3/9/2017 3:01:00 PM Italians and the Irish, a case of culture clash
Sandy Vasko Columnist
If ever there was a typical American melting pot, it was Braidwood in 1883. Braidwood's earliest mining community was made up of mostly Irish, Scots, English and Welsh. Soon African Americans came.
Quickly after that came the Italians, Polish, Germans, Bohemians and many other European nationalities.
These immigrants were straight from the old country and brought with them not only their language, but their religion and customs as well. And surprisingly, they found that there were some things that they had in common.
One of these things was the Catholic religion. And in the Catholic religion the Feast of the Assumption, Aug.15, was celebrated as a major holiday.
To celebrate this holiday, the Ancient Order of Hibernians (an Irish organization) proposed the following; "The Ancient Order of Hibernians of Braidwood will observe Aug. 15th in a big procession, picnic, sports, etc., at the old race track ground, northeast of this city.
One hundred and twenty-five dollars will be offered in prizes for racing and the Miners' band has been engaged for the occasion."
Wednesday, Aug. 15 dawned cool and clear, a perfect day for a picnic. The devout Catholics of all nationalities went to mass in the morning and planned to spend the rest of the day dancing and drinking at the Hibernians picnic.
Things for the most part went well. But even at the picnic, the various nationalities formed their own groups, only mingling on the dance floor. It's here when the scene seems like something out of West Side Story.
A young Italian man named Lazier got into it with the dancing floor manager John Wall, he left, but returned with some of his friends. Wall, deciding not to wait for trouble, hit out at Lazier. It was then that the Lorentz brothers, two young Italians, stepped up and stabbed Wall.
John Horan, a young Irish lad then jumped into the fray, getting stabbed in the process.
We read the result in the Braidwood Reporter, "Four arrests were made on yesterday. Michael Lazier, Jos. and Chas. Lorentz, brothers, and Frank Bincheta were arraigned for examination. The prisoners were taken to the bedside of Wall, who at once remarked, "Lazier, I blame you for the whole thing; you said you'd fix me."
"About ten witnesses were sworn, and the testimony indicated that though Lazier did not inflict the wound upon Wall he was the chief instigator of it. The result was that Lazier and the Lorentz brothers were held in the sum of $500 each to appear before the grand jury next month. Bincheta was discharged."
"Every case has two sides, and this unfortunate matter is no exception. It seems that the Italians, as a rule, at picnics, take their keg of lager away from the crowd and in little circles of their own, drink it in a quiet manner."
"Some of the hoodlum Irish element, hours before the trouble, intruded themselves upon the Italians in question - wanted to drink their free beer and otherwise tantalized them without provocation. This was probably at the bottom of the trouble."
"The hoodlum vagabonds are as debased and bullying a crowd as can be found anywhere, and poor Wall was made to suffer for their outlawry, though he is known as a quiet and inoffensive young man. And even after the stabbing they made an indiscriminate attack upon respectable Italians who were wholly innocent. One young ruffian even robbed an Italian of his purse."
The Braidwood Republican quickly responded to this last paragraph and said that the Irish were in their rights for striking back at the Italians, and that Editor Conley of the Braidwood Reporter had printed lies.
Conley quickly struck back saying, "We all know what respect the Republican crowd has for anything Irish - it amounts to about the love that hell has for holy water. As to the Reporter, it can prove all its assertions and has no apologies to offer."
It was clear that these kinds of conflicts were not going to go away as we read in the next week's paper, "Thirty-one Italian coal miners, from Braidwood, were in Morris Tuesday, getting their naturalization papers." and "Jule Gardner boldly asserts that 800 Bohemian and Italian miners have come to Braidwood during the last 60 days."
Those new immigrants would have to suffer the "melting pains" that all new-comers feel. Whether you are the new kid in class, or the new family on the block. It takes time and patience, but in the end we are all stronger for it.