american history, bronx, fascism, fascismo, history, immigration, italian american, italian history, italiano, labor history, little italy, manhattan, New York City, NYC, political history, political identity, politics, social history, storia
Early one Monday morning, less than half a mile from his apartment, a 38-year-old Army veteran named Joseph is stabbed to death in the Bronx. A 22-year-old man, identified as Nicholas, comes to his rescue and is stabbed 8 times in the back. They were both part of a group which had been invited by the American Legion to march in the annual Memorial Day parade downtown. All of this takes place within yards of one of the oldest hospitals in New York City, yet they both perish. Their deaths make it into the New York Times and a world-renowned attorney agrees to defend their accused murderers. He succeeds and no one is ever imprisoned for their deaths. Their funerals draw 10,000 mourners and newspapers as far as Texas and Kentucky publish their obituaries…
So, Anna, here we go again with those weeks-long gaps in writing. Why you’re absolutely right, but I have a good excuse this time: I was researching for this next piece. Now, this one is not going to be an opinion piece and there is going to be no resolution at the end, but if you are interested in history, then I think this might grab your attention. Also, it does have a tangential connection to Donald Trump (just hold your horses-it isn’t commentary on current politics…that’s for another time) and there will be lots of pictures and a few mysteries! Now, let’s get down to it.
Back in the Spring of 2015 I took a required class at NYU and the final assignment was a primary source research paper. Well, if you’ll remember, even my first M.A. thesis was based mostly on secondary sources. So, I had very little experience working with primary sources, outside of some transcription I did for a professor one year. For this paper, I went to two research libraries and a courthouse archive here in the Bronx. The result was a 20+ page primary source research paper about two murders in the Bronx and Italian political history in New York City. A few posts ago I mentioned that I “spider-webbed” a lot of my work in graduate school so that I could expand upon the same topic and do more research on one subject. That semester it was Fascism. I was also enrolled in a Nazi Germany/Fascist Italy dual-taught course. Instead of working on two separate things I wrote this seminar paper for one course and a historiography over a similar topic for the Fascism+Nazism class. I am terrible at writing historiographies so that one didn’t turn out great, but my seminar paper was much better. I got a B on the paper and I was really upset about it, but a few months later a click-bait article from BoingBoing about Donald Trump’s dad being arrested as part of a KKK brawl came across my Facebook timeline. I didn’t plan to click, but then I saw the funeral announcement for the two men who were murdered! I clicked and realized their deaths had been a much bigger deal than I initially thought and I also picked up on some inconsistencies from my paper.
I’m not going to summarize 20 pages of writing in this blog, I just want to talk about the two guys who were murdered. If you want to know more about the Italian diaspora just read this. I was researching Fascism in the Italian-American communities in NYC and how Italian’s organized their Fascist groups abroad. In Italian Fascist Activities in North America by Gaetano Salvemini, he mentions the case of two men who were murdered in the Bronx in 1927. Clarence freakin’ Darrow defended the men accused of their murders pro bono and got them off (here is his correspondence from the trial). Despite this, the murders were only discussed in a page or two and the discrepancies regarding the accused and the victims were never addressed. I have been researching for a year and a half now, on and off, and I have yet to find another book or historian who has delved into this case. I obviously can’t travel to Italy and I can’t go back in time to know what really happened, but I will present you with the evidence I’ve found. I have used ancestry.com, the Bronx Country Courthouse, familysearch.org, and a few archival websites in Italy.
Here is the profile I’ve put together of the two victims:
Michele Ambrosoli was born on 9 September 1906 in Rionero in Volture, Potenza, Italy. His father was a farmer named Giovanni Ambrosoli. He was born at #13 Via Processione. In my research, I found a Via Ambrosoli in Melfi, nearby. When you search the street on Google it’s called Via Michele Ambrosoli, but Google maps only lists it as Via Ambrosoli. I know the Fascist government renamed many streets in Italy, so it would be interesting to know if they named this street after this Michele Ambrosoli, when, and who took Michele off of Google maps and why.
Also, Via Processione no longer exists in Rionero, but I know it existed before because other people traced their relatives to the same street on some genealogy blogs. I have searched and searched for an old map of Rionero with no success, but I will keep trying. Michele immigrated to the United States in July 1920 aboard the S.S.Patria. He was 14, traveled alone, gave no destination, and no relatives back in Italy. He was held by immigration at Ellis Island for 2 days and ultimately released on 2 August around 3:45 PM. I haven’t been able to track him any further until 7 years later when he is killed on the corner of 183rd and 3rd in the Bronx around 8 AM. He is then misidentified in every newspaper that reports on his death. The court records also misidentify him and the accused are tried for the death of Michele. The Fascists hold a funeral for him in the Bronx and 10,000 people attend. A new Fascist club was created in his honor in Brooklyn under the name Michele Ambrosoli.
While this information may seem trivial, we need to talk about naming and name changes. Initially, Michele Ambrosoli was identified by the New York Times as Nicola Amoroso, then Nicholas Amoruzo, Nicola, Amorosso, then Nicholas Amoruzo D’Ambrosoli. The Ambrosoli was only mentioned in one of the last stories about their funeral in Naples. His death certificate is listed on Ancestry under Michael Ramibrose. I have yet to figure out how or why he was identified as Nichola(s) Amoroso. A new Fascio was commemorated in his honor in Brooklyn and it was called Fascio Michele Ambrosoli, so the Italian community knew his real name. He was also listed as a Fascist martyr as both Michele Ambrosoli and Michele D’Ambrosoli. I am currently trying to get ahold of a funeral announcement from Mt. Carmel Church, but all evidence points to the fact that he was not going by an alias. I believe he lived in Brooklyn and was only visiting the Bronx, but I have no evidence so far. I don’t know where he worked, where he lived, if he ever traveled back to Italy, nothing. The list of Fascist martyrs says that he died trying to help a comrade who had been attacked by “subversives” and I can only assume that was the first victim that day: Giuseppe Carisi.
Now, for the other guy. I’ve had a LOT of success finding information about him. Similarly, his name is listed in various forms: His birth name is Giuseppe Carisi but he signed his name and is listed as George Carisi, Joseph Carisie, Joseph Carrisi, Joseph Carisy, etc.
Giuseppe Carisi was born on 10 February 1889 in Reggio Calabria, Italy. Pietro Carisi was his father. An unnumbered house on Via Santa Caterina is listed and Vittoria Mesiano is also listed on his birth certificate.
I have been able to track him to a home at 124-126 Thompson street in Manhattan in 1910. He was boarding with a Carmelo (twenty years his senior) and Philomena Mesiano, who I can only assume were relatives of Vittoria from back in Calabria. Carlo was making watches in his home and Giuseppe said he was an operator at a coat shop.
In 1913, Giuseppe moved to the Bronx and according to the 1920 census Carmelo and Giuseppe were living 500 feet from one another at 502 and 552 East 187th Street. Carlo now owned a jewelry store and Giuseppe was a tailor at a factory. Giuseppe was now living with his younger brother Pietro. As of 1918, he was working at Eclipse Cloth(es) Company on 328 Church Street (which now appears to be a Post Office). In 1890 this factory had 22 employees and is listed as specializing in foodstuffs, leather, and general merchandise. During World War I, Joseph (he was signing this name now) was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Fort Hancock, Georgia for six months.
He became a naturalized citizen there. Upon his return from the Army, he applied for a passport in 1919 and traveled back and forth to Italy at least two times in the early 20s. It appears he intended to bring his family back to the United States.
While his brother appears to have been here with him in 1920, his assets were probated in 1928 and all of his family is listed as resident aliens in Staiti, Calabria-including his brother Pietro Jr. I am unsure as of yet if he was able to bring his family back from Italy. Tragically, his father died just 18 days after he was killed. Giuseppe had over $2000 in assets which appear to have been given to his family, although it appears the legal proceedings took over a year to complete.
One of the most interesting things to note is that Carmelo Mesiano moved from 124-126 Thomson street to 502 East 187th street sometime between 1910 and 1920. I do not know when or if any of these men became full-fledged Fascists, nor what that process entailed, but he was living next door to 506 East 187th street which was the headquarters for Fascists in this area and the location of the Fascio Mario Sozini. This Fascio is featured in Carlo Tresca’s memoirs as an especially active Fascio and most of the accounts I read said that the men gathered there that morning before leaving to go to the parade. Perhaps Pietro joined the Fascists first, maybe Carmelo invited Giuseppe to join for economic or social reasons. Maybe Giuseppe wasn’t Fascist at all and just hung out with his friend and neighbors regularly. People shifting their identities is nothing new, so it is important that we realize these shifts in the political and national identity of immigrants have existed for centuries.
The two men were murdered here (the train station has since been demolished)
One reason history is so fascinating to me is because we are often able to pin down the exact time and date certain things happened, but other than the occasional diary it is impossible to know how people felt. I will never know how a World War I veteran that died with a $2000 estate in 1927 became a Fascist. I will never know why a 14-year-old boy traveled to a new continent alone, became a Fascist, was murdered while trying to aide Giuseppe, was misidentified by the national media, and doesn’t show up in any extant records. But one thing is for sure, two men who were able to gain the attention of national and international media and drew 10,000 people to the Bronx for their funerals are worth talking a look at.
I think this case is incredibly relevant to current political discourse. Veterans, immigration, Fascism, identity, diaspora, allegiance, and the importance of documentation are all as important today as they were on Memorial Day 1927.
So, this is where I leave it for now. I will probably continue to research this for years to come and hopefully one day I will be able to visit Southern Italy armed with these records. I don’t know what I can do with all this stuff since I’m not in academia anymore, but I’d love to make a vlog of the significant locations, write a biography, or even a historical novel.
**I am in the process of ordering the two men’s death certificates (they are sequentially numbered which really helped with making sure I was researching the right guys) and will update this when/if I find out anything new!
Until next time, y’all!