Death on Christmas Eve


There is one Christmas Eve day in my youth that is seared in my memory. It was that fateful holiday time, when I came face to face with violent death.

Several days before Christmas Eve, while walking home from school, I made a date with Joe Santorelle and several of my other close friends and neighbors of the Ginney Block, to meet bright and early Christmas Eve morning to go belly slamming down the Rolling Road, our favorite winter time slope for sledding because it offered a fast quarter mile run from top to bottom.

The Rolling Road by this time, in disrepair and not operational had been a unique road. It was probably the first and only one of its kind. As I remember it, there were actually three roadways side by side. The center road was the only one that had rolled or moved. You might describe it as an escalator without steps. Wide, wood slats formed the road surface, attached to great moving cables underneath, that continuously drew the slatted road up and down, just as department store escalators do today. This special road had been built for transporting heavy laden, horse drawn wagons that once delivered lumber from the yards located in the industrial valley below the city on the hill. The two cobble stone roads on either side were for the lighter vehicles that could make it up the hill on their own power, and for the empty wagons on their way back down to the yards after having completed their deliveries.




Caption, Cobble stone side of the abandoned Rolling Road-circa 1927
Courtesy of the Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio




It was one of these side roads that we used for sledding on snowy weekends and holidays because traffic was almost non-existent on such days and we had the road to ourselves.

At this particular Christmas time, several days of heavy snows had been nicely packed down on the cobble stone road, making it ideal for belly slamming down the hill.

I can see myself as a ten year old with Joe and the gang, all pretty close to me in age and daring. Joe was slightly older, about twelve, and always the leader and more daring than the rest of us.

It was cold and crisp. Heavy snow flakes, the good sticking and packing down kind, were falling from a grey sky that promised to lay another blanket over the accumulated layers of snow which nicely covered the left roadway that we had decided to use on that fateful Christmas Eve morning.

As we lined up at the top of the hill, I could barely see Canal Road at the foot of the hill. Canal Road was a main road in the industrial flats below. Canal Road and the flats were usually deserted on the day before Christmas. I recall that our course down hill looked mighty fast that morning, as I got a firm grip on my home-made sled made of metal runners and slats from orange crates salvaged from the Old Market House, located on Ontario Street at the top of the hill.

All of a sudden, I heard Joe say, " Ready, Get Set, Go!" he had pulled a fast one on us. There he was, speeding down the hill before we knew what was happening.




Caption, View from the bottom of the abandoned Rolling Rd. circa 1927
Courtesy of the Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio




The rest of us, like horses, left at the post, flung ourselves on to our sleds, hitting them hard with our heavily clothed bodies. We were soon flying down the hill, many lengths behind Joe, who was already a third of the way down the hill. As a belly slammer, I had always been pretty quick, so I soon found myself in second place but still far behind Joe, as he approached Canal Road. I was about fifty yards behind him as he entered Canal Road. At the same time, a Mack Truck, one of the fleet that the lumber company had begun to use as replacements for its horse drawn wagons, appeared out of nowhere. Joe's fast moving sled carried him right under the wheels of the truck. In horror, I slammed my sled into the stone abutment that separated the left roadway from the rolling road in the center. Bruised and shaken, I ran down to where Joe lay. Blood was streaming from his mouth, nose and ears. The agitated truck driver pulled me away from the scene, as I started retching in great convulsive heaves.


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