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Ronnie James Dio

Location #1: Dio Exhibit at CNY Living History Center at 4386 US-11, Cortland, NY
(42.620281, -76.183271)

What do opera, trumpets, and garden gnomes all have in common? They all helped shape local, legendary rocker Ronnie James Dio’s life. You may know Ronnie James Dio best for Black Sabbath, Elf, and Rainbow, but every story has its roots.

Ronnie’s story starts in Cortland, NY, where he grew up listening to Italian opera and playing the trumpet in the high school band class. In 1957 he joined his first paying gig band, The Vegas Kings. Comprised of Cortland local boys Billy DeWolfe, Nick Pantas, Tom Rodgers, Jack Musci, and Dio, they rocked venues such as The Stone Lounge and The Night Owl.

Beyond his music, Dio is most famously known for his horns. His signature devil-horned hand gesture has permeated the mainstream culture and can be seen from Snoop Dog to Obama.

Location #2: Dio Way in Cortland, NY
(42.600756, -76.168864)

In September of 2003, Ronnie James Dio accidentally severed his thumb during a gardening incident when a heavy garden gnome fell on it. In an interview with he said: “It was a killer garden gnome. I’m not joking, although I certainly wish I was. What happened was that I was in my yard trying to place this garden gnome on a slope. This is a seriously heavy piece of garden ornament, probably 60lbs or so. Anyway, it fell over, I fell into the shrubbery and then began to slide down to the bottom of the hill. I was trying to stop myself with my feet but put my hand out at the wrong moment. You can understand this all happened in a split second. My hand landed on a rock, and the gnome landed on it, squashing my thumb between the rock and the gnome. Basically, it was crushed and took the end of my thumb off. I just looked at my hand, and the first thought that flashed into my mind was, ‘How on earth am I going to make my devil horn sign now? That’s my trademark!’ I wasn’t worried about the injury, more concerned with my career.”

Thankfully Ronnie sought out a talented surgeon who successfully reattached it, despite its originally grisly prognoses, and virtually saved metal as we know it.

So, make a fist, raise your index finger and your pinky, and throw it in the air in tribute to one of the greatest rockers Cortland has ever known – Ronnie James Dio. We salute you.

1. Sharpe-Young, Garry. “RONNIE JAMES DIO Talks About Being Attacked By Killer Garden Gnome”. BLABBERMOUTH.NET, 2022,