OF THE MANY ERUPTIONS OF MOUNT VESUVIUS, THE MOST FAMOUS IS ITS ERUPTION IN 79 AD THAT BURIED THE SETTLEMENT OF POMPEII, WHICH WAS ONE OF THE DEADLIEST IN EUROPEAN HISTORY, BUT IN APRIL 1906 PROFESSOR MATTEUCCI AND HIS SMALL GROUP OF COMPATRIOTS BRAVELY MANNED THE VESUVIAN OBSERVATORY FOR MANY DAYS AS ANOTHER CATASTROPHIC ERUPTION UNFOLDED AROUND THEM. “NO EARTHLY POWER COULD NOW PREVENT WHAT WAS TO FOLLOW”: 500 DEATHS, 800 WOUNDED, AND 80 THOUSAND PEOPLE WERE DRIVEN FROM THEIR HOMES. A MONTH LATER HE SENDS THIS SHORT HANDWRITTEN NOTE IN WHICH HE MENTIONS “THE GREAT ERUPTION OF APRIL 1906”
RAFFAELE VITTORIO MATTEUCCI (1862-1909) SIGNED NOTE, “R. V. Matteucci”, on a card 5 x 2.75, by the Italian geologist and volcanologist who was the fourth Director of the Vesuvian Observatory, located on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius near, Naples, Italy. Founded in 1841, it is the oldest valcanology observatory in the world. It was built just two kilometers away from the crater of Vesuvius, in a historical period of enthusiasm for science in general and for studies on terrestrial magnetism in particular. The observatory has always been at the forefront in the management of the most important seismic and volcanic emergencies in Italy.
Our own research has provided some interesting details about the event: On the morning of April 8, an especially strong shock jolted the building, and cracks shot through the walls above the arched doors and through the floor across the building’s entire east-west wing. As they watched, a column of gas, lava, and rock fell in a titanic bombardment that buried the countryside three feet deep. The mountain was an open pipe for a jet of gas that roared up from the bowels of the earth. The noise was unimaginably loud. Life in the Observatory was difficult. Abrasive grit was everywhere, rubbing their eyes raw, plugging their noses, and coating their throats. They began to have trouble breathing because of the Carbon Dioxide gas. By April 22, the eruption was finally over and the Royal Palace in Rome announced that the king was awarding Matteucci the Rank of Commander of the Order of the Crown. Relief contributions began to pour in from around the world. New Yorkers sent $10,000, and proceeds were promised from a benefit concert at the Metropolitan Opera House featuring the top talents then in the city. Frank Farrell, owner of the fledgling New York Yankees, offered his share of the gate receipts from a game with the Boston Red Sox. More money came from the mayors of Indianapolis and Jersey City.
His handwritten note is dated 25 May 1906, just a few weeks after the eruption and the note is in Italian, translated, in full: “After the great eruption of April 1906, I am grateful to send my greetings also to the United States of America.” The card is in fine condition, with minor age toning.