Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Alfonso Frank Famoso - Father Was The Best

World War II Veteran and local artisan, Alfonso "Fonzy" Famoso, of Westminster, MD, lost his first and only battle on January 2, 2015 at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Maryland - just six short weeks shy of his 95th birthday.  

This Erasmus Hall Campus High School of Brooklyn graduate was born on February 21, 1920 in Harlem, and was the sixth of ten children. He met his wife, Gaetana "Ida" Mangione, in Brooklyn's Prospect Park in May of 1946, when she approached him under the pretense of him photographing her and her sister, Connie. The attraction was immediate, and the love enduring; they were engaged October 19, 1946, married January 25, 1947, and will remain united in their love in perpetuity.

Most people who knew Alfonso presumed his nickname was derived from his legal name, but those who were close (and brave) enough to ask knew this was only partially true. Though bald since his twenties, Alfonso was blessed with a thick mop of curls at birth. Upon entering kindergarten, Alfonso eventually began being called "Funny Head" by his classmates. "Fonzy" was actually an Italian slang version of this original and slightly unconventional name.

Even when the hair began disappearing, "Fonzy" lived up to his colorful nickname. He led an equally colorful and thoroughly complete life, having fathered three children after having served our country as a Medical Technician in World War II. Initially housed in Mobile General Hospital in Washington state in 1943, Alfonso ultimately defended our liberties while stationed in Mormelon le Petite in France, and later still from Luxembourg and England. Shortly after his return to the states in 1945, he began working as a Color Timer for the Motion Picture Industry in Manhattan, New York. He worked on such pictures as "War and Peace", “Cleopatra” with Elizabeth Taylor, “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” with Sophia Loren, "The Runaway Train" with Jon Voight and Lucille Ball’s last film, “The Stone Pillow”. His movie career included a long running schedule on the night shift, and family fondly recall him sleeping the day away in between his shifts. When awake, he thoroughly enjoyed regaling close friends and family with behind-the-scenes stories involving well known actors that he'd personally encountered. He always grew animated during these discussions, especially when the topic of Linda Lovelace's alleged coercion to perform was broached. Anyone who was privy to one of these exchanges know how adamant Alfonso was about this topic, and would argue fervently about the actresses willing (and apparently eager) involvement.

After having spent 47 years in the film industry, Alfonso officially retired, although rest he did not. This eternally strong American Hero continued working with his hands, and ultimately chose to become a construction worker - doing the work of men 40 years his junior. He never lost his interest in art following his introduction to painting in the '50's, though, and ultimately perfected his personal style of artistic expression over the years. He carved gorgeous wood furniture, rocking horses, planes, boats, and gavels,  handcrafted glass, and created countless sculptures using a wide variety of materials. Informally known as "Fonzie's", these (sometime quite intricate) pieces were often gifted to unsuspecting recipients, though he gladly accepted specific requests from practically anyone. Though he spent countless hours and dollars on his artwork, Alfonso was adamant in his refusal to accept any form of compensation for it.

Despite the fact that his name became known for quality craftsmanship among family, friends, and a growing number of fortunate "Fonzy" recipients in Arizona, Alfonso was exceptionally talented in many other fields. Another skill that he became well known for was his incredible abilities as an escape artist. Though this likely conjures images of Houdini, Alfonso's special skill focused entirely on one thing in particular: escaping from the steely grip of the grim reaper. In fact, he'd become quite a pro at this after nearly 23 years of practice!

Not including the time he spent on the battlefield, Alfonso first cheated death in 1991 when he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and given only six months to live. Alfonso passed the six month mark like a champ, and went on further to not only beat cancer, but to tap dance on its grave! His next date with destiny occurred in 2009, and involved his tired ol' heart. Alfonso passed out while doing his yard work, but was swiftly located by family and raced to the hospital in the dark, early morning hours. After being rushed inside the ER Alfonso's heart was checked, but produced dismal numbers. By all accounts, he should have been dead. The ER specialists initially believed this to be the case - that is, until he tilted his head towards staff from atop his gurney and began directly speaking with them. These physicians were astonished, because this was the lowest blood pressure they'd ever witnessed. When he checked out of the hospital a few short days later, hospital staff had awarded him the title of "Dead Man Walking" for this amazing feat!

Not only did Alfonso brazenly laugh in the face of death during both instances, but he was actually disturbed by the audacity of death to come a-knocking on his door. While he was en route to the ER in 2009, he actually "seen the light" during the dark trip. His reaction? Matter-of-factly pulling his hat over his eyes to dim the overly "bright light", and complaining about it the whole ride in.

Mr. Famoso participated in South Carroll High Schools’ Veterans Day recognition of War Veterans for the last several years, up to and including this past November. He was featured on the cover of The Frederick News Post's "Senior" insert this past April 1st, and has two compilations of his wartime achievements and honors going the rounds on YouTube. These public accolades can be found online at:

He was predeceased by his parents, 7 brothers, and 2 sisters, and is currently expected to be celebrating the reunion over a typically festive (and loud) Italian feast.

A memorial art scholarship is in the process of being created in his name by family members.  If anyone wants to make a donation in honor of my father to the art scholarship, you can send a check as follows: the Alfonso Famoso Scholarship Fund c/o Margaret Lopez Erpenbeck 3961 E Chandler Blvd., #111-139, Phoenix, AZ 85048.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


It took over a year but we finally received the Purple Heart Medal for Private Brasso Famoso thanks to Congressman Chris Van Hollen. It ultimately took 96 years to get recognition for his sacrifice for our country. Thank you!  

I also received the original Red Cross Roll of Honor sent to my great grandfather in 1918 telling him that his son was killed in action. It is a beautiful document. The U.S. President Woodrow Wilson adorns the top of this document along with flags and symbols of all the countries served by the Red Cross. This document came to me from a cousin in Florida. His grandmother was evidently our family historian long before I was born.

I also talked to my brother in Arizona about Pvt. Brasso Famoso. He told me that he had heard that our great uncle was killed in a trench or foxhole that was hit with an explosive device. The explosive caused total devastation. I wouldn't be surprised if nothing was left of any of those men but their dog tags. That seems to explain my memory that there was nothing but dog tags buried in his grave. Perhaps there is nothing in the grave at all, just a monument to his honor.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Zampella ~ Di Costanzo Family Documents

I received the marriage record and documents for Domenico Antonio Zampella and Maria Grazia di Costanzo from Caserta Archives earlier this week. Antonio (as he called himself) and Maria Grazia were married on December 12, 1831. His father was Domenico Zampella who died on September 20, 1802 at the age of 24 when his son was only 2 years old. But that means Domenico was born around 1778! I can now prove that I have gotten back through the barrier of the 1800's. Another interesting thing that came to light after reading a translation of Domenico Zampella's death record was that he was mortally wounded somehow and confessed his sins to a priest. He wasn't in his own town when he died but in a nearby town. Did he die in a battle, was his death a tragic accident, was it a self-inflicted wound? We will never know because the death record doesn't tell us.

For the marriage record itself: Domenico Antonio Zampella, born in Caserta, 30 years old, adult, blacksmith who makes horseshoes, domiciled in Caserta in San't Antonio Street, son of the deceased Domenico Zampella, and the living Maddalena Izzo, spinner. Maria Grazia Di Costanzo, born in Caserta, 21, adult, spinner, domiciled in Caserta in San't Antonio Street, daughter of the deceased Felice Di Costanzo and the living Orsola Ignarra, spinner, domiciled in Caserta.

When the marriage took place, Maria Grazia's father Felice di Costanzo was also deceased. His death certificate says that he had died on March 20, 1823 in the hospital of Caserta, husband to Orsola Ignarra, born in a town called Nola in Naples but living in Caserta and had one daughter named Maria Grazia. Felice di Costanzo was a barber by profession.

I also found out that Maria Grazia's full name was Maria Grazia Carmela Vincenza Sebastiana DiCostanzo Zampella! What a mouthful that name is. She was born on July 21, 1809. Here are the marriage records and death records that I received from Caserta.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Broken Wall Friday

I broke through a brick wall this week. I broke through the barrier of the 1700's.  I had never taken any of my father's lines back past 1800.  I did that with my most recent find. I found the marriage record of my 3x great grandparents Domenico Antonio Zampella and Maria Grazia Di Costanzo.  I can safely assume that if Domenico Antionio was born in 1801 and Maria Grazia was born in 1810 both their parents would have been born in the 1700s!  This is my paternal grandfather's mother's line that seems to remain in Caserta, Caserta, Italy.  I did a tree to show this line.  I am hoping to find more on this line soon but this is what I have so far.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Sam and Katie Famoso ~ A Perfect Match


Hi, I am Sam Famoso.  I have been asked by Ann to write a guest blog on my recollections of my grandparents Katie and Sam Famoso.  I am the son of Frances and John Famoso and the oldest of Katie and Sam’s three grandchildren.  My father John was Katie and Sam’s youngest child.  My grandfather came to this country from Cardito, Italy on the Nord America which departed Palermo, Sicily in 1901.  He came with his mother Anna Pirolli, sister Rose (Columba) and brothers Biagio and Alfonso.  They docked in New York City on October 28, 1901.  His father Giovanni and brother Luigi had previously come to the United States.  They settled on 109th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue, a section of upper Manhattan known as Harlem.  My grandmother was born in America and was proud of being an American of Italian descent.

At first, my Grandfather was a tailor.  He then became a barber which ultimately allowed him to purchase the barber shop concession in the Harvard Club in Manhattan.  My Grandparents were married on October 16, 1910.  My wife Palma and I chose October 16th as our wedding day 61 years later.  This made my Grandmother very happy and proud.  My early recollections of Grandpa were our Sunday walks from 109th to 125th Street.  By the time we got to 125th Street, I was too tired (as I was only about 3 years old) to walk back.  Grandpa would always hail a cab but I would only ride in a new cab never an old one.  Thus, started my lifelong fascination with the automobile.  Grandpa would tell my father that at 3 years old I knew every car on the street by name.

When we moved to Astoria in 1948, my Grandfather would pick my sister and me up from school every Friday afternoon.  As soon as we got home, I would have to get a haircut whether I needed one or not.  When I was about 8 years old, I finally pleaded with him to give me one every 2 weeks.  He reluctantly agreed.  After dinner there was always a card game which lasted into early morning.  After the game, my Dad would drive Grandpa home to Harlem as my Grandma was alone.

My Grandma was the best.  She didn't come with Grandpa on Fridays as she really didn't care to go out unless she had to and only with someone else.  I remember my mother telling me about one time after I had come home from the hospital after emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix and colitis.  The doorbell rang and who was at the door but Grandma.  My mother couldn’t believe it and asked who had come with her.  Grandma told her that I was sick and she had come on the subway by herself because she had to see me.  When I was about 12 years old, Grandpa was diagnosed with a form of Leukemia and also suffered some small strokes.  He passed away in March of 1959.

My Grandma had moved to the Bronx to live with her daughter, my aunt Anna Famoso Squitieri.  I have vivid memories of Grandma making her homemade cavatelli and sending my aunt on the subway from the Bronx to Astoria to bring me the most delicious cavatelli ever.   This became a regular thing and boy do I miss them! 

I was lucky to have my Grandma until I was 31.  She was able to see me get married and have our first child Christina (her first great grandchild).  My grandmother was a very special person to me and to all who had the privilege of knowing and loving her.  In February of 1976, Grandma passed away and sadly we also lost my Dad just six weeks later.  I always said that I never really got a chance to mourn her.

Sam and Katie at the Beach
Sam Famoso, Ann and Neal Squitieri and Katie Famoso

Monday, September 1, 2014

Uncle Alphonso Famoso – Fine Family Man

Great Uncle Alphonso FamosoFine Family Man

Alphonso was the youngest boy of Giovanni and Anna Famoso. He was born on February 9, 1896 in San Severo (Savario), Bari, Italy.  He was only about 5 when he came to the United States with Anna and his siblings.  I don’t know much about his early life.  I have been told that he didn't have an Italian accent which makes sense because he came to the United States when he was so young. I know he was a handsome young man because I have several photos of him. I imagine he went to school and played with his friends.  He probably got a job when he was young to help support his family. His mother Anna died when he was about 12 years old. There is a story that his father tried to teach him how to play the drums but every time he got something wrong, his dad would hit him in the head. Needless to say, he stopped playing the drums. He was the only boy in the family who didn't play a musical instrument. 

Alphonso and his niece Anna Famoso
circa 1912

Uncle Al ~ Coney Island photo

Alphonso was drafted into the army in April of 1918 which was right near the end of WWI.  He became a Corporal but his son says his nickname was "Sarge" and he was the head of the cooks in his division.  His military record says he was in the 152nd and 153rd Brigades.  He was never sent overseas.  I have to wonder if that may have been because his brother was killed in France.  Alphonso obtained his U.S. citizenship in July of 1918 while serving in the army.  At the time he was inducted into the army he was a Machinist for a company called Bangider or Baugider in Manhattan, NY.  I haven’t found any record of that company yet.

Alphonso married Antonetta (Nettie) Monaco around November of 1928. I am not sure when Antonetta was born. I have found birth records for several girls with that name. She may have been born on February 25, 1905.  The date on their marriage record is November 26, 1928 but that was probably not the actual date of their wedding.  At the time of their marriage, Alphonso was around 29 years old and Antonetta was around 23 years old according to the marriage record.  The two witnesses to their marriage were Santino Cali and Anna Famosa.  Santino Cali was a good friend of the groom (related by marriage) and Anna Famoso was Aunt Katie’s daughter.  Their wedding photos are gorgeous.  Antonetta was an only child and her parents evidently went all out for the wedding!  Her parents were Giuseppe Monaco and Carmela Morella.  I have heard that her father was a junk man or ash collector.  I don’t know how or where they met but probably through family or friends.  They both grew up in the same neighborhood in Harlem.  After they married, they moved to the Bronx to raise their family.

Guiseppe Monaco, Antonetta, Alphonso and Carmela Monaco

Alphonso and Nettie had four children, two boys named John and Joseph and two girls named Anna and Emily.  They appear to be the perfect American family of that time.  Alphonso came home every night for dinner.  He made a good living as a butcher after he left the army.  Nettie was a stay-at-home mother who made her kids lunch and walked them to school.  If it started to rain during the day, she would bring her kids their raincoats.  All of the kids were adorable.  We have many family photos to prove that.  It seems like they lived a happy family life.  The kids all grew up and got married.  Each one of Alphonso and Nettie’s kids had children of their own.  Uncle Al and Aunt Nettie have a great legacy with grandchildren and great grandchildren and they would be very proud. 

Joseph, Anna, Emily, John Famoso
Cousin Christina Famoso

My father says his Uncle Al was always nice – no one he knew ever disliked his uncle Alphonso.  Because he was a butcher, he would give meat to my father’s family for the holidays so they could have a good meal.

Nettie used to work at the post office during the Christmas holiday rush.  Uncle Al would drop her off there at work each day.  She probably did this because she enjoyed it.

Alphonso was a very good dancer.  I have been told about his dancing ability from several of his family members. My father also tells me that he liked to entertain and that he was very funny.  Even though Uncle Al was outgoing, he was a little bit on the quiet side.

One of the things my dad remembers most about his Uncle Al, is that he used to put salt or sand on the linoleum floors, take off his shoes and in only his socks he would “pretend” skate all over the house with his hands behind his back.  My dad says it looked like he was really skating. 

I have also been told that Uncle Al loved to play pinochle with his brothers. According to Emily and Joseph, every week the family would go to their Uncle Louie’s house (my grandfather) so the brothers could play pinochle.  The wives must have cooked and talked while the kids played games together. 

Another story that I heard from Joseph, is that Uncle Al (being a butcher) took a goat to his brother Louie’s house.  They killed it in the basement, he butchered it and they ate it for lunch.  I know that sounds really strange to us now but back in the day, it probably wasn't that unusual.

Uncle Al collected WWI military memorabilia.  According to my father, Uncle Al had a good collection of guns and other military items. I wonder if he had his brother Brasso’s dog tags.

Alphonso’s granddaughter Annette told me that he was a nice, kind man.  He used to babysit for her and her sister when they were young.  He smoked Italian black cigars (called Guinea Stinkers).  He made Annette and her sister go to the store to buy them for him when he ran out. He lived with Annette’s family for a while. He was very handy and also helped fix things around her house. He liked to go fishing.

His daughter Emily told me that he helped her husband build a deck on their house when they first got married.  Emily also said that her dad worked really hard all his life and they didn't have much time to take vacations but she does remember one time when the family went up to Boston to visit their Aunt Loretta.  They had a great time.

I found out what a true family man my Great Uncle Alphonso really was when I called Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens and found out that he had purchased and owned all of the family burial plots. It may have affected him when his mother was buried in a pauper’s grave and he couldn't have her moved into her own plot.  I am not sure about that but it seems possible.

Great Aunt Nettie died in 1955.  She was only about 50 years old at the time.  She had breast cancer and at that time it was pretty much considered a death sentence. 

Great Uncle Alphonso died on May 9, 1965.  At the time of his death, he lived in Glen Cove, NY. My mother tells me that she and my dad took me to his wake.  I don’t remember being there because I was so young.

My Great Uncle Alphonso was a great guy.  He took really good care of his family.  He served proudly in the US Army.  I’m sure he had a difficult childhood but he made the best of it and turned out really well.  I am proud to be related to Great Uncle Alphonso.

Alphonso and his brother Sam in the 1950's

Monday, August 18, 2014

Loretta Famoso Galeota Esposito - Lovely Lady

Uncle Alphonso, Aunt Loretta and Loretta's son John.

Loretta Famoso Galeota Esposito

Loretta was born In Atlantic City, New Jersey on February 10, 1903. She was the youngest of Giovanni and Anna’s children. The name on her birth certificate is Leberata Tosca Famoso. That is such a cool name! I like to imagine that Giovanni was playing an instrument or conducting an orchestra that was performing Tosca by Puccini. It was a brand new opera at that time having been performed for the first time on January 14,1900 at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome. He loved that opera so much that he gave his baby daughter the middle name "Tosca." Doesn't that sound good? ~  It is totally made up but it could be true.  It is very interesting that Tosca is set in 1800 Italy around the time that Napoleon invaded Italy and the control of Rome by the Kingdom of Naples was threatened. Tosca is not a sweet, romantic opera. Not even a little bit. Tosca depicts murder, suicide and torture.  I'm not sure that is really an appropriate name, even a middle name for a baby. It could even be that Giovanni was friendly with Giacomo Puccini who was a contemporary and a fellow Italian musician.

As I have already mentioned, Loretta lost her mother when she was only 5 years old.  She grew up without a mother figure. I imagine that she became close to her sisters-in-law and her slightly older sister Rose.  

I found it odd that both Rose and Loretta got their marriage licenses on the same day. That day was July 28, 1921. 

Loretta was married at age of 18 on September 18, 1921 to Charles Michael Galeota listed as a Barber and elsewhere as a Musician. His father was Vito and his mother was Rosa Gallo. They had two children, John and Vito both of whom died in 1999.

Her husband Charles used the stage name Charlie Hamilton when he played a banjo that had lights inside of it that he made swirl around. An interesting concept for the 1920’s and early 1930’s.

Loretta and Charles Galeota were divorced in 1931. Charles married Helen Powlowitz on March 20, 1933. Charles died on September 16, 1936 and he is buried at St. John’s Cemetery in Flushing, Queens.  

Loretta married Salvatore Esposito in Boston, Massachusetts in 1934. Salvatore was a salesman until 1940 then he owned a business called New York Sample Fur Shoppe from 1941 on. He had a son named Jerry from a previous marriage. I have been told that Salvatore had only one arm. Sal died on September 14, 1961. He is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Boston.

I have no personal impressions of Loretta because I never met her. It seems to me from what I have heard that she was a kind and honest person. She spoke about her true feelings regarding her brother Luigi at his funeral. Loretta was the person that my grandmother Christina used to go to when she needed someone to get money from her husband. Loretta did not have any kind feelings towards her brother (my grandfather). I can't say that I blame her. Her reputation was very good. Everyone that met her liked her very much. I also found out that she was the last known person to have possession of her brother Brasso's WWI army photo.  

My parents visited Loretta and Sal in Boston in the mid-1950’s. Sal must have had some mafia connections because there was a mafia-type guy in attendance at Loretta’s house during the visit.  The most memorable thing was that the mafia guy gave my brother, who was very young, a $5.00 bill.  That was a lot of money at the time. The story went down in family history.

After Sal died, Loretta worked at Bonwit Tellers as a “stitcher.”  Bonwit Tellers was a fancy department store so she probably did tailoring for off-the-rack clothing. She died on August 15, 1985.  She was living at the Jamaica Towers Nursing Home at the time of her death.  Her death certificate says she died of Terminal Arrhythmia along with Chronic Ischemic and Hypertensive Cardiac Disease which sounds like a heart attack brought on by high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries.

Services for Loretta were held at Marashio Funeral Home.  She was cremated and her remains are at Woodlawn Cemetery. 

I found out more about my great aunt Loretta while researching her for this blog post than I ever knew before.  She seems to have been a lovely lady.  I wish that I had met her.