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!
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! 🙂
About a month and a half ago, I checked my email inbox, and found this wonderful vintage photo. It made my day! Grazie mille, Paolo!
The man standing near the doorway is Antonino Carroccio. He is the paternal grandfather of Paul Carroccio, who was kind enough to share this fabulous vintage photo, circa 1928. The man sitting in the truck, was Morris Croot, a farmer from Holland Township, New Jersey.
Antonino was part owner of a family-run cheese shop, “Latticini” located at 311 East 107th St., N.Y.C. His father, Alfio Carroccio, came to America in 1890, and settled in a tenement building at 311 E. 107th Street. Subsequently, Alfio opened this latticini/cheese shop, selling mozzarella, ricotta, eggs, butter, milk, etc. After establishing this business in East Harlem’s Italian quarter, Alfio returned to Sicily around 1904, and left the business to his sons, Antonino, and Alfio, Jr.
Paul mentioned in his email to me, that the cheese was originally made locally in East Harlem, but the milk they bought to make the cheese, came from New Jersey. However, the family continued to do that until 1908, when they decided to rent a location in New Jersey (to make the cheese) nearby to where they bought the milk, for freshness sake. So began the shipping of cheese (in ice) to East Harlem! The cheese from the Carroccio’s Latticini shop was sold to local residents, Rao’s restaurant, on Pleasant Avenue, and many other establishments. Hey, come to think of it, I bet that my grandparents, and great-grandparents bought cheese and other items from this cheese shop! If only I could ask them! AIEH…thanks for the memories!
While interviewing my cousin Herby for family recollections, he mentioned that our grandfather, Antimo (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!
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. Anyway, when the second child…
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In December of 2007, I was 3 years into my “whirling dervish” obsession of gaining every drop of family history knowledge that I could garner. It became self-evident that my ancestral journey had begun, and so I conceived the idea of creating a website to memorialize, and forever “etch” into existence, the information that I would render from this extensive research. I named my website “Pathway to My Ancestry,” and so began the painstaking steps to build the site on the then existing “Live Spaces” platform. A few years into building the site, live spaces was drawing to closure, thereby necessitating me to find another platform to maintain my website. Hence, I found WordPress, and so here I am, and hopefully, will continue to be! In the interim, I had to transfer whatever was transferable to the new website, and decided to change the title of my blog to “Italian Harlem.”
Consequently, my ancestral journey transitioned from a personal family history journey, to a much broader sense of consciousness…that of the desire for public awareness of a now defunct Italian community in New York City. This “microcosm” of an urban neighborhood was “developed” in the 1870’s, with the building of tenement housing, and was originally inhabited by Italian immigrants, primarily male laborers. I discovered a broader sense of the “pulse” of this Italian community, through the voices of my father, his brothers, sisters, cousins, and others who once lived in East Harlem, when it was referred to by its residents as “Harlem.” As I listened to the stories of a bygone time, resounding with carefree thoughts of the “good old days,” it occurred to me that there was much more to this old neighborhood than the stories that were resonating in my mind. I was right! The posts that I have shared, and will share, within this blog, are a testament to the true nature, and fabric of a place that really mattered to a multitude of Italian immigrants and their families.
As I am drawing near to the 11th year anniversary of what has become a nostalgic endeavor of “genealogical/anthropological/sociological/historical” research of “Ye Olde Italian Harlem,” I must tell you that this historical journey has been, and will continue to be an intrinsic part of my life here on this planet. My interest in preserving the memory of Italian Harlem will never falter. My research is a true passion of mine, one of many passions that I am fortunate enough to have in my life, including first, and foremost, my beautiful children, a loving and devoted husband, and my adorable rescue Shih Tzu furbaby “Romeo.” I also embrace my love of photography, and my fascination for the metaphysical sciences!
If there was one person that instilled in me an interest in the history of Italian Harlem, it was my father. My dad was born in 1924 in a tenement apartment on East 110th Street, right next to St. Ann’s Church. He was one of 7 children. His dad, Anthony (Tony) was a produce shop owner, who also sold fruits and vegetables on a pushcart on First Avenue. My dad’s mom, Catherine (Katie) was a seamstress, church secretary, playwright/producer, milliner,(hatmaker) homemaker, realtor, entrepreneur…a true Renaissance woman. I learned so much about my grandparents, and great grandparents, thanks to the amazing memory of my father, Albert, and his siblings. I am forever grateful to them for sharing with me, through their youthful eyes, their life and times in the old neighborhood.
My father, who was “larger than life,” passed away 3 days before his 89th birthday, in January of 2013. I dedicate this website to the memory of my wonderful and charismatic father, who was known by many as “Uncle Al.” Although he had hoped to live to “a hun 10,” (as he would often say,) his bright spirit and memory lives on throughout this weblog and within the lives of those who knew, and very much loved him.
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!
In the Street (1948). Directed and edited by Helen Levitt. Cinematography by renowned NYC Photographer, James Agee, Helen Levitt, Janice Loeb. Re-edited version rereleased by Levitt in 1952 with musical score by Arthur Kleiner.