Family of plane crash victim gives back to first responders on 70th anniversary of crash
They called it “the umbrella of death.” Between December 1951 and February 1952, three planes crashed in Elizabeth a few weeks apart, killing a total of 119 people.
The family of one of the victims is giving back to first responders to commemorate the 70th anniversary of those crashes.
“It took the top of the third floor and landed on our house,” said Augustine Caruso.
Caruso stood on the same spot where 70 years ago, as a 13-year-old boy, he returned from an errand at the bakery to find an American Airlines plane had crashed into his family’s home. Caruso’s other Rosa was pulled from the burning rubble and died 12 days later.
“It makes my stomach turn,” he says.
The Jan. 22 crash was the second of three separate crashes in Elizabeth over nine weeks – events that impacted hundreds of families.
“Somehow we struggling through and here I am, thank God, at my age – I am here to tell this story,” Caruso said.
The Caruso family’s story may be one of the most remarkable ones from those events. Augustine Caruso’s father Domenic was sifting through the rubble when he found his wife’s handbag. It contained a letter he had written her in 1919. Writing in their southern Italian dialect, Domenic asked Rosa to await his return from service in the Italian army so that they could marry.
“Every day for two years he used to write her a letter. And inside the handbag in the little zipper was this letter folded up,” said granddaughter Maria Caruso Martin. “She must have carried it with her every day. It was her favorite letter.”
After Rosa’s death, a heartbroken Domenic returned to Italy and later remarried.
“It wasn’t until recently…that I really started digging into the deeper meaning of the whole accident,” Martin said.
Marin, inspired by her grandparents’ story and the letter inside of the handbag, started a line of designer bridal clutches called Mrs. Clutch. They are made in Italy.
“We heard it from the time we could talk and walk. It was just something we kind of knew happed to our family. [Augustine Caruso] has carried that story with him his whole life,” Marin said.
To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the crashes, Marin will give away 70 clutches to first responder brides or brides who are marrying first responders.
“To continue to thank 70 responders nationwide,” she said.
Soon she will launch a line of purses named after her grandmother Rosa.
On Friday, the Caruso family came to the Elizabeth Fire Department Headquarters to share their story and to remember the first responders who came to those plane crash scenes seven decades ago. They also honored the first responders who are working today.
First responders or their betrothed who are interested in the giveaway can register HERE.