Sunday, August 14, 2011


One of the most interesting aspects of the Manhattan Trade School report cards is that the cards list the names and occupations for the students' parents. In the case of Domenica Castiglia, whose card is shown above, her father was a "ship builder-polisher" -- a profession that no longer exists in New York City.

To skim through some of the other parents' occupations is to get a glimpse of a city that few living New Yorkers can remember, or even imagine: soap maker; ice and coal deliverer; stableman; cigar maker (sometimes engaged in by both parents); twine and rope maker; sheep butcher; organ grinder; farmer; "picking hairs" (literally, a nit-picker -- someone who treated people afflicted with head lice); and so on.

My favorite of the bunch is listed on the card of a student named Caroline Cataudella, whose father, George, was listed as a "macaroni laborer" -- in other words, he worked in a pasta factory. Of course, pasta manufacturing still takes place in New York today, so this isn't some quaint bygone trade, but there's something really endearing about the term macaroni laborer (or, even better, macaroni labor, which is what was originally written on the card before someone added the "er" at the end).

As it turns out, George (whose real name was Giorgio) didn't just "labor" at macaroni -- he had his own company, the Harlem Macaroni Mfg. Co. I learned this simply by Googling "cataudella macaroni," which led me to a book called The Journey of the Italians in America, which features this photo. According to the caption, the photo was taken around 1934 -- about seven years after Caroline attended the Manhattan Trade School. Note that the address listed in the caption and on the side of the truck -- 239 E. 108th St. in Manhattan -- is the same one shown on her report card.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Paul,

    "Nit-picker" is still a fairly common occupation in New York and other big cities. Often done by orthodox Jewish women, there are also chains of companies that do this--such as Hair Fairies--across the country, employing mostly black and Hispanic women and men.

    -- Gina