The below was contributed by current member Brother Antonio Capicotto in 2003.
At the turn of the 19th century, many Italian families settled in the village of White Plains. They were farmers, masons, tailors, shoemakers, professors, lawyers and doctors. When they emigrated from Italy, they didn't bring personal riches but they brought 2,500 years of culture and continued the tradition that goes back to 1492 and the building of America. They soon realized the need to get together to protect and to fight discrimination. They formed what was known as Societa Italiana di Protezione- ITALIAN SOCIETY FOR THE COMMON GOOD. In 1905, Doctor Vincenzo Sellaro, a NYC-based physician, together with a group of prominent Italians, formed the Order " D'Italia" - Today known as The Sons of Italy.
Within a few years, hundreds of Italian Societies joined the Organization. By the end of 1914 there were 212 lodges and tens of thousands of members throughout the United States. There were over 50 lodges within New York City and vicinity. After much discussion the Italian Societies came to the conclusion that "L'Unione Fa La Forza" (United We have Strength) and most of them joined the Order.
A Lodge is Born
In 1914, a group of people from the White Plains Italian Society approached Professor Vittorio Pezzulla from the Cristoforo Colombo Lodge of Yonkers. After several meetings held at 1 Brookfield Street in White Plains, they decided to join L' Associazione Figli D'Italia. They chose the name of the great Italian Inventor, Antonio Meucci (The True Inventor of the Telephone) and they set up a meeting for the installation of the Lodge. On February 22, 1914, they rented the Marion Hall at the comer of Main Street and Martine Avenue and in the presence of 32 Other Lodge representatives and The Grand Lodge of New York. Representatives from Westchester County and City of White Plains, they then proceeded with the installation of Antonio Meucci Lodge #213. Within a few weeks they had 150 members and within a year they had 275 members. Their first order of business was the ordering of the "Lo Stennardo" (The Banner). The manufacturer was La Ditta M. Di Lenda from Brooklyn, NY. The Stennardo (The Banner) was going to be handmade. The weaving was to be in gold and silver. The gold strands were ordered from Naples, Italy. The manufacturer gave the lodge a sample of painted silk and went to work. It took three years at the cost of then $500 before the banner was completed.
Ensuring a Legacy
The members of this lodge soon found themselves helping each other as well as other people of Italian descent. However they didn't hesitate to dig deep into their pockets for any worthy cause that could use their help. They were very proud of their name, " The Antonio Meucci Lodge", so when several months later the house where Meucci lived in Staten Island was up for auction at $6,000.00, the Lodge did its best to collect money and participate in its purchase. At this time the house was known as Garibaldi House and had a pantheon built over it by the Garibaldi Society. Our Lodge fought and argued that the name shall be changed to Garibaldi Meucci House. Today it is known as the Garibaldi Meucci Museum and it is owned by the Sons of Italy Supreme Lodge. In 1916, The Meucci Lodge at the request of the Grand Lodge was authorized to raise funds to build a Statue of Meucci that would be installed in front of the house and an order for a bronze urn to hold his ashes that would then be buried at the foot of the Statue. In 1988 the Meucci Lodge raised money to have the remains of Meucci's wife, Ester, be brought to the Museum and be buried along side his grave. It was only right that after a century that they be reunited.
Helping Our Community
Over the course of the years, collections of money were made for many worthy causes - From "fratelli ammalati", (sick brothers), unfortunate people who needed assistance, to the Italian Tailors Union (which was involved in a long strike), to renting a house for an unfortunate Italian family who were evicted for non-payment of rent due to illness, the members of the Antonio Meucci Lodge were always there. In 1922 the Lodge raised money to buy a set of books on Italian History and donated them to the White Plains Library. The collection lasted for nearly 6 months with donations of .50 cents to some as high as $5 dollars being made until $250 was collected.
Some members never forgot "La Madre Patria". So in 1918 when Italy entered World War I, many sent their sons to fight for the Motherland, while others, to help the cause, bought Italian War Bonds. However, when the United States entered the war, many volunteered their services and bought United States Victory Bonds. During the 1920's, even though they did not have any formal fund raising activities, and every donation was made personally from each member, they did participate in all parades held in the City of White Plains. On September 20, 1920 they held a feast where they were honored to have among the dignitaries, Fiorello La Guardia, the President of the Council of New York City.
The Search For a Home
Finding a permanent home for the Antonio Meucci Lodge underwent many changes. From Marion Hall they met in many halls, including the Auditorium-Hall at 138 Y2 Main Street, the Kliens Hall at 79 Main St., The Columbus Hall at 192 Main Street, the Vogt's Hall at 85 Main St., the Moose Hall at 23 Hamilton Avenue and then finally settled at the Foresta Hall at 31 Main St. where they stayed for many years. Even though it was considered a Pellegrine Lodge it was not a poor lodge. For .50 cents a month dues, they managed to pay disability benefits of $7 a week to every sick member. They were provided with free medical services from a licensed physician that held a license both in Italy and in the US. At a member's death, the widows were paid a lump sum for burial.
At the end of 1921, the Antonio Meucci Lodge had in its treasury $3,012.79 including Italian and American Liberty Bonds. At this time it was enough money to purchase a couple of acres and to start building a Lodge. Unfortunately this did not come about until 1954 when an old house was bought at the comer of William Street and Rockledge Avenue. Under the dynamic direction of a newly elected venerable, Salvatore Argento, the house was renovated and served as a meeting place for the organization for many years. Under our own roof for the first time, the members of the lodge found unity and cooperation and went on to new heights in accomplishment and member participation. This lasted until the bulldozers of Urban Renewal leveled off the remains of the old White Plains and with it went our lodge and most of the houses where the original members lived.
In spite of it all, the members continued to hold their meetings at various halls, participated and sponsored big parades, held Miss Sons of Italy Pageants, dinners and many other activities. With the desire to have our own lodge once more, the monies received from the Urban Renewal Agency, the site where the Lodge stands today was purchased. However many attempts were made by past Venerables to build, but unfortunately those attempts failed. As the years went by the funds of the Lodge were gone and with it most of the old members left. With only 68 members and $5,000 in bank savings, a new venerable was elected who had the support of a small group of active members that where determined to see an end to the loss of membership and to explore the feasibility of starting construction on a new lodge building.
Home Sweet Home
Within a few months, the designs were prepared and a permit was obtained to build a new lodge. On September 6, 1978, in the presence of Grand Lodge Venerable Peter Zuzolo, Past Venerable Joseph Monetemarano, Grand Chaplin Julius Valentinelli, and City and County Authorities, a groundbreaking ceremony was performed. The bulldozer was on the site and from that day on the construction of the Lodge became a reality. Following were two years of feverish activities. Then Venerable Antonio Capicotto, a builder and mason by trade, was instrumental in building the lodge with his own hands while many members donated monies, materials and of course their labor for the common cause. To have money to build $60,000 in bonds were sold among the members and the project was finished in record speed.
On October 12, 1980, among all the festivities, the Antonio Meucci Lodge #213 had a grand opening ceremony. After 66 years of struggle and ups and downs, we had a beautiful building of our own. We were able to make a donation of $3,000 to the Grand Lodge Foundation, Inc. and left $21,000 in the treasury and a membership of 205 active members. The following three Venerables, Albert Roselli, Charles Tota and Frank Tarone, did their best to payoff the building bonds. Finally, in 1986 the last of the building bonds were paid off. During a joyous celebration at the Lodge, we burned the bonds carefully as not to set the Lodge on fire. The building was paid in full.
Come On In, Sisters!
As the years passed, the Lodge under went changes, challenges and achieved new milestones. The Antonio Meucci Lodge, as with OSIA, was for men only and that lasted for over 55 years. It was at this time that Lina Manganello, a woman, was determined to join our ranks. She succeeded and after a petition to the state Grand Lodge, we went coed. We feel that this was a blessing.
Today we feel that we could not have succeeded without our Sisters. They have contributed with the ins and outs of the lodge and hold many offices. In 1988 we elected our first woman president, Carmelita Grieco, for the first time in our history, and she was re-elected to serve a second term.
Solidarity, Pride, Strength and Philanthropy
Peter Zuzolo, a native of White Plains, rose to the top of the state ladder to be the Grand Venerable of the State of New York and in a few years time became President of the Supreme Lodge for all of the United States, Canada and Bermuda. Another member of this lodge, Salvatore Migliaccio, went on to become Grand Venerable of the State of New York. In 1980 we directed a petition drive, which introduced Italian Language classes at Stepinac High School in White Plains and other local schools.
We are a charitable Lodge. In 1979 we donated over $6,000 to the earthquake fund in Friuli, Italy. We have given thousands of dollars to Cooley's Anemia, Alzheimer’s, and The Gift of Sight just to name a few both on the Grand Lodge level as well as in our own community.
Our thirst for knowledge can be recognized by the numerous scholarships given at our Lodge. We have included a clause in the criteria for scholarship that a student need not be Italian but be a student of Italian. We found that this enabled us to become more diversified in our community. We have a genuine interest in our community, county, state and nation. We have welcomed all our political candidates to become our brothers and sisters and share with us their views so that we will be better educated to vote for what we believe. We celebrated our 75th Anniversary with great festivities. We added to our membership young men and women that have given a new look and ideas as to what the future Italian American will need to keep our heritage alive.
As we embarked on our journey for the past 15 years, we now come upon our 90th Anniversary celebration and we reflect on what we have accomplished. Our membership is young and vibrant and we have many enthusiastic young people that are working their way up the ladder. In 1994 the lodge elected the second women to hold the position of Lodge President, Rose Tassone. She brought a new spirit to the lodge and an enthusiasm to bring families back to the lodge. She went on to serve as State Trustee for 4 years and later served two years as Commissioner of the Garibaldi Meucci Museum. She continues to be a great asset to our lodge.
We have sponsored two $5,000 scholarships at the Grand Lodge level while rewarding students from our own lodge with four $500 scholarships every year. We have raised thousands of dollars from Atlantic City trips, organized by Teresa Riverso, to sold out fashion shows that raised over $7,000 for Cooley's Anemia and other Grand Lodge Charities. We have always kept our doors and hearts open to anyone in need, especially when one of our members granddaughter’s had a fight with cancer. We held a pasta dinner that raised $10,000 to help cover medical bills. The lodge has opened its doors to Geoff Claroni as he, along with Vito Tassone, helped educate our children in their Italian heritage through fun holidays with arts and costumes that have become yearly events at the lodge. We have opened our lodge to Professor Sclafani. He continues to expand the teaching of the Italian language from elementary school through college with the recognition of teachers of Italian and their students in a yearly ceremony here at the lodge where the County Executive proclaims October Italian Heritage Month.
The lodge is always busy but in October, it becomes a frenzy, as we prepare for The Columbus Day Parade in the City of White Plains. After three successful years it is now back and will be better then ever. After many years of participating at the Italian Heritage Festival Day in Westchester, we were authorized by the County Executive of Westchester to organize and run it. Our first year in charge became one of the best. It attracted more than ten thousand people. We are involved with our community as well as our heritage as we maintain the flowerbed at the statue of Columbus on North Broadway and pay homage on Columbus Day with a Wreath Ceremony. We have our Annual Columbus Dinner Dance where we recognize one of our own as Man or Woman of the Year.
PWhen Antonio Amato took the oath of presidency of the Lodge, he brought with him a dream -To bring the lodge back to its former glory. With the support of his fellow officers and members the lodge underwent a facelift. From ceiling to floors, to painting and putting molding on the walls it was a work of pride in the hands of volunteer members. In the mist of renewal we were asked to help a young child name Antonio Segui, who is fighting a battle with cancer. Under Rose Tassone's chairmanship and the help of each and every member of this lodge, in one evening we were able to collect $18,000 and have a great party with standing room only.
Yet, as we approach our 90th Anniversary, we can't help but remember those that came before us who started this legacy. People like Vincent Ferraro, the last of the original members, two of our eldest members, Emilio Pettinicchi at 103 year and Giuseppe Venitucci at 101 years young, our first woman to join the lodge, Lina Manganello. Our Past Presidents, B. Albert Roselli, Frank Magnotta and many of our other members, may they rest in peace. As we continue to move forward with new Presidents, officers and members we will always remember to continue the traditions of our founding fathers. Our motto is:
"CON IL NOSTRO GLORIOSO P ASSA TO VIVIAMO IN UN ORGOGLIOSO PRESENTE E ASPETTIAMO UN BRILLANTE FUTORO."
(WITH OUR GLORIOUS PAST WE LIVE IN A PROUD PRESENT AND WE ARE LOOKING FORWARD TO A SHINING FUTURE.)