Wednesday, May 29, 2013

August, 1942, New York

Half a year after the U.S. declared war on Japan and Germany, Marjory Collins documented daily lives of New Yorkers in photographs taken for the Office of War Information. She had joined the OWI photographic unit as it transitioned from Depression-era service within the Farm Security Administration into a relatively minor component of military strategy to defeat the Axis powers. Under Joseph Goebbels the German propaganda machine was well-heeled and effective. The U.S. Government had less faith in this form of psychological warfare and was far from single-minded in its commitment to it. Within the country, the Domestic Branch of the OWI was, by design, severely restricted in its operations.[1] The Overseas Branch, in which Collins worked, was initially hampered by resistance from military leaders whose training did not lead them to see its potential value and, like the Domestic Branch but to a lesser extent, it was attacked by President Roosevelt's political opponents.[2] An article in the issue of Life magazine for March 22, 1943, told its readers that the Axis powers had "perfected great, intricate, and effective propaganda machines" while Americans, "although they are the world's masters of advertising and publicity," had been slow to master this "necessary weapon of political warfare."[3]

The Overseas Branch never matched the high production values of German propaganda and aimed instead for a level of transparent honesty to carry its message. It attempted to contrast what was then known as the American way of life with life under the authoritarian regimes of its enemies. OWI director Elmer Davis said the Overseas Branch would tell the world "that we are coming, that we are going to win, and that in the long run everybody will be better off because we won."[4] An Overseas Branch communication explained one aspect of this goal: "As the long-range directive implies, one of our chief duties is to convince people of the world of the 'overwhelming power and good faith of this country'. By informing peoples of other countries fully concerning the nature of this country and of its people, sympathy, trust and friendliness will grow".[5]

The Overseas Branch targeted people in the homelands and occupied territories of its enemies and also the citizens of allied countries and newly liberated ones. Its broadcasts and publications gave a view of America that was diametrically opposed to the propaganda with which the Nazi Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda flooded Europe, but it did not do so in a blatantly propagandistic manner. To the contrary, for the most part it showed the United States as a complex society, rich in cultural variety. Rather than ignoring or denying the existence of racism, poverty, and sexual inequality, it tended to depict members of minority groups, people who were destitute, and women in the workplace as having a pluck and determination which, while not overcoming the unjust treatment they received, showed them to have a strength of character which typified the best of the American Way.[6]

In addition to films, broadcasts, and books, the Overseas Branch published photo pamphlets and magazines. One of the magazines, called Victory, was modeled after Life (and its Nazi counterpart, Signal) in editions for the UK and other allies and re-conquered European countries. Comparing Victory to Signal, the author of the article in Life wrote:
The Chief U.S. foreign propaganda magazine Victory, over which a Congressional economy storm blew up last month, is but a pallid imitation of the German Signal. Victory has less than half the circulation of Signal, contains no terrific propaganda sock like its Nazi counterpart. The reason for this difference in wallop can be seen in ... examples of U.S. ... and Axis propaganda... The OWI sticks to facts, shuns exaggerations, tries to bring the peoples of the world messages about our leaders, our war aims, our growing armed might. The Axis harangues, scoffs, falsifies, attempts to divide.[7]
The article gave these two sets of examples to show the difference in the quality of U.S. and enemy propaganda. At left American; at right Axis.

Here are representative covers of Victory and Signal from 1942-1945.

The Photographic Unit to which Marjory Collins belonged produced images for Victory and other Overseas Branch publications. In carrying out this work her boss, Roy Stryker, assigned her to document the everyday aspects of life. Where other OWI photographers would cover mobilization and show America's industrial might, she recorded street scenes, ordinary home life, and festive occasions. In keeping with Stryker's approach to photography of the Depression and New Deal era these photos are not self-consciously inspirational but show strength through diversity and a steadfast dedication to the pursuit, if not anywhere near complete attainment, of democratic ideals.

There were critics of the Overseas Branch who maintained that photos showing the daily lives of ordinary Americans would alienate Europeans whose lives had been much more greatly disrupted by war. It was said Americans would seem pampered, arrogant, and unsympathetic. Other critics said the Overseas Branch photos would seem to confirm enemy propaganda if they showed the seamy underside of American culture. OWI's photographers evaded both these perils by showing that American culture was too diverse to be unattainably well-to-do and by deploying images of the "seamy-underside" without bitterness or despair.

Collins was particularly good at showing all stripes of Americans, including those whose standard of living was low and life challenges correspondingly high. Her shots of New York City in August, 1942, show Americans in immigrant neighborhoods — Italian Americans, as I showed in a recent post, as well as Jews and Chinese. They also show civilians mingling with military personnel: waiting for trains in Pennsylvania station and knocking back a few in local bars. Her subjects are hardly uniformly prosperous or free from care and one image shows workers at the lowest end of the scale: pin boys at a bowling alley. There's nothing gung-ho about the images but their underlying message is not pacific. Rather than a slick patriotism, they imply that Americans, in all their diversity, had adapted to war mobilization and were carrying on with their lives. They tend to show the strength of the home front — its cheerful optimism and quiet determination — as underpinning for America's massive military effort.

Here are some representative photos from the many that Marjory Collins took for the Overseas Branch of OWI in New York City, August, 1942. All come from collections in the Library of Congress.

The photos show the unglamorous ordinariness of daily life, but they're not casual snapshots. Collins chose her subjects and managed her compositions with considerable skill. The long shots rarely have a single subject and the subjects balance the composition nicely. Her technical expertise shows particularly in the photos where she used single-source flash. Except where flash is used for fill lighting, these images lack much sense of depth and Collins used this two-dimensionalness to advantage. She also broke the cardinal rule of flash photography by allowing the flash itself to be part of the image. It's clear from the frequency with which she did this that it was intended; she wanted the viewer to aware of her presence on the other side of the lens.

{Caption: Jewish printer in a small shop on Broom Street}

{Caption: Jewish weaving shop on Broom Street}

{Caption: Sidewalk merchant in the Jewish section}

{Caption: Fish store in the Jewish section}

{Caption: Fish store in the Jewish section}

{Caption: Chinaman counting on an abacus in a Chinese grocery store in Chinatown}

{Caption: Chinese-American girl playing hopscotch with American friends outside her home in Flatbush}

{Caption: Waiting Room, Pennsylvania Station}



{Caption: Waiting Room, Pennsylvania Station}



{Caption: Waiting for the trains at the Pennsylvania railroad Station}

{Caption: Waiting for trains at the Pennsylvania railroad station}


{Caption: Waiting for trains at the Pennsylvania railroad station}

{Caption: Waiting for trains at the Pennsylvania railroad station}




{Caption: Waiting for trains at the Pennsylvania railroad station}

{Caption: Irish-American bartender serving beer to British sailors in a Third Avenue bar in the "Forties"}

{Caption: O'Reilly's bar on Third Avenue in the "Fifties"}

{Caption: Boys who pick up pins and roll back balls in a Broadway bowling alley playing cards between shifts}



[1] American citizens and their political leaders viewed domestic propaganda as undemocratic. Republican politicians also feared that the president would use its power as an electoral weapon and southern Democrats feared that it would undermine racial segregation in the Jim Crow states. Encyclopedia of twentieth-century photography, Volume 1 edited by Lynne Warren (CRC Press, 2006); Books As Weapons: Propaganda, Publishing, and the Battle for Global Markets by John Hench (Cornell University Press, 2010)

[2] LIFE (magazine), March 22, 1943, Vol. 14, No. 12 (Chicago, Ill., Time Inc)

[3] Books As Weapons: Propaganda, Publishing, and the Battle for Global Markets by John Hench (Cornell University Press, 2010)

[4] Same source

[5] Interpreting National Identity in Time of War: Competing Views in U.S. Office of War Information (OWI) Photography, 1940-1945

[6] This was in line with an Executive Order that President Roosevelt issued on June 25, 1941, for full participation of people of every race, creed, color, and national origin in the national defense program. -- Marjory Collins (1912-1985), a Biographical Essay, by Beverly W. Brannan, Curator of Photography, Prints & Photographs Division, 2009. Last revised: April 2009. The OWI showed resilience in the face of adversity as the Farm Services Administration done the during the Depression years. However both agencies had to avoid alienating powerful interests that opposed government measures aimed at ameliorating racism, poverty, and sexual inequality. They focussed on victims, not predators, and their audiences must perforce infer the one from the other.

[7] LIFE (magazine), March 22, 1943, Vol. 14, No. 12 (Chicago, Ill., Time Inc)


Some sources:

Preparing for Victory. The U.S. Office of War Information Overseas Branch’s illustrated magazines in the Netherlands and the foundations for the American Century, 1944-1945 by Marja Roholl in European Journal of American Studies, European Association for American Studies, Special issue, 2012, Wars and New Beginnings in American History, Document 10

Office of War Information in Encyclopedia of twentieth-century photography: A-F : index, Volume 1 edited by Lynne Warren (CRC Press, 2006)

Books As Weapons: Propaganda, Publishing, and the Battle for Global Markets in the Era of World War II by John Hench (Cornell University Press, 2010)

The Office of War Information on the Library of Congress web site

United States Office of War Information on Wikipedia

WWII Propaganda by Allison Christensen, Lens of War Magazine

World War II Era Propaganda and American Literati, Liberal Interventionism Revisited: American Freedom as Soft Propaganda, by Jonathan Vincent on

Marjory Collins; Women Photographers of the FSA and OWI by Sharon Rodriguez on

Marjory Collins (1912-1985), a Biographical Essay, by Beverly W. Brannan, Curator of Photography, Prints & Photographs Division, 2009. Last revised: April 2009.

LIFE (magazine), March 22, 1943, Vol. 14, No. 12 (Chicago, Ill., Time Inc)

Davis Riddle Taber Attach on Overseas Pamphlets; Take Little Shipping Space; Not Circulated in U.S.A. by Gordon H. Cole in PM (newspaper, New York) March 7, 1943.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

San Rocco

In the summer of 1942 residents of New York City's Mott Street held a parade to honor their newly-inducted boys in uniform. For the date of this event they chose the feast day of a favorite saint, and the celebration of soldiers and saint blended nicely together.

The saint was Rocco, venerated for miraculous cures. His feast day, August 16, falls directly after one of the most important feasts of the liturgical year: the Feast of the Assumption, a celebration of the mother of Jesus. On those two days the faithful make petitions to the one for relief of distress and the other for return to good health.

His story is more legend than history. The son of an aristocrat, San Rocco vowed poverty, distributed his wealth among people who were destitute, and made a pilgrimage from his home in Montpelier, France, to holy places in Italy. On the way he succored many plague victims and became victim of that disease himself. He was expelled by officials of the town where he was ministering when stricken and dragged himself to a nearby wood where he made a rude shelter of boughs and leaves. In that place he was supplied with water by a spring which miraculously arose and with bread by a dog which also licked his plague wounds, healing them. When he had regained his health he turned toward home. On entering his home town dressed as a simple pilgrim he was thrown in jail as a vagrant and suspected spy. His family connection would easily have secured his release had he made it known, but he preferred anonymity and died on August 16, 1378, while still a prisoner.

At the last quarter of the nineteenth century when large numbers of Italian immigrants came to Mulberry and Mott Streets and surrounding blocks they brought with them the practice of celebrating San Rocco's feast day. The Irish, whom the Italians displaced, did not celebrate saints' days with street festivals and the leaders of New York's Roman Catholic churches tried to discourage these spontaneous demonstrations. In 1888 Michael Corrigan, the Archbishop of New York, banned the Italian faithful from holding any public religious procession or festa. Regardless, the new immigrants set up temporary private shrines in side streets and alleyways. Eventually the Holy See responded to requests for Italian clergy to augment or replace the largely Irish ones of the neighborhood. The New York hierarchy continued to condemn street festivals, but in 1889 the rector of the city's first "Italian" church, St. Joachim's, made an arrangement by which an independent organization could put on a festa for San Rocco and thereafter the celebration became a regular summer event.

At about this time Jacob Riis took these photos of a back-alley shrine to San Rocco.

The alley itself was Bandits' Roost which Riis also captured in this famous image.

Writing a decade later Riis said the shrine shown in his photographs was one of many erected on August 16th each year within the "darkest and shabbiest" of the back yards in the Italian neighborhoods. He said one of his few pleasing memories of an area he called "foul core of New York's slums," was seeing Bandits' Roost lighted up in honor of San Rocco:
An altar had been erected against the stable shed at the rear end of it and made gaudy with soiled ribbons, colored paper, and tallow dips stuck in broken bottle-necks. Across the passageway had been strung a row of beer-glasses, with two disabled schooners for a center-piece, as the best the Roost could afford. In sober truth, it was the most appropriate. It made a very a brave show, and, oddest of it all not a displeasing one. At all events, I thought so. Perhaps it was the discovery of something in the ambitions of the Bend that was not hopelessly of the gutter which did it.[1]
Riis does not mention a practice which a journalist reported a few years later: "Every one of the faithful who has an ache or a pain will buy from the liberal stores kept in the church a wax leg, or head, or arm, or hand, according to where his or her ailment is, and place it as an offering at San Rocco's shrine. Those who are sound of body and limb will offer decorated candles with their prayers and light them themselves at the shrine."[2] The reporter was wrong about the source of the effigies. They were called voti di cera (vows of wax) and were sold by street vendors. In 1906 a reporter told readers of these "hands, feet, legs, and heads, the latter with the flush of youth on their rounded cheeks, the other members painted with gaudy ribbons" that were sold by a street vendor at a make-shift stand.[3]

Marjory Collins' photos of the Mott Street parade on August 16, 1942, include this one of a shoemaker and his wife in front of his shop and, visible next door, are jumbled body parts in a dismantled sidewalk booth.

{I showed this photo in my previous blog post. It is "shoemaker and his wife in the Italian section on Mott Street" by Marjory Collins, FSA/OWI Collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.}

Detail of this photo.

The details which I show below come from photos of New York's San Rocco festa taken by Percy Loomis Sperr in 1933 and 1937. At left is a sidewalk booth open for business on Roosevelt St. and at right women carrying wax offerings. The doll signifies a wish for fertility and the head a wish to be free of headache or other head malady.

{From photos in collections of the New York Public Library.}

Riis does mention, as do most other writers, the street illuminations of the San Rocco feast. These writers mention jelly jars, clear, green, and red, strung across the streets, each having a wick and a little oil. Writing of the festival in 1906 a reporter tells of "arches of red and green jelly glasses, suspended by wires and clotheslines from across the narrow canyons of streets, each glass with a wick floating in olive oil."[4] Writers also tell of immense illuminated shrines which, in time, joined the humble back yard ones that Riis describes. In 1907 one of the most extravagant was "a dazzling structure of white and blue and gold, rose to the height of the five-story tenement house back of it and had the form and elaborate ornamentation, in stucco, of a cathedral front."[5]

In the early 1970s the producers of Godfather II re-created this scene as it might have looked in the summer of 1919. Here are screen grabs showing the procession of the statue of San Rocco and the shrine to which it's being carried.

This screen grab shows the statue covered with the one- and five-dollar bills of people seeking the saint's intercession on their behalf, expressing gratitude for his aid, or making a general donation.

This article from the New York Times of August 17, 1902 is the earliest news account I could find. It mentions the exploding fireworks which were typical of the festival and which figure in Godfather II when Vito Corleone murders Don Fanucci.

The article also mentions the Society of San Rocco. Originally called the "Potenza Society" after the southern Italian province from which many of its members had come, this was the organization which had made a deal with the rector of St. Joachim's by which it was able to sponsor the first San Rocco festa in 1889. Founded with the contributions and service of local residents, the society survived a serious challenge from a competing organization in 1906 and continues to sponsor the feast to this day. (The challenge came from Church leaders who were hostile to the exuberant celebrations and, it was said, eager to receive the money of those seeking help from San Rocco.)

The Times article of 1902 also reveals the difficulty reporters had in pinning down details about San Rocco (or perhaps their aversion to some elementary fact checking). The reporter understood the saint to be "St. Rocco di Ruoti Dimos" which is not a title given the saint anywhere else. He says the saint is Neapolitan but there is no particular association of San Rocco with Naples. He names the provinces of Conserta and Baselicata by which he probably means Caserta and Basilicata. Potenza is not far from Conserta and is itself within the region of Basilicata. His account says wax figures were presented in gratitude for cures already accomplished while other accounts say they were presented in hope of being cured. In 1903 the Times carried another report on the festival and this time the reporter said he believed the effigies were offered in hope of cure but tells a distorted version of another part of the San Rocco story. He said he was told that saint is depicted with a dog because he once cured a mad one. This comes from the 1903 report:
So in the procession many people, presumably those afflicted or with afflicted friends, carry wax arms or legs, hands, feet or heads, or portions of the anatomy not usually exposed to view. Apparently no hint of the humor of the situation crosses their minds. They carry their waxen models gravely through the streets, and when they reach the church send them up to be piled around the altar.

There is a little place in Baxter Street which makes all these wax images for San Rocco's day. The figure of the saint, borne aloft at the head of the procession, has a dog at its feet. It seems the dog went mad and bit him once, and he cured the bite with some hair from the same dog, so the people in the procession will tell you.[6]
The earliest printed description of New York's San Rocco festival appeared in 1893 in an Italian-language novel by Bernardino Ciambelli. He inserted this scene, presumably to add some local color to his lurid plot of love and revenge:
San Rocco was being celebrated, and the Italians of Mulberry wanted to do things properly. Towards 11 A.M., the call of the trumpets was heard and in the distance flags and banners appeared. The crowd thronged the sidewalks to enjoy the parade in honor of San Rocco. A squad of policemen headed the procession, followed by the Conterno Band, and right after by a banner on which San Rocco was painted in oil, with his wound and his dog. Two flags, one Italian, and other American, flapped at the banner's sides, thus placing the saint under a double protection. Then came the members of the Società San Rocco, stern and proud in their blue dresses with golden buttons and stripes, as if the whole world belonged to them. In the buttonhole of their parade dresses, they had flowers, ribbons, and cockades. After another musical band, military society paraded, in the uniform of the military engineer corps, with the three colours flapping in the wind; and after it the congregations of the Carmine, of the Madonna Addolorata, and of other saints like San Cono, Sant'Antonio, etc. It was a gorgeous parade, something that really made a hit in a country such as this where parades of every race and form are the order of the day. The bands played, the crowds watched in awe and cheered, the windows, the street, the sidewalks were thronged with people.[7]
Many saints laid claim to the affections of New York's Italian immigrants. Riis ascribed the popularity of San Rocco partly to their sympathy with his death in a dungeon which resembled the dank subterranean dwellings of the truly destitute poor. Whether or not that is so, it's certain that living as they did in the unhealthy environment of the tenement district (which Riis graphically described) and lacking access to medical care, many Italians drew hope from San Rocco's reputation as miraculous healer. I suspect San Rocco also retained his hold on the affections of Italians as a result of affinities with St. Francis. Both saints led lives of poverty, devoted to helping impoverished victims of misfortune and both are remembered for interactions with animals. (In time, Rocco would become the patron saint of dogs.) It's also likely San Rocco's feast drew great crowds of enthusiasts because that day fell directly after the Feast of the Assumption with its celebrations of all things associated with the Blessed Mother. And, finally, the celebration probably would not have been so exuberant if it had taken place at some other time of year. I think the festive crowds of the San Rocco fest, its many processions, the lights and decorations, the bands and fireworks all owe something to the warm-weather date of the saint's death. In other words it's likely the Feast of San Rocco got some its popularity because it fell at a time when the airless summer heat of stifling tenements gave powerful encouragement for outdoor activity.

The festa of the Assumption and of San Rocco were more inclusive than most. During those two days all members of the community — poor and modestly well off, lay and religious, male and female, old and young — mingled more or less freely with a relatively high degree of spontaneous high spirits. Such happy mingling might not be remarkable in the second half of the twentieth century, but I'm pretty sure it was uncommon in 1907 when a Times reporter (with typical mild condescension) described religious societies parading under brilliant arches of oil lights in glass cups and processions where shrines were carried on the shoulders of twenty men, adding: "Before, around, and behind them marched thousands of children, each carrying lighted candles. Even women with both arms holding babies managed to drag through the street and hold lighted candles in front of them. These were the Italians of the south of Italy."[8]

The San Rocco feast is also traditionally free of clerical mediation. Masses are said and blessings invoked, but the organization, leadership, and participation is generally outside the church hierarchy. San Rocco was not himself a member of the clergy and did not perform his services to the poor and the sick in conjunction with any religious organization. The Society of San Rocco in New York has always been free of church sponsorship. By arrangement, the San Rocco statue is kept in a church (first St. Joachim's, now St. Joseph's), but does not belong to the church. San Rocco's performance of miracles as an independent believer is very likely to be yet another source of the popularity he achieved among immigrant Italians. And it is also a probable source of the communal spirit which was one of the festa's defining characteristics.

San Rocco is usually shown baring his leg to show a plague wound along with a dog holding a loaf of bread in its mouth. The image at left below depicts the statue of New York's Società di San Rocco, which, as you can see, is formally called the Confraternita di S. Rocco, founded by the citizens from Potenza (It.) in New York, 1889.[9] The image at right shows this statue in procession in the late 1920s.

{At left: statue of San Rocco in St. Joseph's Church, New York. The image can be found on a number of web sites. At right: the same statue in procession in the late 1920s, detail of a photo in collections of the San Rocco Society.}

One last thought. There are San Rocco parishes in Italy and throughout the world where Italians have settled. The best known is probably the one in Venice which sits next to the famous Scuola Grande di San Rocco. The church is home to these two paintings by Tintoretto. The first shows San Rocco in Prison Visited by an Angel.

{San Rocco in prigione visitato da un angelo, 1567, Oil on canvas, 300 x 670 cm, Chiesa di San Rocco a Venezia}

The second shows San Rocco in a sick ward effecting a miraculous cure:

{San Rocco risana gli appestati, 1549, 300 x 671 sm, Chiesa di San Rocco a Venezia}

Detail of this painting:

The Scuola Grande di San Rocco contains only one painting of San Rocco. It shows his apotheosis.[10]

{San Rocco in Gloria, 1564, oil on canvas, 240 x 360 cm, ceiling decoration in the Sala dell'Albergo, Scuola Grande}

Of the many San Rocco (and St. Roch) parishes in the United States, one, now closed, is located among the slate quarries of south-central Pennsylvania. It's significant because the Italian immigrants of that community include many members of the in-law side of my family. At least some of these family members affectionately called the church "St. Rock."

{St Roch Parish (West Bangor), founded 1937, 141 Verona Avenue, Pen Argyl, PA, A Closed Parish of The Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown PA }



General note: All images in this blog post are reproduced under fair use provisions of copyright law or they are in the public domain.

[1] Jacob A. Riis, "Feast-Days in Little Italy,", The Century Magazine, August 1899.

[2] Peaceful San Rocco Day; Capulets and Montagues of Crooked Streets Reconciled. Candle-Bearers and Flower Girls of Rival Societies Meet in Procession Without Clash — Wax Legs and Arms For Sale, According to Custom — Shrines of Many Colors. Evening Post, August 16, 1907

[3] The San Rocco Society web page says the voti di cera are brought to church in gratitude for San Rocco's healing powers, but all the early sources say the people who purchased them and made offerings of them were afflicted or were acting on behalf of people who were afflicted with a disease or other medical condition. Source of quote: A Religious Festa; Statues of San Rocco Covered with Money Carried Through Streets. New York Daily Tribune, August 17, 1906

[4] A Religious Festa; Statues of San Rocco Covered with Money Carried Through Streets. New York Daily Tribune, August 17, 1906

[5] Peaceful San Rocco Day; Capulets and Montagues of Crooked Streets Reconciled. Candle-Bearers and Flower Girls of Rival Societies Meet in Procession Without Clash — Wax Legs and Arms For Sale, According to Custom — Shrines of Many Colors. Evening Post, August 16, 1907

[6] Quaint Italian Customs of Summer Festal Days; With Music, Gifts and Feasting the Denizens of Little Italy Pay Their Devotions to the Saints -- Curious Phases of the Celebrations. July 12, 1903

[7] The book is I Misteri di Mulberry Stritto by Bernardino Ciambelli, (New York, Frugone and Baletto, 1893). This passage was translated by Mario Maffi

[8] THOUSANDS OF ITALIANS IN ILLUMINATED PARADE; Night Procession Celebrates Feast of the Assumption. HONORS SAINT ROCC0 TO-DAY Great Shrines Carried on Men's Shoulders Through Streets. New York Times, August 16, 1906

[9] The web site of the San Rocco Society of Potenza (New York), says this about the statue:
The original statue of St. Rocco pictured above, was made in Italy and shipped to New York in the summer of 1889 and carried in the first annual Feast of St. Rocco on August 16,1889 on Roosevelt Street.

The statue was kept in a special chapel in St. Joachim's Church on Roosevelt Street. When St. Joachim's was demolished, the statue was taken to St. Joseph's Church, 5 Monroe Street, where it remains enshrined to this day.

The original statue is of magnificent artistic quality, made of Italian papier mache'. It weighs with it's base over 100 lbs.

As the statue aged, Angela Carnevale the Treasurer of the St. Rocco Society and then it's acting President and sole organizer decided to purchase the new statue, fearing the original priceless statue might be damaged while carrying it in the procession.

For the last 25 years or so a duplicate statue has been used for the Feast and Procession.

The original statue was "rented" by Francis Ford Coppola and used in the filming of "The Godfather II" during it's Festa di San Rocco scene. Only members of the Society were allowed to carry the statue in the film. The statue is the oldest Italian American religious society statue in New York.

The original statue can be seen at the rear left of the Church of St. Joseph, 5 Monroe Street, New York, New York. The "Feast" statue is stored during the year and brought out and placed on the main alter under a special canopy for the week prior to the Feast.
[10] This painting, "the glorification of St. Roch" or "assumption of San Rocco into heaven" was the first work of art commissioned for the Scuola. It's pride of place is the central position on the ceiling of the meeting chamber of the directors. One of these concillors had insisted that Tintoretto not be given the commission and he circumvented this prohibition by donating the painting and this led, eventually, to commissions to paint the many other works in the building. See Tintoretto on the web site of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco.


Some sources:

Italian Festivals on the National Italian American Foundation web site

The Saint Rocco Society of Potenza home page of the New York San Rocco Society

The Feast of St. Rocco 121 Years Young, history page on web site of the New York San Rocco Society

Celebration of the Madonna Di Pierno Feast by Tom Frascella August 21, 2011 on the web site of the San Felese Society of New Jersey

Jacob A. Riis, "Feast-Days in Little Italy," THE CENTURY MAGAZINE, August 1899

Rocco di Montpellier in Wikipedia (Italian)

Saint Roch in Wikipedia (English)

LIFE Magazine (Vol. 3, No. 10, September 6, 1937) a feature on the San Rocco festa in New York City

The story of Saint Rocco the patron saint of pestilence on

Photographs and Lantern-Slide Lectures of Jacob Riis at

JACOB A. RIIS, REFORMER, DEAD; Social Worker Who Was Roosevelt's "Ideal American" Succumbs to Heart Disease. CLEARED MULBERRY BEND Made a Name and a Career as a Police Reporter -- Author of Several Books. New York Times, May 27, 1914.

St. Roch on the web site

St. Roch on the web site

Friends of Saint Roch, Montpellier, France

Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto Mannerist Artist Italian 1518 - 1594

historical facts regarding the life of Saint Roch on the Scuola Grande San Rocco web site

Michael Corrigan in Wikipedia

St. Joachim's Church in Wikipedia

Friday, May 10, 2013

We Must Not Fail Them

In 1942 OWI photographer Marjory Collins worked her way around Manhattan recording the ways of the city's inhabitants in wartime. OWI stands for Office of War Information. Roy Stryker, the leader of its photographic unit, was charged to show the strength of Americans' resolve to defeat foreign aggression. In line with this objective Collins produced upbeat images of women in the workforce, children collecting scrap metal, administrators of newly-formed daycare facilities, and recruits headed out to training camps. She also shot scenes that depict patterns of American life that remained the same despite the massive restructuring brought on by the world war: teens in school, young people at public swimming pools, and adults relaxing in bars and restaurants.

Determined to show "pictures of life as it is," Collins did not limit herself to this one-sided point of view but used her camera to reveal somewhat more diversity in American life. Her photographs capture not just the confident and optimistic can-do citizens shown in the glossy magazines but also what a fellow OWI photographer disparagingly called "the seamy side of life." Subjects included relief clients, Bowery bums and members of struggling minorities. In one of her photo shoots she documented the difficulties faced by a war-widow who struggled to make ends meet and care for her young family. She also showed the daily lives of hyphenated Americans: Chinese-, Turkish-, and Italian-American residents, and, unlike the news reporters of the time, she did not present the inhabitants of immigrant communities as curiosities, but as ordinary people.

The photographs are good. Her technique was excellent and she chose subjects well. She also had fine eye for design and light values, and knew how to make good use of the 6x6 cm. frame which her twin-lens reflex camera gave her.

In the first half of 1942, as a brand new OWI staffer, she was given assignments in and around Washington, DC. In November she spent a week in a small town in Pennsylvania Dutch country. The summer and fall found her in New York City. During this time she took pictures of Chinese Americans in Manhattan and Brooklyn and Jewish merchants in the Lower East Side. She did a set on the customers in a hairdresser's salon. She showed crowds at Radio City Music hall, pin setters at a bowling alley, and patrons of O'Reilly's Bar on Third Avenue in the Fifties. She showed centers for recruiting soldiers and promoting the sale of war bonds. In September she did a lengthy shoot in the building where the New York Times was written and published (about which I've previously written). There are also a few shots of a workers' bookshop which served as Communist Party headquarters.

In mid-August she photographed a parade on Mott Street to celebrate Italian American servicemen. I've selected some of the photos from this occasion. They all can be found in the FSA/OWI collections of LC's Prints and Photos Division. As always, click image to view full size.

The parade is unlike the ones we're used to with clear separation between observers and participants. It has the spontaneity of a summer street festival. Marchers are dressed casually with few attempts at formal uniforms and the leader, dressed as Uncle Sam, is accompanied by some guys in shirt sleeves. Collins was one level above the street when she took this photo, probably on the fire escape. It's interesting that she didn't ask the person next to her to step back in order to clear the camera's view. I suspect she liked having the two out-of-focus foreground elements.

{Caption: Parade of Italian-Americans on Mott Street at a flag raising ceremony in honor of neighborhood boys in the United States Army}

Detail showing the band.

Here you see young people carrying the flag (more of a banner). They're following the band. People are throwing money onto the fabric.

{Caption: Italian-Americans of Mott Street raising a flag in honor of neighborhood boys in the United States Army.}

Now that they've passed by the parked cars you can see more of the banner. Despite its subject it's not really militaristic but has a religious theme — a priest blessing young soldiers whom we know will be going off to fight. The focus is very local. There's no evidence that the event is part of a national campaign. It appears to be of as well as by the two blocks of Mott Street where it takes place.

{Caption: Flag raising ceremony in the rain in honor of Mott Street boys in the United States Army}

Collins was in 274 Mott St. Now she's crossed to 279, on the west side of the street, to get this next shot. The parade has passed down the block and is by the back of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral. The church faces Mulberry at Prince and is at the bottom of the parade's route.

In the photo just below the viewer sees the banner's patriotic message. Banners such as this were called flags of honor. As here, they'd be hung over a street, attached to buildings on either side. Street banners were also used to announce municipal events, show support for political candidates, and advertise major shows and festivals. There's a political example from the 1930s here and a municipal one here.

These photos show people watching the raising of the banner.

This one shows that a rain shower has recently passed. You can also see members of a band who are about to play. The couple in the foreground have a quiet dignity.

Collins took another photo of this couple, identifying them as a shoemaker and his wife. It's clear that they're in the doorway to his shop.

Collins' photos tend to have the lens at a child's eye level, as here, because that's the height at which an adult holds a twin-lens reflex camera. It interests me that the shirt of the man at right has a zipper closure. In 1942 zippers were not nearly as ubiquitous as they are now and I suspect they were very rarely seen on a man's shirt.

This detail of hands and face are not the main subject but they make a nice photographic study.

This honor guard seems to have been the only formally military element in the parade and, in keeping with the spirit of the day, its discipline isn't up to parade-ground standards.

{Caption: Italian-American Legionnaries marching in a parade on Mott Street, at the Feast of San Rocco (August 16) which ended in a flag raising ceremony in honor of the boys of the neighborhood who were in the United States Army}

Here you can see the band that was gathering in the background of an earlier photo. They call themselves the "Brooklyn Dodgers" and from the looks of them I'd say they took their name not from the baseball team but from the original sense of the word dodger: cunning, devious, untrustworthy, or, as Dickens had it, artful. It's also possible they took their name from the same source as did the baseball team. Wikipedia says the Brooklyn Dodgers were originally the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers, trolley dodger being a slang name for people from Brooklyn.

{Caption: Dancing and music on Mott Street, at a flag raising ceremony in honor of neighborhood boys in the United States Army}

The is a detail of the previous photo.

Taken only a few minutes apart, these two photos show residents at 274 Mott St.

{This building is directly opposite at 274 Mott St.}

Here are detail images of people viewing the parade from the fire escapes and windows.

One can imagine Collins wishing she had a telephoto lens so as to take close up shots of people observing from their windows. Or so it seems from this shot taken from street level.

After the parade Collins took photos of residents in an espresso shop and on the sidewalk.

{Caption: Italian-American cafe espresso shop on MacDougal Street where coffee and soft drinks are sold. The coffee machine cost one thousand dollars}

{Caption: Italian-Americans on MacDougal Street relaxing on Sunday}

In November 1942 Collins was in Lititz, Pennsylvania, and while there she took this photo of her reflection. In it you can see her camera. It's clearly a twin-lens reflex, probably a Rolleiflex. The photo shows the upper lens as bright and the lower one dark because the upper is transmitting light that is reflected from the bright sky above (it is the view lens). The lower lens is dark because it receives light but (unless the back of the camera is removed) does not transmit it.

{Lititz, Pennsylvania. Self-portrait at a public sale, November 1942}

The lower lens of Collins' has a lens hood like the one in this photo of this Rollei from 1933.

{Standard Rolleiflex Model 6RF, 1933; source: flickr}


Some sources:

United States Office of War Information

Women Photographers of the FSA and OWI: Marjory Collins

Photographs by Marjory Collins, 1944, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute on Facebook

Collins, Marjory, 1912-1985. Papers of Marjory Collins, 1904-1985: A Finding Aid

Marjory Collins in Wikipedia

Marjory Collins (1912-1985), a Biographical Essay on the Library of Congress web site

Marjory Collins (1912-1985), Introduction on the Library of Congress web site

photographs of the Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information Collection on the Library of Congress web site

Women Photojournalists Prints & Photographs Division Holdings on the Library of Congress web site

Il viaggio di Marjory Collins in Sicilia. Sabato 31 marzo 2012. Ricordare Palermo. Palermo e la Sicilia durante il fascismo e la seconda guerra mondiale. Presenta una ricca galleria fotografica, sullo sbarco degli Alleati in Sicilia del 10 luglio 1943. (This article says that in July 1943 Collins was using a Rolleiflex twin lens camera.)

St. Patrick's Old Cathedral in Wikipedia

St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral on