Italian Community of Buffalo
and the Pan-American Exposition
Buffalo's "Little Italy"
the major ethnic groups populating Buffalo at the turn of the century,
the Italians were by far the newest immigrants to the city, with the first
large groups having arrived in the mid-1880's. A colony known as "Little
Italy" developed on the city's West Side, in the extreme southwest
corner of Main Street, extending from Niagara Street's northern tip westward
to the waterfront. Most residents of this crowded and often crime-ridden
area "Canal Zone" hailed from Sicilian coastal towns. Smaller
settlements of Italian immigrants developed on the east side and farther
north, although these areas were settled by natives of Basilicata, Calabria
and Campania. For the most part, these Italian enclaves were segregated
from Buffalo society, even from the other ethnic communities inhabiting
the city. Indeed, of the ethnic groups populating Buffalo during the late
19th and early 20th centuries, the Italians were the most residentially
segregated. While this fostered a sense of identity among Italians, it
also " facilitated their exclusion from Buffalo's wider social life.1
were not well represented in the police force or in the political
life of Buffalo. Supporting a family required considerable ingenuity,
and usually several wage-earners, so most young people were unable
to attend school beyond age 13. A few Italian immigrants had become
doctors and lawyers and entrepreneurs in Buffalo; the whole community
celebrated when became the first Italian graduate of University
at Buffalo Law School in 1901.
of Buffalos' Italians (69%)2 were
employed as laborers, in most cases seasonal outdoor laborers. Virginia
Yans-McLaughlan attributes this to the agrarian background of most
of the Italians who emmigrated to Buffalo from the southern portions
Horace O. (Orazio)
Italian men chose outdoor work, to which their cultural background
permitted a ready adjustment. ... A small upper class, 1 percent
of of working-age first-generation males, headed the occupational
hierarchy. Macaroni manufacturers, who exploited Buffalo's importance
as a grain port, and produce merchants, who profited from the city's
location near northwestern New York's fruit belt, were in this elite
group. ... Real estate dealers in this elite group sold homes in
the Italian quarter to Italians; doctors, lawyers, a few bankers
and businessmen served the expanding needs of the immigrant community
and established their reputations within it's confines. ... Little
Italy's most successful men owed their achievements to expertise
obtained abroad of to the tastes and needs of the ethnic community.
[During this period] very few distinguished themselves in the world
outside the ghetto." 3
Louis (or Luigi) Onetto was a prominent Buffalo businessman,
an importer and manufacturer of pasta. This advertisement
appeared in the July 13, 1901 edition of Il Corriere Italiano.
Whereas 87% of working-age males in Buffalo's Italian community worked
in the "lower echelons of the occupational hierarchy,"[s]killed
workerstailors, shoemakers, building tradesheaded this group.4
In fact, these were all trades locally associated with Italians. It is
not surprising then to find that Italian immigrants in Buffalo worked
as stonecutters, skilled craftsmen, and laborers in the construction of
the Pan-American Exposition.
Buffalo's Italians and the Pan-American Exposition
addition to their contributions in building the
Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo's Italians were represented by
the many who staffed the Midway concession, "Venice in America." The gondoliers
and mandolinists, some hired directly from Italy, some from the Italian
community in Buffalo, were a memorable part of the Exposition. "Venice
in America" highlighted many of the cultural treasures of Italy.
Some of the mandolinists
or guitarists employed at the Venice in America concession were: Antonio
Gugino, Giuseppe Leone, Ciro Laduca, Luigi Lomanto, Liborio Maggio, Giuseppe
Ortolani, Salvatore Ortolani, Giuseppe Vacanti.
following excerpt from Richard Barry's The Granduers of the Exposition,
certainly romanticized "Venice in America".
in American is the chief landing dock of the boats that make the most
delightful trip within the Exposition grounds: the canal route that
circumnavigates the rainbow city by day and the city of light by night.
The Venetian gondoliers chant their gay songs there, and many a carol
of midnight joy rings across the silent water. Not even the clearest,
softest note from the silvery throat of the most celebrated contralto
can equal the lustrous diapason of delicious melody that floats as
free and languorous from the lips of those Venetian boatmen and laughing
soubrettes as the song of the red-breasted thrush at daybreak. It
dies away in the night air like the memory of a dream while in the
distance, with soft lamps from the neighboring bazaars shedding their
soft radiance on the canal, and with boatloads of people gliding through
the luminous water to tinkling guitars and clattering castanets buxom
girls in blue dance and blithesome tarantella."5
Morgana was another Buffalo resident recruited to perform in "Venice
in America." Morgana was known as Baby (or Child) Patti during
her early years in Buffalo, after the famous singer Adelina Patti.
Contemporary articles claimed that she was from Italy, but most
souces state that she was born in Buffalo. Morgana sang locally
in Buffalo churches and schools from the age of four, but her performances
at the Pan-American Exposition presented her talents to a much larger
audience. She would go on to study in Italy and perform with such
greats as Enrico Caruso. See more about Nina Morgana in the Music
and Musicians at the Pan-American Exposition.
At the turn
of the century, Italian music, especially opera, popular songs and instrumental
music, was very popular in Buffalo and throughout the United States. Italian-American
bands including the Scinta band (Buffalo) and the Fanciulli band (New
York), played at the Exposition and were in high demand for concerts,
dances and social events. There were no microphones or electric amplifiers,
and recorded music on wax cylinders was only available to the wealthy.
Below are pictures of Buffalo's Scinta Band, directed by Serafino Scinta
and the University of Buffalo's 1901 Mandolin Club.
Il Corriere Italiano
Italians were a relatively new immigrant group in 1901 Buffalo, Italian
churches, mutual-aid organizations, cultural groups, and a newspaper,
IL Corriere Italiano, were thriving in the crowded Canal Zone.
IL Corriere Italiano
was probably Buffalo's most important Italian language newspaper. "It
was the first successful organization run by Italians designed to serve
the entire community."6
Magnani, editor of IL Corriere Italiano, also published a
book, La Cittá di Buffalo, N.Y., explaining and praising
Buffalo to potential immigrants from Italy. Magnani supplemented
his earnings by teaching and translating as seen in the advertisement
Corriere Italiano kept Buffalo's Italians informed of local happenings
as well as news from Italy. There were numerous articles on the Pan-American
Exposition, including a "Pan"-related poem. The paper reproduced
below announces the September 14, 1901 death of president William McKinley,
who was shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz at the Exposition.
Corriere Italiano reported the death
of President McKinley
this poem, written
by Upilio Nuti and was published in IL Corriere Italiano,
June 22, 1901. The translation below is courtesy of Serafino Pocari.
It is not clear whether or not Mr. Nuti was a resident of Buffalo
or one of the many people who came to the city to work at or visit
almost a year ago,
When I rushed here by train
One thing hit me right away
As I wandered around the town
That wandered about my mind
For months, both night and day
It seemed to be everywhere.
I gazed at
the Exposition's symbols
Reproduced in skillets and wondered
What mysterious connection united them?
I liked the
burden better than its carrier!
Oh Pan-American! I am grateful to know that in English
"Pan" means "frying pan" [padella].
June 19, 1901
1. Virginia Yans-McLaughlin. Family
and Community : Italian Immigrants in Buffalo, 1880-1930. Ithaca
: Cornell University Press, 1977, p.116.
2. Ibid., p. 45.
3. Ibid., p. 44.
4. Ibid., p. 46.
Barry. The Granduers of
the Exposition. Buffalo, NY : Robert Allen Reid, 1901.
6. Yans-McLaughlin, p. 123.
For additional information on the history of Italian Immigrants
in Buffalo see:
Yans-McLaughlin. Like the Fingers of the Hand:
the Family and Community Life of First-Generation Italian Americans in
Buffalo, New York, 1880-1930. Unpublished dissertation, State University
of New York at Buffalo, 1970.
Magnani. La Cítta di Buffalo, N.Y. : e
paesi circonvicini e le colonie Italiane. Buffalo,
N.Y. : Tipografie editrice Italiana, 1908.
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