Events ~ April 2013
The Crachesi Come to America
Italian immigration grew tenfold in the
1880s over previous decades. In 1880 about twenty thousand
Italians lived in New York City but their numbers would
increase more than twelve times by 1900. While Italian
immigration was dispersed throughout the United States large
numbers of Southern Italians arriving in New York City from
the regions of Basilicata, Calabria, and Sicily settled on
the Lower East Side. Included in this were small groups (41
people from 1880-1890 and 380 people between 1891-1900) from
Conditions in New York City in the 1880s
were horrible for them. Forced to live in a slum area known
as "Mulberry Bend," the Italians arriving there were
following earlier immigrants from Ireland and Germany. They
lived in dark, airless, and unsanitary tenements.
Tenement buildings were dangerous
firetraps, as well as a breeding place for rodents and
diseases. They did not have easy access to water, especially
if they lived on the upper level. Water had to be drawn from
the fire hydrant in the street and carted upstairs.
Lacking English, marked by their own
dialects, and often not able to write, Italians were reliant
on "middle men" (padrones) who placed men for work but
extracted fees and commissions.
Italian immigrants tended to do whatever
was needed to support themselves, accepting jobs that other
Americans didn't want to do. To maintain their families they
worked 12 hours a day and often took in boarders to cover
With their agrarian experience Southern
Italians were able to get the maximum from everything
extracting from dumps, trash in the streets, and castoffs of
others to create riches that allowed him to return home or
bring his family over to join him.
Riis, in his 1890 book, "How The Other Half Lives"
documented the lives immigrants of the era faced and made an
observation important to Cracotans.
Referring to Italians being resourceful
he may have identified the roots of how the paper stock
business became important to many from Craco.
He says, "The
discovery was made...there is money in New York’s
ashbarrel,...has become the exclusive preserve of the
Italian immigrant. ...the city hired gangs of men...The men
were paid a dollar and a half a day, kept what they found…"
He goes on to say the arrangement changed suggesting that
"junk picking" became very profitable, "Today Italians
contract for the work, paying large sums to be permitted to
do it...The effect ...giving him exclusive control of the
Many Italians were lured by stories told
in Europe about plentiful work and big wages, in America but
could not find steady work and returned to Italy discouraged
and with empty pockets.
Early Italian immigrants were not
welcomed in America; they would be verbally abused by name
calling such as "wop," "guinea," and "dago."
In the face of such hostility, Italian
immigrants, disregarded differences, and preferences for
townspeople (paesani) drew together, mingling language,
worship, and traditions, creating a sense of security among
themselves. By establishing their own communities where they
could speak their own language, eat their own foods,
practice their customs and religion as if back in their
homeland numerous "Little Italy" neighborhoods developed.
Over the 1880s immigrants’ gains set the
stage for the even larger number of arrivals. during the
next decade. For the Crachesi, the initial group of
immigrants who arrived brought with them skills (barbers,
tailors) that aided in their assimilation and provided the
pathway for others to follow in the next decade.
Calanchi of Basilicata
APT Basilicata, the regional
tourist organization, published a booklet for autotouring
the "calanchi" of the region. The booklet cover features a
high altitude photograph of Craco and the
Calanchi, are a unique feature in the
hilly area of the Province that includes Craco. They are
similar to areas in the US southwest known as "badlands."
The tour originates in Tursi and goes
through the countryside to Valsinni, Senise, Sant’ Arcangelo,
Aliano, Stigliano, Craco and ends in Ferrandina.
The booklet highlights interesting sites
along the route and features to visit in each town. These
include historic buildings, museums, and the Monte Cotugno
Dam (the largest in Europe). The booklet also points out
specialties that are available in the area such as
Ferrandina’s olive oil, oranges from Tursi, Colobraro’s
excellent goat’s milk pecorino cheese that has the intense
flavor of the countryside, and the famous "cruschi" peppers
The Craco Immigrant's Trip
The first Crachesi immigrants faced
considerable challenges, but established the pathway and
foundation for more than 1500 others that followed in the
next 40 years.
Understanding both the difficulty they
faced and the desperation that drove them to leave may not
be fully possible to us today. Thinking about how easily we
travel and how the world has changed prevents us from
grasping the impact of immigration on their lives.
In going to America they faced daily
challenges of not knowing the language, being unable to read
any signs, dealing with unusual food, customs, and religion
and realizing they were not welcomed by most of the
The moment they left Craco their world
Prof. D’Angella, the author of the
history of the town of Craco, says their travel to Naples
was 8 to 10 days by horse to cover the distance of about 160
miles. Some made the trip by using the "chooch" or donkey
probably pulling a cart. Later immigrants would have had the
choice of using the train reducing the travel time and
The route they traveled was from Craco
towards Pisticci Scalo, then along the Cavone River Valley
until they connected with the Via Appia through Potenza,
Salerno, and into Naples. This was a hard and dangerous trip
due to what were described as "gypsies" and brigands by
Prof. D’Angella. He adds, "Many people would have written a
will before embarking on the trip."
Arriving in Naples added to their
dislocation by introducing the villagers to the more modern
aspects of their world. For most, this trip was the first
experience of leaving the area surrounding Craco. Bear in
mind, there was a Cracotan proverb that described something
far away as being "from here to Pisticci..." which is only a
distance of 11 miles.
Arriving in Naples was an eye opener.
There may have been more people living in one Naples
apartment block than in all of Craco! Naples in this era was
the largest city in Italy. Such a large bustling city framed
by an active volcano had to create an overwhelming
Then the emigrants from Craco had to deal
with new challenges. Needing to secure passage on a ship,
comply with documentation to exit Italy, and meet US
regulations to permit boarding the ships they had to rely on
Fares for steerage class passengers, in
the 1880s were about $20, but with increasing competition
among shipping lines, the price would drop in half by the
Most likely, their possessions were
wrapped as bundles and included food such as dried sausage
or cheese. Once they boarded the ship they entered a totally
The ocean voyage was rarely smooth and
averaged about two weeks. The immigrants were left to their
own devices to pass the time and face worries about the
uncertainty of their fates. Storms and rough seas added to
the discomfort along with being jammed into the bottom of
the ship with no privacy. Men and women were separated into
different sleeping quarters and met in the above deck areas
where they went to escape the narrow bunks and dank
atmosphere in their steerage area.
We have no information about the 1880s
Cracotan immigrants’ experience but a narrative written by
Domenic Colabella about his voyage to America gives a good
idea of this portion of the trip. He left Craco when he was
14 years old in 1905 and says,
"… I left Craco … for Napoli. I traveled
alone by slow boat … it took 29 days to New York. ... On the
boat all the men were bunked in large rooms naturally, we
were treated like cattle in a box railroad car. The food was
like what they serve in prisons. But we were a gay young
bunch, looking forward to America and nothing bothered us
Upon entering New York Harbor they were
greeted by the City’s skyline and after 1886 the Statue of
Liberty. Once docked they transferred to smaller boats to go
to the immigration station.
It was here immigrants faced the greatest
challenge hoping not to be rejected. A contemporary
description of the entry process at Castle Garden provides
Before they are allowed in the main part
of the building the immigrants have to pass in single file
before the officials, who register their names, nationality,
age, occupation, starting point and destination, and also
ask whether they have any money or not. In case they are
without funds or means of earning a living, they are
detained at the Garden for a reasonable length of time. If
no one appears to care for them they are eventually sent
back across the sea.
After the immigrants have been registered
they are allowed to do as they please. Those who have
through railroad tickets with which to go to the interior of
the country are sorted out by the agents of the different
railroad lines, and are soon started on their way.
Others, who decide to stay in New York
for a time to look for work or wait for lagging friends, are
left to the not altogether tender mercies of the boarding
house "runners," who are admitted to the floor of the garden
after the registration has been finished. At this period of
the proceedings the spectacle to onlooker is an interesting
The queer costumes, many of them brightly
colored, and the faces, made doubly expressive by the hopes
and fears of their owners, give this crowd an aspect of
almost feverish gayety. As soon as the first excitement of
arrival is over, those who for any reason find it necessary
to remain at the Garden gather in groups about the kettle
topped stoves and discuss the incidents of the voyage or
prospects for the future. Sometimes they camp in the Garden
for days before starting out, sitting by day on their bags
and bundles and sleeping on the hard benches at night.
From there they entered a new life. The
first group of Cracotans would experience major changes in
New York City that allowed the 380 others from the town who
followed during the decade after 1890 to find a more
Madonna di Viggiano in Toronto, Canada
The Madonna di Viggiano, a widely
venerated relic in Basilicata will be coming to North
America in June.
Spring, the people of Viggianno move the statue of this
version of the "Black Madonna" from the town of Viggiano to
a hilltop and then back down again in the Fall, bringing
many visitors. Scenes of the 2012 procession can be seen on
Initial plans for the North American
visit have the statue arriving in Toronto, Canada. Events
will be held from June 22 to July 2 in the Church of the
Immaculate Conception. On Sunday June 23, a special Mass
will be held followed by a procession and grand feast.
There are over 90,000 people of Lucania
origin in Southern Ontario. This is the first visit of the
statue to Canada and the idea is to create an annual event,
and perhaps a permanent statue in Woodbridge.