by Tyler Tichelaar
Gelsomina’s Story of Caesar Lucchesi
By Lou Ellyn Helman and Maria Vezzetti Matson
Subtitled “A True Tale of Italian Immigrants,” this book tells the tale of coauthor Maria Vezzetti Matson’s grandparents as it was largely told to her by her grandmother, Gelsomina Lucchesi. The story takes place in Italy and the Copper Country, specifically around South Range where the Lucchesis settled. It is a love story, an immigrant story and the tale of an entrepreneur pursuing and succeeding at finding the American Dream. It’s also a realistic and fascinating portrait of life in Upper Michigan during most of the twentieth century.
The story begins in the rolling hills of Tuscany where Caesar and Gelsomina met as children and it was predicted they would one day grow up and marry. Ironically, both traveled to America, separately and with no intention of being together, but both ended up in the Copper Country where they soon became reacquainted and eventually eloped. Before long, they were raising a large family and building a successful business.
From the moment Caesar Lucchesi arrived in America in 1899, he was not afraid of hard work, knowing it was the way to success. He began simply, buying horses for transportation, then eventually cars, and soon owning a bus line. One of my favorite stories about his rise to success was how he needed to plow the roads in winter so his buses could travel back and forth from Houghton, Calumet, Lake Linden, Atlantic Mine and other locations. Caesar decided to take it upon himself to clear the streets, despite objections from the road commission, farmers who pushed his plows off the road and complaints from people traveling by sleigh that they couldn’t get over the snowbanks. It’s amazing how people felt about such technology in those days when we take snowplows for granted today, but Lucchesi was ahead of his time and realized sleighs and horses had seen their day. Caesar also went on to own the Cloverland Garage, several gas stations, and start the Range Gas and Oil Company in South Range. He even was an early aviator.
While the book focuses on Caesar Lucchesi, because Gelsomina is largely the source of the stories, she comes shining through in the book, from her early plan to come to America to help her brother and his wife and then return home—only to find out her brother would not pay for her passage back to Italy—to her secret elopement with Caesar. This truly adventurous woman was not afraid to ride in an airplane with her husband, although once during an emergency landing, she ended up hurt because she wouldn’t wear her seatbelt—she didn’t want to wrinkle her dress. Despite such a ladylike concern, Gelsomina enjoyed smoking a Lucky Strike cigarette once a day so she would feel like a modern woman.
The book includes more than fifty pages of family photographs of the Lucchesi family that make these fascinating people come to life. They worked hard, but they also enjoyed life, had fine senses of humor, looked out for their families and neighbors, and knew how to think outside the box to get ahead. By the time I finished reading this book, I had a great liking and admiration for them.
To sum up what this book is about, I’ll conclude with words one of Caesar’s friends wrote for the Daily Mining Gazette upon his passing: “Caesar had a philosophy that of all the advantages which come to a young man he believed being born in humble circumstances is the greatest. While he readily acknowledged it was uncomfortable, he testified that nine times out of ten the best thing that could happen to a young man is to be tossed overboard and compelled to sink or swim for himself.” Not only did Caesar swim, but he taught many around him to swim—and even fly.
For more information, visit www.thelucc hesistory.com
Editor’s Note: Tichelaar is the author of My Marquette. All books reviewed are available online and in local bookstores. For book review submission guidelines, visit www.mmnow.com