Sunday, March 3, 2013

Luigi Finole's account in his own words. Or not?

First hand accounts are the gold standard of Titanic research.
Unfiltered by reporters, rewrite men, or well-meaning relatives, they tell the story of a survivor's experience in his or her own words, frequently revealing valuable details of the Titanic story.
The only thing better is the first-hand story of a survivor whose tale has never, or rarely, been reported.
I've found several interviews of steerage passenger Luigi Finole, but this one is my favorite.  You will immediately see why.
I've only come across it in two newspapers: New York Post, April 20, 1912, Page 8 and the Reading Eagle, April 20, 1912, Page 3.  For the longest time I wasn't sure it was legitimate.
As a newspaper reporter for half my career as a journalist, I know how to "read" a newspaper story.  That is, I can tell how a story was built, what questions were likely asked, who the sources were (often), and so on.
This story was a challenge.  It was likely written by a stringer for either the New York Post or the Reading Eagle because it was so inconsequential.  That means a reporter who was not on staff, but was hired to go to the dock where the Carpathia arrived to float.  He was to gather interviews with whomever  he could pigeonhole while the staff reporters chased the rich and famous survivors.
The story mentions the subject was interviewed on the pier.  Access to the pier was severely limited and everyone permitted to approach had to be screened. You either had to have a relative aboard the Titanic or to be a member of the press. So, even for an unaccompanied Italian immigrant who speaks broken English to be  there means he was undoubtedly off the Carpathia.
The story was published April 20, two days after the Carpathia delivered the Titanic's passengers to shore.  That indicates it was considered too minor to make the April 19 paper which, of course, was filled with the broad story of the sinking of the Titanic plus as many accounts as possible of how the ship's more prominent passengers survived or died.
And why not? It's the story of a steerage passenger nobody ever heard of who had little exciting to say.  It starts with the alleged survivor himself saying that his name is not on the survivor list.  How much less interesting could the story be?
Add the fact that he's identified as Phillipo Franginoli,  a name that's unknown even today, when passenger lists are available on the Internet and when the names of all Titanic survivors have been checked and rechecked by Titanic buffs.
Why, then, imagine that he's the Luigi Finole from Philadelphi who survived the Titanic and not one of the many fraudulent survivors that sprang up in the wake of the Titanic?  The answer lies in what popped up when one day I decided to search for Phillipo Luigi Finole.
In 1927,  Filippo D'Angelo, an Italian living in Pennsylvania, applied for American citizenship and his naturalization petition was online.  He had been in the country since 1920, it said. His application was supported by two witnesses.  The first witness was Luigi Finoli.

Publication Number:

Publication Title:
Naturalization Petitions for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, 1795-1930


National Archives Catalog ID:

National Archives Catalog Title:
Petitions for Naturalization, compiled 1795 - 1991

Record Group:

State: Pennsylvania

Short Description:
NARA M1522. Naturalization petitions for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania 1795-1930.


US Circuit Court



Immigrant Full Name:
Filippo D'Angelo

Document Type:
Petition for Naturalization

Home Country:

Witness 1 Full Name:
Luigi Finoli
Witness 2 Full Name:
Luigi Michetta

Year Immigrated:

Original data from:
Naturalizations - PA Eastern

These are Naturalization Records of the US Circuit Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Compare the names. Phillipo Franginoli and Fillipo D'Angelo.  They're too close to be coincidence.
Did Luigi Finole give the reporter a false name?  That certainly wouldn't be unusual as anybody who has studied the Titanic survivors knows.  Or was he pretending to be Fillilpo D'Angelo and the reporter misunderstood the name, seeing as it was given in thick broken English?
The interview certainly has the ring of truth. It doesn't contain any false heroics that are a staple of bogus survivor stories. Instead it's the simple story of a steerage passenger who was offended by the swearing of crewmen and who was ashamed of his own helplessness in the face of women and children facing certain death.
And finally, what makes this story unique is the reporter's style---telling the story in his subject's voice with no interruptions. Priceless.

                                         Wreck As Seen By The Steerage

New York, April 20---"My name notta on de list? Allrighta, but I'm here!"
Phillipo Franginoli, third classs passenger on the titanic, hugged a little bundle closely under his arm as he stood on the pier."
"Sure, I was comen back o de States for de make-a de mon'! Me make-a de mon' over here! Diavolo! I am so shake that I canno spik! De sheep w'en she strike de ice? W'at happen den? I was sound asleep, an' you know in dose sheeps de stee'ge passagire ees far down. So w'en I feel kind-a shiver an' shake I turn over an' go 'sleep 'gain. Bimeby, come boy. He say, 'Get up! Sheep doin' sink!' I say 'Go way! Bimeby (by-and-by...ed.) I hear croosh, croosh. And I hear feets ronning all round an' Ieesten. Den I hear somebody say 'De boats! Run for de boats!' Per Baccho, I jomp up an' go lok for see w'at she has 'appen! Dere was a woman crying.
" 'In de steer'ge was many dat wan' be save! Signor, dose in de bad part of de sheep want be save same as mans and womens wid de mon' dat buys de bes beeg room! I'm onlee poor Italian, work for liven'---work hard, an' when I see so mooch cry, so mooch unhapp', I say, 'Phillipo, you help dose. An' so I try help! De officiere was joompin' round givin' words to evereebodee w'at to do, and I couldn't get no chance.
" 'Get out of the way!' dey says to me an' I went straight up in de front of de sheep, and' dere I wait. Bimeby I hear officiere saying "Room for all, women first!' Den I see de lots peoples all crowd togedder an' den de boats begin leave. I donno what happen w'en de boats dey gone. Dere was one womans next to me an' she said, ve'quiet, 'Ees de water cold?' I look at her an' she put her face in her han's an' was cry. I say 'Maybe more boats come quick to save us.' 'No,' she say,'I'm goin' have to drown---an' its so terrible cold!'
"Was I 'fraid? No, Signor, I was no 'fraid! De onlee ting dat I was leesten to was de croosh-crossh of de water an' de begs of de women dat could not be save. Some say 'Oh, God, help us.' Some say 'Deat 'ees too hrr'bl!' Joost w'en all was quiet I hear a baby---a leetle babmino. Signor, cry an'den my heart come t'rogh my face, an' I feel such a awful sadness! Not for me myeself, Signor, but for dose poor womens an' bambinos.
""an' so de sheep she being seenk. She deed not go fas', joost leetle by leetle, an'all the time dere was music playin'. De Capitano was doin' bes' he know, but we keep goin' down jus' same. De stars dey won'ful an' de water fine. De boats was all vanish an' den de firemens an' de enginemen come on de deck. Dey spoke bad words, Signor, an' dey hitted each odder bad. Somebody knock me down as he pass. I stand up; I get knock down 'gain an' I stan' up, and bimeby de sheep goof one ver' bad---how you say---stagg'r, an' she begin go down.
"De womens, Signor, dey run so fast can from de water, an' de mens dey say bad things. One-two-t'ree presto! I hear onlee de screams an' de soun' of de water tryin' to get into my ears as I go down. Bimeby boat come along an' de mens pull me in. Da's all, Signor, onlee say prayer for de odders."


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