52c-Serrapede Family in America-1930s: $120 a month (Part 2a)

Relationship Notes

In this posting we focus on Josie Muro Serrapede. She was the wife of Sam Serrapede, mother of Emily Leatrice, Gerald and Sammy. Josie was EmilyAnn’s maternal Grandmother.

The Family Stories are not dated because they were not recorded during a planned session. These come from conversations throughout the years that recurred many times. 


Uncle Sammy and I never heard stories about the Great Depression that focused on extremes of poverty and hunger. Josie, Sam and members of the extended family spoke about how hard everyone had to work to keep their jobs. Family stories emphasized how relatives and paesanos helped each other with everything from providing a few slices of bread, to getting a job and even an introduction to a suitable marriage partner. We learned that the times were worrisome. We also learned what actions people took to remedy their situations. The emphasis was on solving the problem and working with the opportunity that came one’s way. There wasn’t any prolonged analysis of a job offer. The outlook was bluntly put, “No work, no food, no rent.”

Money was never explicitly spoken of so we do not have a point of reference in terms of what Sam’s yearly salary in the 1930s was. Once we locate a 1930 Federal Census entry for Josie and Sam that will change but so far we have not retrieved one at Ancestry. We have the memories Josie and Sam’s daughter Emily shared about the apartments where they lived when she was growing up. These provided a starting point.

I sat down and listed the characteristics of those apartments before preparing this posting. I also thought about the kinds of meals Josie would have made each day. I then went to the 1931 issues of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle to check out the costs of food and rent. The classified ads for rental apartments and the column with food prices gave me some idea of how much things cost. Living on $120 a month was very difficult. We do not know what the monthly budget for the Serrapede family really was but we can say for sure they worked very hard and were very resourceful during the Great Depression. Their daughter Emily grew up feeling loved. She never realized how difficult the times were until she was about 8 or 9 years old. 

$120 a month: a budget for a very thrifty household


Budget for $130 a month submitted by a reader to The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 2, 1931.

In the Spring of 1931 advice columnist Helen Worth of The Brooklyn Eagle asked her readers how they would allocate money for necessities a budget of $120 a month. The request was made on behalf of a reader named Elsa who was about to get married.

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52b-Serrapede Family in America: The Great Depression-$120 a month (Part 1b)


This posting concludes the topic we began in 52b-Serrapede Family in America: The Great Depression-$120 a month (part 1a).  In that posting we considered the nature of the work shoe shiners did and how much they may have earned.  When the posting concluded we made note of how the young American boys who did this work faced competition from the waves of immigrants coming from Europe at the start of the 20th century.  Many members of our immediate and extended family worked as boot blacks after arriving from Italy.

We now turn our attention to some of the ways bootblacks worked throughout Manhattan.  Then Uncle Sammy and I share our family stories and discussion at the conclusion of this posting.

Relationship Notes

Sam Serrapede was born in Agropoli, Campania, Salerno Italy.  He immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1920s.  In 1930 he married Josie Muro.  The newlyweds made their home in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, N.Y.  Sam worked as a shoe shiner during the 1930s through the late 1940s.

Sam was the Father of:
*Emily Leatrice Serrapede
*Gerald (“Gerry”, Gennaro) Serrapede
*Sabbatino (Sammy) Serrapede

Sam was the maternal Grandfather of:  EmilyAnn Frances May

Bootblacks around New York City during the Great Depression

This shoe shiner waits for a customer on the corner of 14th Street and 8th Avenue in New York City.  He’s set up his station outside of the New York Savings Bank.  The sign above him contains a quote from Disraeli which says, “The secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes.”


The shoe shiner outside the New York Savings bank got a customer.  He is located in a good spot next to the entrance of a subway station.  The set-up is very simple and would not cost much to keep up.  However, the customer getting his shoes shined would not be very comfortable since the chair is very small.  To have an edge over other shoe shiners in the area this man would have to have better supplies or a better technique.


This shoe shiner was working near Union Square, another busy area.  Judging by the background he may have been near the park.  Union Square is also in the vicinity of 14th Street and is close to a subway station making it an ideal place to attract customers.  This shoe shine station is more elaborate.  It might have attracted more customers than the one of the shoe shiner on 8th Avenue because the bench has a higher back and the awning provides some shade during a bright day.

A study of the photographs makes you realize that if these shoe shiners were working on their own their ability to earn a steady income was impacted by weather conditions.  Another down side to working outdoors was the vulnerability to pickpockets and thieves.  The shoe shine operation needed a steady location in order to cultivate relationships with clients.  How the matter of where the shoe shiner worked outdoors was not described in any of our readings.  It’s possible that the shoe shiner had to get permission to work outside of a business like New York Savings Bank.  There were most likely licensing requirements and fees to be paid.

An independent shoe shiner would also have operating costs for the upkeep of his stand and supplies.  The shoe shiners in these photos may have been working for a service that provided the station and the supplies.  Even so, working outdoors had its drawbacks.  Better locations would be indoors at such locations as Grand Central Station, the Staten Island Ferry Terminal or a local barber shop.

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Interlude: Jake’s First Halloween

Katy and Michael Lingle enjoyed dressing their son Jake as an astronaut for his first Halloween.  Michael is my Aunt Kathie’s son.  He and Katy Knipp were married in June 2016.  In a few days, Jake will be 9 months old.  The time is going quickly!

jake katy and mike 10-30-17

Jake Lingle as a NASA astronaut.

Aunt Kathie, Uncle Sammy and I look forward to more photos and family stories about Jake as Holiday Season 2017 progresses.  Baby’s first Thanksgiving and Christmas are always special.  Then each year the milestones Jake achieves will be gifts to us as well.

Previous postings about Michael, Katy and Jake:

Michael and Katy’s Wedding, Baltimore, MD, June 11, 2016

46e-Mike and Katy Lingle Update: Welcome to the world, Jake!