[Durham INC] How Italian stonecutters helped build Duke's West Campus (today's Herald-Sun)
bwatu at yahoo.com
Sun May 24 10:31:38 EDT 2009
Below is an article in today's Herald-Sun about one of the Italian stonecutter families who helped build Duke Chapel and Duke Hospital. The account describes life in West Durham in the late-1920s and early 1930s.
If you get the Herald-Sun, would you please mail me a copy of the article? (I promised the book's author I'd mail copies to share with family members in Italy.)
1022 Rosehill Ave
Durham, NC 27705
Under Construction: How Italian stonecutters helped build Duke's West Campus (Herald-Sun, 24 May 2009)
Editor's note: This article is excerpted from "The Marzocchis in Durham," by Debora Antiga (Pontremoli, 2005). It is reprinted with permission. It was translated from Italian by Giulia Vico, a native of Italy and an engineering graduate student at Duke University. Photos are courtesy of the Old West Durham Neighborhood Association.
Giovanni Marzocchi is born in Succisa, Italy, on April 15th 1891, the second of three brothers. In February 1913, he marries Zita Tonelli, a woman of the same age and coming from the same city.
According to the archive of Ellis Island, he reached New York on April 4th, 1914. His wife remains in Succisa, pregnant of their first child whom they will name Gino (he will be known by the nickname Amelio).
(Giovanni Marzocchi worked first in Montana mines then served in the U.S. Army in World War I. He returned to Italy, then to the United States and work in Ohio.)
It is not clear when the Marzocchis left Ohio. They probably moved from Ohio to Schenley, Pennsylvania, where Giovanni was able to keep working as a miner. After a couple of years they left Schenley for Durham, N.C.
During those years, masonry companies across the United States were looking for building workers and skilled stonecutters, to be employed in the numerous construction sites active in many cities. Many building projects required skilled and creative workers. At the time, in Durham, Duke University's West Campus was under construction and in continuous expansion. Giovanni moves to the city to work in the construction of neo-gothic Duke Chapel and Duke Hospital.
At the time, Durham was a pleasant town, with a high quality of life. Rina looks back on afternoons spent along with some Italian friends and the house she used to live in: "it was really pretty, the outside of a light color, in a residential area where houses were alike, two by two", she recalls. The house was at 1206 6th Street, which is now Clarendon Street. The house is still there, and it does not seem to have changed significantly in a recent picture.
Giovanni was paying a rent of $34 per month, in part paid by two other Italians that were subleasing one room in the house. Giovanni (John) and Zita first appeared in the list of Durham residents in 1929, the year in which their fourth child, a boy named Pino, was born.
It was not by chance that Giovanni came to Durham after spending some time in the Pennsylvanian mines. A significant fraction of stonecutters working on Duke University campus were recruited in that area. Durham was then known as a boom town, a quick expanding city, as clear also from the growing West Campus of Duke University. A reputation that drew people from poor areas in Virginia and around Pittsburgh.
Giovanni was already a skilled worker, thanks to his experiences with his father Marco and in the Engineer Corps. The possibility to work on Duke Chapel was the end of a tiresome mining job and a beginning of a career more architecture-oriented.
Duke project lasted around 10 years: the most prominent part of West Campus, including Duke Hospital, was completed in 1930, while the Chapel was finished in 1935. Around one hundred stone masons and 12 stone setters are working at the construction site. The former build the bigger walls, execute the simpler jobs, cut and assemble the blue stone, from the nearby Hillsborough quarry.
The latter, selected among the best stone masons, work on more difficult jobs, such as arch and tower building, and use Indiana limestone. The 12 chosen stone setters are mainly Italians, under the supervisions of two Scots; their work day is ten hours for six days a week, and their hour wage varies between $1.25 and $2.50; conversely, stone masons are paid around 65 cents per hour.
Moving from Pennsylvania mines to the Gothicism of Duke University significantly improved the life quality of the "emigrant" Marzocchis. Somebody conjectures that the choice of having pictures taken in Durham only is not casual, but rather represents the pride of being a skilled worker and having reached the status of an almost well-off family.
In these pictures, the Marzocchis seem content and fashionable: Rina and Mary wear the latest fashion dresses, Giovanni enjoys smoking his pipe, and Zita shows off a patterned dress while chatting with her neighbor, Mrs. Ferrettino. Zita is very different from the person portrayed in a 15-year old photo, taken during one of Giovanni's leaves; in such photo she is youthful, unsophisticated and spontaneous.
Right after moving to Durham, Amelio was ready to start the High School: he is already 15-year old and he can enter in the workforce, if he so desires. Rina recalls that he was a 'bocia' (kid), but he was also involved in small jobs like milkman and paperboy.
Louis Berini, contemporary of Amelio, recounts that at the time some neighbor kids were enjoying making some money as caddy at the nearby golf course along Hillandale Road. Others, like Louis himself, preferred to spend their free time at the Erwin Auditorium, playing tennis-table with the kids of the mill workers.
At the time Erwin Cotton Mill along Duke University construction site was one of the most important employers in Durham. The settlement around Erwin Mill housed the workers' families, and Erwin Auditorium had a recreational center for after work. Berini also recalls that Rina and Mary attended West Durham School on 9th Street, the nearest to their house and the school attended by the majority of Italian stone setters' kids. Rina attended that school till 6th grade.
Marzocchis' new life in Durham transformed them in "true Americans," as they were well integrated in Durham life. Everything was going in the best way, but was bound to change because of the Great Depression, which did not spare North Carolina.
In Durham several families were forced out of their houses looking for others with lower rents, or to split it with other tenants to save a few dollars.
Some people recall the times in which the flour sacks were chosen on the basis on their decoration, to reuse the fabric to make shirts, towels and handkerchiefs; others tells stories about when, in absence of the 10 cents necessary to provide a new shoe sole, a piece of cardboard was used instead, even if it would last just for a single day.
Even if the Marzocchis were not yet having troubles at this time, the Duke Chapel project was reaching an end and Giovanni was already among many others on the list of those whose salary would be reduced soon.
In the meanwhile, the New Deal was financing building projects nearby, at which many masons would have easily found a job. Among others, the New Deal was financing the tunnels along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 496-mile long highway connecting the Shenandoah National Park, in Virginia, to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.
Giovanni could not stand this situation of uncertainty and decided to go back home, in Succisa. He had some savings and a strong wish to see again his aging parents. Zita does not agree to leave, but she knows that her husband already decided: for this reason, she accepts to leave under the promise that they would not come back to the USA, to avoid a second moving to their kids. During fall 1932 they get ready to leave. Rina says goodbye to her 39 schoolmates, and happily takes their present and the one from her teacher, a bone comb with a silver decoration and a note: "We shall miss you."
Then, they leave Durham by train to New York, where they embark on "Roma" to Genoa, from which another train brings them to Pontremoli. The train in Italy is the first contact of the young Marzocchis to the great differences between the American and Italian societies. In fact, it was an old and ugly train, and the seats were not padded, something unbelievable to them. After reaching Pontremoli, they stop by the "Osteria di Parodi".
Later on, on a Balilla car they travel to Succisa, along a twisty road, covered in stones and potholes, running among woods, stone buildings and precipices. In Villavecchia, their relatives are waiting for them, looking forward to seeing them and meeting Mary and Pino, the youngest kids.
It was the beginning of a new life in a very different environment. In the U.S. they were living in a single-family house, rather small but with all the comforts, such as the ice box, a large bathroom, a dining room, a living room with the radio, three bedrooms, a nice front porch and a small back yard.
Now in Succisa they live in a house without running water and electric energy. "Coming back to Italy was a shock" Rina frequently says. Giovanni goes back to his work as mason, working on a day-to day basis; his elder son, Amelio, works with him, perfecting the techniques he previously learned in Durham. Rina is back to school, and she sometimes helps her grandmother to put cows out to pasture. Mary too goes to school. Zita is well suited as a peasant as well. Zita and Giovanni's fifth child, Serafino, is born in January 1933. Since it was less than a year after leaving the US, Serafino can get the American citizenship as well. Giovanni's father, Marco, dies in January 1935, and Giovanni inherits the family business, a cooperative with other people of Succisa, that gives rise to modest profits. Rina will take care of that.
[Book title: "Going far away - Leaving Succisa looking to make a fortune" by Debora Antiga (Pontremoli, 2005). Excerpts printed from the chapter: "Marzocchis in Durham." Click here to see some of the photographs depicted in the article: http://www.owdna.org/stonecutters.htm]
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