Basque Man in New York

Just as we said in the last entry, a promise is a promise, and in this entry about the curious, and largely unknown, story of the beam in New York, we’re going to reveal the identity of the man from Balmaseda who appears in this world-renowned photo.  In some of the comments, some relatives have already commented that the “second from the right is Ibargüen”.  We’re glad you’re proud your ancestor appears in such an iconic photo, but we’d be grateful if you’d share any more info you might have in the Comments Box below, so we can learn all we can about this person.  We’d be very grateful.

Having come this far, all that’s left is to introduce this man from Balmaseda, who indeed is the second from the left, sitting beside his coworker, Irishman Matty O’Shaughnessy.

Ignacio Ibargüen Moneta
Balmaseda-born Ignacio Ibargüen offering a light to Matty O’Shaughnessy


Ignacio Ibargüen Moneta, “Volunteer”

That is the name and nickname (of course it is, he’s from Balmaseda) of the man who’s sitting second from the left in a photo atop a beam in New York, high up in Rockefeller Center, in September of 1932.

But, as is logical, you’ll be wondering, what is a man from Balmaseda doing in New York in 1932?  Well, that we can answer.

Micaela Moneta Luzuriaga and Ignacio Ibargüen Urrutia, Natxo’s parents

Ignacio Ibargüen was the sixth of ten children, son of Igancio Ibargüen Urrutia, from Balmaseda, a builder by trade, and Micaela Moneta Luzuriaga, from Murieta, Navarre.  His mother, Micaela, was the cousin of the former Bishop of Vitoria, Mr. Ramón Fernández Piérola, from Roncal Valley, who, upon coming to Bilbao to celebrate the Coronation of Our Lady of Begoña on September 8, 1900, made the most of the trip by blessing the Ibargüen-Moneta children, when Ignacio was not yet a year old, and to also share the sacrament of confirmation with the three eldest children.

Ignacio had been 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, and it is said that he was a rather mischievous child.  He used to go fishing in the Cadagua River with his best friend, as a kind of after-school game.

The nickname “Volunteer” was inherited from an uncle of his, his father’s brother, who lived in Mexico and who participated as a volunteer in the 3rd Carlist War.

Interestingly, as they lived in the same building, it’s quite likely he regularly saw Felipe Camino Galicia, “León Felipe” during his regular visits to the town before settling down there permanently between 1916 and 1918, running a pharmacy, until his hurried and unexpected departure for Barcelona.

León Felipe left in 1918, and Ignacio did the same the following year.  The reason why was that he was going to have to fulfill his military service obligation, and that would most likely be in northern Africa, in the Rif War, against the Berber tribes in Abd el-Krim.  Just like his older brothers, he set sail for Argentina, heading towards Casa Galli, in Buenos Aires, where all the family members who arrived there would be taken in.

carta de Natxo el protagonista vasco de "Lunch atop a Skyscraper” a sus padres
Letter to his parents from Argentina on August 15, 1919, perhaps remembering his town’s festivals.  It’s a shame the copy is such poor quality.


He was likely not very happy in his new home, or perhaps it was a bit of wanderlust, so he made the most of an English sailors’ strike and signed up to sail on a boat towards Great Britain.  Upon his arrival, he settled down in Bristol, and from there, he sailed to many European ports, including a few Russian ones.  During those years, the situation in Russia was quite unstable, after the October 1917 Revolution, with the subsequent civil war between the Bolshevik Reds and anti-Bolshevik Whites.  In the end, the Reds won, and created the USSR.

Dedicatoria de Natxo Ibargüen a sus padres en el reverso de una foto Liverpoll 1921
Dedicatoria de Natxo Ibargüen a sus padres en el reverso de una foto Liverpoll 1921

During that time, he continued sailing, and on May 19, 1921, he sent a picture of himself to his parents from Liverpool, with a comment on the back, as can be seen in the image to the left.

The situation in Europe at the beginning of the 1920s was not promising, and perhaps attracted by American cultural and economic development, he moved to New York and settled down.  There, he met an employee of the Mexican Embassy, also from Biscay, born in Berango and eleven years his junior, Esperanza Ojinaga, and married her in 1927, when she was 16.  They 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.  According to this information, when the famous photo was taken at Rockefeller Center, Ignacio Ibargüen had two living children, little David, at four months old, and Lousie, just over a year old.

Entrada en Estados Unidos de Esperanza Ojinaga procedente del puerto de Bilbao a bordo del barco «Alfonso XII», el 05/04/1917, a los 6 años de edad, bajo la custodia de Juan Sangronis y Menedes Sangronis
The immigration of Esperanza Ojinaga to the United States, from Bilbao, aboard the ‘Alfonso XII’, on Apr. 5, 1917, aged 6, under the custody of Juan Sangronis and Menedes Sangronis.
Esperanza Ojinaga y Natxo Ibargüen
Esperanza Ojinaga and Natxo Ibargüen



Ignacio Ibargüen y Esperanza Ojinaga con uno de sus hijos
Ignacio Ibargüen and Esperanza Ojinaga with one of their children


In the accompanying documentation, we can see that in 1921, Igancio Igargüen reached New York, and a year later, he again entered aboard the President Filmore from Bremen, Germany, landing at Ellis Island and passing through Immigration there.  He would go on to stay permanently in the city of skyscrapers, meaning that after the Bust of ‘29, in order to feed his growing family, he took a job building the skyscrapers that would shape the New York skyline, perhaps following in his father’s footsteps as a builder.

Ignacio Ibarguen. Ficha Inmigración 1921. Lugar de nacimiento Valmaseda
Ignacio Igargüen’s first arrival to New York






Ignacio Ibarguen. Inmigración USA. 1922.
His last time entering the United States, on June 11, 1922



Ignacio Ibargüen passed away in March 1957, at the age of 57.

Ignacio Ibarguen. Defunción

Donald (Dani, Peter) Ibargüen, the Basque

In the next entry, we’ll talk about his son Donald (Dani, Peter, the Basque), who came to Balmaseda in search of his roots, reconnecting with his cousins and touring Biscay.

Donald (Dani, Peter) Ibargüen, el Vasco

We repeat our request from the beginning of this series that if anyone has any more information about these people from Balmaseda, be it by birth or adoption, we’d be very grateful if you’d share it with us and our readers, in order for us to all get to know better these people who are not famous politicians, soldiers, architects, or writers, but who still equally deserve the recognition and admiration of the rest of us from the town.

In the case of Ignacio Igargüen, he is undoubtedly the most famous person from Balmaseda in the world, though not by name.  Let’s use these lines to demand his recognition as one of the eleven workers who appear in “Lunch atop a Skyscraper”.

Harresi – /3/2021 – Euskadi

Un balmasedano en Nueva York

Ignacio Ibargüen Moneta, «Voluntario». Este es el nombre y el apodo (cómo no, siendo de Balmaseda) del que aparece segundo por la izquierda en la fotografía de la viga de Nueva York, en lo alto del edificio Rockefeller Center, en el mes de septiembre del año 1932. Pero, como es lógico, os preguntaréis… ¿qué hacía un balmasedano en esa viga en la ciudad de Nueva York en el año 32? Pues bien, estos son los datos que conocemos.

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