At War's Edge

"Thank you, sir. . . I am an Italian and proud of it."

In Tommoso Juglaris's personal memoir, health concerns became the rubric under which he began to actively contemplate a return to Italy. Yet possibly deepening Juglaris’s discomfort in Boston and accelerating his plans to return to his native land was a huge political crisis that erupted between the United States and Italy.

Vigilantes ramming the door of the New Orleans prison where 16 Italians were incarcerated
Newspaper headlines across the United States announced the mob lynching of 11 Italians

In October 1890 nineteen Italians were indicted in New Orleans, Louisiana, for conspiring to murder the city’s police chief. In March 1891, after trials had already exonerated six of those charged, an organized mob broke into the jail and in an act of vigilante justice lynched eleven of the Italian immigrants. Another five were fatally wounded in the armed assault on the prison. The NAACP has called this incident the largest lynching in United States history. Demanding prosecution for the perpetrators and reparations for the victims’ families, an outraged Italian government recalled its ambassador from Washington, D.C. Fanning the flames of anti-Italian prejudice, American newspapers suggested that Italy was ready to go to war. In April 1891, the Illustrated American, a magazine competing with Harper’s Weekly, published with extensive photographs a lengthy account of Italy’s military might, “Armed Italy—Her Strength by Land and Sea.” In ominous tones, it proceeded to detail the real or imagined Italian threat: “The growth of the Italian armaments has been one of the military and naval portents of the time. It has been all out of proportion to that accomplished in other states… And it singular that this force should first have been turned against a country so distant as the United States.”

In this heated environment, Juglaris closed and packed up his household and moved quietly back to Italy. Oblivious to the impact which diplomatic tensions might have on a native son of Italy, one Boston newspaper expressed open puzzlement and surprise at Juglaris’s swift departure, commenting: “Just why Tomaso [sic] Juglaris gave up his position at the Rhode Island School of Design, closed his Boston studio and sailed away to Italy for good has not perhaps been satisfactorily known to his friends.” However, in remarks that seem almost as much euphemistic and ironic as factual, Juglaris later reported in his memoir that after a decade he could no longer stand Boston’s cold winter weather.