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.