Prank turns deadly for Johnston mill worker


The Greystone Mill, located on Cranston Avenue, was built in 1904, part of the facility lying on the Providence side and the other in Johnston. The textile mill grounds covered almost 13 acres and included three large brick structures, a weave shed, finishing building, pump house, boiler house, heater and oil houses, a stable with attached manure bin, water tanks and covered coal shed.

The main mill was flat-roofed, measured 694 feet long and was comprised of five stories. One area of the mill was for wool sorting, washing and drying. Inside the dye house, one side was utilized for dying cloth and yarn and the other for drying and pressing materials. A concrete-walled water pit in the dye house collected the waste matter of manufacturing. The weave shed housed several rows of looms and the finishing building was where completed goods were stored and readied for shipping out.

A footbridge over the Woonasquatucket River connected the Providence side of the mill to the Johnston side. Two towers jutted up from the north and south sides of the main building, one of them bearing a large clock. Two freight elevators moved up and down throughout the day, carrying goods from one floor to the next.

Eighteen-year-old Pasquale Pezzulo was a bobbin-setter in the mill's spinning department. A native of New York and the son of Giuseppe and Carmela, he lived with his family in Johnston. His father, who came to America from Italy, was a wool comber.

Just before 3:30 p.m. on Aug. 14, 1923, Pasquale and a co-worker, 15-year-old Ralph Conca, who resided on Waterman Road in Johnston, were taking a short break. Large wicker baskets affixed to rollers were used at the mill to transport yarn from floor to floor via the elevator and the two boys sat down inside one to chat.

The basket was stationed at the top of the third floor landing, next to the elevator. The elevator car was presently up on the fifth floor, therefore the large double doors between the spinning department and the elevator's lift entrance were closed.

Sixteen-year-old Henry Guosuldo, who resided with his family on Manton Road, sighted his friends sitting inside the basket and decided to play a little joke by creeping up behind them, giving the basket a shove and dashing away unseen.

Unexpectedly, the impact of the basket against the doors pushed the right side open and the basket catapulted down several floors into the elevator pit. Landing upside down, both boys were pinned beneath it on the cement floor.

The elevator operator, John Green, heard the crash from the fifth floor and raced down to the pit to see what had happened. Both of the boys had sustained head injuries and were unconscious.

Green summoned Edmund Jagder, the overseer of the spinning department and together they carried the boys into the office of Henry Smith, manager of the yarn department, and called for an ambulance. Within 20 minutes, medical help had arrived and they were transported to Rhode Island Hospital in critical condition. Pasquale died later that day and Ralph was not expected to survive. It was the mill's first fatality.

As the result of an innocent prank gone wrong, Pasquale was laid to rest in Saint Ann Cemetery in Cranston. Miraculously, Ralph survived. He went on to serve in World War II and died in 1951. He then joined his former co-worker, in eternal rest, within the grounds of Saint Ann's.

The mill has since been renovated into residences – Greystone Lofts.

Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.


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