Saturday, January 31, 2015

An Esperantist Italian Count in New Mexico

From his passport
application for the trip
that cost his life
Okay, I’m not positive he was a count. A newspaper article says that he was, though it’s clear that the late twentieth century was the last gasp for spuriously claiming noble heritage. Of these, the Esperanto movement had its share, from the (so-called) Marquis de Beaufront to the not-descended-from-whom-she-claimed Winifred Sackville Stoner.[1] For the record, I am not descended from great French writer.[2]

He was an Italian and an Esperantist. That was easy to document. Luigi Martini Mancini was born in Florence, Italy in July 1871 and emigrated to the United States in about 1890 (this is what he claimed on a 1916 emergency passport application, but on the 1900 Census, he said 1895). At the time that he was named a delegate to the 1907 Universala Kongreso, he would have been thirty-five years old. He had become a United States citizen in 1902.

His local newspaper, the Roswell Daily Record had this to say on January 31, 1907:

Count L. Martini-Mancini, teacher of languages at the New Mexico Military Institute, has received word of his appointment as a delegate to the World’s Congress of Esperantists, which will be held in Cambridge, England, in the month of August. The appointment comes form the Esperanto Society of America, of which Count Martini is a member. As many readers know, Esperanto is the new language which it is hoped may be made universal for commercial communication and other international purposes. It is composed of words in varying forms common to nearly all European languages, except Russian, being a large constituent of the new tongue. The words being already familiar to educated people who know their own language, the acquirement of Esperanto is very largely a study of its grammar, which is the only really scientific grammar any scholar has ever produced. There are no exceptions to its rules.

Count Martini will attend the convention, as he had already planned a three months’ summer trip through England, France and his old home, Italy.
The Roswell Daily Record has ample confirmation of Count Martini-Mancini’s social life. We learn, for example, that the Count was well known for his Lobster Newberg, which he served at an informal chafing dish supper of June 13, 1904. Martini-Mancini spent several years at the New Mexico Military Institute, but despite Martini-Mancini’s origins, he taught not Italian, but Spanish, fencing, and drawing. He left the Institute in 1909 to work for the United Wireless Telegraph company, which a profile in the Roswell Daily Record called “a more remunerative place.”

In 1916, Count Martini-Mancini, still employed by the wireless company, applied in London for a passport to return to the United States. The ship he was on, the Batavier V, struck a mine and sank. A fellow passenger, Samuel Howard Comstock, was quoted in the Ogden Standard of May 17, 1916 about the death of Martini-Mancini:
I was in the saloon, talking when a terrific explosion occurred. My hat was smashed against the celling of the saloon. I think the vessel must have been blown up by a mine as the explosion arrantly was directly underneath the ship.

The aft hatch was blown off and much of the cargo was hurled into the air.

Gave Lifebelt to Mancini.
Within three minutes the ship’s decks were awash. I had a life belt, but being a good swimmer, gave it to my fellow American, Mancini, who could not swim. I kicked off my shoes, dived and swam to a boat which had been launched. I assisted a stewardess and an injured officer of the ship into a boat. I was so busy that I did not see what happened to Manicini.

The ship sank in twenty minutes. We were picked up by a trawler patrol and arrived at Yarmouth.
The reports of his death note that he was the younger son of a titled Italian family.

  1. It is somewhat fitting that the younger Winifred Stoner’s first marriage was to a man whose title was completely spurious (as were the reports of his death in an automobile accident shortly after the marriage).  ↩
  2. Dumas père (1802–1870) had only one legitimate son. Dumas fils (1824–1895) had only daughters.  ↩

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