Piccolo Palermo: The Italian Immigrant Experience and the Beauregard-Keyes House
Our most recent exhibit, Piccolo Palermo, was open to the public from July-October of 2017. Piccolo Palermo examined the successes and trials of the Giaconas, a Sicilian family that owned the BK House and property from 1904-1925, and whose descendants remain active members of the New Orleans community today. BKH's lower French Quarter neighborhood was a haven for Italian (the majority of whom were Sicilian) immigrants during the early 20th century, and the exhibit explored both the Sicilian immigrant experience in New Orleans and the subsequent influence that the community has had on New Orleans enterprise and culture throughout the past 100 years.
The Giaconas' Early Years in New Orleans introduced visitors to the Giacona family through photographs, immigration, census and other records, as well as pictures of the BK House during the years that the family lived in and ran their wholesale wine business, C. Giacona & Co., out of the home's basement.
Left: Picture courtesy: Southeastern Architectural Archive, Special Collections Division,
Tulane University Libraries. Right: The Giacona family immigration record from 1904.
A Family Portraits and Documents section of the exhibit displayed family portraits of early Giacona family members, on loan from Giacona descendants. Also displayed was a latin-language 1869 wedding record from Palermo, Sicily, and business papers and documents that the family left behind at the BK House when they sold it in the 1920s. The papers, which were discovered in the BKH attic in 2001, are written in both English and Italian and offer a rare personal glimpse into the lives and business of the Giacona family.
The Newspaper Timeline of Events followed major incidents that affected the Sicilian community in the late 1800s and early 1900s (when Sicilian immigration to New Orleans was at its peak). The Giacona family made the news many times during those years, noted for their prospering presence within the Italian community, and a few macabre incidents, as well.
Headline courtesy: Times-Picayune, 16 May 1916, p. 1. Via NewsBank.
With help from local videographer Joey Harmon, we interviewed three New Orleanians with Sicilian roots for the exhibit's Oral History section. Rosanna Giacona Shepherd is the daughter of Aniello Giacona, who was born at the BK House in 1910. Frank Maselli, the son of the renowned Joe Maselli, is the Chairman of the American Italian Cultural Center and Louisiana’s Honorary Consul to Italy. Dr. Robert Cangelosi grew up in the French Quarter in the 1930s and 40s and remembers Piccolo Palermo firsthand! For a taste of these interviews, visit this blog entry!
Lastly, An Intro to Piccolo Palermo, opened up the discussion to the neighborhood as a whole by utilizing images, cartoons, ads, and personal anecdotes from local families, such as the Brocatos, to bring to life both the early trials experienced by Sicilian immigrants and, later, the profound influence they have had on New Orleans.
Thank you so much to all of our friends, members, and visitors for helping make this exhibit a success!
Special thanks to: Rosanna Giacona Shepherd, Corrado Giacona II, Joey Harmon, Dr. Robert Cangelosi, Frank Maselli, Sal Serio, Professor Justin Nystrom, Stephanie Rios, Michael Redmann, Rebecca Smith, and Mark A. Vicknair.
Three generations of Giacona descendants joined us for the opening of the Piccolo Palermo exhibit on July 5th, 2017.
Historian Sal Serio, curator of the American Italian Cultural Center's Research Library, presents on Sicilian immigrant history in New Orleans and genealogy at the BK House on July 8th, 2017.
Professor Justin Nystrom of Loyola University gives a walking tour focusing on the Italian history of the lower French Quarter on Saturday, September 9th. Professor Nystrom is the author of the 2018 book, Creole Italian: Sicilian Immigrants and the Shaping of New Orleans Food Culture, and his research was important source material for the Piccolo Palermo exhibit.