At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Anthony Martin Sinatra - father of Frank

Sicilian who became a professional boxer in New York


Anthony Sinatra had 30 fights as a professional boxer
Anthony Sinatra had 30 fights as a professional boxer
Saverio Antonino Martino Sinatra, who at various times was a fireman, a professional boxer and the owner of a bar, was born on this day in 1894 in Lercara Friddi, a mining town in Sicily, about 70km (44 miles) south-east of the island’s capital, Palermo.

Usually known as Antonino, after emigrating to the United States he married Natalie Garaventa, a girl from near Genoa who lived in his neighbourhood in New York City.  They set up home in New Jersey and had a son, whom they christened Francis Albert, who would grow up to be better known as Frank Sinatra, one of the most popular entertainers of all time.

Lercara Friddi today is a town of between 7,000 and 8,000 inhabitants, which at the time of Antonino’s birth was an important centre for the mining of sulphur.  His father, Francesco, worked there as a shoemaker and married Rosa Saglimini. They had seven children, although two of them were believed to have died during an outbreak of cholera.

Early in Antonino’s life, Francesco decided to join the growing number of Sicilians who believed their prospects of escaping a life of poverty in their homeland were slim and after sailing to Naples boarded a ship bound for New York.

Hoboken, New Jersey, where Frank Sinatra was born
Hoboken, New Jersey, where Frank Sinatra was born
New York already had many shoemakers but Francesco found work in a pencil factory, sending money home so that his family could eventually join him.  After first sending her eldest children, Isidore and Salvatore, to make the journey unaccompanied, Rosa followed just before Christmas in 1903 with a then nine-year-old Antonino and his sisters, Angelina and Dorotea, on board the SS CittĂ  di Milano.

It was a tough life for the family at first but Lercara Freddi was at the heart of Sicily’s Mafia country. Not far away were the towns of Corleone and Prizzi, notorious Cosa Nostra strongholds. Francesco was happy he had left that world behind and life improved when they saved enough money for Rosa to open a small grocery store in Little Italy.

Antonino adopted the Americanised name of Anthony Martin Sinatra.  After reaching working age, he initially followed his father’s trade as a shoemaker.  Powerfully built, he was handy in a fight and developed a second income as a prize fighter. He might have fought under the name of 'Tony the Shoemaker',which was the nickname he had among friends, but he chose to fight as Marty O’Brien, passing himself off as Irish because Italians at the time were considered inferior athletes.

Frank Sinatra (right) began his career with The Hoboken Four
Frank Sinatra (right) began his career with The Hoboken Four
His earnings in the ring enabled him to give up his day job but his boxing career was abruptly curtailed when he broke his wrist after 30 professional fights. By then he had met Natalie, also known as ‘Dolly’, with whom he eloped to New Jersey after her family, proudly Ligurian, refused to countenance their daughter’s marriage to a semi-literate Sicilian boxer and disowned her.

They lived in Monroe Street, Hoboken, in a largely Italian neighbourhood, where Frank was born in 1915.  Anthony’s hopes of finding work as a merchant seaman were dashed because he suffered from asthma but, encouraged by Natalie, he applied to become a fireman and was taken on by the Hoboken Fire Department in 1927, eventually attaining the rank of captain.  

In time, Natalie followed the example of Anthony’s mother by opening a shop, supplementing the family’s income so that they could afford a bigger apartment. Eventually, her husband was able to retire from the fire service and open a bar, which he called ‘Marty O’Brien’s.’  

The church of Santa Maria della Neve in Lercara Friddi
The church of Santa Maria della Neve in Lercara Friddi
Travel tip:

The name Lercara Friddi is thought to be derived in part from the Arabia ‘al kara’ meaning quarter, and the Sicilian dialect word ‘friddi’ meaning cold. The 18th century church of San Giuseppe, the nearby church of Santa Maria della Neve and the church of San Alfonso are attractive buildings. Apart from the Sinatra family, the town was home to the anti-Fascist politician Andrea Aprile, a leading figure in the Sicilian independence movement in the 1940s, and of the Mafia gangster Lucky Luciano, who was controversially freed from prison in the United States in order to help the Allied invasion in 1943.

Lumarzo sits on a hillside in Liguria
Lumarzo sits on a hillside in Liguria
Travel tip:

Frank Sinatra’s mother, Natalie, came from Rossi, a frazione of the village of Lumarzo in Liguria, about 15km (9 miles) inland, to the east of Genoa. Since 2008, the village has organised an event, entitled "Hello, Frank!", as a musical tribute from Ligurian artists and guests to the actor and singer, who in the course of his career sold more than 150 million records.


More reading:


Salvatore 'Lucky' Luciano - crime boss recruited by Allies in Second World War

Joe Petrosino - policeman from Campania who fought for the good name of Italians in New York

Vito Antuofermo - farmer's son who conquered world in the boxing ring

Also on this day:


1655: The birth of Bartolomeo Cristofori, inventor of the piano




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