The late 19th-century black-painted tin peanut roaster in the Marblehead Museum’s collection is not much to look at. And yet, the human story behind its history brings it to life. In 1871, 28-year-old Giovanni Batista Bacigalupo and his wife, Maria Chiesa, left Italy in search of their own American dream.
They first settled in Boston, where the family welcomed three daughters. By 1880, Giovanni had moved to Marblehead, where he rented rooms at 47 Washington St. The family soon followed.
Giovanni made his living as a peanut vendor. The town directories, the Yellow Pages of the day, list his stand at the corner of State Street and Washington Street, by the Old Town House. A grainy photograph shows Giovanni seated with his cart at that very spot.
Sadly, Giovanni’s wife, Maria, died on April 30, 1887. According to the death registry, Maria passed away at home of heart disease at the age of 41. However, the story seems more complicated, for listed directly under Maria is an unnamed male son who died of premature birth. In one day, Giovanni lost both his wife and son.
Giovanni (sometimes referred to in records with the anglicized, John) continued vending from his spot at the Old Town House until he moved into a small store at 81 Washington St. in about 1897. According to Benjamin Chadwick, he was nicknamed “Freshy Bake.” Others remembered his resounding cry of “Peanos!”
He became such a town institution that when he chose to leave Marblehead in 1900 to move in with his children, the Marblehead Messenger included a lengthy article about him. Thankfully, his photograph survives in the museum’s archive, so that we can all know the face of the town’s most famous peanut seller.
From the Vault is a monthly column highlighting an item from Marblehead Museum’s collection of over 60,000 artifacts. Learn more and explore at marbleheadmuseum.org.