March 8th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 10
Looking Back - John Kinnear
An American Finding Her Roots
Looking Back
John Kinnear photo
Abbazia Florense in San Giovanni in Fiore- seminary where Mazzei probably studied
My last column brought back memories of yet another story connected to St. Margaret’s cemetery in Fernie that is kind of interesting. It goes back to the year when all four numbers changed (click - 2000) and scared the hell out of everyone. The great Y2K disaster that never was. I was contacted back then about a lady by the name of Mary Lockwood and asked if I could help her in her quest. That quest was to find her grandfather's gravestone, a man by the name of Antonio Mazzei. That July Mary and her husband Pat made their way here from Freeport, Illinois to put an end to a search that had taken her through various Canadian archives and over to Italy on several occasions. Mary Lockwood is a classic example of how driven one can be to find and understand one's roots. TV shows these days like “Long Lost Family” and “Who Do You Think You Are?” reflect this burning desire to understand our past.

The Lockwood's met with several Fernieites on their visit there, one of which was Grace Dvorak, a former Coal Creek resident, whose oft times poignant letters and poems reflected her wonderful memories of this now long gone coal mining town. Grace’s story entitled "Childhood Remembered: A Coal Creek Memoir" was published in 1998 in a wonderful collection of valley stories from both sides of the Pass entitled:"The Forgotten Side of the Border".

Grace shared with me her thoughts on her encounter with the Lockwood’s in the form of a story that I would like to share with you the readers. She entitled it: "The Mystery of the Beads" and went on to write: "Fernie is a town in the Rockies, born with the discovery of coal - Black Gold! Men and families of many ethnic groups left their home and country to answer the need for miners in a new land. The economy of this area has always been dictated by the rise and fall of the coal markets. Because of this, Fernie has known prosperity and poverty. The city has welcomed new citizens during the good times and said farewell to many during the depressed years. The area, too, has known mine disasters and the after effects of the same. It is the mine disaster of 1902, at Coal Creek, five miles east of Fernie that brought Mary and Pat Lockwood into our midst in search of her grandfather's grave”.
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I met with Mary and this is how she described her grandfather’s history to me. "Antonio Mazzei was born in 1870 in the poverty-stricken medieval town of San Giovanni in Fiore (Calabria), high in the Sila Grande Mountains. As a young man he studied at a seminary near there to become a priest. Fortunately for me, he spotted the lady who would become my grandmother when they attended the same church. Needless to say, he left the seminary, was married and went into the business of owning a "potega"--a shop where wine and cheeses were sold. One morning he awoke to find that all his large casks of wine had leaked and he had nothing left. For this reason he left his three year child (my mother), a two year old child and his beloved wife who was again pregnant, and went to Canada- but not before making provisions for his family's care for one year, after which he would return to them, wealth replenished. He was 32 years old when he left."

Grace went on to say in her story:"The promise of a job and a better life was the incentive that was needed to urge Antonio and many hundreds of others to leave for this new promised-land. He made his way to Canada and finally to Coal Creek where he was hired as a miner in No. 2 Mine in 1901.

We do not know much of Mr. Mazzei's personal life in this new land. With our knowledge of the working conditions in the mines at the time we do know that his was a back-breaking job in No. 2 Mine. His work days were long and tiring and sadly lasted only one year. He was one of the victims of the May 22nd, 1902 explosion which killed 130 men and left many more scarred and maimed.
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The funeral train brought the injured and the dead from that mine then to Fernie. The town, I suspect was ill prepared for a disaster of this magnitude and most residents were pressed into some sort of service. On one day it is said that there were thirty funerals. We have no information as to how the sad news was relayed to relatives so far away. All Mary's grandmother knew was that he had died in a place called Fernie. In our wildest dreams we cannot imagine the trauma of those who receive the news, or the depth of their sorrow - being left a widow with small children to raise. There is an area in St. Margaret's cemetery where the graves of many of those killed in this disaster can be found. It was here that Mary found Antonio's marker.

This however is not the end of the story. As Mary and Pat cleaned away the leaves and small debris from the headstone, she discovered a string of ancient looking beads - faded and weatherworn. The beads were threaded in a circle with a small droplet at the front. The design suggested a rosary, but the placement of the beads is not in the given order of the prayer beads. Mary thought there may have been a cross attached, but one was never found even after a thorough search.

It will forever be a mystery; the beads found on a 99 year old tombstone. Many questions may be asked. Who placed the stone on the grave of a miner who died so far from his loved ones? Were the beads placed on the stone by some countrymen, or by someone in passing who said a prayer for the soul of a young man and the comfort of his family?

We may never know the answers. The beads will remain a mystery but to Mary there must be some comfort in the thought that someone at some time remembered Antonio Mazzei."
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I also spent some time with the Lockwoods at St. Margaret’s after studying an ancient outdated canvas plan of the cemetery to verify Tony's location. As I stood there that day I sensed that Mary Lockwood did not find full closure at her grandfather’s gravesite. She seemed to still be searching for something more; some detail of his life here, some evidence of his presence here.

Finally her husband Pat patiently urged her to leave and as we turned to walk away a lovely whitetail doe and two gorgeous spotted fawns quietly slipped by us and over the cemetery hill. What a wonderful contrast of life that moment was there in such a place. Life renewed and moving forward while we stood and looked back.

Author's Note: To this day the necklace remains on Mazzei's marker. On closer examination they appear to be natural (fresh water) pearls.
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March 8th, 2017 ~ Vol. 87 No. 10
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