Last night, I traveled to Williamsburg, Brooklyn to visit the Our Lady of The Snow Society’s Hall on Graham Avenue. This pocket of East Williamsburg has been Italian since the late 1800’s. The society just celebrated its 130th Feast Day of Our Lady of The Snow this past August 5th. Needless to say, this is one of the last remaining original Italian enclaves on the North American continent.
In replying to a Direct Message via our Italian Enclaves’ Instagram social media page, I had arranged to meet a younger member of the Our Lady Of the Snow Society at the Hall at 8:30pm, Wednesday August 29th. Little did either of us know when setting this date and time was that it would be 97 degrees and humid. Nevertheless, I made a commitment to see this place and to learn about the history of the society, and I am so happy that I did because this turned out to be one of my most interesting experiences since I began exploring Italian enclaves almost six years ago.
Upon arriving in front of the Our Lady of The Snow Hall on Graham Avenue in Williamsburg, I was greeted by Allessando, the society’s youngest inducted member who initially contacted me with the suggestion to visit the society. After our formal in-person introduction, he guided me to the society’s club house down a narrow alley between the Hall and the building next door. Inside, a few tables were full of Italian men having coffee and playing Italian card games while watching Italian Television. I was immediately introduced to Vinny Raymond, the society of Our Lady of The Snow’s President.
Vinny quickly made me feel at home in the society’s clubhouse where right away he offered me an espresso as we began to discuss our common history and appreciation for old world traditions. We proceeded to tour the society’s upstairs, the hall which is elevated from its foundation with two staircases and Greek revival columns protectively overlooking its neighborhood’s main artery, Graham Avenue AKA Via Vespucci.
The Hall is beautifully decorated with a mural covering the entire back wall. The mural depicts the town and mountain top of Esquiline Hill where the miracle of Our Lady of The Snow occurred in Rome, Italy. On the Same wall there is a niche made for the Madonna Statue, which is an exact replica of the statue in the town in Italy. Please find the story of Our Lady of The Snow below:
Almost on queue, as we left the hall and descended its steps, a car driving along Graham Avenue slowly approached and stopped directly in front. Out of the passenger side of the car emerged an elderly gentleman of strong, fluid motion not to be expected of a 97-year-old. As the man walked over wearing his WW2 hat which also indicated that he was in Korea as well, I was told that he is the former President of the society of Our Lady of The Snow. I was then introduced to Joseph San Pietro where I introduced myself and thanked him for his service to our country before we entered into the society club house.
As an avid world war 2 buff and given my significant love of Italian American history, it is needless to say that I was overwhelmed by the opportunity to sit with a Veteran of World War 2 who also happens to be an Italian American of great respect and historical consequence. As our conversation progressed from his landing on Okinawa in the third wave of the assault in one of the bloodiest battles in human history, I also learned to my astonishment that Joe also served in Korea after World War 2. I could stop writing his resume right there and he would be an amazing man, but incredibly, Joe went on to become an New York Police Department detective and wound up on the “racket squad” with the collar of Joe Colombo under his belt. This arrest would become one of the most famous photographs of any mobster in custody with Detective San Pietro pictured behind the mob boss walking him to his legal fate.
I was enamored by Mr. San Pietro because he is the epitome of the American hero. He is part of the “Greatest Generation” at 97 years old and we should all emulate his patriotism and moral fortitude. He also vigilantly attends society meetings and is extremely active in the society’s pursuit of honoring the story of Our Lady of The Snow. Please find the below photos which depict certain medals and photos from the society’s club house.