Scarface, The Teflon Don, Bugsy, Lucky "“ we know all of those gangsters. But there's some really obscure and intriguing nicknames lurking in the Underworld. You can guess the origin of some of them "“ Good-Looking Sal, Vinnie Gorgeous, Lefty. Some of them, like these 10, require a little more explanation.
1. Artichoke King - Ciro Terranova. Back in the early 1900s, Terranova earned this delicious moniker because he started his life of crime by buying cheap artichokes from California and threatening vegetable sellers in New York to buy them at a 30-40 percent markup. Too bad he died in 1938 "“ the Artichoke King and the Artichoke Queen (that would be Marilyn Monroe) would have been a perfect couple.
2. Louie Bagels "“ Louis Daidone. Daidone, who was once the boss of the Lucchese crime family, got his name pretty honestly "“ he previously owned a bagel shop in Queens called "Bagels by the Bay." Perhaps he should have stuck to making breakfast food "“ these days, Daidone is serving a life sentence at United States Penitentiary in Allenwood, PA.
3. Yeast Baron "“ Giuseppe Siragusa. Similarly, "Yeast Baron" Siragusa made a fortune selling yeast to illegal home-brewers during Prohibition. "Yeast Baron" doesn't seem like a very threatening nickname, though. It sounds more like a corporate cartoon mascot "“ the disowned cousin of Captain Crunch or the Quaker Oats guy. Siragusa died in 1931, so he isn't around to show me exactly how intimidating he can be. Hopefully he doesn't have family members who read mental_floss. Um. Maybe we should move on"¦
4. Greasy Thumb "“ Jake Guzik. "Greasy Thumb" Guzik was one of Capone's right-hand men after Guzik tipped him off to a murder plot. He was one of the guys responsible for paying off police and politicians, which is how he got his greasy thumbs "“ from counting out money all of the time.
5. Chicken Man "“ Philip Testa. Chicken Man, was, appropriately, involved in the poultry business before becoming a big-time mobster. He's famous for his gruesome death in 1981: a nail bomb planted under his front porch in Philadelphia totally obliterated him. The incident was immortalized in the Bruce Springsteen song "Atlantic City," which opens with the line, "Well they blew up the chicken man in Philly last night/Now they blew up his house too."
6. Big Tuna "“ Tony Accardo. If you're like me, you think of Jim from The Office when you hear "Big Tuna." But there was a Big Tuna long before John Krasinski and co. were on the air. Accardo's most famous nickname was "Joe Batters," given to him by Al Capone after Accardo whacked a couple of dudes using a Louisville Slugger. But Chicago newspapers preferred to call him Big Tuna, which came from a much more mundane hobby of Accardo's: fishing, of course.
7. Gaspipe "“ Anthony Casso. Mobster-turned informant Anthony Casso has a few tales as to the origins of his nickname. He claims it was passed down from his dad, whose weapon of choice was actually a gas pipe. Others agree, but say it was because his dad hooked up illegal gas connections. And other sources say it was Anthony himself who liked to wail on his victims with a pipe. Whatever the reason, Casso detested the nickname and allowed only a select few to call him "Gas."
8. Milwaukee Phil "“ Felix Alderisio. This wouldn't be such a remarkable nickname if it didn't belong to a guy who was neither named Phil nor was from Milwaukee. Alderisio was originally from New York, then lived in Chicago as a teenager, and finally made his way to Milwaukee, where he started boxing under the alias "Milwaukee Phil." I suppose "Phil" sounded tougher than "Felix." Alderisio ended up being a big player in Milwaukee's prostitution, gambling, narcotics and loansharking circles.
9. The Waiter "“ Paul Ricca. Paul Ricca worked under Diamond Joe Esposito during Prohibition, smuggling whiskey and moonshine to Bella Napoli, a restaurant patronized by mobsters. Diamond Joe made Ricca the maitre d' at Bella Napoli to accommodate his friends with "special requests," hence his "The Waiter" nickname. It's not technically correct, but I suppose Paul "The Maitre d'" just doesn't sound as good.
10. Tony Ducks — Anthony Corallo. Corallo, a member of the Lucchese family, didn't have a water-fowl hunting hobby, as you might suspect. He actually acquired the name because of his amazing ability to duck subpoena servers.
And here are a few intriguing names I couldn't find good explanations for:
Mad Hatter "“ Albert Anastasia (Also Lord High Executioner)
Cheesebox "“ Mickey Callahan
The Spoon "“ Frank Cuccharia. I tend to think this nickname comes from something horrible, like maybe Cuccharia was prone to gouging out the eyes of his victims with a kitchen utensil. But perhaps he just had a proclivity for soup.
Do you know the real stories behind any of those three? Did I leave out a really bizarre nickname? Tell us about it in the comments.