Interviews with Samuel Arcadipane
September through December, 1980
Prepared by David Ark and Melissa Davis
The report was written and compiled by my fiancée and me. It is not meant to be historically accurate, although my Grandfather would swear by the dates. He never, even when questioned, spoke of death, or of certain portions of his life. What is recorded is only that which he chose to have remembered. But it is a report which may be passed for generations, carrying the memories that my grandfather wanted to share.
The following information was collected between September and December of 1980. All of the information was collected by interviewing Samuel Arcadipane. All of the interviews were recorded on cassette tapes. My Grandfather was willing and anxious to discuss all of the information which has been included in this project. He was unwilling, however, to discuss family deaths, tragedies or lost traditions. It is our opinion that he consciously eliminated this information, as he felt it too painful to be recorded. Most traditions, with the exception of a few recipes, were given up and/or ignored with the death of Samuel Arcadipane's father. We also believe that many traditions were lost with the move to America, and the family's attempt to assimilate.
My grandfather was born on March 1, 1899, the first child of Salvatore and Jenny Arcadipane. He was named Samuel, after his father, which was the custom among Italians. (The first son was named after his father and the second son after his maternal grandfather.) At the time of his birth, his family lived in Orapreto, Brazil, a small village where his father was employed as a gold miner. Brazil was a popular place for Italian miners to find work, as they found the language barrier easy to overcome, their native Italian language being quite similar to Spanish or Portuguese language spoken in Brazil. After only a few years, though, Salvatore decided to move his family back to Grotte, Italy where both he and his wife were born, and his mother, Samuel's grandmother still lived.
The switch was a fairly easy one for the family, despite the fact that Jenny was pregnant with her second child. However, Samuel’s grandmother spoke no Portuguese, and Samuel spoke no Italian. As a young child he learned quickly though, and in fact, soon forgot almost all of the Portuguese he knew. Salvatore went to work in the sulfur mines trying to earn enough money to start a better life for him and his family. The good life, at the time, was thought to be harbored in the United States. Within a few years time, Salvatore had saved enough for his passage to "Pennsylvania, not America." Leaving his wife and now two young boys behind, he set off on his long journey.
Back to top
Coal miners were desperately needed in the U. S. at that time, and Salvatore quickly obtained a job. He was a worker who was well respected by both his employers and his fellow employees and was promoted to foreman within a few short weeks. Saving money even on a foreman's wages was difficult though, especially since Salvatore was expected to support not only his wife and children back in Italy, but also his mother and two younger brothers. Letters helped to bridge the gap between the two countries and Salvatore wrote often. He had learned to write as a young man in the Italian army. He went to school on the army base and spent extra time perfecting his writing skills in order to trade hand-written letters for favors such as cigars, homemade items, and having his bed made.
Six months went by and finally Salvatore was able to make arrangements to transport his family, mother, and two brothers to America. He offered to pay his brothers' fares plus give them each $45 in exchange for acting as guardians to his young traveling family. The brothers wrote back claiming that they needed more money, for they had spent what they already had, and Salvatore again sent them each $45. The brothers wrote a second time, this time announcing that they had both wed, and needed boat tickets for their wives. Salvatore refused, canceling the tickets he had already purchased for his brothers. He wrote a third letter to Italy, this time requesting to hire two new guardians to make the trip.
Salvatore and his family were reunited in Adrienne, Pennsylvania in 1905. They lived in a small community, where many of their neighbors were also Italians, and also new to American ways. Salvatore continued to work in the mines despite the pain in his legs - a pain that had nagged him for three years now, running from the top of his thigh high boots down to his heels. Samuel and the other children worked part time helping out around the mining camp, and attended school when the weather and their parents permitted. A new daughter and son were born to Salvatore and Jennie, giving them five children all together, four of them male. Soon, however, Salvatore became too weak to work. Samuel, lying about his age, obtained work in the mines. Too small to carry his own weight there, he was taken under the wings of several other miners. They dug his share of coal, and he, in exchange, kept watch and warned the men to look busy when the supervisor was coming. Unfortunately, it was only a month before the scheme was found out, and Samuel was let go.
1912 came, and with Salvatore’s health still rapidly failing, the family decided to make a final move, this time to Silver Creek, NY. Samuel and his brother Frank were sent ahead to make the arrangements. Eight other families from Adrienne followed them. In Silver Creek Samuel's brothers and sister attended school. For the first time, they lived in a place where school attendance was mandatory. On the first day of school, the children were shocked that their teacher could not pronounce their last name, Arcadipane. She shortened it, and put them down permanently in the record book as the Arca family.
Back to top
The Arca family, with the exception of Salvatore, knew that they must work to survive, and they found jobs on the weekends working in root farms, planting new grape vines. Even with Salvatore's condition worsening with each passing day, they were fighting a losing battle. Samuel searched daily to find a way to make more money. Finally he found one. He obtained a set of false working papers, and claiming to be sixteen, he went to work in Koefed’s furniture factory. He worked ten hours a day, earning seven and one-half cents an hour. But even that wasn't enough. Salvatore was taken to the Dewittville county home, the poor house, along with his wife Jenny. Samuel chose to remain at work in the furniture factory, and fend for himself. His sister and brothers were taken to Father O’Connor, who brought them to Father Baker's orphanage in Buffalo.
Salvatore was put in the infirmary of the county home, and Jenny rushed a note off to Samuel, telling him to come and bring his father back to Silver Creek. Not sure of quite how to get there, Samuel took a train to Mayville. On the way he met a man, who upon hearing Samuel's story, offered to drive him to Dewittville. However, when Samuel arrived, it was too late. His father had passed away only hours before - the cause of death, gangrene of both legs. Samuel and his mother watched his father being buried that night, in a field behind the county home.
Returning to Silver Creek with his mother, Samuel sought out a job which would be able to better support them. He went to work for Harry Richardson, a building contractor. He was taken on as an apprentice, a position he would serve in for four years. He and his mother moved to a two family house on Buffalo Street. The family living with them had a daughter two years younger than Samuel. Her name was Frances Randazzo. Samuel and Frances began seeing quite a bit of each other, and at the end of Samuel's apprenticeship, he asked Frances if she would wait for him while he traveled to Cleveland. Frances accepted his proposal.
In Cleveland, Samuel was employed by Jack Cohen. For the first six months he worked as a journeyman, earning seventy-five cents an hour. His work was so good however, that he was promoted to foreman and received a raise of ten cents per hour. At the end of a year in Cleveland, Samuel was ready to move on. He went to Morgantown, West Virginia where he lived for a year. In 1921, Samuel returned to Silver Creek, to be wed. On Sept. 25, he and Frances Randazzo were joined in holy matrimony in the Church of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. In a matter of months, Samuel returned to Cleveland, bringing his new bride with him.
Back to top
In 1922, Frances was ready to give birth to her first son. She and Samuel wanted the baby to be born in Silver Creek, and so she returned there to live with her mother until the baby was born. The child was named Samuel, after his father. Frances soon returned to Cleveland in order to be with her husband. Frances returned to Silver Creek several times in the next few years - in 1924 to give birth to Peter and in 1926 to welcome Joseph to the world. In 1930, Samuel came to Silver Creek along with Frances to witness the birth of their first daughter, Jean. The moving back and forth between two cities was getting hectic, and so the family chose to remain permanently in Silver Creek. Samuel went into business for himself as a contractor. The name of Arca was shortened to Ark for business purposes. In 1938, a last son was born, and was named Thomas.
Samuel continued working for himself until 1949, when he turned his business over to two of his sons, and so, Ark Contractors became the property of Peter and Joseph. Samuel gained employment from the Dunkirk Board of Education where he was put in charge of playground and recreation maintenance, a position he held until 1965, when at the age of sixty-six, he chose to retire.
The following are some special memories that my Grandfather wanted to share with us. Every attempt was made to use his exact words in order to preserve his pattern of speech.
After my father died, my mother tried to find his brothers in Italy. She wrote a note to the postmaster, but he didn’t write back to her for a long time. She wrote back and he told her he never found them. He asked everyone, and no one knew about them. It was like they just disappeared. The earth just opened up and swallowed them.
You see my mother never learned to speak English, except for money. You know, dollars and cents. When your Uncle Pete was a little boy she used to say to him “Alaberto, Alaberto”, which means hurry up. He didn't know this, and one day he came to me and he said, “Papa, Grandma doesn’t even know my name - she's always calling, me Alaberto, Alaberto.”
When I was a little boy, maybe four, I saw my father going into town and I wanted to go with him. He got down, picked me up, and put me on the horse. I started to cry and cry. So he got on the horse with me and rode about a block and I kept crying, so he got down off the horse and lifted me down. Boy did I get a beating! Then he sent me home.
The next week I wanted to go again and I said, "Oh no, I won’t cry," so my father lifted me up on the horse. When we began to ride, I started to bawl again. I was afraid of the horse.
My uncle, he was just a teenager in Italy, and he came by on his horse, he just lived down about a mile. He asked me if I wanted a ride, and you see, by then I wasn’t afraid of horses. He forgot to tell my mother though, and I went with him to their farm and at dinner time my mother tried to call me and when she saw I wasn't there, she called the police. Then, right after my uncle came riding with me on the horse, I got a licking, but you see, I didn’t know no better, and neither did he, being just a teenager.
Whiskey was very expensive and my father's friends were coming over, and they always wanted a little drink or something. So, my father hid the whiskey under the bed before they came. When the men came over, my father said, "I wish I could give you some whiskey but I forgot where I put it. I said, "Papa, you didn't forget, you put it under the bed." He said,"Thank you” and got it out, but boy did I get a licking when they went home!
I always thought that, hopping on a train, well, it would be the life. I'd seen the older boys do it, so one day I went down to the tracks. I picked a train that was going very slow, but I missed. My knees were bleeding and my arms. My pants were torn. You bet I never tried that again.
My father told me this story when I was little: A man saved up all of his money in order to send his son off to college in a neighboring village. After a year, he went to visit him to see how the boy was doing. While the two were out taking a walk, the father looked up at the sky and said, “Look at the moon. Isn't it beautiful?"
To this the son replied, "Yeah, Dad, it looks just like the one in our village."
Needless to say, the father took his son home, and there he remains until this day - working on the farm.
My uncle in Brazil, you see, didn't carry no guns. He thought that a man didn't need no guns. But he protected himself all right. He carried a cane with a slug on the end, right on the tip. And you know, I seen him kill dogs with that cane. He hit them on the head so hard.
Don't try to work with a plumber! They've got the dirtiest jokes. The plumbers are all the same.
Yep, you see, whenever you work on a job, you know, someplace at noon, they all get their dinner buckets and get on the steps or someplace or on the grass. While they're eating they’re cracking jokes.
And the plumbers are the ones who used to impress me the most - because they know every joke that you could ever want to know. But the carpenters, they were lean, very lean.
I bought my first car, a new Chevy. Of course, in those days you didn't need a driver's license or nothing. You just gave them the money and they gave you the car. Well, I was coming down a big hill and I didn’t know how to work the clutch. I kept going and the trolley was moving on the tracks and I drove right into the back of it!
("Was the car damaged?")
Not much, oh, a little dent on the front. The trolley driver got out and asked me if I was alright. I started yelling at him and told him to get lost, go away. So I never had to pay for the accident. You see, there was no insurance in those days.
During the Depression, I didn’t have no job, and this boy down the street said to me, "My uncle can give you a job.” So I asked who his uncle was. And he tells me, "My uncle is the Mayor. You go and see him." So, your grandmother and I had to eat, so I went to him. He said, "Who are you?” and I told him my name. He gave me some papers and told me to go down to city hall. There was about ten guys there, just walking around. They handed me a shovel and told me to go outside and clean up the snow. There wasn't any snow though, it was raining. They were just paying them for nothing. But the men, they didn't seem to care. They just sat around playing poker. So I asked them, “Is this all you do all day?” They laughed and asked me if I wanted to play too. I never went back. You see, I wanted a job but I wanted to work too. The other men could do it but I just couldn’t take the money for doing nothing.
I used to keep ducks and a few chickens outside here. This one little chick got a little sick you know, so your grandmother tells me to give him some whiskey. So I put it in a little dish and I'll tell you, he drank it up quick. After, he used to follow me all around, like I was his mother or something. He wanted more!