A chapter of Tioga County history, the Mafia raid of Nov. 14, 1957, put Apalachin, N.Y. on the map 60 years ago. Often referred to as the “Apalachin Meeting,” the event made Joseph “Joe the Barber” Barbara a household name, along with several other crime figures.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had dismissed organized crime as a significant issue, until the Apalachin event cast the subject onto center stage. Shortly after the raid, Hoover acknowledged the seriousness of organized crime in the U.S.
For some time after the raid, Apalachin got a bad rap. In an article from the July 24, 1958 issue of the Geneva Times out of Geneva, N.Y., and a story published in multiple upstate newspapers, a headline announced, “Gangland Meeting Place – Apalachin Revisited,” with the subheading, “People say community doesn’t deserve reputation.”
The article, written eight months after the Mafia mobsters gathered at Barbara’s residence, made mention of Apalachin as a “sinister gangster hideout,” which some interpreted as degrading.
Residents offered comments, such as Morris Cape, who was principal of the then new Apalachin Elementary School. Cape was quoted, “We know that the meeting didn’t happen because Apalachin is a bad community. Mr. Barbara just happened to live here.”
The pastor of the Apalachin Methodist Church at the time, Rev. J.G. Burt Eastman, was quoted as saying, “We’ve kept our sense of humor about it, but you don’t become ashamed of a community just because of an individual.”
Since then, the Apalachin mafia story has resurfaced many times and still holds a certain level of curiosity with people near and far, although Apalachin resident Susan Deakin would rather close the chapter entirely.
Eleven years ago, Deakin, owner of Hidden Farm, located at 625 McFall Rd. in Apalachin, moved to Tioga County from Connecticut. She transitioned the former Barbara property into a full service horse boarding and lesson facility.
Deakin shared by phone that when she first considered purchasing the property she knew it had a distinct history associated with it, but didn’t realize the scope of the fascination still attached to it.
“We get visitors about once every two weeks, and at times it’s disturbing,” Deakin said, and further explained it is extremely bothersome when individuals roam around the grounds like it is a tourist attraction, many who stop by from all over the country.
Most people, Deakin said, drive by slowly, take a quick look and then leave. She is wary of visitors who enter the property on foot without permission. Deakin understands that every time the story is shared it stirs up new or renewed interest, but personally prefers not to even talk about it.
Born in Sicily in 1905, Joseph Barbara immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 16. Back and forth between Pennsylvania and upstate New York, the renowned member of the Bufalino crime family was arrested for suspicion of murder, yet never prosecuted due to lack of evidence. Barbara bought the McFall Road property in 1944, and with bootlegging attached to his lengthy resume, he was convicted once of illegally buying 300,000 pounds of sugar for bootleg alcohol. He was also a well-known owner of a Canada Dry bottling plant where he became successful in the region’s beverage market.
The story goes that nearly 100 men, including Mafiosi from all over the U.S., Canada and abroad, such as Bonanno, Luciano, Genovese and Gambino, just to name a few, came to Apalachin for a barbecue and to visit their ill friend, Barbara, who had suffered a heart attack. But, the real agenda was to discuss Mafia affairs.
Before the raid, two local state troopers, Edgar Croswell and Vincent Vasisko, were tipped off while investigating an issue at a Vestal motel when they learned that Barbara’s son, Joseph Jr., was looking for a large number of rooms for a so-called beverage meeting. This aroused suspicions, and since Croswell had been keeping tabs on Barbara’s activities just before the raid, all eyes watched over Barbara until the Nov. 14, 1957 police surprise by Croswell, Vasisko and treasury and federal agents. A check of flashy automobile license plates confirmed that vehicles were registered to several known criminals.
Many meeting attendees fled into the woods surrounding the property, and those who attempted to escape by car were met by roadblocks. As many as 60 or more were apprehended and detained. In January 1959, 20 were charged with conspiring to obstruct justice (by lying about the reason for the meeting) along with fines and prison sentences, yet the convictions never stuck.
Barbara eventually moved back to Endicott. He died in June 1959 after a subsequent heart attack, and never appeared before a State Investigation Commission.
Perhaps one final bullet item of interest, Barbara is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Johnson City, N.Y.
And today, the events that happened in Apalachin, N.Y., known as the Mafia Summit, remains a topic of conversation, and has inspired others to continue tracking the activity of other crime organizations.
Blair Kenny, from Rochester, N.Y. and currently living near Daytona Beach, Fla., began his own research into the history of the Rochester Teamsters several years ago; but then quickly turned his focus towards the Rochester Mafia instead when its influence on organized labor was revealed.
Earlier this year, Kenny published “The Rochester Mob Wars”, and even participated in a book signing at Riverow Bookshop in Owego and during his travels to Rochester, N.Y. to promote his book. Copies of “The Rochester Mob Wars” are available at Riverow Bookshop, and you can learn more by visiting www.therochestermobwars.com.
Another book, “Mafia Summit” by Gil Reveal, offers the true story of how a small-town lawman in upstate New York busted a Cosa Nostra conference in 1957, exposing the Mafia to America. This book can also be found, when available, at Riverow Bookshop on the corner of Lake and Front Street in Owego.
Wendy Post contributed to this story.