Prospero Schiaffino, for many years Italian Consul at Baltimore, and for a somewhat briefer period Vice-Consul for Spain, was probably, during the quarter of a century of his residence here, the most respected and prominent Italian in the city. By his countrymen, and no less by his American fellow-citizens, he was looked upon as one of the most brilliant Italians on this side of the ocean, and his death was mourned by two nations.
Prospero Schiaffino was born October 17, 1846, in Camoglia, near Genoa, Italy. His parents, Sig. Giacomo Schiaffino, born in Camoglia, 1821, and Ferro Fiancesca, born in Camoglia, 1831, bestowed upon their gifted son the advantage of a liberal education. His preparatory training was received in the private schools of his native city, and at the age of sixteen he entered the University of Genoa. In all the branches of instruction he was an apt scholar, but mathematics and astronomy were his favorite studies and, considering this fact, it was not strange that the young Italian should choose a seafaring life.
He secured a position on one of the large tramp steamers which plied between Genoa and Calais, and it was not long before his thorough knowledge of seamanship and his keen appreciation of the seamanship necessary to be known by sailors, won for him the respect and admiration of his superiors and instructors. At the age of twenty-four he passed his practical examinations and became commander of his father's vessel.
About the time of his reaching his twenty-eighth year the United States was receiving a great influx of foreigners, and the attention of Captain Schiaffino was attracted to a land whither so many of his countrymen were departing, filled with hope for the future which they believed awaited them. He decided to seek his fortune in the country across the sea, and accordingly set sail for the United States on a sailing vessel owned by his father, of which he was captain. He landed in Baltimore and so thoroughly was he pleased with the city that he decided to make it his future home and the scene of his endeavors.
He opened a ship brokerage and steamship agency on South Gay street, a venture in which he was very successful, having at different times as many as thirty-five chartered Italian vessels consigned to him for the purpose of carrying grain to European ports. His genial manners and broad erudition soon won for him not only the respect of the few of his countrymen at that time in Baltimore, but the friendship and admiration of the Americans as well.
King Humbert soon heard of the rapid rise of the young Italian and decided to confer upon him the honor of the post of Italian Consul at the Port of Baltimore. Mr. Schiaffino's ability and faithfulness in discharging the duties of that position soon gained for him such honorable distinction that in 1898 he was made Vice-Consul of Spain.
On July 26, 1898, Mr. Schiaffino was decorated by King Humbert as Chevalier of the Crown of Italy, the honor being forwarded to him by the Italian Ambassador at Washington through the Consul-General at New York. This decoration was a royal recognition of faithful and successful service and admitted Mr. Schiaffino to all the honors and privileges attendant upon the Order of Chevaliers. He wore a special badge as evidence of his membership in the list of favored official appointees.
To Mr. Schiaffino is largely due the credit of erecting the Columbus monument at Druid Hill Park, Baltimore, and making possible the bringing over of the monument free of freight and duty. For years he worked zealously to interest the State and city officials in making the day a general holiday. Hard work though it was, the Consul labored until his desires were finally realized. He was congratulated both by leading Italians and by Americans in this country and Italy. It is now generally understood that Mr. Schiaffino's efforts resulted in inducing the United States Government to make the day a national holiday. This was the famous Italian's desire, and he often expressed the wish that he might see the day when the daring voyager and discoverer of America would be honored throughout the whole country.
Wherever there was an Italian organization Mr. Schiaffino could be counted on as one of the leading members. He belonged not only to the Knights of Columbus, but to all the large Italian organizations in the city. His counsel was eagerly sought by his fellow countrymen and he never failed to give advice and, if necessary, material aid.
Mr. Schiaffino's death occurred November 12, 1910, at his home at Walbrook, and was the result of a stroke of paralysis which affected him only three days before. The news came as a great shock to his many friends, and when it reached the Italian colony expressions of deep regret were heard on all sides.
Mr. Schiaffino was survived by his wife, Mrs. Lillie Schiaffino, whose attractive personality and social accomplishments made her a most efficient aid to her gifted husband, while her sincere devotion rendered his home a most happy one. He left two children: Mrs. Francis Lavarello, of Baltimore, and James Columbus Schiaffino, of Genoa, Italy. Two brothers, Amilr care, of Genoa, Italy, and John, of Baltimore, also survived him. The latter was born July 10, 1853, at Camoglia, Italy; studied at the preparatory college there; at the age of sixteen years he had his diploma as first-class captain and at twenty-four years of age took command of his father's vessel, trading between Italy and the United States. He married Paulina Mortola
in September, 1879; sne travelled from Marseilles to Baltimore for her marriage, where Mr. Schiaffino located in the same year and engaged in the ship chandler business on Fells Point, continuing for nine years, when he came to 222 North Eutaw street and engaged in the importing business. He succeeded his brother as Consul to Italy immediately after the latter's death, and at the same time was appointed Vice-Consul to Spain. He has ten children, namely, seven boys and three girls.
Prospero Schiaffino was a man of fine presence. His tall frame, covered with an abundance of flesh, gave him a commanding air, while his classical face bore a stamp of such refinement that many believed him to be of the nobility, his flowing moustache imparting additional distinction to his features. His bearing was of such a dignified and soldierly character as to suggest the idea that he had, at some time in his life, been in the military service. He was a member of St. Leo's Catholic Church. His family is one of the oldest in Italy, traceable to a member of the Crusaders; the founder of the family, Francisco, originally coming from Turin, North Italy.
It is impossible to estimate the great service rendered by Mr. Schiamno in creating an atmosphere of mutual helpfulness, kindly sympathy and friendly appreciation between Italians and Americans. Patriotic, highminded, statesmanlike, loyal to both his own and his adopted countrymen, he was a link between the two nationalities, and both races have reason to bless his name.
Words fail to express how deeply he was beloved by the lower orders of his countrymen. He delighted in giving alms to the poor, while keeping the recipients of his charity in ignorance of the name of the donor. In this he was seldom successful. The poor and struggling Italians who did not obtain a firm foothold in America knew who it was that made their hearts lighter and their minds easier. They knew it was the "Father," as he was affectionately termed.
Of all the distinguished men who have shed lustre upon the State of Maryland, whether born within her boundaries or on other soil, none have had a better record, a brighter fame, or a stronger hold upon the affections of the people than Prospero Schiaffino. Honorable in purpose, fearless in conduct, he stood for many years as one of the most eminent and valued citizens of Baltimore and won the love of two nations.
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