Around the Island

‘Big Apple Gangsters’ at the Shelter Island Public Library

The founders of America’s mob families were born and bred New Yorkers who were as brash and bold as the city that made them. Many of them met their match, however, in men on the opposing side of the law, the prosecutors who dedicated careers to their undoing.

Join author Jeffrey Sussman on Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. via Zoom when he talks about his new book, “Big Apple Gangsters: The Rise and Decline of the Mob in New York,” the library’s next Friday Night Dialogue program. Please register for the event at least 30 minutes in advance by going to silibrary.org.

The leaders of the American mob were the sons of poor immigrants who were willing to get their hands dirty in any endeavor in which they could make money — lots and lots of money. Using New York City as their operational launching pad, they worked their way into every imaginable sector: gambling, boxing, prostitution, racketeering, loan sharking, construction, carting, trucking, garment manufacturing, drug sales, stock fraud and much, much more.

They were largely Italians and Jews, but were not particular about ethnic origins. The National Crime Syndicate, for example, had control of the five Mafia families but was composed of multi-ethnic mobsters. If you were willing to do the job, your last name really didn’t matter.

Mr. Sussman tells the story of Arnold Rothstein, the kingpin of the Jewish mob who allegedly fixed the 1919 World Series and mentored men such as Meyer Lansky and Ben (“Bugsy”) Siegel. Lansky and Siegel, of course, went west to turn the sands of Las Vegas into gold with the creation of the country’s new gambling mecca. Or Dutch Schultz, the notorious gangster of the 1930’s who really did “off” one of his enemies by giving him cement shoes and a swim in the East River. A great uncle of Mr. Sussman’s was a bootlegger who was indicted but never tried for Schultz’s murder.

One gets the sense from this book that the author has been collecting material for it all of his life. He was friends with a doctor whose father ran all the gambling in New York for Frank Costello, then known as the prime minister of the Underworld. Costello was the doctor’s godfather and from him, Mr. Sussman heard numerous stories about the mob. While working at his own family’s garment factory as a teenager in the 1950’s, Mr. Sussman overheard his father arguing with a notorious gangster who was trying to strong arm his father into using his trucking company. The mobster was eventually tried, convicted and sent to prison.

As powerful and omnipresent as the mob became, it was, in the end, taken down by fervid prosecutors such as Thomas Dewey, Robert Kennedy and Rudolph Giuliani, among others, who won decisive verdicts that effectively ended the careers of many mobsters. Along the way, the stories, real and apocryphal, created an industry in and of themselves, providing rich fodder for Hollywood and legions of fans.

A longtime East Hampton resident, Jeffrey Sussman is the author of 15 other works of non-fiction, the most recent of which was “Boxing and the Mob: The Notorious History of the Sweet Science.” He also is the president of Jeffrey Sussman, Inc., a public relations and marketing company.

For more information and to register for the program, please visit the library’s website or call the library at 631-749-0042 and speak with Jocelyn Ozelins.

Next up: Friday, Dec. 11, “Cooking by the Book:  Celebrity Chefs, Cookbookery, and the Changing Landscape of American Cuisine.”  Join food historian Sarah Wassberg Johnson for a journey through America’s cuisine as told through cookbooks.