Little Italy, in Holiday Garb, Observes the Festal Day 1903


"Little Italy" celebrated yesterday the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel with unusual enthusiasm on the upper east side. The feast is always a gala day with the Italians, and the fact that Pope Leo was still alive and the hope that he might survive his illness aroused the Italians to a pitch of religious ardor that took the form of rejoicing, making of the day and the night an occasion of the heartiest sort of merriment, accompanied with devout worship.

They celebrated in true Latin spirit, contributing with lavish generosity to the Church, with opened-handed hospitality entertaining their guests, and making the streets where they celebrated fairy lands from foreign shores. Firecrackers, bombs, and other noise makers added to the enthusiasm of the evening in the form of unceasing salutes.

In all the east side streets, from Ninety-sixth to One Hundred and Sixteenth Street, east of Third Avenue to the river front, the people decorated their houses yesterday with the American and the Italian flags, the Stars and Stripes largely predominating. For the evening entertainment the greater decoration was in the avenues, beginning at Second and running eastward, and in the side streets, starting at One hundred and Tenth Street and ending in the elaborate decorations of One Hundred and Fifteenth Street, leading to the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Arches of wire to which were attached colored globes, in which little candles burned for hours, forming festoons of light and groups of stars, stretched over the streets. Many of the houses on both sides of the streets had temporary platforms decorated with Chinese lanterns, displaying the red, white, and blue, and the red, white, and green of the American and the Italian flags. These balconies in the evening were filled with holiday-makers drinking Italian wines, throwing confetti and battering one another.

Every now and then the procession that had started early in the afternoons and which continued to march under New York's sky, more blue than that of Naples, until night, and through the night, with its illuminations and fireworks, would appear. The hands in the saloons there was a band in every one and they are not far apart would be silenced. Guarded by men in uniform, some of them wearing medals won in the wars at home in the army of Garibaldi, there was a white banner, brilliant with gold decorations and in its centre a painting of the Virgin and Child. It was flecked on either side with the flags of the United States and Italy.

Then there would come another, a red banner, with a painting of Our lady of Mount Carmel and the infant Jesus. Attached to this was a small fortune in paper currency, which the Devout pinned to it. They rushed from the restaurants, cafes, and balconies to contribute in this way to their Church. It grew heavy with its wealth, as safe as if in a steel vault, for no man could even imagine the sacrilege of stealing the treasure.

The streets leading to the church were lined with booths, where candles from the most diminutive in five feet in length were for sale. Thousands of them sold, and were carried lighted in the procession by the men, women and children following the banners and flags. They entered the church through the basement to the chapel, where the devout prayed and gave offerings in honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

The religious ceremonies and the popular feast continued late into the night. In the jostling crowds there was the best of good feeling, and little or no quarreling. It was necessary, however, in order to keep the multitude moving, so that there could be no possibility of congestion with its dangerous possibility of panic, to have ninety-six policemen on detail. They did their work with kindliness and consideration.

Four officers each from twenty-four precincts were assigned to this duty. Their hardest work was in seeing to it that the people should not stay too long in making their purchases at the booths, where they supplied themselves with long strings of Italian nuts and other dainties in the shape of cakes and fruit.

The sellers of medals were many and did a thriving business, their chief trade being in portraits of Pope Leo and Our Lady of Mount Carmel. There was also a large sale of buttons bearing pictures of George Washington, the Italians seeming to feel that they should make the holiday a time for the display of satisfaction with their adopted country. This was one of the noticeable features of an evening where Italians had gathered, as the police estimated, in numbers not less than 100,000.

At the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in One Hundred and Fifteenth Street, below First Avenue, there were special masses in the early day with prayers for the life of the Pope. There were no regular services in the afternoon and evening. At the early services there were many crippled and infirm, but Father Dolan, rector of the parish, said that he had heard of no special miracles. All of the other Roman Catholic Churches of the city had services in honor of the Saint, where prayers were offered for the Pope, but it was only in the Italian quarters that there were any special festivities to mark the day.


Website: The History
Article Name: Little Italy, in Holiday Garb, Observes the Festal Day 1903
Researcher/Transcriber Compiled by Miriam Medina


The New York Times July 17, 1903
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