An American Dream Denied

One of the things I love the most about conducting genealogical work for clients is the ability to tell them stories about their ancestors that they have never heard before. Sometimes an ancestor is referred by living relatives in hushed terms or not discussed at all for reasons long lost. The tale of Stephano Di Marcello is one of those stories.


The story of the immigrant ancestor coming to America in search of a better life is one of the most common in American history. While the “American Dream” was accomplished by many who undertook the journey, there were no guarantees. No doubt Stephano was pursuing the dream, only to have one evening change his life and alter his course.

Stephano was born in Italy, exactly where is not clear, in 1870 to Luigi and Rose (Scarpone) Di Marcello. He left Naples, Italy on 15 May 1902 on board the S.S. Hohenzollern bound for New York and arrived at Ellis Island on 28 May 1902 with $6.00 and plans to reunite with a brother who preceded him to America. Eventually Stephano found his way to southeastern Pennsylvania and, at that time, he seemed on track to achieve the dream.

Stephano Di Marcello’s Immigration, 1902.

It does not appear that Stephano ever reunited with his brother, if indeed that was truly ever his plan, but by 1907 he did find work as a laborer with the railroad in Chester, Pennsylvania. It was here that he must have met, and then married, a fellow Italian immigrant fourteen years his junior named Mary Cinquine (though her surname is often spelled differently in different records). Mary arrived in America, along with her son, around 1906 though her port of entry is still undetermined. The couple must have met shortly after her arrival in 1906 and were married in January 1907 in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Stephano and Mary’s Marriage Record, 1907.

Historical records only provide a glimpse into the lives of our ancestors and determining issues like “happiness” are virtually impossible to glean from them. What we do know from the records is that Stephano and Mary had two more children between 1907 and 1910, Alfred and Stephen, and by 1910 had moved to East Church Street in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.

Stephano was employed as a laborer with the railroad and their home on East Church Street was within walking distance to the railroad’s mainline. Later records show that Stephano was able to move about southeastern Pennsylvania, likely due to his job on the railroad. He attended gatherings within the Italian immigrant community as far away as Columbia, Pennsylvania where he records having friends in the Italian immigrant community there.

Sometime after 10 May 1910 Mary and Stephano parted ways and Mary made her way to another town and another life with a new husband, bringing her three boys with her. What caused the separation is unknown as is the impact it may have had on Stephano. He continued to live and work in southeast Pennsylvania until April 1913.

Stephano Di Marcello in the Philadelphia Inquirer, 21 April 1913, p. 4.

Stephano had moved farther east down the rail line to Ardmore, Pennsylvania by the spring of 1913. One evening in late April, Stephano and several other acquaintances went to visit the home of friends, Louis and Pauline Novella. The Novellas, perhaps concerned about noise complaints from the neighbors, requested that their party guests refrain from dancing that evening. While Louis and Paulina went upstairs one of the party goers, Armeldo Baglione, decided to dance anyway. Stephano took it upon himself to tell Baglione to stop, a command Baglione took offense to. The argument escalated quickly and ended when Stephano picked up a .38 caliber handgun and shot Baglione to death. Stephano was immediately arrested and charged with second-degree murder. He would be convicted in June 1913 and sentenced to 15 to 20 years in prison, initially at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Stephano’s incarceration record supplies a great deal of information on his physical appearance at the time of his jailing. Stephano was 43 years old and recorded as being just under 5’ 8” tall, slender build weighing only 132 pounds. His hair was graying, and he was scarred on his arms and face, possibly from his work as a laborer on the railroad where injuries were commonplace. That Mary had already left him is confirmed when he states that he is not living with his family, though he still records himself as married. We know that, by June 1913, Mary had already remarried and was living elsewhere.

Stephano does not list any family members on his intake form, preferring to name a friend who was living in the railroad town of Columbia, found along the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. It is certainly possible that Stephano’s work on the railroad took him to destinations all along the railroad and Columbia had a sizable Italian immigrant community.

Stephano Di Marcello’s Eastern State Penitentiary Form, 1913.

During Stephano’s incarceration he was at one point transferred from Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia to the Montgomery County Prison, though the date of that transfer is unknown. According to his prison records he was eventually released from prison in September 1928 after serving fifteen years of his sentence and was eventually released from parole in 1933. Unfortunately, I have yet to determine what happened to Stephano after his release and before his death. The only other record is his death certificate that recorded he was living at the Little Sisters of the Poor home in Philadelphia at the time of his death on 1 March 1940 at the age of 70.

Stephano, like countless immigrants before and after him, came to the United States in search of the “American Dream.” Sadly, for him, that dream was out of his reach. Perhaps he took solace in the fact that his wife and children, through a new family, were able to achieve what he never could.

© Noel B. Poirier, 2020.

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