Posted tagged ‘Biancucci’

Illuminating Madalena Carlomusto

June 18, 2017

On June 13, 2017, Illuminated History held its sixth annual cemetery tour in which volunteer actors portrayed residents of the burying ground.  The tour, which was sponsored by the Perinton Historical Society, took place at the Fairport Historical Museum.  St. Mary’s Cemetery in the town of Perinton, New York, was the focus of the tour.

In this Illuminated History series, each of the scripts are based on in depth historical research, although some creative license may have been taken.  Madalena Carlomusto was portrayed by MaryAnn Cady.

Madalena and Antonio Carlomusto with their daughters. Photo courtesy of Krista Biancucci Jamison.

Buona sera! I am Madelena Carlomusto, and since I am from Italy, I’ll greet you in Italian. I started out this life in Ponte Corvo, a small village about halfway between Rome and Naples in western Italy. My husband Antonio was from the same area. We moved to the United States in the early 1900s, living in California for a while before setting in Fairport in 1910. We opened a shoe and leather store on the corner of North Main Street and High Street, where we remained the rest of our lives. We rented space from Mr. Ryan, and Antonio made and repaired leather harnesses and all kinds of leather goods, as well as shoes.

But in the nineteen-teens, horses were on the way out, and cars were coming in. By 1915, we decided groceries might be a more profitable business, and we opened a grocery store. Over the next few years, we sold off all our shoe and harness stock, and then expanded to add a butcher’s counter.

Business was brisk, and we expanded several times after that, adding to our offerings. Eventually we bought the building from Mr. Ryan, and it was known as the Carlomusto block for many years.

In addition to helping with the store, which was a family affair, I raised our four daughters: Anna, Lucy, Margaret, and Ida, who were all born here. We walked to church at the Assumption of Our Lady, and the girls went to school. In fact, two of them went on to college. I was active at church, helping with the guilds and other projects. Our end of town was mostly recent immigrants, and many of our neighbors were Italian like us. If you came into the store, it sounded like the old country most of the time; everyone was speaking Italian. It was comforting to hear, and much easier than conversing in English for me. We Italians stuck together.

In fact, Antonio was a founding member of the San Sebastian Society, a mutual-aid society for Italian immigrants.

North Side Market. Photo courtesy of the Perinton Historical Society.

The group started in 1915, and members paid in dues. We also raised money by holding dances at the Osburn Hotel (Mr. Cary’s fine establishment), as well as pig roasts and other social events. Socializing was one of the things the group did best, helping the younger ones retain some of their Italian heritage while they were growing up American. The San Sebastian Society also provided food and shelter to those in need, especially recent immigrants, and medical and dental care to members.

Antonio was a savvy businessman. In addition to our store, he had other ventures, as well. He bought some land on Elm street in 1915 and developed 11 houses there. In the 1920s, he ran the Fairport Chevrolet dealership next to our store. He was very hardworking, and quite an entrepreneur. He had a lot of …how should I put it?…my Antonio was feisty. There’s no other way to describe him. He worked hard, and he fought for everything we ever had. Nobody handed us anything. As immigrants, many people looked down on us, and we had to grasp and struggle for everything at first. But we worked hard, and it paid off. There were setbacks, for sure, but overall, we did alright.

There are a few events that stand out in my mind as tough times, though. First, in 1916, Perinton voted to become a dry town, as Mr. Cary mentioned. Antonio was arrested in 1917, supposedly for selling liquor in our store. He was eventually cleared of the charge by a jury, but not before being hauled off by the police and having to post $500 in bail. That was a wild time.

Also, over the years we experience not one, but three, fires! Fires were not uncommon, as Mr. Cary mentioned, but I don’t know that anyone else in the village was beset by flames as often as we were. Our first fire was in 1917, when Mr. Ryan owned the building and lived on the second floor. We lived on the third floor, and our store, as well as others, were on the street level. During the night, we were all awakened to flames and smoke. The cause was not definitively determined, but seemed to come from either a stovepipe or a cigar left smoldering from an election board meeting held in Mr. Ryan’s apartment earlier that evening. Luckily, no one was injured, but we lost much of our clothing and furniture, to say nothing of the stock in the store. We did have some insurance, thank God, but it was a terrible, scary time. It was also a lot of work to clean up.

In December of 1932, just before Christmas, we had another fire. By this time, we owned the building, and there were ten of us living in the floors above the store. Smoke woke up one of the grandbabies about 4 o’clock in the morning. Antonio ran to fire box in his underwear to call the fire department. There was a lot of smoke, but no flames. The firemen thought they had it out and left, only to be called back several times the next day. Smoke kept starting up again, although we couldn’t tell exactly where it was coming from, as no flames were visible.

 Finally, to be sure they had all the flames out, they had to chop holes in the roof and walls. Between that, and the smoke and water damage, our building was a mess. We had to live with family and friends while we rebuilt. We reopened the store two weeks later, in early January, only to have another fire in February, this time in the chimney. All of this were so disheartening, but not nearly so disheartening as having the Rochester newspaper accuse my husband of arson! Of all the nerve. We didn’t start those fires, and we certainly wouldn’t have risked our lives, or those of our children and grandchildren, for some insurance money. It was ridiculous. However, the Fairport paper defended us in print, which took some of the sting out of the situation; at least our own town, and our own fire department (who ought to know, since they were the ones who fought the fires!), stood by us publicly and refuted there ridiculous charges.

San Sebastian Society. Photo courtesy of the Perinton Historical Society.

There were plenty of good times, as well, though. We were involved in the community. In addition to our church and the San Sebastian society, Antonio, or Tony, as most people called him, was part of the Fairport Businessman’s Group. As a merchant and businessman, he wanted the town to thrive and grow, and he did his part. He also wanted to make it a great place to live. In 1922, when the new library was being built on Perrin Street (where we are gathered right now), Antonio helped canvas the town to raise money for new books, to help make our library the modern, well-furnished establishment Fairport deserved.

By the 1950s, we were growing weary of the long hours the store required. Our daughter Anna and her husband, Thomas Biancucci, had been helping us run the store for many years, and we decided to turn it over to them completely. We lived out our golden years enjoying our family and this wonderful village. Antonio died in 1969, and I followed in 1973. We were buried in St. Mary’s, from our beloved Church of the Assumption of Our Lady, our parish for over 60 years.

Anna and Thomas ran the store well into the 1970s, until the big-chain grocery stores like Tops came in, making it hard for the Mom & Pop stores to survive. At one time, we had a dozen little markets in the village, like Messerino’s, Prinzivalli’s, and ours, and we were all making a living selling groceries, meat, and produce. But later, people preferred the bigger shops. I have fond memories of the store, though. I raised my daughters there, and Anna raised her four children there, taking care of them in the room behind the delicatessen counter, just as I did. Families lived, worked, and worshipped together when I was alive. We knew all of our customers by name. We also knew their preferences (and their business!). It’s a bygone era, to be sure.

Script by Suzanne Lee

(c) 2017 Suzanne Lee Personal Histories

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