This account is based chiefly on a 1977 oral interview with Loreto Salvucci, and was prepared by Bill Marchione for the Salvucci Family Reunion, held on March 27, 2004
My great grandfather, Pietro Salvucci, was the first member of his family to reach America, arriving in 1898. He was the eldest child of Carmine Salvucci and Maria (Leone) Salvucci of San Donato val di Comino, Italy. He had four brothers and a sister. Two of his brothers, Donato and Carlo, followed him to America, while the others, Costanzo and Cesidio, and a sister Anna (Annucia), remained in Italy. Later their widowed father (their mother Maria (Leone) Salvucci having died in 1914) also emigrated here. Carmine died in this country in 1934, at age 83, and is buried in the Waltham, Massachusetts Cemetery.
Pietro Salvucci, the first member of his branch of the Salvucci family to do so, emigrated to the United States in 1898.
All of Carmine and Maria’s children wanted to emigrate to America. The three who remained in Italy did so not out of desire, but because U.S. immigration laws were highly restrictive. Anna and Cesidio were both deaf, while Costanzo suffered from an eye ailment. These physical disabilities disqualified them from entering the United States.
Pietro Salvucci was a stone mason by trade who 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. His name and that of his brother Donato appear on a list of Wachusett Dam workers kept at the Clinton Town Hall.
The Wachusett Dam work site, Clinton, Massachusetts, where Pietro and his brother Donato were employed as stone masons.
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 any 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. Like many Italian immigrants he came to America without his wife and children, with the object of earning money, and eventually returning home.
My grandfather, Loreto, Pietro and Domenica’s eldest child, was born in 1896. Pietro returned to Italy numerous times over the next twenty-six years, fathering three more sons by Domenica (Donato, Guido, and Teodolindo), but still felt little incentive to make a permanent commitment to the United States.
My grandfather Loreto was educated in the local elementary school in San Donato, completing just three grades. At the age of ten he was sent to work, eventually becoming a stone mason 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 Sacchetti’s were members of the so-called artiste class in the town (artisan class), while the Salvucci’s, who were only recently removed from the land were regarded as mere cafoni (essentially country bumpkins). My grandfather Loreto was only nine when in 1905 the Salvucci family moved into town from their tenant farm in the countryside.
My grandfather described the Salvucci family farmstead as consisting of a six room house on a small parcel of land upon which the family grew olives, figs, grapes, wheat, corn and potatoes. Ironically, the Salvucci’s were a lot better off after Pietro emigrated to America than the Sacchetti’s, all of that family’s airs of social superiority notwithstanding, because of the remittances the immigrant stonemason was sending his family from this side of the ocean.
My mother, Maria Antonia, was born on May 31, 1915, at a time when southern Italy was shaken by several major earthquakes. My grandparents had to camp out in a field for several weeks with their infant daughter until the geological situation stabilized.
Here we see my mother’s baptismal certificate and an interior view of the handsome altar of the Church of Santa Maria and San Marcello where she was baptized in early June 1915.
Italy’s May 1915 entry into World War I added to the couple’s 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 Italian army’s 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.
Loreto during his service in the Italian army 1915-1920.
On January 10, 1977, I interviewed my then eighty-two year old grandfather with regard to his early history, and he provided the following details about his service in the Itaian army in World War I:
Loreto Salvucci entered the army on December 10, 1915; received three months of training at Pavia and Piacenza, and was then assigned to the First Engineering Corps, but was soon after transferred to the Fourth Engineering Corps, and with the corps Seventeenth Company was sent to Albania in 1916, where for a period of about three months he built roads and a bridge. He had crossed to Albania via Taranto and Valona. However, he soon contracted malaria, was assigned to a field hospital under a tent, and was delirious for some time. He was then sent home to Italy and was assigned to a hospital at Goia del Colle in Puglia (for about 15 days); then transported to Bari and carried under the foot of Italy by a Red Cross ship to Catania in Sicily to another hospital (where he spent 15 more days), and was then furloughed to San Donato for one month. At the end of this leave (it must have been the fall of 1916), he reported back to Piacenza where he stayed for a month and was then transferred to the Sixth Company of the Fourth Corps on the front line at Armelina—assigned to maintain bridges.
He stayed at Armelina about a year and a half. He was then sent home on furlough for fifteen days, and while on his way back to his company learned of the Italian disaster at Caporetto (October 1917). More than one-third of his company had been captured in this defeat which forced the Italian army all the way back to the Piave River. Not knowing where his company was located, he returned to Piacenza, and eventually rejoined his company at Anquillara Veneta, Province of Padua, spending six months there. They next moved to Friuli, then on to another small town further north (he did not recall the name). While he was away on another furlough , the company contracted the Spanish Influenza. San Donato had already had it, many of its people dying. He was lucky on both counts. When he returned to his company he found that it had moved out, and he was sent from one headquarters to another. He finally caught up with his group in S. Dona del Piave. Two days after his arrival the armistice was announced. He remained in the army another eleven months—stationed at Gorizia on the present Italian-Croatian border. He finally left the army in January 1920, after 49 months of service.
A World War I commemorative monument, seen here, was erected in the Piazza Carlo Colletti, one of the main squares in San Donato after the war. Donato DiBona, husband of my grandmother’s sister Loreta, seen here at the bottom center of the photograph was one of the team of masons (scalpellini) that worked on this monument.
When the war ended in late 1918, Italy’s economy was in terrible shape and the political climate was extremely tense. These were the so-called Red Years in Italian history—years of labor agitation (both industrial and agricultural) and much disorder and violence perpetrated by the left and right alike. The Socialist Party was the largest political party in the country at the time, and my grandfather was an active Socialist a fervent advocate, in particular, of land reform. Right wing elements (industrialists, landowners, the aristocracy, the military, the Catholic Church) were so frightened at the possibility of a Socialist takeover that they conspired to establish a right wing dictatorship under Fascist Party leader Benito Mussolini, who assumed power in October 1922.
One of several pamphlets, dating from 1920, found among my grandfather’s papers, reflecting his left wing activism.
My grandfather joined his father in America in 1921, the year before the Fascist takeover, making the passage with his fifteen year old brother, Donato. Economic motives probably played a more decisive role in motivating him to leave, but the political dangers associated with the rise of Fascism no doubt also encouraged his departure.
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 another separation (they had been apart for four of the first six years of their marriage) that there was no work and that everyone who could was emigrating. Since he had no money to book passage, he borrowed the needed sum from his father.
In 1924, the U.S. government presented my grandfather and great grandfather with a hard choice: they could either bring their 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 drastically curtailing Italian immigration into this country.
Thus Pietro and Loreto Salvucci decided to bring their wives and children to America while the opportunity still existed. In mid-1924, Pietro and Loreto returned to San Donato to pack their families off to America. Since Loreto was an avid photographer, we have a good pictorial record of this break with the old country that includes views of a horse-drawn conveyance pulled up in front of their home in San Donato waiting to take them to Naples where they would embark for America on the steamship Colombo; my grandfather and a group of friends on a mountainside. These photographs appear in the book I published almost two decades ago The Italian-Americans of Greater Boston: A Proud Tradition (Arcadia, 1999). Another family photo that appeared in my book was a photo of my grandmother and her two daughters, Maria and Antonetta, that for insertion in their passport.
This is the building in San Donato where my grandmother, mother, and aunt Antonetta lived just prior to their departure for America in 1924. The photograph was taken by me during a 2014 visit to San Donato.
In all, eight family members made the crossing aboard the “Colombo,” Pietro and Domenica , their two younger sons, Guido and Teodolindo, Loreto and Cesidia, and their two daughters, Maria and Antonetta.
The steamship “Colombo” on which the Salvucci family set sail from Naples to New York in mid-1924.
After a 12 day passage in steerage the family landed in New York and went through customs at Ellis Island before moving to Brighton. Young Guido had caught cold on the way over, and so was obliged to spend a week in quarantine on Ellis Island, while the rest of the family stayed in barracks ashore, nervously awaiting his release.
The various Brighton residences where Loreto and family members lived in the 1921 to 1942 period included 84 Lincoln Street in North Brighton, the ramshackle Oklahoma Building (where Pietro and Loreto lived with Pietro’s brother Donato); 11 Snow Street; 10 Shepard Street (before the women and children arrived in 1924); then back to 11 Snow Street after the family arrived (but in a different apartment); 254 Washington Street (in Gerry Pellegrini’s house over a store front in 1925, all in the largely Italian immigrant Bugg’s Village neighborhood; then 33 Eastburn Street in 1926-27; 2 O’Neil Place from 1927 to 1939, also in Bugg’s Village, the first house the family ever owned (Loreto’s mother and father and their unmarried children occupied the first floor of this modest dwelling while Loreto and Cesidia’s family lived on the top floor); they then moved in 1939 to 303 Market Street, northwest corner of Surrey Street, in the Monaghan building, where my mother and Father occupied a third floor apartment directly over my grandparents (this being my first place of residence), and finally, in the summer of 1942, when I was six months of age, we moved to a two family house at 38 Kenrick Street, in the middle class Chandler’s Pond section of Brighton, where my parents and I occupied the first floor apartment and my grandparents and their younger children lived upstairs. My great grandparents continued to reside at 2 O’Neil Place.
When my grandmother arrived in America in 1924, 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 11 Snow Street with the newborns. Sadly Olinda died at the age of three and a half from diphtheria. Almost three years later, in 1927, another set of twins was born, my aunts Donata and Armida (Amy). The last of the children, another Olinda (Linda) was born in 1929.
The Salvuccis became homeowners for the first time in 1927, toward the end of a relatively prosperous decade—prosperous until late 1929 when the stockmarket crashed, propelling 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 pathetically low, and for a time her modest income, a mere $6 a week, was the only thing supporting the entire family. After 1933, with the establishment of the WPA, Loreto was once again able to earn a modest regular income, but conditions were still pretty bleak.
My mother as a young woman, about age 20, c. 1935
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 was with my grandparents when the war broke out, and my Uncle Iggy (Ideale), were drafted into the army. Idolo was sent to Europe; Iggy to the Pacific. Idolo was killed in Italy, sadly only fifty miles from his mother’s home in San Donato. Iggy returned safely in 1946. There was also great anxiety during the war about the many family members who had been left behind in San Donato, with whom there had been no communication for several years.
The last Salvucci relocation came in 1942, 36-38 Kenrick Street in Brighton’s Chandler’s Pond neighborhood. L to R: Donata, Amy, cousin Frank Sacchetti, who was living with my grandparents at the time, my mother Maria and my father, William Marchione, and grandmother Cesidia.