Family of Agostino ‘Gus’ Matacia, eldest son of Ignazio Matacia
AGOSTINO ‘GUS’ MATRACIA/MATACIA was born on October 4, 1871 in Termini-Imerese, Sicily and died on September 18, 1950 in Charlottesville, VA. In 1884 when he was 13 (he reported that he was 14), Gus boarded the SS Archimede in Palermo arriving in New York on October 24th. He was heading for Cincinnati.
On October 20 of 1893 he became a naturalized citizen of the US in Cincinnati OH. His father, Ignazio ‘Iazzo’ Matacia, had come to America earlier, in late December of 1883, on the same steamship.
Concerning the SS Archimede : 2,839 gross tons, length 350.1ft x beam 40ft, clipper bows, one funnel, three masts, iron hull, single screw, speed 12 knots, accommodation for 20-1st, 56-2nd and 550-3rd class passengers. Built by A. Stephen & Sons, Glasgow, she was launched for Navigazione Generale Italiaon 22nd Nov.1881 and started her maiden voyage on 7th Feb.1882 when she left Catania for Palermo and New York. On 15th Jun.1888 she started her first Naples – Cadiz – Montevideo – Buenos Aires sailing and on 3rd Mar.1899 started her first Genoa – Naples – New York voyage. In 1903 she was renamed CAIRO and transferred to the Egypt service and on 5th Mar.1905 was wrecked near Alexandria, Egypt.
In 1895, Gus married ROSALIA ‘ROSINA’ DEMMA in Cincinnati, OH, daughter of LORENZO DEMMA and LIBORIA LASCOLA. Rosina was born February 1874 in Termini-Imerese, Sicily, and died during the year 1965 in Charlottesville, VA.
The following letter sent to Chick Lehrer by his uncle, Laurence Matacia, contains important information regarding of the lives of Agostino Matacia and Rosina Demma.
A man of excellent business acumen, Agostino ‘Gus’ Matacia was assisted by his mother, Antonina Culotta Matacia who helped him and his brother, Tony, form the Matacia Fruit Company in Charlottesville, VA, into which Agostino recruited all of his sons as assistants. The Matacia ‘plant’ was located on 2nd Street SE, next to the C&O Railroad tracks, and it was served by a spur which it shared with Swift & Co. among others.
During the Great Depression, Gus had to sell two properties on Main Street and his farm property in the Charlottesville area in order to afford to keep the Plant and the family home on 606 East Jefferson Street. Then, as matters in the country worsened, and the Matacia Fruit Company risked going under, it was saved due to the kindness of one Charlottesville banker. When the WPA began to build the Skyline Drive (1931-39), the Matacia Fruit Company was contracted to supply fruit to the CCC camp stationed at the southern terminus above Charlottesville, and in time the company once again became solvent. Later, during World War II, the Matacia Fruit Company received the fruit contract for a nearby prisoner-of-war installation.
Bananas from Honduras:
The Standard Fruit Connection
‘Gus’ Matacia did a considerable amount of business with the Standard Fruit and Steamship Company in Baltimore via his brother, Joe Matacia, the manager of the Standard Fruit ‘plant’ there. The go-between was Gus’ son William ‘Bill’ Matacia who did the purchasing for the Matacia Fruit Company. For those who do not know, Bill was infamous among the Matacia cousins of Charlottesville for his hot temperament. No railroad car from Standard Fruit destined for the Matacia Fruit Company in Charlottesville ever left the Baltimore yards without Bill’s approval. It is an understatement to say woe to the men who loaded the refrigerator cars destined for Charlottesville with even the smallest amount of defective fruit, because Bill checked every aspect of his precious cargo.
At least four members of the Matacia Family are known to have worked for Standard Fruit and Steamship Company in managerial positions. Gus’ brother Joseph Matacia and his son Ignatius Joseph Matacia; Anthony Restivo the husband of Gus’ sister Rosa Matacia; and Fred Stabile the husband of Rose Matacia whose father Tony Matacia was Gus’ brother.
On February 19, 1908, Gus’ brother Joseph Matacia sailed from Port Kingson, Jamaica back to Philadelphia on the Annetta. He was the only paying passenger. The Annetta (built 1906) was a banana boat in the service of United Fruit Co. Clearly, Joseph was returning home to Baltimore from a business trip. He gives his father’s address in Baltimore as I[gnazio] Matacia, 111 Warren Avenue.
There is a Culotta Plantation in Honduras to the west of the port city of La Ceiba, the headquarters of Standard Fruit in Honduras. The owner, Peter Culotta, might have been a relative of Antonina ‘Anna’ Culotta, the mother of Agostino ‘Gus’ Matacia and his siblings.
Established in 1924 by the Vaccaro Brothers, Standard Fruit’s forerunner was started in 1899, when Sicilian immigrants Joseph, Luca and Felix Vaccaro, together with Salvador D’Antoni, began importing bananas to New Orleans from their headquarters in La Ceiba, Honduras. By 1915, the business had grown so large that it bought most of the ice factories in New Orleans in order to refrigerate its banana ships, leading to its president Joseph Vaccaro becoming known as the ‘Ice King’. Standard Fruit played a significant role in the governments of Honduras and other Central American countries, which became known as “banana republics” because of the highly favorable treatment the fruit companies were given.
In 1926 Standard Fruit Company changed its name to Standard Fruit & Steamship Company. It was at this juncture that Antonio Restivo, the husband of Rosa Matacia, Gus Matacia’s sister, headed up the company in Baltimore. By 1930 Restivo had moved to Los Angeles where he became Standard’s agent there.
Between 1964 and 1968 the Standard Fruit & Steamship Company was acquired by the Castle & Cooke Corporation. Castle & Cooke was renamed Dole Food Company, Inc. in 1991, the namesake of James Dole, the founder of the Hawaiian pineapple-growing company. Dole’s corporate headquarters are located in Westlake (Thousand Oaks) CA.
Agostino took frequent trips to Sicily to do business for the Matacia Fruit Co. Records from Ellis Island show him returning to the US in 1919 from Palermo when he was 48 and later on in 1924 when he was 53. According to his passport applications, his August 1919 trip from New York to Europe was occasioned by a need to aid in settling the estate of his kin. The later trip aboard the SS Giulio Cesare, which left New York on August 14, 1924, was made primarily for visiting relatives in Sicily.
The 1919 trip occurred just after the end of World War I, while Agostino’s latter voyage of 1924 took place just as Benito Mussolini seized power in Italy.
Agostino’s trips to Europe occurred in the following years:
1892: at age 21, sailing from Naples to New York on the Elysia, arriving on May 24th. Gus used Matracia as his surname on this voyage; on subsequent voyages he used Matacia. He reports being a fisherman by trade and was heading for Cincinnati.
1904 sailing from Palermo to New York on the Slavonia, arriving July 16th. In September, Gus’ son, Lewis, died in Staunton, VA; he was only 11 months old
1907 sailing from Palermo October 8 on the Romanic arriving October 21 in Boston; his merchant-nephew Luigi Demma (27-year old son of Filippo Demma: 7 Piazza San Carlo, Termini Imerese) came back with him. Both were on their way to Staunton VA (205 S. St. Clair St.), but Gus says that he would be visiting relatives in Boston first. During this trip, Gus’ son, Lawrence died in Staunton, VA from a burst appendix.
1919: sailing from New York to Italy in August to visit relatives and settle an estate. He left Palermo on November 4th arriving in to New York on November 25th on the Belvedere with the typed surname Matracia on the manifest crossed out and replaced with in handwriting by Matacia. He was heading for Charlottesville: 222 W. Main St.
1924: sailing from New York to Italy/Sicily on the Giulio Cesare August 14 to visit relatives. He returned on October 12 on the Giuseppe Verdi which sailed from Palermo.
1928: sailing from Palermo on the Colombo, arriving in New York on February 23rd.
1929: sailing from Naples on the Roma arriving in New York on December 9th.
1931: sailing from Naples on the Augustus arriving in New York on January 10th.
1933: sailing from Naples on June 10th on the Conte Grande arriving in New York on June 19th.
1936: sailing from Palermo on the Saturnia on October 3, arriving in New York on October 13th.
1937: sailing from Villafranche, France on October 20th on the Conte di Savoia; arriving in New York on October 28th.
1938: sailing from Genoa on the Roma to New York arriving on October 7th. His son, Laurence, reports being with Gus on this trip: he sailed from Genoa to New York earlier, on the Conte di Savoia arriving on August 4th.
1939: sailing from Genoa on the Rex, arriving in New York on June 1st.
1947: sailing from La Havre, France on the Marine Falcon, arriving in New York on April 27th.
At one point, all US dollars had to be transferred into jewelry in order for merchants like Agostino to take their assets out of Italy.
It is well known that Agostino beat his wife and children, and is said to have had another wife and children in Sicily. [Confirmed by Suzanne Matacia-Stabile]. Perhaps these are Sicilian traditions inherited from Sicily’s Muslim Era. Others include married women dressing in black, and the use of a specially decorated cloth to display the blood of the broken hymen immediately after the initial sexual intercourse of a married couple to prove that the woman was a virgin.
The Qur’an:Qur’an (4:34) – “Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.”
Qur’an (38:44) – “And take in your hand a green branch and beat her with it, and do not break your oath…” Allah telling Job to beat his wife.
Towards the end of his life Gus would stop over at the Church of the Holy Comforter and set up the altar before heading downhill to the ‘plant’. And it was there in the church that Gus had the heart attack which was to send him to the grave. As he lay dying in the hospital, he told his son, Laurence, that he was planning a trip to Palermo!
The 11 children of AGOSTINO MATACIA and ROSALIA DEMMA (Antoinette Matacia reported to her son, Charles, that there were 12 children. Perhaps one was stillborn):
1) IGNAZIO ‘JOHN’ A MATACIA, b. December 19, 1896, Cincinnati OH; d. September 01, 1964, Baltimore, MD.
2) ANTONINO ‘TONY’ MATACIA, b. February 27, 1898, Cincinnati OH; d. March 1982, Charlottesville, VA.
3) CARMELINO A. MATACIA, b. November 01, 1899, Staunton VA; d. October 25, 1997, Charlottesville, VA.
4) LAWRENCE [1ST] MATACIA b. 1901, Staunton VA; died July 26, 1907 in childhood from a burst appendix in Staunton, VA.
5) LEWIS [1ST] MATACIA b. October 13, 1903, d. September 2, 1904 in Staunton, VA.
6) LOUIS J. MATACIA, b. April 29, 1906, Charlottesville, VA; d. October 1969, Charlottesville, VA.
7) WILLIAM V. ‘BILL’ MATACIA, b. January 15, 1907, Charlottesville, VA; d. April 14, 1998, Charlottesville, VA.
8.) ANTOINETTE ‘ANN’ MATACIA, b. February 09, 1909, Charlottesville, VA; d. April 1970, Atlantic City, NJ.
9) LAURENCE A. MATACIA, b. 1913, Charlottesville, VA.
10) ERNEST THOMAS MATACIA, b. 1916, Charlottesville, VA.
11) JAMES JOSEPH MATACIA, b. September 14, 1918, Charlottesville, VA; d. December 25, 1988, San Antonio, TX.
By the time of the US Census for 1900, Agostino Matacia and his wife, Rosina Demma, had moved from Cincinnati OH to Staunton, VA in order to set up a fruit business. Ignazio (John) and Antonino (Tony) were just toddlers. Note that, according the information supplied to the census taker, that both John and Tony were born in Italy.
US Census of 1920 for Baltimore MD: John (Ignazio) and Carmelino Matacia, now in their early 20s, were boarding with their grandmother, Antonina ‘Anna’ Culotta Matacia, and two of her daughters Mary (Maria Caterinella) and Lena. The girls, also in their 20s, were actually the aunts of the two boys!
In the 1930 US Census for Charlottesville VA, Carmelino has returned home from Baltimore. Now married, John (Ignazio), Tony (Antonino), and Louis are out of the house, but the remainder of the family, including William’s 1st wife Clara, are living there in the huge homestead and its attached slave’s quarters at 606 East Jefferson Street.
A Mid-Summer Arrival at the Matacia Homestead
from ‘Leaving Chelsea Heights’
by Charles Lehrer
By the time we arrived in Charlottesville, some 12 hours after our early morn departure from Atlantic City, it had already been dark for some time. As mom, my brother Ernie, and I made our way down the awkward steps off the passenger car of our train, the glorious smell of honeysuckle began to fill our lungs. Surely this was the Promis’ Lan’ that mom spoke and sang about. And then we would be taken ‘Up to hohss’ by my Uncle Laurence Matacia who would drive us slowly (Uncle L never went above 25 mph) straight uphill from Water Street where the C&O station stood, to High Street and then onto Jefferson Street. Even at that early evening hour, the two-color traffic lights were already turned off.
We were now at the center of Thomas Jefferson’s Charlottesville. A large quadrangle of connected houses built before the Revolutionary War surrounded the Coat Howss (Albermarle County Court House). Getting out of the car on 606 East Jefferson, we saw before us a magnificent brick house with a red tin roof, surrounded by huge elms dripping with moisture: the air was a treat to breathe as we approached the steps to grandmom’s residence. Glancing over to the right, we spied the row of rocking chairs on the porch that we would soon be ‘riding’ upon.
Suddenly the front door opened: it was grandmom! Immediately we fell into her tightly-hugging arms, her huge breasts giving comfort to two young travelers. We heard grandmom exclaiming: “Momma mia! Nnetta, Se-Se, Eernesti, Madre mia!” The excitement was beyond belief: grandmom did not speak her language, she sang and cried it. Quickly as we could, Ernie and I headed for the rockers on the porch. Starting slowly, we gradually picked up speed and soon we were going like mad. Within moments, the hand of mom, dead tired from a full day’s travel, would find the strength to give us the appropriate whaps on the thighs to get us out of there. Inevitably an almost prehistoric cry would erupt from grandmom: “Netta, Lassa iddi, Netta, Lassa iddi!” At that point Ernie and I took full advantage of the situation and ran to grandma, grasping around her generous waist: “Save us grandma, save us”.
Eventually that all quieted down and we entered the hall of the old 18th-century tavern that formed the right side of grandmom’s house, and followed her through a cut in the two foot-thick wall that once was the rear of the building. This led into the first addition, a huge dining room with an equally large skylighted bedroom to the right, to which had been joined a long covered walkway. The latter led to the brick slaves’ quarters at the rear in which Aunt Buddy and Uncle Bill now resided. We ran into the bedroom and out onto the walkway: we had to see it all. “Get yo-a gulas oatta they-a bo-ehs”, mom’s voice drew us back to the dining room and forward into the long wooden kitchen. Grandpop was sitting to the right at his own personal table eating pasta. He patted each of us boys on the head: “Fin-a boy-a gane”. (In essence: good studs). And to mom and Uncle Laurence: “Nnetta, Llorensu: “Bibbily, bibbily, bibbily, bibbily” The secret language, what of I now know to be Sicilian, was now underway.
My brother Ernie and I would stick to mastering ‘Southern’ over the next few weeks in Charlottesville. But undoing it all when we returned to Chelsea Heights would be quite a struggle, because we always had to learn Chelsea Heights English all over again! ‘Hee-ya’ and ‘they-ya’ would have to be morphed back into ‘heerr’ and ‘thairr’.