash, items that would be hard to explain to the police. Months later, decomposing hundred-dollar bills could still be found in the woods.

It's estimated that 50 men eluded the police by escaping through the woods or hiding in Barbara's cellar. Sgt. Croswell, along with Visisko and his reinforcements, rounded up 63 men. They were taken to the New York State Troopers' substation in Vestal where they were questioned and released.

Among them were Vito Genovese, Joseph Barbara, Sr., "Joe Bananas" Bonanno, Cleveland boss John Scalish, Los Angeles boss Frank deSimone, Dallas boss Jimmy Civello, Jimmy Colletti of Philadelphia, and Frankie Zito of Illinois,

All together, the men had on them more than $300,000 in cash.

Of the 63 men, 50 had police records. Of those 50, 35 had been convicted of crimes, 23 had served time. All were Italian or of Italian descent. About half of those rounded up were interrelated by blood or marriage.

Those known to have attended the "barbecue" but who eluded the police included Sam Giancana, Joe Zerilli of Detroit, Stefano Magaddino of Buffalo, and James Lanza of San Francisco.

When questioned as to why they were at Barbara's house, all but one told the same story: they were there to cheer up their friend Joe who was recovering from a heart attack. It was mere coincidence that all of them chose the same day to do it!

The Apalachin gangland convention made national headlines. Although no convictions resulted from the raid, it proved the existence of a national syndicate of organized crime.

Before the Apalachin summit, the McClellan Committee - a government panel whose Chief Council was Robert Kennedy - concentrated its investigation on corruption in organized labor. After Apalachin, the committee shifted its attention to organized crime.

Before the Apalachin summit, J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, publicly stated that there was no such thing as organized crime. Thirteen days after Barbara's "barbecue," the FBI launched an attack on organized crime with their Top Hoodlum Program.

Shortly after the raid, Joseph Barbara, Sr. moved back to Endicott. He died of a heart attack in 1959.

Vito Genovese, the organizer of the Apalachin convention, became boss of bosses but was later sent to prison on narcotics charges. He died in prison in 1969.

As recently as March of this year, the director of the FBI referred to the "Apalachin meeting up in New York" which demonstrated "the existence of La Cosa Nostra in the United States." After 40 years, Apalachin is still remembered as the location of the best-known, most important, and most disastrous Mafia convention.

House - the estate was built for Joseph Barbara built in the late 1940's for an estimated $250.000. The house was sold in 1959 to LaRue Quick of Endwell for $50, 000 in cash and an $80,000 mortgage. In 1961, the house was sold to Walter Gardner, Jr. for an estimated $125,000. Twenty-five years ago, it was purchased by Douglas Burt, then owner of Burts Department Store in Endicott.

It's an 11-room stone homestead with 5 auxiliary buildings and 48 acres of land on McFall Road in Apalachin..

©1997 BEAM - Apalachin Community Press