Lower East Side History Project: Mafia Walking Tour
This was a great tour. Led by fourth generation Italian-American, Eric Ferrara, we really gained an insight and understanding into the origins and evolution of the five major New York crime families and the history of New York City’s Little Italy.
Eric founded the Lower East Side History Project and has consulted on several projects including programs for TV’s History Channel, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, the recent Great Gatsby movie and the Mafia Museum. He has written several books including the Manhattan Mafia Guide. Eric has not only researched his topic, he has lived it. He was clearly very comfortable in the area and able to tell many personal stories about his life and that of his family members.
There are a lot of similar tours available, but what I liked about this tour was the focus on fact versus sensationalism and media-driven urban legends. Eric set the record straight about many misconceptions and put a face on the daily struggle faced by the vast majority of the men involved with the Cosa Nostra. We learned about the speakeasies, the social clubs, early investment in the drag clubs of NYC, and the lynching of Italians. Eric had photos and newspaper articles to help tell the story and visualize the past.
I was surprised that what was once known as Little Italy is really now only about four one-street blocks of very tourist-oriented restaurants. Once a large and thriving section of town, it was eventually cleaned-up by NY Mayor Giuliani and has now become gentrified, with expensive boutiques and new construction. It was sad to learn that much of the area’s original character has been erased.
The tour was interesting, educational and, as a bonus, we found out which were the better area restaurants with the most authentic family history. We all received an information sheet summarizing key spots visited and follow-up resources.
We ended our two-hour tour in the restaurant area. Eric stopped to say hi to actor Tony Danza, who was just hanging out, sitting outside by a cannoli vendor, reading a paper.
After the tour we took a break and enjoyed some pizza at the Mulberry Street Bar. This restaurant was the setting for regular scenes on the Sopranos and has appeared in Donny Brasco, Godfather III, and Law & Order. We made one more quick stop to grab a cannoli (for me) and gelato (for my husband), before we headed back uptown. Do you think Tony is an investor in that cannoli stand?
Tours are offered twice a week, on Saturdays and Wednesdays at noon and generally last 1.5 hours. For more info, check out:
Who’s hanging out on Mulberry Street?
Really loved this article. The NY mafia (or for that matter, any of the big city mafias) are very intriguing to me. And who doesn’t like casting their eyes on Tony Danza….an unexpected treat! Thanks Karen!