Time to call

February 28, 2008

It’s been a while (nearly a week, in fact) since we updated you with news of our search for the man who, in 1931, ran over Winston Churchill. But rest assured that our search to find the living relatives of Mario Contasino continues. Much of this past week I’ve spent responding to interview requests from various media outlets, which will hopefully increase the profile of our search even further and maybe even bring it into the orbit of any of Mario’s relatives.

I’ve also been trying to secure the rights to reprint Churchill’s own account of the accident, which he wrote for the Daily Mail shortly afterwards. Although it doesn’t help locate Mario’s descendants, it does provide a fascinating account, along with another variant spelling of Mario’s surname: Constasino.

And even though they have already succeeded in tracking down Mario himself, our friends over at The Genealogue have also continued their efforts to track down any of his relatives. Our friend Doogles McQuig has posted an excerpt from some local Yonkers papers for example. Here’s one extract (there’s more in the comments section here):

His father, Nikola, at work in his rags factory adjoining the home, told how deeply concerned Mario was over the accident, and a note of pride crept into his voice as he said the statesman might have been more seriously injured if any other driver had been at the wheel. The Contasinos have been residents of Yonkers for the past seven years, having come here from New York.

 In addition, Andy E. Wold sent in an email full of useful information, listing Mario’s known relatives:

As far as we know right now, Mario never married. We also don’t know the married names of his two sisters, Helen and Angela.

Mario’s father, Nicola Vincenzo, has four brothers and one sister that we’ve been able to determine. They are Vito Gaetano, Angelo, Isabel, Dominick, and Charles. Among their found descendants, several may still be living:

Angelo Cantasano (Angelo >> Gaetano Thomas) may still be alive, he was born in about 1927 (age 81).

Camille Spero Daniels (Angelo >> Madeline) should still be alive, she was born on 26 May 1926 (age 82), and married Edward C. Daniels (or his son). She is (or was) living with her sister Catherine Spero in Lyndhurst, New Jersey.

Catherine Spero (Angelo >> Madeline) should still be alive, she was born on 15 Apr 1929 (age 77). She is (or was) living with her sister Camille Spero Daniels in Lyndhurst, New Jersey.

Patrina Cantasano, mother of his cousin Charles “Chucky” Cantasano III (Charles >> Charles) is still alive, she was born on 19 Jul 1929 age 78). Also surviving him in Nov 2006 were Chucky’s wife, MaryAlice, and five sons: Chucky, Tommy, Chris, Joey and Mikey.

Patrina Cantasano, is living in Honesdale, PA.

Maryalice Cantasano, is living in Punta Gorda, FL.

Chuck (“Chucky” Charles IV) and wife Mo, are living in Port Charlotte, FL.

Charles III and Patrina’s children are still living:

Patrina Cantasano Stanley (age 58), is living in Middle Village, NY.

Rose Anne Cantasano McKendry (age 54), should still be living. Her daughter, Lauren McKendry, is living in Honesdale, PA.

Andy also points out that the Sarasota Herald-Tribune carried an obituary for Mario’s cousin, Charles “Chuck” Cantasano III on 18 Nov 2006, so hopefully they might take an interest in our search. In any case, thanks, Doogles and Andy!

Our next steps now seem pretty obvious: time to start calling up Mario’s relatives. Stay tuned to find out how we get on. And as ever, feel free to send any help or information to search@codemastersquest.com.

If you’ve been following this blog from the beginning, you may remember that at the outset of our search to find the man who ran over Winston Churchill in 1931, typing ‘Mario Contasino’ into Google returned only four results. Typing ‘Contasino’ returned ten.

Type ‘Mario Contasino’ into Google now and you’ll find 2,620 results. Typing just ‘Contasino’ returns 3,910. That is a measure of our, and more especially, your success in tracking down a man whose mark on history deserves to be recognised.

I’m delighted to say that one of those links for ‘Mario Contasino’ is to this article, by Phil Reisman, a columnist from the Yonkers area where Mario was living at the time of the incident.

Of course, although we’ve found out what happened to Mario, the search for his family continues, so if you do have any information that might help, please continue to send it in to search@codemasters.com. As ever, we’ll keep you updated with our progress.

Or a major breakthrough, at least, in our quest to find Mario Contasino, the man who could have changed the course of twentieth century history when his car struck Winston Churchill in 1931.

 You may remember that our campaign to recognise Mario’s contribution to history was picked up by The Genealogue blog, which threw the challenge down to its readers to help locate Mario or his descendants. You may remember, too, that those users quickly managed to uncover a number of promising leads and avenues of inquiry that might help.

Now, it appears that those readers have gone one step further: it looks like they’ve found him. You can read how they did so here. You may remember that a user named Doogles McQuig sent an email the Westchester Library, to see if they might hold any records that would help locate Mario Contasino. It turns out they do. Looking up Mario’s address at the time (which we know was 300 Yonkers Avenue thanks to a contemporary report in the New York Times) the librarians were able to find a listing for a Nicholas V. Castasano, and an Edward F. Castasano.

From this, Doodles McQuig was able to find an entry in the 1910 census, for an Edward M. Cantasano who, like the Mario that we’re looking for, had two sisters and was born to an immigrant Italian father. Some more digging suggests that This Edward M. Cantasano, or Edward F. Castasano, who enlisted on March 12, 1942,  is the man that we’re looking for.

Born on November 25, 1905, it appears that Mario Contasino sadly passed away on January 17, 1989.

Now to find his next of kin. Thanks Doogles! As ever, any information that might help can be emailed to search@codemastersquest.com.

Attention Yonkers

February 15, 2008

There’s not much to report at the moment, I’m afraid, but our quest to find Mario Contasino, the man who nearly shaped the course of modern history, continues.

We’ve received one or two requests for interviews from newspapers and websites based inthe US, which might help to spread the word that we’re looking for Mario or his descendants. And today we received another email that may help that search, from Bob Miller. Here’s the email that Bob sent us:

You’ve given us an interesting puzzle, and the answer to it might be more a question of “WHO was Mario Contasino, REALLY?” rather than “WHERE is Mario Contasino.”

Using Ancestry.com, I asked their search engine to look through all census, birth, marriage, and death records they have for anyone with the last name Contasino.  There were none in the period 1790-1930.

I then asked it to search through their Immigration records for a Contasino.  There were none.

I then went to http://www.ellisislandrecords.org/ and searched their immigration records for anyone with the last name Contasino.  There was just one:  Giuseppe Contasino, who arrived in 1913 from Castiglione, Sicily.  Age 8 months, and traveling with Concetta DiMarco, 28.  I have to say that looking at Giuseppe’s last name on the on-screen version of  the original ship’s manifest, it looks more like Contarino than Contasino to me.  Based on the information about Mario’s age we have so far, this doesn’t appear to be him.

I then went to http://www.castlegarden.org and searched the Castle Garden immigration records for the period 1830 to 1912 for anyone named Contasino.  There were no results.

So I went back to Ancestry.com and did a Soundex search on Mario Contasino.  Soundex looks for names that “sound like” the name you’ve entered, and this is always a good thing to do with a name that might be spelled more than one way. None of the results seemed promising.

Then I went to the 1930 Census records of Yonkers, N.Y., and looked to see who was living at 300 Yonkers Ave.  I spent a couple of hours paging through the Census schedules, and could not find the address.  Perhaps someone else would have better success.

At this point I started to examine this from a paranoid/conspiratorial point of view.  Could this have been a concocted story to explain why Churchill, who was “actually” on a secret mission to [fill in the blank] had dropped out of public sight for a week or 10 days while he traveled to [fill in the blank] to meet with [fill in the blank]?  But checking the kind of details about the incident that you find in his biographies (His wife, Clementine, wrote several weeks later to their son, Randolph, that Winston was still suffering from “this terrible injury”) it would be hard to make a serious case. Besides, anyone who has done serious genealogical research for any period of time could attest that people disappear with annoying frequency, so why shouldn’t Mario?

Then I noticed that Mario’s last name in William Manchester’s biography, The Last Lion, Vol. 1, is spelled C-o-n-s-t-a-s-i-n-o (note the extra “s”).

Going back to Ancestry.com, I did a Soundex search on “Mario Constasino.”  This produced 6 “hits” in the 1930 Census, only one of which (because of birth dates) could have been our man:  Mario Constantino, born in about 1895, who lived in Brooklyn.  This Mario was widowed, and had a son, Michael (8), and a daughter, Anita (2 yrs. 10 mths).  No sisters.  Not our guy.

I think if we’re going to get to the bottom of this, we’re going to need somebody to go through the original documents, particularly police reports filed at the time.  Was Mario Contasino an alias?  Is there other identifying information in the police report (date of birth, a different address, or, very desirably, a different spelling of the name)?Bob Miller

Excellent stuff – this is exactly the sort of thing that we’d hoped to see when we started the blog, so if anybody else can help the search for Mario or his family, please email search@codemasters.com.

The real experts (you lot)

February 12, 2008

So my visit to the British Library proved less than fruitful, and shed little new light on the present location of Mario Contasino or his descendents, which is disappointing. But we have received several interesting emails relating to our search for the man who nearly changed the course of World War II.

The first is from Travis Miscia, who describes another New York Times article containing more information about Mario:

I see you’ve been using the NY Times archives as a source, so you may already have this information, but since I can’t find any mention of it on the blog, I thought I’d pass this along. A Dec. 21, 1931 article states that:

  • Mario had two sisters in Brooklyn
  • His mother was dead
  • He lives with his father at 300 Yonkers Avenue, “a small house behind a group of billboards.”
  • His father was originally from Potenza, having lived in the US “nearly half a century.”
  • Mario had been out of work for 2 months, usually drove a truck, but was also said to be a good mechanic

Potenza is both a city and a province in Southern Italy, so his father could have been from either one. Hope this helps.

It does help! In fact, I had also managed to find this article, but am still waiting permission to reproduce it in full. In the meanwhile, however, perhaps the following extract will suffice:

The anxiety of Mario Contasino, jobless young truck driver of Yonkers, over the condition of Winston Churchill, British statesman, who is recuperating in Lenox Hill Hospital … won the young man an introduction to Mr. Churchill yesterday and an autographed copy of his book “The Unknown War.”

The most pertinent section, which Travis refers to, reads as follows:

Contasino spent more than half an hour at the hospital chatting with the Churchills. When he left, it was to visit his two sisters in Brooklyn. His mother is dead, and he lives with his father, who came to this country from Potenza, Italy, nearly half a century ago. They live at 300 Yonkers Avenue, Yonkers, a small house behind a group of billboards.

Contasino has been out of work for nearly two months. Though he usually drives a truck, he is said to be a good mechanic and able to repair cars. He is said to have been much affected over the accident, though he did not know until some time afterward that the man he had knocked down was Winston Churchill.

The next email is from Damon M Appel:

I know your inbox may be flooded with suggestions, and I don’t have anything concrete for you. Just a suggestion:

What if Mario Contasino is not dead? Most of the online stories say that he was a “young driver”. If the accident was in 1931 and Mario was 16-20yrs old, that would make him 93-97yrs old told today. Very old, indeed; but not out of the realm of possibility of being ALIVE.

Maybe rather than going to London, you should go to New York to check out this man’s birth (& death?) records. If you’re really serious about this, I think you’ll need to track him down just like one would any “ordinary Joe”. There’s not going to be a deluge of easy-to-get public fanfare about him.

Thanks, Damon. We certainly aren’t ruling out the possibility that Mario Contasino might still be alive – indeed we’re hoping that he is. And the next stages of our search will certainly take us to US archives to see if we can locate him. Which brings us on to another development: as Tim has kindly pointed out in our comments section, our search for Mario Contasino has made it on to a genealogy blog, called The Genealogue, which has inspired an avalanche of intriguing leads and interesting comments. A user named kac, for example, points out that there was a taxi chauffeur called Mario Conti who was living in Queens in 1930, while several other users suggest various alternative spellings for Mario’s surname: Cantisani, Contarino, Cantisano, Cantasano, Cantisani, Contisano, Cantazano, Contasano, Contrastano and Contristano. One of the comments, from a doogles mcquig, suggests that Mario might not show up in a census search because the census takers never reached his home behind the billboards. He’s also been helpful enough to email the Westchester Library to find out if they have city directories for the period.

All excellent stuff! So keep all the advice and suggestions coming to search@codemasters.com. In the meantime, the search continues.

Expert Advice

February 7, 2008

One of our experts has got back to us. You might remember that I emailed Sir Martin Gilbert to find out if he might know any more about Mario Contasino, the driver of a car that hit Winston Churchill in 1931. Sir Martin Gilbert is the official biographer of Sir Winston Churchill, and has spent over thirty years researching his life, so if anybody might know about the whereabouts of Mario or his descendents, it’s him.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like he’s able to shed a massive amount of light on Mario Contasino. His exact response was as follows:

I am afraid that I know nothing more than you will find in Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Volume V, 1976, page 421, note 1.

Now Winston S Churchill Volume V 1922 – 1939 isn’t an easy volume to get hold of – there’s a copy available on Amazon, but it’s over seven hundred pounds. So tomorrow, I’ll be taking a trip to London to see what I can find in the British Library. I shall report back next week, but as ever, if you have any information that might help the search for Mario Contasino’s descendents, please send it to me at search@codemasters.com.

Making Mario Notable

February 5, 2008

While we’re waiting for the experts to get back to us with any further leads regarding the possible whereabouts of Mario Contasino’s descendants, I thought I’d take some steps towards recognising his contribution to history by creating an entry about him in the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. You can find it here. Hopefully this entry will take some steps towards recognising him as a notable historical figure, but it might also inspire other Wikipedians to take up the search, in order to flesh out his biographical details. Of course if you have any information about Mario Contasino, feel free to edit the Wikipedia page, or email me at search@codemasters.com.

Calling on More Big Guns

February 1, 2008

In my last blog entry I tried to enlist the help of several experts to track down the driver of the car that hit Winston Churchill in New York in 1931. Since then, I’ve only had one reply from our panel of experts, and unfortunately, it’s not very helpful. The Churchill Archives replied to my request for help tracking down Mario Contasino by referring me to their online catalogue. A quick search doesn’t throw up anything too promising, so in the absence of any firm leads, I’m still relying on the advice of experts. Consequently, I’ve sent a few more emails. The first is to Sir Martin Gilbert, via his website. As blog user Stu has pointed out in the comments section, Gilbert is one of the few Churchill biographers who have mentioned the Mario Contasino accident in print, so I’m hoping that he might know more about what happened after the incident.

Dear Sir Martin,

I wonder if you can help me. In ‘Churchill and America’, you mention an incident in which Churchill was run over by a man named Mario Contasino. I’m trying to find out what happened to Mario Contasino after the event, and I’m recording my progress in a blog. Unfortunately, the incident isn’t especially well-documented, and Mario’s name doesn’t seem to appear in the 1930 Census. Indeed, the surname ‘Contasino’ seems to be a very unusual one, with few entries in the current US phonebook.

So I was wondering if you happened to have any leads as to what might have happened to Mario Contasino, or whether the signed copy of ‘The Unknown War’ that Churchill gave him has ever turned up at auction etc.

I’d be enormously grateful if you could get back to me to let me know if you can help.

Next, as Stu and Lidia Q also point out in the comments section, Churchill apparently gave Mario a signed copy of his book, ‘The Unknown War’. If I can trace the whereabouts of that book, then perhaps I can find out what happened to the man himself. Unfortunately, a quick Google search doesn’t shed too much light on its whereabouts, but in my correspondence with the Churchill Archives, they advised me that a company called Curtis Brown administers the rights to Churchill’s writings. So, somewhat optimistically, I have added a request for help tracing Mario Contasino’s ‘The Unknown War’ to my request to reproduce Churchill’s article.

I wonder if you can help me. I was hoping to reproduce an article written by Winston Churchill on an internet blog. The article in question was written for the Daily Mail, and published in 1932, entitled, “My New York Misadventure”. There is a copy held in the Churchill Archives, but unfortunately the staff there can’t advise me whether I am allowed to reproduce it, and instead provided me with your details.

The reason I’d like to reproduce the article is that I’m trying to find out what happened to Mario Contasino, who, in 1931, ran over Churchill in 1931 – an incident that Churchill subsequently recorded in the article. In fact, I wonder if anybody at Curtis Brown might know any information that might help my search: it’s reported that the two men became friends, so I wonder if there is any sort of correspondence that exists between the two men, or if the signed copy of ‘The Unknown War’ that Churchill gave to Contasino has ever turned up at auction, for example.

I’d be enormously grateful if you could get back to me to let me know if you can help with any of these enquiries.

And finally, to the New York Times. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the New York Times is one of our principle sources for the accident, and revisited it a couple of years ago in a regular column called FYI. Perhaps they might have more information in their archives relating to Mario Contasino.

I wonder if you can help me with something. Writing in the New York Times FYI column, in May 2006, you mentioned an incident in which Winston Churchill was run over by an unemployed mechanic named Mario Contasino.

I’m trying to find out what happened to Mario Contasino after the accident, but he’s proving to be very elusive: your article is one of only four that are returned by Google for the search term ‘Mario Contasino’, and he doesn’t appear to have an entry in the 1930 Census. Nor is the name Contasino an especially common one, with few entries in the current US phone book.

So I was wondering if there was any more information relating to Mario Contasino in the New York Times archives, or if there is anybody at the paper who might be able to help me track him down. My only real lead at the moment is that Churchill subsequently gave Contasino a signed copy of ‘The Unknown War’, so I wonder if it might have turned up at auction at any point.

Anyway, I’d be enormously grateful if you could get back to me to let me know if you can help with this enquiry.

Once again, it’s time to sit back with crossed fingers. But if you happen to know of any other information regarding the whereabouts of Mario Contasino or his descendents, send it to me at search@codemasters.com.

Calling in the big guns

January 30, 2008

So, to judge by the results of several genealogy website searches, it looks like the trail of Mario Contasino could be rather elusive. Perhaps, then, it’s time to call in the services of some experts.

The first on my list is Manuele Gragnolati, University Lecturer in Italian at Oxford University. I’m hoping that his expertise in Italian (not to mention his experiences studying in New York) might help me uncover any variant spellings of Mario Contasino’s name. I sent Manuele the following email:

Dear Manuele,

Please forgive the intrusion of this unsolicited email, but I saw your details on the Oxford University website, and was hoping to avail of your Italian expertise.

I’m currently trying to trace the descendents of a Mario Contasino, who, in 1931, ran over Winston Churchill in New York. I’ve only done a very preliminary search so far, but it seems to me that the surname Contasino is quite unusual (a Google search for ‘contasino’ returns only 34 results). So I’m wondering whether his name was copied down incorrectly by early eyewitnesses of the incident, or if, as a recent immigrant to America, he might have changed his name at some point.

So I was wondering if you knew of anybody who might have any knowledge or expertise of Italian surnames – somebody who might be able to help me by suggesting any likely variations of Contasino that might provide alternative avenues of research.

I’d be enormously grateful if you could let me know if this is something you might be able to help with – and, once again, sorry for the unsolicited email.

Next on my list is Russell James, editor of Your Family Tree magazine. I’m hoping that he might be able to reveal any leads or openings that I might not have considered. This is the email that I sent him:

Hi Russell,

Hope you’re keeping well. I’m just getting in touch because I’m trying to track down a historical figure, and I was wondering if you had any expert advice.

The historical figure I’m trying to track down is Mario Contasino – the man who, in 1931, ran over Winston Churchill in New York. The reason that I’m trying to track him down is that Codemasters are bringing out a videogame called Turning Point: Fall of Liberty, which is based on an alternate history in which Churchill was killed in that automobile accident. And so they’d like to honour Mario’s descendents, and so I’m trying to find them, and reporting my progress on a blog.

So far I’ve tried a few of the online genealogical sites like ancestry.com, but can’t find any fruitful leads. In fact, Contasino seems a very unusual name – there are only 34 searches returned by Google, for example.

So I was wondering if you happened to have any tips or advice for tracking down somebody so elusive. I’d be really grateful if you could get back to me to let me know.

Finally, I sent another email to the Churchill Archives Centre, located at Churchill College, Cambridge, to see if they might have anybody on hand who knows a bit more about the matter:

I’m currently trying to track down Mario Contasino – the man named as the driver of the vehicle that struck Churchill while he was in New York. And I’m recording the fruits of my search in a blog. Which leads me to an enquiry: is there anybody at the Archives Centre who might know of any other documents in which Contasino is mentioned? Some accounts of the incident seem to suggest that the two men struck up a friendship after the event, so I was wondering if, for example, whether there existed any sort of correspondence between the two men.

Once again, I’d be enormously grateful if you could get back to me to let me know.

I’ll keep you posted on the results. In the meantime, don’t forget to email any advice or information about the whereabouts of Mario Contasino’s descendents to search@codemasters.com.

Internet searching

January 28, 2008

If you’re joining us for the first time: welcome. We’re about to start the search for the descendents of Mario Contasino, the man who, in 1931, ran over the future leader of Britain, Winston Churchill, nearly changing the course of history and inspiring the Codemasters action game, Turning Point: Fall of Liberty.

In our last update, we took a brief look at the sorts of documentary evidence that we’ll need to sift through if we’re to find more information about Mario himself. One of the problems is that many of these sources aren’t available online, or they’re only partially available online, which will make our task slightly more difficult. However, there are several websites aimed at amateur genealogists and family historians that search through those sources that are available online, and that’s where we’ll be taking our first tentative steps to locate him. For no reason other than its obvious url, our first port of call is ancestry.com. The site includes a searchable database of family and local histories drawn from various libraries (including genealogical society collections and documents from the US National Archives – you can see the full list here). However, the results aren’t too impressive: Typing just ‘Mario Contasino’ into its search function (leaving the other fields, such as birth and location, blank) returns no precisely matching results.The most promising result is an entry for a Mario Contizioni, drawn from the 1930 US Federal Census, but his birth date, of about 1923, would make him around eight-years-old when he ran over Winston Churchill on that fateful day in 1931, which probably rules him out as a candidate. The search also produces a plethora of Mario Cendeses, and a few Contessos, but nothing that looks like an actual lead worth following.

Other websites are even less useful. None of the following (thrown up by Google searches) provide either complete or partial matches for Mario Contasino: Family Search; Genesreunited; GenCircles; GeneaNet; Genealogy.com; and Yourfamily.com.

Obviously this is a far from exhaustive search (this site lists plenty of other sites to start looking, for example). But maybe it’s time to enlist the help of some experts. More on that later. In the meantime, f you have any advice to help the search for the descendents of Mario Contasino, please email it to search@codemasters.com.