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 firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, the search continues.