On December 23, 2020, The Gazette ran the photo that accompanies this column under the following headline: “Can you help solve a Christmas mystery—72 years later?”
The photo, submitted by Tony Macrie of The Seashore Lines Railroad, showed five women at the Crown Pants Co. factory (now Adrenaline Fitness at the corner of Passmore Avenue and Washington Street). It was taken on Christmas Eve, Friday, December 24, 1948. Macrie’s mother, Angelina “Angie” Valentino and her co-worker friends posed for a photo during a pre-wedding celebration for Valentino, who would be married just 16 days later to Anthony Macrie on Sunday, January 9, 1949. The photograph was taken by local photographer of the era Ralph Hill.
Printing the photo sparked immediate interest from The Gazette’s readership, which is always ready to assist in these situations. Gazette Editor-in-Chief Gina Rullo received a message from recently-retired longtime Hammonton Police Department employee and lifelong resident Mimi Massara.
Massara identified the woman on the far left of the photo wearing glasses as Anna Graziano of Hammonton. A quick consultation with one of this newspaper’s favorite historic reference books—the 1950-51 Clark’s City Directory for Hammonton—which lists people names, residences, occupations, even who lived where on each street in town in that year. 1950-51 turned out to be one of the best years for finding people in town through the decades, because the community was so stable.
Graziano lived on Second Street then. She was listed as working at Crown Pants as an “operator” (presumably of a sewing machine).
A few days later, another person stopped outside the offices of The Gazette with the newspaper folded over to the picture in her hand and spoke with me. She said her name was Janet Baglivo, and that her brother had called her to tell her that their mother’s picture was in The Gazette.
Their mother’s name was Anna Bertino Burton, and according to the City Directory, she too had worked at Crown Pants as an “operator.” She was the second woman from the left in the photograph, standing next to Graziano.
While all this was happening, I was contacting Macrie, who said he couldn’t believe how quickly our readership was able to determine who was in the photo.
“Your mother’s photo must have some magic in it,” I told him.
Macrie then produced a couple of old photos of larger Christmas parties held in previous years at the clothing factory. One of them, from 1945, ran in The Gazette’s “Hammonton’s History” section on Wednesday, March 10, 2010. It appears some of the women from the 1948 photo are in it, along with the rest of the employees of Crown Pants Co.
Can you take a good look at the photograph printed here and see if any of the names listed below match one or both of the two women standing to the far right of the photo? If you are related to any of the following women, take a good look at the names below and see if you can match them to the two remaining unnamed faces in the photo. Here are the women’s names — minus the ones we have already identified — from the bigger party photo taken in 1945:
Jenny Bardini; Kate Capelli; Mary Capelli; Carmella Carlemere; Rosalie Comardo; Rose Condie; Katie DeRossi; Carmella DiMico; Florence Giannini; Sophie Godawich; Josie Gelona; Penny Grasso; Rose Grasso; Jenny Ingemi; Gilda Longo; Angie Messina; June Messina; Jenny Maimone; Mary Maimone; Jeanette Merlino; Lucy Milazzo; Lena Moffa; Mary Passarella; Laura Pino; Louise Pino; Mary Repici; Katie Sacco; Anna Silipino; Millie Tomasello; Rita Vitesi; Marie Vuotto; and Amy Zozone.
There are also women named Elaine, Carmella and Clara listed in the caption for the 1945 group photograph without any last names.
As far as the photograph of the four women from 1948 goes, we are only two names away from solving a 72-year-old Hammonton mystery. With your help, we may be able to find the remaining two names in this photo, which Tony Macrie described this past Christmas as iconic.
“Every time I look at that photo, I cannot help but admiring the work attire of those young ladies, all the way down to their ankle strap shoes! The class and dignity portrayed by these ladies, in their work environment no less, is overwhelming,” Macrie said in December of 2020.
Now Macrie is looking—along with the staff of The Gazette and our readership—for the last two names. The hope is that a solution to a decades-old mystery will finally be found.
“Not only do I care about my family to run some family history in the paper, it’s also Hammonton history. I’m trying to weave the historic thread together, find out who they are and maybe interact with some of the descendants. It’s been amazing. I exchanged greetings with someone on New Year’s Eve at ShopRite and the next thing you know, she started talking about the article and the photo and said she wanted to know who the people were as well. A teller at a local bank spoke to me about it at the drive-through and said she had saved the paper and was taking it to her mom who was in her 90s because it was such a good reflection on her mother’s generation. I would be overwhelmed if we found out all the names. It’s a missing piece of my mom’s history. I’d like to know more about the people who worked with my mom back then and their families. It’s a mystery I’d like to see solved, and I appreciate everyone’s help,” Macrie said.
Gabe Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.