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Coming To America

May 26, 2017

We are a nation of immigrants and my family is no exception. My family originated in the small village of Cloz in the Val di Non of Northern Italy (then Austria). It is a tightly knit place of ancient people and ancient ways. During the 1860’s, the economy became so bad that many families were literally starving to death. Like other Europeans, they looked to America for comfort and salvation.

My family was certainly not the first to pick-up and go to America. Many others had gone before. Instead, my great-grandfather tried to earn a living in Germany as an eisemponieri (railroad laborer) constructing tunnels in Bavaria. When he returned to his native Cloz, he died of appendicitis at age 40. His son, my grandfather Eugenio, decided he did not want to share the same fate and boarded a ship for America in 1891.

The 19 year old Eugenio went to Rock Springs, Wyoming where other fellow Tiroleans had gone to seek their fortune. Like most others, he started as a dollar a day coal miner. However, he saved his money and bought into a local bar and then later into a large sheep ranching concern. He had built a stable life but lacked a wife. In the fashion of the day, he sent a letter to a family friend and asked if she would like to come to America to be his wife. Would she? As soon as the ticket arrived, she was on the next ship.

That ship turned out to be the SS Bretagne (pictured above). She made the long trip to Havre, France and then the longer passage to Ellis Island, finally heading west by train into an unknown future in the high desert of Rock Springs. Arriving after over a month of travel, she was relieved to be in her new home. Unlike today’s immigrants, she was required, like her husband, to learn English, get a job and contribute fully to her new country. She did all of that and then some.

The following video was posted to Youtube to honor my grandparents and the thousands like them who risked so much to leave their native Val di Non come to America. After they arrived, they were forever grateful to be Americans. We should all be that grateful.

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