51-Serrapede Family in America April 18, 1931: It’s a girl! (Part 1)

Introduction: Events around Brooklyn on April 18, 1931

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Close-up of page 1 of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle edition for April 18, 1931.

Weather forecast for April 18th-19th, 1931 in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

On Friday, April 18th, 1931 the Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s weather report stated that “at 8 a.m. the temperature in New York City was 52 degrees.” A milder day was ahead on Sunday, April 19th.

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Short news items from page 1 of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Page one combined headline stories such as a crisis in Nicaragua and a movement by Catalonia to separate from Spain with many short news items that were not the stuff of headline news. They provided bits of information readers could discuss with their neighbors or co-workers. In Florida, Conkey P. Whitehead was being sued by a woman claiming breach of promise. Jack Guzik, a business manager for Chicago gangster Al Capone, pleaded guilty in Federal Court to income tax evasion. And in Brooklyn, New York restaurant owner Patrick White was taken to Greenpoint Hospital after a former employee punched him in the jaw.

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Mrs. John Krall of Queens is pictured with her three sets of twins on the day her youngest ones were baptized.

Page 2 featured a photo of Mrs. John Krall and her three sets of twins. Her latest pair was baptized on April 18th. Mrs. Krall had three other children not included in the photo. She lived in Middle Village, Queens. We know a family in Bath Beach, Brooklyn who were also celebrating a happy day on April 18, 1931. Sam and Josie Serrapede welcomed their first child, a girl, into the world. This baby girl’s birth never made it to the newspapers but in our family history it was big news.

The baby Josie and Sam named Emily Leatrice grew up to be Sammy’s big sister and my Mom. Her birth certificate provides many details that enable us to create a snap shot of what life was like at the time she was born.

Where Baby was born: Coney Island Hospital

Emily was born in Coney Island Hospital. The presiding physician was Dr. Max Seide. The hospital started out in the late 19th century as a first aid center to provide care to people who suffered foot injuries while at the beach. As the population of Brooklyn grew it was necessary to create a full care facility which opened in 1910. After WWII the population of Brooklyn again increased. To meet with the demands of care for returning vets and the increased numbers of residents in the area, the towers that make up the current structure were built and opened in the early 1950s. Coney Island Hospital is still a public hospital catering to the diverse population of the area it serves.

I think it was the right place for my Mom to enter the world. She grew up loving her summers at Coney Island. We have several pictures of her and Uncle Sammy as a little boy enjoying a day at the beach. Mom also bought a book filled with vintage postcard images of Coney Island. All these will be shared in future postings.

Baby’s Name: Emily or Emilia?

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Part of Emily’s birth certificate.

Emily was named after her paternal Grandmother, Emilia Pappalardo Serrapede was her paternal Grandmother. Josie and Sam decided to Anglicize their daughter’s name. It was important to them that she grow up identifying as an American first. In keeping with that goal, her birth certificate is registered in the English language version of her first name. 

Baby’s first home: Bath Beach, Brooklyn, NY

Sam and Josie lived at 1607 Benson Avenue in the Bath Beach section of Brooklyn when Emily was born. The residents of the area in the early 20th century were mostly working class families. Italian immigrants were a dominant group in the neighborhood. A check at real estate sites like zillow.com and StreetEasy.com list a house at this location built in 1935. The building which the Serrapede family lived in during 1931 may have been torn down and rebuilt around 1935.

Bath Beach is still an area of modest, well kept older one, two and four family homes built between the 1930s and 1950s along with newer homes. There is sufficient greenery and park space to make the area attractive to a new generation of immigrants. In recent years Asians and Russians have joined the community. The numbers of Italian-Americans of the second and third generations have decreased. Some have passed away while others have moved to Staten Island or New Jersey.

Bath Beach was a beach resort in the late 19th through early 20th centuries. Wealthy clientele frequented the area for rest and relaxation. There was even an amusement park. Unfortunately, after WWII, the beach became a landfill so high rise apartments could be built.

Note about use of first names

Uncle Sammy and I decided to use everyone’s first names as we blog about our immediate family members. Otherwise it will be confusing if I call Emily “Mom” and Uncle Sammy calls her “Sis”. There will be a Relationship Note at the beginning of all future postings stating how we are related to the people featured in the posting. This makes the telling of family stories much easier for our readers to enter into. Notation will also be made as to who originally shared the story and who is retelling it.

Family Stories: “I’m an American!”

Emily was very sensitive about issues of ethnicity and identity. She spoke Italian with her parents and the elder generation. In her own home she never spoke it at all. She always said it was good to remember where we came from. We had to keep in mind, though, that we were educated and live in the United States. Emily never approved of being called an “Italian-American” insisting that she was simply an American. If pushed as to why she’d change the answer to “We’re all human beings. There’s no such thing as a hyphenated human being.” Although she spoke Italian with her parents, Emily never engaged in Italian conversation with neighbors or people she met in Dyker Heights. She never conversed in the language with her children.

–as told by Emily L. Serrapede to her daughter, EmilyAnn Frances May

Family Stories: “Don’t ever let anyone call you a Wopp!”

The memories Mom shared with me of life in her neighborhood and amongst the relatives were very happy ones. I never could figure out why she was so touchy on issues of ethnicity and identity. Her mood would darken if I asked to get my ears pierced or be allowed to get a fancy hairdo when I was a pre-teen. When I asked again, before my 10th birthday to be allowed to get my ears pierced she admonished me saying it was very clichéd to want to wear gold hoop earrings. “Don’t ever give anyone a reason to call you a wopp!” Mom said with great anger in her voice. Eventually both my parents relented when I turned 13 years old and had saved my own money to get my ears pierced. I had to promise, though, to wear what my Dad called “classy kinds of earrings” like pearl studs or small dangling earrings that were delicate and not showy.

Note:  Wopp was derogatory slang used  during the 1930s through the 1960s for Italian immigrants.  It was commonly understood to stand for “without passport”.

–EmilyAnn Frances May. These events happened in 1963 when I was 10 years old and in 1966 when I turned 13.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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18 thoughts on “51-Serrapede Family in America April 18, 1931: It’s a girl! (Part 1)

    • Yes, your family will enjoy it, Norma. It’s not trivia although some might call it that. The weather, the world events, even the gossip columns and celebrity doings provide a very vivid snapshot of what was going on at that point. Plus it makes it immiediately accessible to those who may not have much knowledge about the time period.

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    • Yes, I think I missed out big time. I had to be very forceful in this posting because I think the pressure to assimilate caused people to feel somewhat ashamed or embarrassed by their ethnic identities at the time my parents grew up. There were so many stereotypes. I think new immigrants face the same situations but today people are stronger and more confident to reject stereotypes. The process of becoming an American should never include denying one’s heritage or feeling ashamed of their culture.

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      • I agree but there is a problem that members of any community face when a derogatory word becomes ok to use. In elementary school I heard the word used in jokes, really silly ones that made the children laugh. But my Mom got mad and said to me children don’t know any better, adults do. She thought my classmates heard the jokes from their parents.

        I do not believe anyone should take a derogatory term used for their culture and make it an OK thing to use. That normalizes it and makes it seem ok to a judgement coming from the outside.

        I enjoy our exchanges Amy because it always has a good effect in making me think further on the topic. I know I can discuss things intelligently with you.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Emily—I feel the same way. For me reading other blogs and having others read mine has been an incredibly enlightening and uplifting experience.

        And I agree—it is never okay to use a term used to insult and degrade any ethnic or racial group. Those words sting even when used as jokes or even among the group itself.

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      • Yes, very true. For this reason I do not watch comedy shows where a person uses their ethnic or racial identity as a source of jokes. I cannot get nostalgic for old time shows, either where a neighborhood local fruit dealer is a Mr. Bacciagalupo and the butt of jokes or a tenant down the hall is a Mrs. Manicotti (a type of pasta). Even though I saw these shows way back, I was so much younger then and didn’t know that my laughter was supporting a stereotype.

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      • They were “Abbot and Costello” and “The Honeymooners”. Neither of these shows intended to target Italian immigrants in an aggressive way, but rather their depictions supported the stereotypes of the time they were created in. Watching them now with this awareness reduces how much I perceive as humorous and how much is a reflection of underlying attitudes that were accepted then but not now.

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      • So was I. I didn’t get aware of these things until 8th grade when our Italian teacher started raising our awareness about stereotypes. We also got lectured on why we shouldn’t glorify gangsters be they Al Capone or Bonnie & Clyde.

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  1. Pingback: 51-Serrapede Family in America April 18, 1931: It’s a girl! (Part 2) | Through The Byzantine Gate

  2. I love this part, “insisting that she was simply an American. If pushed as to why she’d change the answer to “We’re all human beings. There’s no such thing as a hyphenated human being.” I think I would have really loved your mom.

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