SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — The picture known around the internet, Robert De Niro Junior as a child pictured in a Syracuse tee has gone viral again, which begs the question: What’s his connection to Syracuse?
Unless you go searching the internet for Robert De Niro’s past, many still don’t know about De Niro’s family history in Syracuse, NY, and that’s why Syracuse History is here to explain.
The social media account Syracuse History — known for its Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok accounts posting videos and photos of old houses in Syracuse and their history — shared a bit of background on the De Niro’s old houses in Syracuse.
David Haas, Owner of Syracuse History, shared some history with NewsChannel 9 as well as some photos of several former Syracuse homes of the De Niro family, and of course the infamous picture of little Robert De Niro (junior).
Robert De Niro’s family history in Syracuse
According to Haas, De Niro’s family has lived in Syracuse for over 100 years, starting with De Niro’s grandfather, Henry De Niro who was the father of Robert De Niro Sr. whom De Niro was named after.
“Henry was a lifelong #Syracuse resident who worked as a food inspector and food merchant for over 40 years. He passed away at the age of 78 in 1976 and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery. His obituary in the local paper noted his grandson had won an Oscar for his role in “The Godfather.”
The De Niro’s first home was on Bryant Avenue where Henry lived with his wife Helen and their children Robert De Niro Sr., who was born in Syracuse in 1922, John C. De Niro, and Joan De Niro, also known as Mary Joan Bauder.
Later on, the family moved to Durston Avenue where the couple lived the majority of their adult lives in the two houses below, and where Robert (senior) would grow to become a famous artist.
Robert De Niro’s father, Robert De Niro Sr. had a career as an artist which spanned over four decades.
“As a child, he would visit the Syracuse Museum of Art, now known as the Everson, to draw and paint. By the age of 12, he had already won several local competitions,” said Haas. “A few years later, Robert (senior) left Syracuse to study Art at Black Mountain College in North Carolina before spending four years in Paris.”
When De Niro (senior) returned, he and his then-wife, Virginia, settled in Greenwich Village in New York City where they had a son, Robert De Niro Jr. – whom the world knows as the famous actor and producer.
Robert (senior) died at the age of 71 in 1993, and his work can still be found in numerous institutions, including the Everson Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
“It has been said that Robert (junior) spent lots of time here in Syracuse with his family. His grandma, Helen, remained on Durston Avenue until her death at the age of 99 in 1999,” said Haas.
The Story Behind the Robert De Niro Syracuse Tee
Although the photo of Robert (junior) as a child in a Syracuse tee is something that’s been circulating on the internet for many years, Haas says he doesn’t know the origins of it.
“I do not know the origins of. It has been circulating on the internet for many years, but I’m not sure who the original owner is,” said Haas.
Although it’s unknown who took the photo and where it was taken, the shirt De Niro (junior) is speculated to be a 1950s Syracuse University kid’s T-shirt with the old Salteen Warrior mascot.
According to a Reddit thread, many have speculated the T-shirt is of the old Syracuse University mascot, the Salteen Warrior. In the thread, someone colorized the picture and it seems to match the old imagery of the mascot.
According to Syracuse University, the Saltine Warrior, is an “Indian figure named Big Chief Bill Orange, was born in a hoax published in The Syracuse Orange Peel, October 1931.”
By the 1980s the search for a new mascot to replace the Warrior became, “both widely known and somewhat desperate.”
Finally, at the end of 1985, the Orange, popularly known as Otto, became the official Syracuse University mascot.