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         News 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 Unbroken.

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 manufactured goods.

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.

Last 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 between them.

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 thought!

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 related.

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 Montalbano Ionico.

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 agriculture.

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!

 March 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 celebrations worldwide.

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 St. Joseph.


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 Manhattan.

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 Drew Barrymore.

Maurice 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 factory.

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 films.

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

The 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 Vecchio (above), and the saints of Craco (below). 

To see more of his work visit his online website Galleria de Sconzo .


Click 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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