By KELLY SULLIVAN Most families know what its like to experience a tragedy. Few, however, must exist through a long chain of them. Michele DeBiase came from Lazio, Italy, and settled in the Knightsville section of Cranston during the early 20th century.
Most families know what its like to experience a tragedy. Few, however, must exist through a long chain of them.
Michele DeBiase came from Lazio, Italy, and settled in the Knightsville section of Cranston during the early 20th century. The owner of a grocery store, he resided on Cranston Street with his wife Angelina (Saccoccio), and their children, Gianbattista, Marietta, Armando, Fioravanti, Teresina, Francesco and Civitina.
On the evening of Aug. 15, 1917, 4-year-old Francesco and his 19-month-old sister Civitina were playing in a room of the house when something caught Francesco’s attention. An older sibling had left a rifle within their reach.
Francesco picked up the loaded firearm and discharged it, sending a bullet through his own abdomen and through the neck of his baby sister. Both children were transported to Rhode Island Hospital. Civitina died the next morning while Francesco followed in the afternoon.
This became the final straw for Michele. A few years before that, another of his children had drowned in the cesspool in the backyard. He decided to pack up his family and relocate to Davisville. They then moved on to Brooklyn, New York, where Michele gave up the grocery business and became a shoe polisher in a shoe repair shop.
The year after the double tragedy, Angelina had given birth to another child, a daughter they named Mary. In July 1927, 8-year-old Mary and her 16-year-old sister Teresina traveled back to Cranston to visit their uncle, Daniel Morrocco. It was arranged that the two girls would stay with him at his home on Sherwood Street.
Not far from the Morrocco house was Randall Pond. On the evening of July 12, Mary and several other children were playing on the wharf that serviced the pond’s ice house. Shortly after 5 p.m., the other children decided they were going to return to their homes and told Mary to come along. The little girl was lying upon her stomach on the wharf, taking much interest in staring down at the stones beneath the water.
The other children went home, leaving her there on the wharf. When Mary didn’t return from the pond, a search was made and Cranston police officers were sent for. At 7 o’clock, divers recovered her body from the pond, about 15 feet from the wharf. It was determined that death was due to drowning.
Michele, a father who had tragically lost four children, died in 1942. Angelina died six years later. They lay side by side in Saint Ann Cemetery in Cranston, having survived more grief than most could imagine.
Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.