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BY PHILLIP GOWAN

 

Emilio Portaluppi
Ticket Number C.A. 34644
Boarded at Cherbourg
Second Class
Returning to Milford, New Hampshire

A small Italian man that walked with a cane used to visit his niece and her children on occasion and always gave a dollar to each of the little ones. He walked with a cane and entertained them by blowing smoke rings. Simple memories. Things a child remembers. But there was much more to know about this man. On a night far removed in time he had been a participant in one of the most celebrated dramas in maritime history. And he lived to tell about it against astronomical odds.

Emilio Ilario Giuseppe Portaluppi was born in the village of Arcisate, Varese, Italy on October 15, 1881. He was one of at least 5 children of Carlo and Giuseppina (Parlatti) Portaluppi. By the time he was an adolescent it was obvious that Emilio had unusual artistic ability and though opportunities in his village were limited, his obvious talents earned him employment as a stonecutter.

Emilio Portaluppi
Tonella & Sons Granite Manufacturings and Quarry Owners, 1921
Phillip Gowan Collection

Mr. Portaluppi first came to the United States on March 15, 1903 having sailed from the port of Genoa, Italy. He found work in the town of Barre, Vermont but within a short time he moved to Milford, N.H. and worked as a stonecutter, designer and draughtsman for P.C. Felli & Co. Shortly after arriving in America he had married Enrichetta, daughter of Santino and Luigia Bessoni. She was born in 1878 in Varese, Italy and may have accompanied him when he first sailed for New York. The couple had an only daughter.

When Emilio’s good work came to the attention of Charlie Tonella, proprietor of a granite manufacturing and quarry business in Milford, he was promptly lured away from his previous employer. The Tonellas specialized in cemetery work such as tombs, vaults, and monuments but also offered services in bridge work, paving blocks and crushed stone. While working here, Mr. Portaluppi was sometimes referred to as an artist and a sculptor rather than a stonecutter. He became very well known in the area when he taught in a design school during the 1910-1911 timeframe.

Emilio Portaluppi
Emilio Portaluppi, 1921
Phillip Gowan Collection

Mr. and Mrs. Portaluppi separated in 1910. Enrichetta and their baby girl went back to Italy where they would remain the rest of their lives. Whether or not they were divorced is uncertain. In the autumn of 1911 Emilio travelled to Italy to visit his daughter and other relatives. He was returning to Milford in April of 1912 when he boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg as a second-class passenger, unwittingly becoming a member of the group doomed to have the smallest percentage of survivors.

Portaluppi had already retired for the night when he sensed the scrape of the iceberg against the hull of the great ship. Before getting his bearings, he imagined that they must already have arrived in New York. He first dressed in a bathrobe and went on deck where he witnessed no panic but still determined that something was seriously wrong. Returning to his cabin he dressed fully and went back on deck just as a nearby lifeboat was being lowered and attempted to enter it. What happened after that is in question but Portaluppi claims to have lost his footing and fallen into the water where he swam for hours before being dragged into a lifeboat. It is commonly thought that he may be one of only four passengers found alive and rescued in lifeboat No. 14 by Officer Harold G. Lowe. But it is also possible that he managed to simply board a lifeboat on the starboard side of the ship.

The 30-year-old Italian was rescued by Carpathia and shortly after arriving in New York, friends drove him to Milford in a car covered with the flag of the United States. An article published in the local papers made the following statement.

“As the awful scenes of the sinking palace, crowded with humanity, and the screams of those being drawn to death come back to torture the emotional mind of the rescued Italian, he resolves never again to undertake an ocean voyage. He is mentally exhausted and unstrung. He wants to forget, and blot out the sights and sounds. This, however, will take time.”

Emilio Portaluppi
Emilio Portaluppi, 1929
Phillip Gowan Collection

Apparently Emilio Portaluppi’s fear of traveling on the high seas subsided quickly and he was to make many more voyages throughout his long life. He was naturalized as a United States Citizen in Manchester, N.H. on June 26, 1912 but left his adopted country in 1914 to join his family in Italy at the outbreak of war. There he expatriated himself by joining the Italian army and taking an oath of allegiance to Italy. He was not released from the army until early 1919 and then hurriedly returned to America, residing briefly in Passaic, N.J.

Carlo Portaluppi died in 1921 and Emilio Portaluppi sailed back to Italy at that time to again be with his family. This time his stay was brief. But in November of 1923 he again returned to Italy and remained until 1928. To regain entrance into the United States he was required to overcome the presumption of non-citizenship, claiming that he still suffered from the effects of the Titanic sinking as well as conjunctivitis. While his actual state of health at the time is unknown, a local physician signed an affidavit that was submitted to the American Consul in Milan declaring that Emilio had been too ill to travel. It is ironic that the affidavit was signed by Dr. Costantino Annoni—his son-in-law. In 1929 Portaluppi’s sister Maria died in Italy under mysterious circumstances leaving a young daughter. Letters written at the time implored him to return to Italy to assist in settling the estate. He had been living near his brother Mattia who had settled near Providence, R.I. for a few months but of three brothers living in America, only Emilio made the voyage to Italy. He remained there until 1931 and by that time encountered new difficulties in establishing his true citizenship. There may have been a reconciliation of sorts with Enrichetta around this time as Emilio Portaluppi indicates on contemporary documents that his wife had planned to accompany him back to New York before falling seriously ill.

Emilio Portaluppi
Emilio Portaluppi In Later Years
©Gerry Mahler

Evidence suggests that Enrichetta and Emilio never legally divorced. Nevertheless, Emilio Portaluppi married Lena LaGreca in New York in July of 1934. In a strange twist, they did obtain a “legal” divorce on February 21, 1941. Other evidence exists that Mr. Portaluppi married a a third wife in later years. For two decades he seems to have boarded at the home of Mrs. Rose Adler in Brooklyn and it was not until the late 1950’s that he again visited the land of his birth. By this time Enrichetta, perhaps thinking she was divorced, had married a Mr. Pellegatta and was still living in Arcisate. Emilio’s brother Luigi died in New Jersey in 1962 and perhaps the call of home became stronger to the old man. In 1965 he made one final ocean voyage on the S.S. Colombo and made his home in Arcisate from that time on.

Enrichetta Pellegatta had died shortly before his return in 1965 and perhaps he was more comfortable there once she was no longer around. He continued to live in retirement with his daughter and son-in-law in comfortable surroundings until his death on June 18, 1974. One of the few second-class men that survived the Titanic sinking, and possibly one of only four people found living in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic by lifeboat No. 14, he had lived to see his 92nd birthday. He was buried along with other family members in Arcisate.

 

 

 

 

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