Saturday, November 10, 2007

Lingerie Falls Victim To The Black Hand



A victim of the black hand.--

Theochrom Seris 1225-26
Postmarked 1911

A woman finds the dreaded black hand mark on her dainties. Presumably a play on Black Hand extortion which was rumored to be the start of Italian crime and the start of the mafia.

However, Jay Robert Nash, in the World Encyclopedia of Organized Crime (p. 56) argues the Black Hand was a tactic, not an organized group:
The Black Hand, despite the wild claims of newsmen and yellow journalists to the contrary, was never a formal organization with any kind of international ties. The Black Hand was never a society (although a Black Hand Society did exist for hundreds of hears in Spain as an organization designed to help the needy and to fight invaders, but died out before 1900; another Black Hand Society originated in Serbia, a secret cabal designed to establish Serbian dominance in the Balkans). The Black Hand was never tied to any of the real secret societies or criminal conspiracies, such as the Camorra, the Mafia, or the Unicone Siciliane, even thought many members of these nefarious organizations practiced the sinister ways of the Black Hand. It was simply an extortion racket practiced upon decent citizens, first in Italy and Sicily as early as the 1750's, and later in the U.S., chiefly affecting Italian-Sicilan immigrants in major metropolitan areas, especially New York, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, and San Francisco.

The racket was prosaic--and deadly. An anonymous Black Hander would threaten various types of violence to extort money from one, usually well-to-do, victim. These threats most often involved kidnapping a family member, threatening to blow up a business or shop, or to attack, injure, or kill a family member or the recipient of the Black Hand note. These notes were crudely written in broken English (in the U.S.) and boldly demanded a certain amount of money, with a specific instructions as to how the cash was to be delivered. The note would usually be decorated with a number of horrific symbols and images--daggers dripping blood, a bomb exploding, a gun smoking at the barrel, a skull and crossbones, a body dangling from a rope tied about the neck. The signature of the sender was invariably a hand imprinted in heavy black ink, thus the sobriquet, La Mano Nera (The Black Hand).
As for our lady with the hand printed lingerie, one can only imagine that this infers a different sort of blackmail or threat.

For more, see this article which uses the 1950 film, Black Hand (starring Gene Kelly as the Italian man seeking vengeance), to discuss the Armenian Black Hand.

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1 Comments:

Blogger deanna said...

I find this both amusing and fascinating!

2:45 PM  

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