The Terrible Accident that Befell Italian Laborers

Four Men Drowned
The Terrible Accident that Befell Italian Laborers
While Crossing The River In a Skiff

Submitted by: Shirley Reed


IRONTON REGISTER, THURSDAY, JUNE 23, 1887.

  Last Friday night, four Italians employed by Rosazza, Manuel & Co. on the Maysville & Big Sandy road-bed across the river, came over to Ironton in a skiff, and returning about 11 o’clock were drowned just before reaching the Kentucky shore. The cause of the said accident is unknown. None of the men knew much about rowing, and they must have become frightened as the waves of a passing towboat overtook them and in trying to control the skiff, upset it; or perhaps they struck a snag and overturned their boat. It was found capsized and floating, several miles down the river.

        Nobody suspicion that the men were drowned until the next day. They left the Ohio shore at the ferry landing, where Capt. Young and wife and daughter and Mr. Rosazza who boards with them, were waiting for a skiff to take them over the river, after the commencement exercises. The Italians rowed down from Hafle’s float to where these people were standing to see if their craft might not accommodate them also, but as they drew near, Capt. Young remarked that there were enough in it already, and the men rowed cheerily out into the river. Ten minutes afterwards, the group on the ferry float heard them shout apparently from the other side, but they didn’t dream that the Italians were in trouble. Mr. Rosazza remarked to the others with a laugh that he guessed the boys were scared at that towboat, which at that moment was passing up stream. Soon after, Will Kirker joined Capt. Young’s party and they rowed over the river and landed within a few hundred yards of where the bodies of the poor fellows were found on Sunday.

        Their names were Battista Merlo, Ginseppe Rosazza Berlina, Giovanna Volz, and Battista Peraldo. The first and third were married, Merlo having a wife and three children and Volz a wife, in Italy. Berlina was a nephew of one of the Rosazzas, belonging to the firm which employed him. He was the only support of his mother in Italy, and by sending this paper with the account of his death to the Italian Minister, his friends will procure the release of a younger son from the Italian army, that he in turn may assume this dutiful office. Peraldo’s father works at Buena Vista, Ky. The married men were about 40 years old and the others about 22. All had been in this country but a few months. There were stone cutters and masons, and Merlo especially is spoken of as a steady, intelligent man.

        Berlina and Peraldo were to meet Mr. Barrett at the River Saturday morning to go down near Greenup to take photographs, and when they did not come he made the first inquiry which led to a search for them, and aroused a suspicion that they might be drowned, but this theory many disbelieved until the ferry boat brought one of the bodies to the surface Sunday morning. It seems remarkable that they should drown so near the shore, and when with only ordinary caution there could be no danger. They had doubtless been drinking, but were not intoxicated. By afternoon, all the bodies were found. The one farthest up stream being 50 yards above the ferry float, where it is supposed the unfortunate men met their fate. Squire Swearingen of Russell held an inquest and the remains were brought to Ironton for burial.

The terrible catastrophe fell like a pall upon the company of Italians at work on the railroad. they came from all points along the line to attend the funeral, which was held Monday afternoon. Peraldo’s father and brother were among the number. The bodies were taken from O’Keefe & Hanichen’s in four hearses, followed by a long line of carriages containing Italians and sympathizing citizens. It was a solemn spectacle. None so unusual was ever seen in Ironton before. The remains were in plain coffins, with a crucifix and a card bearing the name of deceased on each. The procession proceeded directly to St. Joseph’s cemetery, where Rev. Father Boden conducted brief services, and the coffins were placed side by side in one grave.