By James Smith, Photographic Collections Manager

This past Sunday, we shared the above image on social media of the Portsmouth Junior High band, all of whom were unidentified, at the Whipple School on the corner of Summer and State streets, c.1920. [PS2659]
On Facebook, Mike Pesaresi notified us that he believed he knew the identity of one of the students. He thought his great-uncle Renato Fracassi was in the back row on the far right.

Here is a side by side comparison. On the left is the young man from the Whipple band photograph believed to be Renato, and on the right is a known image of Renato. What do you think? One and the same?

Mike contacted Renato’s daughter Barbara. She confirmed that YES it was indeed Renato!

Renato Fracassi (1907-2001) was born in Santarcangelo di Romagna, Italy, the youngest of six children of Primo Fracassi & Matilda Guidi.  After his father had initially come to America to secure a life for his family, the entire Fracassi family immigrated to America in 1912. For a time, the Fracassi family lived in York, Maine, before they moved to the North End of Portsmouth at 68 Russell Street (also known as the Richard Hart House).

Richard Hart House from “Portsmouth, Historic and Picturesque” by C. S. Gurney.

Renato attended Portsmouth schools, and in 1930, he graduated from M.I.T. He married Charlotte Dallmer and settled in New Jersey where they raised their family. Renato worked for AT&T’s Bell Laboratories for 42 years, and during his career with Bell Labs, he was named as an inventor in nine U.S. patents. In his final years, he established a trust fund in memory of his parents, Primo and Matilda Fracassi, to assist their many descendants with college costs. Within three years, there were 12 family members who received tuition grants!

An accomplished violinist, Renato first played at Peirce Hall (around the corner from the Athenaeum) in Portsmouth, and in theaters as musical background to silent films of the era.

Thanks to Mike Pesaresi and social media, we were able to identify and share the life of such an accomplished individual from Portsmouth’s rich and diverse history.

It’s clear that Renato’s life can still be an inspiration for us today.

The first three generations of the Fracassi family in America celebrating the surprise 50th wedding anniversary of Primo and Matilda Fracassi in the backyard of their home on Russell Street. Photograph taken by Renato Fracassi. [Courtesy of Michael Pesaresi, P45_098]


Search nearly 800 images that depict life in the old North End of Portsmouth, NH.  By the early 20th century, the North End had become a true American melting pot, with a richly diverse population. Predominately Italian, the neighborhood also included Yankee-born, Greek, Polish, Chinese, Swedish and African-American families. The area was demolished during urban renewal (c.1968-c.1973).

The majority of images in the collection are digital scans donated by the family descendants. If you have photographs to contribute contact James at 603-431-2538 or e-mail The Athenaeum can scan your family pictures and return the originals to you.