COVER STORY: Festival a tradition for generations

Last Updated on July 1, 2012 by Editor

The statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is carried through the streets of East Utica.


It’s a lot of money. $10,000.

That’s a great prize to win if you bought a $20 Buona Fortuna ticket for this year’s Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament Parish Festival July 13, 14 and 15.

But if you were around in 1948 and had 50 cents to spend on a raffle ticket at what was called the Mount Carmel Bazaar, you had a chance to win something really special — a car.

Yes, a car. A spanking, brand new 1949 Plymouth Deluxe four-door sedan. No, it didn’t have a moon roof, six-disc CD player or air conditioning (unless you opened the windows), but it was a car.

It sold for $1,850, about $18,000 in today’s dollars.

(By the way, in case you win the $10,000 this year and want to know how much that was worth in 1948, you would have about $96,000 to spend. Times, they are a changin’.)

Parishioners in the early 1940s walk up the steps to the church on Catherine Street during the procession in honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Betty Arcuri has been around for a while (we won’t say how long). She remembers that 1948 festival because it didn’t take place at Mount Carmel.

“I can especially recall the festival in 1948, which was held at St. Louis Gonzaga Church, perhaps because they had more space at the time,” she said. “There was a Popularity Contest held and tickets were sold for 50 cents each.

“The contest involved voting for a Queen, Junior Queen and King. The contestants who sold the most tickets won the title. The winners would receive a wrist watch to the Queen and Junior Queen, and a motion picture projector for the King. The ticket-winner prizes included a 1949 Plymouth Deluxe four-door sedan as first prize, a television set as second prize and $100 in cash for third prize. What a deal!”

The candidates for Queen that year were: Mary Ann Tringo, Joan Pucine, Joann Rossi, Helene Farina, Norma Gumina and Janet Barone.

Those vying for Junior Queen were: Lucille Scalzo, Joan Trino, Louise Columbro, Sandra DeFazio, Mary LoCash and Camelita Torchia.

While there were 12 young ladies in the running, only four lads sought to be King: Joseph Mango, Frank Longo Minozzi, Anthony Comito and Philip Spartano.

Who won? Sorry, we don’t know.

Rosemarie Chiffy, who also has been around awhile (again, we won’t say how long), vividly remembers the 1948 bazaar, but not in a fond fashion.

“It was not very successful,” she said. “It rained on Saturday – what mess! Carrying everything up there was not feasible.”

No one seems to know when the festival first began or how long it’s been going on, but however long it has been around, there always is one constant – pizza fritta.

“Pizza fritta was always the big seller,” Rosemarie said.

It’s still a best-seller every year, and that never will change. What did change was the amount of work to prepare it.

“Pizza fritta workers didn’t have all the equipment they have now,” Rosemarie said. “The ladies mixed the dough by hand for many a year. There was no kitchen upstairs (it was in the basement of the school). We had to use old pitchers up and down the stairs. But everyone had fun.”

What has made the festival special is that it celebrates the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the patroness of our parish.

“July 16 was a most important date in the parish when I was a kid,” Rosemarie said. “The celebration was centered on the feast day. The bazaar was chaired by various societies, which were plentiful at the time – Mount Carmel Men’s, Mount Carmel Ladies, Adoration, Holy Name, etc.

“For many years, I’m talking about the ’80s and ’90s, chairpeople of the festival held a prayer service before opening night and on Sunday morning. Chair people would lead the procession.”

Betty agrees that the Blessed Mother is, and always has been, at the heart of the celebration.

“My Mom, as other women in the parish, religiously made their novena to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which culminated in a candlelight procession followed by a visit to the festival grounds and perhaps a tasty sausage-and-pepper sandwich.

On the front steps of the church in the 1980s.

“My memories of the Mount Carmel Parish Festival go back to a time when it was the highlight of our summer,” Betty said. “There weren’t many families who went on vacations to theme parks and such, so the festival was our summer treat. My Dad, who was the Parish Sexton at the time, was fully involved in the preparations and we children looked forward to a weekend of food and fun.”

Long before Turning Stone Resort Casino arrived on the scene, the festival was the place to be – it had a gambling tent.

Marge Hanrahan, (yes, she’s been around for a while but not as long as Betty and Rosemarie), recalls when her father (Joe Laria) used to have the make the rounds of the grounds picking up cash, and he wasn’t taking any chances.

“My Dad loved to hunt, so, of course, he had pistols and rifle permits always updated,” she said. “When it came for a pickup, my Dad always went to the gambling tent (yes, gambling). In that tent were Pete Paleschi, George LaNeve and Peter DeSarro.

“Of course, my Dad had his shoulder holster on unclipped with the gun ready in case he needed it. I would get so nervous, fearing he would shoot off his foot. This went on for years.”

And Joe’s armed protection didn’t stop there.

“One year, (my brother) Anthony was on finance, and after the festival they went to Oneida National Bank to make the night deposit drop,” Marge remembered “ Anthony drove the car and my Dad went shotgun. He got out of the car and escorted Anthony to the drop deposit.”

Fortunately, Joe’s gun never left the holster.

Rosemarie never toted a gun, but her memories of the festival hit the target.

“I remember my Uncle Bill Rizzo ran a blanket stand,” she said. “They even had a chicken stand. There were always two bands – the Red Band (La Banda Rosa) and the White Band, because they wore white uniforms.

“The bazaar moved to its present site when Father Berton purchased the land adjacent to the school in the 1950s. More stands were included along with the Mount Carmel Dramatic Guild, which ran bingo each night on the grounds.

“We had terrific prizes – toasters, radios, bicycles, dishes and a variety of household items. We ran bingo for at least seven years.”
Young or old, the festival still is a special time.

“As children, we looked forward to seeing an uncle, aunt or cousin who would give us some change to play games, enjoy a ride or buy whatever food we favored,” Betty said. “Sometimes, we overdid it and had to go home and drink some ‘brioschi’ (that was our Italian Alka-Seltzer).

“Times have changed, but the tradition of our parish festival remains. Now, my children bring their children, and I look forward to giving them money to enjoy the treats that children enjoy today.

“It is so good to know that some traditions do continue, and I still look forward to the festival each year where I get to see so many faces of the past who I’m sure feel as I do in connecting to our special days gone by.”