Initially, in the early 1900’s, the cost for a 3rd class steerage ticket from Naples to America was $40. Other costs included a Passport and Visa, bribe money for some of the local officials to clear records such as military obligations and debts, as well as pocket money and travel money to the port city of Naples. This came to between $75 and $100, almost a year’s wages for most. Most immigrants from the Mezzogiorno, made their way to the port of Naples by any means they could: train, foot or donkey cart. There waiting for them were the steamship representatives who put them up in shantytowns for the three day preparation and processing procedure. Also waiting for them were opportunists looking for their money. The steamship companies made money by the head and it was in their best interests to make sure that these people would survive a rough trip below deck. They were given medical exams, vaccinations, cleaned up, given a blanket and eating utensils and then manifested. Once on board the passengers were briefed on the rules of the ship, which meant that they would stay below deck for two weeks in the noisy cramped quarters near the propeller shaft. Beds were bunk style and separated by a curtain. There were no showers and the common sink served multiple purposes. The 900 to 1500 people below deck often arranged themselves with friends from their village. Whatever mattresses were used often became infested with lice. People often got sick and many died during passage. For those who survived the trip to the port of New York now had to endure more hardships. The ship disembarked first and second class passengers on the lower west side docks while steerage class passengers had to wait for a small ferry to Ellis Island for processing. Sometimes they had to wait for days on board. Once they made it to Ellis Island the processing must have been a nightmare for those who couldn’t speak English. To appreciate this horrendous process you would have to read about it to believe it. One book I would recommend is “Ellis Island – Gateway to America” by Pamela Reeves. Here also, unscrupulous con men were waiting along with some fellow countrymen called “padrones” who saw an opportunity to make some extra money. Not all of these “padrones” were bad. Most Italians got jobs as laborers in New York and surrounding cities working on skyscrapers, subways and roads. Other Italians were hired by railroads and steel mills and were transported to various cities. After a few years those who came over had learned enough of the language, customs and survival techniques to bring the rest of their families. With the rumblings of a war in Europe, there was an urgency to get as many family members over despite an increasing number of restrictions imposed to curtail the mass exodus from Europe. In 1992, my brother, John Ficarro, had our grand-parents’ names registered on the American Immigrant Wall of Honor at Ellis Island. If you visit Ellis Island today, you will be able to see the plaques for both Vincenzo DeSantis and Bianca Saracene (aka “Saraceni”).
Our grandfather, Vincenzo DeSantis, first arrived in New York City on April 19, 1900 aboard the “Neustria”. The Neustria, originated from Marseilles, France, prior to picking up passengers in Naples, Italy. Ironically, my paternal grandfather, Rocco Ficarra (aka “Ficarro”), traveled to the USA on the same ship five years earlier (1895). According to Josephine Petrella, Vincenzo “James” DeSantis, escorted his sister, Angelina, to the United States to marry John Cerio, arriving on April 19, 1900. This is confirmed by the Neustria’s original ship manifest which is viewable on http://ellisisland.org/. Angelina was 19 years old and Vincenzo was 24. Their destination was Schenectady, NY. The Cerios’s made their home in the Mohawk Valley, at Duanesburg, just southwest of Schenectady.
The “SS Neustria” was a 2,926 gross ton ship, built in 1883 by Claparede & Cie, Rouen for the Fabre Line of Marseilles. Her details were - length 328.4ft x beam 40ft, straight stem, one funnel, two masts, iron construction, single screw and a speed of 12 knots. There was passenger accommodation for 18-1st and 1,100-3rd class. Launched on 19/8/1883, she sailed from Marseilles on her maiden voyage to Tarragona, Malaga, Cadiz and New York on 21/9/1884. In 1898 she was chartered to repatriate Spanish troops from Cuba. She sailed from New York for Marseilles on 27/10/1908 and went missing at sea.
Vincenzo worked on the railroad for a while, and then returned to Italy to marry.
From the limited information I can piece together, Vincenzo must have established residence status in the USA and later returned to Italy (January 31, 1901 – according to his Italian passport) to marry his sweetheart, but apparently while he was gone she had married Vincenzo’s step-brother, Giovanni “John” U Fugista (a fireworks technician). Giovanni’s birth mother had died young (maybe in child birth) and our great-grandmother, Giuseppa, took him in as one of her own. Then when Vincenzo left for America in 1900 – to seek his fortune, he left behind a beautiful fiancée and some money. This cad, my great- step-uncle, took Vincenzo’s money and also his fiancée and married her.
During World War II, Uncle Joe was bivouacked in a tent on the Volturno River in the countryside near his father’s birthplace called Pianao di Caiazzo. This must have been in the Fall of 1943 after the US Fifth Army had established the Salerno beachhead and captured Naples They then pushed the Germans northward across the Volturno River and into the mountain defenses of the “Winter Line”. Uncle Joe met this step-uncle John and his family, especially his daughter, Maria, who whispered in Uncle Joe’s ear that her father was very mean and selfish and that he housed some German soldiers in his home. Even the townspeople hated him for this reason. Maria also whispered in Uncle Joe’s ear, “Giuseppe, how I wished that your father was my father!” Isn’t that ironic?