Monday, February 18, 2013

Old sorrows: Death by fire at Tipperary

Pleasant Township's legendary mining camp, Tipperary, reportedly got it's name from the English music hall song, "It's a Long Way to Tipperary," that became widely popular among soldiers of the First World War.

It must have seemed to miners and their families as that war was winding down a long, long way indeed over dirt roads (and a rail spur) from Chariton, the nearest town of any size, to the harscrabble little village at the Tipperary mine site deep in the Cedar Creek hills.

Nearby Olmitz developed the reputation as a family place because mine owners built more housing there suitable for wives and children. Although there was some company housing at Tipperary, more of its homes were cobbled-together shacks scattered among the hills.

Although most Tipperary legends are based on hard living --- fights, bootleg liquor and epic gambling --- one of its biggest tragedies was related neither to the hazards of vice nor coal mining, but to a faulty flue that resulted in the fire that killed Pete Stefeno and Sante Viterbo during the early morning of Jan. 2, 1919. Here's how The Chariton Leader of Jan. 9 reported the tragedy:

Two Miners Meet Tragic Death at Tipperary

Pete Stefeno, 46 years of age, and Sante Viterbo, aged 21, of Tipperary, were burned to death early Thursday morning about 1 o'clock, when their little house caught fire from a defective flue and burned to the ground.

The house consisted of one room with a cave at one end, where the younger man was found. He was supposed to have gone there for about $200 that he was known to possess. The older man was found near the door, where it was supposed he had gone to escape, but the flames cut him off before he could reach the entrance.

Both men were badly burned, and died from suffocation before help reached them. The night engineer saw the flames and gave the alarm, but too late to rescue them from the flames which were rapidly spreading.

The older man leaves a wife and nine children in the old country, in the war zone of Italy; and he had recently sent them $1,000 that he had saved from his hard earnings since coming here, and it was his desire to have them come to him soon, as they had suffered many privations and hardships during the recent struggle. He also lelft a sister, Mrs. Angelo Nickoleto, of Tipperary.

The remains were brought to the undertaking parlors of Davis & Baylor Thursday, and funeral services held from the Catholic church Friday afternoon, and interment made in the Catholic cemetery.

It is possible to locate Pete Stefeno's grave in Calvary Cemetery because of a small tombstone placed there, apparently some years after his death. The death year on the stone is off by one and his surname is spelled "Stefanon" rather than "Stefeno," as it appears both in published reports of his deah and Lucas County death records.

There is no sign of Sante Viterbo's grave, but it seems likely that he was buried by Stefeno's side.

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