Lewis Hine caption: Matro Starola 8 years old. Hartford, Conn. March 1909, Lewis Hine.
In the first week of March 1909, Hine took three dozen photographs of newsboys and newsgirls in downtown Hartford. Most of the children were born to Russian-Jewish or Italian immigrants, and peddled their newspapers in the area of Main Street, Trumbull Street, Asylum Street and Pearl Street, which was the heart of the retail and business district of the busy state capital. Trying to identify exactly where the children were standing in the photos is an interesting exercise.
According to the 1909 and 1911 Hartford city directories, the Boynton sign across the street in the upper left corner of the photograph might have belonged to a real estate office owned by Edward Boynton, at 783 Main Street. If so, then Matthew would have been standing at the corner of Pearl Street and Main Street. I drove to down to Hartford (it takes an hour) and checked out the location. Unless the immediate area has been entirely redeveloped and at least one street re-routed, Matthew would have been selling newspapers somewhere else at the time.
Nunziante (Nunzio) Stavola and Caroline (Carrie) D’Amato Stavola sailed on a ship called the California, from Naples, Italy to New York, landing at Ellis Island on September 19, 1895. They settled in Hartford, Connecticut, where Nunzio was a rag picker and a peddler. They had at least eight children, including Matthew John Stavola, who was born in 1901, apparently in Italy. Immigration records show that he and his mother and two siblings landed at Ellis Island in 1902, so at least some of the family must have returned for a time to the “old country.”
According to the 1920 census, Matthew, then 19, was living with his parents at 122 North Street, a street that later became the victim of redevelopment. He worked in some kind of a paper factory. Two years later, he married Hartford native Mollie Lebowitz, the two being an early example of an Italian-born Catholic man marrying a Russian-born Jewish woman. They eventually rented an apartment in a house at 357 Campfield Avenue, where Matthew was a truck driver for the J.C. Jensen Company. In 1943, then living at 83 Cowles Street, he became a naturalized citizen.
Three years later, on May 2, 1946, he was the victim of a tragic accident in Windsor, a town just north of Hartford. He was only 45 years old. According to an article from the Associated Press, he was killed “when a northbound New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad passenger train hit his truck at the Meadow Road grade crossing which Chief of Police Paul Rustle said is protected by warning signs but has no signal lights or other devices.”
At that time, Matthew was working for his brother James Stavola, who was required to pay compensation to Matthew’s widow Mollie. James sued the railroad company for negligence. Many years later, the case was cited in the decision for an unrelated case. This is part of what the court said about the Stavola case.
“The plaintiff, James Stavola, employed his brother, Matthew Stavola, as a truck driver. Matthew Stavola was killed when the truck that he was driving during the course of his employment was struck by a train owned by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company. The compensation commissioner ordered James Stavola to pay Matthew Stavola’s widow $30 per week for 312 weeks, and to pay a burial fee of $250. James Stavola then brought a negligence action against the railroad company, seeking reimbursement for the workers’ compensation payments that he had made and would be required to make. Matthew Stavola’s widow, the administratrix of his estate, declined to join the action, and, therefore, James Stavola was the sole plaintiff.”
“At trial, the court apprised the jurors of the amount of workers’ compensation that James Stavola was obligated to pay and, thereafter, instructed them that if they returned a verdict for James Stavola, it should be either for that amount or the amount of damages that Matthew Stavola’s administratrix would have been entitled to recover, whichever was less. The jury rendered a verdict for James Stavola in an amount slightly less than the amount that he was required to pay Matthew Stavola’s administratrix, and the trial court rendered judgment in accordance with the jury verdict.”
“On appeal, the railroad company claimed that James Stavola properly could not maintain an action against the railroad company without making Matthew Stavola’s administratrix a party to the action. In support of this claim, the railroad company asserted, in essence, that proceeding without Matthew Stavola’s administratrix had given rise to an undue risk of jury confusion. In rejecting the railroad company’s claim, this court explained that, although James Stavola’s cause of action was derivative of the adminstratrix’ cause of action, James Stavola could bring his own action against the third party.”
It must have been an agonizing ordeal for Mollie and James, while they were still faced with grieving over Matthew’s death. Mollie died five years later, at the age of 46.
I found an obituary for a relative, and that led me to one of Matthew’s granddaughters. She was born 10 years after Matthew died, but she was excited to see the photograph of her grandfather as a young boy. She knew very little about him. She contacted her uncle, Matthew Stavola Jr., who is almost 80 years old. Due to family health problems, he was unavailable for an interview, but I mailed him the photograph of his father. I hope he enjoyed seeing it.
*Story published in 2011.