Sunday, October 19, 2008

Your Town's Skeleton's Can Be Tourism Assets

TOURISM: Local link to gangsters makes for wild ride
By Caitlin Murray, Niagara Gazette

When a guy donning a fedora and a pin-striped suit promises to “take you for a ride” as he brandishes a gun, that probably means you’re toast.Unless, of course, you’re a passenger on The Mob Tours, a historical look at Niagara Falls’ connections to Sicily’s most notorious: The Mafia.

Audio by James NeissRun by Buffalo businessman and Mafia history buff Mike Rizzo, the Saturday bus tour focuses much around the life of lesser-known mobster Stefano Magaddino, a Sicilian who settled in Niagara Falls after stints in New York City and New Jersey. His specialties included bootlegging alcohol during the prohibition, illegal gambling and extortion. Oh, and one other thing, Rizzo said.“Probably one of the things he was best known for was making people disappear,” Rizzo said. “When he wanted to, he would make them go away and they’d never be seen again.”

It’s no wonder Magaddino got the nickname The Undertaker. Magaddino’s front for his income was appropriately a funeral home that once stood at Portage Road and Niagara Street. As Rizzo put it, Magaddino “took care of them at night and then he took care of them during the day.”

On the 90-minute ride around the Falls, Rizzo narrates the story of Magaddino’s rise to power, showing various mob hangouts, gangster homes, sites of illegal businesses and even some spots where the alleged disappearing acts occurred.

The rides are designed to satisfy gangster fans and history buffs alike.Caroline Nolan, of St. Catharine’s, Ont., took the tour last month with a group of about 25 women she described as 40 years old and above. The group of members from The Canadian Federation of University Women goes on weekly excursions to try new things and happened upon The Mob Tours in the Falls. Although gangster tales tend to be viewed as male domain, she said the day trip was a hit.

“It was unanimous — the whole group enjoyed it,” Nolan said. “Everyone was impressed with him because of his knowledge — every time we asked a question, he’d have the answer and more.”

Indeed, Rizzo has certainly done his research. Before starting the tour less than five months ago, Rizzo initially had planned five years ago to write a book about the Mafia’s presence in the Buffalo-Niagara area. Instead, he pursued the tour, but is gradually putting an archive of more than 5,000 Federal Bureau of Investigation documents related to Magaddino on the tour’s Web site,
Magaddino died in Lewiston in 1973 and chances are many people still living in Niagara Falls had their own run-ins with the gangster. But Rizzo said he doesn’t expect them to come forward.

“One gentleman, 83 years old, that had been to his house several times came on a tour. His father was closely related to him and he told some stories,” Rizzo said. “But there’s still a mystique over Magaddino. Not a lot of people want to say things. People have called and told me stories, but they wouldn’t give their names.”

Contact reporter Caitlin Murrayat 282-2311, ext. 2251.
For more information or to book tickets, visit

Marketing Tip: Every town has a skeleton or two. Towns' people may or may not be proud of the tales, but outsiders find them interesting. Don't be afraid to tout interesting stories - the good and the bad.

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