Mago Chiò

Who was Mago Chiò

Francesco Grassi, better known by his stage name "Mago Chiò"
Magician Chiò in his white tunic, tied at the waist with an old rope.

Who was born in Portoferraio, knows who Mago Chiò was, the younger ones may have heard his name pronounced just once and who is not a native of the Elban town certainly the name is new, however, for all three categories I will summarize what the official story tells. Mago Chiò was what today we would call a “tramp”, in practice one of those poor people who in the countryside call fools. He was of medium height neither thin nor fat, and although he had a rather clumsy build, his gait appeared slouching, agile and loose, with long arms and muscular legs.

He lived on small rural robberies and thefts but, wherever he went, before stealing, he announced himself by blowing an old trumpet. The peasants let him do it. He behaved extravagantly and confidently, but what characterized him was the original clothing that distinguished him from mere mortals. He wore a flashy white tunic that he tied at the waist with an old rope. Stuck on his head he wore a black cap, a kind of fur hat, which he kept tied under his chin. From his belt hung a mess tin which contained white paint. But what was it for, you say? That paint was basically the ink of his madness.

Mago Chiò free climbing and his exploits

Yes, because Mago Chiò wanted to be famous at all costs and for this reason, using his innate ability of climber with particular capacity of tightrope walker, he climbed the highest walls of lighthouses, fortresses, castles and towers, imposing himself to the attention of his contemporaries.

Mago Chiò Francesco Grassi Free Climbing

His reckless and extraordinary ascent feats, in particular that of the Brunelleschi cathedral in Florence and the Asinelli tower in Bologna, brought him to the fore in the chronicles of the time. But, Mago Chiò, not happy with climbing alone , used to write his name on those ancient walls in large letters, as if to seal his exploits, to impress his mark, thus achieving the main purpose of his short life: attracting and impressing his neighbor, as he did later also through his singular suicide consummated for the sake of a woman of ill repute. But few know how the story went and I want to tell you about it.

Francesco Grassi

Francesco Grassi (this was his real name) was born on 1 March 1867 in the ancient Via dell’Oro at number three (a few meters from the Theater Vigilanti) «Chiò Mago is a name given by me, it would mean going into any danger of life, at any height that could remain incredulous to the people!»

Antica via dell'Oro at number three

His father Marco, a laborer who emigrated with his wife from Lombardy-Veneto after the unification of Italy, had landed in Maremma and then in Elba. Because of the occasional and poorly paid work, the Grassi lived in extreme poverty and this sad condition was made even more dramatic by the fact that Marco Grassi, when he managed to raise a penny, immediately transformed it into wine at the Sbarra tavern.

The situation worsened when his wife Maria gave birth, one after the other, to three boys. The three brothers would later constitute the most characteristic and light-hearted trio in the whole country. After Francesco, who was the eldest, came the “Micco” and then the “Cavalier Jenny”. Given the precarious economic situation and the climate in which we lived at home, Francesco could not resist much to the hunger and beatings that, together with his mother and brothers, he had to take every time his father came home drunk. . He was still a child when he decided to leave his family and become a legend.

Magician Chiò falls in love with Eleonora

When Francesco, alias Mago Chiò, saw Eleonora for the first time, he was at the height of fame, the chronicles do not tell us if it was love at first sight or if the attraction mounted inexorably like a cup of whipped cream, the fact is that Magician Chiò fell in love with it and from that moment on he could not get it out of his mind. It is said that Eleonora was a woman of ill repute, but the chronicles reveal nothing about the fact that she was a simple prostitute or a girl of easy virtue or a high-borough maid, she certainly was very pretty.

Once fallen into the vortex of falling in love Mago Chiò established that, a character like him, certainly could not declare his love as a common mortal, he had to do it with one of his exploits, perhaps writing the name of his beloved on the ancient Medici walls that surrounded the upper part of the town, perhaps on the bastion on the side of the lighthouse, in a point impossible to ignore, especially by the passengers of the ships that skirted the Grigolo cliff to enter or exit the bay of Portoferraio. But there was a problem: Mago Chiò was illiterate.

The battle name

Pinacoteca Foresiana portrait of Mago Chiò Telemaco Signorini
Portrait of Mago Chiò by Telemaco Signorini

The only thing he could write was his nom de guerre. Yes, of course, he could be taught to write the name of the woman he loved, but it was one thing to try to do it on a page of a notebook, it was another thing to draw eight-meter letters on the wall of a fortress and Mago Chiò was unable to mentally enlarge. the letters previously drawn in small print on a sheet of paper.

He took great pains, he even had the name “Eleonora” traced on a large cartoon by his painter friend Telemaco ( Telemaco Signorini Florentine painter 1835 -1901) , so that he can practice copying it several times until he is able to transcribe it in gigantic letters on the bastion of the lighthouse. Only in this way would her beloved of hers understand. But Eleonora did not understand. The chatter in a country goes faster than Vil Coyote when she chases Beep Beep, for this reason, when the project of Mago Chiò reached the ears of Eleonora, the girl did everything to meet the singular individual. The day Eleonora pointed it out to her she burst out laughing: “And that sort of Russian garbage man would be the famous
Mago Chiò?” This time he was at least thirty meters away from the girl, but he immediately noticed her reaction because it was the first time her eyes met hers, albeit with a bad result. Eleonora, with the impudence that distinguished her from her, approached her, she was a girl of life and her men certainly did not scare her.

Francesco and the pretty Eleonora

“Are you the guy around who calls Mago Chiò?”
“Yessir!” He replied with a sticky mouth, but with his head held high.
«Are you the one who writes your name on the walls?»
Some passersby, knowing the two guys, had stopped curiously to hear the conversation.
“Not on the walls, but on the fortresses, castles and bell towers!” Mago Chiò said proudly.
«Oh yes? And what’s the difference? Go and smear some higher walls! ” Eleonora retorted with
a mischievous smile.
«On the bell towers and fortresses there is danger of life, on the walls there is no!»
«And what do you write about the fortresses?»
«Mago Chiò.»
«And do you always write your name?»
«And what do you write?»
Eleonora was struck by the frankness for a moment, but immediately resumed her provocative tone
poisoning him further.
“And can you write it?” The mustache of Mago Chiò jumped for a moment, Eleonora noticed it and increased
the dose «Have you exercised? Why don’t you write it to me now on that wall? “
The passersby who, knowing the two individuals, had stopped to follow the discussion, were
giggling, but Mago Chiò’s answer brought seriousness back to everyone the faces including that of
“I love you and will write your name on the fortress of the lighthouse!” Then he turned on his heel and left
The same evening he went back to his friend Telemachus and asked him to write him a few words on a large
cardboard, the painter satisfied him, but he wanted to put it on on guard: “Francesco,” he was the only one who
called him by name «… forget her, she’s not the woman for you, she doesn’t deserve you!»
«She is beautiful and I love her. “

Trumpet blasts in Fortress Stella

The precursor of free climbing in the world, Mago Chiò

That night some trumpet blasts were heard from the side of the Medici fortress , that of the lighthouse, just above the Grigolo cliff. Eleonora’s story had spread rapidly throughout the town and everyone knew about Mago Chiò’s project, which is why that morning there were many who went to see what was written on the bastion, but they were disappointed. The only trace left by Mago Chiò was a single vertical white strip of about ten meters. It could have been the beginning of the “M”, or that of Eleonora’s “E”, or who knows what else. As soon as the girl knew it she wanted to go and see the white stripe and immediately after she, with a grin on her lips, she managed to meet “by chance” Mago Chiò.

«Haven’t you been able to learn my name yet?»
She asked him as soon as she saw it.
Magician Chiò didn’t blink
«Tomorrow you will see, but I will not write your name “
Eleonora seemed not to hear it and continued
” In any case, hurry up and write it down, because tomorrow I will leave Elba, I’m going to live on the continent, I found a gentleman, a gentleman who wants to marry me “
Mago Chiò did not react, except with the usual slight wince of his mustache, a famous man like him could
not show the weakness of mere mortals, but his heart sank all the same to the bottom of
“I will write for you about the fortress of the lighthouse and then you will not see me again!”

Magician Chiò turned on his heels and, as in the first meeting, left Eleonora dumbfounded. All afternoon he practiced copying in large the words that Telemachus had transcribed on the cardboard, he tried and tried several times, but excluded some letters that formed part of his name, it was the first time he tried to trace the others. He was desperate. Eleonora had to know. He persisted until dinner, but the results were bad. Then he made up his mind. He took the tin with the paint and, when everyone was at dinner, he climbed to the top of the bastion, lowered himself with a rope to the white strip he had already drawn and completed the work by writing what he had to write. Then he lowered himself to the bottom of the fortress, went down to the cliff of Grigolo and checked the work just completed with satisfaction.

The extreme gesture

Then he returned home and decided to make the gesture.
It had to be a gesture worthy of him, it had to be a great gimmick, Eleonora had to understand
every way. She filled a glass of wine, took a box of matches and, with a knife and with
great patience, she cut off all the heads and threw them into the glass. After an hour she drank the wine and waited. The pains came sooner than she had imagined. She resisted as long as she could then,
when they became unbearable, the survival instinct took over, she ran out and
rushed desperately towards the town, almost broke down the door of Dr. Pezzolato’s pharmacy . As the
doctor opened the door, he immediately understood the gravity of the situation. He dragged in Mago Chiò whose mouth was already
a yellowish foam and called his wife trying, in the meantime, to make
vomit the would-be suicide.

It is not known how and for what strange and singular alchemy of destiny, Eleonora lived right in front of the pharmacy. Hearing the commotion and some screams, along with about twenty people from the neighborhood, she rushed to the entrance. Intrigued she craned her neck to see what was happening in the shop. When she saw Mago Chiò dying on the floor, she was stunned. In a moment of clarity Mago Chiò saw her face in the midst of other winds and stretched her arm in her direction. Everyone turned to the girl. Eleonora, with her eyes fixed on him, entered the pharmacy as if she were in a trance.

Magician Chiò, with the last strength left, took out a crumpled paper from the pocket of his jacket and handed it to him. The girl knelt down, took the sheet, read it and immediately her eyes filled with tears, she took Mago Chiò’s hand in hers, she felt his strong grip and then, slowly, the muscles relax until the hand it remained open and inert.

“Francesco!” She was the second person who called Mago Chiò with her real name, but she was also
the last and he did it with sweetness and tears, but he didn’t have time to hear her and the girl
he cried again. A consoling hand squeezed Eleonora’s shoulder, it was Telemachus’s

“On that paper I wrote what he asked me and that he should have copied on the fortress, I don’t know if he made it.”

The dedication of Mago Chiò on Fortress Stella

The next day, when the steamship that was serving the continent passed in front of the Medici fortress, Eleonora ran onto the deck to read the gigantic white words drawn for her on the bastion of the lighthouse.

Mago Chiò Francesco Grassi

Perhaps it was the tears that clouded her eyes, but on those ancient walls Eleonora read the same words contained in the sheet that she was holding in her hands at that moment and that Francesco had not been able to copy, replacing them with the only ones he could write. On the fortress it was written: “ Mago Chiò “, but Eleonora read there “ I love you “.

Today those words are no longer there, time and rain have erased them making us forget the
exploits of Mago Chiò, but if someone, passing under the fortress, notices traces of white paint, stop a moment to remember that strange and extraordinary man and his love for a

(THE TRUE STORY OF MAGO CHIÒ Published in the magazine “Lo Scoglio” by Aldo Cirri)