This is a photo of the Hoboken, New Jersey harbor... "the docks"... in 1910. One of the busiest of its piers was where the Holland-American Line berthed its ships, bringing immigrants from Europe. At the time, Hoboken, was one of the busiest ports for immigrants entering the U.S., and Ellis Island was a short ferry trip downstream, with Manhattan seen on the other side of the Hudson River. Before reaching these docks, immigrants would pass Liberty Island where the Statue of Liberty held her welcoming torch...
My father, Saverio Finzi, emigrated to the U.S. in 1917 when he was just 4 years old, with his father, Sergio, mother Caterina (Deceglie), sister Antonia and brother Anselmo. On the same ships manifest are listed many others from my father's hometown of Molfetta in Puglia. On the ships manifest for Sergio's final trip with his family, there were no fewer than 13 passengers listed from his hometown of Molfetta.
Sergio, also had two previous voyages to American--in 1907 and 1909--and between these two other passages were listed another 20 passengers from Molfetta. Large numbers of Molfetese settled in Hoboken, making it--even to this day--the sister city of Molfetta. Both towns even celebrate matching festivals each year to honor the Madonna dei Martiri (Madonna of the Martyrs).
Life in Hoboken, although much better than life during the hard times in Southern Italy at the time, were still difficult. My father tells of walking the railroad tracks picking up pieces of coal that had fallen from the steam locomotives, and then taking them home to his mother to burn as both a source of heat and cooking in their cast iron stove. Saverio had to leave elementary school early--by the 5th grade--just so he could help support their growing family (Sergio and Caterina eventually had six children).
Later on, when he was a teenager, he and his brother bought what Dad always called his "three legged horse" (lame in one leg) and a cart so they could sell fruit to the passengers and seamen down at the harbor. He amassed a large collection of coins from perhaps a dozen or more countries from all around the world during this period. All from customers that bought fruit from him... I still have the coins today and often get them out to show my son, Lucas, from time to time.
Dad loved selling fruit and vegetables--and meeting people. Everyone loved him. He also made the most beautifully hand-written signs for the store window. He might have been a sign painter in another life. But meeting and chatting with his customers was his best attribute. Perhaps this is why he always was a fruit and vegetable man his whole life, and later on gained more skills to also become a beloved "deli-man". Some of his customers lovingly dubbed him, "My Baloney Man".
He not only knew how to pick the best produce (and taught me to smell, rather than squeeze), but he could also make fantastic baked ham, fist-sized polpette (meatballs), and the most amazing roast turkey and baked lasagna. He taught me how to cook about as good as he did. I even have a deli meat slicer in my kitchen, in honor of My Baloney Man.
Hoboken must have been a wonderful place to grow up for him (my family moved out of Hoboken when I was 18 months old). He swam in the Hudson by jumping off the piers. He told me that one very cold winter, he and his pals walked all the way across the frozen Hudson River to Manhattan, spent the afternoon, and then walked back across the ice. Dad told me that he used to find "quicksilver" (the liquid metal, mercury) pouring out of cracks in the cliffs overhanging the town. And further on, the same steep cliff had an amazing inclined plane, locals called "the Wagon Lift", which my father told me used to lift horse and wagons up the cliff from Hoboken into Jersey City.
He fished for eels and caught crab from the river--and later taught me how. He loved the smell of the river, which I am certain reminded him of the hometown he described so well to me... "Molfetta was filled with white houses all around the harbor. There were always sail boats bobbing up and down and the smell of fish..."
Eventually, Lisa, Lucas and I would pay homage to Saverio by visiting Molfetta. It was just as he described it.
I wish he could have come with us... oh, that's right.