Salvatore Dodaro was born “a child of the wheel”, in the city of Cosenza, Calabria in March of 1861. According to documents, he was presented as a newborn to the city office who was told that his birth date was the 9th of March, a child of unknown parents. Often, in those days, when a woman couldn’t keep a child, she would place the baby on a revolving wheel in the wall of a convent and knock on the wall to let those inside know that a baby was being left there. The nuns would then turn the wheel and take the baby inside. The child was then given a name by the sisters and presented to the city office.
Salvatore was a lucky baby, he was taken in and raised “lovingly” by a woman named Rosa Zitari. Little is known about her at this time and no husband’s name is mentioned on any document. But Rosa must have been a woman of means with no child to leave her land and money to, and so she decided to raise Salvatore as her own. At twenty-one, Salvatore was already listed as a land owner when he married twenty-four-year-old, Maria Giovanna Carmela Vaccaro (known as Carmela) on August 19, 1882 in Rogliano, Calabria. She was the daughter of Michele Vaccaro (born Jan 28, 1827) and Maria Francesca Alfano (born Jan 25, 1834).
Carmela’s father, Michele, was a Tailor who had been born in Nocera Terinese, Catanzaro, Calabria (the son of Vincenzo Vaccaro and Rosaria Rocchino). However, Carmela’s mother, Maria Francesca Alfano, was born in the City of Cosenza (the daughter of Fidele Natale Alfano, who was a farmer, and Teresa Maria Fera), and so Carmela’s parents were married in Cosenza on September 7, 1854. And, in turn, their daughter also married Salvatore in Cosenza in 1882.
Salvatore, the land owner, became a lawyer and an influential member of his community. He and Carmela (who was a teacher who died around the age of forty) had five children: Eva born 1890, died 1946; Ida born 1892, died Nov. 1952; Angelo Antonio born July 9, 1893 in San Benedetto Ullano, Cosenza and died on March 28, 1966 is Maspeth, Queens, New York; Francesco born 1895, died after 1952 in Castrovillari, Italy (Francesco was a Captain for the railroad and he had one son, Fausto, who died as a child); and Celestina born March 8, 1896 in San Benedetto Ullano, Cosenza and died after 1952. Celestina was married to a man whose last name was Galletta and they had two daughters, Antonia born 1920 and Yolanda born 1925. Antonia had two sons, one of whom was named Enzo who was born in 1943.
As a youth, Angelo Antonio Dodaro joined a seminary and was studying to become a priest. But at some point, thinking differently about his future, Angelo ran away from the seminary. He married eighteen-year-old, Teresa Spadafora, on June 29, 1915, when he was one-month shy of his twenty-second birthday. They married in Parenti, a mountainous community in Cosenza.
Teresa, who was born on May 21, 1897 in Parenti, was the daughter of Serafino Spadfora and Carolina Guarascio. Serafino was born in Mangone, Calabria on March 14, 1845 and was a Caretaker for a wealthy estate. He was also a sharpshooter and a professional hunter of wolves. One day he brought home a wolf cub to be a pet for his children, Angelina, Teresa, Luigina, and Giuseppe. Teresa used to ride through town on the back of the wolf. Each night, the other wolves would howl and the wolf cub would howl back. Sometimes Serafino would let the pet wolf out to roam with the other wolves, he would then come back the next morning. But one day, the pet wolf didn’t return. It is not known whether if the pet wolf joined another wolf pack or was killed by a wolf pack. Serafino eventually became paralyzed after suffering a stroke and was unable to walk or speak. As an old man, he would sit in his rocking and signal his family to place his rifle across his arms. He would then rock back and forth with tears in his eyes.
At the age of twenty-eight, in 1921, Angelo Dodaro, came to New York for the first time. He worked for a while, earning enough money to return to Italy and then paid for the passage to bring Teresa and their two sons, Dalmazio (b. June 7, 1917) and Massimo (b. June 17, 1919), with them back to America in 1924. Their infant son, Giovanni, had passed away in 1921 from a blood clot to the brain.
When Teresa was leaving for America, her father, Serafino, managed to maneuver himself over to the window and call out to get her attention. He knew he would never see his daughter or grandsons again.
Of Serafino’s other children, this is what I have been told. His daughter, Angelina, had a child with Adolfo Ercole Lupia in Italy, she was named Rosalbina and was born in 1912. Adolfo took Rosalbina, and with a woman named Maria, immigrated to America in 1913, abandoning Angelina in Italy. Angelina then married Angelo Fatalo and had another daughter, Carmelina, and eventually immigrated to Buneos Aires, Argentina. Adolfo and Maria raised Rosalbina in New Jersey. Rosalbina would often visit her Aunt Teresa in Queens and became very close to her. Rosalbina married a man named Nick Maddalone who was a barber at Newark Airport. Rosalbina gave birth to four daughters, Marie, then twin girls who died as infants (one of whom was named Gloria), and finally, Dolores. Angelina would visit Teresa on trips from Buenos Aires and Rosalbina would come to see her mother. But Rosalbina did not tell her husband the story behind the relationship. Rosalbina’s daughters, Marie and Dolores, were like grandchildren to Teresa and Angelo. But they also were not told that their real grandmother, Angelina, visited Teresa. This was at the request of Rosalbina. When the girls were eventually told the truth after their father’s death, they became angry with Teresa for not telling them and severed ties with her. This hurt Teresa deeply. Rosalbina, however, remained close to Teresa for the rest of her life. Serafino’s son, Giuseppe, also immigrated to Argentina with his wife where he raised four children, Serafino, Antonino, Teresa, and Catalina. Luigina married a man named Eugenio Grano in Parenti. They had four sons and four daughters, but I do not know their names. Eugenio had a sister, Agatuzza, who married Sam Falbo; they lived in Massapequa with their children and were “paesans” of the Dodaro family.
Serafino’s wife, Carolina Guarascio was born April 13, 1871 in Rogliano, Cosenza. She was the daughter of Giovanni Battista Guarascio (b. May 2, 1829 in Mangone) and Teresa Filice (b. March 24, 1834 in Rogliano). Teresa Filice was the daughter of Francesco Filice and Maria Gaetana Longo. Teresa’s brother, Domenico Filice (b. Aug 3, 1840 in Parenti), came to the U.S. and died in Brooklyn on January 22, 1896. He was the father of the Felice boys who settled in Patchogue, New York.
Carolina Guarascio’s sister, Carmela Guarascio (b. March 11, 1869), married Natale Rizzuto and also came to New York. They are the grandparents of the Yankee’s Short Stop, Phil Rizzuto. Other children of Teresa Filice and Giovanni Battista Guarascio, who either came to the U.S. themselves, or had children who came to America, were: Vincenzo Guarascio who married Fortunata Rizzuto; Francesco Guarascio who married Domenica Changone; Giuseppe Guarascio who married Maria Domenico; and Michele Guarascio who married Maria Teresa Cardamone. Vincenzo Guarascio’s daughter-in-law, Catherine, was the aunt who came to Massimo Dodaro in a dream while he was serving with a tank division during WW2. He credited that dream as what saved his life, because while he was sitting under a tree dreaming, his tank was hit and exploded, killing everyone inside. What he didn’t know until later, was that Catherine had died a week earlier. Catherine and her husband, Giovanni Guarascio, were the grandparents of John Venditto, former Supervisor of the Town of Oyster Bay, Long Island.
Angelo and Teresa arrived in New York on April 29, 1924. Their first dinner here was made by Fanny Maletta Tucci, the niece of Carmela Maletta, who was the wife of Teresa’s great uncle, Domenico Filice. The meal was Pasta Piena, which became a tradition served on holidays and Sundays for Teresa, her children, and her grandchildren.
In America, Angelo worked as a Carpenter for a shop in Brooklyn, and then, for the A&P Warehouse. In later years, Angelo owned a flower shop around the corner from his house at 60-80 Freshpond Road in Maspeth, Queens. Teresa and Angelo had three more children after coming to America, Louie in 1925 who was born when they lived on Linden and Myrtle Avenue, Ridgewood, Queens, and then, Frank in 1926, and finally, a daughter, Gloria, in 1931, who were both born at 1850 DeCatur Street, Ridgewood. In 1936, they lived at 1735 Stephen Street, Ridgewood. They moved to 60-80 Freshpond Road in October 1940. This house ended up being next door to the home Caroline Normandia Dodaro lived in. Caroline and Gloria became fast friends and it wasn’t long before Caroline set her cap on Gloria’s brother, Frank. Frank and Caroline were married on April 17, 1955 and are my mother-in-law and father-in-law. If it wasn’t for Gloria’s meticulous memory, many of these stories would have been lost. I am forever grateful for all the time she took to share these stories with me.
I was fortunate that I had the chance to know my husband’s grandmother, Teresa Spadafora Dodaro, and she was thrilled that I had the same first name as her. She would pinch my cheek and say, “You marry my grandson and become another Teresa Dodaro.” I’m so glad that I did get to marry him and spend my life with him. I never knew his grandfather, Angelo, because Angelo passed away long before I met my husband. But I will leave you with something Angelo often said to those around him, “I’d rather have people around my table, then money in the bank.” Knowing that now, tells me all I need to know about him and the man that he was.