“Sometimes I’d wonder,” Frank Petrucci said last spring. “Sometimes I wonder why them and not me.”
Petrucci died this morning. He spent much of his 95 years wondering silently about the three brothers and one sister he never met. One sibling died after guards for John D. Rockefeller’s coal company wouldn’t let him and his mother on a train to Trinidad to treat his cough. The three others were killed months later, asphyxiated in a dirt pit while taking cover in a raid on their camp of striking mine workers in Southern Colorado.
It was Ludlow. The Ludlow Massacre. 101 years ago this month.
Frank’s mom, Mary Petrucci, was still in shock the weeks after the raid when, on a speaking tour with labor activist Mother Jones, she told a reporter in D.C., “I’m twenty-four years old and I suppose I’ll live a long time but I don’t see how I can ever be happy again.
“I can’t have my babies back. But perhaps when everybody knows about them, something will be done to make the world a better place for all babies.”
Mary and her husband Thomas returned to Ludlow where they had seven more children they raised near the “death pit” in which the first four had died. She never spoke of the massacre to Frank, who was born five years later.
“It didn’t come up,” he told The Independent, in an article about their family last year.
Frank, in turn, didn’t speak of the massacre to his daughter, Mary Elaine Petrucci, a speech pathologist in Denver, who pieced together her family’s sad history as a young girl reading library books. When last year’s 100th anniversary approached, she urged her elderly father — then 94 — to end his silence.
Frank and Mary spoke on a Colorado Independent panel about the massacre last spring. He described his childhood on the plot of land where the haves waged war on Colorado’s have-not working class.
“They died for us. All of us,” he said of the striking miners and his sister and brothers, ages 6 months to 6 years old, who were too young to know what the strike was all about. “We didn’t talk about the babies. We should have talked about them.
The Petruccis lost their voice in 1914. Frank Petrucci found it in 2014.
“It’s not too late,” he said after last year’s panel wrapped up. “It’s not too late to remember.”
Photo Credit: James Brennan