Fire Mars A Festival During Italian Festival St. Rocco 1903

Fire played a dramatic and unexpected part yesterday in the great Italian Festival of St. Rocco, one of the patron saints of Italy, which is going on in Elizabeth Street. The splendid altar of Our Lady of Refuge, standing all tinsel and gold and crimson brocade near the corner of Broome and Elizabeth Streets, was caught up in a pillar of flame about 9:30 o'clock in the morning, and before the fire could be extinguished shorn of its glories, only the gilded cross upon the top remaining, with its lustre but slightly dimmed.

Three stories high the altar stood upon the west sidewalk against the wall of the corner tenement on Elizabeth Street, and some one lighting the votive candles at the base dropped a match, as it is supposed, and started the blaze. The wax figures of the Virgin and Child, which stood within the shrine, were rescued with some difficulty, and when by noon the blackened framework was partly hidden again with curtains of crimson and lace, these sacred figures were replaced.

As for the fire, it was all over in ten minutes. Policeman Hahn, on post near by, turned in a still alarm, and while many of the excited Italians were still invoking the Blessed Mother upon their knees, the firemen from around the corner put out the flames.

Around the singed and hastily repaired altar in the afternoon was a changing crowd of old and young, aged women, swarthy men, dark-eyed children. In a tray at the Virgin's feet were piles of coin most coppers and dollar bills were pinned to the votive candles. Upon one painted and gilded candle of immense size hung a photograph of the altar as it had been in the morning, and beside the photograph a notice in Italian that the picture was for sale for 15 cents for the benefit of a restoration fund. As the evening went on people brought and added to the forest of tapers already standing more candles of all shapes and sizes.

All along Elizabeth Street hung Italian and American flags, and across the roadway at intervals lamps of red, green, and white, the Italian colors, woven in fantastic arch designs: at longer intervals hung inscriptions thus: "Gran Festa di Maria SS. Del Soccorso." The shops were dressed in bunting, necklaces of chestnuts hung from the awning poles, and watermelons and children were everywhere.

On Mott Street also are decorations, especially on the block where old St. Patrick's Church stands. There is the altar of San Rocco, with a bandstand opposite, and the street is turned into an avenue of greenery by the expedient of planting cedar trees in barrels. If the flags on Elizabeth Street are more gorgeous and the lights more elaborate, this avenue of cedars on Mott Street is the most picturesque part of the Festa. Yesterday afternoon a band was playing in this avenue, and the side-walks were crowded.

One of the preliminary events in the celebration was a vast street parade last night through the streets of the down town Italian section. Between 8,000 and 10,000 persons, men, women, and children, immaculately attired, participated in the parade, and each person carried an immense candle along Elizabeth Street, south to Bayrd Street, west to Mott Street, thence north on Mott to Bleecker Street, to Elizabeth Street, and to the place from whence the parade started.

When night fell on the streets of the Italian section the tallow dips were lighted in myriad small glass tumblers, and these, suspended, from wires stretched across the streets, heightened the glistening effect. From windows and balconies curious shaped lanterns of Chinese pattern swung, and the breeze, while cooling through the early hours of the evening, was not strong enough to affect the lanterns.

Amid the festivities, joyous in a degree, there were no excessive shouting and laughter, and the police of the Elizabeth and Mulberry Street stations afterward reported that the parade was one of the most orderly in the Italian section in several years. Except for a subdued conversation, the procession moved quietly along the route of march.

The shrine, which brought up the rear of the parade, was too heavy for one group of men to carry throughout the long march, and men were constantly changing places in order to relieve those who had become tired of their burden. All along the line of march the people standing at the curb uncovered their heads when the pretty shrine passed.

On the march through Mott Street, north, the parade halted in front of the larger shrine and altar at 273. While the two Bands joined in tunes of the Italian fatherland the people enjoyed their first hearty cheering.

The second attempt at cheering was made when the shrine of the Virgin Mary was taken back to the shrine of St. Rocco on Elizabeth Street. The crush of people at this point to witness the closing exercises was so great that a platoon of police from the Mulberry Street Station was required to handle the crowd.

The ceremonies of this greatest of the festivals of the Italians in New York begun in earnest last night, will continue tonight and tomorrow night with illuminations, music, and processions between the Church of the Transfiguration, the Old Cathedral and the Church of Our Lady of Loretto, where are special services in honor of the Feast of the Assumption.

Celebrations are also being held in "Little Italy" in Harlem, where special masses are said in the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, but many of the Italians of Harlem will join with the larger colony in the larger Little Italy in the more brilliant ceremonies which centre around the fire-scarred altar of Our Lady of Refuge and that of St. Rocco.

Website: The History
Article Name: Fire Mars A Festival During Italian Festival St. Rocco 1903
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


The New York Times August 16, 1903.
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