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Mount Vesuvius.

Vito Genovese's Mount Vesuvius Volcano

Field review by the editors.

Middletown, New Jersey

Forget The Sopranos, the fictional suburban crime family that forever cemented a connection between the mob and New Jersey for America's cable-watching public. The real Mafia -- or some of it -- actually did move from the city to the 'burbs. We're not allowed to say much more (thank you for this special exemption, Godfather), but it's well documented that syndicate boss Vito Genovese owned an estate in Middletown, NJ. The property is a county park -- Deep Cut Gardens -- open to the public.

Genovese Era exhibit.

Genovese bought the scenic 40 acre hill property in then rural Monmouth County in 1935, as a retreat for his family from New York City. He wanted something like his Neopolitan homeland, so he added large gardens and walkways (mixing an English and Italian style). He imported Roman statuary and lava stone from Mount Vesuvius for his own replica. He added a swimming pool and a three hole golf course.

Rock pool.

In 1937, Vito fled to Naples, Italy to avoid a murder indictment. A few weeks later, the Middletown house burned in a mysterious blaze, and the gardens fell into disrepair. The property was bought in 1948, then again in 1952. Owners Marjorie and Karl Wihtol built a new house, revived some of the property's horticultural charms, and donated half the land to the county parks system in Marjorie's will. The county ultimately acquired 54 acres to create the garden park.

The Genovese Era is acknowledged in a history exhibit, though the park's primary focus is on its abundant natural beauty. We visited on a busy day, apparently right before the Rose Society Show. The staff was very knowledgeable and helpful, steering us straight to a glass enclosure where a butterfly had emerged from a chrysalis only moments earlier.

Today, the hillside rockery and pool is still reminiscent of an Italian garden, and the conical Mt. Vesuvius stands, unlabeled (visitors sometimes mistake it for a pizza oven). While no crime mayhem is documented as ever occurring here, Genovese's biography is littered with associates and rivals who disappeared. This was a place of calm and contemplation, but still, it's hard not to visualize Vito's henchmen pushing a balky associate's face into Mount Vesuvius, or using those scenic ponds for a motivational dunking.

Vito Genovese's Mount Vesuvius Volcano

Deep Cut Gardens

152 Red Hill Rd, Middletown, NJ
Deep Cut Gardens, Garden State Parkway exit 114, head east, take first right onto Red Hill Rd, go 1.5 mi. to parking lot on right.
Daily 10-4. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
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Nearby Offbeat Places

Evil Food Circus ClownEvil Food Circus Clown, Middletown, NJ - 2 mi.
Vietnam Era Museum & Educational CenterVietnam Era Museum & Educational Center, Holmdel, NJ - 2 mi.
United States War Dog MemorialUnited States War Dog Memorial, Holmdel, NJ - 2 mi.
In the region:
Elaborate Grave of Singin' Sam, Hillside, NJ - 21 mi.

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