64-The Great Depression-Riding the rails in search of work


Louis Muro was 15 when the effects of the Great Depression began to set in and spread outwards through the United States. As recorded in the 1930 Federal Census he was living with his parents and siblings in Wilmerding, Pennsylvania. He had completed his schooling just two years before and graduated from 8th grade.

WABCO, the main employer in his hometown, was still in operation but there were slowdowns. Employees worked shorter shifts or fewer days resulting in less wages. A tight and well-integrated network of family and paesani that originated from Agropoli and carried over to America is the key factor for the Muro family getting through those difficult years. There was no safety net as we know it today. There were charities and church related outreach but these were limited. Even though family ties were strong there were still limited resources and problems with food, shelter and clothing challenged everyone.

Our cousin told us that Louis took to riding the boxcars during the Great Depression since he could not find work in Wilmerding. This was a new discovery since we had not heard of it in our own family or during our visits to relatives in Wilmerding. We researched the lifestyle of young boys, and some young girls, that took to riding the boxcars during the Great Depression. What we learned opened up an entire sub-culture that is not often written about in American history. The phenomenon was so wide spread that some estimates say over 250,000 teenagers took to travel in search of work or escape through moving into what was known as the hobo lifestyle. The actual number, though, will never be accurately stated since no records exist from the time period that attempted to track the growth and decline of this sub-culture.

Relationship Notes

Louis Muro was the son of Nick and Letizia (nee Scotti) Muro. He was born on (date) in Wilmerding, PA.

Josie Muro Serrapede was Louis’ eldest sister. She was Sammy’s Mother and EmilyAnn’s maternal Grandmother.

Louis was Sammy’s maternal Uncle and EmilyAnn’s Great Uncle.

What did the term “Riding the Rails” mean?

In the early 20th century men, and a very small percentage of women, took to riding the boxcars as a means to find work or just keep moving from place to place. People who followed this lifestyle were called tramps and were usually older, in their 20s and upwards. It wasn’t until the Great Depression that teenagers took up the lifestyle. The appeal of escaping the problems at home caused by chronic unemployment and limited resources inspired the teenagers with hope. Often those hopes were not clearly defined nor any plans clearly envisioned. Yet they took their chances as only young people can with hope, confidence and a lack of fear.

In rural areas where a railroad line ran through or near a town or farm, hoboes waited in hiding for the boxcars to come. They were willing to take a chance to go anywhere. The common reason given by teenagers was that being on the move was better than being in the same hopeless, stagnant situation each day.

The teenagers, and older people, who took to riding the rails were called hoboes during the Great Depression. The word was meant as a derogatory term and the attitude taken was one of denigration. But hoboes when they could find work entered the agricultural workforce performing such work as picking fruit or helping at harvest. A more accurate term, which we use today, is migratory worker but to be consistent with the source material we are using the term hobo will be used.

In 1933 a movie “Wild Boys of the Road” was released as a means to deter the growing trend among teenagers to enter the hobo lifestyle. It was a very grim look into what could happen to young boys unprepared for exposure to a bigger world where sickness, accidents, and crime awaited. The film took a heavy handed approach to discourage teens from the idea that the lifestyle was romantic. The message was to stay safe and stay home. The movie was a big hit with teenagers, though, and the message intended did not sink in. The possibility of finding work while being on the move fired up the imaginations of young people who daily saw their parents, neighbors and relatives struggling with difficulties that they had no part in creating.

Continue reading “64-The Great Depression-Riding the rails in search of work”

63-Muro Family in America 1930 to 1940s-From Pennsylvania to Ohio


In postings 61-62 we considered how acculturation and assimilation impact and change the family and community relationships as immigrants establish themselves in the United States.  (Links to these postings are after the Resources section.) The processes of acculturation and assimilation take place over time.  Yet there is another force that can change the family structure even more rapidly.  Necessity is, in some cases, a potent factor in rapid changes to family structure and relationships.  For Louis Muro, the need to find steady work so that he could be married and raise a family necessitated him leaving Wilmerding in the early 1940s.

I do not have many memories of Great Uncle Louis since he lived in Ohio.  As a child the furthest we travelled was to Wilmerding, Pennsylvania to visit Grandma Josie’s family.  Since Uncle Sammy was travelling the week I researched and drafted this posting I was on my own in recreating a sequence of events in Louis’ life based solely on the documentation and information gathered online.  What emerged is a factual sketch punctuated by tidbits about the town where he lived and the company he worked for.  It was after Uncle Sammy returned home that he filled me in.  Another cousin of ours also added information to provide a more insightful look into Louis’ life. 

What surprised and encouraged me was that my analysis of the information I had gathered agreed with what my Uncle and Cousin thought as well.  This goes to prove that creating a time line based on research findings is a good way to start in composing a brief history of a family member’s life.  Adding some local history also rounds out the picture because we can understand why a certain job and location proved so attractive that they decided to put down roots and raise a family there.

Relationship Notes

63-Louis Muro Pedigree Chart

Pedigree chart for Louis Muro.

Louis was the son of Nick and Letizia Muro.  He was born in 1914 in Wilmerding, Pennsylvania.  Louis’ eldest sister Josie was Sammy’s Mom and EmilyAnn’s maternal Grandmother. 

Continue reading “63-Muro Family in America 1930 to 1940s-From Pennsylvania to Ohio”

62-Serrapede Family in Brooklyn: Patterns of Acculturation and Assimilation


In posting 61-Muro and Carola Families in America-Acculturation and Assimilation we reviewed the results of our research on the Carola and Muro family members in light of which ones became acculturated earlier and assumed behaviors that lessened the time it took for a degree of assimilation to take place.  In this posting we will look at the First Generation and Second Generation of our Serrapede family members and compare the changes each generation experienced and how they adapted, changed or left behind the traits of the Italian-American community of Dyker Heights where they lived.

Acculturation is the process whereby an immigrant group adapts some of the traits of the mainstream culture of the host country.  At the same time, the immigrant retains those traits that preserve the distinct identity of their birth culture.  Assimilation comes about because of a prolonged process of acculturation which dissolves the earlier distinguishing traits of the immigrant’s country and culture of origin.  Through assimilation the traits of the mainstream culture become one’s own to such an extent that any specific markers from the ancestral homeland become faint or non-existent.

Relationship Notes

Sam (Sabato) Serrapede was the son of Gennaro and Emilia Serrapede.  He immigrated to the United States in the mid-1920s and settled in Brooklyn.  Sam exhibited the traits of the Immigrant Generation of newcomers from Southern Italy to America.

In 1930 Sam married Josie (Giuseppa) Muro.  Josie was the daughter of Nick (Nicola) and Letizia Muro.  The Muro and Serrapede families came from Agropoli in Southern Italy.  Josie was less than three years old when she came to America in 1912.  She attended grew up in Wilmerding, Pennsylvania in a company town that had a diverse mixture of European immigrants.  Josie attended and graduated from public school after completing 8th grade.

Emily Leatrice was Sam and Josie’s oldest child.  She was born in 1931.  Emily’s education went further than Josie’s and so did her circle of friends and aspirations for the future.  She graduated Bay Ridge High School in 1947 with a Commerical Diploma.  Emily worked as a Legal Secretary/Office Manager for a local attorney for 6 years:  three before her marriage and three after her marriage.  Emily’s husband, Frank J. Torregrossa, was the son of an Orthodox Jewess who left her community to marry the son of an immigrant Sicilian family that ran a grocery store and macaroni manufacturing plant from 1900 to the early 1930s.

Sammy (Sabbatino) was the youngest child born to Josie and Sam in 1943.  He came of age during the post-war economic growth and enjoyed a childhood where the entire world was, as he always tells me, completely Italian-American.  Sammy’s expectations and aspirations went even further than his sister’s.  He completed college with a degree in computer science.

The age difference between Emily and Sammy creates a marked contrast in their experiences as growing up children of First Generation Italian-Americans.  We will look at some of the values and attitudes that changed during the years they came of age.

Continue reading “62-Serrapede Family in Brooklyn: Patterns of Acculturation and Assimilation”