You're listening to American Shadows, a production of I Heart Radio and Greyman miles from Aaron Manque. Edward Dealable have long been one of America's most impassioned supporters, considered one of the most notable political thinkers of his time. He fully endorsed the idea that people were born with the right to freedom and spent his life working toward democratic rule instead of monarchy. After the American Civil War ended in 1865, Edward wanted to show his appreciation for Abraham Lincoln and the Constitution during a meeting with his fellow countrymen.
He proposed that the people of France should send America a gift, a symbol of their newly cemented ideology of freedom and democracy. He hoped the gesture wouldn't be lost on the people of France and that they, too, might embrace democracy.
It took some time before France approved his suggestion in September of 1875, Edward announced his idea had become a reality with the French public financing the project, sculptor Frederic August Bartholdi would create a magnificent bronze statue representing America.
Project Liberty, enlightening the world had commenced. In 1883, Emma Lazarus wrote the poem The New Colossus to raise money from the American public for the Statue of Liberty pedestal. To this day, one line stands out, perhaps the most. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The Roman goddess Libertas served as the model for the neoclassical sculpture torch held high in one hand. The other would hold a tablet in Roman numerals for July 4th, 1776.
After another 11 years, the project was finished on October 28 of 1886, President Grover Cleveland watched as bands from all over America took part in a parade for the statue's dedication. Later that evening, the torch was lit, shining over New York Harbor.
While America had seemingly united the rest of the world, struggled with their own internal wars, revolutions and upheavals, seeing the new world as a safe haven, citizens across Europe began to flee their homelands. Many saw America as a place to rebuild their shattered lives. As letters returned home with tales of opportunities for a better life, more people left their homelands and made their way to New York's Ellis Island. The first immigrant to pass through the station was 17 year old Annie More from Cork, Ireland.
She and her two brothers were among the 700 people who arrived on the station's opening day January 1st, 1892, by the year's end. The station had processed over 400000 immigrants from 1892 to nineteen twenty four. It's estimated that over 12 million immigrants arrived at Ellis Island in an attempt to keep up with the flow. The state built a medical facility to house the sick and the quarantined. Those who passed a physical were sent to stand in processing lines. While most were accepted, about one percent of all immigrants failed health exams or didn't have the appropriate paperwork and were deported.
There are countless success stories from those who have sailed past the Statue of Liberty and made it through Ellis Island. Bob Hope, Charlie Chaplin, Albert Einstein, Cary Grant, Houdini and my own great grandparents, among others. While Edward's original message had been for Freedom and Liberty, the statue became a symbol to all who sailed on immigrant ships. She became the official greeter, a welcoming mother image to all. Lazarus's famous poem quickly became synonymous with immigration.
Though established immigrants sometimes met incoming family. Others were on their own. Upon his arrival, one lone immigrant stared at Lady Liberty, moved to tears as though he were talking to a person. He stood on the deck of his ship and pulled Liberty. How beautiful she was for welcoming so many foreigners with open arms as the ship continued past. He asked for just one thing the opportunity to prove himself worthy, to do good and be someone in America.
To him and others who no longer felt welcome or safe in their homelands, Liberty became the mother of exiles. America gave them a fresh start, a new life, and for many it was. For some, though, the sight of Lady Liberty would be the last welcome that receive.
I'm Lauren Bacall. Welcome to American Chateaux. He never talked about why he had been sent to America when he turned 13, the practice wasn't uncommon, though the parents often sent their children to America in hopes for a better life for. So do and his older brother, poverty in Sardinia, Italy was likely to blame. In 1988, he and his brother arrived at Ellis Island. It was an area known as the Great Arrival, a term used to describe the influx of Italian immigrants from 1876 to nineteen.
Twenty three million left Italy due to war, poverty, violence, disease and natural disasters.
The new government in Sicily had no means to give aid to their people. Word traveled to the region of American prosperity and labor recruiters promised work. Some left Italy only to return later. For them, the American dream had been anything but. The cost of transatlantic travel had become more affordable. But for many families, that only managed to save enough to buy one or two tickets separating some families forever. The two brothers traveled in the steerage class, the poorest section of the ship, the first class passengers weren't subjected to the inspection required of second and steerage class as they could afford a first class ticket.
They were seen as less of a financial and health risk, though any ill or sick passenger was sent for further inspection or quarantine, the conditions in the steerage class were crowded and unsanitary. These passengers were subjected to a more thorough inspection to prevent spreading contagious disease, though doctors sometimes spent as little as six seconds on any given individual. Afterward, the passengers paperwork was inspected for one reason or another. Giorgio was cleared, but his brother boarded a ship heading back to Italy, leaving his younger brother alone in a new country.
And sadly, he never heard from his brother or his family again at a young age.
Giorgio was on his own. He found work carrying supplies and water to railroad workers when he was old enough to drive, he took a job as a driver in West Virginia. Sadly, many saw Italians as lazy, unethical and as cheap labor. Giorgio proved otherwise. He worked tirelessly, was exceptionally smart and highly ambitious. Eventually, he changed his name to George Sodor to become more Americanized. His hard work paid off after a few years, and he started his own trucking company hauling dirt, freight and coal after one long day of driving.
George happened to walk into a local store called The Music Box. A young woman caught his eye. Jenny Kyprianou, the shopkeeper's daughter, was also an Italian immigrant, having come over with her parents when she was just three years old. The two dated and soon wed. They settled down Fayetteville, West Virginia, in a two story frame home in a middle class neighborhood. Although not widely accepted due to their race and status immigrants, the family found a home, among other Italian families in the area of the small Appalachian community was close knit, and the Sadr family soon became one of the most respected in the area.
George finally felt it achieved the American dream, a lovely partner, his own company, a nice home in a middle class neighborhood. To add to their joy, they had a son, Joseph, in 1920 to marry and came after that in nineteen twenty eight, followed by John George Jr., Morris, Martha Lewis, Jennie, Betty and finally Sylvia in nineteen forty three. And Joseph had left home by the time the youngest of the Sadr children were born.
Choosing to serve in the military during World War Two, the solders were proud of their son's service to their new country. George had a strong dislike of Benito Mussolini, who not only had risen to power after that, but had embraced Hitler's philosophies because of Mussolini and those who supported him. Some Americans believed Italians in the U.S. were a threat to national security. The Italian American community had become accustomed to threats and derogatory slurs. President Roosevelt signed executive orders allowing that enemy aliens suspected of terrorist or treasonous acts could be imprisoned.
Their homes or businesses seized. They were forced to abide by a curfew from 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., like the Japanese after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Thousands of Italian Americans lost their homes and were either detained or deported. Other families endured government raids. No one of Italian descent was safe. Even Joe DiMaggio's family experienced continual harassment and threats of arrest. George had witnessed discrimination. Soon after arriving at Ellis Island, but had hoped that over time things would get better.
He'd done everything possible to fit in and dispel stereotypes to him. Mussolini was not only a monster, but had also set back any progress Italian Americans had made. And he remained quite vocally opinionated about that. Finally, the curfew ended in 1942, the next year, Mussolini was removed from power and imprisoned, but German forces freed him. Mussolini served under Hitler, creating the Italian Social Republic, which led to the extermination of countless Jewish people living in the region.
George wasn't shy about his immense dislike of Mussolini, a sentiment most of his fellow Italian immigrants shared. Some, however, showed fierce loyalty to their homelands. Former prime minister dividing the once unified community.
Even after Mussolini's execution in 1945, his staunch loyalists defended him, sometimes violently. In late October of 1945, a life insurance salesman solicited the Sadr household, George recognized the man as a Mussolini supporter and sent him on his way. As you might guess, the salesman didn't take the rejection well in a fit of anger, the salesman told Disorders that their house would catch fire. More ominously, though, he uttered another warning. Your children are going to be destroyed.
You'll pay for your dirty remarks you've been making about Mussolini. George watched the man storm away and he dismissed the threats as nothing more than pettiness like his fellow citizens had also become accustomed to harsh words and threats. Later, George would wish he'd taken the threat more seriously. Soon after the insurance salesman's visit, George found a man wandering around the backyard, the man claimed he was only looking for work that maybe he could haul coal after learning there weren't any openings.
The man pointed to the fuse boxes and said, this is going to cause a fire someday. What a strange comment George thought as the man walked away. And just days before he and Jenny had had a new stove installed and the power company checked all the wiring that assured them everything was in perfect working order, odd occurrences like these tapered off by the beginning of December. But just before Christmas, John and George Jr. saw a man they didn't know sitting in a car they didn't recognize off of Highway Twenty one near the school.
They might not have paid him too much attention, except that he seemed intently focused on their younger siblings.
But the man didn't get out of the car and he didn't follow them home. So the boys let the matter go. The family had forgotten about the threats on Christmas Eve. They sat down to a special dinner later that evening, the younger children, excited by the tree lights and presents, begged to open just one gift. After each child opened to present, the younger children were sent to bed.
While Marion helped with the dishes, Morris, a nine year old Lewis, put the cows in and fed the chickens. Once all the children had gone to bed, George and Jenny set out the rest of the presents and called the night an hour or so later. A ringing phone woke Jenny from a sound sleep just after midnight, worried it might be news about their eldest son still away in the Army. She hurried to the kitchen to answer. A woman on the other end asked for someone Jenny didn't know in the background.
China in glasses clink and people laughed a wrong number, Jenny said, and she hung up, relieved. The caller had been a dinner guest somewhere and not the army calling with bad news. She was walking back to the bedroom when she noticed several lights were still on. The thinking one of them had forgotten to turn the lights out.
Amid the celebration, she turned them off. As she reached the foot of the stairs, she noticed the curtains were open and the front door was unlocked. She breathed a sigh of relief that they lived in such a small, close knit community, locked the door, closed the curtains and went back to bed. No sooner had she drifted to sleep than a loud bang woke her, followed by the sound of something rolling from the roof, and she listened for a while in the dark, finally thinking she had imagined the whole thing.
She drifted back to sleep once more. An hour later, she awoke to a strong, acrid smell and turned on the light. Ribbons of smoke swirled in from under the bedroom door, rising in dark gray wisps. She jumped out of bed, yelling, Fire. George scrambled out of bed. They had to warn the children. He threw the door open, only to find dense smoke had filled the hallway coughing. He shouted for the children to get out of the house.
Doors flew open, shouts in the echo of the children's footsteps filled the air. Jenny raced to little Sylvia's room, snatching the child from her bed and hurried downstairs to get the baby out of the smoke. Marion and the two boys stood on the front lawn. George and Jenny exchanged panicked glances. Five children were still in the burning house. George tried to re-enter through the front door. Flames had overtaken the stairwell. He shouted for the children, but not answered.
Remembering the ladder at the side of the house, he raced around the corner to find it gone. A search of the back of the home and the other side turned up empty, the trucks he used to haul coal caught his eye. He'd drive one of them around to the side of the house, stand on top, break the window and call to the children there. He raced back into the house through the kitchen, grab the keys and jumped into one of the trucks.
Though he tried several times, it wouldn't start the frantic. He tried the second truck, which also refused to start. Jenny went inside to try calling the fire department. The phone line was dead. Marion ran next door to call from there, but their phone line was also dead. The neighbor got in their car and sped to the nearest open tavern to call the fire chief. The two boys thought of the rain barrels, but the water had frozen.
Horrified, the family clung together and cried, they were helpless to do anything to save Betty, Martha. Maurice Lewis and little Jenny, who remained trapped somewhere inside. For 45 minutes that early Christmas morning, the family stood outside barefoot in coatless, watching their home burn. The fire department still nowhere in sight. Flames lapped the house, burning through beams and posts, leaving nothing but charred timbers until the roof buckled and caved in. The house collapsed and with it, the sardars that Christmas morning.
Five of their children were dead. At least that's what George and Jenny thought. By eight o'clock that morning, the starter home had been reduced to smoldering rubble and hot ash, and that's when the fire department showed up. We can't speak for George or Jenny, but we can only imagine the verbal exchange between them and the fire chief. One F.J. Morris.
What we do know is that the chief claimed he had no idea how to drive the fire truck, had been the chief for eight years, and he wasn't the only firefighter on the force. Morris claimed had called the other men and not one of them had responded until the morning he told the grieving parents that it was a holiday Christmas. After all, the firemen set to work hosing down embers and began the search, if anyone could call it that, for human remains.
It was cursory at best. I suppose they didn't expect to find any survivors. Around 10 a.m., Morris told Disorder's that they hadn't found any remains, and he expected that the intensity of the fire had cremated their children. As the firemen packed up the trucks, he informed the sardars to leave everything as it was, the fire marshal would want to take a look.
Five days later, when no one had showed up, George bulldozed the site. Neither he nor Jenny could look at it anymore. Jenny wanted a flower garden, a memorial to her children, and he intended to give it to her.
Investigators arrived days later and after briefly questioning the family and neighbors, determined faulty wiring was to blame. The local paper ran the story first, claiming the bodies had been found, then contradicting themselves and saying that no remains have been found after all. The sardars were too grief stricken to notice the stories, even without a trace of remains, the death certificates for the five children came in on December 30th. On January 2nd, nineteen forty six, a service was held for the children.
And life continued. People paid their respects. A bus driver told Jenny that he'd seen something resembling fireballs landing on the roof of their house that night, Jenny recalled the banging noise in the sound of something rolling off the roof. Another woman claimed to have seen five children ride past her in a car that night and even stranger, a waitress in a diner 50 miles away, said she'd served breakfast to five kids that morning but couldn't recall if it was two adults or four with them.
Jenny told George about the sounds and their sons told them about the strange man in the car who had been watching the younger children. That day before Christmas, listeners started asking questions, especially why no one had found a single bone. After that night, the paper reported another fire where skeletons were found. Disorder's went to a nearby crematorium to ask why remains hadn't been found when their house had burned. The owner assured them that for the children to have been cremated, the heat inside would have had to have been a lot hotter than any house fire.
Curious, Jenny experimented with chicken bones, burning them in an oven to determine if they had become ash within the 45 minutes that had taken their house to burn, even at the highest temperature, the bones remained. More people reported seeing the children. A woman spotted them at a hotel in South Carolina with four adults. The daughters went back to the chief of police and the fire department, demanding answers and a reopening of the investigation. Both refused. It didn't make sense to them if there had been faulty wiring, why had the man installing the oven claimed everything was working perfectly?
Of course, there was that man in the backyard that day and the threat from the insurance salesman. A telephone repairman told George the phone lines had been cut before the fire started, Jenny recalled the odd wrong number and there were too many coincidences, too many odd things that didn't add up. And that was before the latter showed up miles away in a ditch. One of their daughters found an odd green ball of sorts in the backyard. George thought it might be some sort of bomb getting no help from local authorities.
George wrote to the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover wrote them personally, stating that he'd send agents to assist but needed permission from the Fayetteville police first. Oddly, the chief refused. The sardars knew something was wrong. What had happened to their children if they hadn't died in the fire, George recalled shouting for them and not one of them had answered since the police wouldn't help, they hired a private investigator, one C.C. Tinsley. The more digging the investigator did, the more oddities he uncovered, the insurance salesman who had threatened George, a man named Rasselas, had also served as a jurymen on the fire inquest panel.
And perhaps oddest of all, fire chief Morris claimed to not only have found a heart among the ashes, but that had also put it in a metal box and buried it. Apparently, the chief confessed to the local minister who confirmed the story, confronted with the information and a very angry father, the fire chief agreed to show them where he had buried the box. After recovering the box and looking inside, a mortician inspected the contents, he determined it was a beef liver, not a heart, not human, and it certainly hadn't been in any fire.
George began to rethink the night that the salesman long had threatened him, despite telling the police no one had followed up on the lead and then long participated in the inquest. But the more the sardars thought about it, the more they believed the Mussolinis supporting salesman hadn't acted alone.
Tinsley learned that fire chief Morris had worked as a bookkeeper for Fiorenzo Johnny Tulo, who'd cosigned a loan for Georgia's trucking company. Equally suspicious, Johnny Tuaolo received a small payout from an insurance company after the fire.
And there was another man on the jury who had been a suspect, Johnny Taylor's cousin. Tinslay found one more thing that the men had ties to the Mafia.
He suggested that the fire could have been started for any number of reasons revenge, insurance, money or Georgia's blatant dislike of Mussolini. But none of it answered the biggest question of all, what had happened to their children. Reports of sightings states away continued to pour in, George and Jenny began to really think their children hadn't died that night in the fire. Instead, someone had taken them and the fire had been a cover up to Jenny. Too many things pointed to kidnapping.
They had learned it took a fire hotter than two thousand degrees to create a body, the older boys had seen a man watching the younger children. A woman saw five kids in the back of a car the night of the fire. The waitress who'd served them breakfast recalled one more detail. Florida tax. And there were more red flags. The woman at the hotel reported that the two adult couples with the children were also of Italian descent. When she had tried to talk to the children, the men became angry and began speaking loudly in Italian.
Despite sightings and the information Tinslay collected, the local officials determined the case closed. George and Jenny hired pathologist Oscar Hunter. In the summer of 1949, upon excavation of the area, he uncovered a charred dictionary, coins and a few bones. Hunter sent the fragments to the Smithsonian for testing. The bones were human belonging to just one individual. They determined the age of the deceased to be between 16 and 17 years that ruled out any of the missing Sodor children.
The report also concluded that the fragments had never been in a fire. In the end, Hunter determined that when George bulldozed the site, the Earth had pushed over. The area already contained the fragments. No one knows where the other bones originated from, though he suspected the nearby cemetery. Years later, a letter arrived stating that Martha had been spotted in a convent in St. Louis. A woman in New York sent the cover of a ballet magazine showing a young girl who looked exactly like Betty.
When George tracked down the parents, they refused to allow him to see the girl. The sardars never gave up without anything more to go on. They paid for a billboard on Route 16 in West Virginia with the children's photos and the offer of a cash reward, the billboard read after 30 years. It is not too late to investigate. George Sodor died in 1969, Jenny continued to live in the home they rebuilt on the property. She tended to the memorial garden for the rest of her life when she passed away in 1989.
The family finally took down the billboard. Except for John, every one of the Sadr children believed that their siblings survived that night and possibly even taken to Italy. The truth of what happened, though, remains a mystery. And after all this time, it's clear that while the children disappeared, something else took their place. Questions. There's more to this story. Stick around after this brief sponsor break to hear all about it. Today's episode is brought to you by Better Help, there's nothing wrong about needing some help with your mental health if you're having difficulty with sleep, stress, anxiety, depression, relationships, work.
It doesn't have to be bad. It can get better. And counseling really can make a difference. Better help. Online counseling can match you with licensed professional therapists who are trained in all kinds of issues. You fill out a questionnaire and can start communicating in under 48 hours with unlimited messages plus video or phone sessions at your convenience and confidentially. And if you want to try a different counselor, it's easy and free to rematch. This podcast is sponsored by Better Help and American Chateaux.
Listeners get 10 percent off their first month at Better Help NORCOM American Chateaus visit better LP dot com slash American chateaus and join the over one million people who have taken charge of their mental health with the help of an experienced, better health professional. His last childhood memory of his homeland was watching the house he shared with his parents and seven siblings burned to the ground, the fire hadn't been accidental. Now it had been deliberately set in.
The family's specifically targeted. You see Israel known simply as is he and his family lived in Russia during a dangerous time, the persecution and slaughter of Jewish people living in the country.
Like many other Jewish families, the Balan's had been kept intensely poor, often without proper food or heating for their meager home with a dirt floor, two children had died from pneumonia. Now homeless, Moses and Leah knew that if they stayed, they risked their lives and those of their remaining children that escaped a fire designed to kill them, after all. But for the family, there was only one place to go, America. With a family of seven and given that fled with the clothes on their backs, the balloons likely could only afford steering class.
While the conditions weren't great, it wasn't too different from the conditions they'd been forced to live in. Back in Russia, with papers in hand, they boarded the Red Star line from Antwerp and on September 14th, 1893, passed Lady Liberty en route to Ellis Island.
Is he and his siblings caught a cold during the trip and were kept at Ellis until doctors determined that they weren't contagious with something more nefarious. After a few days, they joined their parents in New York City, a place Izzy would live for the rest of his life. Putting the horrors of Russia behind them, America became their homeland and they changed their surname to Mozes, found a job in a kosher meat market and supplemented the family income by giving Hebrew lessons.
The family moved into a three room tenement on Cherry Street. The children went to school and life was good for the next eight years. And sadly, when he was just 13, his father died of a heart attack. With their income gone is his mother became a midwife. The children left school and went to work.
His sisters wrapped cigars while his brother labored in a clothing sweatshop as he earned money selling papers on street corners for five cents a day. Each night, the children deposited their day's pay into their mother's apron before sitting down to eat. No matter the weather is, he stood on the corner selling papers he didn't entirely mind. He'd fallen for the sounds of the street musicians, seeing people pass coins into the hats of their feet as he began to sing some of those songs, which sold more papers.
One evening he confided to his mother that one day he knew he'd be a singing waiter in a New York saloon.
Despite the extra income from singing as he made the least amount of money of the family feeling worthless, he ran away, joining other young immigrants living in the Bowery. The conditions were deplorable without formal education or meaningful skills. Is he saying to passers by for money? He learned which types of songs people loved the most, discovering lyrics with simple sentiments paid better. By 18, he achieved his goal as a singing waiter at the Pellom Cafe. He improved famous songs, often changing the words and tune, earning him praise and applause from his customers.
In the evenings, he taught himself to play the bars piano by ear. He had no idea how to read sheet music. Together with the saloon's pianist, he wrote a song for which he earned thirty seven cents in royalties, the publisher crediting him as the writer, spelled his name wrong. The misspelling and low earnings didn't faze him. He continued to alter songs and write new ones. One night, he altered the rhythm of a popular tune and the entire saloon applauded wildly.
By the time he turned 20 is he took a better paying job as a singing waiter at a saloon in Union Square. From there, he landed a job with a production company. In 1911, he became an instant celebrity on Tin Pan Alley and Broadway. His performances often brought in hundreds of fans. The crowds humbled him, and he sometimes cried tears of joy as he sang, he went on to write the song Alexander's Ragtime Band, which became an international success even if he was taken aback by the dance craze.
His song inspired over the years, musical greats like Bing Crosby, Johnny Mercer and Louis Armstrong also reached the top of the charts with the tune. By 1912, Izzy became so successful that he wrote a musical and a new song, Variety magazine, gave the show glowing reviews and he found instant success of a different sort, even back in Russia. People danced to his songs.
He wrote his first ballad when his wife of just six months died after contracting typhoid during their honeymoon in Havana. The song sold over a million copies. When World War One started, Izzy wrote several patriotic songs to honor those in service in 1917, he was drafted while serving in the Army. He wrote another musical and one more song, though he wouldn't release it for 20 more years. He remarried in 1925 and it would be a love affair that lasted a lifetime.
The couple welcomed their first daughter in nineteen twenty six, and as he wrote a song about fatherhood, it became an instant hit. And 52 years later, in 1978, Willie Nelson's version made it to the top of the charts once more. Never losing his love of America is he wrote songs for the Red Cross and the United States Treasury during World War Two. He wrote another patriotic play that Hollywood adapted to film in nineteen forty three starring future President Ronald Reagan.
He retired in the 1960s, though he kept in the public eye. His beloved wife died in nineteen eighty eight and he never remarried. He lived to the wonderful age of 101. His songs and style remain iconic. Well, after his death every Christmas, millions watched Bing Crosby and Company sing White Christmas. A tune is, he wrote. All told, he wrote 15 movie scripts, 20 Broadway shows and one thousand five hundred songs. By now, you might guess he wasn't only known as Ezzy that misspelling on his first published song ended up following him for the rest of his life.
He was no other than Irving Berlin. On Erving's one 100th birthday, Walter Cronkite said Berlin had helped write the story of this country capturing the best of who we are and the dreams that shape our lives. One more thing. The song Irving Berlin wrote during World War One that didn't surface for 20 years. His daughter said her father's love of a country that welcomed him had moved him to write it. And that song, God Bless America. American Shadows is hosted by Loren Vogel.
This episode was written by Michelle Muto, researched by Ali Steed and produced by Miranda Hawkins and Trevor Young with executive producers Aaron Manque, Alex Williams and Matt Frederick. To learn more about the show, visit Greyman, Millicom from War podcast I heart radio, visit the radio app Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.