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The Mysterious Fountain of Torre le Nocelle

By Maria-Francesca Rotondi

 

     
 

 

Genealogists love a good mystery. That’s why they are genealogists in the first place! Recently a small group of genealogists with roots in Torre le Nocelle turned their attention to a mystery that concerns not family history, but a fountain donated to Torre le Nocelle nearly a century ago – a fountain that never arrived at its intended destination.

 

Study closely this photo of the mysterious fountain of Torre le Nocelle as we ask three important questions:

 

Where and when was the photo taken?

Who is pictured?

Where is the fountain today?

 

During the past year these questions and others have been the subject of intense speculation and detective work on the part of several researchers who tried to solve the puzzle. Through their efforts, a great deal of the mystery surrounding the fountain has been solved. As for the rest, we may never know.

 

The mystery began several years ago when this photo was placed in my hands by a great granddaughter of Angelantonio Ardolino. Known as Antonio, he was a master stone carver born in Torre in 1839, who immigrated to America in his old age to join his stone-carver son Ralph and daughters Mary and Theresa. Antonio’s great granddaughter told me what little she knew about the photo – that it was taken in Boston and pictures three Ardolinos who created the fountain, which was destined for Italy. But where was the fountain today, she wondered? From my previous trips to Torre, I knew it was not there.

 

Adding to the tale was a report from Torre’s own webmaster – he had found an article in a 1914 issue of La Domenica del Corriere telling of a fountain carved by a group of immigrant stone carvers in America who were donating it to their paese, Torre le Nocelle.

 

Furthermore, an American cousin had provided me with oral history concerning a public water system that had been given as a gift to Torre from native sons in America in the early years of the last century. My cousin’s great great grandfather Joseph Drinkwater (born Giuseppe Bevilacqua in Torre circa 1868) had been a successful contractor in America and had led a group called Comitato Pro Acqua, or Committee for Water. The question begged to be answered: Was the fountain in the photo related to the public water system funded by Bevilacqua’s committee?

 

Curiosity about the fountain began to grow among a small group of American genealogists with roots in Torre. They were determined to solve the mystery by scouring the web until they came up with answers.

 

First to surface was a revealing article from the May 3, 1915 edition of the Boston Daily Globe.

 

  

The article told of a “handsome gift” the natives of Torre le Nocelle would ship from Boston that month. According to the article these Boston Italians had given the town a mile-long aqueduct and a beautiful stone fountain. The aqueduct and several smaller fountains were already complete, and the big fountain would soon be shipped to adorn the main piazza.

 

Also reported was that Edward Ardolino had been the architect of the fountain (born Eduardo Ardolino, the sculptor who would design Torre’s war monument fourteen years later). C.C. Ardolino (Edward’s brother, Celestino “Charles” Ardolino) had gone to Italy to construct the aqueduct.

 

The fountain was huge. The newspaper cited a height of 23 feet with a bowl 12 feet in diameter. The bowl had eight sprinklers – four for drinking and four for home use. The fountain was set on a square platform 24 feet long and two feet above the grade line with three steps on each of its four sides. A large rock above the bowl was 9 feet high and 7.5 feet wide and decorated with four dolphins, each with a two-inch pipe in its mouth to convey water for home use. Above the rock was a four-foot tower representing the bell tower of Torre upon which rested an eagle symbolizing the United States.

 

The newspaper article confirmed that Giuseppe Bevilacqua headed the committee responsible for the gift of the water system, as my cousin had told me. A banquet was to be given in East Boston for all concerned on the Sunday following the publication of the article, which would have been May 9.

 

Of course, the article in the Boston Daily Globe raised questions among the researchers as well as answered them. It stated the fountain would be installed in the main piazza of Torre. Obviously, it was not. Why not, and where had it gone? The aqueduct had been completed as noted, a fact confirmed by Torre’s webmaster, who explained that the system carried water from a spring at Montemiletto to the center of Torre. Spaced along the aqueduct were six or seven fountains serving various neighborhoods. Celestino’s role in carving the fountains, which functioned until the mid-1950s, is still acknowledged in Torre today.

 

The American researchers next located a 1929 resource called, Metropolitan Boston: A Modern History, written by Albert P. Langtry. This book contains a similar description of a fountain given by a group of emigrants also from Torre le Nocelle to a Catholic church in Revere, Massachusetts. After reading the description, some may construe that the church was the recipient of the large fountain once destined for Torre.
 

 

 

Three years after ground was broken for the construction of St. Anthony of Padua Church of Revere, the author of Metropolitan Boston writes, “On the left of the (church) grounds is a most wonderful fountain, given by the residents of Torre le Nocelle, (now living in) Revere.” The reader will note that both the Revere fountain and the one described in the 1915 Boston Daily Globe are topped by a granite eagle. A variation is that the spouting fish of the Revere fountain are characterized as “huge sunfish,” rather than dolphins.

 

The discrepancy regarding the type of fish may be an error of nomenclature and nothing more, as may be seen below.

 

A third reference found by the American researchers was the history of St. Anthony of Padua Church. This undated publication was printed circa 1940, according to the current church historian. It describes the Revere fountain fourteen years or so after the previous reference, following its dismantling.

 

 

The church history states, “On the left side of the front parking area once stood a most unique water fountain given to the church by residents of Torre la (sic) Nocelle, Italy, who had immigrated to Revere. The base of this unusual fountain was hewn out of granite and surrounded by four huge cast iron sunfish, the mouths of which spouted water. A massive granite eagle with outspread wings stood atop the entire structure…. Due to maintenance problems and the need for additional parking space the fountain was dismantled and removed. The granite eagle now adorns the campus of Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Boston.”

 

Once again the fish are described as sunfish, but now they are cast iron rather than granite. The discrepancy in not calling the fish dolphins can be attributed to a repeat of the erroneous nomenclature used in the earlier reference. The fact that the fish are now said to be made of cast iron could perhaps be due to the fact that the fountain was no longer on the premises, and the writer was dependent upon memory or the verbal descriptions of others. Errors are possible – as evidenced by the misspelling of Torre’s name.

  

 The church history notes that the eagle from the dismantled fountain now sits on the campus of Boston College. A stone eagle can be found there today outside the entrance of Conte Forum, facing Beacon Street . It sits upon a plinth inscribed near the base, “Class of 1939,” and was a class gift according to a spokesman for the college. In the accompanying photo the Boston College eagle appears identical to the one that topped the fountain pictured with the three Ardolinos.

 

The 1929 and 1940 resources suggest to some researchers that the fountain given to the Revere church is the same fountain created for the Torre water system. Not all the participating researchers agree – some believe it’s possible the original fountain was shipped to Italy and installed at San Giorgio del Sannio instead of at Torre. The San Giorgio fountain also has four spouting dolphins, but they appear different from the Ardolino fountain. The website of San Giorgio states the fountain has undergone two renovations since its installation (date unknown), which means the original fountain could have been hewn away to its present appearance. Celestino’s passport application shows he returned to Italy on business in 1922. What business did he have there so many years after the completion of the Torre water system? Was his purpose to install the 1915 fountain in San Giorgio? Or did he create a similar fountain for San Giorgio on-site, saving them shipping costs and omitting the Torre bell tower and eagle? Or was the reason for his trip totally unrelated?

 

 

 

 

Another question concerning the photo of the Ardolino fountain is, exactly who is pictured? Perhaps their identity could help confirm the location of the photo, either Boston or Italy.

 

 

 

 

The American researchers related to the Ardolino stone carvers are in agreement that those pictured are, from left to right, Celestino “Charles” Ardolino (born Clamanzio Celestino Ardolino, older brother to Edward), and his cousins Domenick and Clamanzio Ardolino (two brothers). These Ardolino cousins – all three in the photo plus the fountain designer Edward Ardolino – were the four men most closely tied to its production.

 

Helping to confirm the identity of Domenick and Clamanzio as stone carvers is a 1946 book, Leading Americans of Italian Descent in Massachusetts, written by Joseph William Carlevale. The book lists Domenick Ardolino as proprietor of Ardolino Brothers Monumental Works in Forest Hills, Boston, and cites the company’s founding in 1915. Judging from the name of the company, Domenick’s brother Clamanzio worked with him in this business, probably until his death in 1929 (date supplied by a family member).

 

After much study the site of the Ardolino photograph cannot be documented conclusively, although oral history designates the location as Boston, and the newspaper states the fountain was set up at 158 Orleans Street, East Boston. Lending further credence to Boston as the site of the photograph is that no evidence can be found showing that Domenick and Clamanzio traveled to or from Italy. However, in favor of Italy as the site, a passport application shows that Celestino “Charles” Ardolino – who has been identified in the photo – was in Italy from 1914-16, a period that coincides with the carving of the small fountains and the installation of the aqueduct. So, could Celestino have returned to Boston in May, 1915, for this photo, assuming it was made then? No evidence has been found, although the documented movement of his elderly father Giovanni across the Atlantic during this time period suggests that either Celestino or another family member accompanied him from Italy to America in either 1915 or early 1916.

 

A final point in favor of the photo originating in Boston is that the reverse side is imprinted as a postcard with the following words in English: “Postcard” and “Place stamp here.” There is no stamp, probably because the picture postcard was mailed in an envelope with a letter. There is a handwritten message in Italian, which, translated, says:

 

“Postscript – Dear Uncle Antonio

Just now (unintelligible) Clamanzio Ardolino have (sic) made a photograph near the fountain and I turned it into this postcard.”

 

Uncle Antonio would be Antonio Ardolino, grandfather to Celestino and Edward, and uncle to Clamanzio and Domenick, who lived in Tampa, Florida, during this period and died there in November, 1918. The envelope containing the postcard could have been mailed to Uncle Antonio in Tampa from Clamanzio in Boston around the time of the 1915 newspaper article. This would explain why the picture postcard was found decades later by Antonio’s great granddaughter in the Ardolino family papers. Interestingly, there are pencil marks on the reverse of the postcard alongside the handwritten text that include calculations and a diagram, which could pass for a crude map showing the route of the aqueduct through Torre and several fountain locations.

 

 

Perhaps all the existing documents relating to the mysterious fountain of Torre le Nocelle have now been discovered, and this is the sum total of what we will ever know. In truth, we now understand a great deal more than before, especially if one is willing to take a few small leaps of faith.

 

By overlooking the small variations in the descriptions of the fountain detailed in the Boston Daily Globe and the fountain that adorned the grounds of St. Anthony Church, one may consider they are possibly one and the same. Once the church fountain was dismantled circa 1940 it’s doubtful it was reused as the church history cited maintenance problems, perhaps due to structural or functional issues. Only the eagle enjoyed a longer life span, having found a place on the campus of Boston College.

 

If one accepts that the fountain once destined for Torre le Nocelle was installed instead on the Revere church grounds, one overriding question remains: Why wasn’t the fountain shipped to Torre following the May 9 banquet as planned?

 

The answer may relate to the fact that on May 7, 1915, the RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat, killing nearly 1200 civilians, about ten percent of whom were Americans. President Wilson protested to the German government on May 13 and again later that month. The Great War that followed could have interrupted plans to ship the fountain for several years.

 

Post war, numerous obstacles may have arisen to keep the fountain on American soil including increased shipping costs, the possible discovery of extensive bedrock under Torre’s piazza, a lack of sufficient water pressure to feed the fountain’s eight spigots, or the withholding of design approval by the new Fascist government, which was unlikely to agree to a fountain topped with an American eagle. For any of these reasons the fountain may have been stored on the property of Ardolino Brothers Monumental Works in Forest Hills, Boston, for a decade until use was found for it at the new Revere church in 1926.

 

The exact reason that the mysterious fountain, created by the Ardolino stone carvers and funded by the body of torresi emigrants in America, never reached Torre is unknown and may never be known. The reason is unimportant. The important fact is that the former residents of Torre le Nocelle, now first-generation Americans, acted on their generous and altruistic impulses. They used their skills and new-found resources to install for the first time a functioning public water system in their paese, thus bettering the lives of relatives and friends they had left behind in the ‘Old Country.”

 

Researchers:

Carole Andrews
Carmela Capone
Florindo Cirignano
Jeffrey DeSantis

Jan Domenico

Dolly Iamello

Maria-Francesca Rotondi

 

 
     

 

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