Celebrating the King of Cool: The Dean Martin Festival in Steubenville, Ohio

A Story of Humble Beginnings

In the heart of Steubenville, Ohio, a town that whispers tales of modest beginnings and boundless dreams, a star was born. Many people know and love the charismatic voice and Hollywood personality that was Dean Martin, but few remember to this day the true Dino Paul Crocetti, born on June 7th, 1917, of Italian immigrant parents in the humble heart of American steel and industry. The Dean Martin Festival, open to the public each year since 1996, celebrates this heritage and offers a glimpse into a remnant of the American Dream.

Where It All Began

Born Dino Paul Crocetti in Steubenville, Ohio, Dean Martin was the youngest son to Italian immigrants Gaetano “Gae” and Angela Crocetti. Growing up in the South neighborhood of Steubenville, Martin was known to have always enjoyed singing, and would sing mostly Italian folk songs for his family and friends in their home. He would often be found playing sports with his brother and cousins on back lots behind their homes, as well as participating in church services as an alter boy. He was also active as a drummer in the Boy Scouts, and would participate in events held by the Sons of Italy organization. Having no formal musical training or the ability to read sheet music, Martin did not immediately turn to singing as a career. After dropping out of high school, he began to work odd jobs such as delivering bootleg liquor, dealing blackjack, and boxing. After several failed careers, he started working as a singer in his hometown’s illegal nightclubs. Taking inspiration from singers such as Bing Crosby and the Mills Brothers, he began to sing with local bands, dubbing himself “Dino Martini.” In 1940, Martin signed a contract with Cleveland based band leader Sammy Watkins and his band. After being advised to change his name to simply “Dean Martin,” he made his debut in New York City on the evening of September 24th, 1943.

Steubenville Today

While walking through the quiet streets of Steubenville, many important landmarks of Martin’s early life and career are still known to many of its residents. Martin grew up in the South end neighborhood of Steubenville, where you can see the location of his childhood home located at 319 Sixth Street. Other important landmarks of Martin’s life in Steubenville are present in this neighborhood including St. Anthony’s Church, where Martin was baptized. Several locations that were the proving grounds of young Martin’s career are located in downtown Steubenville including Walker’s Cafe, a bar and lounge frequented by Martin and was one of the first known clubs that Martin he performed in. In addition, The Spot Bar located on South Fourth Street, is the last existing location where Martin spent time performing in Steubenville. This location has become the hub of the festival, and hosts several events during the festivities. The last home that Martin’s parents lived before he moved them to California is located on the outside of the downtown area.

Through the years, Steubenville has taken great care to commemorate the memory of Dean Martin through the installation of a State Historical Marker, which celebrates the establishment of June 7th as Dean Martin Day, an official holiday in the state of Ohio. In addition, the Dean Martin mural, painted by Robert Denver in 1998, celebrates the memory of Martin’s career and his last publicized visit to Steubenville in the 1950s.

Much of the proceeds collected during The Dean Martin Festival have been set aside to fund the development of a Dean Martin statue that would be installed in the downtown area to solidify the memory of the small town hero.

A Festival of Celebration

The Dean Martin Festivals encompasses three days of activities and events that celebrate the life and legacy of Dean Martin. The night before the main festivities, The Spot Bar holds a Dean Martin singing competition, where young singers from around the country compete to claim the title of the best Dean Martin impersonator of the year. The most popular day of the festival opens with a parade featuring local dance troops, Dean Martin impersonators, and even Dean Martin’s cousin! A vintage car show tops off the morning activities, where you can stroll and admire restored vintage vehicles from Dean Martin’s time. A main event, and one I was very much looking forward to was a traveling Dean Martin museum, hosted by professional memorabilia collector Jim Monaco, and his wife Debbie. This museums featured unique memorabilia including Dean Martin’s personal riding chaps, Martin and Lewis collectables, autographs, film stills, posters, and news articles following Martin;s professional and personal life throughout his decades in show business and beyond. A trolley ride throughout the city showcases all of the landmark locations of Martin’s life and early career, and gives the visitor a true picture of what life was like for him in his early days.

The evening festivities were highlighted by a Rat Pack Tribute show featuring impersonators of Rat Pack members Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr, with an additional appearance of a Marilyn Monroe impersonator. Joe Scalissi portrayed Martin during the tribute and gave a memorable and accurate representation of Martin’s vocal abilities and personality. The tribute show was an incredible experience and opportunity to network with other Dean Martin fans, and enjoy and listen to the music that has transcended generations.

The Dean Martin Festival had transformed Steubenville into a place where the spirit of the Rat Pack lived on. From the memorabilia collections, tours of Dean Martin’s old haunts, to the captivating performances by tribute artists who had captured the essence of Dean Martin, it was a weekend that celebrated both the past and the present.


  • Martin, Deana, and Wendy Holden. Memories Are Made of This: Dean Martin: Through His Daughter’s Eyes. Paragon, 2006.
  • https://www.visitsteubenville.com/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dean_Martin


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