By EMMALEE C. TORISK
After 119 years, the Mount Carmel Society Festival has become practically synonymous with the village itself.
Mention Lowellville to anyone in the know, said Bob Pallozzi, vice president of the Mount Carmel Society, and you’ll be met with descriptions of a procession with a century-old statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel that travels through the village streets, a 12-foot-tall doll that dances as fireworks shoot from her arms and head and a band composed of members old and young that plays traditional music to accompany it all.
“It’s the thing that Lowellville’s known for,” said Pallozzi, of the celebration that hasn’t skipped a year since the fraternal order was chartered in 1895. “It really is something that we’ve passed on from generation to generation, and it has become not just a club event, but a community event. It’s what people look forward to every year and come back for.”
This year’s festival will take place from Wednesday to July 19 and will kick off, as usual, with a spaghetti dinner Sunday at the Mount Carmel Society Social Hall, 102 E. Washington St. Carry-out orders will be available from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., while sit-down dinners will be served from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $4 for children age 6 to 12, and free for those 5 and under.
The feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on Wednesday will begin at 9 a.m. with a procession starting at the society’s social hall and ending at Holy Rosary Church, 131 E. Wood St. High Mass will be celebrated there in both English and Italian. At 6 p.m. that day, the Mount Carmel Society Festival officially will open, featuring bocce and morra tournaments, Italian food, rides, games of chance, fireworks and, of course, the Baby Doll Dance throughout its four-day run.
For the uninitiated, the Baby Doll Dance, which involves the aforementioned dancing doll equipped with pyrotechnics, is a tradition that society members’ forefathers brought with them from southern Italy. Burning the doll in effigy was said to cleanse the village of the past year’s troubles, and bring in good luck for the coming year.
Even though the doll no longer is burned, the act carries with it the same meaning, said Frank Speziale of Struthers, who has donned the hollow, 100-pound doll and guided her through her dance since 1981. He took over from Carmen Carcelli, his uncle and godfather, as well as the man behind the Baby Doll Dance for more than 50 years. In fact, Speziale still uses a doll crafted by Carcelli, though he’s at work on a new one.
Speziale added that he’d love to see the tradition of the Baby Doll Dance, which he recalled watching as a child, continue. He’d also like to see it remain in the family.
“It’s about the heritage,” he said.
Bob Antonucci, music teacher for Lowellville schools, explained that the Mount Carmel Society Band, founded in 1927 by Michael Lucente, also is a tradition that has become an integral part of the community. He’s belonged to the band for almost 25 years, since his college days, and said members continue to perform music Lucente carried from his homeland of Italy as well as original compositions.
Plus, Antonucci added, most people in Lowellville have relatives who either played in or conducted the band at one point or another. As for Antonucci, though he grew up in Struthers, his maternal grandparents lived in Lowellville, and he’s never missed a year of the Mount Carmel Society Festival.
“It’s nice to be an integral part of the customs and the traditions,” Antonucci said.
The Mount Carmel Society Band will perform each night of the festival and also during the Baby Doll Dance, which will take place at 10 p.m. Wednesday and at 11 p.m. next Thursday and July 18. Steve Fazzini also will perform. Next Thursday, designated as Orr Donatelli Day, will allow special-needs children from the area to enjoy the festival from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., followed by a lunch provided by the Mount Carmel Society Ladies Auxiliary. Fireworks will start at 11:30 p.m. July 19.
More information about the Mount Carmel Society can be found on its website, www.mtcarmelclub.com.