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Register of the Papers of



MSS 64

2.7 ft.


Marc K. Blackburn

Spring 1989


Italian-American novelist and educator Garibaldi Mario Lapolla* was born in the southern Italian town of Rapolla, province of Potenza, in 1888, the son of Biagio Oreste Lapolla and Marie Nicola Buonvicino.  The Lapolla family owned and operated a bakery and cafe in Rapolla.  They immigrated to the United States in 1890.  Growing up in East Harlem, Lapolla was educated in the New York City public school system.  He attended Columbia University, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1910 and completing a Master of Arts degree in secondary education in 1912.  Lapolla was married and had two sons, Mark Oreste Lapolla, who was killed in action during World War II, and Paul Kormic Lapolla.  Lapolla's first marriage ended in divorce, and he married Priscilla Sherman in 1934.

According to the book jacket of Lapolla's first novel, he "ran for every office from Alderman to Congressman on the Socialist ticket in the really exciting times before [World War I]."  In the McCarthy era he defended New York public school teachers unjustly accused of being communists.  During World War I Lapolla enlisted in the United States Army and was stationed at Fort Ontario, Oswego, New York.  As mess sergeant, Lapolla supervised the fort's hospital mess, preparing meals for the sickest patients.  After the war Lapolla began his lifelong career as an English teacher in the New York City public school system.

A brief summary of Lapolla's various positions in the public school system is as follows:

    English Teacher, De Witt Clinton High School, dates unknown.

    Chairman of Thomas Jefferson High School English Dept., 1926-1930.

    Principal of Thomas Jefferson Summer High School, 1927-1932.

    Principal of P.S. 112, 1930-1935. Principal of P.S. 174, 1935-1953.

    Chairman of Washington Irving Summer High School English Dept., dates unknown.

Positions outside of the public school system include:

    English Teacher, Hunter College, New York, 1926-1928.

    English Teacher, City College of New York, dates unknown.

    Chairman of New York City Evening High School for Men and Women, dates unknown.

Lapolla taught a variety of English subjects including grammar, American literature, English literature, poetry, Shakespeare, and remedial English.  He also published a number of books for use in the classroom.  These include Better High School English (Noble and Noble, 1929), Required Grammar in the New York Public Schools (Noble and Noble, 1937), and Junior Anthology of World Poetry (Charles and Albert Boni, 1929).  His professional affiliations included membership in the English Teachers Association of the City of New York, of which he was Vice President; the National Association for English Teachers; and the Teachers Union of New York City.

In addition to English text books, Lapolla wrote novels, plays, short stories and poetry.  Three of his novels were published, all by Vanguard Press: Fire in the Flesh (1931); Miss Rollins in Love (1932); and his best known work, The Grand Gennaro (1935).  The novels describe life in turn-of-the-century East Harlem, which was then the largest Italian settlement in America, and they are among the first to deal with Italian-American life.  A recurring theme in the novels is the struggle to assimilate into the mainstream of American society without abandoning native culture and traditions.

Lapolla boasted that his family's interest in cooking stretched back to the Roman Empire when his ancestors ran an inn outside of Brindisium (present day Brindisi, Italy).  While Lapolla did not make a career out of food preparation as his father had, he never lost interest in cooking.  His passion for the culinary arts resulted in two cookbooks: Italian Cooking for the American Kitchen (Wilfred Funk, 1953) and The Mushroom Cookbook (Wilfred Funk, 1953).  Recipes from both books appeared in a number of newspapers throughout the United States.

Rounding out Lapolla's talents was an interest in art.  He did pen and ink drawings, pencil sketches, and water colors in his spare time, and even illustrated his first cookbook with his own works.  Garibaldi M. Lapolla died in 1954 in New York City at age 65.


The Garibaldi M. Lapolla Papers were donated to the Balch Institute in 1985 by Priscilla S. Lapolla.  The papers were arranged by Marc Blackburn with assistance from Balch archivist Carla Zimmerman, Fall 1988.

Photographs found in the collection were separated to Photo Group 252, located in the Visual Catalog, found in the Balch Institute Library.  Artifacts were transferred to the museum and printed items to the library.

Accession #M85-23.


The Garibaldi M. Lapolla Papers, 1930-1976, contain 2.7 linear feet of materials pertaining to Lapolla's teaching career in the New York public school system, his life as a writer, and his avocational interest in painting and drawing.  The types of material included in the collection are correspondence, unpublished literary manuscripts, newspaper clippings, poems, pen and ink drawings, pencil sketches, and watercolors.  All of the material is in English, with the exception of some newspaper clippings and miscellaneous manuscript material in Italian.

Series I, Personal and Professional Papers, provides sparse information on the details of Lapolla's life.  However, located in this series is Lapolla's curriculum vitae, which outlines important offices he held during his career (Box 1/Folder 1).  Also in this series is a run of correspondence between Garibaldi Lapolla and his son, Lieutenant Mark Lapolla, United States Army Air Force.  These letters chronicle the younger Lapolla's flight training and service in the Italian theater of operations before he was killed in action in the spring of 1945.  The letters describe in great detail the process of transforming civilians into soldiers during the Second World War.  Lt. Lapolla's letters also describe the various hardships he encountered in stateside training and on the Italian front in the last months of the war.

Lapolla's professional papers are scattered over the many years of his teaching career and exhibit a wide range of material.  Included are copies of tests, lesson plans, and classroom syllabi.  Lapolla's teaching philosophy is revealed in a typed manuscript entitled These, Parents Are Our Schools.

Series II is the most voluminous of the Lapolla Papers.  This series contains Lapolla's unpublished manuscripts and notes for novels, short stories, plays, and poems.  Garibaldi Lapolla was one of the first Italian-American authors to describe the experience of acculturation and the struggle between native Italian culture and the process of Americanization.  Lapolla's published novels, Fire in the Flesh, Miss Rollins in Love and The Grand Gennaro, discuss these themes in detail.

The Lapolla Papers do not contain manuscripts for the three published novels, but they do include the draft and typed manuscripts of The Journey Homeward and notebooks for a novel with the working title, The Light That Never Was, later changed to Jerry.  The papers also contain typed manuscripts of seven short stories; the titles include ``The Madonna's Crime," ``Millie's Rebellion," and ``Napoleon the Fourth."  Also located in Series II are typed manuscripts for three plays: ``Satan Special," ``Serpent's Tooth," and ``Some Do It With a Sword."  Lapolla's poems are found either handwritten in notebooks or typed.  The artwork from Lapolla's first cookbook, Italian Cooking for the American Kitchen, is located in Series II, along with newspaper clippings of recipes and an essay dealing with dieting.  (The amount of material which may be quoted from these manuscripts is restricted, see the Appendix for precise restrictions.)

Series III includes all of the art work found in the Lapolla Papers.  The subject matter is composed primarily of human figures and landscapes done in the 1940s and early 1950s.  The most abundant medium is his pen and ink drawings, followed by pencil sketches, watercolor paintings, and two works done in pastels.  The art work is evidence of his hobby and indicates the types of subjects he enjoyed rendering.


For preservation purposes, some of Lapolla's correspondence and newspaper clippings have been photocopied onto acidfree paper, including a scrapbook presented to Lapolla by one of his elementary school classes.  To protect the sketches, they have been placed in acidfree sleeves.  Photographs and slides have been separated to Photo Group 252.  Play and novel manuscripts were removed from their binders and placed in acidfree folders for easier access and for preservation purposes. 


For more information on Lapolla's novels, see Rose Basile Green, The Italian American Novel, A Document of the Interaction of Two Cultures (Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1974).  The library holds two of Lapolla's novels, Fire in the Flesh (PS 3523.A659 F5) and the Grand Gennaro (PS 3523.A6529 G7), and one of his cookbooks, Italian Cooking for the American Kitchen TX 723.L3 1967).

The Balch Library also holds the papers of Leonard Covello, a contemporary of Lapolla who was reared in East Harlem and taught in the New York City school system.  The Covello papers provide complimentary documentation and include three letters from Lapolla regarding Covello's request for a copy of The Grand Gennaro to be used in a sociological study (MSS 40, Box 99/Folder 2).


The Garibaldi Lapolla Papers are separated into 3 series: I, Personal and Professional Papers; II, Writings; and III, Artwork.  Arrangement within the series varies according to record type and is described below.

SERIES I:  PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL PAPERS, 1937-1967, 10 inches (2 boxes).  Arrangement: materials are filed by type, correspondence is arranged chronologically.

Series I includes papers that relate to Lapolla's personal and professional life.  Lapolla's personal papers include a very limited amount of correspondence, mostly to his son Mark.  Other personal papers relate to Lapolla's death in 1954, including obituaries, letters of condolence, and memorabilia from the funeral services.

Lapolla's professional papers contain a wide variety of materials.  Included are copies of the English grammar text he wrote for the New York public school system, as well as drafts for some articles and study guides.  The substance of Lapolla's English classes are revealed in his class syllabi, lesson plans, and tests.  A scrapbook presented to Lapolla from one of his grammar school classes has also been preserved.

SERIES II:  WRITINGS, 1930-1976, 1.6 linear feet (3 boxes).  Arrangement: materials are filed by literary genre.

Located in Series II are Lapolla's unpublished novels, short stories, poems, and plays, as well as art work from his cookbook, Italian Cooking for the American Kitchen, and some article drafts on dieting.  The drafts of Lapolla's unpublished novels are in one of two forms, typescripts or hand written notes in spiral bound notebooks.  Some of the poems are also hand written in notebooks, though the remainder of his literary work has been typed.  In addition, some of his poems were written on sketch pads, which are located in Series III.

The artwork for Lapolla's cookbook are not the originals drawn by him.  They are copies made by the publisher, numbered according to the page on which they appeared.  The remainder of his artwork is located in Series III.

SERIES III:  ARTWORK, ca. 1942-1947, 7.5 inches (2 boxes).  Arrangement: materials are filed by type and size of the individual sketches.

This series contains all of the art work found in Lapolla's papers.  The various mediums include pen and ink drawings, pencil sketches, watercolor paintings, and two pastel drawings.  The subject matter of Lapolla's artwork is limited to landscapes and human figures.  Only a small number of the surviving drawings have been dated, primarily from the late 1940s and the early 1950s.

The box list of the register of the papers of Garibaldi Mario Lapolla is four pages long.