By M.P. Pellicer | Eerie.News
In 1940, Lawrence Zarilli, who taught Italian at Alcée Fortier High School in New Orleans, was writing a history of Italians in Louisiana. In the records of the Muttuo Beneficenza or Italian Benevolent Society, he came across a story concerning a tomb paid for by the society at the cost of close to $50,000, which was believed to bring death to its creators. In modern times it became known as the "Hex Tomb".
Joseph Albino Barelli Sr, a prominent merchant in the city conceived of the idea for the tomb. He was president of the society which had been established in 1843.
Pietro Gualdi, an Italian born artist was commissioned to design it. Made of solid white marble imported from Italy, it was erected in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, unofficially known as the City of the Dead.
Gualdi had recently completed the tomb when he died from malaria in 1858, age 48, and was the first to be entombed there.
Within 18 months, Joseph Barelli died, however contrary to popular belief he was not buried at this mausoleum. He was interred at a family tomb he designed for his 17 year old son Joseph Jr., who was killed when the steamboat Louisiana blew her boilers on November 15, 1849 a little after 5 p.m.
She had completed preparation for departure to St. Louis and was full of cargo and a large number of passengers. At the moment the boat pulled away from the wharf the explosion shook all the houses in the area, down to their foundation. The steamers Bostona and Storm were lying at either side of the Louisiana, and were heavily damaged. Passengers and crew on board these steamboats were killed as well.
Passengers on the Louisiana who were not torn apart by the blast or scalded, were thrown into the water and hit by debris. Others were carried down when the boat sank within 10 minutes of the explosion. It was estimated that between 150 to 200 lives were lost.
Debris was hurled everywhere along with human body parts. "A large piece of one of the boilers was thrown upon the Levee, and one, entire — a mass of iron, 15 feet long, and weighing thousands of pounds — was thrown 600 feet from the river, landing within three steps of the door of the 'White Mansion Coffee House', at the corner of Canal street." Along the way it cut through bales of cotton, cut a mule in half and a horse and rider who were on the nearby levee.
Capt. Mason, pilot of the Storm described where bodies fell from the air into the river like hail.
The Times-Picayune reported on November 16, 1849, that Joseph Barelli Jr. was found and expected to recover. However, this turned out to be a mistake and only his watch was found on the levee.
Lawrence Zarilli who came upon the story, was an Italian-born barber. In his youth he worked at a shop on South Clinton Avenue in Trenton, New Jersey. He moved to Tampa, Florida and was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1908. By 1917, he had moved to New Orleans and worked as a professor at the Baptist Bible Institute.
Rev. Zarilli passed away in 1952 at the age of 74, however his only daughter, Mary Anne Zarilli died in 1944, age 22, four years after he came across the story in the records of the society.
In the 1969 movie, Easy Rider, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, with two hookers in tow go to the cemetery for an all-night party. The scene was shot at the Italian Mutual Benevolent Society mausoleum. Filming took place without permission from the Catholic Church who owned the cemetery, and who were scandalized when the movie was released.
Peter Fonda climbed onto the lap of the Charity statue adorning the mausoleum, and it is said that in order to heightened his acting, he began talking about his mother's suicide when he was 10 years old.
Her name was Frances Seymour Brokaw Fonda, and she was a New York socialite who sued her husband Henry for divorce in January 1950, after 13 years of marriage. The respondent was Susan Blanchard, stepdaughter of Oscar Hammerstein.
Four months later, Frances Fonda committed suicide on April 14. She was a patient at the Craig House Sanitarium where she was recovering from a nervous breakdown. A nurse found her in the bathroom with her throat slashed with a razor blade. She left a note that read, "Very sorry, but this is the best way out."
Henry Fonda came to the sanitarium, sent his wife's body to a crematorium, and then he returned to New York to continue in his performance of the sold out show Mr. Roberts, that he starred in.
Under terms of her will, Frances left $300,000 to be shared with her mother, brothers and sister, and eventually go to her children, Jane and Peter. Another property in New Jersey was left to a daughter by a former marriage. Henry Fonda was cut off. She had made the will out in October, 1949, six months before she died.
Henry Fonda married Susan, 20 years his junior, in December, 1950. On the day his wife
Jane Fonda, writing her memoirs decades later, discovered her mother had been sexually abused as a child.
The beautiful statue at the mausoleum named Charity was vandalized in recent years, and the head and one of the hands were broken off. Other statues were damaged as well.
Were there others who fell victim to the curse of the Italia mausoleum? It's not known, and why it would be cursed to begin with, is as much a mystery today as it ever was.
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