On the Inside Looking Out: My America, a Voice from Italian Harlem’s Past…

Asked if she liked America, an Italian homeworker replied in 1911: “Not much, not much. In my country, people cook out-of doors, do the wash out-of-doors, tailor out-of-doors, make macaroni out-of-doors. And my people laugh, laugh all the time. In America, is “sopra, sopra!” [up, up, with a gesture of going upstairs]. Many people, one house; work, work all the time. Good money but no good air.” 

Source: Elizabeth C. Watson, “Home Work in the Tenements,” Survey, 25 (1910), 772

In hindsight, perhaps, the above statement could have been spoken by the hard-working Italian woman portrayed in this iconic, social journalistic photo. Her name was Mary Mauro. Mary lived in Italian East Harlem, in a 5 story “old-law” walk-up tenement, along with her family in 1911. By some “synchronistic serendipity,” Mary was one of the “homeworkers” chosen by sociologist and photographer, Lewis Wickes Hine, to be portrayed in his photographic documentary series, on immigrants in the United States… in this particular case, child labor and tenement homework. In December of 1911, Mary lived at 309 East 110th Street, adjacent to the Metropolitan Gas Light Company’s massive twin gas tanks. (Predecessor of Consolidated Edison.) Coincidentally, for my family history research, My paternal great grandmother, Maria Altieri, her husband, Andrea, and their 5 children lived in the same building, later on in time, during the 1920’s. It’s highly possible that this woman is the grandmother-in-law of my father’s first cousin, Kiki Aiello Mauro, as her husband, Louie Mauro hailed from this Italian enclave. (Note to self: I really need to ask my Aiello cousins if there is a connection here.) 🙂

Upshot: The old adage, “snap a picture, it lasts longer!”, is so true in Mary Mauro’s case, as she and her family are forever etched in the virtual superhighway of our existence! Thank you, Mr. Lewis Wickes Hine! God Bless our ancestral heritage…God Bless America!

New York. December 1911. “5 p.m. Mrs. Mary Mauro, 309 E. 110th St., 2nd floor. Family works on feathers (sewing them together for use as a hat trimming). Make $2.25 a week. In vacation two or three times as much. Victoria, 8 yrs. Angelina 10 yrs. (a neighbor). Frorandi 10 yrs. Maggie 11 yrs. All work except two boys against wall. Father is street cleaner and has steady job. Girls work until 7 or 8 p.m. Once Maggie worked until 10 p.m.”

New York. December 1911. “5 p.m. Mrs. Mary Mauro, 309 E. 110th St., 2nd floor. Family works on feathers (sewing them together for use as a hat trimming). Make $2.25 a week. In vacation two or three times as much. Victoria, 8 yrs. Angelina 10 yrs. (a neighbor). Frorandi 10 yrs. Maggie 11 yrs. All work except two boys against wall. Father is street cleaner and has steady job. Girls work until 7 or 8 p.m. Once Maggie worked until 10 p.m.”

mauro-family-1911-color.png zeldave2014 wp (2)Colored photo source: https://zeldave2014.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/mauro-family-1911-color.png

309 East 110th Street- March 29th 2015

Note: 309 East 110th Street, East Harlem. (309’s “stoop” is on the far right of this photo.) The gas tanks are long gone. I believe they were taken down in the 1970’s. Photo by Angela Puco


Festa di Monte Carmela, by Daniel Celentano 1934

Festa di Monte Carmela, by Daniel Celentano 1934


Children around Sprinkler, Harlem by Todd Webb / American Art

1985.38.15 001 1985.38.15 001Children around Sprinkler, Harlem by Todd Webb / American Art.

Source: http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artwork/?id=26922


Well/Privy Diggers Come to East Harlem to search for Vintage Trash!

…Mid-December we returned to East Harlem and realized the catalyzing Mansard structure sat on a double width lot. The side of the yard that once contained the privy was covered with old crumbly concrete and under that lay the filled-in basement of an early 1900s apartment house.A block away a row of circa 1860 houses awaits the most recent sprawl. During the late 1870s the homes along the length of Pleasant Avenue became part of the first Little Italy in New York City. All but forgotten today the area once contained the largest number of Italian and Sicilian immigrants in the city and is still home to the famous “Rao’s Restaurant” (frequented by movie stars, pop artists, writers and other noteworthy figures). Yet, running into someone of Italian birth living there today is as unlikely as locating an intact privy. While canvassing the area we met at least one person, a septuagenarian who had grown up in Italy. We probed in his garden for a privy and later learned that his house had not come into existence until the tenement explosion of the 1880s; long after indoor plumbing had become standard there.

Situated within earshot of traffic on the FDR Drive, running along the Harlem River just south of the Triborough Bridge, is a cul-de-sac one block from Pleasant Avenue. It retains a 19th century feel with its cobblestones and old homes. We connected with two artists walking a dog. Fey and Rio were not convinced at first about a dig claiming the potential to produce antique bottles but we mentioned cleaning up, and their eyes widened. There was a large above ground pool which had been drained and left standing, and, there was a good chance the entire house was coming down soon anyway. We agreed to help dismantle the pool and drag it out to the curb whether we found anything or not.

Pre-plumbing buildings in East Harlem.
Backyard without pool.
A sidewalk and concrete curb were laid over the privy and a small tree grew from the center. We decided to continue the excavation anyway, entering, exiting, and bucketing material from one tight corner. One wall was missing and the entire box was in shambles, disturbed by several large tree roots over the decades. Reaching the far side of the hole, about six feet back, was difficult due to the elfin space being navigated. While Rio, a photographer, documented the dig, the sun was setting and there were still three feet to go. A luminous quarter moon rose over the Harlem River, heading directly for the flickering skyline but we still needed more light. An extension cord and a droplight were rummaged from the basement.
Our first find after rigging the light was an early pharmacy bottle, Miller & Co. 245 Third Avenue COR. OF 20th Street NY from nearly one hundred blocks south of our location. Then, an R.R.R. Radway & Co. New York, a tan and white ginger beer, a whiskey bottle (Whitney Glass Works), two Dr Porter New York, a W. Ellis & Co. Phil and a darning egg.As the evening wore on the wind picked up and a winter storm saturated the sky, then more bottles began appearing. Despite the cold weather we were sweating and the formidable crisscrossing roots from earlier were now above us. Among the discoveries were a pontiled, gasoline-puce, B & P N.Y. LYONS POWDER, a pontiled, GUERNSEY’S BALM NEW YORK PATENT, an umbrella ink, three beers and numerous examples of generic pontiled medicine and utility bottles. Returning to fill in the hole we discovered a D. L. Ormsby beer bottle, a wine bottle and a six sided ointment jar that had eluded us the previous night.

A rectangular vault at night.
The odyssey involved seven different digs, and investigating a dozen other yards which turned out to be barren. The first with its abundance of opium vials through the most recent, a cistern made of stone, took place between October and February. This elusive period in Harlem’s history revealed many of the same bottles, wares and artifacts which have been discovered in middle-class neighborhoods around the five boroughs and elsewhere. In a blaze of activity we caught a unique glimpse of Harlem, then and now.
 

An assortment of mouth-blown bottles from Harlem privies, pontiled and smooth base examples, ranging from 1850s to 1875.

http://www.themanhattanwelldiggers.com/harlem.html


A Sunny Day in Vintage East Harlem: November 9, 1919

1919 nov 9

East 119th Street and Second Avenue, looking toward the Third Avenue elevated.
Photo Source: NYPL Digital Gallery.


An East Harlem Scene from “The Godfather”: Sonny Corleone(James Caan) beats up his brother-in-law Carlo(Gianni Russo.)

The Godfather Movie:Click on this link to view YouTube video-  Sonny Corleone(James Caan) beats up his brother-in-law Carlo(Gianni Russo.)

In this scene from The Godfather, James Caan seeks revenge for the unmerciful beating of his pregnant sister, Connie Rizzi. He heads for East Harlem’s E. 118th Street, to brutally beat up his wife-beating brother-in-law Carlo Rizzi(played by Gianni Russo.)

The scene was filmed on the 500 block of East 118th Street. My family and I lived there before this movie was filmed. The stoop that Carlo(wearing an orange and tan suit) is standing on-before he attempts to run from crazed Sonny, is 503 East 118th Street.

 Note of Trivia: Most of the principal photography took place from March 29, 1971 to August 6, 1971, although a scene with Pacino and Keaton was shot in the autumn. There were a total of 77 days of shooting, fewer than the 83 for which the production had budgeted. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Godfather#Production)

This particular scene was filmed in the summer of 1971.(My educated guess, based on the filming timeline, and the fact that the children are being soaked by the “johnny pump.”) Ahun 18 Gianni Russo503 E. 118 The Godfather


STORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face of New York

Signed copies now available!STORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face of New YorkSTORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New YorkSTORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York: ZIG ZAG RecordsSTORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York: VESUVIO BakerySTORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York: SUBWAY INN
STORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York: ALBANESE Meats & PoultrySTORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York: RALPH'S Discount CitySTORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York: M & G DINERSTORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York: MANHATTAN FURRIERSTORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York: LONG ISLAND RestaurantSTORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York: REYNOLD'S Bar
STORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York: ITALIAN AMERICAN GROCERYSTORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York: IDEAL HosierySTORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York: DITMAS Kosher Meats & PoultrySTORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York: KATY'S Candy StoreSTORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York: IDEAL DinettesSTORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York: D. D'AURIA and Sons Pork Store
STORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York: CIRCO'S Pastry ShopSTORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York: CHEYENNE DinerSTORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York: CAFFE CAPRISTORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York: BRAND'S LiquorsSTORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York: ASCIONE'S PharmacySTORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face Of New York: PUBLIC Fish Market

STORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face of New York, a set by James and Karla Murray Photography on Flickr.

Can you spot the East Harlem storefronts?(Albeit long gone.) Bet some of you can! Have fun!