By Nino Pantano
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Federation of Italian-American Organizations held its 36th annual fundraising gala at the El Caribe County Club on Sunday, April 7, and the dinner helped raise funds for the federation’s new Italian Cultural Center in Brooklyn.
One of the honorees was Cav. Uff. Aldo Mancusi, who has been the caretaker and founder of the Enrico Caruso Museum of America for 25 years. His home at 1942 East 19th St. in Brooklyn has been a shrine to the legendary Neapolitan tenor, and the world has literally beaten a path to his door.
Aldo Mancusi paid homage to his wife Lisa, their daughters Kim and Cindy, and then introduced his special guests, Eric Murray and his wife Lynne. Eric is the grandson of Enrico Caruso and the son of Caruso’s daughter Gloria.
The great tenor’s Brooklyn connections are strong. Enrico Caruso sang at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with the Metropolitan Opera at least 20 times, from BAM’s 1908 opening night (“Faust”) until Dec. 11, 1920, when he suffered a throat hemorrhage while performing in “Elisir D’amore.”
He also appeared at the Sheepshead Bay racetrack in August 1918, where he sang the “Star Spangled Banner” and George M. Cohan’s “Over There” for the Liberty Loan effort during World War I. Caruso was made an honorary police captain by Police Commissioner Richard Enright and then introduced his young American bride, Dorothy Benjamin, to the audience.
After Caruso recovered enough from his lengthy illness to travel, he sailed from America to Naples with his wife Dorothy and baby Gloria from Pier 7 in Brooklyn aboard the USS President Wilson on May 28, 1921. He vowed that he would return and “sing and sing and sing.” However, Caruso died on August 2, 1921 after a relapse, in his native Naples at the age of 48 of complications from a lung abscess.
Aldo’s father, Evaristo Mancusi, possessed many of Caruso’s Victor recordings, and Aldo’s mother Mary had a beautiful soprano voice. These were the sparks that started his idea for a museum honoring the great tenor. Aldo’s home became a museum, with old phonograph horns, musical instruments, costumes, films, a mini-theatre, letters, caricatures by Caruso and even his spoons, cane and shoes. Aldo Mancusi, truly is “the keeper of the flame.”
The other honorees and acclaimed Brooklynites included Dr. Calogero Gambino, who won the Distinguished Italian-American Award; Celeste Scarpaci-Hutra, who won the Community Service Award; and Enza and Rocco Coluccio, who both received the Humanitarian Award.
Borough President Marty Markowitz spoke with gusto about Italian-Americans, as did state Senator Marty Golden and Congressman Michael Grimm. City Comptroller John Liu, Councilmen Dominic Recchia and Councilman David Greenfield all spoke of the importance of “Il Centro” the first Italian-American Cultural Community Center in New York, which will be located at 8711 18th Avenue off Benson Avenue.
My beloved grandfather Antonino opened up a shoe store practically on that spot back in the early 1920s, and years later bought a house on Benson Avenue, across the street from St. Finbar’s Church, with Grandma Rosalia.
We thank F.I.A.O. Board Chair Jack Spatola, President Frank Naccarato, Vice President Salvatore Fronterre, Vice President Carlo Sissura, Treasurer Carlo Lauricella, Secretary Barbara Pascarella and all the membership at FIAO for this unforgettable event.
It was nice to share this occasion with Cav. Edward Jackson, Linda (Mrs. David) Mercaldo, Professor Lou Barrella and wife Cathy from the Caruso Museum board, Vito and Rosa Pietanza, and Lou Aidala and wife Mary Ann, all Brooklyn dynamos and cultural ambassadors.
If Enrico Caruso saw us from his throne in heaven, he would have surely enjoyed seeing his grandson Eric and lovely wife Lynne dancing up a storm with Aldo and Lisa Mancusi, including a joyous tarantella!