As we know from the recent headlines, immigrants to this country are being met with something other than open arms. And we know from the historical record this treatment is not atypical. The immigrants of the past century had no less a perilous journey, and once they arrived here, many died due to poor conditions and accidents.
A family story about the violent death by fire of my great aunt, Luigia, remained a tale with scant details. A recent visit with my 2nd cousin in Denver, Colorado, revived my interest in the story
Luigia was born on 7 January 1894, on San Michele street, in Potenza, Italy.1 Her parents were Antonio Pizzichillo and Rosa Lauso. She immigrated to Denver, Colorado, first arriving at Ellis Island on the ship, SS Massilia,on 14 July 1906, which had departed Naples, Italy on 28 June.2 She came with her mother, Rosa, 51, and her little sister, Antonia, 9.
Her oldest sister, Marietta,18, had already arrived with their father, Antonio, 40, in December 1904.3
The only information that passed down over the years is that Luigia died at a young age in a fire. The last person alive who retold the story was my first cousin, once removed, Michael Smaldone, of Denver, Colorado. Michael was born in 1919 in Denver, and related the story to his son, Gerardo Smaldone. Michael passed away in 2017, the last person who was closest to the event.
In addition, our family did not even know where Luigia was buried.
I turned to newspapers to see if there had been an account of a house fire in Denver that may have killed my relative.
Searching genealogybank.com with the last name “Pizzichillo,” I came up empty handed. Remembering that I did possess a funeral record on a person named Louisa, I reviewed the information again, and discovered that she had died on 1 August 1906, and her place of residence at the time was 3274 Clifton Ave, (now Mariposa St.) in Denver.4
My next step was to limit the search to the year 1906 and resubmitted the search in the database along with the term “Clifton.” Amazingly, the OCR of the database worked. I retrieved an articled published in the 2 August 1906, The Daily News, (Denver, Colorado), : “Thirteen Year Old Louisa Pizzialli Expires in Agony Through Careless Haste in Lighting Fire.” 5
The newspaper reporter got her name wrong, as many of the official documents I have seen with the last name of Pizzichillo. The rest of the provocative headline in the 2 August 1906, The Daily News, (Denver, Colorado), related the story in gruesome detail: “Desperate Attempts Efforts of Neighbors and Sister Fail to Save Child.” 6
Luigia was in this country a scant 17 days when she was left alone because her mother and father were working away from the home to sustain the family. Her father was a laborer on the Moffatt Road, and mother was on a “ranch,” (perhaps a place that provided room and board for the workers?)7
The Moffatt Road was the idea of Colorado businessman, David Moffatt, to build a railway pass through the mountains at the Continental Divide that would connect Denver with the West Coast. But his dream of a transcontinental railroad was not realized until 17 years after his death, when in 1928 the Moffatt Tunnel opened for traffic.8Antonio worked on the project during the summer of 1906, which was also known as “Hell Hill.” 9
There were other errors in the article besides her last name being misspelled which threw off the original search. The article also stated that Luigia’s baby sister, Rosie, attempted to help snuff out the flames. Rosa Lausa, named after her mother, married Thomas Settefrati in January 1906, therefore, she was not the little girl present at the horrific accident. It probably was my grandmother, Antonia, also known as Antonetta. The newspaper also identified her father’s name as “Antonia,” Of course, it was Antonio.
And to my mind the most serious infraction of journalistic ethics was the newspaper reported the accident and death of this young girl before even the parents, or at least father, was informed.
Kerosene is a highly flammable compound. Just the week before Luigia’s death another young child who lived a couple of miles away in North Denver neighborhood was burned to death through an accidental fire caused by kerosene. How many children died in this way remains to be researched.10
According to a 1938 United States Department of Agriculture Farm Bulletin, “Probably several hundred people are killed or seriously burned on farms from the careless and handling storage of gasoline or kerosene.” The pamphlet written 32 years after Louisa’s death went on to warn:
So, where was Luigia buried? Michael did not know. Gerardo did not know. None of the family knew where this poor young child’s grave was. Again, I reviewed the funeral document, and since the writing on the scanned document was very poor, I did not notice before, but there was a space for “Place of burial.” I could not make it out at first, but using the primitive image enhancing tools of my Mac, I was able to increase the contrast until I saw the name of the cemetery: Mount Calvary Cemetery.
Researching this cemetery in the Denver Public Library digital collections, History of Denver Cemeteries, I discovered that it was the Catholic part of the first Denver cemetery, Mount Prospect , an old Arapahoe burial ground, which existed where Cheeseman Park is now located in Denver, and the Calvary part is where the Denver Botanical Gardens are located. When the City Cemetery opened, the burials in the old Mount Prospect Cemetery declined, and in 1890 the City of Denver decided to make the whole thing into a park.11
In August 1893, the Denver Parks Commission ordered families to move the remains of their loved ones within 90 days. Many bodies were exhumed and moved to Riverside Cemetery. There are still 4200 bodies remaining under the soil of Cheeseman Park. However, the archdiocese of Denver received an injunction to stop the assault on Mount Calvary. In 1891 the Archdiocese opened Mount Olivet and many bodies from Mount Calvary were transferred there.
The last burial in Mount Calvary was 1908, and that is where Luigia was first interred.12
I contacted the Mount Olivet staff about my search. Christina Deeb, an administrative assistant, replied to my email:
Thank you very much for your inquiry! I found a record for Louisa Pizzichillo who was buried in 1906 at Calvary and moved to Mt Olivet when Calvary closed. Her location is: Section 8, Block 5, Lot 10, NSE (North, Southeast grave). I have attached a map showing you how to find her on Mt Olivet’s grounds for your convenience.Thank you again! Please let me know if I can be of further assistance!
I immediately sent this information to my cousin Gerardo in Denver, who the very next day paid a visit to Mount Olivet Cemetery to find the grave.13
Gerardo could not find it, even though he has walked that section of Mount Olivet many times as that is where our great-grandfather, Antonio Pizzichillo, and his grandfather, Gerardo Smaldone is buried.
Here is his account of finding the grave:
I had the feeling something was off before I started. I have never seen her grave in all my trips there, and neither has anyone else. But I carefully went through Blk. 5, then the rest of section 8 without finding her.
Back at the office, Christine called the grounds people, because they have an idea where many of the moved graves are.
This guy immediately tapped into cement markers a few inches below ground but not #10. He tried the east and west ends of section 8. He said that sec. 24, just to the east came entirely from Mt. Calvary.
He went back to the grounds office and came back with a phone picture. He counted off steps while I followed him, closer and closer to her dad. He stopped and turned down that row and I knew that’s where he’d end. I didn’t say a word. He says, Well, she’s buried with this man, and shows me on the pic both of their names there. Incredible
I asked if a stone could be placed between Tony and Jerry [Gerardo’s paternal grandfather]. He said what is normally done is that a “foot marker” is put at the end of the grave.
So, now we know. Thank you for your work and expertise!.14
Luigia/Louisa is buried with her father, Antonio. Looks like the family mystery of Luigia died and where she is buried has been solved.
- Italy, Potenza, Potenza, Civil Registration (Tribunale), 1866-1910,”Registro Atto degli Nascita,Commune di Potenza, Provincia di Basilicata,” Luigia Pizzichillo, 7 January 1894, numero 18, image 1527, digital image, Familysearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 20 June 2018).
- “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,”digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 June 2018), frame 397, line 3-6, Rosa Lausa, Luigi[sic],Antonia, arrived 14 July 1906 on SS. Massilla, Citing Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, roll 740. NAI: 300346. Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; National Archives at Washington, D.C.
- “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,”digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 June 2018), frame 39 , line 10, Antonio Pizzichillo, Maria, arrived 29 December 1904, on SS. Citto di Torino. Citing Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957. Microfilm Publication T715, roll 524. NAI: 300346. Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; National Archives at Washington, D.C.
- William P. Horan, “Horan Mortuary Records, 1891-1960,” manuscript, (5 oversize boxes, 51 oversize volumes, 25 reels microfilm), Denver Public Library-Genealogy, Western History, and African-American Resources, Call Number C MSS WH842, Record of the Funeral of Louisa Pizzichillo.
- “Deadly Kerosene Gets Little Girl As Victim,” The Daily News (Denver, Colorado), 2 August 1906, 7:2, GenealogyBank (genealogybank.com : accessed 25 June 2018)
- Encyclopedia Staff, “Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railway Hill Route (Moffat Road),” Colorado Encyclopedia, (http://coloradoencyclopedia.org/article/denver-northwestern-pacific-railway-hill-route-moffat-road : accessed 3 July 2018.)
- Denver and Salt Lake Historical Society, “The Moffatt Road,” digital image, Rollins Pass Restoration Association (http://www.moffatroad.org/ : accessed 2 July 2018).
- “Young Hero Dies of his Injuries,” digital image, The Rocky Mountain News (Denver, Colorado), 21 July 1906, Vol 47, No. 202: page 1, col. 3 GenealogyBank (genealogybank.com : accessed 25 June 2018).
- Denver Public Library-Genealogy, Western History, and African-American Resources, “Denver Cemeteries-Historical Background,” digital image, Denver Public Library Digital Collections (https://history.denverlibrary.org/ : accessed 28 June 2018). Click on Research Tools A-Z> “D”>Scroll to “Denver Area Cemeteries.”
- “Denver Cemeteries-Historical Background,” digital image, Denver Public Library Digital Collections .
- Christina Deeb, Administrative Assistant, Mount Olivet Cemetery, Arvada, Colorado, [e-mail for private use], to Jerry Carbone, e-mail, 28 June 2018, “Website Lead,” privately held by Jerry Carbone, [email protected], Brattleboro, Vt.Map of the burial plot included with the Email.
- Gerardo Smaldone, Arvada, Colorado, [e-mail for private use], to Jerry Carbone, e-mail, 27 June 2018, “Luigia Pizzichillo born 7 January 1894,” privately held by Jerry Carbone, [email protected], Brattleboro, Vt..