Early Elevator History and Accidents

Disclaimer: I was given permission by one of my client’s to discuss his project and surnames in an attempt to bring more family members into the project and learn new information.

I’m writing about the Vito Pacelli family in Chicago, from Ricigliano, Italy., for my client’s book. Vito was born in Ricigliano 1 June 1831. He married Modesta Menella and together they immigrated to Chicago. They had the following children: James (Vincenzo) Pacelli, Antonio Pacelli, Angela Pacelli, Onofrio Pacelli, and Maria Pacelli. The family lived at 75 Ewing Street in Chicago.

Vito died at the age of 77 while, according to family story, sweeping up sawdust at the National Casket Company at 117 DeKoven Street in Chicago. He fell through an elevator shaft to his death.

I was able to pull a Sanborn Map for this address and view the structure of this address. The elevator indicated was considered an “open elevator.” What is that? Well I found a great book on Google Books about elevator history called From Ascending Rooms to Express Elevators: A History of the Passenger Elevator by Lee Edward Gray.

This is what I learned. An open elevator[1] was an elevator that required shaft gates, if they existed, on each floor to be opened before the elevator could move to the floor requested. These shafts were to be opened and closed by an elevator boy. It is unknown if there were shaft gates at the National Casket Company.

Interesting right? The details about the building structure, the type of elevator, and details from a court case all add to the life of Vito’s story.

What interesting things have you found as you research your family’s history?

Are you connected to any of the Pacelli families from Ricigliano in Chicago? If so I’d love to hear from you!


[1]. Gray Lee Edward, From Ascending Rooms to Express Elevators: A History of the Passenger Elevator (Mobile, AL: Elevator World, 2002), 259; googlebooks, Google, http://books.google.com (http://books.google.com/books?id=Qq4gVSkfnPcC&pg=PA293&lpg=PA293&dq=early+1900s+elevators&source=bl&ots=Kfy54qrqwq&sig=-3B430tWN3O0yV1ifvdUZQbEj9s&hl=en&sa=X&ei=JaxpUPKINOaNyAHKuIGADg&ved=0CDkQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=open%20shaft&f=false : viewed 1 Oct 20121.

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