LIMA — Right in the middle of the boot of Italy lies the town of Avezzano, just a little over 60 miles east of Rome.
Today, with a population of around 40,000, it is a commercial, industrial and agricultural center, according to italyheritage.com. It also has the astronomical observatory Telespazio, a leader in satellite communications.
This is all the more impressive considering the city’s past.
Catastrophe struck 101 years ago today when Avezzano experienced one of the most violent earthquakes in Italy’s history. It had a magnitude of 7 and encompassed an area of over 300 miles, according to stories in Lima’s Republican Gazette. The total damages of the earthquake weren’t known right away because of downed communication lines and destroyed roadways and railways making travel difficult.
Reports slowly started to come in, but they didn’t offer relief for a Lima man. Joe Meale, who was an Italian tailor at the time, had a mother and brother living in Fossalto which was within the area of the earthquake district, said The Times Democrat. Meale told the paper, “I should not be much worried, for the reports do not say anything about my home town, but you can’t always tell.” He had been in Italy in 1908 when there had been an earthquake that killed thousands, yet his home town was not affected. Romolo Fusaro, who was part of the tailoring firm Meale worked for, also called Fossalto home.
Quakes continued to happen for some time after that causing the reign of terror to hover over Italians in the earthquake district, reported the Lima Times Democrat. It caused some to refuse to go into shelters because they’d rather face the cold than have walls fall on them if another quake happened. Even the Alps were affected by the earthquake which caused avalanches to occur, specifically on Mount Blanc and Mount Ross.
It got to the point that instead of casualties occurring directly from the earthquake, people started to become ill and die from exposure and lack of food, stated the Times Democrat.
There were 30,000 soldiers sent out to aid in the relief efforts throughout the earthquake district. Even King Victor Emmanuel traveled around to offer what aid he could, shared the Republican Gazette.
By Jan. 18, the Lima Daily News reported that the death toll had reached over 32,000 in 29 towns. Those who had become homeless numbered up to 125,000. It was even said that many people went insane because of the earthquake and all the suffering it caused.
Looking back on the Avezzano earthquake, Protezione Civile, Italy’s civil protection department, wrote, “Due to the size of the area in which the shocks were felt, the number of victims and injured, those left without homes, the number of hit towns and villages, this was definitely one of the most violent earthquakes in Italy’s seismic history.”
Around this time, and some decades before, Italians started coming to the United States. They came in three waves, said Keith Roney, a historian for the United National Italian Charitable Organization. Initially, they came as fruit sellers and would push their carts of fruit all over Lima. The next wave came with the railroad in 1889 and following that, in 1910, another wave came when the steel foundry arrived.
According to The Lima News, in 1882 John Boggaino came to the Lima area as the first of a long line of Italians. After him was a tailor named Vito Antonella, but neither man stayed for very long. It wasn’t until 1888 when John Gonella reached Lima that an Italian family would set down some roots.
Of the three waves that came to Lima the Italians who were involved in the fruit business made up the majority that stayed in the area. This led to the opening of grocery stores, cigar stores and wholesale businesses, according to The Lima News. Once the 1930s rolled around, Italians were opening restaurants.
One of these restaurants is Milano Cafe which was originally founded in 1931 by Frank and Joe Gaugenti, who were originally from Sicily, says the Milano Café website (www.themilanocafelima.com). The restaurant, located at 2383 Elida Road, is proud to be a fourth-generation family business.
Another Italian family owned restaurant in Lima is Casa Lu Al. It was purchased with the name Blinking Owl in 1960 by George and Dominic Venturella, who changed the name in 1961. According to the Casa Lu Al website (www.casalualrestaurant.com), they received their first award in 1996 for Best Restaurant of the Region.
There is also the Charitable Italian American Organization, with the mission “To explore, preserve, celebrate and promote the Italian culture, language, history and traditions; perform charitable works and promote social interaction within our community” as stated on their website (www.ciaolima.org). They are known for contributing to local charities as well as offering college scholarships to senior high school students in the Lima area. A popular fundraiser was an annual pasta dinner at Veterans Memorial Civic Center, but that has been canceled this year.
In the “Our Heritage” section of CIAO’s page there’s an article written by Gloria Morgan submitted by Sheila Deitsch about her grandmother, Rosie Page, who used to make pasta dinners many years ago for St. John’s Altar and Rosary Society. It turns out Rosie Page’s ancestry is out of Naples, Italy, as was her husband’s.
Naples was one of the areas rocked by the Avezzano earthquake back in 1915. Other individuals that came to Lima from Naples according to the records of the Allen County Historical Society were Ferdinand and Alvino DeMeo, Joseph DiBernardo, Charles Mullenhour, Ecla Oliver, Giavanina Perrine and Phillip Solett.
In addition to those Italian families, the Allen County Historical Society has record of many people that originated in towns within the earthquake district that came to the Lima area. Some of those directly from Avezzano were Camillo, Gennaro and Joseph Cardone, Guiseppe DiGiovanni, John Fiasca, Felix Gallese and Sante Pennese. There were many others from areas such as Arienzo, Avellino, Fragneto, Monforte and Fossalto to name a few.
Reach Janna Ross at TLNinfo@civitasmedia.com.