Home / Columns / The carnival season is upon us!

The carnival season is upon us!

As Lent drew near this year, the Veneti nel Mondo held their annual Carnivale con Cudighi Dinner, which spotlighted that beloved spicy Northern Italian sausage, and that got me to thinking about carnivals in general. That brought me right to the St. Anthony carnivals that the St. Anthony’s Holy Name, with the help of the parishioners, used to put on every year. When I mentioned St. Anthony’s carnival in a conversation, someone brought up the fact that there were numerous carnivals held throughout Roseland and the surrounding communities.

A number of the larger Roseland parishes put on carnivals as one of their main fundraising events of the year. Of course, I’m most familiar with the St. Anthony carnival, which took place every year that I was a student at St. Anthony’s. The Holy Name Society members were a great example of putting forth their efforts for the benefit of the entire parish.

Not only did they sponsor the St. Anthony Bowling League, which was so popular that it continued well into the ’90s before disbanding. They also sponsored an annual picnic for the parishioners. I recall attending one they held back in 1972. My future wife’s name was Marilyn Chao and we were at the picnic with my family. When they drew names for the door prize winners, they called the name ‘Marilyn Charo.’ No one stepped up. Once again, the name ‘Marilyn Charo’ was called and yet, no reply. Finally, I told my fiancé Marilyn to go claim the prize as it was likely that her name “Marilyn Chao” was being called.

Marilyn went forward to the gentlemen calling the name and said it was her name. They called the name once again, because Marilyn is of Chinese descent, while they were expecting a “Charo” of Italian descent to claim the door prize. Finally she got them to listen to her when she told them it was her handwriting on the winning ticket. They then realized their mistake and gave her, Marilyn Chao, the door prize. That picnic was one of the last ones ever put on by St. Anthony’s.

St. Anthony’s always had a Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, tilt-a-whirl and a few other rides for kids. They also had numerous games like the ring toss where you could win a cane. One year, I became obsessed with the ring toss, playing until I won 13 canes! Of course, I was smart enough to keep them out of my dad’s sight — I knew better than to invite getting a lecture or the belt!

As a small child, I was always fascinated by the ‘oyster bar’ tent set-up. I thought it was very peculiar that the men would get a plate or two of oysters and just gulp them down with a slug of their beer. It never ceased to amaze me and, since then, I’ve come to find out that it was a favored pastime at many church fundraisers and still is.

St. Anthony’s carnival also had all the peel open ticket booths with stuffed animals, foods or liquor prizes. I recall at the end of the final night of one carnival when Fr. Nalin, St. Anthony’s pastor, got into trouble with a parishioner because there were still prizes left after someone had bought $30 worth of tickets — the last tickets — and not won a prize. I think that was the first time I heard the phrase: “Hey, it’s for a good cause.”

In conversation with other Roselandites and Pullmanites, a whole list of Roseland carnivals was conjured up. In Blue Island, a major carnival was always at St. Donatu’ Parish. Not too far from Blue Island but still in Chicago was the Saints Peter & Paul Parish carnival, which drew in people from the nearby far south suburbs. St. Willibrord’s parish carnival was held right on Michigan Avenue in Roseland in the vacant lot that preceded the Roseland Plaza.

It was at a St. Willibrord carnival that I saw my first Elvis impersonator in 1958 when I was about 8 years old. Fr. Exler, a very friendly and outgoing Irishman with a quick smile and a sharp wit reminiscent of Spencer Tracy, was the man in charge. The Elvis impersonator put on such a good performance that he won a gold watch and $20 as the top prize for the talent show.

The carnivals of today don’t seem to hold the same fascination for today’s youth. However, it may be due more to the fact that we didn’t have as many distractions as today’s young people. Headphones didn’t even exist. We had the single earpiece for a small pocket radio that didn’t work very well and was too big to carry around. That would be the closest we could come to today’s iPods and iPads.

I think today’s young people are missing out when they get on the same rides we did because they’re worried about losing their ipods or cellphones that have become such an important means of keeping in touch. We were definitely a “hands-on” generation when keeping in touch actually meant “touching” someone — especially if you were Italian!

Contact CJ Martello at 11403 S. St. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60628; cjfranoi@yahoo.com; or leave message at 773-701-6756; Or visit Roseland Roundtable on Facebook.

About C.J. Martello

CJ Martello has returned to his roots as the author of “Petals from Roseland.” After five years of writing his column as a resident of Chicago's North Side, CJ put his money where his heart is and moved to Pullman, near the Roseland area in which he grew up. Having joined the Spaghetti-Os, Veneti nel Mondo and St. Anthony of Padua Parish and being one of the founders of the Roseland Roundtable Facebook page, CJ has become reacquainted with countless friends and acquaintances from his youth. CJ is looking forward to retirement and completing the books he has put on hold, including one that will encompass as much of Roseland's rich, beloved history as possible.