The Italian Connection

Alfred Joseph Rossi, former San Francisco Mayor

Dear Readers,
 
April – Aprile comes from the Latin word aperire which means to open.
 
1. April Fool’s Day is a day people usually play silly pranks, so be alert. The United States orbited the first weather satellite April 1, 1960.
 
2. St. Francis of Paola was born in Paola (Calabria), Italy circa 1416. He cured the sick, prophesied the future and was a major influence on five kings and seven popes. He was educated by the Franciscans at San Marco and at the age of 15 went to live as a hermit in a cave. He eventually founded nearly 500 monasteries and was canonized just twelve years after his death at age ninety-one.
 
3. Herb Caen, longtime columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle (he began in 1935), was born on April 3, 1916. He wrote thousands of words weekly and was very witty.
 
4. Palmiro Togliatti was born in Genoa, Italy on Palm Sunday 1893 accounting for his Christian name, but he began in 1944, leading the Italian Communist Party for nearly two decades from la Camera dei Deputati, Palazzo di Montecitorio in Rome.
 
5. Easter Sunday. BUONA PASQUA!  
 
Here are some lessons for living, you can learn from the Easter Bunny:
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Everyone needs a friend who is all ears.
Keep your paws off other people’s jelly beans.
All work and no play can make you a basket case.
Let happy thoughts multiply like rabbits.
 
6. Umberto Nobile, pioneer in Arctic aviation, born at Lauro (near Salerno), with Amundsen of Norway and Ellsworth of U.S.A. was in 1926 first to fly over the North Pole in the dirigible “Norge” from the North of Norway (Spitzbergen) to Alaska.
 
7. St. John the Baptist de la Salle (1651-1719) founder of the Christian Brothers. Over three hundred years ago, this priest had a lot of “new ideas” about teaching children. Instead of teaching one child at a time, he thought it would be a good idea to put several students together in a classroom and his methods of education revolutionized the education system of the time. He gave all his wealth to the poor and spent much of his effort training teachers. The Christian Brothers have become one of the largest teaching orders in the Church, based on his methods, which first became popular in France and Italy.
 
8. Charles J. Margiotti was born in April 1891. One of America’s leading criminal lawyers, he was attorney general for the state of Pennsylvania, serving three different governors, until his death in 1956.
 
9. Alessandro Malaspina, who led the expedition of scientific exploration and geographic drawings of Southern California, Vancouver Island and Alaska, died April 9, 1810 at age fifty-six.
 
10. Arbor Day celebrations are marked by tree planting to foster general interest in reforestation. Many states set arbor day dates according to their several climates, but many states, with mild climates celebrate Arbor Day today. Begun in 1872, Arbor Day is the botanical name for tree. When I was a child, if you saw a fig tree growing in a yard, it was a tip-off that the property owner was probably Italian.
 
11. Angelo Joseph Rossi, former Mayor and pride of San Francisco’s Italian community in years prior to WWII died in San Francisco in April 1948.
He was born January 22, 1878 in Volcano, Amador County, California.
 
12. Topo Gigio made his debut in America on the Ed Sullivan Show in April 1963 and literally lit up the switchboards. Topo Gigio made 17 appearances in only 12 months. He never appeared anywhere else in this country except on the Sullivan program which signed him to an exclusive contract. Topo Gigio, the Italian mouse was Ed Sullivan’s discovery. He had blond hair, blue eyes, a high pitched voice with a heavy Italian accent; 10 inches tall and was made of foam rubber. The lovable little puppet appeared regularly on the “Ed Sullivan Show”. Sullivan discovered Topo Gigio (which means Little Louis Mouse in Italian) in London. He was preparing a program which starred Judy Garland and when British talent agent Lew Grade showed him a tape of the little mouse, Ed immediately added him. The show was broadcast on April 14, 1963 and marked Topo Gigio’s American television debut. Topo Gigio was the brainchild of Maria Perego of Italy who operated her creation with the assistance of two other people. A third supplied the voice. The quartet did not speak English and communicated with the program staff through an interpreter. The man who provided Topo Gigio’s voice learned his lines phonetically.
 
13. Sicily declares itself independent of Naples April 13, 1848, but in May 1849, Neapolitan troops enter Palermo completing their re-conquest of Sicily.
 
14. President Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865. If not for the assassination of President Lincoln in 1865, there would not be a  Pullman Company.
In 1865, Mr. George Mortimer Pullman was building railroad cars in Detroit, but his business was not successful.   When President Lincoln’s body arrived in Chicago, Colonel James Bowen, a personal friend of Mr. Pullman, was put in charge of the funeral arrangements. Colonel Bowen wanted a railroad car worthy of carrying the body of President Lincoln to his final resting place, Springfield. He could not find a car suitable to be part of the funeral train for President Lincoln. Then he remembered that George M. Pullman had a car in Chicago named the Pioneer. He asked Mr. Pullman if he could use his car for President Lincoln’s funeral train. Mr. Pullman said yes and on May 2, 1865, the funeral train containing the body in Mr. Pullman’s car, Pioneer, left Chicago for Springfield, Illinois only 200 miles away.
The train took two days to reach Springfield because the train stopped at every small town between Chicago and Springfield to permit the people to pay their final homage to the late president. When the people saw what a beautiful railroad car Lincoln’s body was in they wrote letters to their relatives and friends telling them about  Lincoln’s funeral and Mr. Pullman’s car, the Pioneer.
Covering the funeral were many newspaper reporters from all over the country as well as around the world. In their story about President Lincoln’s Funeral they gave a glowing report on the George M. Pullman’s luxurious railroad car, The Pioneer. All the publicity then began to make Pullman famous as a train car manufacturer and orders then began to come into Pullman Car Factory in Detroit.
Mr. Pullman also received awards from the U.S. and Italian governments for providing employment to Italians and Italian-Americans on both sides of the Atlantic.
 
15. S.S. Titanic sank on yesterday’s date in 1912. The Titanic sank after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic and cost 1,517 passengers their lives. Guglielmo Marconi’s invention ship to shore radio helped save lives after the supposedly “unsinkable” luxury liner sank after hitting an iceberg. Of the 2,340 passengers and crew, more than 1,500 perished. Many were women and children immigrants on cheap “steerage” passages. Especially heroic was the ship’s band, which played hymns as the ship sank under it.
 
More April dates soon...
 

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