When I was a very small boy, I lived in Italy in a large house
with many other small boys, who were all dressed alike and were
taken care of by some nuns. It was a good place, situated on the
side of the mountain, where grapes were growing and melons and
oranges and plums.
They taught us our letters and how to pray and say the catechism,
and we worked in the fields during the middle of the day. We always
had enough to eat and good beds to sleep in at night, and sometimes
there were feast days, when we marched about wearing flowers.
Those were good times and they lasted till I was nearly eight
years of age. Then an old man came and said he was my grandfather.
He showed some papers and cried over me and said that the money
had come at last and now he could take me to his beautiful home.
He seemed very glad to see me and after they looked at his papers
he took me away and we went to the big city Naples. He kept talking
about his beautiful house, but when we got there it was a dark
cellar that he lived in and I did not like it at all. Very rich
people were on the first floor. They had carriages and servants
and music and plenty of good things to eat, but we were down below
in the cellar and had nothing There were four other boys in the
cellar and the old man said they were all my brothers. All were
larger than I and they beat me at first till one day Francisco
said that they should not beat me any more, and then Paulo, who
was the largest of all, fought him till Francisco drew a knife
and gave him a cut Then Paulo, too, got a knife and said that
he would kill Francisco, but the old man knocked them both down
with a stick and took their knives away and gave them beatings.
Each morning we boys all went out to beg and we begged all day
near the churches and at night near the theatres, running to the
carriages and opening the doors and then getting in the way of
the people so that they had to give us money or walk over us.
The old man often watched us and at night he took all the money,
except when we could hide something.
We played tricks on the people, for when we saw some coming that
we thought were rich I began to cry and covered my face and stood
on one foot, and the others gathered around me and said "Don't
cry! Don't cry!"
Then the ladies would stop and ask: "What is he crying about?
What is the matter, little boy?"
Francisco or Paulo would answer. "He is very sad because
his mother is dead and they have laid her in the grave."
Then the ladies would give me money and the others would take
most of it from me.
The old man told us to follow the Americans and the English people,
as they were all rich, and if we annoyed them enough they would
give us plenty of money. He taught us that if a young man was
walking with a young woman he would always give us silver because
he would be ashamed to let the young woman see him give us less.
There was also a great church where sick people were cured by
the saints, and when they came out they were so glad that they
gave us money.
Begging was not bad in the summer time because we went all over
the streets and there was plenty to see, and if we got much money
we could spend some buying things to eat The old man knew we did
that He used to feel us and smell us to see if we had eaten anything,
and he often beat us for eating when we had not eaten.
Early in the morning we had breakfast of black bread rubbed over
with garlic or with a herring to give it a flavor. The old man
would eat the garlic or the herring himself, but he would rub
our bread with it, which he said was as good. He told us that
boys should not be greedy and that it was good to fast and that
all the saints had fasted. He had a figure of a saint in one corner
of the cellar and prayed night and morning that the saint would
help him to get money. He made us pray, too, for he said that
it was good luck to be religious.
We used to sleep on the floor, but often we could not sleep much
because men came in very late at night and played cards with the
old man. He sold them wine from a barrel that stood on one end
of the table that was there, and if they drank much he won their
money. One night he won so much that he was glad and promised
the saint some candles for his altar in the church But that was
to get more money. Two nights after that the same men who had
lost the money came back and said that they wanted to play again.
They were very friendly and laughing, but they won all the money
and the old man said they were cheating. So they beat him and
went away. When he got up again he took a stick and knocked down
the saint's figure and said that he would give no more candles.
I was with the old man for three years. I don't believe that
he was my grandfather, tho he must have known something about
me because he had those papers.
It was very hard in the winter time for we had no shoes and we
shivered a great deal. The old man said that we were no good,
that we were ruining him, that we did not bring in enough money.
He told me that I was fat and that people would not give money
to fat beggars. He beat me, too, because I didn't like to steal,
as I had heard it was wrong.
"AN" said he, "that is what they taught you at
that place, is it? To disobey your grandfather that fought with
Garibaldi' That is a fine religion"
The others all stole as well as begged, but I didn't like it
and Francisco didn't like it either.
Then the old man said to me: "If you don't want to be a
thief you can be a cripple. That is an easy life and they make
a great deal of money."
I was frightened then, and that night I heard him talking to
one of the men that came to see him. He asked how much he would
charge to make me a good cripple like those that crawl. about
the church They had a dispute, but at last they agreed and the
man said that I should be made so that people would shudder and
give me plenty of money.
I was much frightened, but I did not make a sound
and in the morning I went out to beg with Francisco. I said to
him: "I am going to run away. I don't believe' Tony is my
grandfather. I don't believe that he fought for Garibaldi, and
I don't want to be a cripple, no matter how much money the people
"Where will you go?" Francisco asked me.
"I don't know," I said; "somewhere."
He thought awhile and then he said "I will go, too."
So we ran away out of the city and begged from the country people
as we went along. We came to a village down by the sea and a long
way from Naples and there we found some fishermen and they took
us aboard their boat We were with them five years, and tho it
was a very hard life we liked it well because there was always
plenty to eat Fish do not keep long and those that we did not
sell we ate.
The chief fisherman, whose name was Ciguciano, had a daughter,
Teresa, who was very beautiful, and tho she was two years younger
than I, she could cook and keep house quite well She was a kind,
good girl and he was a good man. When we told him about the old
man who told us he was our grandfather the fisherman said he was
an old rascal who should be in prison for life. Teresa cried much
when she heard that he was going to make me a cripple. Ciguciano
said that all the old man had taught us was wrong that it was
bad to beg, to steal and to tell lies. He called in the priest
and the priest said the same thing and was very angry at the old
man in Naples, and he taught us to read and write in the evenings.
He also taught us our duties to the church and said that the saints
were good and would only help men to do good things, and that
it was a wonder that lightning from heaven had not struck the
old man dead when he knocked down the saint's figure.
We grew large and strong with the fisherman and he told us that
we were getting too big for him, that he could not afford to pay
us the money that we were worth He was a fine, honest man one
in a thousand.
Now and then I had heard things about America that it was a far
off country where everybody was rich and that Italians went there
and made plenty of money, so that they could return to Italy and
live in pleasure ever after. One day I met a young man who pulled
out a handful of gold and told me he had made that in America
in a few days.
I said I should like to go there, and he told me that if I went
he would take care of me and see that I was safe. I told Francisco
and he wanted to go, too. So we said good by to our good friends.
Teresa cried and kissed us both and the priest came and shook
our hands and told us to be good men, and that no matter where
we went God and his saints were always near us and that if we
lived well we should all meet again in heaven. We cried, too,
for it was our home, that place. Ciguciano gave us money and slapped
us on the back and said that we should be great But he felt bad,
too, at seeing us go away after all that time.
The young man took us to a big ship and got us work away down
where the tires are. We had to carry coal to the place where it
could be thrown on the fires. Francisco and I were very sick from
the great heat at first and lay on the coal for a long time, but
they threw water on us and made us get up. We could not stand
on our feet well, for everything was going around and we had no
strength We said that we wished we had stayed in Italy no matter
how much gold there was in America We could not eat for three
days and could not do much work. Then we got better and sometimes
we went up above and looked about There was no land anywhere and
we were much surprised How could the people tell where to go when
there was no land to steer by?
We were so long on the water that we began to think we should
never get to America or that, perhaps, there was not any such
place, but at last we saw land and came up to New York
We were glad to get over without giving money, but I have heard
since that we should have been paid for our work among the coal
and that the young man who had sent us got money for it We were
all landed on an island and the bosses there said that Francisco
and I must go back because we had not enough money, but a man
named Bartolo came up and told them that we were brothers and
he was our uncle and would take care of us. He brought two other
men who swore that they knew us in Italy and that Bartolo was
our uncle. I had never seen any of them before, but even then
Bartolo might be my uncle, so I did not say anything. The bosses
of the island let us go out with Bartolo after he had made the
We came to Brooklyn to a wooden house in Adams Street that was
full of Italians from Naples. Bartolo had a room on the third
floor and there were fifteen men in the room, all boarding with
Bartolo. He did the cooking on a stove in the middle of the room
and there were beds all around the sides, one bed above another.
It was very hot in the room, but we were soon asleep, for we were
The next morning, early, Bartolo told us to go out and pick rags
and get bottles. He gave us bags and hooks and showed us the ash
barrels. On the streets where the fine houses are the people are
very careless and put out good things, like mattresses and umbrellas,
clothes, hats and boots. We brought all these to Bartolo and he
made them new again and sold them on the sidewalk but mostly we
brought rags and bones. The rags we had to wash in the backyard
and then we hung them to dry on lines under the ceiling in our
room. The bones we kept under the beds till Barolo could find
a man to buy them.
Most of the men in our room worked at digging the sewer. Bartolo
got them the work and they paid him about one quarter of their
wages. Then he charged them for board and he bought the clothes
for them, too. So they got little money after all.
Bartolo was always saying that the rent of the room was so high
that he could not make anything, but he was really making plenty.
He was what they call a padrone and is now a very rich man The
men that were living with him had just come to the country and
could not speak English. They had all been sent by the young man
we met in Italy. Bartolo told us all that we must work for him
and that if we did not the police would come and put us in prison.
He gave us very little money, and our clothes were some of those
that were found on the street Still we had enough to eat and we
had meat quite often, which we never had in Italy. Bartolo got
it from the butcher the meat that he could not sell to other people
but it was quite good meat Bartolo cooked it in the pan while
we all sat on our beds in the evening. Then he cut it into small
bits and passed the pan around, saying
" See what I do for you and yet you are not glad I am too
kind a man, that is why I am so poor."
We were with Bartolo nearly a year, but some of our countrymen
who had been in the place a long time said that Bartolo had no
right to us and we could getwork for a dollar and a half a day,
which, when you make it lire (reckoned in the Italian currency)
is very much. So we went away one day to Newark and got work on
the street Bartolo came after us and made a great noise, but the
boss said that if he did not go away soon the police would have
him. Then he went, saying that there was no justice in this country.
We paid a man five dollars each for getting us the work and we
were with that boss for six months. He was Irish, but a good man
and he gave us our money every Saturday night We lived much better
than with Bartolo,and when the work was done we each had nearly
$200 saved Plenty of the men spoke English and they taught us,
and we taught them to read and write. That was at night, for we
had a lamp in our room, and there were only five other men who
lived in that room with us.
We got up at half past five o'clock every morning and made coffee
on the stove and had a breakfast of bread and cheese, onions,
garlic and red herrings. We went to work at seven &clock and
in the middle of the day we had soup and bread in a place where
we got it for two cents a plate. In the evenings we had a good
dinner with meat of some kind and potatoes. W e got from the butcher
the meat that other people would not buy because they said it
was old, but they don't know what is good We paid four or five
cents a pound for it and it was the best, tho I have heard of
people paying sixteen cents a pound.
When the Newark boss told us that there was no more work Francisco
and I talked about what we would do and we went back to Brooklyn
to a saloon near Hamilton Ferry, where we got a job cleaning it
out and slept in a little room upstairs. There was a bootblack
named Michael on the corner and when I had time I helped him and
learned the business. Francisco cooked the lunch in the saloon
and he, too, worked for the bootblack and we were soon able to
make the best polish.
Then we thought we would go into business and we got a basement
on Hamilton avenue, near the Ferry, and put four chairs in it
We paid $75 for the chairs and all the other things. We had tables
and looking glasses there and curtains. We took the papers that
have the pictures in and made the place high toned Outside we
had a big sign that said:
THE BEST SHINE FOR TEN CENTS
Men that did not want to pay ten cents could get a good shine
for five cents, but it was not an oil shine. W e had two boys
helping us and paid each of them fifty cents a day. The rent of
the place was $20 a month, so the expenses were very great, but
we made money from the beginning. We slept in the basement, but
got our meals in the saloon till we could put a stove in our place,
and then Francisco cooked for us all. That would not do, tho,
because some of our customers said that they did not like to smell
garlic and onions and red herrings. I thought that was strange,
but we had to do what the customers said So we got the woman who
lived upstairs to give us our meals and paid her $1.50 a week
each She gave the boys soup in the middle of the day five cents
for two plates.
We remembered the priest, the friend of Ciguciano, and what he
had said to us about religion, and as soon as we came to the country,
we began to go to the Italian church The priest we found here
was a good man, but he asked the people for money for the church
The Italians did not like to give because they said it looked
like buying religion. The priest says it is different here from
Italy because all the churches there are what they call endowed,
while here all they have is what the people give. Of course I
and Francisco understand that, but the Italians who cannot read
and write shake their heads and say that it is wrong for a priest
to want money.
We had said that when we saved $1,000 each we would go back to
Italy and buy a farm, but now that the time is coming we are so
busy and making so much money that we think we will stay. We have
opened another parlor near South Ferry, in New York. We have to
pay $30 a month rent, but the business is very good The boys in
the place charge sixty cents a day because there is so much work
At first we did not know much of this country, but by and by we
learned There are here plenty of Protestants who are heretics,
but they have a religion, too. Many of the finest churches are
Protestant, but they have no saints and no altars, which seems
These people are without a king such as ours in Italy. It is
what they call a Republic, as Garibaldi wanted, and every year
in the fall the people vote. They wanted us to vote last fall,
but we did not A man came and said that he would get us made Americans
for fifty cents and then we could get two dollars for our votes.
I talked to some of our people and they told me that we should
have to put a paper in a box telling who we wanted to govern us.
I went with five men to the court and when they asked me how
long I had been in the country I told them two years. Afterward
my countrymen said I was a fool and would never learn politics.
"You should have said you were five years here and then we
would swear to it," was what they told me.
There are two kinds of people that vote here, Republicans and
Democrats. I went to a Republican meeting and the man said that
the Republicans want a Republic and the Democrats are against
it He said that Democrats are for a king whose name is Bryan and
who is an Irishman There are some good Irishmen, but many of them
insult Italians. They call us Dagoes. So I will be a Republican
I like this country now and I don't see why we should have a king
Garibaldi didn't want a king and he was the greatest man that
I and Francisco are to be Americans in three years. The court
gave us papers and said we must wait and we must be able to read
some things and tell who the ruler of the country is.
There are plenty of rich Italians here, men who a few years ago
had nothing and now have so much money that they could not count
all their dollars in a week The richest ones go away from the
other Italians and live with the Americans.
We have joined a club and have much pleasure in the evenings.
The club has rooms down in Sackett Street and we meet many people
and are learning new things all the time. We were very ignorant
when we came here, but now we have learned much
On Sundays we get a horse and carriage from the grocer and go
down to Coney Island We go to the theatres often and other evenings
we go to the houses of our friends and play cards.
I am nineteen years of age now and have $700 saved Francisco
is twenty one and has about $900. We shall open some more parlors
soon I know an Italian who was a bootblack ten years ago and now
bosses bootblacks all over the city, who has so much money that
if it was turned into gold it would weigh more than himself.
Francisco and I have a room to ourselves now and some people
call us "swells." Ciguciano said that we should be great
men Francisco bought a gold watch with a gold chain as thick as
his thumb. He is a very handsome fellow and I think he likes a
young lady that he met at a picnic out at Ridgewood.
I often think of Ciguciano and Teresa. He is a good man, one
in a thousand, and she was very beautiful May be I shall write
to them about coming to this country.
Brooklyn N. Y.