Many years ago, while interviewing my cousin Herby for family recollections, he had mentioned that our grandfather, Antimo (nicknamed “Tony”) operated a produce store, around the corner from Arthur Avenue (across from St.Barnabus Hospital.) *Note: The timeline for this story is around the mid to late 1950’s.* Herby clearly recalled the fact that, written on the storefront awning, were the words, “Tony’s Live and Let Live…” Hence, Tony’s favorite quote was, “Live and Let Live! Ha ha!
Antimo Puca was the second child born to Stefano Puca and Teresina Milo. He was born in the small town of Sant’Antimo, Naples, on the 25th day of August, 1896. The first child born to his parents was a boy named Antimo. He was named in the traditional fashion, to honor Stefano’s father, Antimo Puca. Tragically, this baby died. Perhaps he died from the Cholera epidemic which was running rampant across Italy, at that time. Hence, when their second baby arrived , he was also named Antimo!
Antimo’s parents, Stefano and Teresa, were married in Sant’Antimo on the 25th day of November, 1892. Teresa was 23 and Stefano was 21. According to our family history lore, Teresa was supposed to marry Stefano’s older brother, Filippo, but he tragically died, in 1891, while serving in the army. (I found his death record.) Stefano stepped up to the plate and married his older brother’s fiance, out of respect for his brother, and poor Teresina. (Those were the old Italian customs, I guess!)
Later on, in September of 1901, Stefano made the decision to travel to America in search of a better way to support his family. He traveled, in steerage, on the S.S. Burgundia, from the Fabre Line’s fleet of steamships. Upon arrival at Ellis Island’s immigration processing station, he passed through and went to East Harlem to live with his cousin, on Lexington Avenue. Stefano went back to Italy, and in 1905, he was back in New York, having traveled in “steerage” on Fabre Line’s S.S.Germania.
At that time, Stefano was living at 2123 1st Avenue in E.Harlem. The 3-story “old law tenement” was located between E.109th and 110th Streets.
Today, the building is no longer there, however, the adjacent tenements still stand. They are relics of the past. Mementos of a time, long gone. These surviving tenements are the final vestiges of the mass exodus from Europe. They were built for the purpose of housing multitudes of immigrant laborers.
Whenever I visit East Harlem, I feel, in my heart, what my family before me felt. Standing on the very sidewalks that they had stepped upon, looking at the tenements that they once dwelled in, helps me to understand what sacrifice they endured. Being in their old environs, I’m able to envision their arrival from Naples. You might think that it was a joyous arrival, but it was more bittersweet and complicated than celebratory. I think about the utter emptiness that they must have felt, when they stepped into those dark and musty tenement hallways…The despair that they possessed within, wondering if they made the right choice to leave the only home that they ever knew. At the turn of the century, New York City was a far cry from the town of Sant’Antimo, and the City of Benevento, Italy. The fresh Italian air, the open fields, friendly familiar faces, were all a shadow of the past. (Antimo would live to the age of 82, without ever seeing Italy again.)
The new reality for people like Stefano Puca would be hard labor, sacrifice and the burning hope and desire for a new and better life. They would work around the clock, only to earn about 10 dollars a week. But this would be enough to pay their rent, buy their food, and send money back to their families abroad.
Within 4 years time, the Puca’s would reunite, and settle in East Harlem. Stefano would come back to New York in April, and Teresina and her 6 year old daughter, Rosina, would arrive on the 3rd of July. Antimo’s name was crossed out from the ship manifest. He did not travel with his mother and sister. Perhaps he was sick and the shipping line, “White Star Line,” refused his entrance onto the “S.S. Romanic.” Perhaps he was reluctant to go to America. He was only 8 1/2 yrs. old at that time, and he may have been rebellious to the idea of leaving his home. Who would blame him?
At any rate, what I do know is that, on the 28th day of March, 1906, 9 days before Mt.Vesuvius in Naples would erupt, Antimo Puca arrived at Ellis Island, having traveled 13 grueling days in steerage, on the S.S. Cretic. He was accompanied by his uncle, and they were detained on Ellis Island for 2 days, until Stefano signed as surety for them. Written on their Detention list were the letters “LPC.” That stood for the words, “Likely Public Charge.” Until they could prove that they would not be a “financial burden” on the United States, they would be held in detention, on Ellis Island. Luckily, their detention was short. Most likely, they sent a Western Union wire to Stefano, explaining that he must come to Ellis Island to sign for their release. Of course, Stefano came to pick them up…And that is the story of the Puca’s and their journey from Naples to New York!
THE MICHAEL A. LENTINI ARCHIVES PAGE IS UP & RUNNING! VISIT THE PAGE TO VIEW THE FABULOUS VINTAGE YEARBOOKS & PHOTOS! Many thanks to Mikey Lentini, for sharing with me his yearbooks, and personal photos! Grazie Mille, Mikey! You’re the best!Posted: June 7, 2022
On a warm summer day, well over 30 years ago, I was out boating with my cousin, Guy. As we were passing East Harlem, heading North up the East River, I saw the vacant Washburn Wire Factory. It was located between East 117th and 118th Street, at the end of the 500 block, off Pleasant Avenue, by the East River Drive.
My family lived right up the block from that once active factory- back in the 1950’s and ‘60’s. At the time of this actual photo, I had a feeling that Washburn had outlived its welcome, and that it would be just a “matter of time” before it would be (ultimately) demolished & replaced. So…with that thought in mind, as we were drawing closer to the vacant factory, I quickly reached for my film camera and took this photo!
Behold a moment in time- captured on a hazy & humid summer day- on the often tumultuous East River! Thankfully, the river was very calm when this photo was taken!
This heartwarming “blast from the old neighborhood’s past”, was thoughtfully sent to me by one of my readers, Steven B., who is a former Italian East Harlemite. This adorable photo depicts Steven’s 1st grade class, from Public School #102, which is located at 315 East 113th Street-between 1st & 2nd Avenue. The approximate year was circa 1953-54.
According to Steven’s memories of his East Harlem school days, the male teacher in the photo was named Mr. Dupoid. (spelling uncertain). You can find Steven sitting in the first row-4th from the right, with hat in hand. 🙂 Thank you so very much for sharing this wonderful vintage photo with us, Steven! It truly is a historical gem!
A note to my readership: Take a look at the teachers, and the children in this class photo. If you recognize anyone, feel free to comment on who they are, and point out exactly where they are in this photo! Thanks, and enjoy! P.S. The children in this photo would currently be around 73-74 years old!
My aspiration to one day wear a glorious white wedding dress, started way back in the late 1960’s-early 1970’s. In 1966, my family moved out of East Harlem, and settled up in the Bronx. When I was a little girl, living in City Island, we lived close by to a catering hall, known then as The Lido. On the weekends, the limousines would roll up in front of the Lido, and, along with them, came the beautiful brides! I was so in awe of these beautiful, “princess-like” women! They looked as if they were floating on air! I thought to myself, how wonderful it must be to actually be a bride! Well, I guess that’s normal for little girls, right? I mean, looking forward to one’s wedding day, and the opportunity to look like a true princess, is something that most girls dream about…whether in secret or not! Ha! 🙂
Ok, fast forward to this past month! I was thinking about how nice it would be to commemorate the beautiful brides that once lived in East Harlem, during a time when it was primarily an Italian community. I thought I would dedicate a page to this theme, but for now, I will post on my main page for all my readers to see. I noticed that when I post on one of the dozen other pages that I have on this website, my subscribers do not receive an email notification about the new post. But, when I post on my main page- which is this one- all of my subscribers receive news about the post! So, after I post the photo gallery of gorgeous East Harlem brides, I will create a special page, in which I can update it whenever someone shares bridal photos with me. Having said that, if you have a scanned, high-definition vintage wedding photo, or photos, of either yourself, or relatives that once lived in East Harlem-when they got married, do send them to me! Please don’t send me a “photo of a photo,” as the definition will be compromised, and it won’t do the photo justice. Oh… and although I didn’t get married when I lived in the old neighborhood, I thought I’d add my wedding photo in the mix! Enjoy! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Without further ado, here come the brides!!! 🙂
After I posted the photos, yesterday, of the Feast of SS Medici, of 1942, which was located on the 400 block of East 117th St. in East Harlem, I began to think about these saints, and what they meant to all of these people who gathered to venerate them. I googled them, and found lots of interesting information.! Here’s the scoop:
First, they were born in what is now known as Syria, in 260 A.D., and died in Syria, as martyrs circa 303, AD. They were excellent medical doctors, that never accepted monetary payment for their services. Their feast day occured on the 27th of September, at that time. Also, how they died is unbelieveable! (It’s worse than watching an episode of “The Blacklist.”) I found some interesting facts, on an Italian website, which describes how they were tortured on 5 separate occasions. On the 5th try, they were beheaded and finally died. Here is the excerpt, which is not for the faint of heart. Lol:
…After arrest and trial, the Saints were subjected to a series of cruel tortures, in the vain hope of making them withdraw from their firm resolve. As a first punishment, the flogging was imposed on them. Since the executioners were unable to apostatize them, tied hands and feet they were thrown into the sea by a high ravine with a large boulder hanging from the neck, to facilitate their sinking. Miraculously, however, the ties melted and the holy brothers surfaced on the surface safely, welcomed to the shore by a crowd of festive faithful, thanking God for the extraordinary event. Arrested again, they underwent other painful trials. Led before a burning furnace, they were immersed in the fire tied with sturdy chains. The flames, however, did not consume those holy limbs, that they came out once again unscathed and the fear of the soldiers in custody was such as to force them to flee precipitously. The book of the “Martyrology” informs us that “Saints Cosma and Damiano were martyred five times”. In fact, they went through the tests of drowning, of the burning furnace, of stoning, of flagellation, to end their earthly days with martyrdom in the year 303. http://www.brattiro.net/SS%20COSMA%20E%20DAMIANO/la_vita_dei_santi_medici_cosma_e.htm
Here’s another interesting excerpt from Italy Magazine:
…They might be two of the lesser-known saints of the Roman Catholic Church, but “I Santi Medici,” the Doctor Saints Cosma and Damiano are two of the most celebrated within the Bel Paese. On 26 September, places such as Gaeta (south of Rome), Taranto (Puglia), and Sferracavallo (outside of Palermo) hold various celebrations for these patron saints of doctors, pharmacists and surgeons.
The twin brothers were born in present-day Syria and quickly became known for their healing ways for which they accepted no payment; for this refusal, they are often called the “Silverless” or “Moneyless.” While practicing medicine, they also shared their Catholic faith with patients and gained a wide following.
Just like San Gennaro of Naples, Sts. Cosmas and Damian became martyrs during Diocletian’s persecution of Christians around 300 A.D. The twins, though subjected to torture using fire and water and were even placed on crosses, wouldn’t recant their faith. When the two remained miraculously uninjured through the ordeals, Diocletian ordered their beheadings.
Their remains were buried in Syria, and churches in their honor were built in their home country as well as in Jerusalem, Egypt, Mesopotamia and in Rome by Pope Felix IV; the sixth-century Basilica dei Santi Cosma e Damiano holds several valuable mosaics, and the twin doctor saints are still revered throughout Italy and the world. https://www.italymagazine.com/featured-story/celebrating-patron-saints-physicians
Isn’t this fascinating stuff? I’m so grateful to Michael, one of my readers, who so graciously shared these wonderful vintage photos with me, and the rest of my readership! As the old saying goes, “every picture tells a story”. Well, in my opinion, the photos of the twin saints have so very much to tell! For instance, I wonder if the people that lived on East 117th Street, were primarily from the region of Puglia? I’m curious because, I read that these saints are venerated within that region of Italy. There are shrines for these saints in Madrid, Rome, and Bari, Italy. So, perhaps, there was a large population of East 117th Street, that immigrated from Bitonto, Bari, Puglia, Italy. Also, now I know the probable date of the East Harlem feast photos. We know the year, 1942, but now we know the date as well. It was Sunday, September 27th, which was the official feast date, according to the General Roman Calendar, pre-1970. Any thoughts?
Photos courtesy of Michael G. (I took the liberty to edit them a bit, just to give them some more definition.) The photographer that took these wonderful photos was Michael’s great uncle, Antonio Scelza, of 424 East 117th Street, in East Harlem. Thank you so much for sharing these amazing photos, Michael! Enjoy them!
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania is holding a collection of photos, files, and ephemera that belonged to Leonard Covello, the former principal of Benjamin Franklin High School. As kismet would have it, I stumbled upon an extremely rare, short film, filmed by Alexander Hammid, a Czech film director, and cinematographer. Technically, for all intents and purposes, this was a US government propaganda film. I’m not a fan of some of the statements that were made in this film, but it’s a fabulous “portal to the past”, and that’s good enough for me! This is a short film on American public education, intended for public use. It was filmed in 1945, in several New York City locations, with a special focus on Benjamin Franklin High School, located on Pleasant Avenue in East Harlem. I cropped the film to reflect what I would prefer to emphasize-which is daily community life in East Harlem. Oh, and you’re welcome! (wink) 🙂 If you wish to view this film in its entirety, here’s the direct link: https://digitallibrary.hsp.org/index.php/Detail/objects/13235
I must tell you that I have a personal collection of rare papers, photos, letters, and maps-some of which are shown in this film. Long story, but I’ll tell you a bit about how I acquired them. About 5 years ago, I received a phone call from the wife of a bookseller that I frequently bought from. I was asked if I would like to have the remainder of files from the archives of Leonard Covello. I was stunned! I had been searching for years, scouring the planet for anything remotely related to the East Harlem community, and in one phone call, I was given a fabulous gift! The book seller’s name is Michael Cordasco. Michael’s father, Francesco Cordasco, was a well known sociologist, Columbia graduate, and a close friend and colleague of Leonard Covello. When Leonard Covello died, Francesco was given Covello’s files, books, photos, etc. Most of the Covello collection went to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and, with sheer luck and serendipity, the rest went to yours truly! I will never forget that afternoon, when I received that phone call! I’ll post a video soon, talking more about how I acquired the collection. 🙂
I have been meaning to digitize my collection, for years now, but found it difficult to set aside the time to do so. Also, I’m a terrible procrastinator! Ha ha, there, I said it! 🙂 Now, due to the Covid-19 situation, I am not working outside my home, so I have the time to move forward with my digitization and preservation project. Aside from the Covello collection, I have a huge archive of “all things East Harlem” that I have been collecting since 2004. I also have a large photo library of vintage photos that were given to me by family and friends, and I have ephemera which relates to East Harlem as well. Oh, I haven’t mentioned the books, which I have been scouring the internet to find, for almost 15 years!
There’s so much for me to do. When I think about it, I get overwhelmed! Lol However, the clock is ticking, and I owe it to my readership, and to my East Harlem ancestry, to get the ball rolling! 🙂
So, watch this movie, and if you click through to my YouTube page, don’t forget to follow me! Oh, and if you are so inclined, watch my metaphysical videos on crystals, astrology, numerology, tarot, and all that fun stuff! Yes, I wear many hats! Lol 🙂
My paternal grandfather, Antimo, aka Tony Puca, is seen on the right, wearing the dark pants and shirt, with suspenders. He lived with his wife and 7 children, in his mother’s building, at 346 E. 110th Street. His son, my uncle Philly, is seen in the foreground. Philly was born in 1926, so I estimated that this photo was taken around 1936-38. My grandfather was a produce vendor. He sold fruits and vegetables on that spot, on the north side of E. 110th, and on 1st Avenue, between E. 110th and E. 111th. My dad told me that sometimes, they had the pushcart on the opposite corner, between E. 110th & E. 109th-on 1st Avenue. Notice the tomato plants in the foreground, on the right. Also, seen holding on to the iron fence of the Metropolitan Gas Company, later known as Consolidated Edison, is my grandfather’s friend, Vincenzo, who was also my uncle Philly’s godfather. The man in the middle is unknown to me, although it looks like he is wearing an apron, so maybe he was a food vendor, selling hot foods on a pushcart. Also, notice the man in the background, wearing a suit and hat. It looks like he was interested in buying the tomato plants. Well, I hope my grandfather had a fruitful day on that memorable day in Italian Harlem! 🙂
Note: If anyone recognizes the man wearing the light colored hat, and apron, standing in the middle of this photo, let me know!
The modern day photo is from 2016. I took my aunt Tessie to visit the old neighborhood. She hadn’t been back in over 50 years, so, believe me, that indeed was a memorable day! Today, as you can see from the modern photo, there is a brick wall placed further out where the iron fence once stood. There are no vendors to be seen. No vestiges of ancestral bygone days. No tomato plants. No old friends. Sadly, just an empty sidewalk. I’m sure that there are days when there is more foot traffic, but on that weekend spring day, in April of 2016, it was quiet.
P.S. Isn’t it cool that the large building in the background is still there? They have renovated it, but, as you can see, it is basically the same. Also, one more point…the street light from 1936 was a bit shorter in height than the one that is there now. I noticed that, as in the old photo, the top of the street light aligned with the 4th story of the large building in the background. Today, the street light that exists, lines up with the edge of the 6th story of that same building. Also, back in the day, that building was owned by the gas company. Today, it is a storage facility. Just a bit of trivia for you all! 🙂