Gaetano and Rosina

         At Via Migliore No. 10 in Serradifalco, Gaetano Coniglio was born on April 26th, 1889, youngest son of  Gaetano Coniglio  and  Maria Carmela Calabrese His father was fifty-three years old at his birth, and because he was a "late-life" baby, the Sicilian convention of refraining from naming a son after one's self was not imposed.  Gaetano was born twenty-seven years after his parents' first child, Raimondo, who was properly named after his paternal grandfather.  After this first Raimondo died as an infant in 1863, his parents had a second son, born in 1864, who they again named Raimondo.  This brother was twenty-five years older than Gaetano, and is believed to have emigrated to South America with their nephew, also named Gaetano, son of their brother Antonio and his first wife Antonina Andolina Raimondo later returned to Serradifalco but never married.

          Gaetano
served in the Italian army from 1909 to 1910.  Like his father, who was a founder of the Serradifalco Sulfur Miner's Mutual Aid Society, the Societ?di Mutuo Soccorso dei Solfatai in Serradifalco, Gaetano also worked as a sulfur miner.  In the book 'Milocca - A Sicilian Village', Charlotte Gower Chapman notes that in the 1920s, in Milocca (now Milena), a town only a few miles from Serradifalco, men earned eight lira per day for work in the sulfur mines.  In 1913,  eight lira was equivalent to about $1.50 American.   

         Rosa (Rosina) Alessi
, daughter of  Leonardo Alessi  and  Concetta Abbate , was born at Via Prizzi in Serradifalco on  September 9th, 1893.  She attended school only until the third grade, as was the custom for girls of the lower classes.  Her sisters who survived past infancy were Angela, Maria and Concetta.  Gaetano's and Rosa's ancestors and descendants can be seen by clicking the preceding links.

        
The early 1900's were a difficult time for Gaetano.  When he was 20, in 1909, his mother Maria Carmela Calabrese died.  In August 1910, his brother Raimondo passed away, and his father Gaetano died two months later, in October.  All these deaths came while he was away in the Italian army.  Then, in August 1912, his oldest brother Giuseppe left for America.  Gaetano and Rosa married on November 30, 1912 in the Chiesa Matrice San Leonardo in Serradifalco.   Since church marriages were not recognized as legal by the state, hhey were married again in a civil ceremony the next day in the Serradifalco 'Casa Comunale', or Town Hall.  I have not yet been able to obtain their church marriage record, but the civil record is presented below.

 

Da Anagrafe di Serradifalco, 2008

From the Serradifalco Registry Office, 2008

 
            In April, 1913, Gaetano came to America on the Steam Ship Berlin, later re-named the SS Arabic, at left.  Rosa remained temporarily in Sicily.  Aboard the same ship with Gaetano was Rosa's sister Angela, who had married Gaetano’s brother Giuseppe.  Giuseppe was already in America, at Robertsdale, Pennsylvania Gaetano, with Giuseppe's wife Angela, went to Pittston, Pennsylvania,where they evidently picked up instructions, or possibly train fare, that Giuseppe had left at the Italian-speakers bank at 76 Main Street, pictured at right.
          They then travelled to Robertsdale, where Gaetano and Giuseppe, as well as many other Serradifalchese immigrants, worked as coal miners.

         Robertsdale was a 'Company Town', where the homes, facilities, etc. were owned by the Rockhill Iron and Coal Company.  Miners were virtually 'owned' by the company, and about the only place they could spend their wages was at the company store This exploitation of workers was made famous in the song "Sixteen Tons" by Merle Travis, sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford.

        
Rosa came to Ellis Island almost two years later, on the Steam Ship Patria, on December 14th, 1914.    With her was their first child, Gaetano Vincenzo (Guy Vincent), born on December 21st, 1913 in Serradifalco.   World War I was being fought, and many passenger ships carrying civilians were being torpedoed in the Mediterranean by German U-Boats.   Thankfully, she and little Guy made it safely.  The ship Patria was later involved in an infamous bombing in Haifa Harbor when it was being used in an attempt to transport outcast German Jews to then-Palestine.
        
Rosa and Guy joined Gaetano, and the family grew with the births of Leonard, Raymond and Phil, at 100 Spring Street in Robertsdale.   Next door was No. 96 Spring, the home of Calogero Butera and his wife Grazia Asarese, their friends from Serradifalco.  The homes, of course, were rented, and the rent was paid to the 'Company'.  In 1921, after Phil's birth (in 1920) and before Millie's (in 1923), they moved to Buffalo and lived briefly in 'the Hooks', at 18 Pearl street in the canal district named, after its major street, 'Dante Place', which was the name of the former Canal Street.  Millie was baptized at the district's Mt. Carmel Church, the first Sicilian-neighborhood Catholic church in Buffalo.  

         
By about 1925, they had moved to 309 Myrtle Avenue, where the twins Connie and Mary were born, followed by Tony All the children had been delivered at home, and all were healthy; but in June, 1932 a baby, Giuseppe, was stillborn.   On August 21, 1936, I, Angelo, became the first Coniglio to be born in a hospital, and two days later, my nephew Guy III (Guy Vincent and Mary Modica's first son) became the second.  Guy III was actually the fourth straight Guy or Gaetano in the family, but in those days, we for some reason didn't account for my grandfather Gaetano!  Guy III was called Guy Jr. by the family, or sometimes 'Sonny' or 'Guy-Guy'. Though I preceded him into life by two days, he would finish three years before me in another accomplishment, when he would become the first Coniglio to graduate from college.  His brother Ronnie would be the second, and I would be the third.  Like his father before him, my father's oldest and youngest children had a wide age spread.  My brother Guy was born 23 years before I was.  Eventually, Guy and Mary would have a son Brian in 1959, who was also 23 years younger than his oldest brother.  From 1836, when my grandfather Gaetano was born, to 1959, when Brian was born, 123 years had passed.  Only four generations in our family covered a period that would be five or six generations in many.

          Rosa
and Gaetano and their family lived on Myrtle Avenue from about 1925 until 1944.  Their home was next door to their friends the Cordaro and Modica families, and across the street from the Capodicasa family plant that produced the cleaning fluid 'La Stella'.  They worshipped at St. Columba's Roman Catholic Church, and the children attended Public School No. 35, and then, when it closed, No. 6.  Those who continued through high school attended Hutchinson Central, with the exception of Tony, who went to Technical.  Mary Modica lived with her parents Carmelo Modica and Giuseppa Cordaro at 307 Myrtle Avenue, and when her parents moved, she remained there for a time, living with her uncle Rosario Modica and aunt Maria Antonia (Z'Anto) Cordaro Guy and Mary were in third grade together at School 35, when Guy gave Mary fourteen Valentines!  They eventually married and had six children, eleven grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren (through 2010).
 
         
In addition to purchasing 'La Stella' fluid from across the street, the family frequented local businesses and stores like Santora's Pizzeria, Naples' Grocery, Frustiano's and Mrs. Brooks' Gaetano was known to "tip a few" at Marconi's Saloon, and the kids played at Welcome Hall Community House, where their father was custodian,  and went to the movies at the Academy, the Seneca, and Roxy theatres.  Phil told the story of his first date, around 1932, when he had fifty cents in his pocket and took his date to the Roxy:  ten cents apiece for admission, a nickel apiece for candy bars, and ten cents for a box of popcorn.  And he went home with a dime!  During summers in the 1930s and early 1940s, the whole family was trucked to Musacchio's farm in North Collins, NY, where we all picked beans and berries for pennies.

            
Nine boisterous kids helped turn Rosa's hair grey, what with Phil and Ray often getting into 'brotherly' disagreements (Ray says Phil would frequently pound on him, but Ray, the larger and older of the two, would never lay a hand on Phil!)   Meanwhile, Rosa and Gaetano tried to figure out how to keep neighborhood boys away from teen-age beauties Millie, Mary, and Connie Ray has a short finger on one hand, the result of "horsing around" when he was about 14, with his friend Joe Calcaterra.  They were wrestling near an old shed, when Ray's finger was caught in the hasp of a lock and the end was torn off.  Ray says he "found the tip and threw it down the sewer".  The doctor who sewed him up told him he could have re-attached it. 

              As an infant, I once was found screaming on the kitchen floor next to the washing machine, my hand to my bloody face.   My father Gaetano swept me into his arms and ran water on my face at the kitchen sink: no injury, but when he rinsed my hand, a finger dropped into the basin!  He grabbed the finger and rushed me to the hospital, where, the story goes, the doctor stuck the finger in place and bandaged it, without stitches.  I still have the finger.  It looks a little weird, but it works!  Luckily, no one "threw it down the sewer" Ray, then 19, would push my "kiddy car" (stroller) as I convalesced.

             
And then there was Leonard ~ second son, always looking for one adventure or another: running away with the circus at age fourteen; joining the Navy and "shipping out" two (or three, or four) times.
 
            
Seeing all of her sons go into military service wore heavily on Rosa.  Before and after Guy married his sometime next-door neighbor Mary Modica, he worked for several years at the Cataract-Sharpe glass factory, where he etched wine goblets and other fine glassware.  Sometimes, on Saturdays, he'd take Ray with him to watch him at work.  Guy and Mary gave a set of the goblets to Ray and his bride Marion Cappellano, in 1941.   Guy served in the US Naval Reserve in the late 1930s, including duty in Cuba and service with the Atlantic Neutrality Patrol on the destroyer USS Bernadou.  Before WWII began, Guy had been exempted from active duty because of his prior overseas service and because he already had a family with two young children (Guy Jr. and Ronnie).  Guy was in the Reserve for about eight years, and Ray served with him during the last four, when they took annual 15-day cruises:  in 1936, on the battleship USS Wyoming; 1937, the destroyer USS Dickerson; 1938, the battleship USS Arkansas and in 1939 the heavy cruiser USS Vincennes

           
Ray remembered that the Arkansas grounded on sandbars in the Caribbean, and it took several days for the concerted efforts of a number of companion ships to set her free.  Some of their comrades from the Great Lakes Naval Station later served in Hawaii.  Phil, Leonard and Ray all served during the war.  Phil was fortunate to get stateside duty in the Navy, at the Banana River Airbase at Cocoa Beach, Florida; Leonard was in the Navy too, and was on the troop carrier The USS Republic, which left Pearl Harbor two days before the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941 as part of the heavy cruiser USS Pensacola convoy; Ray married Marion Cappellano on Valentine's day 1941, and then left for duty as an Army infantryman who took part in the first US WWII combat in Africa: in Algeria, French Morocco, and Tunisia.  The ship that transported his regiment there was the same one that Guy had earlier served on, the USS Bernadou Ray went on to combat in Sicily,  and in the Utah Beach attack on Normandy, days after D-Day, 1944, then through France, Belgium and Germany. 

            Tony
and I were too young to serve during WWII, but he did his stint in the Navy in the late 1940s, and I was in the Army in Germany in the mid-1950s.  While our older brothers were in the war, Millie, Mary and Connie did their part in emulating 'Rosie the Riveter', working across town at the East Delavan Chevrolet factory (then called a 'Defense Plant').  Guy also worked there for years as a tool and die maker, and Tony later was a labor foreman there.  Phil worked at the River Road Chevy plant after the war. 

             I
n 1944, the family moved to another home, at 973 West Avenue in Buffalo, across from the Battaglia family's Vieni Su Pizzeria.  Next door lived their old paesani and friends from Serradifalco and Robertsdale, Calogero and Grazia Butera.  Tragically, shortly after moving in, on July 4, 1944 at age 55, Gaetano was struck and killed by a hit and run driver on the corner of Niagara and West Ferry, near the Deco coffee shop.  I was seven, and those were still the days when loved ones were laid out in their homes for the wake.  Rosa was inconsolable, and carried the grief of her husband's loss deep in her heart, for the remainder of her life. 
 
             In the years immediately following the move to West Avenue, a wave of marriages occurred:  Millie married Alphonse (Al) Volo, whose father was another Serradifalchese, Michele Volo, who had settled in North Collins, where Millie and Al had met during a family summer work-excursion.  Mary married Fiore Denisco, and on his passing, Frank Sowa; and Connie married Donald (D.K.) Miller, a sailor from Danville, Illinois who had been stationed in Buffalo.  They went on their honeymoon on a Harley.  Tony married Frances KnickerbockerI, still a teenager in 1950, graduated from Public School No. 19 and entered Lafayette High School, the only one in the family to go there.  In 1961, I married Angie Bongiovanni, my high-school sweetheart from Lafayette.  She had lived at 93 West Ferry, next to the Deco, where in 1944, Gaetano had had his last cup of coffee.  Angie used to stop by 973 West on her way to Lafayette, to walk me to school.  At first Rosa, always protective of her baby boy, would tell Angie: "Angelo no home!"

More to come

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To see Gaetano and Rosa's ancestors, CLICK HERE.

To see their descendants, CLICK HERE.

 

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Last revision: 06 July 2019 ~ Angelo F. Coniglio, ConiglioFamily@aol.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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