Tag Archives: Conte di Savoia Ship

Through His Words: Day Six

28 Jan

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect

Day Six:

Thursday, July 21, 1938 
On board ship        
Chapter 6

Hello Darling,

This was a very busy day. Got up at 5:00 a.m. to see the sunrise. What a beautiful sight to behold, a great big ball of fire suddenly coming up out of nowhere with its rays reflected in the shimmering silver on the ocean. There is something fascinating about the ocean, what it is I do not know, but it brings a feeling of regret that soon we will be on land while at the same time wishing to get away from it (the ocean). 

I met Fr. Peoria on deck and we took a real workout together walking about two miles, then turned in, took a shower, and had breakfast later. Soon we were to see what is known as St. Vincent’s Light, a light house on the south tip of Portugal…

The 79 foot lighthouse was built in 1846 over the ruins of a 16th-century Franciscan convent. It is one of the most powerful lighthouses in Europe overlooking one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Its lamps can be seen up to 37 miles away.


Photo: Wiki commons

then see the south coast of Portugal and Spain and the north coast of Africa.



The town of Tangier could be seen on the tip of Africa, then follows the African coast and by 9:00 p.m., looms the Rock of Gibraltar.  It is dark now and millions of lights from the city play on the water off the Straights of Gibraltar.

If you study the map, you can follow the ship’s course, heading east past Tangier (Tanger) through the Straights of Gibraltar en route to Naples; and if you close your eyes, you can just imagine the spectacle of lights dancing on the water that dark and beautiful night.

Powerful searchlights guide us to our location where we anchor and then a tender, another boat much smaller, comes up to ours to take off passengers getting off at Gibraltar. Battleships and submarines all around us – English, French, Italian and American. 

His last line, so calm, is amazing when you think of what was happening in the world in 1938. Tension between Germany and Czechoslovakia was growing; hostilities between China and Japan were raging; Hitler had sent his armed forces into Austria; and Italy, under Mussolini, had joined Germany and Japan in the Anti-Comintern Pact.

Small boats come up to our boat selling all kinds of junk to the passengers. These vendors throw up to our deck a rope with a basket tied to the end. This basket contains the articles they are selling. You ask, “How much?” They say, “$2.00.” You offer .50c and you settle for a dollar or less.

Soon the ship is ready to move. The small boats row away and we continue on between the coasts of Spain and Africa, a beautiful sight. We go on following the African coast, avoiding the Spanish coast.

When I first saw my grandfather’s passport, one page was puzzling to me. On page 5, Limitations, the following was stamped in red:

This passport is not valid for travel in Spain.

photoWith a little research,  I learned that Americans were not permitted in Spain in 1936 as it was consumed by  war, The Spanish Civil War, which would end in 1939 with General Franco prevailing. Franco would go on to rule Spain for 36 years until his death in 1975.

It is starting to get warmer as we are going farther south. We now start to see other ships for the first time since we left NY; every type of boat. We are in the Mediterranean, blue waters, large fish in schools jumping out of the water. For the first time, I actually saw “flying fish” – they fly about 10-20 ft out of the water and keep on until their “wings” dry out and they fall in the water again.


According to the BBC – 2014, “Flying fish actually glide rather than truly fly. They launch themselves into the air by beating the tail very fast and spreading their pectoral fins to use as wings. There are 52 different species of flying fish which are found in the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.”

We are now on our way to Naples, 1000 miles away, and will arrive about 1:30 p.m. Maude, I just can’t believe all this is an actuality; the whole thing seems like a dream. Last thing on the ship activities was in the swimming pool. They called it “A Night at the Lido.” Everybody came dressed in bathing suits or pajamas. There was dancing, races, and water sports with prizes for the winners. There was also a delicious buffet lunch, with wines and Champaign served, all for free.

The letters were dear to Maude. She missed her Al, but was happy for him. And as for the final onboard ship activity, A Night at the Lido, while Maude would have never attended in a bathing suit, or even pajamas, she would have never left the dance floor until the music stopped. Oh how she loved to dance!


At our wedding in 1987, Len, Maude, me, my Mom and Dad (Alex and Maude’s son) 
Maude, at 92, still loved to dance!

2:00 A.M. to bed.

 Always Al

To be continued.


Through His Words: Day Five

8 Jan

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect

Day Five:

Wednesday, July 20, 1938 
On board ship        
Chapter 5

Darling Toots,

There is certainly a lot of water between us now. It seems there is no end to this ocean – water, water, sky and ocean.

Just how much water in distance? Approximately 7094 kilometers or 4408 miles or 3831 nautical miles.

Had breakfast and lunch today, and if I don’t gain weight on this trip, it won’t be the ship’s fault. I am being careful but the ocean air makes you eat almost anything and everything and especially tonight because they had a “Gala” night – the big night on the boat. Champaign was served and everyone had on their best clothes, paper hats, horns, and all kinds of favors. 


Gala Night, Conte di Savoia; Alex 2nd from right

Interestingly, I had found this picture in my grandfather’s papers and wondered why he and three other grown men chose to wear hats with flowers at what appeared to be a semi-formal event. Fortunately, Alex took the time to write on the back of the photo:


Thanks, Grandpa, for another piece of the puzzle. Love those white shoes!

The Gala night is put on by the Captain because tomorrow we will reach Gibraltar and a few of the passengers are getting off there, which makes it the last night for them on board ship.

The Rock of Gibraltar. Of course, doesn’t everyone stop there on their way to Italy?

From its website: https://www.gibraltar.gov.gi/about-gibraltar:

In the ancient times, right through the age of empires and in the global conflicts of our own century, Gibraltar has stood guard over the western Mediterranean, its unique position making it the focus of a continuous struggle for power. This spectacular rock monolith, covering a land area of about six square kilometres, is situated at the southern tip of Spain overlooking the strait to Africa. It is known as the Meeting Place of Continents.


“Gibraltar – Roch From Spanish Shores”

In March, 1937, a year before Alex’s trip, Maude received this postcard from their dear friends who had visited Gibraltar on their way to Naples, just like some passengers traveling with Alex would do the next day. 

“Most beautiful place. We went to the top of the mountain and came down in a basket sled. Lots of fun. Flowers grow everywhere here. Lovely calla lilies.” (From back of postcard)

In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht gave Britain sovereignty over the island. Today, while there are only about 30,000 inhabitants, Gibraltar is visited by over 10 million tourists per year.


I spent most of the afternoon in the engine room and a well spent afternoon it was. You can’t imagine the immensity of the engines, motors, turbines etc. that are necessary to operate this oil burning ship.

The engineering side of Alex was curious. Unlike most who were more than content to admire the ship’s external beauty, Alex was equally interested in what made the ship run. How many others would be so pleased to spend most of an afternoon in the engine room? (Well, besides my husband…)

For Alex, being on Conte di Savoia was a dream come true. Its magnificent design details appealed to his architectural creativity while the ship’s inner workings coaxed his inquisitive thinking. But no wonder. Alex had been in the profession for 20 years and had built a solid reputation. 20 years earlier, after WWI, he was engaged by the Illinois Central Railroad as Chief of the Real Estate Division.



A few years later, in 1921, Alex entered into active practice of his profession. Then in 1926, he formed a partnership with Morris Komar, another noted architect, and founded Capraro & Komar, Architects, with offices on Washington Street in Chicago.

Well, honey, tomorrow I expect to see land again, Gibraltar, and believe me, it will be a pleasure to see what terra firma looks like after 5 days of nothing but water. I am going to walk around the deck now for a while and will write again to tell you all about Gibraltar tomorrow.

Again love and kisses to my gang.

 Always Al

To be continued.


Through His Words: Day Four

5 Dec

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect

Day Four:

Tuesday, July 19, 1938 
On board ship        
Chapter 4

Darling Maude,

I got up rather late this morning due to a nasty sunburn on my legs, especially my shins. The sun is different on the ocean, much more intense and the salt water seems to add to its power.

Apparently, Alex and his new friends were all a bit sunburned and decided to sit in their deck chairs fully clothed for a day.

Aboard Conte di Savoia

Aboard Conte di Savoia, Alex (right) and friends

Alex loved being near water, whether it was spending time at Wilson Avenue Beach (Lake Michigan) in Chicago with Maude and friends,


Maude, Alex, Margaret


Alex (front center)

or heading to Paw Paw Lake in neighboring Michigan.

Paw Paw Lake: "Throw out the Life Line

Paw Paw Lake: “Throw out the Life Line” 1912

Ironically, my brother Bill bought a home on Paw Paw Lake 93 years later. Now we know what led him to that location!

This afternoon I made an inspection of the first class quarters and believe me, there is a lot of difference between 1st class and tourist class.

Alex was not extravagant, but he was very classy and did appreciate beautiful things. Sometime after they were married, he designed and built three three-flat buildings in Chicago and kept the third one for his family. It was beautiful with a sunken living room, a large dining room, three bedrooms, two baths, a butler’s pantry and a very large kitchen. Unfortunately, when the depression hit, his tenants could no longer pay rent, and he lost the buildings to the tune of more than one million dollars.

The lounges, bars, decks, swimming pool, etc., are simply gorgeous, but there are only 200 1st class passengers on board.


The Grand Colonna Hall, (Steven Ujifusa)


Conte Di Savoia First Class passengers in dinner dress visiting the stabilizer system – a first for trans-Atlantic liners in the 1930s.
(Cruiselinehistory.com,  Scott McBee’s New York Social Diary )


First Class Lounge, (From Scott McBee’s New York Social Diary)

I also went down to see how the other class lives (3rd class). Well, there is also quite a difference between there and tourist.

If you’ve seen the movie Titanic, you get the picture.

There was a fine time in the main lounge tonight with orchestra, dancing, and finally a great show put on by home talent, that is, the passengers. They sang, told stories, or played instruments. I did not sing “O Sole Mio” as it was murdered plenty throughout the evening by others.

O Sole Mio, translated as My Sunshine, is a globally known song written in Napoli in 1898, with lyrics by Giovanni Capurro and melody by Eduardo di Capua. It has been performed by a number of famous artists including  Enrico Caruso, Mario Lanza, Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, The Three Tenors, and Il Volo.

Caruso alongside his piano

Caruso alongside his piano (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The movie tonight was “The Bad Man of Brimstone” with Wallace Barry, so I still have yet to see a new picture. 


We passed through the Azores today but it was so cloudy over the islands it was almost impossible to see anything. I was quite disappointed because I could not take a picture of it for you.


Azores, (Google Photo)

The Archipelago of the Azores is composed of nine volcanic islands situated in the North Atlantic Ocean and is located about 1,500 km west of Lisbon. Quite a spectacular site – no wonder Alex was disappointed.

Tomorrow I expect to make an inspection of the engine room through permission of the offices.

Being a registered professional engineer and architect, he was certainly interested in the many parts of the ship, including the massive engine room and the stabilizers.


Love to the children and of course you. 


To be continued.


To see The Three Tenors having fun with O Sole Mio, click on the link.


Through His Words: Day Three

24 Nov

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect

Day Three:

Monday, July 18, 1938 
On board ship        
Chapter 3


Today has been a little more active. Got up at 10:00 as a bunch of us sat on deck till 2:00 A.M. I missed breakfast so I got into my bathing suit and went into the pool (salt water) and then out in the sun on a deck chair and got pretty well sun burned. Went to lunch and then came to the sport deck and played shuffle board. It’s a lot of fun and was thinking that you would enjoy this as the sea is as calm as Lake Michigan on a nice day.

Alex missed Maude. They had spent time apart before, but only because of his work. She would later say that her one regret was not going with him on this trip. They were married in 1919 at Guardian Angels in Chicago. In a bulletin dated February 19, 1919, the editor wrote:

In our years at Guardian Angels, we have never seen so touchingly impressive a wedding service in the little church as that celebrated on a recent Saturday morning. The sweet simplicity of it all; the quiet wedding group in the Sanctuary, (Alex and Maude kneeling on white draped prie-deus)… When they came down the aisle, Maude was so attractive in her dainty wedding gown and filmy veil, and Alex so thoroughly justified the pride we have felt in him these many years….


1948, wearing a Georgiana Jordan gown at daughter Marion’s wedding

They have various games to kill time on board as well as concerts, dancing and movies. I have met some interesting people, some from Chicago, and some like me traveling for the first time. One fellow I met from Indianapolis has travelled all over the world and is now going to Turkey, Egypt and Persia. There are 14 nuns on board, all Italians going to Italy to complete their studies, and about 7 or 8 priests, among which is Father Peoria, whom I know. We spend quite a bit of time together.

Alex was not a man used to a lot of leisure time. In 1918, at the age of 24, he enlisted with the U.S. Naval Engineers and was assigned to the construction division of the Bureau of Yards and Docks in the Navy Department in Washington D.C. He was instrumental in the design and erection of various Naval buildings including the huge Navy and Munitions  buildings which, at the time, were the largest buildings in the world in terms of floor space.




Tonight they are showing another movie with Tyrone Power and Loretta Young, which I saw before. I am getting cheated as far as the movies go as I have seen all of the ones so far. But it gives me extra time to write to you. 

Funny thing is, shortly after Alex met Maude, she brought him home to meet her parents. When her mother saw him, she told Maude not to go out with him because he was too skinny! Lucky for Alex, Maude ignored the advice.

When I think of my grandmother Maude, words that come to mind include demure, modest, quiet, ladylike, respectable, and decent. Here’s a photo from her early childhood, perhaps at Confirmation.


Although she hated having her picture taken, she was very social and especially loved her ladies clubs, dancing and going out to dinner.


1915, both 21, before they knew each other

With friends, Maude, (upper middle), with a little mischief in her eyes

With friends, Maude, (upper middle), with a little mischief in her eyes

Unlike Alex, Maude Pacelli was born in America. So was her mother and her grandmother. Little did I know that my great, great, great, grandmother was born in the U.S. Her father worked for Rheingold Brewery from the young age of 16, and was head brewmaster when he retired at the age of 86, a 70 year – one company career. Her brother Bill was a Chicago alderman. 


Maude was a devoted wife and mother and a great cook. Growing up, I remember homemade ravioli spread out on beds when we would go to her house for holiday dinners. Her sausage stuffing was my dad’s favorite. She loved to sit at the kitchen or dining room table surrounded by family and tell stories. And most of all, she loved to laugh.


Mackinac Island, MI: Maude (middle) with Alex and his cousin, date unknown

At 4:00 P.M., they serve tea and cake and dance and generally keep things humming so that there are few dull moments. There was a beautiful sunset on the ocean and I took a movie of it hoping it will come out so I may show it to you when I return.

Regards to all. Love to you, the boys, my little girl, and Ruth and Pa.  

Love, Al

To be continued.


For more information on the Naval buildings, click on the link. http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/main_navy_bldg.htm

Through His Words: Day Two

6 Nov

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect

Day Two:

Sunday, July 17, 1938 
(On board ship)        
Chapter 2

Darling Maude,

A little news a day to tell you of some of the things aboard ship. I was fooled this morning in the matter of attending mass. It was scheduled for 10:00 A.M. but when I went there the services were over and this was the last mass for the rest of the day. 

What Alex didn’t realize was that each day on the ship, beginning that Sunday, the time would be set ahead 50 minutes. Six days, 60 minutes ahead each day would put their arrival in Napoli on the correct CET or Central European Time.

However, they have services each day and I shall make up for missing today.

Alex was a quiet man, but one of determination and of self-discipline. His father was a cobbler by trade. His mother died when he was a child. He was brought to America by his parents when he was four.

Alex attended Chicago public grade school, graduated from Joseph Medill High School, attended the Armour Institute of Technology, the Art Institute of Chicago, and Chicago Technical College for required architectural coursework, then finished the last year of his architectural studies under private tutors and under home-made sausage.


Per Aunt Marion, “My dad’s father made home-made Italian sausage and he would hang it in my dad’s bedroom to dry. My dad said that when he was studying to be an architect, he would lie in his bed to study and reach up and grab a hunk of sausage!

So that’s the secret to passing an exam!

In 1916, he passed the state board of exams for architects and became the first Italian American architect licensed in the state of Illinois. Cost to attend his celebration banquet at the Sherman House? $2.50.


I am trying to find out anything and everything that concerns my touring, and I am told there are many things I can’t or must not do. You know all the boxes of cigars I got when I left? Well, I can not bring them either into Italy or France, so I am making a hit with them by giving them to the stewards a little each day and they go over big, believe me!

He smoked Perfecto Garcia Queen cigars – seven a day at a cost of $1.00 each. When I look through all the old photographs, it’s hard to find one when there is not a cigar in his hand or mouth.


And while today I find this pretty gross, I am reminded of the times. Just recently, I saw a bit of the movie Coco Before Channel. There she was, Coco Chanel, classy and elegant, face to face with a wealthy patron pinning a custom hat or suit, with a cigarette hanging from her mouth. Incredible.

Many people are traveling alone on board and the coldness and the stiffness of the first couple of days will be broken in another day or so and more sociability will be in the atmosphere. You eat, drink, and sleep, and walk around the deck, and when you are finished doing this you start all over again. 

Adventure, loneliness, monotony, anticipation, inquisitiveness, wonder…a flock of feelings for the sole traveler on day two of his journey to his place of birth.

It has been a little cloudy today, but the ocean has been fairly calm. Tomorrow I expect to take a swim and play shuffle board as well as get suntanned and even burned perhaps.

Millions of kisses and love to everyone,


To be continued.



Through His Words: Day One

21 Oct

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect

Day One:

Saturday, July 16, 1938 
On board ship        
Chapter 1

Dear “Modjeste”

Arrived in NY without much time to lose and taxied directly to the ship. You remember the crowd where we saw the “Rex” depart; well it was the same today. 

And with those written words, Alexander Capraro’s journey began.

Alexander V. Capraro

My grandfather had taken the train from Chicago to N.Y. alone. His wife, Modesta Rose, affectionately known as Maude, (and apparently lovingly called Modjeste), had chosen to remain home with their three children, Vince, my Dad Bill, and Marion. Maude took comfort in the fact that Alex would be accompanied by his good friend Joe, who travelled to Italy annually. Shortly before their departure, however, Joe became ill and was unable to travel.

It was a beautiful, bright, sunshiny day and quite a sight to behold the N.Y. skyline and the Statue of Liberty.

I wondered about his ship, its name, origin, etc. Then a faded blue logo in the upper-left corner of his stationery caught my eye: CONTE DI SAVOIA.


How big was this ship and how old? How many passengers did it carry? And how long would it be before they reached Naples, Italy?

It was rather nice to see someone wave goodbye to us from the docks. 

With a few clues in hand, namely Rex, Conte Di Savoia, Naples, Italy, and the year 1938, I began my research.

According to www.thegreatoceanliners.com, the Rex and Conte Di Savoia were sister ships built in Italy in the early 1930s. Conte Di Savoia, the smaller of the two, was built at the Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico shipyard in Trieste, Italy with the following specifications:

Length: 814 feet
Beam: 96 feet
Tonnage: 48,502 gross tons
Speed: 27 knots
Capacity: 2,200 passengers:
– 500 first class, 366 second class, 412 tourist class, 922 third class
Crew: 786
Engines: Steam turbines powering four propellers

conte di savoia departs on her maiden voyage

Conte di Savoia: The Great Ocean Liners

The interesting thing about the new ship was her indoor fittings. She boasted classic style in a glamorous way, in contrast to the fashion of the period. While new liners such as Île de France, Bremen and White Star’s third Britannic sported the new Art Deco style, the Conte di Savoia proudly exposed her gilded inside – a reminder of true class. The famous Colonna Lounge – all done in marble – amazed passengers with its high ceiling decorated in murals. Along the sides of the giant room were statues standing on pedestals, and the doors were classical fairytale style high ones.   


Colonna Lounge: The Great Ocean Liners

We are well out at sea as I write this letter and the only sign of being on board ship is the vibration of the engines which account for this shaky handwriting.

Shaky handwriting? Not at all, but then Alex was a perfectionist. Besides having beautiful interiors, the Conte di Savoia was a very steady ship as she was the first ship to have gyroscopic stabilizers to reduce rolling during Transatlantic crossings.

I was rather tired from the train ride, so after lunch, and a general inspection of the ship, I went to my room and took a nap.

Conte di Savoia was completed in 1932 and left Genoa for her maiden voyage to N.Y. in November of that year. Alex joined her six years later.

My lunch time is 1:30 and dinner at 8:00, with plenty of good food and wine served at each meal; however, I am taking it easy with the food and wine in order to stay in good physical shape.

Will power, for sure.

That’s about all for today’s news. Will write more later and tell you of my itinerary. Take good care of yourself and don’t worry about anything, especially me.

Alex, born January 7, 1895, in Pietrabbondante, Italy, was just four years old when his parents brought him to America. At the age of 43, and as an accomplished Italian American architect, he was returning to Italy for his first and only time.



Besides her many transatlantic crossings, Conte di Savoia was also known for her starring role in the film, Luxury Liner. The following YouTube clip, albeit corny, shows the ship in her glory. You need only watch the first 30 seconds to “be on board” with Alex and share some of his experience some 75 years ago as he returned to the land of his ancestors.

With love to all at home, and a little extra hug to Marion, I am
Devotedly yours,

To be continued.



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