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

Relationship Notes

Uncle Sammy and I have decided to simplify how we address our immediate family members in this and forthcoming blog postings.  To avoid confusing readers we will be using their first names.  Since the both of us are working on this blog it can become confusing if I say “My Mom Emily Leatrice told me…” and then Uncle Sammy’s contributions are phrased, “My Sister (Emily) did….”

At the start of each posting we’ll put a key describing our relationships to the people named in the posting.  This will help the narrative be easier to read.

In this posting is featured:

*Sam Serrapede:  Husband of Josie and father of Emily Leatrice, Gerald and Sammy.  EmilyAnn’s maternal Grandfather.

Our Family Stories, A New Feature in Our Family History Postings

This section will follow the research and any documentation presented in a posting and precedes the section where Uncle Sammy and I discuss and compare the results of our research with the stories and memories passed down in our family.

At the end of each family story will be given the source of the story and which one of us is now retelling it.

You may wonder how we can have so many stories and anecdotes to share.  Everything that happened in the lives of the Serrapede and Muro families became an opportunity to learn something.  During family gatherings or phone calls or casual visits, lessons learned were always shared from the experiences had in everyday life.  Since these lessons were often repeated to us they became part of our inner library to reference when it was time to think something through.

My Mom started this process with me when I was 4 or 5 years old.  She was not one to bring up the stories on her own.  I learned to seek her out.  By being patient and asking questions Mom began to assume the role of an expert story teller as she taught me lessons in life by this means.  In telling the stories of her family she’d leave off and pick-up on telling them at different times.  Mom would question me if I remembered what she told me previously before continuing the story.  In time I knew them as well, and sometimes better, than my schoolwork.  I was able to relate to her entire family without any difficulty because I knew all the intricacies of the relationships.

Uncle Sammy did not experience the telling of family stories in the manner I did.  He heard them during the times everyone gathered together for a special event.  Mostly his stories which we’ll share here are based on his own experiences.

Introduction

Josie Muro Serrapede left us a collection of over 250 photos of the family which span the years from the late 1920s through the 1960s.  The rest of the photos from the 1970s onward consist of Josie’s photos and ones given to her by relatives, my parents or me.  The photos that make up the Josie Muro Serrapede Collection are rich in detail.  As we study them we learn:

• The photographs of the family taken outside the apartments they live in help us identify the economic level of the community.  It was the section of Dyker Heights between 11th, 12th and 13th Avenues in the 60 Streets.  Here many hard working Italian immigrants lived.  The community was a combination of working class and modestly middle class residents.
• The family never looked hungry or gaunt.
• Their clothing was well cared for.
• Emily had many toys.
• There were many studio portraits of Emily and her baby brother Gerald.
• The Serrapede family shared happy times with their neighbors.
• There were many photos exchanged between Sam and his sister Philomena.

We will make use of these photos in future postings.

The photos show us that the basic needs were being met for housing, clothing and socialization.  Josie was very resourceful and a good cook so the family could be assured of something to eat at each meal.  For the reader the question arises as to how much money Sam made as a bootblack and if his salary alone supported the family.  There was not much information available about the average salary of a bootblack during the Great Depression.  We did learn a little about the history and have thought about some of the reasons why our immigrant ancestors might have found the work appealing.

For a married couple starting out $120 a month was considered a bare minimum to live on with a little left over for savings.  We’ll detail the sources of that info along with the budget in the next posting.  For this one we came away with the impression that if a bootblack worked hard enough and was resourceful he could get by.  Sam and Josie knew the Carnicelli family on 65th Street in Dyker Heights.  Joseph Carnicelli worked as a bootblack according to the 1930 and 1940 Federal Census records.  He was able to save enough money to become co-owner in a multi-family dwelling.  We still are amazed how the first generation managed to achieve so much even on a small salary.

The Shoe Shine Boy

In Western countries the profession of a shoe shiner or bootblack has been looked down upon.  In developing countries it is still the main source of income in some families.  Young boys get started in this line of work as a way to supplement or provide income in the family when the father is too ill to work.  In the U.K. a positive attitude is growing towards the shoe shiner.  Those who work in London’s financial district are knowledgeable about local events and willing to provide advice.  The clients look forward to the conversation as much as the shoe shine!

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Front piece from a “Ragged Dick” story.

The role of the shoe shine boy was the subject of a popular novel “Ragged Dick” by Horatio Alger.  The story depicted the rise of a young shoe shiner into the ranks of the middle class through honesty, hard work and sincerity.  The story was set in the late 19th century in New York City.  The front plate of one Ragged Dick book shows a luggage boy, two shoe shiners and a newsboy.  The book was published in 1895.  In a few years, Italian immigrant men would be among the adults competing with the boys for these jobs.

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52a-Serrapede Family in America: The Great Depression, Part 2

(This posting is a continuation of 52a-Serrapede Family in America: The Great Depression, Part 1)

Discussion with Uncle Sammy on Sunday, January 24, 2016

Topic:  What do you associate with the 1930s?

EmilyAnn:  First, I think of what happened on the day the Stock Market Crashed in 1929.  Mom told me that some investors were so shocked or ruined that they soon committed suicide.  Dad always said that as bad as things were that should never have happened.  People live through tough times by drawing closer to each other. Mom and Dad repeatedly emphasized this. With this in mind I wondered how people coped.

My parents and grandparents often told me that the movies offered a great escape.  I think of the Endicott Theatre that was located on 13th Avenue and 70th Street.  Mom and Dad shared many of their memories with me about their happy times at the Saturday afternoon matinees.  One of Mom’s favorite series of films came out towards the end of the 1930s.  She was a fan of Mickey Rooney and the “Andy Hardy” films he made.  Mom thought he was cute.  I couldn’t understand the appeal because as a child I knew Mickey Rooney as an older actor.  When I saw the photos of him as a teenage star I quickly understood how Mom, as a 6 or 7 year old girl, could develop a crush on him.

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Opening credit for Mickey Rooney from 1939 film, “Babes in Arms.”

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51-Serrapede Family in America April 18, 1931: It’s a girl! (Part 2)

(This posting is a continuation of 51-Serrapede Family in America April 18, 1931: It’s a girl! in which we considered the day Emily L. Serrapede was born and some of the issues she faced growing up as an Italian-American.  In this posting the discussion expands to experiences Uncle Sammy and I had.)

The Detail in the Birth Certificate that might point to an answer

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Close-up of the birth certificate.

I think I found a clue to Emily’s sensitivity regarding her ethnicity. Looking at her birth certificate I found the following: Color or Race-It. The It. means Italian.

Southern Italians were considered a race unto themselves. This was not in a good way. They were seen as incapable of joining the mainstream. An article from a 1914 edition of “The World’s Work” expresses sentiments held at that time about why this was so. It came down to this: Southern Italians were non-Caucasians. Therefore, the thinking went, they’ll never make it into the mainstream. In the 1910s the sentiment against Southern Italians was very negative. Their admission to this country was thought to have a detrimental effect on society. Census records list Italians as members of the Caucasian race but outside of their immigrant community the treatment was not always considerate or kind. When I was a child I was told by outsiders that we were “Wops” because our Grandparents were all here illegally. “Wop” meant “without passport.” Recently I’ve read it also could mean “White on paper.” Meaning for things like the census records Southern Italians were entered as Caucasian or White but in reality they were treated as “others”.

To what degree Emily experienced negative treatment I do not know. She never told me of any events in her life that would be a contributing factor to the strong show of emotions I witnessed when I did things like ask to get my ears pierced or why she wouldn’t teach me how to speak Italian as good as she did.

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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.

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Family Story: “Please Stay!”

Introduction

Nick and Rose Muro are my maternal Great Grandparents through my Grandmother Josie Muro Serrapede.  Philomena and Rosie were my Grandmother’s sisters and my Great Aunts.  Since I was so close to my Mom and her generation I called them my Aunties.

This story is about Auntie Philomena.

Philomena’s mother Letizia passed away when she was a young child.  Nicola married again a few months later.  His new wife, Rosina, was a widow with a young son.  Rosina had five small children to become a mother to upon marrying Nicola.  She enforced her new role through the strict manner in which she ran the household.

Everyone in Wilmerding called Nicola and Rosina by their American names, Nick and Rose.  Their American names are used in the telling of this story.

Family Story

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Philomena Muro circa early-mid 1930s.

Title:  “Please stay!”

Time Period:  1930s through 1940s

Locations:  Wilmerding, PA and Brooklyn, NY

Summary:  Coming to America dealt a change in lifestyle Nicola never expected.

Nick journeyed to Calabria after the death of his first wife Letizia.  He met and proposed to Rose while there.  Rose, a young widow with one son, accepted his proposal.  They were married within the year.  Rose had a big job waiting for her in America:  to become mother to Nick’s 5 young children by Letizia.

Rose soon began having her own children by Nicola.  As the household increased in size Letizia’s oldest children got more chores to do everyday.  Rose wanted to be a mother to all the children but her strictness did not lend itself to that perception amongst Letizia’s children.  Although Letizia and Rose’s children got along very well and had good relationships for all their lives, Letizia’s children were never completely on-course with Rose.

Letizia’s three daughters were, in this order, Josie, Philomena and Rosie.

Josie was the first to leave in the late 1920s to get a job in Brooklyn.  She married within 18 months and made Brooklyn her new hometown.  Back in Wilmerding, the extra chores then fell on the next of Letizia’s daughters, Philomena.  Every morning she had to clean the floors in the children’s rooms.  Philomena was up very early mopping the floors and scrubbing the corners of the rooms.  All this was completed before she went to school.

After graduating school at age 14 Philomena decided she wanted to move to New York.  Once her sister Josie was married and living on 66th Street in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, Philomena slowly considered, prayed and eventually realized her plans to came up to Brooklyn.   This happened within a few years of graduating.

Nick pleaded with Philomena to stay in Wilmerding.  His sons Louis and Peter were also going out-of-state in search of work.  Nick said, “Dearest daughter, per piacere! Stay with us.  My blood is going all over the country.”  Philomena was not moved.  She proceeded with her plans.

Philomena got on board the train and made it up to New York.  She headed straight for Josie and her brother-in-law Sam.  Once she had gotten a job, Philomena had a discussion with her brother-in-law Sam.  Sam said it was better that Philomena get her own place.  The apartment he and Josie shared could not accommodate another adult since his daughter Emily needed her own room. Sam and Josie wanted to have another baby, too.

Philomena persevered and succeeded.  Her hard work and gentle nature won over a family in the theater who hired her as a nanny.  That was an experience Philomena always treasured and a story for another time.

In time Rosie came up to Brooklyn, too.  She had the assistance of Josie and Philomena.

Nick was saddened by the movement of his children away from the town he had settled in.  He had expected them to remain close so he could see his grandchildren and great-grandchildren in future years.

This was America and the family dynamic had changed.  Even if Letizia had not died the Muro family was no longer in Agropoli.  America offered opportunities family never had back in Italy.  Sooner or later, the movement away from the first generation who settled here was going to happen.

—As told to EmilyAnn Frances May by Philomena’s son
November 1, 2015

50-Serrapede Family in America: Josie and Sam get married, 1930

Introduction

Around 1928, Josie Muro had to leave her hometown of Wilmerding, Pennsylvania to avoid the damage gossip would cause to her reputation and the honor of her family.  A young man named Ernest, who was already engaged to another woman, started a flirtation which Josie was reluctant to stop.  Josie’s parents met with the parents of the woman Ernest was engaged to.  All parties agreed the most expedient thing to do was send Josie to live with relatives in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn.  Ernest would not know where she went and the matter would be settled.  Josie came to Dyker Heights in Brooklyn where she lived with her maternal Aunt Elisa Scotti Errico and family.

Three years earlier in August of 1925 Sam Serrapede came to America from Agropoli.  Until 1930 he lived with his sister and brother-in-law in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  Given the distance between Red Hook and Dyker Heights we will try to use the Marriage Certificate to recreate a possible scenario as to how Josie and Sam got together.  Even though Josie and Sam shared many memories and family stories throughout the years, they never reminisced about how they met, their courtship or their wedding day.

Relationship Notes

Sam (Sabato) Serrapede was the son of Gennaro and Emilia (nee Papplardo) Serrapede.

Josie Muro was the daughter of Nick (Nicola) and Letizia (nee Scotti) Muro.

Josie and Sam were:

• Sammy’s Parents.
• EmilyAnn’s maternal Grandparents.

The Marriage Certificate of Sabato Serrapede and Josephine Muro

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Marriage Certificate of Josie and Sam.

Obtaining Josie and Sam’s marriage certificate helped answer the questions we had concerning their whereabouts prior to marriage.  Sam gave his address as 2472 West Street in Brooklyn.  This is the same address where his sister Filomena and her family were living when the 1930 Census was taken.

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49-Serrapede Family in America: The Little Church in Dyker Heights, 1930

Introduction

Filomena Serrapede D’Agosto was the eldest sister of Sam Serrapede.  She was the first member of Sam’s family to come to America.  Filomena married Giuseppe D’Agosto in 1923.  Giuseppe secured employment as a truck driver for the New York City Department of Sanitation.  The D’Agosto family lived in Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY.

In 1925 Sam came to America with the intention of making a new life for himself.  He aimed at getting himself established through securing employment and beginning the process towards citizenship.  Giuseppe and Filomena provided him with a place to live during his first five years in America.

Relationship Notes

• Sam (Sabato) Serrapede was:
• The son of Gennaro and Emilia (nee Pappalardo) Serrapede of Agropoli, Salerno, Campania Province in Italy.
• Sammy’s father.
• EmilyAnn’s maternal Grandfather.

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