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

Introduction

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.”

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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.

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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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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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51a-Serrapede and Muro Families in America: How a baby book started the family history project

Introduction

Greetings to all. It is good to be back after Summer Break. Thanks to Michael Muro, Giuseppe and Vincenzo Carnicelli, the family of Antonio Eugenio and Aldisa Aiello, and the Dell’Amore family for the enjoyable entries they contributed to during June through August.

With this posting, Uncle Sammy and I begin a shift in the presentation of the Muro and Serrapede family history. While we still have official documentation to draw on, we realize that after the 1940 Federal Census there needs to be other sources of information that will add to or verify the narrative.

We are taking a creative approach by combining family stories, local history, news coverage, pop culture, and personal history. With all the resources available through the internet the possibilities are dazzling. To start, we won’t aim for dazzling or sparkling but hope you will enjoy this story about how the family history project got its start. If it touches the heart and warms the spirit that will be more than enough feedback for us.

EmilyAnn’s story: The Our Baby Book

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Cover of Our Baby, A book of Records and Memories.

I didn’t know what to make of Mom’s idea to use the “Our Baby, A book of Records and Memories” as a starting point for writing down her childhood memories. She bought this book while working at Brooklyn Union Gas during a long term temp assignment in the early 1990s. She said it put her into a cheerful frame of mind and provided the prompts she needed to recall specific times in her childhood. There were other journals and memory books on her bookshelf that she used to record other periods in her life. The end goal was to collect all these brief entries into a collection of vignettes and anecdotes about her life from childhood to young adulthood.

In the early 1990s through 1996 the internet was not part of our lives yet. I had taken creative writing courses in college but it was for the most part tedious and heavy handed. We read selected samples of different styles of writing. Then based on the sample we had to create something like it. There was no free writing, no prompts, nothing that got the creative juices going to take us on a journey into the flights of fancy creative writers can experience today. Thanks to the internet there is a wealth of techniques and exercises available. And then there are wonderful writing tools like 750words.com that keep one disciplined in their daily output. I’ve no idea where Mom got her unique approach to writing but it was working out well for her. As I watched the small collection of memories take written form, I thought there was something to the free form process she took using only illustrations to get started.

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Filomena Serrapede D’Agosto: Her life, her times and her legacy

Introduction

Over 120 years after her birth, my maternal Grandpa Sam’s sister Filomena is now among one of the most famous women from Agropoli.  Thanks to guidance from Michael Muro and Giuseppe Carnicelli, an Italian language article about Filomena is now available to our readers through the use of Google Translator.

Please note:  This is a translation from the Italian language version to English using Google Translator.  No attempt has been made to edit or change the original content.   The original material was created by Ernesto Apicella  for InfoCilento.  What we offer here is a translation for educational and informational purposes only.

The only changes made were to correct errors in the translation as follows:

*The pronoun his  was replaced with her  when describing Filomena’s parents.

*The words Saturday and Italy are replaced with the proper first names of Sabato and Italia. They were Filomena’s siblings.

*Giuseppe D’Agosto’s residence at 83 Baxter Street was located in Manhattan’s Little Italy, not in Brooklyn.

*Filomena’s daughter married into the Dell’Amore family.  The translation described her daughter ‘s married name as Love.  The Dell’Amore sauces were similarly translated as Love.

*Frank Dell’Amore was described as first her nephew and then her grandson.  We have translated that into Grandson.

*Turi is not her nephew but her Great-Grandson.

The article mentions Filomena and Giuseppe’s children by their Italian names:  Raffaela (Lillian), Franco, Emilia and Marta.  They were also known by their American names:  Lillian, Frank, Emily and Martha.  But most of the family used Emilia when addressing or mentioning the daughter of Filomena and Giuseppe D’Agosto.  This was done to distinguish her from Emily, the daughter of Sam Serrapede.  Both were named after their Grandmother Emilia Papplardo Serrapede.

Please use the link to the Italian language article.  There you will find photos of Filomena, her family and Old Agropoli.

The close-up of Filomena Serrapede D’Agosto  used below is from a photo in the collection Josie Muro Serrapede left to her daughter Emily.  In turn, Emily bequeathed the collection to her daughter EmilyAnn and brother Sammy.  These photos are watermarked to provide necessary credit for their source and direct any questions  about them to us.

Filomena’s grandsons have done honor to her memory and her culinary legacy  through the fine Italian sauces they offer.  Uncle Sammy and I like them all.  You may visit the Dell’Amore site at:  http://dellamore.com/

 

InfoCilento article about Filomena Serrapede D’Agosto

 

Close-up of Filomena Serrapede D’Agosto, mid-late 1930s.

Filomena Serrapede … the most famous Agropolese woman in the world
By Ernesto Apicella
Published on  March 7, 2017

InfoCilento
English translationhttp://tinyurl.com/y9u8eden
Italian Language (original article)http://tinyurl.com/y8clz8ko

The story full of sacrifices, renunciations, courage … of an Agropolese woman emigrated, in 1924, to the United States of America.

Between 1884 and 1930, the Agropolis population oscillated around five thousand people, half of whom lived constantly in the countryside.  The economy was predominantly agricultural, followed by fishing, sheep-farming and trade.  There was a good production of wine, oil and figs that were mostly sold in Italy and abroad.  Sheep, goats and pigs were raised for meat and milk production.  For jobs in fields and transport, donkeys, horses, buoys and buffaloes were used.

The most important districts were: High Agropoli (N’goppa Aruopole), residential and social center;  The “Marina” (Abbascio ‘a Marina), the naval and fishing pole;  C.so Garibaldi (‘U Cumune), the new shopping and tourist center;  The “Station”, the hub of the city and Cilento’s mobility.

” N ‘ Goppa Aruopole ” was the heart of Agropoli.  In its ancient walls was the social, economic and religious life of the Agropolises.  There were shops, taverns, a Salt and Tobacco Shop, two Pharmacies, a Post Office, three Churches, and all that could serve the primary needs.  At the song of the rooster, the village, as if enchantingly, was home to a thousand people who, going to work, crossed the ancient door and descended the stairs.  Peasants, fishermen, furnace workers, craftsmen, merchants, ready to face a long, tiring, grueling workday that ended at the fall of the sun.  The homecoming, a poor hot meal, the bed … what a life!  Between the ancient and narrow alleys, under the medieval arches, in the poor and neglected houses, in a few square meters, lived together: pains and joys;  Odi and amori;  Misery and nobility !!!

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