The Messina Earthquake and Naples, Italy

In conjunction with the fleet response to the earthquake in Messina, the USS Connecticut visited Naples from January 11th to the 20th and the USS Illinois January 14th and 16th.  I have not found many cards from this visit.  I have two collection that I draw from to build this page besides the Itinerary card that I show below.  I am not sure how much liberty was granted to the crew while in Naples, but it does not appear that they received much time ashore.


Tragedy at messina

On December 28th, 1908 Messina, a city in the south of Italy on Sicily experienced a 7.1 magnitude earthquake.  The city was almost completely destroyed.  Between 75,000 and 200,000 lives were lost.  The earthquake almost leveled Messina with at least 91% of the structures destroyed or irreparably damaged.  It was the most destructive earthquake to every strike Europe.  The ground shook for 30 to 40 seconds with widespread damage that went out for 186 miles from the center.

It struck at 5:20 am in the morning while most people were sleeping and were buried alive in their beds.  Many would die from their injuries.  The earthquake produced a tsunami that was 39 feet high in three waves that struct nearby coasts.

The photograph at right is from a professional photographer that was on the cruise.  I have other photos from Amoy and Peru of his work buy cannot read the signature.


one of natuyes stunts - messina sicily

This is a rare card sent by a sailor on the USS Illinois on January 14, 1909 (He wrote 1908).  The card shows some of the destruction of the city.  Possibly a young seaman with poor grammar skills.

The Messina earthquake was the most destructive to ever hit Europe.  Many of the people were forced to relocate to new cities in Italy and some came to America.  In 1909 a cargo ship "Florida" carried 850 passengers from Naples to New York City.  During the trip a dense fog caused a collision between the Florida and a passenger liner, "Republic".  There people we killed and many on the ship panicked causing the Captain to fire his gun in the air.

The Florida was rescued at sea the ship made it to New York City where the immigrants began new lives.


the american response

News of the earthquake reached America overnight and relief efforts were or begun immediately.  The Italian population in America led the efforts and urged a response from our government for assistance.  In response, the President asked Admiral Sperry to send ships to the earthquake damage city and render assistance.  The fleet was just getting through the Suez Canal and a relief effort was formulated.

Admiral Sperry did what he could do.  He mustered all available food and medical supplies and loaded them on the supply ship Culgoa and took the Flagship Connecticut to Messina with all available doctors and medical support personnel that could be spared.  The above card shows one of the British relief ships with the steamer from the Connecticut approaching.  Unfortunately, the efforts of the fleet were not received well.  Crew members from the Illinois went ashore for the bodies of the American Consultant and his Wife, but efforts to assist in the community effort were not accepted.  The Italian government decided to treat the gesture as an insult.  The Connecticut went to Naples to express the Nation's good intentions but was rebuffed.  Connecticut was in port at Naples from January 11th to the 20th and then continued on with the itinerary of the cruise.

The card above was used to try to raise money for the relief effort of Messina.  It was handed out on the street and people were asked to give a donation.  It was set up by a combined effort of the American Red Cross and President Roosevelt.

The card at left shows an American steamer from the Connecticut or Illinois with a British supply ship in the background.


napoli piazza trinita maggiore

This is a nice card from Naples postmarked from the USS Connecticut on February 3rd, while the ship was in Gibraltar.

The card shows the Piaza Trinita Maggiore, with the Column of the Virgin Mary.  These were often erected to give thanks to the end of a plague.


28 Dicembre 1908

This card shows the destruction of the earthquake.  The card was sent by a sailor on the Kansas, dated January 4th while they were still in Cairo and postmarked with the ship's cancel while the ship was in Villefranche, France.  


The cards below are from a collection of postcards sent by Charles Taylor, who was the Chief Carpenter onboard the USS Connecticut during the entire cruise.  His family was back in Brooklyn so he sent regular packages of postcards back to his wife and children to view of the places he was visiting.  They had writing, but most were not postmarked as he sent them in groups.

On the card of Mt. Vesuvius in writes, "We are at anchor very close to this mountain."  For the Naples Opera, "This is the largest theater in the world.  They charge $400 a seat.  I did not go in.  I seen enough dagoes today and enough xiras (?) as 5th Avenue in Brooklyn."  The laundry postcard, "If you want to see Naples go over to New York Est side tenement district, you will see Naples."  The Galleria, "This is the arcade where all the stores are located.  The roof covered in glass."


This second group of cards from Charles is from his visit to Pompei at the base of Mt Vesuvius.



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