by: "Gary Hafer"
{Writer’s note.  In 1957, I was six years old and had no comprehension of the Mafia.  The small community of Apalachin was my whole world and my day-to-day life centered on playing sandlot baseball / football, riding my bike or playing Cowboys and Indians in the woods.  It was a time when our phone operated on dry cell batteries for power and you had to have the switchboard operator place your call.  Back then, we had three television stations to watch and only one was viewed without an extremely snowy black and white picture.  Typical of the 50’s, my family had one car, mom stayed at home to raise kids and dad only got one week of vacation a year.  On Sundays, most businesses were closed and if a grocery store was open you couldn’t by cigarettes and alcohol.  Religious instruction was permitted in public school and teachers could spank their students.  It was a time when crew cuts were the norm, it was rare to see pierced earrings and girls wore dresses to school.
            Apalachin’s population in 1957 was less than 1,000 people and crime was a rarity.  Many homes left their doors unlocked at night and car prowl was virtually unheard of.  My picture of a criminal was Warren Slater, the neighborhood bully.  The composition of Apalachin’s town center was a couple of mom and pops stores, a hardware store where coal was sold to heat homes, a tavern, a barbershop and a Grange Hall where I attended kindergarten.  Up the hill were the volunteer fire department, the Methodist Church my family attended and the library where my older brother attended grade school.  The biggest event in town that I recall at this early age was the building of the elementary grade school that I would begin attending in September 1957.  Mr. Cape, featured in the following account, was my principal.  His wife was one of my teachers in 4th grade.  Life was so laid back in this rural setting that events such as my mother’s birdcage being knocked over and killing the bird in a windstorm became newsworthy for the community paper.  The significance of a Mafia meeting at Barbara’s was huge and it interrupted community gossip for months.
            The Barbara meeting itself had no immediate impact on me and I don’t specifically remember the day.  Later, however, I learned to appreciate its significance.  It especially came to the forefront after a day outing of wandering the hills and paths near the Barbara estate.  My friends and I hiked past the Barbara’s house one day and spent a few hours running in the woods behind the house.  When I returned home and shared my day’s events, my mother expressed great fear and admonished me for being in that area.  The Barbara’s had long moved away, but it was like some omen overshadowed the place and I might mysteriously disappear or maybe even get shot.  Of course I sneaked back again from time to time and it was only years later that I learned the true significance of the convention.  I lived in Apalachin when the gangsters came to visit and it was my town’s happenstance that alerted the FBI and federal government that the Mafia was much more organized than they had realized.  –Gary Hafer}

       On Thursday, November 14, 1957, over fifty-eight Mafia leaders and soldiers from across the United States gathered in the small town of Apalachin, NY at Joseph “Joe the Barber” Barbara’s home, (bar-bear-ah).  The stated purposes of this meeting are varied, if not intriguing and a couple of them even humorous.  What is clear is that the attendees hoped the meeting would remain private.  Instead, their discovery began an unraveling of a huge crime network and demonstrated to the United States government that the Mafia was more entrenched in America’s society than previously realized.  Until that day, even the FBI regarded the Mafia as little more than a figment of colorful newspaper half-truths.  The Apalachin meeting erased all speculation.  It became clear that top hoodlums had organized themselves into a criminal conglomerate. 

       Several years prior to Apalachin, Frank Costello and Vito Genovese had been competing for the position of “Top Boss” of bosses in New York City.  In an attempt to take the “Top Boss” position, Genovese ordered a hit on Costello on May 2, 1957.  Costello escaped death and walked away from the attempt with a bullet grazing his head.  Genovese feared revenge from Costello, who was now in alliance with Albert Anastasia and on October 25, 1957, Genovese had Albert Anastasia assassinated in Manhattan’s Park Sheraton Hotel barbershop. 
With Anastasia out of the picture, Vito Genovese took control of the Luciano organization from Frank Costello and had about half of New York City under his authority.  All that Vito Genovese needed was official recognition by the Commission; a large body of various chiefs from across the country.  The Commission decided to meet in Apalachin, at the home of Joseph Barbara to talk about the power shift in New York City.  (Purpose #1)
       “The Commission was once the national governing body of nearly thirty mob families spread out across the United States.  It had been formed in 1931 as an attempt to end the seemingly endless bloodshed that made being a boss a hazardous occupation.  All the mob bosses from across the U.S. had been invited to Chicago where they approved this attempt at a more formal method of governing themselves.  It was decided that the original Commission would have seven members, the five bosses from New York, the leader of Buffalo, and the head man from Chicago.  The bosses also agreed to all gather in another National Convention in five years at which time they would revisit the Commission issue and select its membership.  These National Conventions were held in: 1931 (Chicago), 1936 (unknown), 1941 (unknown), 1946 (probably Havana or Florida), 1951 (unknown), 1956 (Apalachin), and 1957 (Apalachin).  Obviously the 1957 Apalachin meeting was out of sequence and basically an "emergency" gathering.  At the 1956 National Convention in Apalachin, the gathered mob bosses agreed to expand the Commission to nine members.  A feeling had developed amongst some families that the same seven families were dominating the Commission and by adding the leaders of Detroit and Philadelphia, the power would be spread wider.  This expansion would not go into effect until 1961, however.” (excerpt from Andy) 
     The Barbara Family, (commonly called the Bufalino Family since the 1960s, probably had around 50 members at it's height plus lots of associates. Santo Volpe was the first known boss of this family, which was centered at Pittston, Pennsylvania.  He reigned from approximately 1908 to 1933.  Through a variety of means, Volpe gained control over a number of mines in this rich coal region.  He then leveraged his power and political connections into a seat on the State Coal Commission, which set the tonnage each coal mine could produce. In such a position, the possibilities for kickbacks and extortion were evident.
            From this position of power he simultaneously gained control of various locals of the United Mine Workers.  Combined with his interests and control of mines, Volpe now had leverage over the entire system.  He would be able to ensure his connected mines were allowed to produce as much tonnage as they wanted, he could arrange "sweetheart" contracts with the union so his mines would be able to operate at less labor costs than competitors. 
            Around 1933 Volpe gave way to John Sciandra.  Like Volpe, Sciandra had coal company interests and assumed control over Volpe's rackets including his union scams.  Unlike Volpe, Sciandra’s story did not play out to a happy ending.  He was murdered and replaced by Joseph Barbara in 1940.  It is unclear who ordered the killing. The fact that Sciandra's son continued to be a power in the family might suggest that it was not Barbara behind the hit. 
              Joseph Barbara, like so many others, was a bootlegger during prohibition and was convicted as such.  He probably continued to run stills long after prohibition although it was not nearly as lucrative.  It was still a money maker since he had the equipment, connections and knowledge.  Originally Barbara called Scranton, PA his home base but later moved to Binghamton, New York.  Soon afterwards, he moved to the Apalachin, NY estate.  The main house had been constructed back in the late 1800’s so it is known that he did not construct the original building.  (Looking at a picture of today’s building, you can make out the original house at the front with the gable roof running parallel to the road.  It appears that Barbara ran an extension, at right angles to the original home. He also probably added the garage, the summer home and some of the outbuildings.) 
            Joseph Barbara was born in 1905 in Castellammare, Sicily, and came to the United States as a teenager in 1921.  He moved to Endicott, New York and worked in one of its shoe factories.  Not too long afterwards he moved to Old Forge, PA and became active in bootlegging.  His ancestry would have allowed him access to other Sicilians and entry into the Volpe circle.  In the early thirties he had arrests for suspicion of murder and gun possession.  Nothing came of these charges.  One time a wounded victim identified Barbara but later changed his mind about it.  Another murder victim was connected to Barbara but the charges were also dropped.  Barbara’s police record also indicates he had a 1944 conviction for possessing 300,000 pounds of illegal sugar – allegedly used to produce bootleg liquor.  All this heat prompted Barbara to move from Old Forge, PA to New York State.  Barbara used his money to buy a bottling plant from another Italian in Endicott and he somehow gained a beer distributing license and lucrative Canada Dry franchise. These legitimate enterprises permitted Barbara to live an upper class life.

Apalachin, NY and surrounding region.
Page 1
Go to Page  |  1  |  2  |  3  |