It's been over 100 years since the families of many Old Forge residents immigrated here from Italy, but for one weekend every year those individuals get a sense of what home felt like for their ancestors.
The Felittese Association will put on its annual Felittese Festival Friday through Sunday, Sept. 7 through 9, at the Felittese Chapel grounds. This year marks the 25th anniversary since the festival was revitalized in 1987.
"The founding families came over here with their faith…and they had a chapel built, and the first picnic was a celebration in 1907," said Joe Terruso, Felittese Association board member.
The festival is modeled after one that is being held the same weekend in Felitto, a town in the province of Salerno, Italy.
Both festivals are held to honor Our Lady of Constantinople, who has been venerated in the town of Felitto since 1790. The Felittese Festival in Old Forge is designed to bring descendants of Felitto together for a weekend of good food, music and prayer, with a Mass scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 9, at Prince of Peace Parish at 10 a.m., followed immediately by a procession of the carrying of the statue of Our Lady of Constantinople to the chapel grounds.
"It goes back to the old days, after the procession…everybody used to make a dish and take it. It was kind of a festive gathering," said Charles Saleski, Felittese Association member.
Those involved were forced to halt the festival in 1939, due largely to World War II. Terruso said that even though they could no longer hold the festival, members of the association still honored and celebrated Our Lady of Constantinople.
"Prayer still went on at the church during those years," said Terruso.
The fact that the festival is rooted in something more than just entertainment is what Terruso believes has kept it going as long as it has.
"That's the only reason it's lasted. If it wasn't God, it wouldn't last. Things don't last when they're just quick and not steeped in religion, not steeped in the faith," said Terruso.
While those in the association still continued the Mass, there were many who missed the camaraderie that the festival created, and when the land that the Felittese Chapel grounds is currently located on became available in 1987, the association assumed ownership of it and brought the festival back to the delight of those living in Old Forge, and some who have left the area.
"People from the town, former residents, that are actually Felittese origin, they come from all over the United States just to come back, see people in the town, meet people and families, there's a lot of local interest in it," said Saleski.
Having the festival has also created an interest in the celebration from those in the community who do not belong to Felittese Association.
"The whole community, not just members of the association, is behind it. Tens of thousands of hours have been donated over the last 25 years by volunteers who have given their free time," said Terruso. "Everyone gives as much as they can, and that's the fuel that makes it go."
In addition to members of the Felittese, members of the Sons of Italy, Prince of Peace Parish and the community will be donating their time this weekend to the event. Many began volunteering as early as last year, helping to plan and prepare this year's menu, which includes tripe, sofritto, gnocchi, meatball platters, porketta sandwiches, sausage and pepper sandwiches, portabella mushroom sandwiches, pasta fagioli, as well as Italian pastries, including cannolis, biscotti, cheesecake, cookies and the pizza fritta.
The extensive menu is designed to satisfy the estimated 15,000 people who will be stopping by over the weekend.
"It gets very busy," said Christina Mordente, vice president of the festival.
Mordente and the other volunteers are confident they'll have enough food to cater to the crowd, having most of the cooking done, with 2,400 pounds of gnocchi, 7,000 meatballs and 600 pounds of tripe all ready to go.
The homemade dishes, as well as the live entertainment, have helped make the festival a success over the last two decades. This year's lineup includes performances by Fuzzy Park on Friday, Gold Dust on Saturday and The Poets on Sunday. All performances begin at 6:30 p.m.
And, even though the association is confident this year will be as successful as in year's past, they aren't resting on their laurels.
In an effort to improve on the yearly event, this year the festival will include the inaugural Race for Our Lady of Constantinople.
"I wanted to do this way back," explained Lou Terruso, race coordinator. "This year I finally decided I want to try it."
The two-mile race and fun walk will be held on Sunday, Sept. 9, beginning at the Old Forge High School football field, located at 301 1st St., and ending at the Felittese Chapel grounds, 145 3rd St., Old Forge.
Prizes will be given to the top finishers in each age group.
Registration will begin at the high school at 8 a.m., with the race scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Cost to participate in the race is $15.
Proceeds from the race and the festival will benefit Our Lady of Constantinople Chapel, Prince of Peace Parish and local charities.
For more information on the Felittese Festival, visit http://www.facebook.com/mobileprotection#!/events/110422559104909/
For more information on the race, email Felitteseassociation@gmail.com.
What: 25th annual Felittese Festival
When: Friday through Sunday, Sept. 7 through 9
Where: Felittese Association, 145 3rd St., Old Forge