Red Hook’s Little Italy on Pioneer Street was a dense, flavorful stretch of tenements, produce markets, and taverns. It was also where the up-and-coming mobster Albert Anastasia found a home in the 1920s.
Along with three of his brothers, in 1919 Anastasia illegally disembarked from a freight ship from Italy on which he was working. At the age of 17 he settled into the longshoreman life, worked manual labor, and relaxed by drinking and gambling, all within five blocks of the docks.
By 1921, at the age of 19, Anastasia had already made a name for himself on the docks and soon got involved in the local union. Working his way up the union ranks through back-door deals and well-chosen allies, Anastasia became a top leader in the notoriously corrupt International Longshoreman’s Association by the late 1920s.
The longshoreman’s union was largely controlled by the Mafia, and Anastasia’s talents were put to a variety of uses. He eventually founded one of the most ferocious killing businesses in America, the Mafia’s enforcement arm nicknamed “Murder, Inc.,” earning Anastasia himself such nicknames as “The Mad Hatter” and “The Lord High Executioner.”