By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Salvatore De Angelis is a deeply patriotic American. His love for this country was evident even before he arrived here as an immigrant in 1947. He risked his life to get here.
De Angelis, who will turn 97 in October, recalled his journey to the U.S. during a recent interview with the Brooklyn Eagle in the Bay Ridge home in which he has lived in since 1956.
In 1947, he stowed away on a freighter, sneaking onto the ship in Calabria, Italy, and landed in Baltimore, not speaking a world of English.
“Was I scared? No, I wasn’t scared,” De Angelis said.
Perhaps a treacherous crossing on the high seas didn’t seem so daunting to him because of what he was leaving behind in Italy. The country was ravaged by World War II. There were food shortages and jobs were scarce. De Angelis was tired of being hungry.
From Baltimore, he made his way to Brooklyn, got married, became a U.S. citizen, and raised four children.
But, we’re getting ahead of the story.
De Angelis was born on Oct. 24, 1915, in S’Agnello, a town located near Naples in Italy. In 1936, he was drafted into the Italian army. He was sent to serve in Ethiopia during World War II and was not happy about it, according to his son Louis De Angelis. After all, Italy was on the same side as Hitler in the war.
“My father hated fascists,” Louis De Angelis said.
Following his discharge from the army, De Angelis retuned to S’Agnello to help support his mother and his sisters. He worked as a machinist.
One of his sisters, Pierina, had made her way to the U.S. back in the late 1920s. In her letters to her brother, she regaled him with tales of what life was like in America. Pierina and her husband lived in a house on 81st Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues in Bay Ridge. She worked as a seamstress and her husband was a fruit vendor.
Pierina implored her brother Salvatore to come to America.
“She told me, ‘Good life,’” he recalled.
By contrast, he was not living the good life in Italy. The post-war economy was so bad, jobs were scarce. He decided to gamble with his life to build a better future.
De Angelis somehow scrapped together $300 to give to the local racketeer to secure passage as a stowaway on a freighter traveling from Calabria to Baltimore.
He had to go deep into the bowels of the ship.
“It was hot!” he said. Just before the ship left port, police came aboard to search for stowaways. He hid. The police left without detecting him.
The trip across the Atlantic Ocean from Italy to America took 25 days.
When the freighter docked in Baltimore, De Angelis knew that he had to fit in, or else face possible deportation as a stowaway. Luckily for him, his sister’s husband had tutored him in the customs and habits of Americans in letters to him.
De Angelis walked off the ship with a copy of The Wall Street Journal tucked under his arm. When he wandered into a restaurant located near the dock, he made sure to order a beer instead of the wine he preferred in his homeland. He drank the beer straight out of the bottle, not a glass.
He took a train up to New York and made it to his sister’s Bay Ridge home. His sister and brother-in-law had lined up a job for him. He worked in the Butoni spaghetti factory, making the metal forms through which the spaghetti would be shaped.
The year he arrived, 1947, was also the year New York was hit by a blizzard that dumped more than 20 inches of snow on the ground. He was fascinated.
“He had never seen snow before,” Louis De Angelis said.
Four years after his arrival, Salvatore De Angelis married Rita Fiorentino. Her mother was from the same town he came from in Italy and had decided to fix him up with her daughter.
The couple was married in Canada and later had a religious service at St. Raymond Catholic Church in the Bronx.
They rented a house on Ridge Boulevard and 87th Street for five years, then purchased a house on Sixth Avenue, a block from where his sister lived.
Rita De Angelis got a job as a cook for the priests at St. Ephrem Catholic Church. She also taught sewing classes at the church.
Salvatore De Angelis’s life revolved around his wife and their four children — Maria, John, Salvatore Jr., and Louis. He and Rita took the kids to the World’s Fair in Flushing, Queens in 1964.
He made his own wine in the basement and he still cooks for himself today. He enjoys making pasta with vegetables.
Rita De Angelis died in 2004 at the age of 83.
Salvatore De Angelis survives with the help of his children and with an indomitable spirit. Although frail, he still gets around his home easily, using a cane to help him with his balance.
He likes keeping up with the news.
“He’s always got CNN on,” Louis De Angelis said.
In the 65 years since he stowed away on the freighter, Salvatore De Angelis has been back to Italy a few times. But he said he’s definitely happy he came here.