Local history still has the power to astonish me. This week, I wrote my Scranton Times column about Fortunato Tiscar, a gentleman who came from Sicily in 1891. There is nothing astonishing about a person coming from Italy to settle in Scranton. What took me by surprise was the fact that Italy appointed this man vice consul. That’s a diplomatic position, an envoy. As such, Mr. Tiscar’s duty was to help citizens of his homeland make the transition to their new country. You don’t have to have your nose in local history to know that Scranton has always been a city of immigrants, but my nose has been snooping around a lot of old source materials for several years, and I never realized that this town had a diplomatic liaison to another nation.

Mr. Tiscar became a solid citizen, by all accounts, and devoted himself to helping others to do the same. He became a naturalized citizen in 1899. His work and his conduct must have inspired a lot of people who walked that line between pride in their heritage and homeland and commitment to their new country.

What an interesting time to be in his position. The number of Italian immigrants was increasing dramatically. The 1890 census, taken just one year before Mr. Tiscar arrived in America, showed 24,662 Italian-born people residing in Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. The next census, in 1900, showed 66,655 Italian-born people in the state. The 1910 census showed 196,122. With more than 20 counties in his jurisdiction, Mr. Tiscar was certainly instrumental in touching the lives of a great many of them. The world was changing quickly, and he played a crucial role in helping to ensure that change was as smooth as it could be.

The First World War must have been an interesting time for him, as many men returned to Italy to fight with the Italian Army. The U.S. and Italy were on the same side in that war. He took pride in the fact that both countries fought for democracy, and he participated in fund raising activities, most notably for the Red Cross. On the third anniversary of Italy’s entry into the war, President Woodrow Wilson participated in ceremonies in Washington D.C. that included the Italian ambassador, Count Macchi Di Cellere. Pres. Wilson sent a message to all Italian-Americans. In it, he sent “warm fraternal greetings” and expressed feelings of solidarity in the cause. He closed with the words “America salutes the gallant kingdom of Italy and bids her godspeed.”

But World War II was another story. By that time, Mr. Tiscar had retired his position as vice consul, having served for 32 years, but he was one of Scranton’s best known Italian-American citizens, and the conflict was not easy for him. It’s difficult to imagine just how he felt about such a change in circumstances. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine what any Italian-American felt at that time. Fortunato Tiscar died unexpectedly after a fall in February of 1945, just before the peace was signed. His obituary in the Scranton Times said: “Mr. Tiscar looked upon the clash of arms between the United States and Italy as a great personal tragedy but never wavered in his loyalty to the country of his adoption, nor his love for the country of his birth.” That surely is a sentiment that must have been shared by a great number of local immigrants.