The life of Antonio Novo has its beginning on December 5, 1897, in San Vito Lo Capo, Sicily. His parents were Giovanni Novo and Caterina Alastra Novo. His siblings were brothers Francesco Novo, Rosolino Novo and sisters Anna Novo Favaloro (married to Pietro Favaloro), Maria Novo Cardinale (married to Giuseppe Cardinale) and Fara Novo Caruso, (married to Joseph Caruso).
My wife, Francesca, and I had the opportunity to visit San Vito Lo Capo for the first time in 1987. The village is located at the northwest end of Sicily and has one of the most pristine beaches on the island. The water was a clear blue-green with great visibility. I was surprised that the house my father grew up in was on the corner of the main street about one block from the beach. The property was sold and is now occupied by a camera shop. Across the street from their home is the plaza and Catholic church where my father was baptized and attended Mass. I was overwhelmed when I first went into the church, sitting in the pew and imagining my father as a child attending church services. I could almost feel his presence, which brought me to tears.
According to records I obtained from the Ellis Island web site, the first of the Novo siblings to come to America was Rosolino (b. 8/2/1893 d. 3/3/1975), who at age 18 arrived on the ship Konig Albert from Palermo, Sicily, on January 27, 1911. He put down his roots in Pittsburg, California, where he married Patrina and raised two children, Catherine and John.
The second brother to arrive in the United States was Francesco, age 26, who arrived on the ship Friedich der Grosse from Palermo on March 31, 1911. He was not happy in America, so he later returned home to San Vito. His hobby was building model ships.
The third brother to arrive in the United States was my father, Antonio, age 16, who came on the ship Berlin from Palermo on January 22, 1914. The ship’s passenger record listed his city of residence as Campobello, Sicily. I assume he was fishing there at the time.
The fourth member of the family to arrive in America was his sister Fara, age 24, who arrived on the ship Giuseppe Verdi from Palermo on April 3, 1920. Her place of residence at the time was Trabia, Sicily. She married a gentleman whose name was Joseph Caruso, and they moved to Ontario, Canada, where he purchased a grocery store. They had three children, one boy and two girls. Fara was my godmother, but I do not remember her at all. During World War II, my cousin Catherine Caruso did come to Monterey, California, to visit us. At the time she was a member of the Canadian military, which was the equivalent of the US WACs.
Now back to my dad. According to the Berlin’s ship manifest, my father had a total of $25 dollars in his possession at the time of his arrival. His destination was to meet his older brother Francesco in Antioch, California, which is near Pittsburg, California, a small fishing village off the Sacramento River. My father worked the Sacramento River fishing for salmon, shad and striped bass. Many years later I learned that that my father had a connection to my wife’s family through her paternal grandfather. I found this out when I was courting Francesca Lucido, my future wife, and was first introduced to her grandfather, Erasmo Lucido. When he heard my name was Nuovo and that my dad was Antonio Nuovo, he literally jumped out of his chair and told all those present that my dad was a good, honest, hardworking man who had been a great skipper of his boat, the Sonny Boy. I felt then that my relationship with the Lucido clan was almost guaranteed. After many years fishing the river, my father decided to relocate to Monterey, California, where the fishing industry was booming and the city had a large Sicilian population.
My father was an extremely hardworking man. When he was not fishing locally for sardines, he was off to Naknek, Alaska, fishing for salmon. To fish in Alaska my dad had to sign a six-month contract with the canneries that owned the boats and all the equipment necessary to fish. He would sail from San Francisco to Bristol Bay, Alaska, and on to Naknek, which would take anywhere from 40 to 60 days each way, depending on weather conditions. The contract fishermen performed other labors within the Alaskan salmon industry besides catching and hauling the fresh-caught fish to stationary barges. They were paid “run money” of $150 at the end of the season after the boats, nets, and gear were cleaned, repaired and stored away for the next season. They were also required to load the barges with cases of canned salmon and then unload them onto the large sailing ships waiting in the bay for the precious cargo bound for the mainland. Today the salmon fishermen fly to Alaska and are gone approximately 30 days. Alaskan fishing was extremely dangerous. The two-man sailboats my dad used were powered by wind sails. They were not motorized like the boats are today, so the men were at the mercy of the winds and the moving tides that would rise about 20 feet in a day.
If a man fell overboard, the moving tide would pull him to sea and/or the frigid water would cause hyperthermia and death within a short period of time. Several of my dad’s best friends fell overboard and lost their lives. The fishermen wore waterproof oiled-canvas jackets and coveralls over warm clothing and boots. In the past gillnets filled with salmon were pulled in by hand, not by power winches as they are today.
The last time my dad went to Alaska was in 1938. I remember as a kid going to San Francisco to watch my father, along with his steamer trunk filled with clothing and special food items, board the huge sailing ship Delarof to begin his voyage of 2,108 miles to Naknek. At one time there was a large fleet of cargo sailing ships, like the Delarof. A similar ship was the Balclutha, which is on display at the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park near Fisherman’s Wharf. My wife and I visited this ship and saw its cargo hold stacked with cases of wooden boxes marked “Salmon from Alaska”. A sign posted on the ship’s bulletin board directed Italians and other Europeans to bunk in the front part of the ship; Chinese and other Asians were confined to the rear of the ship, which was much less comfortable.
Alaska Packers in 1938 shows the following:
According to an inflation calculator, $1512.55 in 1938 is the equivalent of $26,389.06 in 2019 dollars. I do not know how many years my father fished in Alaska, but he was financially successful at it.
When he came to Monterey, my dad rented from my maternal grandparents, Frank and Carrie Melicia, who had several one-room units with a stove, bed and toilet, that they rented mostly to young Sicilian fishermen. They had a large parcel of land and big two-story home on the corner of Abrego Street and Alma Alley, across from what is now Federico’s Shoe Repair Shop. The rentals were located at the rear of the property with access from Alma Alley. There is now a professional building on the property.
The young Sicilian fishermen were in an ideal situation. After all, my grandparents had five very attractive daughters, and one of them—Rose—caught my father’s eye. My dad courted her by serenading her with his guitar, and he eventually proposed marriage to her at the famous Lone Cypress tree in Pebble Beach. My parents were married at San Carlos Church on March 22, 1925, by Father Raymond M. Mestres. My mother once told me that my father had over $10,000 in the bank when they married. He was 27 years of age, and she was 17. Our family lived in an apartment at 534 Abrego Street, directly across from my grandparents. When the family outgrew the apartment, we moved to 474 Alma Alley, which was a short distance from my grandparents’ house; we lived there until 1940. We were a family of four--Catherine, born March 14, 1926; John, born September 10, 1928; me (Frank), born January 5, 1930, and Dolores, born October 24, 1931.
Top row left to right: Unknown, Maiorana, Romona Melicia, Rose Melicia, Antonio Nuovo, Unknown, Ray Zanetta, Unknow, Bottom row: Unkown, Theodore Melicia, Unknown, Unknown
By this time my dad had a purse seine called the Greenland, which he owned with my mother’s uncle Salvatore Melicia. Unfortunately, in 1933 with Salvatore at the helm, the boat went aground on the Moss Landing shore in heavy fog and was a total loss. Even more unfortunately, the boat lacked insurance.
My dad filed his intention to become a citizen of the United States on April 26, 1933, and was granted his citizenship on May 5, 1938. The process took five years. Although it would be logical to think the spelling of his surname changed from Novo to Nuovo then, I have no idea when it occurred. His original Italian passport lists him as Novo, as does the Berlin’s passenger manifest; but my dad’s driver’s license, marriage license and citizenship papers all say Nuovo. My uncle Francesco’s gravestone in San Vito spells it Novo and my uncle Rosolino also retained Novo.
In 1935 my father contracted JM Martinac Building Corporation of Tacoma, Washington, to build the 94-ton Sherman Rose, named after a rose bush that was planted in the French Hotel’s garden by a General Sherman, a guest who promised his fiancée he would return for her. (The hotel was later renamed Stevenson House, because the famous writer Robert Louis Stevenson resided there for several months in 1879.) My mother was fascinated with the love story and chose the name for the boat.
In 1940 my dad contracted Alfred Seeno from Pittsburg, California, to build a new home for our family at 219 Larkin Street, Monterey, in an area known as “Boat Owner’s Hill”, where most of the owners of large purse seines were building new homes or buying bigger houses. It was a very convenient area to live in, because it was within walking distance to Fisherman’s Wharf, about three blocks away. If I remember correctly, the house and lot cost approximately $5000 altogether. The house had a large Italian kitchen and a toilet downstairs; a small kitchen, formal dining room and living room on the second level, and three bedrooms and a bathroom on the third floor.
The Sherman Rose was 72 feet long and had a load capacity of approximately 120 tons of fish. The actual fishing did not begin until the sun went down and there was total darkness, so that the florescent glow in the water indicating a school of fish could be seen. This was the same reason there was no fishing during a full moon. With my father at the helm on the upper deck and me beside him, he would spot the florescence in the water and the fishing process began. He navigated the boat parallel with the school of fish, speeding in the same direction they were traveling to head them off. On his command the crew released a large skiff, equipped with a sea anchor, at the rear of the boat. The fishing net was secured to the skiff, so my dad maneuvered to encircle the fish and met up with the large skiff and the two crewmen manning it.
Once the fish where walled in, the crew began closing up the bottom of the net that had large steel rings with a steel cable running through it along its full length. When the fish were trapped, the crew began the long and tedious process of laying out the net back onto the turntable in the same manner as packing a parachute. Once the fish were alongside the boat and in the “basket”, the men began brailing them into the hatch, using a large five-foot metal-ringed scooper and handle with a 30-foot cone-shaped netting attached to a steel cable. They would then force the scooper down into the school of fish and pull it up out the water and onto the edge of the hatch. After that, they pulled up the bottom end of the 30-foot cone-shaped netting with a power winch, causing the fish to cascade into the boat’s cargo hold. The cargo hold was partitioned, and the catch was evenly distributed during the loading process to prevent the fish from shifting to one side or the other, which could cause the boat to capsize.
My father had very successful fishing seasons on the boat until Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and World War II broke out. On July 15, 1942, the US Navy requisitioned the Sherman Rose, and it was then operated by the US Coast Guard in the 11th Naval District at San Diego, California. The boat was used to patrol the California coast. It was returned to my father in 1946 after the war ended. I remember seeing a picture of the boat with cannon on the bow. During most of the period his boat was in the hands of the Navy, my dad found and leased a much older and smaller purse seine and was able to continue fishing during the war.
My dad had a crew of 11 men plus himself. Much of his crew was “all in the family”--my uncles Agostino Ursino, Angelo Fuggetta, Tom Russo, Ted Melicia and Frank Cefalu, and nephew Frank (Boy) Cefalu Jr. and the other five crew members were friends. The fishing industry was very lucrative, so landing a job on one of the larger boats was not all that easy. I went fishing with my dad as a spectator a few times, and it was exciting to watch the entire process of catching tons of sardines.
Top row left to right: Ivan Newland (engineer), Matteo Dorio, Agostino Ursino, Angelo Fugerra, Thomas Russo, Frank Cefalu Sr., Frank Cefalu Jr., Captain Antonio Nuovo, Bottom row Bartol Avato, Theodore Melicia, Gus Taormina, and John Albert (cook).
On another trip when I was on the boat out at sea miles from home, the chef was cooking up a storm making spaghetti sauce and frying steaks. I was feeling pretty seasick, and the aroma of the foods that I loved so much on terra firma made me feel like I was going to die. I begged my father to take me home. He sympathized with me but said he could not go back to Monterey, because they were too far out and had not caught any fish yet. He helped me to his bunk in the Captain’s quarters and told me to try to sleep it off. I could not eat anything during that trip. When I finally got off the boat and onto the pier, the whole wharf felt like it was rocking like a ship in rough waters. I was definitely not a fisherman, and my father was glad that I never got my sea legs. One of the things I did enjoy while on the boat was when he would allow me to steer on the way home, while we were still far from shore and the boats on the horizon seemed to suddenly drop off the earth. He would show me the compass and say, “Keep the needle pointing east, and we will eventually see Monterey.” When I was at the helm, the boat’s wake made a crazy zigzag; and when my dad steered, the wake was a straight line like the vapor trail of an airplane.
My brother, John, was more interested in making money than wasting time going to school, so he was given an opportunity to fish on our dad’s boat. As a result, my brother did not attend high school. He was older, heavier and much stronger than I. I admired his physical strength--he single-handedly lifted a nine-foot skiff out of the water onto a much larger skiff, which was used to drag the nets off the boat’s turntable and to secure the net once they were laid out. It usually took two men to do what my brother could do alone.
My dad enjoyed music. I remember surprising him with a long-playing vinyl record of the great Italian opera singer Enrico Caruso singing arias from the opera Pagliacci. He would sit in his chair in our formal dining room and listen to the music with tears in his eyes. I imagined he was thinking of his mother whom he left in Sicily when he was 16 years old. That was one of the few times in my life that I witnessed my father fighting back tears. The other time was just before World War II when he received the traditional letter with a black boarder around the envelope indicating that someone had passed away--news that his mother had died. My father and mother were planning a trip to visit his mother and family, but the war in Europe made travel impossible; after his mother’s death, he had no more desire to visit his hometown of San Vito Lo Capo.
Later on I again pleaded with my father to allow me to work on the boat so I could earn money like my brother. My dad’s response was always no. He said he did not want me to live the hard and dangerous life of a fisherman. He wanted me to go to school and become a businessman and work in a warm, comfortable office. Fortunately for me, I took his advice and retired as a business manager at California-American Water Company in Monterey after 38 years of service.
My dad was pleased that I had an interest in music and encouraged me at every turn. On one of our Easter trips to visit his brother Rosolino and family, we stopped at the Sherman and Clay music store in San Jose to look at drum sets, which were rare, because the metal required to building them was in short supply due to the war effort. However, there was one Slingerland drum set that was a special order for the military but had not yet been picked up or the order finalized. My dad told the salesman that we were heading for Pittsburg and would be coming back the following week to check if the availability status of the drum set had changed. The salesman took our name and said if the army failed to pick it up by the time we returned, he would reserve it for us. It goes without saying the next week was the longest waiting period of my life. On our way back home we returned to the music store; lo and behold the military unit that ordered the set had been shipped overseas, making the drum set available for sale to us. My generous father paid cash for my first real drum set and launched my music career, and for this I am forever grateful. He was proud that I was a musician playing with various local groups. I was 14 years old when I joined the musician’s union in 1944. The union made an exception allowing me to play, because there was such a shortage of musicians in the civilian population; most of them were away in the military service fighting the war. The bandleaders would pick me up at home and take me to the job site, making sure I stayed away from the bar area during intermissions. I was heavy on soda pop.
My dad sometimes expressed his pride in my being a musician and let his friends know that I was his son by grabbing a chair and sitting alongside me on the bandstand when I was playing at an Italian function. My drums were set up in the corner of our dining room next to the table my father used to do his bookkeeping, and he allowed me to practice while he was attempting to work on his books. Even when I tried to leave and spare him from the loud noise, he encouraged me to stay and practice. My mother, on the other hand, would say, “Frankie, aren’t you tired? Why don’t you go outside and play with your friends?”
The Melicia clan was well-known for their parties with family and friends, and my father played the guitar on many festive occasions at my grandparents’ house. He joined a group of his fellow countrymen with their mandolins and guitars and entertained guests the whole evening. It was great listening to them playing and singing their favorite Sicilian music while my aunts and uncles danced in the very large living room and the connecting dining room. My cousins and I had a blast running and playing around in the many rooms in our grandparents’ house and the connected apartments occupied by the Melicias and the Ursinos.
On July 15, 1950, we received word from San Diego, California, that my father had died of a heart attack at sea off the coast of Mexico. My uncle Ted Melicia told us that my father was at helm when he told them he was not feeling very well and that he was going lie down in his bunk for a while. A while later they went to check on him and found he had passed away.
My father had a heart condition and was advised by his doctor that he should quit fishing, but he would not hear of it. The sea was his life; he did not want to give it up, despite the fact the sardine industry was in a steep decline because fish were getting scarce. He decided to take the boat to San Pedro, California, and try his luck at fishing for albacore for the first time. Family efforts to discourage him were unsuccessful. The last time I saw my father alive was the day he left on his last journey--he had just refueled the boat at my uncle Archie Sanchez’s Chevron refueling station at the end of Fisherman’s Wharf. After we said goodbye, he piloted the boat away from the wharf and began his last journey on earth. I remember the sinking feeling I had as the boat disappeared on the horizon. After he left the pier, Uncle Archie told me that my father had said he did not want to be a cripple because of his physical condition and that he believed he would not survive this fishing trip. I was terribly frightened at what my uncle said to me. I never told my mother about the conversation.
In 1950, after my father’s death, my uncle Pietro Costanza skippered the Sherman Rose for a short period of time. Those advising my mother convinced her it would be prudent to sell the boat while the market was still good. The boat was eventually sold in 1951 to Antonio D’ Ambra of San Diego for $28,000 by marine broker Horace Mercurio. In 1952 Mr. D’ Ambra changed the name to San Raphael. In 1958 the Van Camp Sea Food Company Inc. acquired the boat, and in 1959 they operated it under the Mexican flag.
The reason the Sherman Rose was sold was that my uncle Pietro was unhappy with assuming the responsibility of being skipper of the boat and having to leave the Diane, which he had fished on for so many years. Also, the sardine-fishing industry in Monterey was coming to an end, because of their diminishing numbers in the bay.
In summary, I would describe my father as a man of honor who was well-respected in the community. He was a religious man dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and carried a picture of same in his wallet until the day he died. I carried that very same picture in my wallet for over 50 years and passed it on to my son Frankie to protect him, because he was traveling around the world so much. My father was loving and very affectionate with my mother. I loved watching him laugh, kid around and dance with her in the kitchen. He knew how to cook and even sew. We addressed him as “Papa”, and the rest of theMelicia family loved their Uncle Tony. When I was a youngster, my dad cut my hair and the hair of my male cousins. We didn’t like it, because he used manual clippers that were not very sharp; our hair would get pulled when it got stuck in the cutters. However, the price was right--no charge! My dad did not drink alcohol or use profane language. He respected women and would tip his hat when approaching them. He was an understanding and loving father, who was taken from us in the prime of his life, leaving my mother a widow at age 42.
My biggest regret was not telling my father how much I admired and loved him. But I knew he knew.