Sunday, July 6, 2014

Luigi Arturo Famoso - Lovers and Other Strangers...

Luigi Arturo “Louie” Famoso

I want to start this post with a Happy 132nd Birthday to my grandfather, Luigi Arturo Famoso (aka Louie).  He was Giovanni’s second oldest son.  Louie was a guy who seemed “larger than life”.  In fact, it sounds like he was quite a character.  Well, you’ll just have to read this and decide for yourself.  I never met my grandpa Louie.  He died a little over a year before I was born.  In fact, it is the 56th anniversary of his death.  He died the day before his 77th birthday.

He was born in Marcianise Italy on July 11, 1882.  Marcianise is a small town (also known as a commune) in the Caserta Campania region of Italy.  I’ve never visited there but I hope to see it someday.  So, Louie was a small-town boy with big city ways.  Maybe that is why he wound up living in the “Big Apple” for most of his adult life. 

I have to mention that I only know Louie from the stories I’ve heard about him from his children and grandchildren.  We have a huge Italian family.  My father has told me many stories about Louie.  My mother knew Louie personally.  She also heard many stories about him from his relatives over the years.  It is hard to know what is true and what isn’t.  There were many sides to my grandpa Louie. He was a bit of a bon vivant. I heard that he enjoyed dressing well and mixing with the wealthy folks.  That alone wouldn’t be a bad thing except we have to take into consideration that he had a wife and nine children.  The wife and kids did not seem to be a great impediment to his lifestyle.  I have to say that he was probably only a product of his time. He lived at the turn of the 20th century when men were the “kings” and their home was their “castle”.  The men could basically do anything and get away with it.  My grandmother Christina (Louie’s wife) got a job in a factory doing sewing to help support her family.  Why did she have to do that?  Good question.  If you recall, I said that Louie was a bon vivant.  He sure was.  He had a gambling habit that took the form of card playing.  He loved to play poker.  He wasn’t a wealthy man but he spent whatever he made on poker.  That meant that his wife and kids had to support themselves.  They did get help from Christina’s sister Kate and her husband Sam (who was also Louie’s brother).  I have heard that Kate told her sister to please stop having kids because she (Kate) couldn't afford to support any more of Christina’s children.     

But I digress…  Let’s get back to Louie’s early life.  I don’t know much about it other than that he moved around Italy with his family.  Eventually, he and his brother Sam attended Barber College (somewhere in Italy).  He also took his older brother Dominic’s place in the Italian Army ski patrol.  The best story I have heard about Louie comes from my father.  He says that Louie didn't like being in the army very much (no surprise there) and he planned to ditch his post.  He arranged it very well.  Louie collected clothing, skis and other equipment so he could change out of his army uniform then ski down the other side of the mountain (one of the Alps, I assume) into Switzerland.  Then he would make his way to the United States to rejoin his family.  That event took place in either 1901 or 1902.  Louie, according to family lore, traveled around Europe evading the Italian army and touring various European countries.  My sister and I wonder how many unknown cousins we may have out there stemming from Louie’s travels around Europe in the early 1900’s when he was a viral young man.  Louie eventually made his way onto a ship called S.S. Patricia out of the port of Hamburg, Germany on October 17, 1902.  The manifest says he had $35.00 on him (a decent amount in 1902) and that he was heading to Atlantic City, NJ to meet up with his father.

I have found Louie living in two places on the 1905 census.  I have him on the NYC Census with his family and I also have him on a census in Atlantic City, NJ.  I believe that he was living in AC but his father Giovanni did not understand the questions that the census taker was asking him.  He was probably saying that he had 7 children and named all of them for the census taker.  I can’t be sure but that makes the most sense to me.

The story goes that Louie Famoso and Christina Prinzo met at a funeral.  I choose to believe that they fell in love and got married around April 23, 1908 (that is the date on their marriage license).  That was only five months before Luigi’s mother Anna Pirolli died.  Luigi’s brother Sam and Christina’s sister Kate got married in 1910.  Christina Prinzo Famoso (Louie’s wife) gave birth to the first of many sons on October 19, 1910. 

I am not sure of the continuity of all this but Luigi and Sam worked together at a barbershop or maybe several different barber shops.  I know that Luigi definitely worked at the Harvard Club and the Downtown Athletic Club as a barber.  I also have heard that not only was Luigi a gambler but he was also quite a womanizer.  The story goes that he had at least one goomara (on the side girlfriend).  She lived “upstate” somewhere.  He would rent or borrow a truck and take his boys up to the farm she lived on.  My dad was apparently one of the kids he took up there at least once.  My dad had no idea where he was going or who they were visiting but he said they enjoyed the trip.  I’m sure Luigi enjoyed it too.  There is also another story where Luigi went out to buy some bread but he did not return home for a year!  I am fairly certain these stories are true because they came from Luigi’s sisters.  His wife Christina was already dead by the time those stories made their way to our branch of the family. My father also told me that Louie wanted him to quit high school and get a job at the Harvard Club.  When my dad went on the interview he found out that one of his friends also had an interview.  Dad's friend wound up getting the job because the Harvard Club did not want to hire Louie's son.  I am not really sure why but I think it had to do with the fact that Louie was always telling stories and getting mixed up in his wealthy clients' business.  My father was lucky because he then was able to finish high school and get his diploma.

In an effort to be fair, I must also look at Luigi from the standpoint of his older grandchildren.  My oldest cousin Christina is the daughter of Luigi’s second oldest son.  She says that she was about 5 years old when Grandma Christina died.  At that time, Louie’s two daughters were still living at home with him.  Grandpa Luigi asked if any of his sons could move in the house with them to help him out.  Of course, most of the boys were in the military at the time since my Grandma died in 1943.  Uncle Frank and Aunt Flora took him up on that deal and moved into the house on East 26th Street in Brooklyn shortly after Grandma’s death.  Grandpa Louie enjoyed playing cards and would be gone for hours at a time and well into the night.  He liked to dress “to the nines.”  He was adamant about speaking English.  He did not want anyone to speak Italian around him which is unfortunate because if he did speak Italian, she might have learned how to speak it as well.  Christina says she enjoyed living in his house because there was always family around especially on Sundays when everyone would come over for a big typical Italian Sunday dinner.  Grandpa died when she was only 17 years old. 

Another one of my older cousins (Louie’s namesake) says he remembers Grandpa Louie this way: He was the best barber around.  He cut everybody in our family’s hair.  Grandpa was a good card player.  He loved his children and grandchildren.
My cousin Joanne (the daughter of Louie’s son Bill) remembers that Grandpa gave his grandchildren gifts every year for Christmas and possibly Easter.  She got a gold charm bracelet with a cross on it.  Even if it was costume jewelry she remembers it fondly.  He used to pronounce her name with his Italian accent as “Jowan” which is kind of cute if you ask me.  According to stories she heard from her father, Louie supposedly owned 3 barber shops at one time but lost them due to his gambling.  He met lots of famous and infamous people through his jobs at the Harvard Club and the Downtown Athletic Club.  She heard he knew lots of mob guys and was very friendly with a guy named “Augie Pisano.”   {After hearing this story, I did a little research and found out that “Little Augie Pisano” was an assumed name used by Anthony Carfano (1898 – September 25, 1959),  who was a New York gangster who became a caporegime, or group leader, in the Luciano crime family under mob bosses Charles "Lucky" Luciano and Frank Costello}.  My mother doesn’t believe these stories for a few reasons.  She doesn’t think Louie would have been the type to associate with Mafia-types.  She says Louie wasn’t a guy who was willing to be injured in any way.  Mom also says that Louie wasn’t very generous so it is doubtful that he gave his grandchildren gifts for any holidays.  My dad says that Louie never owned any barber shops that he knew of.

My sister and brother both knew Grandpa Louie.  They don’t have any warm and fuzzy memories of him, though.  They say he was pretty cold towards them.  I guess when you have 9 grown children and dozens of grandchildren it could start to get old pretty quickly.  My brother also remembered that he and Louie were both left-handed so he got Louie’s guitar after he died but he gave it back because he couldn’t get the hang of playing it. 

So, you might say that Grandpa Louie was a bit of a “good time Charlie.”  Perhaps, but he was definitely an interesting guy! 

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Louie's son Frank, Christine and Flora

Brothers: Sam, Louie and Alphonse

Louie with his sons, Alfonse, Albert and Sammy

The whole family - almost
Flora, John Famoso, Neil Squitieri, Louie and his son
Frank Famoso
At Aunt Louise's Wedding:  Al Famoso, John Famoso, Louis (Luigi) Famoso, Aunt Louise, Bill Murray, Uncle Albert, Uncle Frank and Uncle Bill!
Alfonse, Sam, Albert, Charlie, Frank, Bill in back row
Frankie Prinzo, Charlie Prinzo and John Famoso
At Louie Famoso's funeral in July of 1958

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