The Italian Immigrant Experience – Pt.2

The Salvucci and Sacchetti Families

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San Donato val di Comino, Italy, the home base of the Salvucci clan, a mountainside village in Italy’s Lazio region about 90 miles southeast of Rome in an area known as the Ciociaria.

My mother’s family, the Salvuccis, came from the town of San Donato val di Comino, Province of Frosinone, Italy.  Whereas I had little contact with the Marchiones, I grew up in the bosom of the Salvucci family.

In contrast to the Marchione’s I have in my possession a large collection of Salvucci family photos.  In 2001, when the family was disposing of my grandparents former residence at 34 Kenrick Street in Brighton (my Aunt Antonetta, the last occupant of the house having just passed away), I asked if I could take charge of the family photos. As a trained historian, as well as the oldest of Loreto and Cesidia’s 13 grandchildren, it seemed sensible to take charge of this material, which included hundreds of photographs and documents. 

My great grandfather, Pietro Salvucci, was the first member of the family to reach America, arriving here about 1898.  He was a stonemason by trade and was lured to America by the many employment opportunities in construction in the New York City and Boston areas.  One of the first major projects he worked on was the Clinton or Wachusett Dam, located northwest of Boston, then the largest reservoir in America, and part of Boston’s developing waterworks system.

Pietro, incidentally, had served in the Italian army in the mid-1890s. In 1896, he was on the battlefield at Adowa, in Ethiopia, the greatest defeat that a European army suffered at the hands of Africans, some 6,000 Italian soldiers losing their lives there, including my great grandfather’s best friend. 

Pietro was a newlywed and a bird-of-passage when he came to America. In 1895 he had married Domenica Tocci of San Donato. My grandfather, Loreto, their eldest child, was born in 1896.  Pietro returned to Italy numerous times in the years that followed, fathering three more sons by Domenica (Donato, Guido and Teodolindo), but still felt little incentive to make a permanent commitment to America.

Loreto Salvucci and Cesidia Sacchetti, my maternal grandparents, were married in 1914. My mother, Maria Antonia, their eldest child, was born in the following year, just as Italy entered World War I on the allied side.  Loreto is shown here in his WWI uniform.

My grandfather Loreto was educated in the local elementary schools, completing just three grades.  At age of ten he was sent to work, eventually becoming a stonemason like his father. In 1914, when he was eighteen years old, Loreto married Cesidia Sacchetti (an “old maid” of nineteen), my grandmother. My mother Maria Antonia, born in 1915, was their eldest child.

Apparently the Sacchetti’s were not especially happy about the marriage of their daughter to a Salvucci, for the Sacchettis were members of the so-called artiste class in the town (the artisan class), while the Salvucci’s, who were only recently removed from the land, were regarded as mere cafoni  (country bumpkins). My grandfather Loreto was only nine when in 1905 the Salvucci family moved into town from their farm in the countryside. My grandfather described the family farmstead as consisting of a six room house (which they shared with another family) on a small parcel of land upon which the occupants grew olives, figs, grapes, wheat, corn and potatoes.

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An immigrant remittance sent to my grandmother by my grandfather via the Cunard line in 1923, the year before Pietro and Loreto brought their families to the United States. These immigrant remittances were a great boon to the Italian economy.

Ironically, the Salvuccis were a lot better off after Pietro emigrated to America than were the artiste Sacchettis, all the latter’s assertions of social superiority notwithstanding, because of the remittances the immigrant stonemason sent to his family from this side of the ocean.

My mother was born in May of 1915, at a time when southern Italy was shaken by a succession of powerful earthquakes. My grandparents had to camp out in a field with their infant daughter until the geological situation stabilized. These were geological disasters of massive proportions which claimed no less than 30,000 victims.                 

Italy’s May 1915 entry into World War I added to their troubles, for my grandfather was inducted into the Italian Army, serving in the Balkans (Albania) as well as on the Austrian front until January 1920. As a member of the Royal Engineering Corps, he spent the war years building roads and bridges. While in Albania, he contracted malaria, which led to a period of hospitalization in southern Italy and Sicily.

The rise of Fascism in Italy also prompted his departure.  On this score he noted in our 1977 interview that 1921, the year of his departure for America, had been very disappointing both economically and politically. These were the so-called Red Years, a period of political conflict with Socialists and Fascists vying for control of the nation.

My mother, Maria Salvucci, at the age of 2 and the drawing my grandfather drew of her, based on that photo, while serving in the Italian Army in 1917 during  World War I.

I asked him what my grandmother’s attitude had been when he announced his decision to leave.  He said that while she was unhappy at the prospect of his leaving again (they had been separate for four of the first six years of their marriage) that there was no work and that everyone was doing it.  Since he had no money to book passage, he borrowed the needed sum from his father.

His father and Uncle Donato (Pietro’s younger brother) had been in America for more than two decades when Loreto joined them in 1921.  The elder Salvucci’s had worked on a number of major and minor public works projects over the years. Donato, the younger brother, who came to the States in 1900, almost immediately sent for his family.  Pietro proved far more reluctant to break with the old country. Instead he returned home frequently (as many as seven times) during an absence that spanned an incredible twenty-six years.  During this migratory period he fathered three more sons. Had he sent for his family immediately, there would almost certainly have been more children.  His younger brothers Donato and Carlo, who brought their families over within a year or two, fathered nine and ten children, respectively.

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Donato Salvucci, Pietro’s younger brother, is shown here in a family photograph with his wife and nine children taken sometime before 1935. The man at the center of the back row is Pietro’s and Donato’s widowed father, my great great grandfather, Carmine Salvucci (1851-1934), who had joined his sons in America in 1925. 

In 1924, the U. S. Government presented my grandfather and great grandfather with an ultimatum: bring their respective families to America and make a permanent commitment to this country or return to Italy permanently. The highly discriminatory 1921-24 Immigration Restriction Acts had the effect of reducing the flow of Italian immigrants into this country from 225,000 in 1920 to 5,800 in 1925, but it also provided immigrants already resident in this country with a loophole.

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Here we see a stagecoach being loaded with the possessions of Loreto and Cesidia and their two daughters (a second child, Antonetta had been born to the couple in 1921.) prepararing to leave to take passage from Naples for America.

My Salvucci grandfathers decided to bring their wives and children to America, a decision they reached both on economic and political grounds. In mid-1924, they returned to San Donato to pack their families off to America. Since my grandfather Salvucci was an avid photographer, we have a pictorial record of this break with the old country that includes views of a stage coach pulled up in front of their home in San Donato presumably waiting to take them to the train in Cassino that in turn took them to Naples, where they embarked for America on the steamship Cristoforo Colombo; also, my grandfather and a group of friends on a mountainside outside of San Donato (a number of these men would later also emigrate); as well as a photo of my mother, age 9, and her uncle Teodolindo (Teddy) age 10, taking leave of their great grandfather, Carmine Salvucci, Pietro’s father, the patriarch of the family.

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Cover of The Italian Americans of Greater Boston

All of these photos, incidentally, were published in my book, The Italian-Americans of Greater Boston: A Proud Tradition. (1999).  Another family photo that appeared in that book was the passport photo of my grandmother and her two daughters, Maria and Antonetta, taken the time of the 1924 crossing, which also appears here..

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The passport issued to Cesidia and her two daughters, Maria and Antonetta, by the Italian government in 1924

The family landed in New York and went through customs at Ellis Island before moving on to Boston.

The various Brighton residences where the Salvuccis lived in the 1924 to 1942 period included 84 Lincoln Street (The ramshackle Oklahoma Building, where Pietro and Loreto lived with Pietro’s brother Donato); 11 Snow Street; 10 Shepard Street (all before the women and children arrived in 1924); then back to 11 Snow Street after their families arrived in 1924 (but in a different apartment); 254 Washington Street (in Gerry Pellegrini’s house—over a storefront) in 1925; 33 Eastburn Street in 1926-27; and 2 O’Neil Place from 1927 to 1939, the first house they ever owned (Loreto’s mother and father occupied the first floor of this modest dwelling); then they moved in 1939 to 303 Market Street, corner of Surrey Street (my first home); and finally, to 38 Kenrick Street in the summer of 1942.

When my grandmother arrived, she was already pregnant with a set of twins, Ideale and Olinda, who were born at 11 Snow Street in the fall of 1924. Another of the pictures that appears in my book on Boston’s Italians shows my grandmother outside the 11 Snow Street house with the newborns. Sadly, Olinda died when she was four years of age from diphtheria.  Two years later, in 1926, another set of twins was born, my aunts Donata and Armida (Amy).  The last of the children, also named Olinda, was born in 1929.

The Salvucci’s acquired a home of their own in 1927, toward the end of that relatively prosperous decade—prosperous until late 1929 when the stock market crash propelled the nation into the Great Depression.  My mother had been trained as a seamstress at Boston’s Girl’s Trade School and entered the work force just as the Depression reached its nadir. Jobs were scarce as hen’s teeth and wages were pathetically low, and her $6 a week income was for a time the only income supporting the entire family. After 1933, with the establishment of the WPA, my grandfather was once again able to earn a modest regular income, but conditions were still bleak. A photo illustrative of the period (another that appears in my book) shows my Uncle Iggy (Ideale) on the grounds of the Chestnut Hill Reservoir in Brighton with a bicycle that he had put together from discarded parts and that was missing a seat. The Salvuccis appreciated all that FDR and the New Deal did for them. I grew up believing that FDR was the greatest President in American history—and I continue to believe that he was the greatest president of the 20th century and also the right man for the times when America might easily have experienced a revolution.

18-cesidia-children-oneil-place-1930s

Cesidia and her children about 1933 outside of the first house the family owned, located at 2 O’Neil, acquired in 1927, ownership of which was lost during the Great Depression, but a property the family continued to occupy as renters until 1938. From left to right (back row) Maria, Armida, Cesidia, and Ideale (front row) Olinda, Antonetta, and Donata.

Fortunately with the coming of the New Deal my highly skilled stone mason grandfather found work with the WPA (the Works Progress Administration). He would in after years often point proudly to walls, bridges, and buildings he had worked on during with his WPA years. One such wall stood opposite the adjacent four houses that family members later occupied (our family compound) on Brighton’s Kenrick Street.

With the coming of World War II economic conditions improved, but other problems emerged to trouble the family. Two of its young men, my grandmother’s nephew Idolo Sacchetti, who lived with my grandparents, and my Uncle Ideale (Iggy) were drafted into the army. Idolo was sent to Europe; Iggy to the Pacific. Idolo was killed in Italy, in the landing at Anzio, a scant fifty miles from the family’s home town, San Donato, where his mother was then living. Iggy returned safely in early 1946. I vaguely remember his joyful homecoming, for I was four years old at the time.

Some years after the war, about 1950, Idolo’s remains were shipped home from Italy and a wake was held in the living room of my grandparents home at 38 Kenrick Street, the apartment my wife Mary Ann and I would later occupied from 1970 to 1980. Idolo is buried in Brighton’s Evergreen Cemetery.

Idolo Sacchetti and Ideale Salvucci, first cousins, are seen here in their World War II uniforms. Idolo was killed in the Anzio landing, while Ideale (Iggy), my favorite uncle, the only son in a family of girls, returned safely and lived to the ripe old age of 90.

My grandmother Salvucci’s relatives, the Sacchetti’s, with the exception of Idolo and his brother Francesco (Frank), who as American citizens were able to emigrate to the States, suffered through the uncertain war years in San Donato, very much in the war zone, being only 25 miles or north of the devastated Abbey of Montecassino. This included Cesidia’s parents, Francesco and Giuseppa Sacchetti, and her sisters Lucia and Loreta. Loreta had married Donato DiBona. The DiBona clan emigrated to America in the 1950s.

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Francesco and Giuseppa (Fabrizio) Sacchetti, my grandmother’s parents who remained behind in San Donato when grandparents emigrated to America in 1924. 

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Here we see Donato Sacchetti, my grandmother’s older brother and his wife, Donata with their three sons, Idolo, Francesco, and Tamo all of whom were born in the United States and were accordingly American citizens. For health reasons, Donato moved his family back to San Donato (he died there of meningitis in 1926).  Later the two eldest boys emigrated to America in the late 1930s. The youngest son Tamo eventually married his first cousin, Pompea, daughter of Loreta of Donato and LOreta DiBona, my grandmother’s sister. They emigrated to the states in the early 1950s, while the rest of the DiBona clan came over about 1955.

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