Sunday, November 18, 2012

Is bottom pinching in Italy legal?

Can you expect this to happen in Italy? This pinch
actually took place in Canada as this female reporter
was on the air talking about flooding in Oxfordshire.
The cheeky man was initially threatened with assault
charges, but in the end he was let off with a warning.
As a follow-up to my recent entry on aggressive Italian men, I thought I should also comment on the allegations of Italian men pinching women’s bottoms. This practice was rumored to be common some years ago but is said to be pretty much obsolete now. I have not heard of it happening to any women I know. However, while searching for other opinions about Italian men, I read this entry on a blogger website:
“In 2001, the Italian Supreme Court ruled a man grabbing a woman’s ass was not sexual harassment as long as the act was not premeditated. (Does ‘premeditated’ mean the defense team must prove the man sat at home for three weeks and planned exactly how he was going to pinch the buttocks?)”

I wanted to verify if this was true, so I conducted some research to get to, shall we say, the bottom of the matter. Indeed, I found that a court in Rome did rule in January of 2001 that it was not a crime for a man to pinch or touch a womans bottom provided it was “a sudden or isolated action.” In this case, a supervisor patted a female co-worker and then threatened to hinder her career if the incident were reported. She sued and won. The boss’s “hands-on” approach initially resulted in an 18-month prison sentence. Yet a higher court ruled in his favor, as the incident occurred “only once and impulsively.” Judges also ruled there was no proof the gesture was sexual.

But before you rush online to buy your ticket to Italy, I should warn that Italy’s High Court in Rome overturned the ruling in July of 2003. The panel of judges said: “Fondling buttocks unquestionably constitutes a sexual act because the perpetrator commits a substantive and concrete intrusion into the victim’s sexual sphere. Such acts, albeit superficial, amount to assault.”

So the bottom line is, no intrusion in someones sphere (or should that be spheres?). I was going to make a joke about this ruining my vacation plans, but I should probably keep my hands off that territory.
See also: Do Italian males live up to their reputation for their persistent and flirtatious behavior
Is Italy and safe and healthy place for young women (and men)?

Friday, November 16, 2012

American girl in Italy a statement of freedom, not harassment, says subject

That famous photo of Italian men gazing longingly at an American woman that I referred to in my previous blog post? It is supposed to be more about strong, independent women than it is about love-crazed Italian men, according to the photographer and the woman in the photo. A few years ago, Laura T. Coffey of Today News tracked down the woman in the picture and asked how she felt about the scene.

Ninalee Craig, who was 23 at the time of the photo, said she did not feel bothered by the men at all. “It’s not a symbol of harassment,” she told Coffey. “It’s a symbol of a woman having an absolutely wonderful time!”

Craig, who passed away in May of 2018, had traveled on her own for six months through Spain, Italy and France, an unusual venture at the time for a single woman. The striking 6-foot beauty turned a lot of heads. In Florence, she met photographer Ruth Orkin, who was also traveling alone.

“We talked about traveling alone and asked each other, ‘Are you having a hard time? Are you ever bothered?’ We both found that we were having a wonderful time, and only some things were a little difficult.”

Ninalee Craig negotiates with a shopkeeper
in this photo also taken by Ruth Orkin.
Together they developed the idea of having Craig wander around Florence while Orkin shot photos to show what it was like for a single woman on her own in Europe. Coffey writes that for two hours, Orkin photographed Craig “admiring statues, asking for directions, haggling at markets and flirting in cafes.” Orkin captured her famous “American Girl in Italy” photograph during those two hours of “horsing around,” Craig said.

She said the photo is a celebration of strong, independent women who aren’t afraid to live life. “Men who see the picture always ask me: Was I frightened? Did I need to be protected? Was I upset?” Craig said. “They always have a manly concern for me. Women, on the other hand, look at that picture, and the ones who have become my friends will laugh and say, ‘Isn’t it wonderful? Aren’t the Italians wonderful? They make you feel appreciated!’”

She acknowledged the men in the photo appear to be leering and lascivious, but she insisted they were harmless. “Very few of those men had jobs,” Craig said. “Italy was recovering from the war and had really been devastated by it . . . I can tell you that it wasn’t the intent of any man there to harass me.”

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Do Italian males live up to reputation for persistent and flirtatious behavior?

Before I began going to Italy regularly, I wondered about the reputation of Italian men as aggressive, flirting Casanovas. Was that a misconception, or did I need to worry about bringing my daughters to Italy? Anybody seriously interested in Italian culture has probably seen Ruth Orkin’s famous photo “American Girl in Italy,” which probably did more to ingrain the image of the aggressive Latin lover into the public's consciousness than any other symbol. But that was taken in 1951; times change, so did I still need to be concerned? During the year we spent in Padova in 2001-02, we had ample opportunity to put this question to the test, as we brought with us Suzye and Lindsey, then 16 and 14.
"American Girl in Italy" by Ruth Orkin

Their conclusion? The stereotype is partly true, they said, but they never felt threatened or seriously harassed. Most of the time they were approached, it was in tourist areas such as the train or bus stations, and the guys never did anything more than persistently try to make conversation. “A lot of the times we got hit on more aggressively it was from immigrants hanging around the train station, not Italians,” Suzye said.

“Ciao, bella,” was the cliché opening line the girls remember the most, but they also recall many other approaches. The first sentence was usually in Italian, but when that drew a blank, the pursuers would say, “You speak French? You speak English? Oh, you want a coffee. You are so beautiful. I love you. I must see you again, baby.”

The girls were very rarely approached this way in non-tourist areas or by the boys in the Italian school they attended. It seems that foreign girls were usually the targets, and if boys didn’t know they were outsiders, the girls had nothing to worry about. At first, it was a novelty and they played along to see what else the boys would say. However, the boys usually knew limited English and the conversations never progressed very far, so the girls quickly grew tired of the game and learned how to avoid being approached.

“Just don't look at them in the first place,” Suzye said. “If you give them eye contact, then they'll talk to you. If you walk confidently and just look at the ground, they won’t approach you.

“And if they do, even if it’s just innocent questions like where are you from, don’t answer because they’ll think you’re interested and will keep asking more questions.”

Lindsey said she made up a story that she often used. “I said my name is Miya and I’m from New York and that I don’t remember my phone number. The last part was actually true.”

Then Suzye struck on a different idea, asking for the boys’ phone numbers instead. This seemed to give the pursuers the feeling that they had at least partially accomplished their goal. “I'm waiting for your call, beautiful,” one told her as the girls walked away.

Lindsey tried this approach and was particularly pleased when one boy couldn’t find a piece of paper to write down his number and so wrote it on a lira banknote.

Often the girls would go out with their bilingual Italian friend Erica, who pretended that she too was a foreign student who spoke only English. The girls would share a coffee or tea with a group of boys they had just met while the boys would try out their limited English on the girls. But the boys would also talk among themselves in Italian, not realizing that Erica could understand everything and translate any interesting comments about the girls into English for Suzye and Lindsey.

Lucy had her own experience with an aggressive male in Bassano de Grappa. She stopped at a bakery to ask for directions, and the young man at the counter referred her to a customer in his 60s who spoke some English and said he could help her. However, the old man was not about to give the directions without asking for a little something in return. He tried to hold her hand, but Lucy pulled it away. He tried again several times without success, and then he asked her to sit and have tea with him. His speech was slurred and mixed with profanities, and Lucy smelled liquor on his breath.

She kept asking for the directions she needed, but he kept delaying. He began telling her about himself. He was a professore from India who took care of disabled children. He loved his children and would do anything for them. Lucy looked pleadingly at the bakery employee, who seemed sympathetic and a bit exasperated. He spoke to the professore and tried to get him to just give the directions. Lucy was perhaps too patient and polite, but she continued to pull her hand away, interrupt and ask for directions. The professore finally forgot about his charm, grabbed her hand again and told her to shut up. She pulled her hand away for the last time and walked off as his angry denunciations following her out the door.

Of course I never got to witness any of these incidents in person, except for one memorable occasion. We were riding on a train, and Suzye and Lindsey were sitting about three seats away from us. The seats directly across from them became vacant at one of the stops, and a group of three or four high-school-aged boys came down the aisle, sat down and tried to engage the girls in conversation. They seemed nice enough, but one in particular was persistent and fairly aggressive. The girls were politely saying no thanks to the boys. Lucy and I were watching with some amusement, but then the lead boy reached out and put his hand on Suzye’s knee while continuing to talk.

This dad had watched long enough—I stood and spoke loudly and firmly, “Basta! Non toccare!” I wanted to say more, but my language skills were too limited. Naturally I didn’t want to admit this, so I just remained standing and gave the boys what I hoped was a withering glare. The offending boy let loose a stream of apologetic Italian, something about only trying to be friendly and not meaning any harm, I think. I had no words to add, so I just continued to look stern while the boys moved on to the next car.

Later I thought of something I could have said, but that’s pretty much the way it goes whenever I try to speak Italian. I always think of something better to say five minutes after the conversation has ended. Anyway, I was pleased as it was that I had been able to come out with “Enough! You’re not to touch!” so convincingly that the boy must have thought I was Italian. But I wish I had added, “Potete parlare, ma non toccare.” You can talk but not touch.

Back to the original question, what about the stereotypical image of aggressive Italian males? The incidents I've described are the exception and not the rule. Overall, Lucy has spent about 20 months in Italy and only had one incident, and that professore was not native Italian. Suzye and Lindsey had more, but mainly in tourist areas, rarely out in the countryside. Admittedly they have been approached in Italy more often than they have been in America, although Suzye pointed out that she has spent most of her life in Washington state, explaining, “Here everyone is so passive and indirect, which is not the case in other places I've traveled.” However, they have not felt threatened in Italy and were always able to walk away. In truth, violent crime in Italy is much less common than it is in the United States and Great Britain. So although there is some truth to the aggressive Italian male image, I don’t hesitate to let my wife and daughters travel alone in Italy.

I would add to the advice Suzye gave by saying it would be advisable to dress modestly but also somewhat stylishly, which will make you blend in more with the Italian women. It would also be helpful to learn a few Italian phrases, such as vai via (go away) or mi lascia in pace (leave me in alone, or literally, leave me in peace). If these don’t help, one can make a scene, as I did on the train.
For follow-up information on this topic, read also
Is Italy a safe and healthy place for young women (and men)?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Gino a shame to proud Spadoni name

While Sabatino “Sam” Spadoni of Tacoma lived a colorful life that sometimes crossed the boundaries of the law and probably embarrassed his Gig Harbor cousins, he is almost angelic in comparison with another Spadoni from Ponte Buggianese who spent less than a year in Tacoma and yet surpassed all other Spadonis in fame—or rather, infamy. Gino Spadoni is without doubt the baddest Spadoni I have ever encountered, and it must have shamed my grandfather in the extreme to share a name with this scoundrel, who regularly made the front page of the Tacoma newspapers during 1925 and 1926, when Nonno was working at the smelter in Tacoma.

While Sabatino made money selling liquor during the prohibition area, eventually these criminal practices were legalized. Murder, on the other hand, is still illegal, and thats what Gino was tried for in 1925. He was accused and initially convicted of slaying his ex-foreman at the Griffin Wheel Company in South Tacoma, where Gino was briefly employed in 1920 before being laid off. The conviction was overturned in a 5-4 vote by the state Supreme Court because of procedural violations, and during a re-trial, the prosecution’s case fell apart when key witnesses either changed their testimony or refused to testify again—most likely because their lives were threatened.

Obviously Nonno and his nephews Adolfo and Alfredo, all of whom lived in or near Tacoma during this time, would have read about Gino’s trial. My Aunt Nelda, the eldest of Nonno’s children, would have been only 15, so perhaps she and her younger siblings were shielded from the unpleasant headlines. In any event, I didn’t find out about Gino until this year, and none of my other Gig Harbor cousins can recall ever hearing of him. I suppose that even if he had been a close relative, it would have been one of those topics you just didn’t talk about, especially in those times.

Gino in a photo published in The News Times.
So how did I find out about this black sheep of la famiglia Spadoni? I first heard about him while doing ancestry research, though all I initially learned is that Gino lived most of his life in California yet was accused of a murder in Tacoma. From there, I discovered the rest of the story through the super-sleuthing efforts of one of my cousins, who also happens to be a childhood neighbor and friend. Cousin Greg had earlier done some research just for the sake of his own curiosity about an unrelated Italian-American who was buried in the same cemetery as his nonno. His skills in digging into old public records impressed me, and that got me to thinking about what little I knew about Gino and the murder case.

Greg at work at the Tacoma Public Library.
Greg would be the perfect person to investigate, because if there were documents available, he could figure out where to look. Besides, he is also an excellent writer, and the fact that he is retired would mean he could spend some time doing research. Luckily for me and my curiosity, Greg more than took up the challenge. He spent days in the Tacoma library, Pierce County courthouse and state capitol scouring documents and clippings, and then he invested more time finding details and adding background information online. Many more days were spent writing, re-writing and double-checking facts. The result is a five-part series that he recently posted on his web site which wildly exceeds my hopes when I suggested he look into the case.

Headlines with Spadoni in them were commonplace in 1925.

I have met a lot of Spadonis in America and Italy, and all of them have proven to be hard-working and upright citizens working in respectable trades and professions. Gino himself had brothers who were model citizens and one even has a street named after him and a plaque erected in his home town of Ponte Buggianese. However, Gino seems to have been born with a faulty moral compass, and he did his best to ruin the family’s reputation. Not only was he accused of murder in America but he also had been jailed and released in Italy on suspicion of murder. He was accused of trying to poison a woman who rejected his romantic advances. He was arrested and charged with setting on fire the house of a family who had once taken him in as a border. He threatened to kill a man who had formerly been a childhood friend because the friend repeated in court what Gino had told him about the Tacoma murder. Prosecutors indicated that Gino went free because witnesses were influenced by “a black hand gang,” a sort of predecessor to the Mafia.

I suppose I could be accused of unfairly judging Gino, as none of the charges against him actually stuck. When I first heard about the murder and that Gino later won his freedom after his second trial, I wanted to believe that he had been wrongly accused, that he was a victim of ethnic prejudice. After all, it is well known that Italians suffered from discrimination in the early 1900s. But it’s hard to read Greg’s account without thinking Gino was seriously twisted. The murder of the wheel works foreman was not some heat-of-the-moment loss of temper but rather a carefully premeditated and brutal slaying.

Even though my ancestry research indicates that all the Spadonis from Ponte Buggianese are related in some extended manner, I’m sorely tempted to say about Gino, as Nonno undoubtedly had to repeatedly say, “We’re not related.”


Here is a link to Gregs series of articles, titled The Griffin Wheel Murder

Note: Since writing this entry, I have discovered that Gino was my dads 11th cousin. Our nearest common ancestor was born in 1455.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Prohibition was a boon for Tacoma character Sabatino "Sam" Spadoni

When I first signed up for a two-week trial subscription to in the spring of 2009, I spent many hours taking notes on Spadonis from Ponte Buggianese who had come to America around the turn of the century. One entry I found for Samuel Spadoni in the 1930 Tacoma census baffled me, though, and I eventually gave up and filed it under impossible to solve mysteries. In the past month, however, while looking for something else, I stumbled across the answer to the enigmatic Samuel.

I first noted Samuel Spadoni listed in the 1930 census as residing in the Pierce County Jail. I had been aware of a Guido Spadoni living in Tacoma at that time, but I had never heard of Sam, nor could I find any Samuel, Sam or Samuele Spadoni coming through Ellis Island in the early 1900s. I couldn’t find a World War 1 draft card with that name, nor any Sam Spadoni in the 1920 census. He just seemed to appear in Tacoma, get arrested and then disappear.

To add to the puzzle, I also found a Victoria Spadoni in the 1930 census, age 10, living as a boarder with a Tacoma family, William and Amalia Benigni, but I never found another reference to her in the Ancestry database either. It appeared likely that she was Samuel’s daughter, being watched over by friends of the family, but I had no other evidence to corroborate this or tell me what became of her.

Skipping ahead three years, I recently decided to find out more about other Spadonis who lived in Tacoma. Perhaps now I’ve just become a better researcher, or perhaps Ancestry has added more Tacoma information to its database, but this time I found plenty of Tacoma entries about a Sabatino Spadoni, who was a brother to Guido. The key breakthrough came when I gradually realized that Sam and Sabatino were the same person. Italians routinely Americanized their names, and since there is no American equivalent to Sabatino, he had to get creative and pick something that at least started with the same two letters.

Once I made this connection, the facts started pouring forth. Here is a brief summary. Sabatino came to the United States in 1910 at age 16. He had cousins in Chicago and his brother Guido in Tacoma. He shows up in the Tacoma directory in 1915, though I suspect he arrived here earlier. In his World War I draft card, he was living in Seattle, just a block away from the house of Michele “Michael” Spadoni, and both were working at the same steel mill, strong evidence that the two knew they were cousins. Sam was inducted into the army in October of 1917 and received an honorable discharge in January of 1919.

In October of same year, Sam married 14-year-old Maria Morini in Bellingham, and the couple was back in Tacoma by 1920. Around that time, Maria gave birth to Vittoria, whose name was Americanized to Victoria. In 1926, Sam filed for divorce from Maria, who by then was known as Mary. The legal filing says that both wanted out of the marriage and that Mary had already left Sam. He asked for and was granted custody of Victoria, but he landed in jail in 1930 and Victoria had to lodge with another family.

At this point, my research may have come to a dead end had I not stumbled across a marriage record that eluded me previously. In Yakima, Washington, Victoria married Donald Felts in 1936, when she was 16 and Donald 20. Now she had a new last name, and knowing that gave me a better chance to find out what happened to her. Also, within the last year, name data from the 1940 census has been released, and much of it is now in the Ancestry files.

Armed with new information, I found Donald and Victoria living between Fife and Federal Way, King County, in 1940. Further, I found that they had a 2-year-old son, also named Donald, in their home. If he was born in 1938, he might still be alive and living in Washington, so I set to work tracking him down. It looked like he moved around a bit, but it seemed like the most recent address was in Olympia. I gave the number a try, and bingo, there he was on the other end of the phone line.

Sabatino looks like a real sweet guy and a loving
father to Victoria in this photo sent to me by
his grandson, Donald Felts.
I asked if his grandfather was Sabatino Spadoni, and he said no, it was Sam, but then he remembered that Sam was not his actual name, and his real name could have been Sabatino. His mother had been Victoria, so I knew I had the right person.

Victoria was a very beautiful lady who was mistaken for my sister many times,” Donald said. “Her hair was so black that many thought she dyed it, but she never did.  She was happy and laughed a lot but was somewhat mistrustful of people, probably because her mother walked away from her on a street corner near their home in Tacoma to go to Alaska.”

Mary, Victoria's mother, later married James Hansen and ran the Black Rapids Lodge in Alaska. Donald sent me a copy of a postcard from the lodge which shows Mary with her team of huskies. He said he only saw his grandmother twice.

Mary Morini Hansen in Alaska. James Hansen was her
third husband. Between her marriage to Sabatino and James,
she was married to Eugene Morris.
Donald told me that he spent the early years of his childhood in Spring Valley, a neighborhood between Federal Way and Fife, and that his grandfather Sam lived about a half mile away. He said the relationship between Sam and Victoria was cordial, but they were more like neighbors than father and daughter. This is probably because Victoria, according to Donald, “boarded with several Italian families while growing up.”

“My take on Sam and Victoria’s relationship is that she lived apart from him during her growing up years, so she was not as close as she might have been if living with him,” Donald said. “Also, she and my father did not approve of his life style of gambling and staying out late.”

He remembers his grandfather as a serious man whom he rarely saw smiling or laughing.  “I recall him always dressed in a suit, tie, overcoat, and fedora,” Donald said. When Sam’s wife left, she remarried and moved to Alaska. Mary became an Alaska pioneer and is mentioned in some historical accounts, Donald said, adding that he has seen her pictured with her dog sled team.

Sam’s life underwent major changes during the 12 months of late 1919 and early 1920. He had been discharged from the army, married and had a child, but of equal impact was the official start of Prohibition on Jan. 16, 1920. He most likely used his connections in the Italian community to obtain and sell alcohol, and he quickly found it highly profitable. Donald said that Sam ran at least one very successful speakeasy in Tacoma during the 1920s, and it was frequented by the mayor and many police officers. Donald recalled that Sam once bragged he could buy out any of the wealthy families in Spring Valley and that he always carried large wads of cash in his pockets.

“Mom and I rode into Tacoma with him occasionally, and policemen greeted him like he was their friend,” Donald said. “Sometimes they’d pull him over and say, ‘You have any money for me, Sam?’ And he’d pull out a roll of bills and hand over $20 or so. There was no expectation of him getting repaid.”

Not only did Sam profit from selling alcohol but he also ran gambling operations in the back of his businesses. Donald inherited seven one-armed bandits from Sam, and now he regrets very much that he gave them away over the years without realizing their historical value.

From the Tacoma Daily Ledger,
September 1932
Apparently, Sam didn’t have all the policemen in his pockets, though. A 1932 newspaper clipping describes a police raid in a back room of one of Sam’s businesses. Apparently this happened fairly regularly, because the article quotes police officers as saying Sam was “a fool for punishment,” since he had already had “several previous liquor violation convictions on records against him.” The article also says Sam may be charged with being a “jointist,” and I had to look that up. Wiktionary says it is an “operator of an illegal drinking place or joint,” but it also says the word became obsolete in 1933, the year which marked the end of Prohibition.

Donald remembers Sam as owning several restaurants in the 1940s and 1950s, including the Toscano Cafe. City records also show he operated The New Lido and that he owned Sam’s Parking Garage.

The finish of Prohibition didn’t end Sam’s battles with the law, though, as he continued to cross the line of legality by cheating on his taxes. Donald recalls that after his mom was married,  “Sam went to prison for tax evasion twice in the late 30s or early 40s.”

His niece, Ida (Spadoni) Holts, thinks that after being released from one of his stays in prison, his friends from Tacoma were avoiding him and he wanted to get away to make a fresh start. He moved to Eureka, California, in the mid-1950s, and he worked as a restaurant cook until his death there in 1958.

Donald has positive memories of Sam as well. “Sam was always cooking something, with a big pot on the stove,” he said, “and being used to cooking for crowds, he always made too much, which he sent our way.  I still remember those wonderful dishes, including head cheese and smoked tongue that I might not be able to keep down now. Even though Victoria did not cook Italian often, I gained my love of Italian cuisine from Sam.”

Victoria Spadoni at age 14.
And despite Sam’s tendency to stray from the law, Victoria grew up to lead an upstanding life. Her husband was a carpenter and they operated a family farm. Donald graduated from college with a degree in pharmacy. He worked for a small pharmacy in Seattle and retired from Group Health in 2000 after 33 years.

“She was a stay-at-home mother,” Donald said, “but she did work occasionally to supplement the family budget.  She worked several Christmas seasons at Rhodes department store in Tacoma, worked for several years during the fall canning season at the Hunts cannery in Puyallup, and did housework for several of those well-to-do families in Spring Valley for a few years.

“She milked our cow for years. When my father was drafted into WW II, my mother was stuck caring for 1,500 laying chickens with me as helper until she could dispose of them. She was very financially conservative and never purchased anything she couldn’t pay cash for and didn’t have a checking account or credit card until late in life. After my father’s death in 1983, she did a lot of volunteer work at the Sumner Senior Center. She died of ovarian cancer at Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup on Jan. 2, 1996. She was my biggest cheerleader and probably responsible for me getting a college education.”

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Who were those Tacoma Spadonis?

After making contact with Spadoni relatives in California and Chicago, it seemed appropriate to me that I should explore the Spadoni families who lived just across the Narrows Bridge from us starting in the early 1900s to . . . well, I didn’t know. Maybe there are still some of their descendants around, I wondered. It turns out that indeed there are, and very pleasant and gracious distant cousins they have turned out to be!

I was vaguely aware that there had been some Spadonis unfamiliar to our family in the Tacoma phone book in the early half of the 1900s, but when I asked older family members about this, I was always told, “They weren’t related to us.” Sometimes it also was added that our family didn’t associate with the Tacoma families because they had a bad reputation.

Guido "Frank" Spadoni on Jefferson Street in Tacoma in the 1920s, across from where the Old Spaghetti Factory was later located. According to his granddaughter Kathy Holt, Guido bought and sold workhorses.
Tacoma and Gig Harbor are separated by less than 10 miles, although until the middle of this century, the only way to commute was by ferry or private boat across the Narrows. However, my nonno Michele Spadoni lived in South Tacoma and then Ruston for a time before moving the Gig Harbor around 1915, so all these Spadonis actually would have been in the same city. Even after moving to Gig Harbor, Nonno commuted by boat to Tacoma, where he worked at the smelter in Ruston until his retirement.

The Tacoma City Directory also shows that Nonno’s nephews Adolfo and Alfredo lived and worked in and near Tacoma during part of the 1920s, so I have to think that at some time, members of the two Spadoni branches must have encountered each other in person. There is perhaps no way to confirm this, but with help from Greg Spadoni, Alfredo’s grandson, I decided to explore what I could about these Tacoma Spadoni families.

Records from Ellis Island show that Guido Spadoni was the first to arrive, coming across Nov. 24, 1906. The ship log says he was going to Chicago to stay with a cousin, Gioberto Giuntoli, but he didn’t stay there long. By January of 1907, he is already listed in documents as living in Tacoma, where he found a job as a laborer with Lister Construction Company.

These early documents provide other clues about Guido: He is married, but his wife, Armida, has remained behind in Ponte Buggianese. This location ties him closely to our own branch of the Spadoni family. My great grandfather was born there, and when he married, he moved about five miles away to Pescia.

I have been assured by a family historian in Italy that all the Spadonis from Ponte Buggianese are descendants of Francesco Spadoni, who moved to Stignano in the mid-1400s. During the 1600s, most of the Spadonis moved from Stignano to Ponte Buggianese to take advantage of lush farming land that had previously been flooded. So despite denials by older Gig Harbor family members, we are related to the Tacoma family. They must have suspected at least a distant relationship, given that both families came from the same region. I hope that the next time I go to Italy, I can trace Guido’s family line back to the point where it intersects with Michele’s.

From 1912-14, Guido is listed as working at a saloon. A most interesting entry occurs in 1915. His brother, Sabatino, who arrived in the states in 1910, is listed as Guido’s partner in Spadoni Brothers Fuel on Market Street. This pre-dates the Gig Harbor Spadoni Brothers, a partnership of Michele’s four sons, by 31 years. The Gig Harbor brothers also sold coal and oil as fuel, although their main focus was on land clearing and road construction.

Guido and Sabatino’s partnership was brief, as by 1917, the company is listed as Market Fuel, solely under Guido’s proprietorship, and it continued that way until the 1930s. Sabatino went into the restaurant and saloon business, but I’ll get back to him in a later blog entry.

1919 was an important year for Guido: He divorced his Italian wife and remarried an American. Thanks to Greg’s research, I have found the Pierce County legal record in which Guido filed for divorce from Armida. In it, I find the surprising news that Guido and Armida married in 1902 had four children in Italy before he left for America four years later. Now Guido is claiming that Armida abandoned him and the children in 1906 and that his parents are taking care of the kids.

It’s not easy to determine the truth of who left whom, though. In the lawsuit, Guido says nothing about the fact that his parents, wife and children are actually in Italy, only that “since the year 1906, the plaintiff has never heard from her and does not know her whereabouts or whether she is living or dead.” Armida, obviously, would have had no opportunity to contest his account of the facts.

Guido had good reason to file for the divorce, because he wanted to marry Iva Bisbee, a 29-year-old woman originally from Oregon. They married in November of 1919, although the marriage lasted only until 1921, when Iva filed for divorce, claiming she had been mistreated.

Matilda Pezzolo, Guido's third wife.
Guido married again in 1923, this time to Italian immigrant Matilde Pezzolo, who Americanized her name to Matilda. This marriage resulted in the birth of daughters Ida in 1925 and six years later to Giovanna, who went by the name of Joan. Guido himself informally changed his name to Frank in the 1930s, and he continues to show up in city records as living near Fife until his death at the age of 78 in 1960.

What became of Ida and Joan, I wondered? I found a file showing Ida married Frank Holt in 1945, and through a little more research, I found an Ida Holt listed in Brown’s Point, Tacoma. Could it be the same person? If true, she would be 87 years old. Perhaps it was an out-of-date listing.

I gave the number a try, and a recorded message told me the number had been changed, but it gave me a new number. When I called again, Ida herself answered the phone. Yes, her father had been Frank Spadoni, and yes, he used to have a fuel business in Tacoma. I tried a few more questions, and she suggested that I come to see her and ask my questions in person. She said her daughter was in town for a visit and had gone out for a couple of hours, but if I called back later, I could talk to Ida’s daughter and make arrangements for a visit.

Ida in her home, September 2012
Ida seemed to have some problems with her short-term memory, as she asked me numerous times who I was, but in my experience interviewing older relatives, I find they often can remember childhood events with great accuracy and detail. When I called back later, I spoke with Ida’s daughter Odessa, and we arranged a meeting in Ida’s Federal Way assisted living facility with Odessa, Ida, myself, Greg and my wife Lucy.

Before we hang up, Odessa tells me that Ida at one time lived in Gig Harbor. In fact, she lived on Raft Island, which is about a half mile from my home. I tell Odessa that I am looking out my window at Raft Island as we speak.

Despite Guido’s somewhat turbulent early background, his daughter and granddaughter--who are delightful, warm, gracious and welcoming distant cousins and hostesses--had many good things to say about Guido.

“He was a fantastic grandfather,” Odessa said. “He was just a warm individual, a gentle soul.” She remembers him as a great cook who always had broth or pasta warming on the stove. He loved his leather chair, and she remembers him asking her to get up and stir his broth, especially the time she took off the lid and found the pot full of fish heads.

“He was a very easy-going person,” said Ida, who as expected had a good memory of events of long ago. “I always felt really loved.”

That’s not to say that she thought her dad was a perfect angel, though. She remembers one time when he was gambling in a card room located in the back of a downtown Tacoma barbershop. “Police raided the card room and he was in the group,” she said. “It made the front page of the newspaper. Dad read the newspaper story to me and boasted that he was famous.” As she recalls the event, nothing happened to Guido; the police just told him to go home.

When Ida was 6, though, her life took a difficult turn of events. After the birth of Joan, Matilda went into a deep depression and had to be committed to Western State Hospital. Ida doesn’t recall her mom ever returning, although there is some inconclusive evidence that she came back briefly in 1936.

Ida recalls Guido declaring in frustration, “I try to be a mother, I try to be a father, but I can’t do it all.” At first, he hired housekeepers, but he didn’t like the way they cooked, and they spent too much money on food, Ida said. She ended up going to live with another Italian family, Amadeo and Lina Lucchesi, while Joan lived with Matilda’s sister and her husband, Maria and Benedetto Bini.

Just as in the Gig Harbor Spadoni family, Ida and Joan grew up speaking Italian at home. “I stayed in first grade for two years because I had to learn to speak English,” Ida explained. She and Joan returned to live with their dad when Ida was around 11.

She became aware over the years that her dad may have had other children he was supporting in Italy. When he died and the family was cleaning up his belongings, Odessa remembers finding photos of a boy and girl. On the back of the photos were inscriptions in Italian that indicated that they were Guido’s children.

In Ida’s bedroom are photos of Guido and Matilda, and we snapped a few photos of our own, both of Ida and Odessa and also of the photos on the walls. Our visit was refreshing for all. For us, Ida is living history, a chance for us to hear from someone who lived nearby during the era of our grandparents. For Ida, most of her old friends are dead, and she welcomed the chance to talk about things with which she is familiar.

Odessa, Paul, Ida, Greg
A couple of weeks after our visit, Odessa sent me an e-mail upon her return to California, saying, “Probably one of the best parts of this stay was to meet all three of you. My sisters Laura and Kathy and brother Fred hope to meet you all in the future also.”

She added an intriguing promise as well: “I think I came across a picture of my grandfather’s first wife and four children. There are a few words on the back of the picture. I will go to my husband’s barber tomorrow to see if he can figure it out. When I get the time I will e-mail you.”

I hope she will send me a copy of this photo, as I would like to see how old the children are. What happened between Guido and Armida is still a mystery. If the children are no older than 4, it will validate Guido’s claim that he has not seen his wife since 1906, but if they are older, then it would offer evidence that Armida did not abandon her husband and children before Guido came to America.

Finding out what happened to Ida’s half brothers and sisters is also something I may explore this winter and spring in Italy, though my family tree to-do list is growing long and the likelihood that I can accomplish all my goals is slim. But half the fun is in the pursuit, so I am looking forward to continuing the chase.

Footnote: One year later, I discovered the connection between the Tacoma and Gig Harbor Spadoni families. And two years later, I found information about Guidos wife and children in Italy.