Costello’s Years in Italy

Italy

Costello Files: Italy

Frank Costello came into this world given the name, Francesco Castiglia. On February 18, 1891, he was born to Luigi and Maria Castiglia, in the village of Lauropoli, located in the Calabrian Provence of Italy.

His birth certificate reads:

The year 1891, on 22 February, 10:50 in the morning at town hall. Present are Diana Doctor Battisa, and the mayor and official state representative of the community of Cassano Al Ionio. 

Here appeared Castiglia, Luigi Domenico, 46 years of age, supervisor of the rural country, living at Cassano, Lauropoli. He declared that at 13:30, the 18th of the current month (Feb) in their home at Via Lauropoli, from Aloise, Maria Saveria, his wife, a spinner who lives with him is born a masculine son, and he presented me the name which will be Francesco.

Present during the preparation of this act is witness Viafora, Giuseppe Antonio, 63 years of age and shoemaker of profession. And Aloise, Gioaccino, laborer. Both living in this community.

Frank Costello's (Francesco Castiglia's) birth certificate.

There has been some debate as to when the boss was born. Most resources such as the biographies Uncle Frank, The Prime Minister of the Underworld, and the documentary Mobsters, list the date as January 26, 1891. George Walsh’s book, Public Enemies cites his date of birth as January 20th. So why the confusion? Here at Frank’s Place, we believe this can be attributed to false police records. Costello rarely used the same name twice when apprehended by the police, why then would he use the correct birth date? It is likely a reporter picked up false information from a police record, used it in a story, and the rest was history, or so we thought.

To add further confusion, Francesco’s certificate of Baptism lists the date of the ceremony as February 17th. Why there is a discrepancy in the dates is unknown at this time.

Francesco's certificate of Baptism

Francesco’s certificate of Baptism

Here is the house Frank was born in.

Frank Costello's Family Home

costello-household
A family of seven had become eight and the Castiglia’s felt the strain. At the time of Frank’s birth the couple had five children, four daughters and a younger son, Eduardo. Ed was five years his brothers senior, and played a pivotal role in Frank’s introduction to the street gangs of Harlem.

For two years Luigi struggled, working a farm while earning a military pension. Then, in 1893, at a time in his life when most men settle down, Luigi boarded a ship with Ed and two of his
daughters, bound to America.

Maria stayed behind with Frank and his two sisters, waiting for Luigi to send for them. She worked several jobs including acting as a midwife. At times families had no money to pay her,
but Maria was shrewd and would barter for whatever it was the Castiglia’s needed. It has been said that Frank got his brains from his mother, and Ed got their fathers brawn.

Two years had passed, when at last a letter arrived instructing Maria to,

“sell everything and come to America.”

On the day Luigi’s letter arrived, young Francesco had gone to steal wild berries on the estate of Baron Francesco Compagna, where his grandfather served as head watchman. When a hunting party caught the boy red handed and asked what he was doing,

Francesco answered,

“Helping my grandfather watch the estate.”

The smallest man in the party bellowed, “This boy has spirit.”

Here are five lire. Buy this little boy a sailor suit,” he instructed Francesco’s very nervous grandfather. According to the book, The Prime Minister of the Underworld, the diminutive man was the King of Italy. [It has been suggested in other tellings that perhaps it was not the King, but a lower ranking official. At any rate, it’s clear that the boss began making friends in high places at a tender early age.]


 

Soon Maria was in Naples with Frank and his sister, (one sister would stay behind.) It was necessary to catch a small boat that would shuttle passengers to the larger steamship anchored just off shore. Dressed sharply in his new sailor suit, Francesco watched excitedly as they drew alongside the steamer, but just as the small boat approached, a cascade of filthy water rained down on the boy from the bilge above, soaking his new suit. Francesco burst into tears. Maria soothed the crying boy, assuring him everything would be fine, but believed it was a bad omen.

They boarded the steamer to New York City. Maria brought with her a large cooking pot which she fashioned into a bed, and that was where the future king of New York, slept during the crossing.

Frank Returns To Italy

On January 3, 1927, Frank and Ed went on trial for a bootlegging charge which resulted in a hung jury. “I hung it,” Frank said. Costello decided to leave the country until things calmed
down, and he and his wife, Bobbie, returned to the town of his birth to visit his sister. The couple looked at the trip as the honeymoon they never had.

Here is Frank, Bobbie and an unidentified friend, (possibly Frank Rizzo,) in Italy.

Here is Frank, Bobbie and an unidentified friend in Italy.

While in Italy, it was said Frank was hailed as somewhat of a local hero. People lined up to meet him with stories of hardship in hopes that Laroupoli’s, ‘Robin Hood,’ would come to their aid. Stories of Costello handing out money are legendary. Here is an elementary school built with funds donated by Costello. The man in the photograph is Frank Rizzo, and he was responsible for getting the school built, Frank merely wrote the check.

Frank Rizzo

While in Lauropoli, Costello was approached by a man who handed him an I.O.U. for two sacks of flour. His mother had borrowed them and left for America without paying. Frank settled the debt and kept the note.

“I never wanted anything so bad in my life,” he said. “All those years she told me, ‘go straight Frankie,’ and here she had pulled one over on this man.”

Costello’s visit to Italy wasn’t strictly recreational. According to author, Giuseppi Selvagge, Frank had a private meeting with Mussolini during his stay. What exactly the meeting was about is not known, but one can assume it may have had to do with the business of importing spirits.

A private meeting with Mussolini

A private meeting with Mussolini

Though the couple enjoyed their stay in Italy, they were happy to return home to New York. By this time in life Frank had become a wealthy man, and Bobbie especially had grown accustomed to the many comforts they enjoyed back in the states.


Costello told actor Anthony Quinn, that he often dreamt of the taste of the water that came from the wells in his homeland. He also fondly remembered the sound of the church bells.

“That was part of his makeup,” Quinn recalled.


Special thanks to Vincent Arpa for finding the birth act and Nick Bloise for the initial translation.

Also to Carlo Forace for finding the certificate of Baptism and providing the information about Frank’s meeting with Mussolini.

Finally to Noel Castiglia and Craig Timmins, without their support and assistance Uncle Frank’s Place would not be possible.


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Casey McBride
Lead editor at the NCS, Casey was the first blogger to set foot in the Social Club, and is the curator at Uncle Frank's Place, that little corner of the NCS dedicated to the discussion and preservation of the life and times of racketeer Frank Costello. Casey's philosophy is to specialize. "There is simply too much information for one person to know it all." he claims. "That's the beauty of the NCS. We have folks from all walks of life, all with different interests and expertise, and it's growing all the time."
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