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"Stories from Silence" (Elkhart History - Part 2)

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The cemeteries of Elkhart, Indiana (and nearby) have never before been documented in this way. The art, poetry, history, and stories come alive again thanks to a tour by local historian, Paul Thomas, and genealogist, Pat Johnson. Paul is the founder and curator of Elkhart's "Time Was Museum". Pat and a friend have documented and published several volumes of books indexing burials in the city cemeteries and most county cemeteries. These books can be found at any local library, at the Elkhart County Historical Museum, and also at the "Time Was Museum".

 

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"Harrison Street"

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ill title"Our Italian Neighborhood"

A story of the Harrison Street neighborhood...
Elkhart's "Little Italy"

(Click here for a video testimonial)

Immigration to this country reached its peak from about 1891 to 1920. Many of the immigrants came from Italy and settled all across this nation. As an ethnic group, the Italians successfully assimilated into the American culture while retaining their Italian identity through oral history, traditions, and the application of learned values. It didn’t seem to matter where they settled in America, the immigration experience was very much the same in each location.

In the city of Elkhart, Indiana the largest area where Italians settled was in the Harrison Street vicinity. They came for a better life than was available in Italy, their only belongings were what they could carry, most did not know how to speak English, but they had a special spirit that moved them to a level of personal success that is envied by many Americans even today. Yet, after enduring economic hardship and discrimination they retained qualities that people in any community would like to have: the closeness of family, work ethic, cooking Italian pasta and vegetables with all the spices, the making of wine and bread, and the genuine happy and helpful spirit toward anyone who is their neighbor.

The Harrison Street Italian neighborhood existed from about 1905 through the 1970’s. The children of the immigrants who settled here grew and were married. There were not enough houses in the neighborhood for all of the families, so they made their homes in other areas of the city and county. Even today, many of these Italian-Americans have nearly the same closeness as they did when the neighborhood was in its prime. Why is that? How did it happen? Will it continue? What is the “social glue” that holds them together? Does the neighborhood exist today?

The documentary provides the answers to these and many more questions as some of the oldest Italian-American residents of that neighborhood recount their most intimate memories. It is a story that is not unique to the Italian-American community in Elkhart. It is common to each Italian-American community across the country, and much can be learned from it to help each one of us become better family members, neighbors, and Americans.