“Dear Mama,” she began to read aloud to the postman. “I’m still working hard here in the land of liberty. I’ve accepted a new position that’s very promising! I’ve signed a contract to be the special-assistant to the warden of a penitentiary so I’ll have no worries about food or lodging for...”
Her voice trailed off.
“Ah, you must be very proud of your boy, Signora, leaving Italy for the great big world,” the postman said.
But she knew her son too well. “Oh, Carlo,” she sighed.
When Carlo finished his three years in prison for forgery and smuggling, he tried to make an honest go of it. He really did. He found work at a tiny mining camp in Alabama and began to formulate plans to bring electricity and running water to the ramshackle homes there. He gained the financial and moral support of all of its poverty-stricken residents.
But, Carlo would later say, “as usual, something happened.”
On October 13, 1912, a stove exploded as the camp nurse was preparing a meal for a bed-ridden miner. Her burns were so severe that she wasn’t expected to survive without an immediate skin-graft. When the doctor mentioned to Carlo that he couldn’t find a single donor for her, he volunteered on the spot.
Carlo let the doctor take 122 square inches of olive skin from his thighs and back. The nurse survived, but Carlo’s recovery took three months of painful confinement. By the time he was released, someone else had already laid claim to his utility project. His heroism was quickly forgotten and he quietly disappeared.
When he reemerged in the public eye, Carlo, Charles Ponzi, would become known as the greatest financial swindler in the history of America; brought on, quite possibly, because of his one noble act.