MYSTERIES FROM THE MORGUE

Mysteries from the morgue: A castle in Adams, Sinatra and a mob boss in Hancock

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Editor's note: Every newspaper has a morgue - an archive of photographs and newspaper articles. In the last decade or two, most morgues have gone digital (for more recent items). We are lucky enough to still have the photo morgues of both The Berkshire Eagle and The North Adams Transcript in our Pittsfield office. During a recent trip to the morgue for another project, I came across a photograph of what looked like a castle in a file of landmarks in Adams. Not being familiar with the building, I searched a digital archive for the name scrawled across the back of the photo, I was able to piece together the story of the building. I shared it on our Facebook page and the response was amazing.
We've decided to continue posting photos from the archives once a week at Facebook.com/BerkshireLandscapes. I'll be pulling photos that pique my curiosity - images of places or events I'm not familiar with - and share the most interesting stories and photos I find with you.

Did you know Adams was once home to a castle?

It was known as Castle Hathconnor (according to the North Adams Transcript or Castle Rathconnor, as named in Adams historian Eugene Michalenko's "Lost Adams") and sat at the corner of Valley and Columbia streets from the beginning of its construction in 1919 to its demolition in 1947.

The so-called castle was built by the Rev. Thomas O'Connor, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Church, which he financed with his own funds. O'Connor, along with George Fassell, a sexton at the church, built it from handmade concrete blocks. Construction began in 1919 and ended when O'Connor died on Dec. 31, 1926.

O'Connor intended to gift the six-story building to the church for use as a parochial school.

Unfortunately, the well-intentioned priest did not leave a will. This, subsequently lead the Probate Court to include the castle and land as part of his estate. A Rhode Island man purchased the castle at auction in 1930, settling O'Connor's estate. However, the building was never occupied after the state building inspector deemed it unsafe for use, reportedly because it was built on a sandbank. The castle sold to Stanley Krutiak in 1947, who demolished it for the building material. Eventually, the two-acre parcel made its way back to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, which allowed the town to use it as a gravel bank for several years before selling it to the Adams Housing Authority for $1 in 1970. The site is now home to the Columbia Valley Apartments.

Sources: North Adams Transcript, Lost Adams (mausert.com/history/lost-adams.pdf)

Did Frank Sinatra invest in a Hancock race track for a New England mob boss?

That's what the U.S. House Select Committee on Crime wanted to know in July 1972 when it called Frank Sinatra to testify about his $55,000 investment in a half-mile horse racing track just outside of Pittsfield.

Sinatra and fellow crooner Dean Martin each invested $55,000 in Berkshire Downs, a horse racing track located in Hancock, in August 1962. The men recalled their investments in July 1963, when they were both named, supposedly without their knowledge, as vice presidents and directors of the company that owned the track.

Sinatra's investment was reportedly a front for Raymond Patriarca, reputed Mafia chief in New England, who allegedly had secretly invested $215,000 in the operation.

When not berating the committee for sullying his name, Sinatra denied knowing or ever meeting Patriarca. He also claimed to have met alleged Mafia member Salvatore "Sam" Rizzo one time in Atlantic City. He claimed that Rizzo, then owner of Berkshire Downs, had asked him to invest in the Hancock racetrack during that meeting. Sinatra agreed to purchase a 5 percent share.

According to Joseph Phillips, counsel for the committee, the questions posed to Sinatra, Rizzo and Patriarca were based on information learned from FBI wiretaps. That information included a phone call in which Patriarca was informed that Sinatra was being added to the Berkshire Downs board of directors prior to it being announced publicly.

Patriarca, who was serving 10 years in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary for murder conspiracy, denied ever meeting or knowing Sinatra.

"I never met Sinatra personally. I seen him on television and at the moving pictures," the alleged mob boss said when he appeared before the committee. He also claimed to be a "middle-class vending machine operator" and wished he had that type of money.

When asked if any of his associates had dealings with Sinatra on his behalf, Patriarca invoked the Fifth Amendment.

Rizzo took the Fifth Amendment 34 times during his appearance. He refused to answer questions about his relationship with Sinatra (who he once claimed to have grown up with in New Jersey.) But testimony read into the record from Rizzo's appearance before the Florida Beverage Control Commission in 1968 told a different story. Rizzo's statements included testimony that Sinatra had received money from Berkshire Downs and that he had known Sinatra for "15 to 20 years."

Unfortunately, the House Committee soon dropped its investigation into Berkshire Downs and Sinatra's investment, leaving the country to wonder why Sinatra had invested in a race track in the Berkshires.

Sources: North Adams Transcript, Berkshire Eagle, CrimeMagazine.com, Boston Globe, New York Times


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