January 28, 2013
The 2013 Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and San Paolino Di Nola will be held from Wednesday July 10th 'till Sunday July 21st.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church
275 North 8th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Live Entertainment • Food • Rides
• Wednesday July 10th — Opening Night and coronation mass, followed by candlelight procession
• Thursday July 11th — First Children's Giglio lift
• Sunday July 14th — Giglio Sunday
• Tuesday July 16th — Feast Day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, procession throughout the parish neighborhood
• Wednesday July 17th — Night Lift (rain date: Thursday July 18th)
• Friday July 18th — Second Children's Giglio Lift
• Sunday July 21st — Old Timers Day
Photo courtesy of olmcshrine.org
July 11th–14th, 2013
The Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
The Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
1101 N. 23rd Ave.
Melrose Park, Illinois 60160
For more info visit http://olmcshrine.org/
• Sunday, June 23rd — Incoronation Anniversary Mass
• Friday, July 5th — Novena Begins
• Thursday, July 11th — Street Festival Begins
• Sunday, July 14th — Feast Day
• Tuesday, July 16th — Liturgical Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
For more information on the Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, please contact us at (708) 344-4140 or email us at email@example.com
January 26, 2013
Bronze Cavallo on display in 2013 at Casa Belvedere, Staten Island
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli
Since beginning this exercise in ethnic self-awareness I've intermittently written about New York City's public monuments by Sicilian Americans, specifically the works of Anthony de Francisci and Pietro Montana. However, no discussion of Sicilian-American sculptors would be complete without mentioning Arturo DiModica and his world famous Charging Bull.
Arturo DiModica was born on January 26, 1941 in Vittoria, a small city in the province of Ragusa, Sicily. Showing signs of artistic ability at an early age, his parents Giuseppe and Angela supported his creative endeavors. When he was 19, DiModica left for Florence to study and refine his skills at the Academia Del Nudo Libero. After just two years he opened his own studio, quickly making a name for himself among critics and collectors alike. He worked primarily in bronze, but also with the highly valued Carrara marble, prized for its use in sculpture since antiquity.
In 1973 DiModica came to America to broaden his artistic horizons. He opened a workshop on Grand Street in SoHo, meeting with almost immediate success. Winning awards and accolades from the New York art community, his works are highly prized. He purchased property on Crosby Street in 1978 and built his current studio, where some of his most beloved pieces, including Cavallo, a feisty bronze horse, were created.
Resurrection on display in 2010 at the Italian American Museum
DiModica and his family spend time between New York and Sicily, where he's currently working on a monumental project called the Horses of Ippari. Rumored to be two towering stallions, the rearing horses will form an arch spanning the Ippari River near Ragusa. When completed, it is said the work will be the largest statue in Europe.
Miniature stainless steel version of Cavallo
on display in 2010 at the Italian American Museum
DiModica, of course, is most famous for his Charging Bull, an eighteen foot long bronze behemoth, weighing almost three and a half tons. Inspired by the Stock Market crash of '87, DiModica's statue was meant to symbolize America's vitality and financial recovery. Costing $360,000 of his own money to create, the artist famously installed the statue without permission in front of the New York Stock Exchange late at night on December 15, 1989. Using a flatbed truck and a small crane, DiModica and crew secretly dropped off the statue under the giant Stock Exchange Christmas tree. I know security was more lax back then, but how they did it without being noticed is a mystery. That morning New Yorkers were greeted with a big surprise.
Tourists queue up for a photo with the iconic statue.
Since the Occupy Wall Street disturbances, Charging Bull
has been cordoned off and under police surveillance.
Unhappy with the "unauthorized" display on public property, the Stock Exchange had the statue impounded. On December 20th, amid public outcry for its return (and after DiModica paid the $5,000 fine) the City decided to "temporarily" move Charging Bull to the nearby Bowling Green section of Lower Manhattan (at the intersections of Broadway and Morris Street). It's been there ever since.
Stainless steel version of Charging Bull,
on display in 2013 at Casa Belvedere, Staten Island
Today, Charging Bull is one of the Big Apple's most recognizable tourist attractions. It diurnally attracts large crowds of onlookers from around the globe and (believe it or not) is said to draw more tourists than either the Statue of Liberty or Empire State Building. Variations of the bull have since been installed in Shanghai (2010) and Amsterdam (2012).
Tourist poses behind the bull
Curiously, a big part of the statue's allure is its alleged ability to bestow luck. While taking photos, I noticed there was just as long a line at the rear of the statue as the front. People were nestling their heads between the animals cheeks while others fondled its polished privates. The spectacle reminded me a little of the festive crowds at "Juliet's House" in Verona, lining up to grope the star-crossed lover's right breast because superstition claims by doing so the statue will help them find true love.
Statue of Juliet, Verona
I know its considered good luck in some cultures, after all the ancient cuornuciello (coral horn talisman often confused for a pepper) is said to be a stylized bull's penis, but when I asked a few people why they did it they said it was just for fun. Perhaps they were too embarrassed to tell the truth or too polite to tell me to mind my own business, but whatever the reason, the Charging Bull is a testament to Arturo DiModica's genius and can-do spirit.
January 24, 2013
Viva Saint Rocco!
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
Sunday, August 18, 2013
St. Joseph's Church
5 Monroe Street, New York, NY
Come celebrate 124 years of faith in glorious St. Rocco, helper of the sick and Saint of Miracles.
12:00 pm High Mass in honor of St Rocco
1:30 pm Procession of St. Rocco through the streets of Little Italy
2:00 pm Sale of coffee and light refreshments in church basement
5:30 pm St. Rocco returns to the Church
6:00 pm Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Veneration of the relic of St. Rocco
6:30 pm Entertainment and refreshments available, raffle drawing
* All schedules and activities are subject to change, so please check with organizers for any updates.
For more info visit www.stroccosociety.com
January 22, 2013
By Niccolò Graffio
“In my lifetime there have been three vocal miracles: Caruso, Ruffo and Ponselle. Apart from these there have been several wonderful singers.” – Tullio Serafin
As documented in previous articles, our people, the children the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, have left their mark on the history of mankind in a number of ways. We have produced prominent political figures, artists, doctors and even famous scientists.
Of all the endeavors of mankind, however, perhaps none has felt our mark as greatly as the realm of music! Books, TV shows and movies have been made about eminent singers and songwriters whose roots lie in Southern Italy. We have not only produced people considered noteworthy in this regard, we have produced those who can be considered truly great!
Opera is that noble art form that combines singing, songwriting, acting and drama. Our unmistakable fingerprint lies upon it! Whether it is the brilliant musical score of Bellini or the beautiful tenor of Caruso, we can say with no small measure of pride that we have contributed to the betterment and perpetuation of this hallmark of classic Western Civilization.
Those of our people who attained the status of legends in the opera world would therefore qualify as “Titans of the South”! The following gifted soprano, of humble origins who grew up to sing before kings, queens and presidents, was certainly no exception.
Rosa Melba Ponzillo was born January 22nd, 1897 in Meriden, Connecticut. She was the youngest of three children. Her parents were Neapolitan immigrants from Italy.
At an early age Rosa and her sister Carmela displayed talent as singers. Rosa especially had an unusually mature voice for her age and was able to sing with little musical training. Rosa’s first musical instructor was her own mother, and later a woman named Anna Ryan, a local church organist who gave her piano lessons. In time Rosa became a piano accompanist for silent films playing in and around Meriden.
It was her sister, Carmela, however, who lured her away from a career as an instrumentalist with her own desire to become a cabaret singer. Following the lead of her sister, Rosa would often augment her engagements by singing popular songs to delighted audiences while the projectionist would change reels.
Eventually she would give up her career as a piano player/singer and follow her sister Carmela to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, where she joined her older sibling in Vaudeville. The two were billed as The Ponzillo Sisters (or sometimes as “Those Tailored Italian Girls”) and were a success on the Keith Vaudeville Circuit.
With increased fame, however, came demands for increased fortune. As a result their act was dropped. The two made their way to New York City where Carmela took voice lessons.
It was Rosa, however, who would hit it big when she came to the attention of the legendary Neapolitan tenor Enrico Caruso who heard her sing. Caruso was said to have been deeply impressed by the richness of her voice and arranged for her to audition for Giulio Gatti-Casazza. Gatti-Casazza was, at that time, the director of the Metropolitan Opera. Equally impressed with her, Gatti-Casazza offered her a contract with the Met for the 1918-19 season.
She made her operatic debut (billed as Rosa Ponselle) on November 1915, 1918 opposite Caruso himself in the challenging role of Leonora in Giuseppi Verdi’s La forza del destino. She prepared for the role under the tutelage of Romano Romani, who would remain her voice coach and teacher for the remainder of her career.
Her performance brought the house down! Ironically, she was nervous almost to the point of paralysis being in the presence of the great Caruso. Though she would go on to establish an unforgettable career, stage fright would plague her the rest of her life.
She would hide this fact from her fans, who were drawn to her redoubtable voice and Mediterranean allure. She would go on to sing a total of 19 seasons at the Met.
While most of her career was spent performing there, she also sang at Covent Garden in London (1929-30) and the Maggio Musicale in Florence (1933). In both places audiences greeted her performances with great enthusiasm, but she decided against singing at La Scala in Milan and returned home to America. During her tenure at the Met, she sang a total of 22 dramatic and dramatic-coloratura roles. Among her many successes were Carl Maria von Weber’s Oberon and Joseph Carl Breill’s The Legend.
The work that would establish her as a living legend, though, was her performance in Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma. To this day, many music historians argue her performance was the best of this most difficult role.
In spite of her great success, she always remained acutely sensitive to criticism. In 1935 she performed the role of Carmen for the first time at the Met. Though audiences packed in to hear her, critics were less than positive. Olin Downes of the New York Times wrote an especially brutal review which reportedly hurt her deeply.
In 1936 she married Baltimore socialite Carle A. Jackson and settled just outside Baltimore, Maryland in a luxurious home she would live in the rest of her life. By this time years of battling stage fright (and officials at the Met), plus her receding upper register, had taken their toll on Ponselle. Rather than abruptly retire she quietly slipped away from the stage.
Rosa’s marriage to Jackson was never a good one and they divorced in 1949. The breakup was especially traumatic for her, and she suffered a nervous breakdown as a result. She eventually recovered, and though she never returned to the stage, she continued to sing at home for friends, who reported her voice remained as magnificent as always.
In 1954 RCA Victor had her record a wide variety of songs, which became commercial successes. She remained busy in retirement, aiding the fledgling Baltimore Civic Opera Company by coaching and giving voice lessons to up and coming singers who performed there. Among her students were future greats Placido Domingo and Beverly Sills.
Rosa Ponselle died at her home on May 25th, 1981 aged 84, after a long battle with bone marrow cancer. She is buried in Druid Ridge Cemetery located in Pikesville, Maryland just outside the city of Baltimore, MD.
Though the bulk of people alive today would probably express ignorance at the mention of her name, to opera buffs she remains a legend. She is ranked with Dame Joan Sutherland and La Divina herself, Maria Callas, as one of the three greatest sopranos of the 20th century. She was the first American-born, American-trained opera singer to star at the Met, and she has rightfully earned herself a place alongside other Titans of the South!
• James A. Drake: Rosa Ponselle – A Centenary Biography; Amadeus Press, 2003
January 13, 2013
Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino
Photo courtesy of Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino
"CGS was a whirlwind" -- THE NEW YORK TIMES
"Their intense and precise arrangements are utterly beguiling and trance-inducing" -- THE NEW YORKER
"The best concert I've seen recently is Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino. The band is remarkable..." -- MARC RIBOT
Italy's leading ensemble on the world music circuit, Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino, opens 2013 with the announcement of their North American concert return. Hailing from the Puglia region, the seven piece band and dancer are the number one exponents in a new wave of young performers re-inventing Southern Italy's Pizzica Taranta music and dance traditions for today's global audience. CGS introduced North American audiences to the power of Taranta for the first time in 2011. The group's critically acclaimed debut tour led to a pair of high profile invitations for appearances at the 2012 editions of globalFEST and Womex, the international music market's two top showcase events.
Opening in New York City, on Friday, February 1, 2013 at Pace University's Schimmel Center for the Arts, Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino will perform a set drawn from their new album "Pizzica Indiavolata" which entered the World Music Charts Europe at #2 in December 2012 and features guest appearances by Malian kora virtuoso Ballaké Sissoko and pan-European singer-songwriter Piers Faccini. CGS' Winter tour winds through performing arts centers and clubs in 11 US and Canadian cities on the East Coast and in the Midwest, finishing on Sunday, February 17, 2013 at Navy Pier in Chicago. In mid-March 2013 Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino will take an American Spring Break confirming their first appearance at the famed SXSW Music Festival in Austin, TX.
For tour dates visit canzonieregrecanicosalentino.net
January 11, 2013
Saint Sebastian by Mattia Preti
(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia)
Saturday, January 26, 2013
8 Founders Lane, Princeton NJ
Mass will be celebrated at 5:30 PM at St. Paul's Church located on Nassau Street, Princeton, NJ, followed by a dinner/dance at 7:30 PM.
Featuring entertainment by TN-Tertainment, LLC - John Rossi, DJ. Please call for further information.
Sponsored by Princeton Italian-American Sportsmen's Club and the Princeton/Pettoranello Sister City Foundation.
Contact: Ellie Pinelli 609-921-7911
January 8, 2013
Vincenzo reads Tomie dePaola's The Legend of Old Befana
(Photos by New York Scugnizzo)
By Giovanni di Napoli
Last night I met up with members of New York City's Sicilian Food, Wine and Travel Group for their first ever Befana/Epiphany Party. We gathered at Cacio e Vino (80 2nd Ave), one of NYC's finer Sicilian restaurants, for a delicious meal and fantastic night on the town. As might be expected, the establishment is a frequent haunt for the group, as well as individual members. We always have a wonderful dining experience there; the food and service are excellent.
After lengthy greetings everyone finally settled in (we nearly filled the entire dining room). Our selfless and hard working organizer Vincent Titone welcomed us by reading Tomie dePaola's The Legend of Old Befana (Harcourt Children's Books), a delightful version of the Befana tale, which helped set the tone for our festive evening.
First course: Sfincione and stuffed eggplant rolls
Following the toast our feast began. Owner and pastry chef Giusto did a wonderful job putting together a menu for our party. For starters we were treated to some stuffed eggplant rolls and classic Sicilian sfincione, a delicious doughy focaccia topped with onions and tomatoes, with salad on the side. This was soon followed by two delectable pasta dishes: Spaghetti "alla trapanese" with fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic and almonds, and Aneletti "alla palermitana" with beef ragu, peas, eggplant, basil and pecorino cheese. For me, this dish is the quintessential Palermitan comfort food. For our entrée we were served tasty breaded pork skewers and baccala fish balls. Our contorni were roasted potatoes and spinach. Of course, no meal would be complete without dessert: piping hot demitasse and Giusto's incredible pistachio encrusted cannoli.
Second course: Aneletti “alla palermitana” and Spaghetti "alla trapanese”
As the party started to wind down and people began to leave, some of us exchanged gifts. I was pleasantly surprised with a copy of Henry Barbera's Medieval Sicily: The First Absolute State (Legas). I'm an avid fan of medieval history, so Barbera's book looks like it's going to be an interesting read. Old Befana was very thoughtful and generous this year.
Entrée: Pork skewers, baccala fish balls, roasted potatoes and spinach
As always, I was excited to catch-up with some old friends and happy to make some new ones. Everyone was warm and friendly. As the first meetup of the New Year it was the perfect way to celebrate our faith, culture and friendship. Grazie mille Vincent and all members of the Sicilian Food, Wine and Travel Group for another fantastic evening. I'm looking forward to our next bash together.
Cannoli for dessert
Labels: Arts and Culture
January 6, 2013
Bathasar, Melchior and Caspar
(Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
By Giovanni di Napoli
January 6th is the Feast of the Epiphany, a solemn celebration of the revelation of Christ to the Magi, thus symbolizing His physical manifestation to mankind. Originating in the Eastern Church, Epiphany comes from the Greek epihania, meaning, "to show forth." While in the West the Adoration of the Magi is the principal focus of the celebration, the Epiphany is actually a commemoration of three events that reveal Christ's divinity: The visitation of the Magi, His baptism and the first miracle at the wedding in Cana.
In Italy, the Epiphany is popularly celebrated with la Befana, a benevolent witch who rewards good little boys and girls with presents, typically fruit, nuts and candy; naughty children get ash and coal. Despite the obvious similarities, she is often erroneously referred to as the "Italian Santa Claus." Traditionally in Southern Italy Christmas was a much more reserved holiday, Saint Nicholas would bring gifts on his Feast Day (December 6th). Santa Claus, or Babbao Natale (Father Christmas) as he is called, is a recent importation. La Befana (a corruption of epihania) is a much older tradition (some claim she has pre-Christian roots). Whatever her origins, she is distinctly Italian (but not without some regional differences) and a quaint embellishment to the Epiphany celebration.
According to legend, while following the star to Bethlehem, the Three Wise Men came across an old crone doing her housework. She welcomed them into her modest home and treated them very hospitably. In gratitude the Magi invited her to join their caravan and partake in their quest of the newborn Messiah. She politely declined and they continued on their journey without her. Realizing her mistake she had a change of heart, but it was too late; she was unable to find them or the manger. To this day la Befana wanders the earth on her magical broomstick (or flying donkey, depending on whose telling the tale) leaving her gifts in hopes of finding the Christ Child.
In commemoration I'm posting an Epiphany Prayer. The accompanying photo of the Magi was taken outside the historic Shrine Church of Saint Anthony of Padua (154 Sullivan Street) in NYC.
Jesus, Light of the World, at Epiphany, we celebrate Your revelation to the world—Your majesty, in the visit of the Magi, Your mission, in Your baptism in the Jordan, Your ministry and miraculous powers, at the marriage feast of Cana.
This new year, may we ever more faithfully seek You, worship You and walk by your light, so that we may help bring Your Love and life to all people and Your Kingdom to earth. Amen
(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
By Niccolò Graffio
“Money, and not morality, is the principle of commercial nations.” – Thomas Jefferson: Letter to John Langdon; 1810
Historians tell us the economic system we call modern Capitalism began with the Dutch and the British in the early part of the 18th century. Some may quibble that it actually began earlier, but the essential elements (capital accumulation, competitive markets, pricing systems, etc) were not really established until then.
In today’s media-driven, political climate of class warfare, it is de rigueur to bash Capitalism as a social evil. The proponents of this worldview proffer Socialism as an attractive alternative to it. Being old enough to remember when over 1/3 of the globe’s population lived under various forms of Socialism, I can attest such is not the case.
The largest (in terms of land area) socialist country in history, the Soviet Union, no longer exists, precisely because of its socialist economy! The second largest, China, scrapped its socialist economy shortly after the death of Mao Tse Tung in 1976 in favor of a mixed one that has heavy elements of Capitalism in it.
It is also worth noting the greatest scientific and technological advancements recorded in modern history have come largely from Capitalistic societies. Until the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2012 (i.e. “Obamacare”), America was derided in the leftist press here and abroad for the supposedly lower quality of health care it offered its citizens compared, to say, countries like Germany, Sweden and the UK. Studies have shown, however, cancer patients in the United States live, on average, longer lives and receive higher quality care than their counterparts in Western Europe!
One has to wonder, of course, how long that will last once the last planks of Obamacare become law in this country.
Facts, of course, mean nothing to the ideologically driven, and nothing I or anyone else says will mean a bit of difference to those who steadfastly maintain Socialism is the way to go. To be sure, an economic system is only as good as the people who are willing to work it. This includes Capitalism.
Due to the inhibition or the outright suppression of the profit incentive, corruption tends to run rampant in socialist societies. Ironically, due to ease of access to large amounts of capital, corruption can be a problem in Capitalist societies as well, though it tends to be more endemic.
Corruption, whether endemic or widespread, is a problem, one which the rulers of a society would do well to be on guard for, provided, of course, they are not corrupt themselves.
America, since its inception, has kept for itself a Capitalist economy, though in recent decades it has taken on a more mixed character as it has added some elements of Socialism. This has largely been due to the efforts of so-called “progressives” in the Democratic Party. Those of a more beneficent character have been motivated to promote the public weal. Those of a more cynical character have no doubt been motivated to do so as a means of buying votes at taxpayer expense.
America has the largest economy of any country on earth, in fact, of any country in history (though China is quickly catching up)! The linchpin of this economic colossus is its vast network of financiers, affectionately and collectively known as “Wall Street”.
Literally trillions of dollars a year pass through the halls of America’s investment banks and brokerage firms. These monies power the largest corporations in the country. In turn, monies spent by these corporations “trickle down” to smaller banks and businesses nationwide.
Of all the ways corporations raise capital to run their operations, perhaps none is more famous or glamorous than the stock exchanges. Books have been written and movies produced celebrating or lambasting these financial marketplaces where fortunes have been made (or lost).
Such huge amounts of money have given the impetus to the scientific and technological advances that have made America great. At the same time, though, they have also given temptation to those of baser morals to enrich themselves at the expense of others.
Though a number of stock exchanges exist here in the United States, by far the largest (in terms of market capitalization) both here and abroad is the New York Stock Exchange (or NYSE), located in downtown Manhattan. It is also probably the most well known globally.
It began without fanfare back in 1792 as a simple agreement between 24 stockbrokers to deal only with each other. It also established a uniform system of commissions for services rendered. In 1817 its directors renamed it the “New York Stock & Exchange Board”. In 1863 its name was shortened to what it is today.
Over ensuing decades, as America’s fortunes increased so did the size and complexity of operations at the NYSE. Between the years 1896-1901, for example, the volume of stocks traded increased a staggering sixfold! It must be remembered that during this time there was little if any government oversight into the day-to-day operations of the NYSE. There was no Securities & Exchange Commission back then. As one can imagine, many shady deals were going on in countless back offices. By the early part of the 20th century “The Street” had already cultivated for itself a reputation as a nest of big money corruption.
My favorite anecdote concerning this deals with an apocryphal story about the NYSE. According to this story, when infamous mob boss Carlo “Lucky” Luciano visited New York City he was invited to take a tour of “The Big Board”. When the tour was over he was asked by his guide what he thought of the entire operation. Turning around to look one last time at the floor he muttered “I’m in the wrong racket!”
Corruption, plus a lack of any real Federal oversight of the financial markets (and banking in general), spelled disaster, and disaster came on October 29th, 1929 when U.S. stock market prices suffered the greatest decline in a single day of trading up until that time. Historians remember that day as “Black Tuesday” and many still believe that day trigged what came to be known as The Great Depression.
Ferdinand Pecora was born on January 6th, 1882 in the town of Nicosia, Sicily. He was one of seven children. His parents Louis and Rosa (née Messina) Pecora, left Sicily for the United States four years later, eventually settling in a cold water apartment in the Chelsea district of Manhattan. His father earned a living as a cobbler.
Like many children of immigrants, young Ferdinand worked; he sold milk and newspapers to help the family financially. Though he did work, he did not neglect his studies in public school. Early on young Ferdinand demonstrated an aptitude for memorizing facts, figures, dates and names. This helped him immeasurably in his studies and he graduated from high school class valedictorian.
He was able to get a job working as a clerk at a Wall St. law firm. He divided his time working here during the day while studying law at New York Law School at night. He passed the bar exam on his first attempt (unlike a lot of other lawyers) and was admitted to the bar in 1911.
For several years Pecora was a member of the Progressive wing of the Republican Party. In 1916, however, he joined the Democratic Party and became a member of Tammany Hall. Within two years he was appointed an assistant district attorney. Over the next 12 years he earned a reputation as a tough but impeccably honest prosecutor. He especially set his sights on so-called “bucket shops” - illegal establishments set up where people could wager monies on whether stock and commodity prices would rise or fall. Unlike reputable establishments, those who wagered here did not take possession of the stocks or futures contracts. Pecora was able to shut down over 100 of these essentially gambling parlors.
By 1922 he was named chief assistant district attorney, second-in-command under the redoubtable Joab H. Banton. Seven years later Banton, recognizing in Pecora a worthy colleague, tapped him to be his successor.
It has been said, though, “No good deed ever goes unpunished”. Pecora’s reputation for honesty and relentlessness earned him no friends in Tammany Hall, little changed from the days of the infamous William Magear “Boss” Tweed. The members of Tammany Hall feared that if given enough power, Pecora might eventually come for their heads. As a result, they refused to nominate him for the post.
Disgusted with Democratic Party politics in New York City, Pecora left his job at the D.A.’s office and went into private practice. Here he might have remained in obscurity were it not for the events that surrounded the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and The Great Depression that followed.
Within months of the crash hundreds of thousands of Americans were thrown out of work as capital dried up and the money supplied contracted in a big way! One of the first casualties of the depression was Herbert Hoover, who as president was given chief blame for the disaster by his political opponent Franklin Delano Roosevelt. People demanded to know why the depression happened, and they wanted heads on sticks!
Hoover lost the election of November, 1932 to Roosevelt. Ironically, Hoover had come to hate being president, considering it a thankless job. He only agreed to run again out of pride and because he and other top Republican officials believed he was the only Republican candidate who would be able to resist resorting to radical measures to jumpstart the economy.
Peter Norbeck, ninth governor of South Dakota and later a U.S. Senator, was outgoing Republican Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee during the last months of the Hoover Administration. It was he who brought Ferdinand Pecora out of obscurity, appointing him as Chief Counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking and Currency. The Committee was charged with investigating the causes of the Crash of 1929. The stage was now set for the drama that was to follow.
With the aid of John T. Flynn, a noted journalist and Max Lowenthal, a prominent (but very discreet) attorney and political figure, Pecora began sending out numerous subpoenas to some of the biggest names in American banking and finance. The purpose of which was to ‘call them on the carpet’ and learn the truth about their part in events that led up to the Crash.
Among those subpoenaed to appear before the media-dubbed “Pecora Commission” were Richard Whitney, President of the New York Stock Exchange, Charles E. “Sunshine Charlie” Mitchell, President of National City Bank (today Citibank), and none other than John Pierpont “J.P.” Morgan himself!
“The Hellhound of Wall Street” as the press dubbed Ferdinand Pecora, spared no one in his zeal for uncovering the inner workings of Wall Street capital. In the process he ruined many a reputation. J.P. Morgan, who suffered massive deflation (in his case, of his ego) during the proceedings, left humiliated, privately referring to the relentless Pecora as a “dirty little wop”. Men who were once revered in newspapers as America’s bankers were now being reviled in the same press as “banksters”.
Anyone who takes the time to thoroughly read the history of the Pecora Commission can’t help but notice the eerie similarities between the events surrounding The Great Depression and “The Great Recession” of 2008-09. “Sunshine Charlie” Mitchell, for example, made millions for himself and his cronies by selling securities of questionable value to middle-class investors. Many of these securities, like the bonds of corrupt and ill-managed South American countries, were sold to ignorant investors even though Mitchell and his buddies knew they were bound to fail.
The press and the American public ate up the proceedings! Outrage over financial mismanagement of investors’ monies was only further stoked by the revelation members of elite WASP families were privy to lucrative deals not available to the general public (but paid for by their money). Among these beneficiaries was none other than former President of the United States Calvin Coolidge!
Franklin D. Roosevelt rode the groundswell of public outrage in demanding Congress immediately pass comprehensive banking reform. One of the results of this was the passage of the Banking Act of 1933, aka The Glass-Steagall Act. The bill for the act had been kicking around the halls of Congress for a couple of years prior to this. Among other things it prohibited commercial and investment banking from being performed by the same financial institution. It also created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).
The Glass-Steagall Act remained on the books until key parts were overturned by the actions of the Clinton Administration in 1999. Many charge this set the stage for the colossal recession that occurred just nine years later.
A year after the passage of the Glass-Steagall Act Congress passed the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, which created the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to oversee America’s stock exchanges. The Pecora Commission’s hearing officially ended on May 4th, 1934. Pecora himself went on to serve as one of the first commissioners of the SEC.
Five years later he published his memoir that included many details of the activities of his eponymous commission. In the book, entitled Wall Street Under Oath: The Story of Our Modern Money Changers, he lamented the fact the public’s memory was dimming now that the economy was improving. He also pointed out the bankers were growing increasingly resistant to any attempts at regulatory reform and marshalling their allies in the media and Congress to stonewall it.
On January 21st, 1935 Ferdinand Pecora resigned his position at the SEC and became a judge on the New York State Supreme Court. He held that position until he ran (unsuccessfully) for mayor of New York City in 1950. Afterwards, he returned to practicing law.
On December 7th, 1971, Ferdinand Pecora died at the age of 89.
Pecora’s name may be unknown today to millions of average Americans, but his legacy and name lives on in the hearts and minds of those who continue the fight to reign in the fiscal and political powers of financial institutions. In the months following the onset of The Great Recession during the last year of the Bush Administration, numerous pundits nationwide invoked the names of Ferdinand Pecora and the Pecora Commission. They realize, as Thomas Jefferson did before them, that private banks, left unregulated “…are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.”
The media christened Ferdinand Pecora “The Hellhound of Wall Street”. In truth, he was more of a lion than a hellhound! In European folklore, a hellhound was a harbinger of death. Pecora, in his role as the head of the investigative committee that bears his name, stood out as that noble beast guarding its pride from the dangers of the wild. We would do well for ourselves and our posterity to keep alive his legacy and remember its lessons.
• Ferdinand Pecora: Wall Street Under Oath: The Story of Our Modern Money Changers; A.M. Kelley, 1973