Little Italy's Fete Day 1900

"Little Italy," which is that portion of Harlem comprised between East One Hundred and Third and One Hundred and Sixth Streets, was out in gala attire yesterday, which was the day of the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. A crowd of Italians estimated variously at from 40,000 to 75,000 besieged the shrine in the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, at One Hundred and Fifteenth Street and Avenue A, from 4 o'clock in the morning until late at night, bringing with them as offerings candles of all sizes, money, jewelry, wax figures, and in one case a pair of spectacles.

Every house inhabited by Italians in Harlem was decorated with gay blue and pink hangings, with American and Italian flags and with green branches of trees. In almost every house was a little altar with a statuette of the Madonna on it, and every street in the neighborhood was crowded from morning until night with Italians of all ages and conditions, every man, woman, and child carrying some offering to lay at the feet of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, "the Lady Patroness of Naples."

Many Camp in the Street

The Italians who visited the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel yesterday came from all over the eastern portions of the country. Many came from Boston, Chicago, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Albany, and thousands of others came from Brooklyn and the various small towns in New Jersey and Long island. Although every Italian house in the neighborhood was thrown open to the pilgrims, hundreds of the Italians from other cities who arrived in New York the day before were forced to spend the night on the street and in nooks and corners along the river front. They did so contentedly, however, and when the whole of "Little Italy" was awakened at the beginning of the feast by the booming of giant firecrackers early yesterday morning, they arose, smoothed out their crumpled fineries, and started out to enjoy the day.

Long before daylight every house had poured out its quota to join the throng, and when the sun rose the streets were ablaze with bright colors. Every Italian had donned the best clothes his or her wardrobe contained and the general effect was dazzling. Bright red and yellow handkerchiefs covered the heads of the women, while their dresses were in most instances of pink or green silk. Many of the men wore little velvet coats, and carried canes wound round and round with red, white and blue ribbons. There were girls dressed from head to foot in white or yellow, with long veils hanging from their heads; young women, almost all of them carrying babies, and old women wearing bright-colored shawls and handkerchiefs.

The Street Stalls

Every street was lined on both sides with stalls, at which candles, fruit, Italian pastry, long strings of smoked Italian chestnuts and hazelnuts, and buttons bearing the image of the Madonna were sold. Italian wines, beer, and Italian cigars, which are rather long and have something that looks like a straw sticking out of one end, were for sale in almost every other store. Men peddling song books, pamphlets containing the history of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Italian, and fruits of various kinds did a good business, and an enterprising east sider who appeared with two wagonloads of tin cans had disposed of them all in almost half an hour to the Italians, who afterward had them filled with beer in the neighboring saloons.

In spite of the great throng, the police had no difficulty in maintaining order, Capt. Haughey, with two Sergeants, three Roundsmen-and fifty patrolmen, were scattered throughout "Little Italy," but they had practically nothing to do. Every Italian was in good humor, there were no fights, and not a single Italian was arrested.

The Church was thrown open at 4 o'clock yesterday morning, and mass was celebrated every half hour until 11 o'clock, when high mass was celebrated. In the meantime the doors to the basement of the church were thrown open, and the immense concourse of italians who were waiting outside, laden with offerings, were admitted. All day long they poured through the church, and by nightfall the altar was almost hidden by the piles of candles, jewelry, and other offerings which had been deposited before it.

Madonna's Picture For All

Father Dolan, assisted by six priests attached to the church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and ten Italian priests from churches in the neighboring towns, had charge of the services. Each Italian received a picture of the Madonna in a leather case. All pressed it reverently to their lips.

The candles, which formed the greater part of the offerings, were of all sizes, from the little yellow candles which the babies dropped on the altar from their chubby hands, to a great candle eight feet tall and ten inches in diameter, which a devout pilgrim carried all the way from Boston. The intense heat yesterday melted many of these candles before their bearers could force their way through the crowd into the church, and there were piles and piles of them twisted into all sorts of grotesque shapes lying before the altar.

Many of the Italians, instead of giving candles, took the gold earrings from their cars and deposited them before the altar with a muttered prayer. Others gave money, and still others gave waxen images of hands or feet, and sometimes of faces. These were votive offerings.

The seven Italian societies, including the congregation of Mount Carmel, paraded through the streets preceded by bands in the morning. The congregation of Mount Carmel, which is the largest of the societies, came last. Its white banner, which was carried by four men, was preceded by eight little girls carrying burning candles.

Pin Gifts to the Banner

The parade moved very slowly, for every few minutes it was stopped by throngs of devotees who pinned offerings, generally dollar bills or small articles of jewelry, on the banner of Our Lady of Carmel. When it was returned to the church again it was covered with these gifts, which were stripped from it and added to the pile in front of the altar.

The parade was repeated again in the afternoon, when the regular ceremonies of the day were finished.

After that, the Italians, having made their offerings, devoted themselves entirely to the festivities.

Several Central Office detectives were scattered through the crowd all day, and at nightfall twenty-seven men declared by the police to be pickpockets were locked up in the East One Hundred and Fourth Street Station.

The East One Hundred and Fourth Street Police Station was besieged yesterday afternoon and night by Italians looking for lost children. There were over forty inquiries. Up to midnight last night a dozen of the wanderers had been brought to the station, where they were claimed by their parents.

Website: The History
Article Name: Little Italy's Fete Day 1900
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


The New York Times July 17, 1900
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