Marco and Maria Pellizzari came to Galveston from Italy in 1913, just before the first world war began in Europe. Marco’s brother, Gino, arrived the year before and found a job in the coal mines of Thurber. He wrote often, urging the couple to join him, and promising Marco that he would find good, steady work in Texas.
Within days of arriving in Galveston, Marco found a job. The famous Houston Ship Channel was then in the process of being deepened and widened, and there was a great need for workers. They stayed in the bustling coastal town for seven months until the ship channel was finished. In the meantime, Gino wrote to let them know that his employer at the Texas and Pacific Coal Company promised to hire Marco to work in the coal mines as soon as he could come to Thurber.
Life was hard but happy in Thurber. The Italian community was strong. They worked, ate, celebrated, and mourned together. Marco and Maria were able to live in a small, company owned house, and Maria felt like a queen having her own home.
Within a year, Marco earned the respect of the other workers and the supervisors. He worked hard, and he was honest and cheerful. Maria was also loved in the community. She looked for every opportunity to help the other Italian ladies and their children, and she often sang in the Thurber Opera House on Sunday evenings. The people of Thurber said she had the voice of an angel.
The couple had their first child in 1917, a little boy named Giovanni, who completed their happiness. They felt blessed and couldn’t imagine a better life. Little did they know that it would soon become tragic.
In 1918 the Spanish Flu raged throughout Texas, including Thurber, and took little Giovanni Pellizzari before he reached his first birthday. The couple mourned deeply, but death was an accepted part of life in those harsh days. Though they grieved, they didn’t lose hope or faith.
Maria continued to be a helpful part of the community, but she no longer sang in public. And Marco continued to work hard, but he was never as cheerful after losing Giovanni. One morning in 1918, just months after Giovanni’s death, Marco was killed in a mining accident along with three other men, leaving Maria a young widow.
The mining company allowed Maria to continue to live in the house for a time, but soon she moved in with Gino’s family. His was also a small house, so she felt like a burden and looked for employment.
In answering an advertisement in the Eastland Chronicle, Maria moved to the newly built Stanley Hotel in Eastland, Texas, just twenty miles west of Thurber. She was hired to help in the Stanley Café on the first floor until noon each day, and in the evenings she did hotel laundry. Though she was mostly quiet and kept to herself, guests could occasionally hear her singing softly in Italian.
Maria occupied a small room, room number 40, in the southeast corner of the third floor, adjacent to the recently opened Connellee Theater. One evening she came into her room after an exhausting day of work. She turned on the gas to her lamp but discovered she didn’t have a match. She went across the hall to borrow a match, not realizing in her tiredness that she’d let the gas run while she was out. When she struck the match, there was an explosion that burned Maria severely. She died two days later in the Eastland Hospital and was buried in a now unknown location in the Eastland Cemetery. At the time, her grave was marked only by a rock.
The damaged room was soon repaired. Because of the oil boom in Eastland County, rooms were in high demand and the hotel couldn’t afford to let one stay vacant long.
Guests of room 40 often reported noises or strange occurrences to the hotel staff. They sometimes thought they heard beautiful, yet melancholy, foreign singing coming from the room or the hallway. In 1927, a man came into the room late in the evening to see a beautiful young woman crying near the window. As soon as he saw her, she was gone.
The hotel has long since been renovated, and there is no longer a room 40; a much larger room now occupies that space. But the hallway is the same, and from time to time, throughout the years, guests and others living in the hotel have heard the soft Italian singing coming from the third floor and wondered if perhaps it was the voice of an angel, still mourning for her husband and little boy.