80,000 Visit Festival; To Close Today
September 2, 1979
80,000 Visit Festival; To Close Today
The West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival has been a great thing for Clarksburg, far exceeding virtually everyone's expectations for a new venture, with an estimated 80,000 persons attending the spectacular three-day event.
It closes today with a Bocca Tournament at 2 p.m. at River Bend Park and the Italian Cabaret, an unofficial celebration for the success of the festival, at 8:30 p.m. at the Nathan Goff Armory.
Tens of thousands filled the streets of Clarksburg Saturday to sample Italian food, music, and merriment and see a spectacular parade which had Baseball Hall of Famer Joe DiMagio as marshal, who shared his car with Governor Rockefeller and Senator Jennings Randolph.
Among the other dignitaries in the parade were the Most Rev. Joseph H. Hodges, bishop of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese: Representative Robert H. Mollohan and West Virginia Secretary of State A. James Manchin.
"I've just never felt the excitement that was there," said Police Chief George Stackpole. "It was a good feeling, really, to see that many people enjoying themselves and not being disorderly."
Speaking of the huge crowd for the free Jerry Vale concert Friday evening, Stackpole remarked, "There was wall to wall people. It was so thick you could walk on them," he said.
Jerry Vale, whose singing thrilled the Main Street crowd and whose travels take him from coast to coast, said after the performance: "This was the greatest crowd I've ever seen at an outdoor event." He estimated the crowd at 65,000.
Accordian players strolled through the crowd Saturday while little girls in "Kiss Me, I'm Italian" tee- shirts romped below the statue of Stonewall Jackson on the Harrison County Courthouse lawn.
Antipasta salads, zucchini, lasagna, and many of the more exotic Italian foods were available at quaint sidewalk tables or at street stands. The area was called the "Renassiance Marketplace."
Canned beer was hawked from ice-filled tubs, and at least one stand sold beer from the tap. Heritage sponsors got a special permit to sell beer on the street, the police chief said.
Homemade wines and cheeses could be sampled free at one table, and another offered a mix of fine whiskey and fruit cocktail.
Following the mid-day parade, Governor Rockefeller, Senators Randolph and Robert Byrd, took to the podium at the courthouse square to address the crowd. DiMaggio, the famed center fielder for the New York Yankees and a frequent visitor to these parts was introduced.
Senator Byrd was unable to participate in the parade because of a previous commitment at Parsons.
Rockefeller earlier in the day announced that all arrangements had been completed for the Anchor Hocking Corp. to acquire the facilities of the Brockway Glass Co. plant, which closed this year at Clarksburg.
Rockefeller presented a $2.5 million check to the Association of industrial Development of Harrison County. The check was awarded by the West Virginia Economic Development Authority and represents the stat's share of an estimated $8.5 million package necessary to insure the purchase and upgrading of the facility, Rockefeller said.
Senator Randolph said in prepared remarks that the Festival is "a truly inspiring activity. For in the faces of so many participants in these events, we witness the tides of millions of struggling immigrants who came to America in search of a better life. Italian immigrants and their decendents have made this land richer, greater, and more beautiful. Their lives have been filled with hard work in the building of an industrial nation.
The senator went on to say, "No segment of our population has made more significant contributions to art, culture and entertainment in America than the Italians.
"The show was stolen however, by Manchin, who led the crowd in song, danced with the ladies and shook a never-ending series of hands.
This festival has done much to boost the morale of the city," said a veteran newsman who declined use of his name.
"The outpouring of love and good fellowship among all those thousands of people simply defies description," said Frank Iaquinta, president of the festival board. "We are very moved. It certainly has brought out the best in people."
Early arrivals in the downtown area Saturday expressed amazement at how clean the streets were in the festival area. They had seen them ankle-deep in paper and the like Friday night, but they were spic and span in the early daylight.
"We have City Manager Pastsy Trescost and his people to thank for that," said Iaquinta. "And we have so many people to thank for so many things."
He added that the organizing committee, which designed the event as a "community event, reaching out over the state," was genuinely pleased with the way things turned out.
"Why this compares with Christmas time," Iaquinta declared. "Some people say Clarksburg is too small for the crowds. But we don't think so. We'll spread out and welcome them all." Saturday evening, Iaquinta estimated that 75,000 to 80,000 persons have attend the festival.
"The jury is still out but it appears that the festival has been a complete success, he added.
"If we tore down any fences, we must mend them. If we offended anyone, we'll make it right."
Iaquinta said the current affair "is just the first annual festival. Next year's will be bigger and better, with better organization.
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