The Ustica Connection

Newsletter of the Congregazione di San Bartolomeo Apostolo
Issue 10 - 01 November 2009

The Society Tomb
By Chris Caravella
The society burial tomb is one of the few tangible monuments that remain from the society's earliest years.   It was constructed between 1882 and 1884, and we know this from newspaper articles in the New Orleans Daily Picayune.   It's unfortunate that no society documents from this period are known to exist today but we always hope that one day someone might find some treasures tucked away in an attic.   Till then, it is one of our goals to recreate as much of the society history as we can from public sources.   Membership Chair, Larie Tedesco subscribes to an online newspaper service and has diligently searched for articles relating to Ustica and the society.   Larie found the article featured here concerning the dedication of the tomb on March 23, 1884. Other friends of the society like Sal Serio, president of the Cefalutana Society, give us documents relating to our society as they come across them in their own research.   Genealogical research also inevitably reveals snippets of history which add to the story of our past.

The tomb dedication article is rich in detail.   Ustica Connection Issue 9 (i) from 2004 used newspaper articles describing San Bartolomeo feast day celebrations to vividly recreate the Usticese Community of the 1880's in New Orleans. nbsp; The tomb dedication article reaffirms the leadership of the society in 1884, the location of the society hall on Melpomene St and the relationship of Rev Father Manoritta of St Anthony of Padua Church to the Usticese community. nbsp; The article, as well, raises new questions and creates more potential for research. nbsp; In particular, who is Mr Tranchina of the Excelsior Restaurant? nbsp; Everything we find leads to more research and more completely fills in the story of our community.

The Congregazione di San Bartolomeo Apostolo was formed in 1879 as an Italian benevolent society. nbsp; In these early days, long before the advent of life and health insurance companies, members could rely on the society for access to a medical doctor and protection for widows and orphans in the event of the death of the head of the household. nbsp; Burial in the society tomb was also a great benefit of membership. nbsp; The Funeral Home industry would not fully develop until the 1920's.   Before then, few people would plan ahead for their burials and most could not afford the cost of a plot in a cemetery.   The society again filled an important need for families and offered them the solace of remaining with their community even in death.   As we gather today for this "Giorno dei Morti" event (ii), I wonder if our ancestors held similar events at the tomb - another fertile avenue for research.

The tomb roster was published in the genealogical periodical, L'Heritage (iii) in 1984.  The actual book is known to exist but may have been lost to the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.   We can only hope that it was not destroyed and will one day be returned to the society.   Along with the tomb roster were letters written by the society sometime in early 1910's regarding the tomb having reached its capacity.   Before disturbing any of the remains in the tomb to make space for new burials, family members were offered the opportunity to move their loved ones' remains to a private plot.   Apparently space was made available in the tomb - probably more that once - because through the 125 years of the tomb's existence, 274 souls were laid to rest in the tomb of just 40 vaults.

1884, March 24
Page 1 Column 6

The Italian Society of St. Bartholomew.
Dedication of the Tomb in Metairie Cemetery.

La Congregazione é Fratellanza Italiana di San Bartolomeo Apostolo celebrated its fifth anniversary yesterday with much éclat and by dedicating their magnificent tomb just completed in the new Metairie Cemetery.

At 1 o’clock the association met at their hall, corner of Melpomene and Rampart streets, but owing to the inclement weather did not parade through the streets.   The association marched down to Canal Street, where they took the train and proceeded to the cemetery.

Headed by a band of music the members and guests entered the cemetery, and were soon standing with uncovered heads in front of the large and magnificent tomb.   The structure contains forty vaults and is surmounted by a statue of St. Bartholomew.   A large platform was erected in front of the tomb, decorated with the Italian and American flags.   The ceremonies were performed by the Rev. Father Manorita, of the Church of St. Anthony of Padua.   Mr. John Rochi was the orator of the day, and delivered an appropriate address in the Italian language.   Mr. Joseph Picone followed and also spoke eloquently in his native tongue.   The orators were loudly applauded.   Rev. Father Manorita then blessed the tomb, and the statue on the top thereof was unveiled amid hearty cheers from the many persons present.

The band then played the “Star Spangled Banner” and the society repaired to the Half-Way House, where a sumptuous repast prepared by Mr. Tranchina of the Excelsior Restaurant was served.   Toasts were offered and responded to by Judge Anthony Sambola, Messrs. Cypriani, Camiller, Sanders, Adelerto, Ramirez, Sidotti, Picone, Michel Venuta and Charles Papini, Jr., the secretary of the Italian Consul in this city.   The officers of the association are: John Bertucci, President; Fidel Barraco, Vice President; Joseph Picone, Recording Secretary; Felix Bertucci, Financial Secretary; John Basile, Treasurer; Ignatius Catanzaro, Grand Marshal; Joseph Bonanno, Calogero Cristina, Gaspar Lombardo, Joseph Cristina, Angel Fallo, Andrea Scaglione, Salvator Bertucci, aids to the Marshal.

Burials in the tomb taper off steeply in the 1920's.   This could be due to many reasons other than the obvious capacity issue.   This period of time saw the advent of the funeral home industry and surely more options were becoming available to families for their burial needs.   One also has to wonder if the decline in use of the tomb doesn't also correspond to a decline in the influence of the society.   The time period from 1910 to 1960 is very poorly documented but we do know that many society artifacts during this period were stowed in the attic of the Labit family (iv) and forgotten until the death of the family matriarch in 2002.   The rediscovery of the society processional banner resulted from that event.   Italy's alliance with fascist Germany during World War II also likely contributed to declining numbers in Italian societies.   Perhaps more research will shed light on whether this was indeed a period of decline for the society.

The last recorded burial in the society tomb was in 1962, even though burial in the tomb has always remained an option for members.   The society tomb remains a potent symbol of our heritage and one that we can gather at and reflect upon, as we do today on this "Giorno dei Morti".


i   All issues of Ustica Connection are available at the society website
ii   "Giorno dei Morti" All Soul's Day is actually celebrated on November 2
iii   L'Heritage, Journal of the St Bernard Genealogic Society , Vol 11 No 46 April 1989
iv   Family matriarch, Alice Biscotti Labit, was the great-grandaughter of Agostino Mazzola, first president of the society