There are photographs that are true global icons, images that have become part of pop culture around most of the world.  One of these pictures, taken by Charles C. Ebbets, is the header of today’s blog entry, titled “Lunch atop a Skyscraper”.

In it, we can see eleven workers having lunch calmly sitting on a steel beam at the top of a skyscraper they’re building in New York, specifically Rockefeller Center.  The photo was taken on September 20, 1932 on the 69th floor (that’s 850 ft or 260 m above street level) of the RCA Building, and was published as a Sunday photo supplement in the New York Herald Tribune on the following October 2nd.

And why are we blogging about a photo?  Why are we including it in the “Basques in the World” section?

Lunch atop a Skyscraper, de Charles C. Ebbets
Lunch atop a Skyscraper, by Charles C. Ebbets

The “blame” lies with Harresi Kulturala Elkartea, who have been publishing a series of articles on their blog throughout March in which they have unwound a mystery that is now causing quite a media stir: one of the eleven was Basque, from Balmaseda of all places.

The five-part story is told magnificently: giving us the keys to the origins of the picture, up to the current generation of the New York descendants of the protagonist of our story, all well documented with all the necessary information.

Lunch atop a Skyscraper, de Charles C. Ebbets. Detalla donde se ve a Ignacio Ibargüen Moneta (derecha)
Lunch atop a Skyscraper, by Charles C. Ebbets. Detail showing Ignacio Ibargüen Moneta (right)

The Basque in the photo is the second man from the left.  His name is Ignacio Ibargüen Moneta, and his nickname “Voluntario”.  He was the sixth of ten children, son of Igancio Ibargüen Urrutia, from Balmaseda, a builder by trade, and Micaela Moneta Luzuriaga, from Murieta, Navarre.  He was born on November 4, 1899 in a building on the Plaza de los Toros (today’s Plaza de los Fueros), and was baptized a few days later in the parish church of San Severino.  He lived in Balmaseda until 1919, just before turning 20.

He left Balmaseda to join the crew of a British ship.  He spent several years sailing, until 1922, when he arrived in New York from the port of Bremen, Germany aboard the President Fillmore and disembarked on Ellis Island, passing through Immigration there, and settling down in the city of skyscrapers.

Natxo Ibarguen y Esperanza Ojinaga con su hija Louise
Natxo Ibarguen y Esperanza Ojinaga con su hija Louise

This Basque in New York, the “world capital,” did as most Basques who went out into the world did: he married a Basque girl, Esperanza Ojinaga.  This young woman, who worked at the Mexican Embassy, had been born in Berango and was eleven years his junior.  They got married in 1927 and had four children: Thomas, born in 1928 and passing away the next year, on Oct. 13, 1929; Louise, born on Jan. 25, 1931; Donald (Peter), born on May 13, 1932; and Shirley, born on Dec. 20, 1934 and dying five months later on Apr. 11, 1935.

It was his son Peter who took the story of how his father was the protagonist of the photo to Balmaseda.  On a trip to the land of his forefathers, in the 1960s, upon seeing a copy of that picture, told his family that his father, Igancio Igargüen, was right there, on that steel beam high above the streets of New York.

The story of this son, Dani Ibargüen (aka Peter, aka El Vasco), a Basque-descendant who was very proud of his roots, deserves its own entry.  But it’s enough to say here that everything seems to point that he signed up to serve in the US armed forces at the age of 15, and went skydiving while waving an ikurriña.  Quite a character.

We’ll leave you with the entries that have been published so far by the members of the cultural association.  We’ve already gotten in touch with them to ask for permission to write this entry sharing all the information they’ve gathered.  We’d like to congratulate them for sharing this amazing story of Basques in the world, and thank them for letting us share it with our readers.

We recommend you read all six entries, because they’re full of stories, information, and anecdotes.  We’ve only brought you a brief summary: “inside” the entries, you’ll find so much more!

And finally, this photo, as we commented at the beginning, has become an icon, one of those key elements of pop culture.  We’ll leave you with this link to a .pdf file where, along with some of the basic info of the picture, we can also see some of the homages and parodies that have been created over the years.

NB: With permission of the authors, we’ve translated all the entries into English, so you don’t have to rely on the automatic translation this time!

Lunch atop a Skyscraper

Those who Built New York’s Skyscrapers

 A Basque Man in New York

Dani Ibargüen (Peter, the Basque) Visits His Family

And Dany Told Us: “That Man in the Picture is My Father”

Natxo Ibargüen – Documents


Last Updated on Mar 19, 2021 by About Basque Country

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