Many Italian-Americans who settled in Amsterdam’s West End came from the small, southern Italian hilltop community of Pisciotta, in the Campania region of Salerno province.
St. Agnello is a popular saint in Pisciotta and there used to be a St. Agnello feast day in Amsterdam.
The Pisciotta connection led to theatrical hijinks in 1967 during the Amsterdam recreation department production of “My Fair Lady.”
According to Jahnn Swanker-Gibson, now a Johnstown resident, a plan was hatched at a gathering of actors at the home of Stella DeTura.
Swanker-Gibson said, “Mischief was afoot on this indolent summer afternoon 45 years ago, mischief concerning a line to be delivered by Eddie Schwartz, as Zoltan Karpathy, to Phil Bracchi, playing Henry Higgins. The line involved was, ‘I have made your name famous in all the great capitals of Europe: London, Paris, Rome.’ ”
The news went out that Schwartz was going to change one word in that line. When the play’s ballroom scene was in progress before a packed house that night, Swanker-Gibson said the backstage also was crowded with cast and crew members awaiting the stunt.
Instead of what was written, Schwartz as Karpathy said to Bracchi as Higgins, “I have made your name famous in all the great capitals of Europe: London, Paris, Pisciotta.”
Swanker-Gibson said, “The audience roared. [Director] Bert DeRose was in stitches backstage. And Phil? Well, his eyes widened a bit in surprise, his head went back an almost imperceptible amount and his mouth twitched ever so slightly. Only those looking closely for a reaction were able to discern anything unusual in his demeanor, as he calmly went on with his lines as though Pisciotta were indeed one of the celebrated capitals of Europe. Here, indeed, was a professional actor at his best.”
When asked if he recalled the incident, play director DeRose said, “Yes I do and I gave them both you know what. I always stayed with the script, in respect to the playwrights.” DeRose was well aware of Amsterdam’s connection with Pisciotta although his own family came from the province of Benevento.
Pisciotta and Amsterdam
Amsterdam residents whose roots are in Pisciotta include Alderman Joseph Isabel, Rita Robusto Mucilli, Guy Capuccio and many others like the Sansalones, Catenas, Tambascos and Pepes.
Isabel’s grandfather and father came from Pisciotta, and the family operated a well-known West Main Street restaurant for many years.
Mucilli said, “My father, Aniello Robusto, opened a barber shop, paint and glass shop at 123 W. Main St. He taught himself English words with the help of the Sears catalog nights, looking at pictures and putting the names together.”
Aniello Robusto’s name is inscribed on an altar at a church in Pisciotta because he helped raise money in Amsterdam for the structure.
Guy Capuccio’s father and mother were both from Pisciotta. His father, Joseph Capuccio, came to America in 1910. Initially he lived in Syracuse but then joined friends from Pisciotta in Amsterdam where he worked at the Sanford carpet mill. When World War I broke out, he served in the American military in France. He came back to Amsterdam and worked at the Mohawk carpet mill. He returned to Pisciotta to marry a woman from his hometown, Rose Tambasco. They came back to the United States for good in 1927.
Their son, Guy Capuccio, visited his cousins in Pisciotta in 1991 and slept in the room where his mother was born. That home and many others are made of stone.
Capuccio marveled at ancient fortifications in Pisciotta, built to head off an invasion by the Moors centuries ago, “When you look at a structure that’s 1,400 years old, you say ‘Wow.’ ”