While January signifies the beginning of our calendar, the Cracotan year was a rhythmic cycle that never ended. Unlike society today, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day held no special significance in the Cracotan life cycle which was based not on time but rather the needs of the agrarian calendar and the church cycle.
An understanding of life there was based on two factors:
The Earth: First half of January was busy with the processing of pork –families would kill the pig they had been fattening since October. Women would make soppressata, pancetta, salami, prosciutto, and lard. One of the delicacies made was “sanguinaccë” a type of pudding made with pig blood mixed with raisins, almonds, nutmeg, and other spices.
The Church: Jan 6th— Epiphany but in Craco it is also connected to La Befana. The “Befana” is an old woman, who brings gifts to the good children on Epiphany Eve. Good children would find oranges, almonds, or candy in their stocking. Bad children would find pieces of coal instead. This also marked the beginning of “Carnevale” – a time of feasting and serenades with the “cupa cupa” – a homemade musical instrument.
Of course, for those who immigrated from Craco to the urban environments in North America these traditions changed but are well worth remembering.
Historic Dates in Craco
17 January 1864 -Angelo Altomonte, a National Guard soldier, died in a fire as a result of a conflict with brigands.
Gennaio A Craco Vecchio
Mentre il mese di gennaio ha da sempre avuto come significato l’inizio del nostro calendario solare, l’anno crachese segue un ritmo temporale dinamico senza fine. A differenza della società odierna, secondo i costumi vitalizi crachesi le giornate dell’ultimo e del primo dell’anno non avevano significato alcuno. Ciò era dovuto al fatto che il ciclo di vita stesso crachese non si basava sul tempo ma più che altro sui bisogni del calendario agricolo e dei cicli ecclesiastici.
Per capire a fondo come si viveva laggiù, dobbiamo studiare a fondo due suoi fattori caratteristici, quindi:
La terra: la prima metà del mese di gennaio era spesso caratterizzata dal rito del maiale – le famiglie erano infatti solite sgozzare un maiale dopo quattro mesi circa durante i quali era stato lasciato ingrassare ben bene.
Le donne si occupavano degli insaccati, quindi della produzione della soppressata, della pancetta, del salame, del prosciutto e anche del lardo. Una delicatezza locale erano le “sanguinacce”, miscugli a base di sangue suino con uvetta, mandorle, noci e altre spezie.
La chiesa: il 6 di gennaio è il giorno dell’epifania: a Craco però ciò è connesso all’evento della “Befana”. La “Befana” rappresenta la figura di un’anziana donna, famosa per i doni che distribuisce ai bambini bravi la vigilia della notte del 6 gennaio.
I bambini che durante l’anno si sono comportati bene possono aspettarsi nella propria calza delle arance, delle mandorle o dei dolciumi. I bambini che invece sono stati cattivi riceveranno del carbone.
Questa data segnava in passato l’inizio del “carvnevale”, un momento di gioia ricco di feste, canti e serenate accompagnate dalla “cupa cupa”, un tipico strumento musicale locale fatto a mano.
Chiaramente, la maggior parte di coloro che emigrarono verso l’America e che vivono oggi giorno in ambienti metropolitani non celebrano più le antiche tradizioni, nonostante sia importante farle sempre presenti e non dimenticarle.
Le date storiche di Craco
17 gennaio 1864 -Angelo Altomonte, un soldato della guardia nazionale, viene colpito a morte da un proiettile durante un conflitto a fuoco con i briganti.
As we learn of the Cracotan men who fought in WWI we know the experience was life changing for all of them. The lives of Peter Benedetto and Nicola Francavilla were cut short; Frank Muzio, and Antonio Spera carried their experience and injuries with them. The remaining three men we are aware of that served in the US Army, Nicola Camperlengo, Nicola Roccanova, and Edmond Salomone also had life changing experiences.
Nick Camperlengo was born on 1894 in Manhattan, New York to Vitantonio and Teodora LoRubio. He was living at 50 Roosevelt St. and working as a shipping clerk for Michele Stramiello at 281 Front St. when he was inducted on April 27, 1918 . He was reacted to He was assigned to the Medical Evacuation Hospital No. 28 and then on June 14 he was reassigned to Base Hospital No. 78. Private Nick Camperlengo boarded the SS Anchises with his unit on Sept. 1, 1918 in New York bound for the European battlefields. His story and the horrors of war is best understood in the words about him from the late Dr. Henry Camperlengo who wrote the following:
“It was into that maelstrom that my “Uncle Nick,” whose memory I cherish as a kind human person saw in plentitude the horrors of war. He and others worked untiringly night and day to the many wounded. They soon exhausted basic medical supplies and even had to cut branches from trees to improvise splints. After the wounded were rounded up they were painfully in trucks presumably headed to Base Hospitals. Suddenly there appeared a squadron of German fighter planes and the entire column was machine gunned. So many who had been carefully and exhaustingly cared for were now dead! My Uncle sat under a tree and cried.”
Nick boarded the SS Dante Aleghieri on May 27, 1919 in Marseilles Harbor bound for NewYork with orders to report to Camp Dix. The ship arrived on June 17th and he was honorably discharged the next day. But as Dr. Camperlengo explains,
“He couldn’t tell us in words what effect it had on him. I only learned to what extent this experience had on his psyche when I was a young psychiatrist in training.
He had been remanded to the Northport VA [Veterans Administration] Hospital on Long Island for a psychiatric disorder that baffled the doctors at that time.
I obtained his medical records from the Northport VA and I saw plainly that the disorder he suffered from was P.T.S.D. or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, an entity only recognized by the American Psychariatric Assoc. and the A.M.A [American Medical Association] in the 1980s. He spent 10 years in that hospital frequently visited by family and when discharged became a groundskeeper at a private boys school on Long Island. I understand that he was honored with a plaque in his memory by the boys for his kind ways and wise advice to them. For me he became one of the chief reasons I became a psychiatrist.
Unlike the others from Craco, Nick Roccanova did not serve in the “Metropolitan Division” and had a different experience from them in France.
Nicola Roccanova was born on May 1, 1898 in Craco to Vincenzo and Isabella Sellare. His older brothers, had emigrated to the US in the early 1900s as did a sister, Antonia who had married Paolo Benedetto in 1905.
We learn about Nicola’s story from Deborah Roccanova who is the wife of Nicola’s grandson Richard. She says, that Nicola’s father sent him to the US in 1915 “hoping he would avoid being drawn into the war in Europe,” but fate would dictate a different story.
He was living with his brothers at 65 Sullivan St., in Manhattan when he enlisted in the US Army at Ft. Slocum, at David’s Island (in Long Island Sound off New Rochelle), NY on Nov. 27, 1917. It was one of the busiest recruit training stations in WWI and housed many of those who joined in the government sponsored recruiting zeal that occurred in November 1917; explaining Nicola’s action. In December the governemt ended voluntary enlistments and relied solely on the draft.
But on Dec 8th, Nicola was assigned to Battery C of the 18th Field Artillery Unit. He would serve with them until his discharge. His service records show he boarded the USS Aeolus with his unit in Hoboken, NJ on April 23, 1918 however the departure was delayed and the Unit transferred to the USS Manchuria on April 30 when it sailed to Europe.
Nicola and his unit were attached to the 3rd Division in France. They distinguished themselves earning the French Croix De Guerre with Gilt Star on the battle streamers for the Champagne Marne and Aisne-Marne campaigns and was instrumental in helping to defeat the Germans during an final assault known as the “Ludendorff Offensive.” After the German surrender, they served a tour of occupation duty. Nicola and hisunit boared USS Agamemnon in Brest, France arriving eight days later in Hoboken. He was discharged August 22nd.
Deborah Roccanova tells us more about his experiences and how they impacted Nicola. She says, He was gassed with mustard gas…The effects of the gas did affect his lungs the rest of his life. He was hospitalized with TB for 11 months in 1944 at a sanitarium in upstate NY.”
She continues about the period after the war while he was stationed in France, “…he did attempt to return to Craco to see his parents and family. This was denied due to the Spanish flu epidemic and all soldiers were confined to base. He never saw his parents again…but his mother Mary (Francavilla) Roccanova died from the flu in 1918…” when it struck Craco.
We also learned from Deborah that Nicola married Isabella Sillaro (born 1898, Craco). She was the daughter of Giuseppe and Rosa Dolcimele. After their marriage in Manhattan in 1920 Nicola worked with his brothers in a paper box making business, for a while.
Deborah tells us after that he, “drove taxi and eventually owned his own laundry and small apartment buildings. …Nicholas did eventually moved to Sacramento, CA at the urging of his son Vincent and wife Lois. Nicholas and Isabella lived a very happy and successful life, investing in real estate and surrounded by family in Sacramento. …Nicholas did return to Craco and Roccanova Italy in 1978…
The experience of Edmond Salomone during WWI was unique. He was born in Manhattan on March 24, 1897, the son of Michele Salomone and Angela Mormando. On Sept. 9, 1918 he was drafted into the US Army and sent to Camp Gordon, GA. With the war raging in Europe the Army had developed plans to train recruits to replace the battlefield soldiers. Edmond was assigned to the 14th Infantry Replacement and Training Battalion. On Oct. 18 he was assigned to the Automatic Replacement Draft designed to fill in the ranks of soldiers in Europe. Just 5 days after the armistice on Nov. 16, he was transferred to Company C 162 Infantry and shipped overseas on November 27th. He served there until returning to the US on July 27, 1918 and was demobilized on Aug. 2nd.
Brothers in Arms—Edmond Salomone (right) is shown with his future brother-in-law, Joe Chicichella when both were in the US Army in 1918.
In December 1963 one of the most destructive episodes of Craco’s frana event occurred. Contemporary newspaper articles give us an understanding of the events.
The first article appearing on December 7th raises concern with two-thirds of the town being impacted and states: “the situation remains grave …”
December 8th found the following report: “…The landslide…moves slowly …and covers ten acres of land…The houses involved in this area are a hundred. Twenty-five are at risk, so that the mayor has already issued the first evacuation orders…The town is situated…on gravel and clay. It has a population of just over 1700 inhabitants divided into 380 families.”
Then on December 11th the news turned worse: “a dense rain, falling for more than twenty-four hours…the landslide movement…was further exacerbated…The landslide affecting the village has extended to other buildings, so much so that some owners of houses on DeCesare and Alighieri streets reported injuries to their buildings…Craco is on the list of towns to be consolidated at the expense of the state. Approximately eighty percent of the buildings have damages.”
It continued the next day on December 12th: “The rainfall has increased the concerns…the landslide has abruptly moved further…damaged homes increase and orders for evacuation of about forty were issued…It is a painful spectacle: the household goods are transported…from homes… Even those who still have a house in good condition, do not hide their fears.”
On December 16th harsh conditions continued to be reported: “Violent gusts of wind…Craco remained in the dark due to failure of the electricity grid…two more orders for eviction were issued for homes at risk.”
The December 21st articles provide: “Christmas is coming. The people, however, are sad and worried about the serious threat of landslides…Craco residents live in a day by day state of panic…”
Then on December 30th: “News that instead of dissipating fears…has increased. In essence, the landslides are of two different intensities. The first and largest includes the southern facing center of the town and the other is slower but no less worrying. The hopes of a temporary containment are in the large arched wall built along Route 103, which almost surrounds the town. The wall although solid, has a central bulge…and would lead to landslides of significant quantities, the destruction of many homes…The situation…to safeguard public safety…raises many moral and economic problems of considerable scope: Can a small town of 1700 people be evacuated? What would remain of the old town? Absolutely nothing. Then there are serious apprehensions of the owners of houses (cost and the sacrifices of generations), who see their property at risk and do not know if they have adequate compensation or urgent rehabilitation works envisaged by authorities…”
We know the subsequent events and results but also recognize that even after all these years there is a resilient spirit to somehow bring Craco Vecchio a rebirth.
This article was originally published in The Craco Society Newsletter, July 2009.