It was autumn, 1939. Germany had just invaded Poland. France had not yet fallen. Mussolini was Hitler's ally on paper, but had not yet mobilized troops. And the United States wouldn't enter the war for another two years.
Exactly 80 years ago this week, the Mazzini Society was born in Northampton, Massachusetts, allowing intellectual émigrés to dream up a liberal, Italian republic in the Land of the Free— far from the grasp of Benito Mussolini.
Some of the group's members had rebuilt bridges after the ravages of World War I. Others wrote books on Paul Cézanne and Frank Lloyd Wright. Still more were socialists who had initially supported Mussolini before things went too far. All sought to free their mother country from dictatorship.
I. The Expatriates
"And what do you want to put on it, if not Mazzini's image? A naked woman? Enough with the arguments, then!"
With his signature sense of humor, the 66-year-old medieval history professor Gaetano Salvemini put an end to all the squabbling.
For days, "the expatriates' — as Mussolini contemptuously christened Italy's anti-fascist exiles — had been exchanging fiery letters from one corner of the United States to another, debating whether the best logo for their newly formed association would be an effigy of a turreted Italy; an image of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the beloved 19th-century general who helped unify Italy, or the face of Giuseppe Mazzini, who in 1830 founded the "Young Italy" movement with the goal of throwing off the yoke of the Austrian empire and creating a republic.
The Society had no shortage of opponents.
The exiles included art historian Lionello Venturi, who taught in Baltimore after being one of twelve professors to refuse to swear an oath of fealty to fascism at the University of Rome, as well as Giuseppe Antonio Borgese, a novelist and critic fond of German literature and aesthetics, who'd fled to Chicago from Florence after a tip off that Mussolini, known as "Il Duce," was not very fond of him.
Gaetano Salvemini — Photo: Gianellachannel/Wikimedia Commons
Under Salvemini's wise judgment (and biting wit), the group of learned and quarrelsome professors finally came to a decision. And so, on September 24, 1939, these stateside scholars, together with a group of intellectuals and politicians belonging to the Paris-based anti-fascist resistance organization "Justice and Liberty," created the Mazzini Society.
II. The Society
Salvemini — who had become famous in Italy for calling out the corruption of a suspiciously long-serving prime minister with the quip Ministro della Malavita, or "Minister of the Underworld"— wanted the name "Mazzini Society" to be in English: It was an homage to the country that had generously welcomed Mussolini's opponents.
The Society, with its newspaper Mazzini News, wasn't just a way for Italian anti-fascists to pressure the American government to take up their cause — it was also an extraordinary fount of liberal and republican ideas.
It represented a political and cultural heritage that Italian émigrés brought back to "the Boot" at the end of the war, and became a source of funding for countless former exiles: Salvemini in his collaboration with the political, economic and cultural weekly Il Mondo, created in 1949 (and eventually folded into the Corriere della Sera daily); activist and author Nicola Chiaromonte when he founded the art and politics monthly Tempo Presente in 1956, and philosophy and law professor Max Ascoli, who in 1949 launched The Reporter, a liberal biweekly that merged with Harper's Magazine in 1968.
III. How It All Began
The fate of "expatriate" Salvemini was sealed from the moment he began publishing the clandestine newspaper Non Mollare, ("Don't Give Up,") in Florence with his younger activist friends Ernesto Rossi, Carlo Rosselli and Nello Rosselli. Appearing at irregular intervals (and wryly emblazoned with phrases such as, "Comes out when it can!" and "Whosoever receives it is morally obligated to pass it around!"), the newspaper published 22 issues between January and October 1925 before Salvemini was arrested by fascist police. Following a grant of amnesty by "Il Duce," the professor fled to France and England before landing at Harvard University, where the idea of the Mazzini Society first took root.
One of the Society's first members was Max Ascoli, from the Northern Italian city of Ferrara. With his launch of The Reporter in 1949, Ascoli became a point of reference for figures such as economist John Kenneth Galbraith, future U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., the scholar who penned President John F. Kennedy's "New Frontier" speeches.
In 1941, another champion of liberal and socialist thought showed up at the Mazzini Society's headquarters: Nicola Chiaromonte, who had close ties to Hannah Arendt, Albert Camus and George Orwell. After fighting in the Spanish Civil War on the communist side — flying planes alongside André Malraux — Chiaromonte felt like an exile upon his return to Italy; he was hostile to the compromises that he felt tied intellectuals to political parties after the War. With his monthly Tempo Presente, he fought for a cultural "third way" between clericalism and the authoritarianism of the left, publishing pieces by the likes of Lorenzo Milani, the Roman Catholic priest and teacher who advanced the plight of poor children, advocated conscientious objection to fascism, and was a staunch believer in the separation of church and state.
In 1940, Count Carlo Sforza, the future foreign minister of Italy, arrived in the United States. With strong support from the Society, he penned a letter to General Edwin Watson, the senior aide and military adviser to President Roosevelt, seeking the creation of a voluntary legion of Italians under the orders of Randolfo Pacciardi, who had been head of the anti-fascist International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.
But perhaps the most famous member of the Mazzini Society was the legendary music conductor Arturo Toscanini, who was a household name in the U.S. by early 1937, thanks to his role as music director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra.
In Bologna in 1931, the maestro had refused to perform the fascist hymn "Giovinezza" in the presence of Leandro Arpinati and other party bigwigs. That act of resistance earned him slaps and punches from the followers of "Il Duce." In America, it made him the shining star of the Mazzini Society.
The association also had a women's division. Its members included Amelia Pincherle Rosselli, the mother of Carlo and Nello Rosselli, who had helped Salvemini put out the Non Mollare newspaper and was later assassinated by the regime.
Signora Rosselli was a mother figure to the younger members, like Tullia Zevi, then a harpist with the New York City Symphony Orchestra.
The "Non Mollare" editorial staff "in 1925 — Source: Wikimedia Commons
Having emigrated to escape racial laws, the Jewish-born Zevi returned to her native Italy in 1946, where she became a renowned journalist for her coverage of the Nuremberg trials. In 1962, she opened her home to politicians Pietro Nenni, Giuseppe Saragat, and Schlesinger, an old friend from her American years who agreed to intervene with Kennedy so that the U.S. would give its blessing to the Italian Socialist Party, which was about to come into power after having gone underground during the dictatorship. Two years later, in 1964, Saragat became President of Italy.
The Society had no shortage of opponents. Luigi Sturzo, a priest and politician who is considered a founder of Christian Democracy today, didn't appreciate the secular position, famously stating: "I, a Catholic, cannot put upon my work an insignia bearing the name of a longstanding anti-Catholic, whatever his merits, which, by the way, I have recognized not just recently but for some time now."
And Emilio Lussu— who penned the novel that would become the 1970 World War I film by Francesco Rosi, Many Wars Ago, and who later founded a political party that blended Sardinian nationalism with social democracy— actually traveled to the United States to try to convince the Mazzini Society to ally itself with the communists. He wasn't successful.
In 1944 Life Magazine published, with much fanfare, the manifesto Freedom for Italy Now, signed by the Society's most influential members.
By 1949 almost all the Mazzini Society members had returned to Italy. Salvemini immersed himself in the political struggle, bringing to the columns of Il Mondo all the advice and ideas gleaned from his Harvard years — steering clear of any traces of dogmatism, bureaucratic excess, political opportunism or ideological diversions.
It was indeed these principles — together with inspiration provided by Mazzini and the spirit of "Risorgimento" harkening back to Italian independence and unification — that formed the very foundation of the association born that day 80 years ago in Northampton.
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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