26 May 2009

Mondo the Midget

Tom Folsom, the author of "The Mad Ones," a new tome about Brooklyn gangster Joey Gallo, dropped me a line recently, letting me know they he'd be heading a series of "Gangster Walking Tours" around Carroll Gardens and Red Hook this month. Now, I've stated before that I have next to nil interest in the lives of uneducated sociopaths who make their living through a organized system of intimidation, stealing and killing—no matter how colorful they might be. Joey Gallo led a valueless life, in my books, and he doesn't get extra points for having cracked Camus, hung out in Greenwich Village and struck up a friendship with Jerry Orbach. I like my bohemians without a body count attached.

Still, I am interested in local history, and you can't really delve into Red Hook's life and times without bumping into the Gallo brothers sooner or later. So I tailed along for Folsom's final walking tour, on May 24 (that's him above). The man knows his stuff, and related in full detail the mob wars that took place on the block of President Street between Van Brunt and Columbia, between the Gallo gang and the Profaci mob. This included the Gallos basically holing up in their mother's house, at 49-51 President, for two years, while waiting out a death blow from the Profacis.

This was in the early 1960s. No trace of what that block was then now remains, including the original Church of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, which stood on President near Van Brunt and is now the site of Mother Cabrini Park. (Cabrini did indeed teach and pray there.) In its place are facing rows of affordable row housing known as Columbia Terrace and built in 1987.

One site that had survived from those days, and was park of Folsom's tour, was 99 President Street (below), the home of Mondo the Midget. Living in this area as long as I have, I've heard many stories of the midget gangster who worked for Joey Gallo. People told me it was his job to walk Joey's pet lion, which was used to intimidate Gallo victims. One local told me that Mondo was a nasty thing, pissed off at everybody, and basically angry at the world owning to the miniature height fate had dealt him. People laugh at the idea of a dwarf gangster, but I'm betting Mondo was pretty scary. And when a guys got a gun in one hand, and a lion's leash in the other, who cares how tall he is?

I hadn't known where Mondo lived, though. Right next door to what used to be Cafiero's Italian restaurant. I guess we can assume that Mondo was a regular customer.


Ken Mac said...

Just finished Folsom's book last night. Pretty good read, though it's written in a wise guy style that doesn't always work. Lots of short, tight sentences. But he definitely tells Crazy Joe's tale (Definitely not as good as T.J. English's "The Westies").
Thanks for tagging along, I was wondering if anything was left of President Street worth photographing.. guess not.

Carol Gardens said...

I believe there was also a gang called the Kane Street Midgets. Don't know if the name was related/a tribute.

Anonymous said...

The mans name was armando and by no means was he an angry man....

Alot of history on President Street. If you did not live it all please dont comment like you have.

Thank You.

Anonymous said...

One of the best things about my dad being friends with the Gallo's was Armando, he was not a scary guy. My brother and I still talk about joking with Armando because at 10 and 8 years of age we were taller than him. The Gallo brothers were men of their word. Uncle Joe died like he lived balls to the wall!

Irma Taylor said...

I have to agree with the above!
There used to be a feast once a year on President Street and my family and I would go, my Mom told me that on one occasion, at the feast there was dancing and Armando came over to ask my Dad if he could dance with my Mom which she did. They were very respectful of other members of the community and we never felt frightened. As a matter of fact Armando seemed to me to be a happy person just hanging around on President Street most of the time.