Vendetta In New Orleans


“God bless you, Mr. Parkerson,” they shouted back, lifting him to their shoulders for a triumphal return to Clay Statue.

Among the original nine defendants who survived were Bastian Incardona and Charles Matranga. Incardona had hidden in a box of rubbish. Matranga, one of the suspected ringleaders, had taken refuge under a mattress, a crucifix pressed to his lips. His deliverance, he later told reporters, had confirmed his innocence. He expressed some doubts, however, about the innocence of the less fortunate prisoners.

As the New Delta , the city’s leading Democratic daily, later described that March morning, “The work was rapid and comprehensive. The guilty were stricken, the innocent were spared.” Perhaps so. But of the eleven dead men now stretched out in the prison, three had been acquitted, the jury could not agree on a verdict for three others, and five had never been tried at all.

When word of the lynching reached Lugger Landing, flags were quickly lowered, some to half-mast. By Sunday the only Italian flag still flying was one from the masthead of a steamship of the Macheca line. That Sunday afternoon the founder of the firm was carried from his Bourbon Street house in an expensive silver-and gold-trimmed casket. Twentyfive carriages bearing Joseph P. Macheca’s relatives, friends, and associates followed the hearse to the funeral in St. Louis Cathedral and then to the cemetery.

The funerals of the other victims were less splendid. Most were simple family observances. Bagnetto’s body was attended by no one. Three of the men were buried in potter’s field.

The gunfire in the Parish Prison reverberated around the country and beyond. Italian-Americans meeting in Chicago fired off a telegram to Secretary of State James G. Blaine: “We, Italians by birth, Americans by choice, assembled in mass meeting, unanimously protest against the cowardly and lawless act of the New Orleans mob, aided by the tacit consent of the local authorities. …” In New York six thousand members of the Italian community massed at Cooper Union in an orderly but angry demonstration. Outraged Italians gathered in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Kansas City.

In Italy Premier Antonio Starabba di Rudini now faced a threat to his political survival. In office only one month, possessing only the slenderest parliamentary majority, Rudini was already in trouble on a tax-reduction pledge when the New Orleans incident broke. Since some of the victims were still Italian citizens, public opinion clamored for justice and the vindication of Italy’s national honor.

Rudini took a time-honored stance, a show of strength abroad to mask his faltering grip at home. He demanded punishment of the murderers and indemnity for the families of the victims. In a lengthy exchange of diplomatic notes Secretary Blaine lectured the Italians on the fine points of American federalism, under which Washington could make no such assurances in a matter essentially involving the state of Louisiana. Naturally, this answer could not satisfy the embattled Rudini. He ordered Baron Fava, the Italian ambassador, home from Washington in order to register Italy’s official displeasure.

Rumors now began to spread of Italian warships headed for the American coast. The threat, however fanciful, was just the tonic the American spirit thirsted for in 1891. The war scare, fanned by a jingoistic press, gave Americans a chance to demonstrate, after a quarter of a century, that the deep wounds of the Civil War were healing nicely and that the nation was, once again, whole. Confederate veterans from Tennessee and the Shelby Rifles of Texas volunteered to fight for Old Glory against Rome. Uniontown, Alabama, offered fifteen hundred men. An ex-Confederate wrote the Secretary of War, ”… I will … fight for the old flag as willingly as I fought against [it].” From Georgia the War Department received an offer of “a company of unterrified Georgia rebels to invade Rome, disperse the Mafia and plant the Stars and Stripes on the dome of St. Peter’s.” Not until the Spanish-American War would America have a better chance to satisfy the country’s longing for a true test of renewed national unity.

On May 5 a New Orleans grand jury, convened to look into the Parish Prison murders, issued its report. As for the trial, the grand jury concluded that some of the jurors who had served on the Hennessy jury had been subject to “a money influence to control their decision.” As a result six men were indicted for attempted bribery, including the private detective, D. C. O’Malley. Only one person was actually convicted, and he received a short sentence.

As for the lynch mob, the grand jury decided that it “embraced several thousand of the first, best and even the most law-abiding citizens of the city … in fact, the act seemed to involve the entire people of the parish and the City of New Orleans. …” And after thoroughly examining the subject the grand jury reported there was no reason to indict anybody for the lynching.