by LAURA NIELSON NEWBOLD
From 1890 to the 1920s, Utah became home to thousands of Italian immigrants. This second wave of Italian immigrants exerted by far the most influence on the development of Utah, and the development of Italian culture in Utah. Unlike the first wave of Italian immigrants, in the late 19th century, this second wave included immigrants from all parts of Italy, most notably Calabria and Sicily and the northern regions of Trentino and Piedmont. As a result of this increase of Italian Americans, a Little Italy soon developed and spread across the western part of Salt Lake City near the Rio Grande railroad station. Due to the influence of a devout Catholic following, a parish began holding meetings at St. Patrick church in downtown Salt Lake City. (Notarianni) It was this enviroment in which Fortunato Anselmo, one of Utah’s most famous Italian Americans, raised his family and thrived.
Born October 1, 1883, in Grimaldi, Italy, Fortunato Anselmo immigrated to Pueblo, Colorado, in the early 1900s. There he met and married Anna Pagano, and the couple had three daughters, Gilda, Annette, and Emma. In 1911, Anselmo and his family moved to Salt Lake City and started F. Anselmo & Co., an imported wholesale Italian food store. With the store’s success, he opened another in Carbon County, where many Italian immigrants had settled to work on the nearby railroads and mines. With so much interaction with fellow Italian immigrants, Anselmo started La Gazzetta Italiana in 1912, to give a voice to the concerns and interests of his fellow immigrants. He quickly established himself as a representative of Italian Utahns, particularly those in the Salt Lake Valley. (Notarianni)
In 1915, he was appointed vice consul of Italy of Salt Lake City and the official adviser to Utah and Wyoming Italians. As such, he presided over all the official documents that required the approval of the Italian government, such as requests for visas, passports, and other papers and documents. He also served as a representative of the Bank of Naples, a prestigious institution and one of Italy’s oldest banks. This position allowed him to help local Italians send money orders to friends and relatives in Italy as well as provide the proper paperwork for traveling immigrants. (Notarianni)
Beyond these responsibilities, Anselmo also participated in many of the local political and social issues of the community. One endeavor he is well known for was his lobbying of the Utah State Legislature to have Columbus Day proclaimed a legal state holiday. While his efforts ultimately failed, Columbus Day did eventually become a holiday in 1919. (Notarianni; Chiariglione)
In addition to being a businessman and diplomat, Anselmo was well known for his magnanimity. Despite not being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter -day Saints, his generosity was spread to some of the most prominent Mormons at the time. In 1943, J. Reuben Clark Jr., a member of the Church’s First Presidency and namesake of Brigham Young University’s Law School, wrote Anselmo a letter thanking him for the cheese he sent him. Clark wrote, “As I am sure you like cheese (you can hardly like it better than I do), and as you know as well as I how hard good cheese is to get just now, I feel very certain that you will understand me when I say I am most thankful to you for your thoughtfulness in sending to me that large portion of Gorgonzola cheese.” (Clark)
Similarly, the entire First Presidency of the Church wrote Anselmo in 1946 to thank him for the olive oil he gave them. They noted, “We are all beneficiaries of you gracious kindness in the matter of a supply of pure Italian olive oil. It has been so long since we were able to secure any of this oil that it is a real luxury. Please accpet our thanks for this splendid gift and accept also our sincere wishes for your welfare.” (Smith, Clark, and McKay)
One of his sadder diplomatic duties took him to the site of a mining accident. In 1924, Castle Gate suffered a mine explosion in which 172 men were killed, twenty-two of them Italian immigrants. As one of the most well known Italian Utahns at the time, Anselmo traveled to Castle Gate to offer his services and condolences to the devastated town. (“Castle Gate Relief Fund”)
At other points in his career, Anselmo rubbed shoulders with celebrities and dignitaries from around the world. In 1922, Anselmo and his wife entertained Vittorio Rolandi-Ricci, the Italian ambassador to the United States. Governor Mabey, the Utah governor at the time, was so impressed with Anselmo’s hosting abilities that he wrote him a letter saying, “I would indeed be remiss in my duty if I did not convey to you my cordial appreciation for the splendid reception accorded your esteemed countryman, Ambassador Ricci. In every respect the ceremonies and entertainment were commendable, and the committee in charge is to be heartily congratulated.” In 1930, the Anselmo family was treated to a visit by Italian heavyweight boxing champion Primo Carnera, who is depicted in the photograph. Probably the most distinguished guest Anselmo had the opportunity to greet was Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who would eventually become Pope Pius XII. (Notarianni; Mabey)
Anselmo’s favor with the Italian government and their diplomats actually began early on in his career as vice consul. On Feburary 3, 1920, after only five years of being vice consul, he was made a Knight of the Crown of Italy and Officer of the Order of the Crown of Italy. These awards, much like being knighted in England, are only given to those believed to have offered great service to the Italian government. Most who are awarded with such an honor are military men or important political figures. The fact that Anselmo was awarded with both honors speaks volumes of about how valued he was as a diplomat. (Notarianni; “Italian Consul Honored By King”)
Despite these honors, Benito Mussolini forced Anselmo to resign from his position as vice consul in 1923 after Anselmo completed the naturalization process and became a United States citizen. However, he was ordered to maintain the position until a successor could be appointed. Nobody else was ever appointed, and in 1941, the US government ordered the office to close entirely. (Notarianni; Monson)
In addition to forcing him out of his position as vice consul, becoming a naturalized citizen incited distrust in terms of Anselmo’s allegiance to America. Some even went as far as to claim he was un-American and began a movement to denaturalize Anselmo. These rumors and defamations caused many to speak out on behalf of Anselmo and his family. One notable writer, Secretary Gus P. Backman of the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce, wrote a letter to Burton W. Musser. Backman writes:
I have been personally acquainted with Mr. Anselmo for fifteen to eighteen years …. During the entire time I have know Mr. Anselmo, he has always conducted himself in a most outstanding manner, has also been rated by me, as well as by the people of the community in general, as a forthright, honorable business man. His business ethics have always been above reproach and any question as to his Americanism and loyalty to American ideals has never to my knowledge been raised …. This letter is written due to the fact that I understand some one has started a movement to denaturalize Mr. Anselmo which, in my opinion, would be outrageous …. (Backman)
Fortunately for Anselmo, the movement to denaturalize him failed. In 1950, the office of vice consul was reopened, and the position was returned to Anselmo. He served in that position until he died on July 15, 1965. (Notarianni) Zopito Valentino, an Italian American author, has since eulogized Anselmo with the following:
For how long have the Italians of Utah known Anselmo? For how long have they looked to him for help, protection and advice? Who ever saw his door closed? Who ever found his heart indifferent? He is always ready to extend the glad hand, to help and protect, to offer his counsel and to give liberally. A more generous heart does not exist and a better soul is not to be found. (Valentino)
Today, visitors can learn about Anselmo Fortunato and his family by visiting his home, located at 164 S. 900 East in Salt Lake City. His house has been preserved as a historical monument by the Utah State Historical Society. Visitors may also visit the Utah State Historical Society for more information about Anselmo and other notable Utahns.
Laura Nielson Newbold is a communication major at The University of Utah. She will be graduated this year with a Bachelor of Arts in speech communication and plans to attend the University of Utah S.J. Quinney Law School in the fall. Her husband, Sean Newbold, translated all of the Italian documents into English.
Fortunato Anselmo Papers, Folders 1-15, Box 1, 1917-1963, Utah State Historical Society.
Governor Charles R. Mabey to Fortunato Anselmo, May 19, 1922, Fortunato Anselmo Papers, Mss B 103, Utah State Historical Society.
Secretary Gus P. Backman to Burton W. Musser, March 19, 1943, Fortunato Anselmo Papers, Mss B 103, Utah State Historical Society.
Secretary of State E. E. Monson to Fortunato Anselmo, July 12, 1941, Fortunato Anselmo Papers, Mss B 103, Utah State Historical Society.
Salt Lake Tribune article, “Italian Consul Honored By King,” February 3, 1920, Fortunato Anselmo Papers, Mss B 103, Utah State Historical Society.
J. Reuben Clark Jr. to Fortunato Anselmo, March 30, 1943, Fortunato Anselmo Papers, Mss B 103, Utah State Historical Society.
George Albert Smith, J. Reuben Clark, and David O. McKay to Fortunato Anselmo, November 29,1946, Fortunato Anselmo Papers, Mss B 103, Utah State Historical Society.
Prop H. Chiariglione to Fortunato Anselmo, January 6, 1917, Fortunato Anselmo Papers, Mss B 103, Utah State Historical Society.
Philip F. Notarianni, “Italianità in Utah: The Immigrant Experience,” in Helen Z. Papanikolas, ed., The Peoples of Utah. Salt Lake City: Utah Historical Society, 1976.
Zopito Valentino, Italian Activities of the Intermountain Region (1965-1975)
“Castle Gate Relief Fund Committee.” Division of Archives and Records Service, Department of Administration Services.
Ordini Cavallereschi del Regno d’Italia, Corpo della Nobiltà Italiana.