Monday, August 3, 2009

The Death of Gidio Tortarolo

Growing up, I knew very little about the family of my Godmother, Theresa (Tortarolo) Angelone. I knew her parents were buried at St. Joe’s on the Brandywine, because my father would point out their headstone whenever we went to visit the family graves. However, I’d never once seen a picture of them, or heard anything about them. I knew they had died from the 1918 influenza, and I knew that as a result, my Aunt Theresa had come to live with my Grandpop Salvo’s family. I’d also heard briefly that she had a brother and sister, but I’d never met them or seen a picture of them either. Years went by and the topic came up somewhere again that she’d had a brother and a sister- so, I finally asked to know who and where they were. After all, if we visited Aunt Theresa regularly, why couldn’t we see her siblings too?? It never made any sense to me as a kid.

My parents explained to me that both had died early in life, and that her sister’s name was Josephine, and her brother’s name was Gidio (spelled as Egidio on the family headstone). And this is where things got interesting: I remember my father telling me that Gidio was killed “in a hot air balloon accident”. At this point I was a kid growing up in the 1970’s and 80’s- at that time, I knew people died when airplanes crashed. I knew people died in car accidents. But a hot air balloon?? Come on. I really thought my father had gotten a bad translation from Italian to English on that one.. Yes, I knew balloons go up high and all, but really- how many people did you ever hear about who died from hot air balloon fatalities?! It just sounded nuts.

Of course my father had no other information to go on, and really had no way to verify the story. The info most likely came from Aunt Theresa herself, or her husband (Art Angelone), and I’m sure it was upsetting for Aunt Theresa to discuss. So, I doubt she went into much detail about it. Either that or, she simply did not know all of the details surrounding the death. After all, it happened in MD in 1930. We had no obituary for Gidio, and there was nothing called an “internet” yet, so without any clues there was little more research that could be done. At that point in my life, the given explanation had to suffice, even as vague and odd as it was..

Interestingly enough, in another household in the tri-State area at that time, a similar question had been asked, and an equally-interesting response had been provided: Frank Rosaio had been told by the sister of his grandfather (Francesco Rosaio) that Gidio had met his death in a motorcycle stunt. Frank’s family recalls Gidio riding his motorcycle all over the place on the Rosaio family farm. But once again, as was the case with my family, no one really knew for sure what took Gidio’s life so early on.

Fast-forward about 25 years- my father signed up for an account with, and started doing research on the Brady, Salvo, and Angelone lineages. While working on the Angelone tree, he was doing obituary searches, and lo and behold, found the obit for Gidio Tortarolo posted on Frank Rosaio's genealogy site (which is how I first met Frank)! It had his last name misspelled, but it was definitely him. It read as follows:

From the "Wilmington Morning News," 8 Oct 1930, p. 2:

"Body of Balloon Victim To Be Buried Here

The body of Egidio Torgarolo, who was killed in Whitehall, Baltimore county, Md., on Saturday afternoon by falling from a balloon, was brought to this city yesterday. The funeral will take place from Krienan Brothers' undertaking parlors at 400 Broom street. tomorrow morning. Requiem mass will be held in St. Joseph's Church, on the Brandywine, at 9:30 o'clock, and interment will be made in the adjoining cemetery.

The young man was 23 years old and formerly lived in this city, but lately had been traveling and giving balloon ascensions. He has two sisters living in Wilmington. The young man was substituting as parachute jumper for Captain John Smith, and was known as Ernest or "Steve" Carinalio."

The obit confirmed the story my father had heard and passed down to me.. But even though it provided more insight, it in turn raised even more questions: where in MD did this happen? Were there witnesses? I felt compelled to find out the whole story, as grim as it may be.

I posted inquiries to a few online sources, explaining the details of the incident (brief but confirmed), along with when Gidio had died (October 4, 1930). Within 24 hours an email came back stating that an article regarding the accident had been found in the Baltimore Sun newspaper. It recounted the death of a man at the White Hall Fair, by the name of Ernest Carinalio (Gidio’s stage name, which appeared in the obituary my father had discovered). The posting of the article was October 5, 1930 (pg. 3, column 6). I requested to have a copy of the article emailed to me, and received it 3 days later. The article (which has been attached with this posting, click on it to view full-size) indicated that Gidio was in fact on a hot air balloon, but that he was actually scheduled to jump from the balloon wearing a parachute, as part of a stunt show. Somehow while preparing for the event, Gidio’s parachute pack got tangled up in the ropes of the balloon, and while trying to get it free, Gidio fell. He was only 50 feet from off of the ground, which would not have been enough time to deploy the chute. As a result he fell to his death, and according to the article, the tragedy took place while 1000 fair-goers were watching.

From what we know about Gidio, he spent his life as a thrill-seeker. Family members can remember him riding his motorcycle all over the place as a young man, and the career he selected at the time of his death further reveals his interest in such activities. I feel in a strange sense that some piece of Gidio carries on in me, as I am an avid motorcycle rider and enthusiast, and I am the only one in the Tortarolo-Salvo-Ghione-Brady lineage who seems to have that gene.

Another interesting point of curiosity about Gidio has been in regard to the stage name he selected, “Ernest” or “Steve Carinalio”. In trying to determine why he chose that name, our family couldn’t help but wonder if the “Ernest” came in some way from my grandfather, Ernest Salvo. But recently, another subtle fact has revealed itself: in the Tutti pic at the top of this site, you can see Gidio standing with his right arm around his little sister, Theresa. And his left arm is around a pal at that time: Ernie (Ernest) Camoirano.. That sure sounds a lot like Ernest Carinalio to me.

1 comment:

  1. After Gidio's parents died, he went to live with and was raised by my great-grandfather Rosaio. I heard only a couple stories about him by my aunts, who remember his big appetite and fast motorcycle!

    Such a sad, short life.

    Thanks goes out to Tedd Crocker, who found Gidio's obituary for me a few years ago.