A year ago we posted a photograph of five children left motherless after a deadly explosion on the North Side in 1927. We knew very little about the children and wondered, “What happened to them?” We asked for your help.
We received a number of emails, most asking if we had learned anything about the sad siblings.
Well, we have learned a few things, from information provided by some of our readers and from our own newspaper files. What emerges is a complex story of a Pittsburgh family that spans more than eight decades.
The picture appeared in The Pittsburgh Press a few days after the explosion of a gas storage tank on Reedsdale Street. The blast killed 28 people, including a young mother, Mary Cancelliere (the name sometimes appears as Congelier, Cangalier or Cangellire). Her children are, from left, Lena, 11; John, 9; Angelo, 7; Rose, 4; and Frances, 13.
Frances “loved people and loved food,” wrote the PG’s Linda Wilson Fuoco in Frances’ obituary in February 2007. Frances married Michael Laquatra and worked nearly her entire adult life at the Rosa Villa restaurant, which her father Giacamo established in 1932. You may remember the Rosa Villa — it was located on General Robinson Boulevard and Sandusky Street on the North Side.
Regular customers were Steelers owner Art Rooney and “Mean” Joe Greene. Michael Keaton and Dennis Hopper stopped there when they were in town. The Rosa Villa closed in 2004
Frances died at age 92 and was survived by a son, two daughters, 11 grandchildren and 88 great-grandchildren.
Lena married Joseph Restivo and was listed along with brother John as co-owner of the Rosa Villa. She died at age 70 in 1990 and was survived by three daughters, a son and 12 grandchildren.
John died in 1987. He was 69. His obituary listed no children.
Angelo graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1943 and served two terms as president of the North Side Lions Club. He died at age 71 in 1992. We discovered little about Rose other than the month and year of her death, January 1981.
In the PG files, we found an envelope of newspaper stories with headlines like “Numbers Suspect Held for Court” and “Tax Liens slapped on Cangeliers.” Some members of the Cancelliere family, the stories tell us, were arrested in the late 1940s and charged with operating lotteries. John Cancelliere, uncle of the children, was named in a few of those stories.
For years the Cancellieres remained in the house where Mary died. A number of extended family members joined them there. In fact, one news story about the Cancellieres’ tax problems attempted to sort out who was who in the three-story brick home at 1129 Ridge Ave.
The writer figured out the first two family members named in a suit, but “the third Cangalier is named only as John, which the Bureau of Internal Revenue may find confusing,” the article complains. “There are at least three Johns and the whole family uses the same address…”
Census records from 1930 show that the Cancelliere children lived at that address with their father and uncles John, Sam and Luigi, all barbers, and Charles, a carpenter.
We realize this is but a partial history of a family rocked by one of the city’s great tragedies. So much remains untold. We thank the readers who helped us peel a bit of the mystery from a poignant picture buried deep in our files.