The Song Of History – Italian Heritage and New York

For many people, New York is indelibly associated with Italian heritage in America. The five boroughs of New York are home to vibrant Italian communities that continue to contribute an energetic artistic and entrepreneurial energy to New York. Leaders in the worlds of sports, politics, and the Arts and Entertainment, Italian New Yorkers continue to make history here and around the world. Here are some of the important Italian New Yorkers who rest at the Woodlawn Cemetery.

Generoso Pope (1891- 1950)

generoso-popeSo loved was Generoso Pope that his funeral procession was lead by New York City Mayor William O’Dwyer. Thousands of people lined Fifth Avenue to follow the procession to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Pope had brought Italian language papers to New York City, and was active in city affairs founding the Columbus Day parade. Pope made his fortune in imported Italian foods and construction. His generosity lives on, as the Generoso Pope Foundation in Tuckahoe, New York continues his charitable work today.

Joseph Stella (1877-1946)  

Joseph StellaJoseph Stella originally came from Italy to New York to study medicine. However, he decided to follow his passion for art – he trained at the Art Student’s League, learning from William Merritt Chase.

He eventually returned to Italy where he gained additional exposure to art movements such as Futurism and Cubism. His style was evident when he participated in the 1913 Armory Show. During the 1920s, he continued his work, painting New York in geometric patterns. This can be seen in his iconic painting of the Brooklyn Bridge that is housed at the Whitney Museum. He is entombed in his parent’s mausoleum after spending his final years painting in the Bronx.

John Grignola (1861-1912)

Bronx River SoldierThis famous sculptor was also the president of the Mount Airy Granite Cutting company. He’s known for many famous patriotic works, such as the Civil War soldier that stands at the Bronx County Historical Society and the John Paul Jones monument in Washington, DC.  The capitals of the rotunda at the University of Virginia were created by his firm.

Fiorello LaGuardia (1882-1947)


Fiorello LaGuardia was the 99th Mayor of New York City. He served during the Great Depression and World War II.  A man of many firsts, this first generation Italian-American got his start as an interpreter at Ellis Island and later at the State Department.  Located in the Lotus Plot at Woodlawn is the memorial for his first wife and child – this was created by his friend Attilio Piccirrili.

The Piccirilli Brothers

Picirili BrothersThe Piccirrili brothers were a group of sculptors who moved to New York City from Massa di Carrara, Italy in 1888. They established their own studio at 142 Street and Willis avenue in The Bronx, after working for the Adler Monument Company for a year. Growing to over 100 employees, the brothers created stunning pieces in marble by converting clay and plaster models into large scale works. The New York Public Library Lions, the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were all created by Piccirilli Studios.  Works such as the “Outcast” on Myosotis Plot and “Fortitude” on Rose Hill plot memorialize their lives and work.

Italians and Italian-Americans continue to create and continue legacies of success and achievement, fulfilling the promise of the American dream. Learn more about our Italian heritage by taking a tour of the Woodlawn Cemetery. Contact us!