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Museum Receives History Bonanza

September 2, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

Since he was a teenager, Gennaro J. Capobianco collected newspaper clippings, old photographs, record books of mutual aide and social societies, and other bits of information to document the history of Hartford's Italian American community.

Last week, about four decades after he began his efforts, Capobianco died, leaving boxes full of history to the Connecticut Historical Society Museum.

t things about Jerry Capobianco is that he doggedly went out into the community to find out who had this stuff," said David M. Kahn, executive director of the museum.

"Giving them to us was his way of keeping them together and keeping them preserved."

The Capobianco collection includes about 50 cubic feet of information: records from the Young Italian American Association; the constitution and bylaws of the St. Valentine's Social Club; century-old photographs of bocce and card games in Wallingford; and historic photographs of Hartford's now demolished Front Street and its Italian merchants.

There's also the wedding formalwear of Ferdinand DeSopa, an early 20th century community leader, Kahn said.

Capobianco began working with the museum in 1997 to figure out how to best safeguard his life's collection. The plan was to have the museum acquire the collection and then work with Capobianco to understand its contents, but Capobianco died before the task could be completed.

"This is just the very beginning," Kahn said. "Most of this stuff would have ended up in the trash can were it not for his interest in history. It's really a history of the community ... and it overshadows anything we've had in terms of Italian Americans in Hartford."

The museum plans to begin the long process of cataloging the collection in an effort to understand its history and make it available to researchers nationwide.

A book highlighting the collection may result as well, Kahn said.

Capobianco, an undertaker and owner of the Greater Hartford Funeral Service, died Aug. 25 at St. Mary's Nursing Home.

In 1967, he co-founded the Italian-American Historical Society of Greater Hartford and, not long afterward, was named managing editor of the bilingual Connecticut Italian Bulletin, which stopped publishing in 1980.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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