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Fostering the Heritage of Abruzzo & Molise

The Abruzzo and Molise Heritage Society of the Washington, D.C. area was established in June 2000 by a small group of Abruzzesi and Molisani (natives and descendants of immigrants) who eventually settled in the Washington, D.C. area.

Although the community of Italians and Italian-Americans in the Washington D.C. area is rather modest, it has a relatively large number of Abruzzesi and Molisani who recognized the need to foster the cultural heritage of these two regions specifically, as well as Italy broadly.

The Society welcomes anyone who has an interest in preserving and sharing in the rich traditions and values that are unique to Abruzzo, Molise, and to Italy in general to join!

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LATEST POSTS

  • In Full Swing - AMHS Pushes On With Activities in Late Winter and Early Spring Historian Leads Discussion of History of Italians in Louisiana By Nancy DeSanti, 1st VP-Programs In one of our series of online events, AMHS members on February 27, 2022, participated in a very informative  virtual talk by historian and author Alan Gauthreaux on his book, “Italians in Louisiana:  History, Heritage and Tradition.” In introducing the speaker, AMHS Vice President Lynn Sorbara mentioned that the story of Italians in New Orleans has personal meaning for her, as the maternal side of her family settled in  New Orleans from their home in Sicily.  Lynn noted that our speaker had a varied background—as a high school and college teacher and in law enforcement as a correctional officer.  He did a great deal of research, and the basis of his book began as his master’s thesis. Gauthreaux asked:  What does a historian with a French name know about Italians in Louisiana? And he answered his own question by saying the subject is of interest to anyone growing up in Louisiana, adding that he “gained weight” doing his research interviewing Italian families which included sharing meals. He noted that he used the words Italian and Sicilian interchangeably, while noting that many of the immigrants to Louisiana came from Sicily, or parts of Southern Italy.  Taxation, poor soil conditions and plant disease were among the reasons that they came.  Italians, who were known for working in a hot, humid climate, were invited to come after the Civil War due to the perceived shortage of labor after the abolition of slavery.   The waves of immigration were greatest during the period 1900-1910. Gauthreaux noted that Italians did not hold the same prejudices as the native Caucasians and generally had good relationships with African Americans.  This did not always sit well with the white Louisianans.  He told us the fascinating story about David Hennessy, the New Orleans police chief who was assassinated in 1890.  He notes that the saga was the subject of a 1992 HBO movie, “Vendetta.”  Gauthreaux said research shows that Hennessy was “one of the dirtiest cops in Louisiana history,” and the real story was about mafia clans and the elites of New Orleans that were fighting over control of the docks—a lucrative business.  As a result, a number of Italians were rounded up; a trial was held, and even after their acquittals, they were not released from custody but were sent back to the jail, which Gauthreaux said “was probably a set-up.”  A mob of 10,000 formed, stormed the jail, and the sheriff’s deputies let some of the crowd members in.  The mob lynched 11 Italian prisoners, in what is the largest mass lynching in American history.  They were hung from trees, dressed in their Sunday best.  This shocking event almost led to a war between Italy and the United States, which Gauthreaux said Italy likely would have won due to its superior navy.  In the end, $25,000 was paid to the families of the victims.  In 2019, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell formally apologized and announced plans for a monument near the old jail. In those days, Gauthreaux noted, “extra-legal justice” happened frequently in the South and law enforcement was likely “in on it.”  The powers-that-be went after Italians they didn’t like and got away with it.  For example, in another parish, six Italians were executed for a single murder in 1921, and three Italians were lynched near New Orleans in Tallulah in 1899, in a dispute over a goat Finally, in 1936, Robert Mestri became the first Italian mayor of New Orleans.  As Italians assimilated, one became a state supreme court justice; another was the famous singer Louie Prima.  And Nick LaRocca was the first person to record a jazz number.  Lynn mentioned that she is related to Nick LaRocca on her mother’s side.  She added  that her great uncles in Louisiana had a strawberry farm that was very successful, so in thanksgiving to their good fortune, they built a chapel on their property.  She said the Ku Klux Klan burned it down, and after the chapel was rebuilt, burned it down again.  Her great uncles had a sit-down with the Klan in their barn, which suffice it to say, did not end well for the Klan members and her relatives were not bothered again. There was a lively discussion of the prejudices experienced not only by the Italians but also other ethnic groups, including Eastern European, Jewish and Native American.  Gauthreaux’s book “Italians in Louisiana:  History, Heritage and Tradition.” Is available on Amazon, as is his other book, “Dark Bayou” on famous Louisiana homicides. Many thanks to Lynn for arranging the talk and to our speaker Alan Gauthraux for a fascinating and informative discussion. Carla Gambescia Tests Audience’s Knowledge of Italian Culture By Nancy DeSanti, 1st VP-Programs Our first AMHS in-person luncheon program of the year was a very successful event that drew 80 people to hear Carla Gambescia, an expert on Italian culture who gave an interesting talk involving audience participation.  The event was held at Casa Italiana on March 27, 2022, and it was co-sponsored by the Casa Italiana Sociocultural Center and the Casa Italiana Language School. Carla gave us a trivia quiz to test our knowledge.  She said not to worry — if we got 5 right out of 10, she said we were doing well.    And the program was a good opportunity to discover new fun facts and intriguing insights.  Carla is the author of “La Dolce Vita University:  An Unconventional Guide to Italian Culture from A to Z,” which is a light-hearted series of mini-essays on everything from Arlecchino to Zanni.  You will be able to find the answers to the trivia questions in Carla’s book, which is available on Amazon.com. She was an engaging speaker, and along the way, we learned all kinds of fun facts, such as that Caterina de Medici, after marrying a French prince and later becoming Queen of France, introduced the French not only to the fork, to the use of herbs, and to broccoli, peas and artichokes, but also to high heels (How cool is that?). Our knowledge was tested by Carla’s questions and the audience was asked to raise their hand to show their answer as she went through her PowerPoint presentation. Among the questions were: Which was both prohibited by the Church and condemned by Venice? (a) bocce (b) perfume (c) coffee (d) Casanova’s memoirs. Which group of Venetians were not permitted to leave the Venetian lagoon on penalty of death? (a) shipbuilders (b) doctors during times of plague (c) glass blowers (d) those whose name were in the Golden Book. Before “Bologna” became a famous sauce, did it refer to (a) a noble breed of dog (b) a Renaissance hat style (c) an intricate style of wood carving (d) a military medieval maneuver. Carla, who lives in Chappaqua outside New York City, owned an Italian restaurant which she ran for 13 years.  She also had a successful career in marketing and advertising, which she said made her especially interested in Italy’s “Third Golden Age”—after the Roman Empire and the Renaissance—namely, how post-war Italy morphed from the face of Il Duce to the face of La Dolce Vita and conquered the world through passion and excellence in the realms of film, fashion and design, food and wine.  Her family’s roots are in Sulmona in Abruzzo, and also Basilicata, and she traces her love for all things Italian to her parents.  Her mother loved the Italian Renaissance Masters and her father introduced her to Dante when she was 8 years old.  She said her love of Italy grew when 25 years ago, she went on a bicycle trip in Sicily, where she said, “Something magical happened—I rediscovered my roots and I fell deeply in love with the land of my ancestors.”  That experience led her to take dozens of trips all over Italy.  Being very adventurous, she has hiked or biked in all 20 regions of Italy.  Carla said her next trip to Italy will be a walking tour from Lucca to Rome.  After giving her talk and meeting some of our members, Carla said she feels part of the “Casa Italiana famiglia.”  We hope she will visit us again.  We would like to thank Maria D’Andrea-Yothers for arranging for the lunch from A Modo Mio, all those who helped serve the lunch, and all those who donated raffle prizes and bought tickets. Members Take ‘Field Trip’ to Sistine Chapel Exhibit, Share Meal By Carmine James Spellane On April 2, some 20 AMHS members ventured to Tyson’s Corner Center in Virginia to see a special exhibit “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.”  This unique exhibit used modern technology to allow the visitor to see the art of the Sistine Chapel from the close-up perspective of its creator, Michelangelo. The excursion was organized by AMHS Board Member Chris Renneker who facilitated the purchase of a group discount rate for tickets. Visitors described the exhibit as “magnificent, moving and informative.” Following their virtual visit to one of the world’s great masterpieces, the group met for lunch at the Italian Oven in McLean for a shared meal and conviviality.  After a cold Covid winter, the outing was a tonic for all who participated.  The Society will explore holding more such events in the near future. May/June 2022
  • AMHS Membership - By Lynn Sorbara, 2nd Vice President-Membership New Members We warmly welcome the following new members: Stephen D’Alessio, Donna M. DeBlasio, William DiGiovanni, Marco Dorsett, Marcella Finelli, Erika Pontarelli, Mary Ann Re, Janice Troilo, and Aubrey White. Birthdays Compleanni a MaggioJoseph Scafetta, Jr., May 10; Amy Antonelli, May 15; Kathlyn Nudi, May 16; Marcella Finelli, May 17; Robert Woolley, May 19; Peter Bell, May 20; Rocco Del Monaco, Giulia Michonski and Abby Cuviello, May 21; Aldo D’Ottavio and Cora Williams, May 22; Cristina Scalzitti, Jill Werhane and John Dunkle, May 25; Ennio DiTullio and Richard Leiobold, May 29; and Renato Orcino, May 30 Compleanni a GiugnoJudy Maimone D’Ambrosi, June 2; Rev. Frank Donio, June 3; Joseph Lupo and Jo-Ann Pilardi, June 9; Alberto Paolantonio and Robert Tobias, June 10; Ruth Bergman, June 14; Harry Piccariello and Joan Galles, June 24; Margaret Uglow, June 25; Omero Sabatini, June 26; Barbara Bernero and Rita Orcino, June 28; and Helen Antonelli Free, Laura Gentile and Jason Quaglia, June 30. Anniversaries Anniversari a MaggioFrancesco & Anna Isgro, May 19; and Mario & Carmen Ciccone, May 27. Ordination of Rev. John V. DiBacco Jr., May 13. Anniversari a GiugnoJoseph & Betsy Ruzzi, June 4; Omero & Belinda Sabatini, June 6; Tony & Judy D’Ambrosi, June 22; Anthony & Elodia D’Onofrio, June 25; Lucio & Edvige D’Andrea, June 27; and Roger & Joan Galles, June 30. Membership Information Category                          # of PersonsAssociate (Couple)   4  X  2    =    8Associate (Individual)             =  42General (Couple)     49 X  2    =  98General (Individual)                =  92Honorary                                =  11Scholarship                             =   2Student                                   =    8Total                                        = 261 May/June 2022
  • May 15th Program To Feature Panel Of Italian Food Experts and Chefs - Our first in-person program of the year will feature Carla Gambescia, author of “La Dolce Vita University: An Unconventional Guide to Italian Culture from A to Z.” The luncheon meeting will take place at Casa Italiana on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at 1:00 p.m.
  • Boxing Great Rocky Marciano Had Abruzzo Roots - By Joseph “Sonny” Scafetta, Jr. Rocco Francis Marchegiano was born in Brockton, Massachusetts, on September 1, 1923.  He was named after his paternal grandfather.  Rocco’s father, Pierino, had emigrated in 1912 from the town of Ripa Teatina (population 4,050 in the 2018 Census) in the province of Chieti in the region of Abruzzo.  His mother, Pasqualina Picciuto, had emigrated from the town of San Bartolomeo in Galdo (population 4,884 in the 2015 Census) in the province of Benevento in the region of Campania.  Rocco was the oldest of six children.  As a boy, Rocco worked out on homemade weight lifting equipment and used a stuffed mail bag hung from a tree branch in his back yard as a heavy punching bag.  Rocco attended Brockton High School where he played baseball and football. He dropped out after tenth grade to work as a chute man on a delivery truck for an ice and coal firm. He later worked as a ditch digger, a railroad track layer, and a shoemaker.  In March 1943 at age 19, he was drafted into the U.S. Army.  After boot camp, he was transferred to Swansea, Wales, where he helped to ferry supplies across the English Channel to Normandy. While awaiting discharge, he represented the Army and won the 1946 Amateur Armed Forces Boxing Tournament.  He was honorably discharged at Fort Lewis, Washington, in March 1946.  In March 1947, he tried out for a farm team of the Chicago Cubs in Fayetteville, North Carolina, but did not make the roster.  He then returned to Brockton where he began to train as a boxer with Allie Colombo.  Rocco was five feet, 10½ inches tall, and was a heavyweight.  His handler suggested that he shorten his full name to Rocky Mack, but Rocco rejected the surname in favor of the Italian Marciano.  During the Spring of 1948, he competed in the Olympic tryouts held in the Boston Garden.  Although he knocked out his first opponent, Rocky hurt his hands during the bout and was forced to withdraw. Rocky began fighting as a pro on July 12, 1948.  He won his first 16 bouts by knockouts, all before the 5th round, including nine in the 1st round.  In his 17th fight, Rocky went the distance and defeated Don Mogard (17-9-1) in a scheduled ten-rounder for his first unanimous decision.  Rocky won his next three fights by knockouts.  He won his 21st fight by his second unanimous decision over Ted Lowry (58-48-9).  After four more knockouts, Rocky won his only split decision against undefeated Roland La Starza (37-0-0).   The 27-year-old Rocky then took a break to marry 22-year-old Barbara Cousins in 1950.  They had two children, Mary Anne (1952-2011) and Rocco Kevin.  After returning to the ring, Rocky scored three more knockouts before his 30th bout which he won by a third unanimous decision in a rematch against Lowry who was then (61-56-10).  Four more knockouts were followed by his 35th fight which was his fourth unanimous decision in a bout with Willis “Red” Applegate (11-14-2).  After two more knockouts, the 28-year-old Rocky took on the 37-year-old former champ, Joe Louis, whose record was (66-2-0).  Rocky won a technical knockout in the 8th of their scheduled ten-round match.  Louis retired after the fight. After four more knockouts, Rocky was finally given a shot at the world title.  His 43rd bout was fought against the current heavyweight champ, 38-year-old “Jersey” Joe Walcott (51-16-2), in Philadelphia on September 23, 1952.  Although Rocky was knocked down in the first round, he rallied to knock out Walcott in the 13th round of a scheduled 15-round fight to become the new world champion.  On May 15, 1953, the boxers held a rematch in Chicago where Rocky knocked out Walcott in the first round.  Walcott retired after the fight.  Rocky’s 45th bout was held on September 24, 1953, at the Polo Grounds in New York City where he earned a technical knockout against his former nemesis, Roland La Starza, in the 11th round of a scheduled 15-round fight.  Rocky’s next title defense was against the 33-year-old former champ, Ezzard Charles (85-10-1), who went the distance in a 15-round match in Yankee Stadium in New York City on June 17, 1954.  Charles was the only fighter to last 15 rounds against Rocky, who won a unanimous decision.  Exactly three months later, Rocky won a rematch against Charles in the same ring by a knockout in the 8th round.  On May 16, 1955, Rocky defended his title in San Francisco against the 27-year-old European and British champion, Don Cockrell (66-11-1).  Rocky won a technical knockout when the fight was stopped in the 9th round.  Rocky’s last title defense was against the 38-year-old Archie Moore (149-19-8) on September 21, 1955, back in Yankee Stadium.  Although Rocky was knocked down in the 2nd round, he knocked out his challenger in the 9th round.  Rocky then announced his retirement on April 27, 1956, at age 32.  He finished his career with a record of 49-0-0.  He is the only undefeated heavyweight champion and his knockout-to-win percentage of 87.8% is the highest in heavyweight boxing history. After retirement, Rocky moved his family to Wilton Manors, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and hosted a weekly boxing show on television.  He also became a vice president of Papa Luigi Spaghetti Dens which franchised restaurants out of an office in San Francisco.  On August 31, 1969, he visited the home of former race car driver, Andy Granatelli, who was then the chief executive officer of a motor fuel additive company named STP based in Chicago.  After dinner, Rocky left to fly with a friend, Frank Farrell, 28, to Des Moines, Iowa, on a private plane piloted by Glenn Betz.  It was dark and bad weather set in, so Betz tried to land the plane at a small airfield outside Newton, Iowa, but hit a tall tree two miles short of the runway and crashed.  All three were killed on impact.  Rocky was one day short of his 46th birthday.  The National Transportation Safety Board blamed the accident on pilot error. Rocky was interred in a crypt at Forest Lawn Memorial Cemetery in Fort Lauderdale.  His wife died from lung cancer five years later at the age of 46 and was entombed next to him.  In 1977, The Ring magazine ranked Rocky as the greatest Italian-American boxer.  Rocky was also inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and the World Boxing Hall of Fame.  A bronze statue of Rocky was unveiled on the grounds of Brockton High School on September 23, 2012, the 60th anniversary of his winning the world heavyweight title. A bronze statue was also erected in his father’s home town of Ripa Teatina. Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocky_Marciano https://eniwikipedia.org/wiki/Ripa_Teatina https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Bartolomeo_in_Galdo https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Louis https://en.wikipedia/wiki/Jersey_Joe_Walcott https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ezzard_Charles https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Cockell https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archie_Moore May/June 2022
  • Carapelle Calvisio - Province of L’Aquila, Region of Abruzzo
  • Siamo Una Famiglia - More AMHS Members recall their roots in Bugnara by Nancy DeSanti Readers may recall that the March/April Notiziario featured an article on the Abruzzese town of Bugnara, recounting how AMHS member Willy Meaux recently bought a farmhouse and some land in his grandfather’s hometown so he and his wife, Mary Bernard, can retire there someday.  From the front door of his farmhouse, Willy can see the beautiful Gran Sasso. But Willy is not the only AMHS member with ties to the town.  Mario Marinucci’s late father, Cristino, as well as his father’s brothers, Rosario and Vince (Mario’s uncles), and his father’s sisters, Elia and Gilda (Mario’s aunts), are from the town. And Gino Marinucci said his connection to Bugnara is that his home is two miles from the paese. From his bedroom window, he said he can see the entire town crested on the side of the mountain west southwest of him. He noted that Bugnara is roughly 5 miles from Sulmona and he lives about halfway down the road which the Bugnaresi use to go to Sulmona, a much bigger city. Gino noted that his first cousins, Cristino (Mario’s father) and Gilda (Mario’s aunt), lived next door to him.  Gino said the house was like a duplex and he had to walk past their front door to access his house, commenting, “You can’t get much closer than that.” Last but not least, AMHS Past President Omero Sabatini said that his mother, Carmela, when she was still single, had worked as a midwife at Bugnara. There, he said, she was known as ostetrica condotta (He noted that in Italy, an obstetrician is called ostetrico or ostetrica).  Omero said, “Given the Italian tendency to inflate titles, a midwife is often called ostetrica, even though in the old days she only had two years of specialized training.” Omero added that condotta means that she was an employee of the municipality. As such, he said she could charge no fee to women on relief (sull’elenco dei poveri), but charged a fee determined by law to all other women; the amount varied depending on the economic resources of the mother. Omero noted that in the dialect of some parts of Abruzzo, babies are not delivered. They are picked up. Omero said that many people had told him, “Your mother picked me up.”  He said his mother always spoke with nostalgia about her years in Bugnara. Being young, single and beautiful, Carmela, according to Omero, was courted by every eligible man in town, but she married one from her own village of Secinaro and said goodbye to Bugnara. “Thank God,” says Omero,” or I would not be on this earth.”  May/June 2022
  • GWU’s Italian Society Holds First Annual Spring Gala Italiana - On March 5, GWU’s Societa’ di Cultura Italiana held its first annual Spring Gala with great success.  This event represented an achievement in many different areas of my life and in the history of the club.  Covid-19 forced us online between March 2020 and September 2021, but this school year, we were finally able to begin in person events with restrictions. The gala was our first major event since February 2020 and we had the largest turnout our club has ever had during my four years at GW with over 130 people in attendance. We could not have imagined this event going any better and are so happy that everyone enjoyed the food from local Italian restaurants and socializing throughout the evening.
  • A Message from the President - Dear members and friends: We are now well into spring and, after a slow start, the weather has finally come along too. Baseball, after resolution of its labor issues, has resumed and has helped to make the season look familiar. I hope that you are enjoying it. Our Society welcomed the spring with its first in-person event of the year. It took place on March 27 at Casa Italiana and was co-sponsored by the Casa Italiana Sociocultural Center (CISC) and the Casa Italiana Language School (CILS). It featured as guest speaker the author and tour guide Carla Gambescia, who spoke on the “A to Z of Italian Culture.” Carla gave an entertaining and informative presentation in which those in attendance could test their knowledge on some lesser-known aspects of Italian culture.  She also had available copies of her book “La Dolce Vita University: An Unconventional Guide to Italian Culture from A to Z”, which she graciously signed for any buyer interested. Before the presentation, attendees, numbering over 80, enjoyed an outstanding meal prepared by the restaurant A Modo Mio. One of our notable guests, Fr. Sergio Dall’Agnese, pastor of Holy Rosary Church (HRC), delivered a special blessing over the food that very much fit the occasion and added a special touch to the meal and to the day. Other special guests included: Fr. Peter Paul Polo of HRC; Maria Fusco, Director of Education at the Italian Embassy; Vicki Cooper, who has been instrumental in setting up funding for a new scholarship that will be paired with the AMHS traditional scholarships, and Mary Ann Re, a new member of the CISC Board of Directors. The event was also the occasion of our first spring merchandise sale, in which members, friends and guests were able to purchase totes, hats, shirts, aprons, and cookbooks with the AMHS logo. We sold over $200 worth of merchandise – our most successful sale to date. A little later this year our online shop, accessible from our website, will be up and running, with well over 100 products available for purchase. Stay tuned for more information. On April 3, a group of AMHS members and friends traveled to Tysons Corner Center, Virginia to view a Michelangelo Sistine Chapel Exhibition. The exhibition used state-of-the-art technology to give viewers the same close-in perspective that Michelangelo would have had and that travelers to the Vatican simply cannot get. After enjoying this rare opportunity, the group went to lunch at the Italian Oven restaurant in McLean. Mark your calendars for our next in-person event, which will take place at 1 p.m. on May 15 at Casa Italiana. Amy Riolo, a best-selling author, chef, TV personality and culinary expert, will be our guest speaker and will moderate a panel discussion of well-known chefs and Italian food industry notables. If you are interested in Italian cuisine, Italian cooking and Italian products, you should reserve your spot for what will be a very interesting afternoon. The AMHS Scholarship Committee has finished its evaluation of this year’s applicants for the academic year 2022-2023 scholarships. The Society will announce the winners in a later edition of this Notiziario. These scholarships are funded exclusively through your donations, and we thank you for your generosity and commitment to the mission of preserving our Italian heritage and passing on an appreciation of it to those coming after us. Have a wonderful spring. Regards, Ray LaVerghetta May/June 2022
  • Cercemaggiore - Province of Campobasso, Region of Molise
  • Festa di San Giuseppe and its Famous Zeppole Pastries - In Italy, Father’s Day is celebrated on the Festa di San Giuseppe which honors St. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. And, such a celebration it is. On March 19, the day of the feast, street processions are held with marchers dressed in red, special church services are conducted, elaborate displays laden with traditional foods are assembled and community spirit fills the air.

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WITH THANKS TO ROMEO SABATINI AND RYAN TURNER

Romeo Sabatini
Romeo Sabatini
Frank Antonelli
Frank Antonelli

The Society dedicates its website to Romeo Sabatini, who worked tirelessly for over 10 years developing and maintaining our original site; and to Ryan A. Turner who, in honor of his grandmother Rosemarie Antonelli Turner (whose father Frank emigrated from Abruzzo), gifted the Society with funds to develop this new site. The Society is grateful for Romeo’s time and for Ryan’s generosity, which bridge the past with the future for the benefit of all AMHS members and friends.

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