Scope and Contents
This is a collection of letters (and telegrams) written by Umberto Nobile in Joliet, Illinois to Hermine Speier in Rome during
August and September of 1939. Nobile’s letters continue to feature the weather in Illinois and the books that he and Speier
read together as recurrent themes. Also in this period, another recurrent theme arises, one that will consume the initial
paragraphs of almost every letter Nobile writes from here on out: that is, a discussion of which of Speier’s letters he’s
received, as well as the means by which they arrived and the relative cost/efficacy of the various postal systems (steamship
vs. aircraft). In early August, Nobile shares that his mental state is considerably calmer than it had been in months prior,
a shift that he attributes largely to the influx of letters that have finally begun to arrive from Speier and his daughter
Maria. It is also evident based on the content of his letters that the overwhelming solitude during his first months in America
gets abated in this period by an inundation of offers to join university colleagues, clergymen, and members of the Italian
American Society on various social outings – offers which he tells Speier he often has trouble declining. Examples include
taking a trip by plane to Chicago with a flight instructor from the university, attending a nearby air show, taking a weekend
trip to the countryside with an Italian doctor, going to Notre Dame as a visiting professor, dining and playing bocce with
fellow Italians at one Alpine Club, visiting a nearby Benedictine abbey with a fellow instructor, going to a grape harvest
on a nearby farm, attending parties thrown by the Italian American society, and dining at the home of an Italian photographer.
He begins to invite new acquaintances to his hotel for meals, as well. Nobile shares with Speier more than once his impression
that the nice Italians in his area are the simple, working-class ones, while the wealthier ones strike him as generally haughty
and money-obsessed. He makes a brief trip in mid-August to Akron, OH, where he had apparently spent time 17 years prior, to
visit old acquaintances. During this time, Nobile is disillusioned by the lack of responsibility that his university has relegated
to him, often expressing to Speier uncertainty as to how to fill all his free time and a sense that he lacks purpose professionally.
He does, however, express to her how much he enjoys the kindness and openness of his students. His dog Totosca is perpetually
by his side – and is mentioned in nearly all his letters. In August, he begins teaching astronomy to high school students
to fill his time.
At the end of August, however, Nobile’s agitated and nervous mental state returns as mail from Italy ceases to arrive with
regularity, a delay he attributes to the threat of war. He tells Speier that he passes the hours anxiously waiting for news
via radio and newspapers, desperately hoping to learn of developments at home in Italy. He questions how he can continue to
write about the trivialities of his own life in America when all of his thoughts are with Hermine, Maria, and his homeland.
In his letters to Speier, he makes it clear that Maria writes to him very infrequently, a fact that causes him to be not only
annoyed but also constantly worried about her wellbeing. He expresses hope the Mussolini will be able to continue eschewing
Italian involvement in the war. Though his worry over the war evidently consumes him, reminding Speier that her health is
the most important thing of all becomes a trope of Nobile’s, and he is constantly urging her to go see doctors and dentists.
Newspaper clippings are included in some letters.