Italians celebrate first crossing of the Atlantic by air at Tivoli Circle

Mar 29, 2022 361

BY: Charles Marsala

The American-Italian Federation of the Southeast celebrated the 95th Anniversary of the historic transatlantic flight of Italian aviator Francesco de Pinedo on Saturday, March 26 at Tivoli Circle. Accompanied by a navigator and a mechanic, de Pinedo began a four-continent flight from Rome and landed a seaplane on the Mississippi River at Canal Street on March 29, 1927 – two months before aviator Charles Lindberg crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

Thousands of Italians, the majority of Sicilian descent, lined the Mississippi River to greet de Pinedo. In 1925 de Pinedo had previously flown to Australia, China and India. Francesco de Pinedo was given the title “Lord of the Distances.”

De Pinedo stopped in New Orleans during his U.S. tour to inspire the large Italian population. More than 60,000 Sicilians had been recruited from 1870-1924 to work building Louisiana’s railroads, cutting sugarcane, picking cotton, or as stevedores at the port of New Orleans. So many Sicilians settled in the lower French Quarter that the neighborhood became known as “Little Palermo.” By 1924 nearly half of all grocery stores in Louisiana were owned by Sicilian immigrants or their descendants who often resided “above the store.”

In 1810 city planner Barthelemy Lafon selected the name Tivoli Place for the site at the intersection of Howard and St. Charles avenues to make a New Orleans connection with the world-famous Tivoli Gardens, built in 300AD near Rome.  Tivoli Circle was the gateway to New Orleans Garden District.     

However, by 1877 the gardens still had not been erected.  The city council approved renaming the land only Tivoli Place as Lee Place and a memorial was erected before the 1884 World’s Exposition in New Orleans.   In December 2015, the City Council passed an ordinance removing the memorial and re-instating the land as Tivoli Place.  

Saturday’s ceremony also marked the beginning of the Centennial Celebrations for the Italian Air Force. Italy’s Regia Aeromautica (Royal Air Force) was founded on March 28, 1923 as an independent service by King Vittorio Emanuele III of the Kingdom of Italy.

The event included a display of 10 images which told the story of de Pinedo’s “Four Continents Flight.” Images depicted de Pinedo’s March 29, 1927 landing in New Orleans and included a painting of de Pinedo’s plane landing in Brazil, which hangs in the lobby of the New Orleans Lakefront Airport. De Pinedo flew with a co-pilot and mechanic. The three carried Italian wine and cheese and listened to Italian Opera on a gramophone during their travels.  The Savoia-Marchetti S.55 flying boats of the 1920’s demonstrated the feasibility of global air travel.

The American-Italian Federation advocates turning Tivoli Circle into a Blue Star and Gold Star Memorial. The Gold Star program was founded in 1945 to aid wives of World War II soldiers killed in action. Today it aids the spouses of all active military with a military cause of death. April 5th is Gold Star Day.

The Federation has a produced a free self-guided tour app titled “Little Palermo” which includes Tivoli Circle. The app is available under “New Orleans Insider Tours” on the App-Store. The app uses GPS and with imbedded videos to inform of over 40 points of interest in “Little Palermo.”

For more information contact Federation President Charles Marsala at 650-333-8212 or cemarsala@yahoo.com.    www.TivoliCircle.org

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