Friday, March 13, 2015

The Strange Case of Louis Delibero - Episode #32


By: David L. Morrill
@ Deadly Dave's Blog

Updated: December 1, 2015


Luigi "Louis" Delibero  
Delibero Family Collection
Family stories are an interesting thing. They come down to us from older relatives, and are sometimes dismissed by others, because they assume their recollections of events long passed are suspect. This story comes from a reader, who asked me to help find more information on the mysterious death of a family member in 1918. The family story she shared with me, was so intriguing, I thought it was worth of looking into.

Luigi "Louis" Delibero was born in San Lorenzo, Italy in 1892.  By the early teens, he was part of a wave of Italian immigration to the United States. Delibero, along with other family members settled in the seaport town of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Delibero Americanized his first name to Louis, and eventually found work as a mechanic at the Automatic Machine Company. The Automatic Machine Company was part of  Bridgeport's ship building industry. With World War 1 raging in Europe, and assumptions that America would eventually be drawn into the war, ship building was an important industry.

Bridgeport, CT.  Telegram - 1918
Louis Delibero - Automatic Machine Company ca. 1918
Delibero Family Collection
Motorcycling for both transportation, and recreation, was well established in the Bridgeport area. They had an active motorcycle club going back to the early teens. It was also the home of Stanley T. Kellogg, who was one of the most accomplished motorcycle racers of this period, and also the local agent for Excelsior motorcycles.


The Bridgeport Motorcycle Club, which boasted fifty members in 1911, began sponsoring motorcycle competitions at the Bridgeport Aerodrome, the Nutmeg Driving Park, and later at the Seaside Park Racetrack.

Bridgeport Motorcycle Club Race Ad
Motorcycle Illustrated - September 1911


Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - 1911
Bridgeport was also close to two centers of early professional motorcycle racing.  They were the Vailsburg Park Motordrome in Newark, New Jersey, and the Stadium Motordrome in Brighton Beach, New York.  Top racers from around the world competed on these steeply banked circular board tracks, drawing large crowds of spectators. A tragic crash at the Newark track in September 1912, killed two well known racers, along with several spectators, and led to the banning of motorcycle racing in Newark.

Atlanta Constitution - September 1912


After the Newark tragedy, and another travis accident at the Lagoon Motordrome in Ludlow, Kentucky, which also killed several racers, and numerous spectators, motorcycle racing began to shift back to the dirt oval horse racing tracks common in the area.

Motorcycles provided cheap transportation in the days when automobiles were out of reach of all but the affluent. Like many young men of this age, Louis Delibero was also drawn to the freedom, and excitement, of motorcycles. He purchased an Indian Motorcycle, most likely from the Bridgeport Cycle Company, which was the local Indian dealer.

Bridgeport, CT. Telegram -1918
Louis Delibero with Family Members
Delibero Family Collection


Bridgeport, CT. Motorcycle Club - ca. 1918
Delibero Family Collection




In the September 30, 1915, edition of Motorcycle Illustrated, an article stated Bridgeport's Stanley Kellogg would be in charge of the motorcycle races at the nearby Danbury, Connecticut Fair.



In the June 29, 1916 edition of Motorcycle Illustrated, an article stated the Bridgeport, Connecticut Motorcycle Club had affiliated with the Federation of American Motorcyclists (F.A.M.), and now had thirty members.



Louis Delibero became an accomplished racer, in the dangerous world of dirt track motorcycle racing. The Bridgeport Motorcycle Club's races, were now held on the horse track at Seaside Park. The results of these motorcycle races, were not covered by the local newspaper, so there no known articles documenting Delibero's racing. 

Seaside Park Racetrack - Bridgeport, CT.
Bridgeport Baseball History - Mike Roer

Louis Delibero of Bridgeport, Connecticut was listed as motorcycle owner #743 on the State of Connecticut List of Registered Motor Vehicle dated August 15, 1914. As he became more involved in motorcycling, he joined the Bridgeport Motorcycle Club, and began to compete in their motorcycle events.

On July 10, 1915, Louis Delibero set the 1 Mile Track Record at the Bridgeport Areodrome, now known as the Bridgeport Motordrome Park, and was awarded a silver cup to commemorate his new track record.

Fred A. Delibero Collection
As America's involvement in World War 1 approached, Louis Delibero registered for the draft in June 1917.  His state draft registration, revealed he was not Naturalized American Citizen,  had a wife and child, and listed his occupation as a "gasoline engine mechanic".  When asked if he could ride a motorcycle, he responded he was "A Racer."

World War 1 Draft Registrations
Ancestry.com


Though his skills as a mechanic, and motorcycle rider, where in high demand by the Army, Delibero was not drafted. He had a wife, young child, and also worked in an industry important to the war effort, so he was exempted from the draft.

Louis Delibero with his Indian Racer - ca. 1918
Delibero Family Collection



Another Bridgeport racer, James Pallazzo,  was making a name for himself, in the Northeast professional motorcycle races.

Motorcycle Illustrated - October 1917
 The deadly nature of dirt track motorcycle racing was confirmed in July 1918, when James Pallazzo, was killed competing in a motorcycle race on the one mile dirt oval at Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Pallazzo had finished second in several of the day's professional class races, but was involved in an accident in one of the day's final races. Several other riders were injured. An article on Pallazzo's death appeared in the Bridgeport Telegram, but miss-spelled his last name.

Bridgeport, CT. Telegram - July 6, 1918

On October 4, 1918, Louis Delibero, died of injuries sustained, when his Indian Motorcycle collided with a box truck some where outside Bridgeport. The collision literally broke his motorcycle in half. There is little information on the fatal crash, other than the story passed down through his family.

These two post crash photos of the remnants of Delibero's motorcycle, which were taken after it was returned to his family, show the violent nature of the crash.

Remnants of Delibero's Indian Motorcycle - October 1918
Delibero Family Collection


Strangely, there is no mention of the accident, in the local Bridgeport newspaper, which regularly covered serious motorcycle accidents. Because what remained of Delibero's motorcycle, was returned to his family, I would assume the accident took place somewhere close to Bridgeport. Older family members, who were just children at the time of Delibero's death, remember seeing the remnants of the motorcycle in the attic of the family home years after his death. Now, this might have gone down as just another tragic accident involving a young man, a fast motorcycle, and an inattentive truck driver, were it not for one other small element of the story.

After Delibero's death, it was rumored that his fatal accident was staged by the local Black Hand members, because he refused to fix the outcome of upcoming motorcycle races. The Black Hand, which had origins in Sicily, was well established within Bridgeport's Italian American Community. Their principal crime was extortion from Italian owned businesses, and they where suspected in several local murders. This June 1918 article details a local murder, in which local Black Hand members were the suspects.

Bridgeport, CT. Telegram - June 6, 1918
Motorcycle racing was popular in Italy, and betting on the results of races, which was controlled by local crime figures, was common. It was also common practice at American race tracks of the time to gamble on the outcome of motorcycle races. A local Italian racer, would have been a crowd favorite with Bridgeport's Italian race fans. If the story passed down through the Delibero family was true, the local Black Hand also wanted to fix the outcome of the races.

Luigi "Louis" Delibero, was buried in the St. Michaels' Cemetery in nearby Stratford, Connecticut. He was twenty six at the time of his death, and left behind his wife Rose Masisco Delibero, and young sons Louis, and Frederick Delibero.

Coincidentally, eight days after Delibero's death, the Italian Societies of Bridgeport sponsored a Carnival at Seaside Park to Celebrate both Columbus Day, and Liberty Day.

Bridgeport, CT. Telegram - October 12, 1918



The Carnival celebration featured several motorcycle races, and drew large crowds from the local Italian Community. Were these races the Black Hand was trying to fix?

Whether Louis Delibero's death was just a tragic accident, or a ninety seven year old unsolved murder mystery, will never be known. Crime within immigrant communities of the time, did not garner the attention of law enforcement, it would in other communities. With the demonstrated violent nature of the local Black Hand, anyone with information, would have surely feared to came forward. The local press liked the sensational headlines generated by this type of crime, but they seldom followed up beyond the initial headlines. There is certainly enough circumstantial evidence to question if the death of Louis Delibero was in fact an unsolved murder.

Sources:

Ancestry.com

Atlanta Constitution

Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review - 1911

Bridgeport, CT. Telegram

Delibero Family Collection

Fred A. Delibero Collection

Mike Roer@Bridgeport Baseball History

Motorcycle Illustrated - 1908, 1915, 1916

3 comments:

  1. Hello from Milano, Italy
    Very interesting vintage stories, biographies, adventures..
    Compliments

    Max The Marquis
    www.themarquisblogger.wordpress.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very cool! Thanks for all your work

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great story!!! Sad ending, but does make you think about just how tough it must have been back in that era to be a motorcycle racer!

    ReplyDelete