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L.A. Beat

Galt Museum explores life of bootlegger Emilio Picariello

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Southern Alberta has a pretty wild, wild west history, with plenty of interesting characters who might as well have stepped right out of  a movie, and in some cases inspired movies and opera.

Aimee Benoit stands with a family portrait of the Picariello family which opens the Galt Museum’s exhibit the Rise and Fall of Emilio Picariello. Photo by Richard Amery
 The Galt Museum explores the life of one of these characters, Emilio Picariello— a young Italian entrepreneur,  councilman and bootlegger who was arrested, tried and executed with family friend Florence Lassandro for the murder of Alberta Provincial police Cst. Stephen Lawson in their exhibit “ The Rise and Fall of Emilio Picariello,” which continues  until Jan. 7. It opened on Sept. 30.

“ A lot of people know his story, but guest curator Adrianna Davies looks at it from a little bit of a different perspective — what if they were innocent,” observed Galt Museum Curator Aimee Benoit.
“ She even found documents suggesting there may have been another  shooter in the alley,” she added.

 The exhibit is on loan from the Fernie Museum.
“He arrived in Fernie in 1911 as a young Italian immigrant. He was quite a prominent businessman and entrepreneur and he even served as a town councillor. He was well respected and well liked, but he became known as a bootlegger during prohibition, running alcohol through Coleman and Blairmore and into the United Staters,” she continued, noting he had a variety of businesses including an ice cream shop and gathered empty bottles, which he sold back to breweries and bottling plants.

“The Alberta Provincial Police, which ran in addition to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, to focus on bootlegging, set up a sting operation during which Picarello’s son was shot in the hand, so he and family friend Florence Lassandro confronted Cst. Lawson and he was killed. They were tried, convicted and hanged for it in 1923,” she continued.

 She noted the exhibit also explores the social context of the incident including the temperance movement, and woman’s suffrage and even the media coverage of crime.
“ There were a lot of social ills happening at the time. There was the attitude towards Italian immigrants, women were fighting for their right to vote and there was so much media coverage of it, that they moved the trial to Edmonton (Fort Saskatchewan) because they thought it would affect the verdict,” she said.

 The exhibit tells the story through several panel boards, photographs and newspaper articles, plus a few artifacts from the Galt Museum collection about bootlegging and relevant issues of the era.
 “The case also inspired a lot of creative efforts like the opera Fillumena,” she continued, indicating a display case dedicated to  books and opera inspired by it.

There are also individual display cases dedicated to  the role of  the Italian Canadian  Cultural centre, which helped out  Italian families before the days of federal social security, the temperance movement, bootlegging itself, Picariello’s  bottle recycling business and even the Alberta Provincial police force.

 “The Rise and Fall of Emilio Picariello” is at the Galt Museum until Jan. 7.

Benoit noted in the new year there will be an exhibit drawing from The Galt museum’s archives, about the Alberta Provincial Police. The next big exhibit opens, Jan. 27. It  is curated by Jane Edmundson who will explore why museums and individuals collect and save items.

— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
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