We left Appleton right after breakfast. It would take a few hours to get to our next stop, Hermansville. Why Hermansville? Why Hermansville, indeed. As it turns out, both sides of my family, at various stages of generations, emigrated to America, from Italy, and wound up in Hermansville. Just to give you an inkling of how legal immigration policies have changed over the years, back in the day, when people applied for and accepted into the USA, they were assigned to cities where work was available, based on the skills of the immigrant. My maternal great grandfather (Antonio Pasetto), moved his family to America to escape the poverty in Italy and build a new life. He ended his days in America, and is buried in Hermansville, MI. One of his daughters, my grandmother Maria, married Anselmo Cocco (first cousin to my paternal grandfather), at Crystal Falls, MI. They emigrated back to Italy, where my mother and her sisters were born. In the meantime, my paternal grandfather made the trip back and forth quite a few times. He brought his wife, Elisabetta Guiotto, to America, where four children were born – one boy, Dino, died in America in 1930 as an infant. Dino is buried in the same cemetery as my maternal great grandfather. By this point my paternal grandfather was an American citizen and had served for the US in WWI. For some reason or another they returned to Italy, where another girl was born. They were barred from returning to America by the Fascist Italian government, and then WWII broke out. So they waited it out and were the first group of people to leave Italy after WWII ended.
Hermansville is very small, and very rural. Currently the town population is about 1,000. Although the town was built for IXL (a flooring company, creators of the tongue and groove method of laying hardwood floors), my family lived in the town and worked in the nearby mines. Mining is still very prominent in the area. There are no hotels in Hermansville, so we stayed in nearby Iron Mountain. It was the Taj Mahal after Appleton.
The drive up from Appleton didn’t take too long after all, and it was pretty scenic. We drove directly to the IXL Museum – but since it was not open yet, we ended up at the cemetery looking for gravestones. There is no one on-site there. A few workers who were straightening stones advised that the Town Clerk had all the records if we wanted to research anything. I found Antonio and Dino, plus some headstones that had familiar names. There is also a Veteran’s Honor Roll, and my grandfather’s name is on the list. That sure gave me goosebumps! It seems that my great grandmother’s maiden name is still quite popular in the town. Later we discovered that the Town Clerk was out on a family emergency so there was no avenue for research. But we were able to get some news clippings and some interesting information about the area from the museum.
A DUH moment occurred when the were looking for someplace to eat. Iron Mountain is west of Hermansville, and on the way to the hotel we passed a place called The Pasty Oven – touting the Guinness Book of Records for the largest pasty. Ok. We bit. Buttery and hot, with rutabaga, please! Later, in Iron Mountain proper, we found at least three other pasty places, which unfortunately were closed by 5PM. So much for a taste test comparison!
Local telephone directories have listings for family names that are the same as what I remember my mother mentioning while growing up. But with not too many sources to hit, it seemed to me not the time to pursue my history. So much of the landscape and flowers remind me of New Jersey, where I grew up, so I could understand why the families would stay on the east coast on their return to America. There were probably more job and educational opportunities on the eastern seaboard. And maybe there was just a little too much sadness from the old days when life was hard to want to return to Michigan. Some things we’ll never know. But it was surely an interesting journey.