and Events Pages
and Events - March 2014
Italian- Americans in the 1930's
The Great Depression
(1929–39) had a major impact on the Italian American
community although many benefitted from New Deal
work programs, such as the Works Progress
Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corp.
In politics, Al Smith (Ferrara)
was the first Italian American governor of New York,
and a candidate for president in 1928. Fiorello
LaGuardia became mayor of New York City in 1931.
There were numerous Italian
Americans involved in music, both classical and
popular. Italian operatic singers and conductors
were invited to perform for American audiences,
including the tenor Enrico Caruso. The conductor
Arturo Toscanini introduced many Americans to
classical music through his NBC Symphony Orchestra
radio broadcasts. Popular singers including Russ
Columbo, established a new singing style that
influenced Frank Sinatra and other singers that
followed. Other Italian American musicians and
performers, such as Jimmy Durante, who later
achieved fame in movies and television, were active
in vaudeville. Guy Lombardo formed a popular dance
band, which played annually on New Year's Eve in New
York City's Times Square.
The film industry of this era
included Frank Capra, who received three Academy
Awards for directing. Italian American cartoonists
were responsible for some of the most popular
animated characters: Donald Duck was created by Al
Taliaferro, Woody Woodpecker was a creation of
Walter Lantz (Lanza), Casper the Friendly Ghost was
co-created by Joseph Oriolo, and Tom and Jerry was
co-created by Joseph Barbera.
In public art, Luigi Del Bianco
was the chief stone cutter at Mount Rushmore.
In sports, Tony Canzoneri won the
lightweight boxing championship in 1930. Joe
DiMaggio began playing for the New York Yankees in
1936. Hank Luisetti was a three time All American
basketball player at Stanford University from 1936
to 1940. Louis Zamperini, the American distance
runner, competed in the 1936 Olympics, and later
became the subject of the bestselling book
In business, Italian Americans
were the nation's chief supplier of fresh fruits and
vegetables, which were cultivated on the large
tracts of land surrounding many of the major U.S.
cities. They cultivated the land and raised produce,
which was trucked into the nearby cities and often
sold directly to the consumer through farmer's
markets. In California, the DiGiorgio Corporation
was founded, which grew to become a national
supplier of fresh produce. Also in California,
Italian Americans were leading growers of grapes,
and producers of wine. Many well known wine brands,
such as Mondavi, Carlo Rossi, Petri, Sebastiani, and
Gallo emerged from these early enterprises. Italian
American companies were major importers of Italian
wines, processed foods, textiles, marble and
But these dynamics impacted
community structures in Little Italy.
The more Americanized second
generation began to turn away from older,
Italian-language institutions founded by immigrants,
many of which collapsed during the Depression.
Italian theaters and music halls, for example,
largely gave way to vaudeville, nickelodeons,
organized sports, and radio programming.
During the 1920s and 1930s, these
transformations were also influenced by Benito
Mussolini's fascist regime, which sponsored
propaganda campaigns designed to attract the support
of Italian Americans.
For the Cracotans in America this
period would be as challenging as it was to everyone
else. Facing the same difficulties as the entire
population they had to cope with the economic
hardships. With unemployment as high as 25%, and
perhaps worse in some industries, such as the
building trades, they had to resort to the time
tested and successful skills they developed over
centuries of surviving in the barest minimums and
wasting nothing. And although this marks a change in
Cracotan American culture, as the second generation
begins to overtake the immigrants, it also marks a
decade that may have had the greatest concentration
of families in the Greater New York area.
All in the Genes
Society members have always
speculated that there are many relationships between us
since our ancestors were confirmed to their Southern Italian
hill town for hundreds of years.
year four Board members Lena Camperlengo, Joseph A.
Rinaldi (New York), Joseph D. Rinaldi (Canada) and
Fred Spero submitted DNA samples to 23andMe as a
test in an attempt to learn of any connections
Both Joe Rinaldis had hoped there
was a connection since they shared the surname but
vital record research through 1800AD could not find
a common ancestor that would make them related.
23andMe genetic testing is able
to find common genes back to about 1500AD. The
company also provides an understanding where an
individual’s more distant relatives originated as
human culture was establishing itself.
The test results for the four
individuals established what everyone always
First, the two Joe Rinaldis are
2nd-3rd cousins, with their common ancestor being
someone in the 1700s.
Second, Lena Camperlengo is a
cousin to both of them but it appears from different
ancestors. Before the test Lena and Joe Rinaldi
(from New York) were known to be 3rd cousins from
the vital records with their common ancestor being
Vito Rubertone born in 1821. This genetic link also
appearded in the 23andMe results. Lena is related to
Joe Rinaldi (from Canada) as a 4th cousin with them
sharing a common ancestor in the 1700s.
Of course, this means Lena and
the two Joes’ siblings and their families are all
The test also identified
relationships that were previously unknown between
members who had submitted DNA samples to 23andMe on
their own and the test group. Vito Caputi was
identified as a 3rd-6th cousin of both Joe Rinaldis
and Fred Spero. Their most common ancestor is
someone from the 1700s.
Paul M. Tocci matched Fred Spero
as a 3rd-5th cousin. Vital records has them related
as 4th cousins with the common ancestor being Carlo
Francavilla born about 1795 and probably in
An interesting aspect of the
23andMe results is the ancient ancestry that takes
individual origins back thousands of years. We
learned the following:
The Rinaldis are in a genetic
group of ancient peoples that go back 23,000 years
spreading into the Mediterranean Region after the
Ice Age. About 9,000 years ago they were in the
Balkans just as agriculture was beginning in this
area. Prior to that this group was hunter-gatherers
but quickly adopted agriculture. Today it is one of
the most common groups in those regions.
Spero (Spera in Craco)
ancestors arose about 28,000 years ago and also came
into Europe from the Middle east 12-14,000 years
ago. About 7,800 years ago this group was also in
the Balkans and switched from hunter gathering to
Obviously, this is very general
but provides us with an interesting insight into our
very ancient past.
The test group results from
23andMe also identified over 200 matches to other
individuals. It will be interesting to see what
unfolds as more is learned about the DNA results.
Hey Joe- Celebrate!
is always a month for celebrating. It marks the end
of Winter and includes a couple of national feast
days that are worldwide events. The Irish have St.
Patrick (rumored to be of Italian origin) and the
Italians have St. Joseph.
With 19 "Joes" who are Society
members, they’ll have a reason to celebrate on March
19th —it’s San Giuseppe Day.
This saint’s day was celebrated
in Craco Vecchio by having large bonfires – the
largest one in the piazza. It was also customary to
make "fecazzolë" (flat fried dough) and bring these
to the church to be offered to the poor.
This feast day is celebrated as
Father’s Day in Italy, Spain and Portugal. The day
also has far reaching connections to customs and
In Sicily, where St. Joseph is
regarded by many as their patron saint, and in
Italian-American communities, thanks are given to
St. Joseph for preventing a famine during the Middle
Ages. According to legend, there was a severe
drought and people prayed for rain promising they
would prepare a large banquet. The fava bean crop
was saved sparing the population from starvation and
it is a traditional part of St. Joseph's Day altars.
In the US, New Orleans, Louisiana
the Feast of St. Joseph is a city wide event. Both
public and private St. Joseph's altars are
traditionally built. There are parades with marching
clubs and floats similar to those of Mardi Gras.
St Joseph's Day is also
celebrated in other American communities with large
Italian populations such as New York City; Buffalo,
NY; Chicago, IL; Kansas City, MO; Gloucester, MA,
and Rhode Island.
A common element to these events
is St. Joseph’s Bread (Pane di San Giuseppe). It
takes many forms from the fried "fecazzolë" of Craco
or zeppole of Sicily to baked breads that are
elaborately shaped and sculpted to represent
crosses, staffs, wheat sheaves, braids or images of
Cracotans in the Early Cinema
Craco enjoys a connection to the
movie business with it serving as the scene for several
movies filmed there. We also know of the connection that
producer David O. Russell (see January 2011 Newsletter) has
to Frank Muzio (see October 2013 Newsletter). But Frank
Muzio’s older brother was also a participant in the early
days of cinema in America.
Giuseppe Muzio (b. 1882 Craco)
was the firstborn son of Nicola Muzio (b. 1857
Craco) and Maria Caterina Santalucia (b 1855 Craco).
The family, which also included Maria Carmela Muzio
(b. 1884 Craco) arrived in New York City in 1885.
Once here Nicola and Caterina had two more children,
Francesco and Teresa. Both Nicola and Caterina also
played a role as witnesses in the 1892 court case of
Leonardo Larubbio (see June 2013 Newsletter).
Nicola died in 1899 leaving the
family living at 46 Baxter Street. Giuseppe was
working in the rag busi-ness, most likely for his
sister Carmela’s husband, Francesco Paolo Mormando
(b. 1879 Craco).
On November 25, 1900 Giuseppe
married Ellen Corcoran in Manhattan. Their daughter
Kathleen arrived in 1904 while they were living in
In 1912 the family had moved and
were living at 1726 E. 12th Street Brooklyn. Among
their neighbors there was Maurice Costello, a
renowned actor in that era.
Maurice Costello, played a
principal role in early American film making as a
leading man, support player and director. With his
wife, Mae Costello, a film actress, he had two
daughters, Helene and Dolores, who would also go
onto have careers associate with the film industry.
Dolores Costello married John Barrymore and is the
mother of John Drew Barrymore and grandmother of
Costello was associated with Vitagraph Studios which
built the first modern movie studio in the US in
1906 at the corner of E. 14th St. and Locust Ave. in
the Midwood section of Brooklyn.
Apparently, Kathleen Muzio was a
playmate of the two Costello sisters. The Muzio
family oral history suggests that Maurice Costello
approached Joseph Muzio to help him direct Italian
speaking extras and act as an interpreter on several
films. From that initial entry into films it soon
followed that Kathleen was hired to play roles in
some of the silent films. The pinnacle of her acting
career was in 1915 when at age 11 she played Theda
Bara’s daughter in "Carmen"
Unfortunately, in 1916 Joseph
Muzio was stricken with an illness and died in 1916.
The family moved back to Manhattan and Kathleen gave
up her movie career and went to work in a candy
However, the Muzio family’s long
connection to films continues. In addition to David
Russell’s work, Matthew Muzio, son of Joe Muzio
Society member, works in the industry. Matthew has
appeared in 10 films including some done by his
cousin David Russell and also was recently in a
French film. Additionally, Matthew has 5 produced
Craco Photo Exhibit
The Basilicata Cultural Society
of Canada announced that it will be featuring,
"Craco: Città Fantasma - a Photographic Exposition."
This special event will be held
on Sunday May 25, 2014 from 4pm-7pm. The exhibit
will be at the society’s facility at 28 Roytec Rd.,
Ste. 15, Woodbridge, Ontario.
The exhibit was conceived of by
Antonio Locantore who was inspired by Craco on
recent a visit to Italy.
Working with the Craco Society’s
President Joe Rinaldi, who is also a Board Member
for Basilicata Cultural Society, to organize the
many photographs including selections from the Craco
Society archives, Locantore envisions telling the
story of Craco via photographs to inform the public
about this unique town, while it still "stands".
The event will be open to the
public but ticket are required. More details will be
coming but consider planning a Springtime visit to
Toronto to explore the city and your heritage.
An Artist's View of Craco
beauty of Craco has been fascinating to artists of
all types, including filmmakers and photographers.
Among the many Society members who painted scenes
from Craco is Ed Sconzo. Recognized for his
artistic contributions (see April 2011 Newsletter)
Ed’s passion for oil painting has led to completing
over 160 original works.
Among them are several scenes of
Craco, some real and others imaginary images
developed by the creative mind of the artist. Shown
here are his impressions of a panorama of Craco
and the saints of Craco (below).
To see more of his work visit his
online website Galleria de Sconzo .
here to view
A Year in Craco. Events in Craco for
every month are listed. Thank you to Joe Rinaldi
in Canada for his contribution to this page.
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