Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

 ErN 32,  Jeff Matthews   entry Feb 2010

he Great White Fleet & the Messina Earthquake

On July 27, 1909, the New York Times reported that “The first baby born in a new house in Messina was named Theodore Roosevelt Lloyd Belknap Palmieri”! This was Mr. & Mrs. Palmieri's tribute to those American politicians and diplomats who had organized the relief effort in aid of the city of Messina on Sicily, devastated by a powerful earthquake on the morning of December 28, 1908. The quake killed over 100,000 people in Messina and in Reggio Calabria on the mainland and destroyed much of both cities. (Some estimates of the number of dead are as high as 200,000.) In the months following the quake, US aid was considerable and —to explain the “new house” in the above quote— included the building of 1,500 frame houses. The rest of the name: Teddy Roosevelt was US president at the time of the quake; Lloyd C. Griscom was the US ambassador to Italy; and Reginald Rowan Belknap was the US Naval Attaché in Italy.*

The early aid was immediate and direct. It came in the form of ships from the US Great White Fleet, which was circumnavigating the globe and, at the time of the quake, found itself in the “home stretch,” as it were, of a cruise of 43,000 miles with 16 modern warships, employing 15,000 men in a brash display of young US sea power. The cruise lasted from December, 1907, through February, 1909, and was under the command of Admiral Charles S. Sperry. The Great White Fleet went from Hampton Roads, Virgina, around South America and up to San Francisco; then, across the Pacific to Australia, the Philippines and Japan, and then across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, west across the Mediterranean, through the Straits of Gibraltar and back home across the Atlantic.

The fleet was in Egypt when it received news of the Messina earthquake. The flagship, Connecticut (in the photo insert, above), with support vessels, arrived in Messina on January 9, 1909, with thousands of pounds of food, medicine and temporary shelters for survivors. About 17,000 persons were pulled from the rubble, their lives saved by the heroic efforts of the combined search and rescue crews of the US ships and of vessels of other nations that were near Messina at the time of the quake. The US ships docked at the port of Naples during operations, and their presence is noted in the January issues of il Mattino, the Naples daily newspaper. The fleet stayed until late January and then left for home. In January, 2009, 100 years after the fact, ceremonies were held in Messina to commemorate the international effort that helped the city through the tragedy. I really do wonder what happened to Theodore Roosevelt Lloyd Belknap Palmieri. I hope he had a fine life.

[Also see this separate entry on the Messina earthquake.]

*see American House Building In Messina And Reggio: An Account Of The American Naval And Red Cross Combined Expedition (1910) by Reginald Rowen Belknap, pub. G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York and London.

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