The story, as my grandmother always told it, was that her grandfather was pushed to his death down a liftshaft in Florence for the sake of his gold watch. It never occurred to me to wonder whether or not this was true. The events it related were too remote – a great-great-grandfather a hyphen too far. My grandmother’s grandfather was pushed to his death down a liftshaft in Florence for the sake of his gold watch in much the same way that Troy fell to a large wooden horse packed with Greeks.
Vol. 34 No. 14 · 19 July 2012
From Helen Palmer
One of the pleasures of archival research, as Thomas Jones demonstrates, comes from the need to travel to find sources in local repositories (LRB, 21 June). The recent weather may have made Aberystwyth a less attractive destination than Florence, but excellent records are to be found here too. In October 1913, the Cambrian News provided two (differing) accounts in successive weeks’ editions of the death of Jones’s great-great-grandfather Richard Roberts, who fell down a lift shaft in Florence. Jones appears to accept the version of events given by the Italian authorities and reported in La Nazione, that Roberts went up in the lift by himself and fell when he tried to get out on the wrong floor. But his son Ellis gave a quite different account to the Cambrian News:
The lift at the Hotel Metropole, Florence, is an old-fashioned lift worked by an outside rope and cannot be worked except with great difficulty by anyone using the lift. His father never used it at all unless he (Mr Ellis Roberts) was with him and they never went up in it without an attendant. When Mr Roberts’s body was found at the bottom of the lift well the lift was at the top of the building and the probability is that Mr Roberts mistook one of the lift doors (which is like other doors and had been accidentally left open) for the door of a room and so fell down the shaft.
I also tracked down Roberts’s grave in the cemetery here. His epitaph is from St John’s Gospel: ‘What I do thou knowest not now; but shall know hereafter.’
Ceredigion Archives, Aberystwyth