Costante “Stanley” Genetti

Exert from personal memoir written by Costante “Stanley” Genetti sometime in the 1980’s, (son of Damiano Genetti).

 

Damiano Genetti

School2Unfortunately very little is known about the history of the Genetti family. Traditionally the family dates its founding in Castelfondo in 1548. In that year two brothers, one of which was said to be a general, named Genetti, acquired land and built the family home in the village. It is certain that they were of noble rank; the Genetti crest – the badge of nobility – was carved on the wall of the family home and it is one of four appearing over the altar of the village church.

It is quite possible that they were on the losing side of one of the many wars of the era and forced to leave their home territory. Or they may have been given land in Castelfondo out of gratitude for their support in one of those wars. In either case, their new holdings could not have been extensive. My grandfather, of whom I have dim recollections, worked and lived as an artisan rather than a member of the aristocracy.

Grandfather was a baker and I remember hearing stories of him carting his bread from village to village on a mule with two big side baskets. He also owned a lumber mill and, I think, a grist mill. The mill was in a ravine so deep that it could only be reached by ladders. Despite his apparent wealth, he came to America and worked in the coal mines. After his wife died, she is buried in Weston, Pennsylvania, he returned to Tyrol.

My father, Damiano Genetti, was born in Castelfondo on September 26, 1857. He was the second child. During his youth he was exposed to a great deal of good natured kidding for he was the shortest of the seven boys in his family.  He was 5 feet, 11 1/2 inches. The tallest was 6 feet 6 inches. [Webmaster Note: According to baptismal records, there were nine boys born to Damiano’s parents, but only four survived to adulthood with three dying at or soon after birth. Stanley would have known two of Damiano’s three surviving brothers – Stanley’s uncles.] He graduated from grammar school at the age of 14. He then worked for his father for several years. But the lack of industry in the village and the general state of the Tyrolean economy convinced him that he would be best advised to seek his opportunities elsewhere.

Accordingly, he left Tyrol at the age of 18 to seek employment in nearby Switzerland. In Switzerland he secured a job driving rock tunnels. A very hard worker, he was promoted to foreman within the year. His success aroused jealousy among the other workers. One of the disgruntled workers shot him in the left arm. The wound confined him to a hospital in Zurick for six months. Upon his discharge Damiano returned to Castelfondo to continue his recuperation.

While recuperating, Damiano decided that he would go to America rather than return to Switzerland. Perhaps he heard about the United States while in Switzerland or, more likely, someone from Castelfondo or a nearby village had written back glowing reports of America. In 1878 he again left Tyrol in search of opportunity.

The trip took six weeks. After landing in New York he went to Hazleton, Pennsylvania by train. From that city he walked to Nuremberg. How he even knew that Nuremberg existed remains a mystery to me. It is possible that he knew of a fellow villager or Tyrolean who had settled there and sought him out for guidance. [Webmaster Note: By this time the Marchet and Yannes families, both from Castelfondo, were already settled in Nuremberg and may have been of help to Damiano.] Or, as was the practice of the time, he may have been recruited as a worker by a representative of a coal company on the docks of New York.

His first job was at the Deringer mines of Coxe Brothers and Company, a leading mine operator in the Hazleton area. After a few months of working in the hard coal mines, Damiano moved again. He secured employment in the bituminous coal mines in the Pittsburgh area. But dissatisfied with intolerable working conditions there, he returned to the anthracite fields within a short time.

He again secured work in the Derringer mines. A few months later, however, he took a job driving rock tunnels with the Ario Pardee Coal Company in Lattimer. His experience in Switzerland proved to be a great asset for in a short period of time he rose to the position of foreman, directing the activities of about 90 men. The best evidence of his skill is the fact that over a five year period he did not have a serious accident. The state mine inspector presented him with a certificate in recognition of his outstanding safety record. Damiano was the first person in the history of the hard coal industry to receive such an award. Because of this excellent record he was offered a position in the Safety Department which he refused.

While working for the Pardee Company, Damiano sent for his two sisters in Tyrol to keep house for him. [Webmaster Note: Damiano had three surviving sisters. The two oldest were Anna Maria born in 1859 and Angela Maddalena born in 1865. Damiano’s youngest sister was born much later in 1876.] At the time the coal regions contained a large number of unmarried men who recently arrived from Europe. Seeing an opportunity to increase their income by supplying housing to these men, Damiano and his sisters opened a boarding house. Almost from the very beginning the new enterprise was successful for twelve boarders filled it to capacity.

Feeling financially secure, Damiano decided to begin his own family. In 1886 he sent to Castelfondo for his bride; as was the custom in the old world, the marriage had been arranged by the parents of the groom and bride. In the same year Damiano Genetti and Oliva Zambotti were joined together in marriage by Bishop Hoban in Wilkes-Barre. The fact that the Bishop and not a parish priest conducted the ceremony reflects the high stature that Damiano attained in his community. The following year the couple was blessed with their first son, Leon.

When the baby was three months old the family returned to Castelfondo. Along with the child my father carried $7,000 in gold, which he saved in America. Upon his return to Tyrol he invested his money in farm land, a few head of cattle and two sawmills. Damiano’s hope of leading a quiet and comfortable life among his mountains, however, was temporarily smashed by the Austrian government.

The Austrian Empire maintained a program of universal military training. Under its provisions each male subject was required to enter the armed forces at the age of twenty-one and was prohibited from marriage until he completed his military service. Damiano, it must be remembered, left Tyrol in 1878, prior to his twenty-first birthday, and returned a married man. He was clearly in violation of the law. He was arrested as a draft-dodger and sent to jail. While in prison he began reading books on veterinary medicine in an effort to improve himself. Upon his release he entered the cavalry. After basic training, his superiors, who had learned of his interest in veterinary medicine, sent him to school in Vienna. When he completed his seven year tour of duty he was a well trained veterinarian and [had] spent seven years in the Austrian Army. [Webmaster Note: This account of Damiano’s life from 1888 to 1895 upon return to Tyrol appears somewhat confusing since baptismal records show Oliva gave birth six times during this seven year period. If Damiano was serving in the Austrian army, he must have been living at home during this time or had frequent visits back to Castelfondo.]

As a civilian once again, Damiano continued his lumber business. The family, of course, had increased by several children. His village paid him the honor of electing him mayor. Despite his comfortable life and the respect of his neighbors, Damiano became restless; he decided that he would return to America.

In 1902 left for America with two daughters and a son. [Webmaster Note: Census and immigration records imply that two sons and two daughters arrived sometime around 1904, but did not originally travel with Damiano.] His destination was Weston, Pennsylvania, a small town in the anthracite fields not far from Nuremberg where he had settled. But Damiano did not choose Weston out of nostalgia; his brother Ralph maintained a tavern in the town. [Webmaster Note: Damiano’s younger brother, Raffaele, had emigrated to the USA around 1887 at the age of twenty. This is stated in the 1900, 1910 and 1920 Census.  He settled in Weston, Pennsylvania, opened a saloon and boarding house, and established a family. There is no indication that Ralph ever returned to Castelfondo.] Damiano planned to board with his brother until he became established. He had no intention of seeking employment in the coal mines. Rather he wanted to start his own business. He paid $28 for a horse and buckboard for he planned to peddle meat. He converted the buckboard into a meat wagon and painted it red which remained the color of all our wagons. He also built a meat block out of a large tree. The block served as a counter for grinding machines and a sausage stuffer as well as a cutting surface. Fully equipped, he began his business. [Webmaster Note: Some family accounts say that Ralph lent Damiano a wagon and horse to start his business.]

After nine months of operation, Damiano concluded that Weston was not an ideal base and moved to Hazleton where he rented a house on Pine and Green Streets. Hazleton was the commercial center of the Eastern Middle Anthracite Basin and was therefore a more logical base of operations. Most of the small mining villages in the district were located within a ten mile radius of the city. Each morning my father would rise at four and start making fresh sausage. By seven, he would hitch the horse to the wagon and load it with cheese, salami, and sausage. He would then tour the area selling his products.

The business prospered so well, that he sent for my brother Leon in early 1904 to help him. The following year he sent for the remainder of his family. With the entire family to help him, Damiano continued to expand his business. [Webmaster Note: Most likely two sons and two daughters traveled to the USA sometime between 1904 to 1905. Immigration records show that Oliva arrived on Dec. 3, 1906 in New York with the remaining five children.]

In the 1920’s father began to relinquish control over the business to his children. He gradually retired and in 1931 returned to Tyrol to live out the remainder of his days among his beloved mountains. Mother, however, refused to return to Tyrol. She passed away in August, 1938. [Webmaster Note: Damiano was most likely traveling back and forth between Tyrol and Pennsylvania during the 1920’s. He is recorded on ship logs during 1923, 1925, 1928 and 1930.]

Father and family continued to correspond until World War II interrupted mail between Italy and America. In 1943 we received a brief letter from him, stating that he was enjoying good health. It was the last letter we ever received. We learned later that he died suddenly on December 3, 1944.

We also learned after the war that father helped hide five American Airmen, who were shot down over Tyrol, from the Germans. In the raid following the information, two of the airmen were shot by the Germans while three escaped. My father, however, was temporarily held and questioned by the Germans. Whether this ordeal contributed to his sudden death or not, I do not know.

Father was a generous man. In his will he maintained the ancient Tyrolean custom of good will by directing that each family in Castelfondo and the nearby village of Salobbe be given three kilograms of salt in his memory. He also gave 20 Lire to each person in the two villages who were receiving public assistance.

His greatest contribution to his native village occurred upon his return to Tyrol in 1931. Aware of the custom of not accepting orphaned girls until they attained the age of six years, Damiano decided to do something for young female orphans. He sold most of his farm land and the sawmills to raise enough money to establish an orphanage for young girls. When I last visited the orphanage, it had fifty girls under its care. It also contains a portrait of both my parents and a plaque commemorating their memory and kindness. Each year I purchase playground or some other equipment for the girls home my father established. [Webmaster Note: The orphanage is now a kindergarten. The portraits of Damiano and Oliva still hang in the front hallway of the current school along with the commemorative plaque.]

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