The Italian Immigrant Experience – Pt.1

 

The Marchione, Consolmagno, and Costanza Families

The “birds of passage” phenomenon saw millions of Italian males emigrate to America in the late 19th and early 20th without their families, oftentimes spending years in this country before bringing over their wives and children and making a permanent commitment to this country.  This phenomenon had an impact upon both the paternal and maternal sides of my family.

On the paternal side, it led to an alteration in the family name, which should be Consolmagno rather than Marchione. The details are sketchy, but the following is the story as it came down to me from my father.

2-aquara

Aquara, the town of origin of my paternal ancestors, lies about 30 kilometers east of Paestum, a city of splendid Greek temples. In 2006, while staying in Paestum, I visited Aquara with my brother Robert Marchione.

My paternal ancestors came from the town of Aquara, Province of Salerno, in Italy’s Campania region.  About 1880, my great grandmother, Marietta (last name uncertain) married a man named Marchione, who soon after emigrated to South America as a bird-of-passage, no doubt promising to return, but was in fact never heard from again.  It may be that Signor Marchione found a woman more to his liking in Argentina.

The abandoned Marietta later formed a common law relationship with my great grandfather, Felice Consolmagno by whom she had several children. Since Italian law did not permit divorce, Marietta continued to be regarded as the wife of Signor Marchione, and the children born to her and Felice were legally required to take the name of the man who had abandoned her. Here we see but one example of the baneful influence of the Catholic Church on Italian society. Thus the children of Felice Consolmagno became Marchiones  (My father’s middle name, it should be noted was Felice, after this Consolmagno grandfather).

3-luigi-marchione-as-a-young-man

Luigi Marchione, my paternal grandfather as a young man, about 1905. This image was given me a few years ago by a first cousin, Ken Marchione, son of Carlo Marchione, my father’s younger brother, who I had just met for the first time. Though unidentified there can be little question that the young man pictured here is Luigi.

The townspeople of Aquara, I was told, looked down on the children of this irregular relationship.  My grandfather, Luigi Marchione, was the eldest of Felice and Marietta’s children. Later, when Luigi, a shoemaker by trade, proposed marriage to Emilia Costanza (my grandmother), her parents disapproved, considering him an unsuitable match for their eldest child, and so the couple fled to America. It is not clear whether they married in Italy or after arriving here.  My father, William Felice Marchione, who was born in Brighton on June 21, 1913, was their eldest child.

[In 1999 I was in touch with my father’s younger brother, Thomas Marchione, with whom I had not been in contact for some 45 years], the eldest surviving male child of Luigi and Emilia, a resident of East Boston. While we had three telephone conversations and exchanged a number of letters, “Uncle Tommy” proved unable (or possibly unwilling) to add much to the story.  I sent him eventually a list of questions relating to family history, but received no response.  In April 2000 I also had a telephone conversation with my father’s youngest sibling, Eleanor Marchione Fullerton, then age 76, who then lived in Virginia Beach, Virginia with her daughter and son-in-law, a naval officer.  My last contact with her had been back in 1974 when she attended my father’s funeral.  This conversation likewise shed no light upon the Consolmagno story—Aunt Eleanor, in fact, claimed to be unaware of the circumstances, which I found difficult to fathom, though being the youngest child in the family it is remotely possible that she was never told.

In any event, the Costanzas refused to have anything more to do with their daughter after her flight to America.  Bear in mind that Emilia sacrificed a good deal by marrying Luigi Marchione, her family being relatively well off.  Her father (first name unknown) was some sort of public official (possibly a meat inspector). His father, Giovanni  Costanza, had apparently once been Mayor of the town of Fardella in the Basilicata region of Italy. As I understand it, Italian mayors in the years immediately following unification were appointed by the central government. My father had learned from a cousin, Charlie Marino, of his great grandfather’s involvement in the Italian unification movement, and was told that a statue had been raised to him in his home town.

In 1911, when the Italian government published the Enciclopedia del Risorimento, a compilation of the biographies of persons who had contributed to the unification of Italy, a biographical sketch of one Giovanni Costanza [presumably my paternal great-great grandfather] was included, which translates as follows:

Giovanni Costanza (born September 11, 1824) in Fardella [Lucania, now Basilicata Province] died January 24, 1893).  Son of Francesco and Parsia Lecce.  In the time of the Bourbon reaction he sacrificed the tranquility of his life and the comfort of his family to assist the national movement.  Thus in 1860 he established in his region a committee for the revolution, and, in his capacity as head of the municipal administration, constantly championed a program of liberal reform.  On the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy a tablet bearing the following inscription was raised in his memory: “To Giovanni Costanza/ enemy of tyranny/ of the dispirited life/ the people of Fardella/ on the 50th anniversary of the Resurrected Italy/ hand down to posterity his name/ 1911.

Luigi and Emilia as they appeared in later years. These pictures were almost certainly taken at different stages of their lives, for Emilia looks at least a decade older than her husband. Luigi portrait probably dates from the early 1930s when he was a successful businessman and real estate speculator.

Luigi and Amelia (Costanza) Marchione arrived in the United States in 1911 or 1912, and settled in Brighton, Massachusetts, the town in  which I would later grow up, where Luigi opened a shoemaking shop at the southeast corner of Dighton and Washington Streets.

They lived at 9 Shannon Street, in a house that belonged in 1916 (according to a Bromley Street Atlas) to one Hannah Mullen.  It was here that my father was born in June 21, 1913. Another family that resided in the house at that time were the Gentiles, the grandparents of my cousins Fred and Ann Louise Salvucci, and Mrs. Gentile apparently helped with the delivery of my father.  Hospitalization for childbirth was uncommon among working class mothers back then. Subsequently Emilia and Mrs. Gentile lost contact, only to be reunited at my parent’s wedding reception in 1941.

According to Uncle Tommy (one of the few pieces of new information he provided) he too was born at 9 Shannon Street in 1917, which indicates that the family resided there for at least five years, and possibly longer.  This suggests that Aunt Nydia (whose birth occurred between that of my father and Tommy, was also born in Brighton).

5-william-f-marchione-as-a-child

Portrait of William F. Marchione, my father, as a young boy.  This is the only childhood picture of my father that I own.  He must have been about 3 years old at the time, so it probably dates from 1916.

Sometime after his birth, according to Tommy, the family moved to the upscale community of Pride’s Crossing in Beverly, where my grandfather opened another cobbler’s shop. They did not remain in Beverly long, however, ending up in South Medford— first on Wareham and later on Leyden Streets (in a house overlooking the Mystic River), and finally in Ball Square just over the city line in Somerville. In all Luigi and Emilia had five children: William, Nydia, Thomas,  Carlo, and  Eleanor. My father was apparently named for my grandmother’s brother Guglielmo (William in English) Costanza, who died at the age of 27.

My grandfather died in 1944 when I was just two years of age, so I have no personal recollection of him.  I do remember my grandmother Marchione, however.  She died in 1950, when I was eight years old. When I was a child we visited my widowed grandmother regularly at the Ball Square House. 

Luigi Marchione was an unusual man.  An immigrant who lacked much formal education, he arrived here when he was in his late twenties, and taught himself to speak English without a trace of an accent.

He also showed great business initiative.  Beginning as a shoemaker, he became, in turn, a salesman of shoemaking machinery, an inventor, and the owner of a brush factory (I was told it was called the Romarchi Company), and later, was Treasurer (this according to Uncle Tommy) of the Albiani Restaurants.  Another family member (a first cousin of my grandfather), incidentally, was Diograzio Consolmagno, who in 1906 established the well-known Amalfi Cafe on Westland Avenue in the Back Bay, just around the corner from Symphony Hall. Other notable relatives were the Capasoli brothers, first cousins to my father.  John was a lawyer while his brother Luke was major building contractor.

I recall my father telling me that he worked briefly for his unmarried cousin Diograzio, who wanted to train him as his successor, but my father, who disliked the restaurant business, refused.

My father also told me that his father owned many law books, and taught himself quite a bit about real estate law.  An official of the Watertown Bank once told my father that my grandfather was the only man who had ever outsmarted that financial institution in a real estate transaction.

Luigi Marchione was also deeply interested in horticulture.  He kept a greenhouse in his back yard in which he experimented in crossing different varieties of fruit.  He was also a great music lover (playing the trombone, I was told, with a high degree of skill).  He also owned a large collection of opera recordings (the one-sided RCA Victor records) featuring the great singers of the day like Caruso, Gigli, and Melba, a number of which I now own.  I may have inherited my love of classical music from my paternal grandfather.

6-luigi-marchiones-patent

Here we see the patent for one of my grandfather’s inventions, a blacking dauber, for which he applied in 1919. In the process of Americanization he had substituted the name Louis for Luigi (here spelled Lewis—the patent attorney’s error).

His most important and successful invention was a variety of the self-feeding brush, which he devised in 1927. Years ago virtually every public rest room in America was equipped with a soap dispenser based on his invention. The big buffing machines that are used to wax floors apparently utilize the same soap dispensing principle.  Again, as the story was told to me, he sold the patent for the device for $50,000, using the money from the transaction to open a brush factory somewhere in the Mystic River Valley.

So prosperous had my grandfather become by the late 1920s (at that point, bear in mind, he had been in this country for only a decade and a half) that he employed a chauffer. I was also told that he invested heavily in real estate, including Florida property during the land boom there in the 1920s.

Unfortunately, however, this prosperity was short-lived. The Romarchi Company was forced into bankruptcy in the early stages of the Great Depression.

My grandfather’s chauffer, it should be noted, caused one of the most dramatic episodes of my father’s youth. Apparently, while out driving the car one day, the chauffer struck a pedestrian, panicked,  and fled the scene. When the police traced the car to my grandfather’s house, the chauffer accused my father (who was then fifteen) of being the driver, leading to the teenage boy’s arrest and jailing.  Eventually, the chauffer admitted his guilt, and my father was released.  I have been unable to find anything more about this incident than what I have related here, despite several hours attempting to research the matter at the Medford Public Library.  Hopefully, further research in court records and newspapers will turn up some additional details.

7-paternal-grandfather-louismarchione1941

The last known portrait of my grandfather, dating from 1941, the year before my birth. He stands here in the side yard of the Ball Square house in Somerville.  He was 56 years of age in 1941 and had only two more years to live.  His life was shortened by diabetes, a disease that I, unfortunately, inherited. In his day diabetes was a much more serious disease than it is today.

Though Louis Marchione was in many ways a talented and admirable figure, he also had serious flaws. For one thing he was an admirer of the Fascist dictator Mussolini (a not unusual attitude in the Italian community at the time) even after Il Duce entered into his tragic alliance with Hitler. This stood in sharp contrast to my maternal grandfather, Loreto Salvucci, a socialist, who detested Mussolini.

According to my mother (who was perhaps understandably more willing to talk about these matters than my father) the relationship between my Marchione grandparents was deeply troubled.  My grandfather apparently had a mistress.  My father got into serious trouble with his father at one point by spitting at this woman. Though my grandparents continued to live together to the end of his life, for many years they apparently refused to speak to one another, communicating only through their children.  Thus my father grew up in a tension-ridden atmosphere, which may help explain his later impatience and outbursts of temper, often directed at me.

8-william-p-marchione-with-mother-and-aunt-nydia-1942

My mother holding me as an infant in 1942 outside of the Ball Square house, with Aunt Nydia, my father’s eldest sister at her side.

These marital difficulties also shed light upon the dysfunctional character of the Marchione family—notably my father’s troubled relationship with his brothers.  Tommy, my father told me, forged my father’s name to various loan documents.  The relationsip between my father and brother Carlo suffered when my grandmother left her house in Ball Square only to Carlo, her youngest son who was still living at home when she died in 1950. My father, Tommy, and his sisters Nydia and Eleanor received nothing. The relationship between my father and his two sisters was more cordial, though not especially close.  I can recall visiting my Marchione aunts now and then when they both lived in East Boston in the 1950s. I also remember visiting Aunt Eleanor when she lived in Union City, New Jersey.  My parents were driving me to Washington to begin graduate studies at George Washington University and we stopped off for a brief visit.

My father tended to be dismissive of his sister Nydia, advising me not to believe half of what she related about family history, since she had a tendency to embroider. Nydia was very devoted to the memory of her father and characterized him as a genius.

Aunt Nydia married three times.  Her first husband, Guido, who was many years older than she, died within a year of their marriage.  I barely remember visiting their house in Medford, which sat on the edge of the Tufts College campus.  Her second marriage was arranged.  She actually went to Italy (to the town of Aquara) and brought her immigrant husband (who’s last name was Bounopane), back to America with her.  They had a child, my cousin Jean. Jean’s father did not remain in America long. The couple eventually divorced. Jean later followed her mother’s example by marrying a Sicilian and now lives in Marsala. Nydia’s third marriage to Anthony Maggio produced a son, Anthony, Jr. known simply as “Junior,” a deeply troubled drug-addicted youth who disappeared mysteriously many years ago.

I saw relatively little of my Marchione aunts and uncles as I grew up—-in sharp contrast to the situation with my mother’s family, the Salvuccis, which was extremely close. Of my Marchione aunts and uncles only Tommy and Eleanor survived whenI wrote this account about ten years ago and both have since passed away. Nydia died not long after she moved to Sicily to live with her daughter; Carlo succumbed in 1995, a victim of cancer. Carlo had six sons. The only member of the Marchione family with whom I maintain any degree of contact, Ken Marchione, one of Carlo’s six sons, provided some of the images I am using in this account; Nydia bore a son and daughter, as noted above; Tommy an unspecified number of daughters (including two, the children of his first wife, Fay, who grew up in Idaho), and Eleanor two sons and a daughter. If any of these cousins happens upon this blog I hope they will get in touch. I would welcome the contact and any additional information they can provide. One of Eleanor’s sons, Paul Plummer, who I saw once or twice when he visited Boston, died of leukemia a few years back, the other, the bipolar Bobby Fullerton, spent six weeks as our house guest for a time.

My father, who was born in 1913 left Medford High School in the tenth grade in 1929 at the age of 16. As he entered the work world, two events damaged his prospects:  first, the country was slipping into the worst depression of its history. Then my grandfather’s promising brush manufacturing business went under. My dad held various jobs (usually as a salesman of some sort). For a time he sold hot dogs and cold cuts.

9-wedding-of-william-f-marchione-and-maria-salvucci-1941

My parents William F. Marchione and Maria Antonia Salvucci were married in May 1941.  They met at the Metropolitan Dance Hall in Boston. One of the things that attracted my mother to my father,  was that he seemed more American then the young men in the Italian immigrant community she’s previously come into contact with in the Italian community. The couple honeymooned in Washington, D.C.

After his marriage to my mother in 1941, my father worked as a plumber at the Quincy Navy Yard (a wartime position), then in sales again for the Sears & Roebuck Company.  For a time he helped manage Marie Antoinette’s, a dress and corset shop that my mother and her sister Antonetta opened on Main Street in Waltham about 1949.  It lasted a scant six months.  Finally, he went to work for the John Hancock Life Insurance Company as an insurance agent, a position he held until his retirement in 1973. While John Hancock required that its insurance agents have at least a high school diploma, my father got around this company policy by going directly to the CEO.  After making his appeal, the President told him, “If you can sell insurance half as well as you sell yourself, you’ll be a great success as an insurance agent,” and proceeded to hire him.

I find it difficult to characterize my father.  He made a nice appearance, was well-spoken, and could be very convivial, when he had a mind to be.  He had beautiful handwriting and expressed himself in writing with great clarity.  If there was a letter to be written,  my mother (whose spelling and penmanship left much to be desired), turned to him to do the writing. He was also totally non-athletic and early developed a paunch. I don’t believe I ever saw him engaged in strenuous physical exercise. He also had a sharp tongue and was often critical of his in-laws, especially my mother’s sisters.  He probably resented their close relationship, especially my mother’s inseparable relationship with her unmarried sister Antonetta, with whom she was in business and who seemed to be always with us. 

Although he and my grandfather Salvucci got along well, my sense of him was that he felt somewhat intimidated by the close-knit Salvucci clan.  He was, I think, deeply embarrassed by his own family’s peculiarities, and so made minimal efforts to keep in touch with them.  It was my mother that urged him to maintain contact with his siblings, especially with his sisters. 

He also seemed to be very impatient with me, especially in the poor school performance of my early years.  Later, as I began to experience some successes, his attitude began to change, but by then a measure of distrust had settled upon our relationship, which made communication a bit difficult. We might have grown closer had he lived a longer life.

My father made a good living at John Hancock. He retired from the company in 1973, having reached his 60th birthday.  Unfortunately, he died just a year later, a victim of lung cancer, brought on by a lifetime of heavy smoking.

One thought on “The Italian Immigrant Experience – Pt.1

  1. Port Charlotte, FL

    Interesting family history and so helpful to me as the Arena family was also from Aquara and this verifies the spelling and location, I’m formerly from Washington, PA and we had a couple of Marchione families there. My very first supervisor at Bell Telephone in 1950 was Florence Marchione. My dad swore she was the first Italian American hired by Bell in my home town and I was the second.

    Like

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