Arts & Culture

“The Wake” from My Corner of Boston [Video]

“The Wake” is the third in a series of 1990 skits from “My Corner of Boston” performed at the North End Union, produced by resident Rosaria DiFinzio. See all the scenes here.

Wakes and funerals were a big deal in the Italian North End. When I was a kid there were a dozen funeral homes and they all seemed busy. Italians generally patronized funeral homes associated with their city or province in Italy. Many North Enders, including my father’s family, came from Avellino and one of the Avellenese funeral homes was owned by my uncles Arthur and Fred. Wakes were social events where old friends met, gossip was exchanged and young people of marriageable age were introduced to one another.

When jobs were scarce young men would hang around the local funeral homes hoping to make a few bucks driving a limo or picking up a new customer. One day a call came in to my uncle’s place on Prince Street that an elderly man had died. Freddie sent my father and two other guys, Cusho Lombardozzi and one of the Malvarosa brothers, to pick up the deceased and bring him to the funeral home. When they got to the house they found that the body was on the fifth floor and the man had been dead for two days. This wasn’t unusual because families would often wait for relatives to gather and say good by to the deceased and the women of the family would like to bath and dress the body. Well, by that time rigor mortis had set in and carrying the body down the narrow, winding stairway was impossible so they decided to lower it out a window. A rope was found and they wrapped the dead man in a sheet and started lowering him down. The widow was hanging out of an adjacent window wailing and a crowd had gathered to watch the drama unfold. Of course the rope broke, the dead man fell three stories to the ground and the widow tried throwing herself out of the window to follow her husband into eternity. Street theatre at it’s finest.

Holding a wake in the summer posed a different set of difficulties. In the heat and humidity of the North End bodies would deteriorate quickly even if embalmed. Funeral directors would use a double bottomed casket and pack the lower compartment with ice. An abundance of flowers would help mask the odor. This is why some of the first air conditioned businesses in the North End were the funeral homes and Rosaria captures this beautifully in the skit we are presenting today.

If you missed the previous skits from Rosaria’s My Corner of Bostonsee all the scenes here.

Nicholas Dello Russo is a lifelong North Ender and columnist. Often using vintage photographs, Nick tells the stories of growing up in the North End along with its culture and traditions. It was a time when the apartments were so small that residents were always on the streets enjoying “Life on the Corner.” Read more of Nick’s columns.

7 Replies to ““The Wake” from My Corner of Boston [Video]

  1. I laughed a lot watching the “Wake” video. Especially on a dreary rainy day. It brought back memories of my nonni crying out at my uncle Joe’s wake “mio bel figlio”. I also remember that everyone wore black. I also remember the undertaker coming to the house to make the arrangements.

  2. Hi Nick
    My Uncle Al worked for Fred and Arthur, driving the Funeral cars Uncle Al owened a Big Packard with running boards, I love to Ride with Him, on family trips.

  3. Nick, I enjoyed your article on Wakes and Funerals. I never realized that Italians used a funeral home according to the region of Italy they were from. I remember a saying my family would say in regards to their inevitable demise. It was, “are you ready for Freddy” ? I don’t know if it was just a family saying or an N.E. saying. They were from Avellino.

  4. The first generation of Italian/Americans in the North End were very regionally and even town oriented. My father’s family was from Chiusano, a town in Avellino province, and most of their friends were Chiusanese.
    When my uncle Mimmie died at 3 Lewis St. Fred sent his son, young Fred, who was studying to be a priest, to pick up his body. Mimmie was a big guy who weighed over 300 pounds and the stairway was very narrow. They couldn’t fit the gurney so Mimmie was just in a body bag with Fred in front and another guy in back. My aunts were sobbing on the third floor landing. When they got to the second floor the body slipped and jammed young Fred into the wall. He winced in pain and said “f**k”. I was shocked and said, “Freddie, is that what they’re teaching you in the seminary”? He was embarrassed but they eventually got Mimmie down.

  5. A blast from the past. I supplied the polka dot dress for the old Italian lady., It was lots of fun and laughs. Too bad we lost the NorthEnd Union. Did you film any of the other shows that were held in Hubbard Hall.. That is Cardone and Frasca and Sonny(RIP)

    1. I also filmed the one from 1993 which had some different actors. Diane DeMarco, a terrific actress, is in the 1993 version. I actually prefer the earlier version, it’s rough around the edges and more real. In the later version Rosaria had fancier costumes and the whole production was more polished which the North End never was.
      I gave the disks to Matt Conti and told him he could sell copies and use the money to support his web site. We all owe Matt a huge debt of gratitude for maintaining this web site at his own expense.

    2. I just remembered Sonny’s last name Lottie or Lotzie RIP He performed in all the plays at the North End Union A wonderful person.

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