Mobsters and mourners took over the streets of Maspeth and Middle Village last week, as lords of the underworld and throngs of curious gawkers came out to catch a glimpse of the spectacle that was the wake and funeral of John Gotti.
The last days of the Dapper Don were as colorful and controversial as the man himself.
Gotti, the head of the Gambino crime family, died last week of cancer at the age of 61 at a Missouri prison hospital while serving a life sentence for murder and racketeering in Illinois.
For two days, last Thursday and Friday, friends, family and associates of the late mob boss converged on the Papavero Funeral Home in Maspeth to pay their final respects.
The number of mourners and spectators lining the streets of Grand Avenue were outnumbered only by the seemingly endless supply of floral deliveries. Six foot displays of roses and carnations told the tale of Gotti’s well-reported vices—a martini glass, a racehorse, a cuban cigar and a royal flush.
Reporters were not invited to the viewing, but those who did make it inside remarked about an ink drawing of a smiling Gotti placed on top of his bronze coffin, which was engraved with the dates of his birth and death.
Some mourners received prayer cards featuring Gotti’s likeness in a black tuxedo. “Do not stand at my grave and weep; I am not there. I do not sleep. Do not stand at my grave and cry. I am not there. I did not die,” the card read.
Police, who set up barricades along Grand Avenue across from the funeral home to keep the crowds away, hastily jotted down license plates of reputed “made men.”
However, some members of the “family” were unable to attend either the wake or the service.
Gotti’s son, John Jr., is serving a seven-year sentence for racketeering and extortion. Brother Gene is serving 50 years for heroin trafficking and brother Peter was jailed and held without bail earlier this month on racketeering charges.
Family attorney Bruce Cutler spoke for the remaining family that was able to attend, including wife Victoria, and children Angela, Victoria and Peter.
“I know what the government says, but this was a truly remarkable person,” Cutler told reporters. “If he could walk out with me and say hello, he certainly would. He’s doing it through me…Hello.”
The pageantry and excess continued Saturday as approximately 20 flower cars, over 40 black limousines, and hundreds of private cars lined up for the funeral procession which proceeded through his old stomping grounds in Howard Beach and Ozone Park and finally to Gotti’s final resting place—a mausoleum at St. John’s Cemetery in Middle Village.
It is also the final resting place of many of the city’s most notorious gangsters, including Lucky Luciano and Carlo Gambino.
All of the additional employees and cars required for the procession were donated by Gotti’s friends and family, according to an employee at the funeral home.
Crowds of Gotti admirers greeted the hearse as it made its three-hour trek, some saying prayers, others tossing flowers.
The procession then proceeded slowly by his Howard Beach home and by his former headquarters, the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club in Ozone Park.
At noon, the limousines finally arrived at the Resurrection Mausoleum. Gotti was interred next to his son, Frank, who was killed 20 years ago when he was accidentally run down by a neighbor’s car.
Gotti, who was denied a formal Catholic funeral because of his criminal history, was mourned during a brief ceremony inside a chapel at the Gallery of the Martyrs.
Outside, Gotti’s profitable and capitalist nature seemed to have rubbed off on some.
One man told police that copies of various daily newspapers from the day of the Dapper Don’s death were going for up to $100 on the Internet.
Another woman, on 85th Street in Howard Beach, remarked that “someone even offered me $50 for my prayer card.”