West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival

Clarksburg Telegram
August 31, 1979

Festival Crowds Surprise Officials

Downtown Area Becomes 'Midway'

"That's Italian!"

And there was no one who doubted it as thousands of persons jammed the "midway" on Main Street around the Courthouse today for the start of the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival.

Even officials were surprised at the large turnout for the start of the three-day affair.

Irish Dan McCarthy, president of the Harrison County Commission, fittingly gave the address of welcome to his Italian neighbors and friends.

"Someone spoke of 30,000 or 50,000 people coming here for the festival," said McCarthy and he predicted: "tomorrow there will be 70,000 here."

They came, young and old, mothers leading youngsters and telling them it was "too early to eat a pepperoni."

The older visitors walked more sedately and were selective as they viewed Italian glassware and art.

The brilliant Italian colors - red, white and green - reflected the bright sunlight. The weatherman cooperated for the opening, giving the area its first "real" summer in weeks.

Men walked around, smiling, with buttons of invitation: "I'm Italian. Kiss me."

Young girls were more appealing with white tee-shirts and red letters, spelling out the same message.

The festive, happy air of the noon-hour was filled with the aroma of Italian cooking. Meals were in demand in keeping with the time of day. One of the favorite pick-up-and-carry delicacies was "Italian Hillbilly Hot Dogs," Mountaineer style.

Nothing was missed to give the setting an Italian flavor. Even the garbage cans were painted red, white and green.

The focal point for the opening ceremonies was the Courthouse plaza which was jammed with several thousand persons, gathered to hear the welcoming addresses and witness the crowning of Miss Mary Frances Beto as Regina Maria I by Secretary of State A. James Manchin.

One of the main attractions was the booths, bearing Italian wares, which lined both sides of Main Street from the Sheraton Inn to Fourth Street. Most were well-patronized.

The Italian Gardens featured $7 dinners with foods to suit the taste of even the most discriminating. Authentic Italian cooking by Clarksburg's own Italian families, the sign said.

Italian music was the only thing missing during the morning hours and that was taken care of later in the day.

Opening ceremonies of the festival began with an invocation by the Rev. Father Emil Dobosz, the singing of the American National Anthem by Charles Freeman and the reciting in union of the Pledge of Allegiance.

This was followed by the introduction by emcee John Peters of Clarksburg, Mayor Arch N. Benninger, who read a proclamation, signed by City Manager Patsy Trecost and members of Clarksburg City Council, stating that the festival reflects the bravery of Italian ancestors who left their homeland to come to the United States.

The city officials proclaimed they are "proud to be part of this ethnic folk revival" and "we urge all to take part in the festivities."

Benninger presented the proclamation to Frank Iaquinta, president of the festival committee, who said: "Benvenuto!...You have responded as I knew you would...All I have to say is "enjoy yourself!"

Members of the court of Regina Maria I, including the maid of honor, crown bearer and scepter bearer, were then presented, followed by the introduction of the queen herself, Miss Mary Frances Beto.

West Virginia Secretary of State A. James Manchin, who was next introduced to crown Regina Maria I and greeted the thousands of spectators in Italian, said: "In the name of the people of West Virginia and on behalf of the festival committee, I do hereby crown you, Regina Maria Uno, to reign over all that is beautiful and good...You are the pride of America, the pride of Italy, the pride of West Virginia.

"Queen Mary, you are now an ambassador of good will of the State of West Virginia."

Manchin concluded, saying, "Viva, Italia! Viva, America!"

Other dignitaries, including Gov. Jay Rockefeller and U. S. Senator Jennings Randolph, along with baseball Hall-of-Famer Joe DiMaggio as grand parade marshal and the Most Rev. Joseph Hodges, bishop of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese, will be on hand Saturday during the parade.

Also Saturday, Rockefeller and Randolph, who are expected to be joined by Senator Robert C. Byrd, will be using the festival as an opportunity to make an announcement regarding the purchase of Brockway Glass Co. by the Anchor Hocking Co. in the main courtroom of the Harrison County Courthouse at 1 p.m.

The three-day event, which has attracted Gov. Jay Rockefeller, baseball great Joe DiMaggio, the Most Rev. Bishop Joseph H. Hodges, Bishop of the Wheeling-Charleston diocese and others, has been described as the city's most notable community effort in recent years.

Hotels and motels in the area were reported "sold out," as visitors arrived by plane and car as well as by the bus load.

Even the weatherman appeared to be cooperating as partly cloudy skies were forecast with only a 20 percent chance of rain for the inaugural parade on Saturday. The chance of rain today, at opening ceremonies, is 10 percent.

DiMaggio, will be honorary parade marshal and will ride with Rockefeller. Also participating will be Bishop Hodges, U. S. Senator Jennings Randolph, Rep. Robert C. Mollohan and A. James Manchin, Secretary of State.

The organizing committee for the festival, whose members estimated the number of visitors, said response to the event has been so outstanding that they plan to make it an annual affair. Next year's festival will be "bigger and better," they say.

With West Main Street blocked off from Fifth Street to the Sheraton Inn, there was some confusion as early morning travelers arrived in the downtown area. But this was resolved as they took alternate routes. Main Street will be opened to normal traffic on Sunday.

The Romona Rose Dancers were to appear on the courthouse stage at 11:30 a.m. today and there was to be a puppet performance on the stage from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.

The Grande Costume Show from 19 Provinces of Italy were to be held 2-3 p.m., while jugglers, dancers, an organ grinder, music, food, wine tasting, free hot air balloon rides and arts and crafts were featured after this until 5 p.m.

Performing at 5 p.m. were to be the Calabrian Singers & Dancers of New York City, with free hot air balloons [sic] rides resuming at 6:30 and continuing until 8 p.m. The Renaissance street festivities will take place between 7 and 8:30 p.m. with the free Jerry Vale concert on Main Street to begin at 9 p.m.

A fireworks display will be provided at the conclusion of the concert at about 10:45 p.m. The fireworks will be set off from Lowndes Hill.

Saturday's events will begin at 11 a.m. with the parade, followed by the awards ceremony on the courthouse plaza.

Arts and Entertainment

West Virginia Archives and History