We all know that Edgeworth is the center of the universe. Well, if you didn’t know, you know now. The sun rises over Donut Villa at one end and sets over Macdonald Stadium at the other. And during the day the air is fresh, clean and as pure as the driven snow; freshly baked bread from Piantedosi Bakery permeates the whole neighborhood; the best pizza pies on the North Shore come from Joe Crowley’s ovens at Pisa Pizza; the (most of the times) aromatic coffee grinds from New England Coffee; and the finest Chinese cuisine from the smokestack at China Garden. Forgetaboutit!!
I kid of course. Each nook and cranny in Malden – very special to me and to most Maldonians I know. Linden with its many legendary characters: hello, Johnny Wilcox, the Restuccias, the Pashoians, Jimmy Cahill (remember him?), Jimmy Murphy, the Moros! Fabled Suffolk Square! Maplewood with its proud past; the beauty that is Oak Grove; Newland and Bowdoin Street Projects producing some of Malden’s most renowned citizens; Malden Square with its rich history – I could go on and on. But I won’t, right now. You guessed it, this long-winded diatribe is really about Edgeworth.
When the Levines first planted roots in the fertile Malden soil, 1963 Edgeworth consisted of two tribes: the Italians on one side of Highland Avenue and the Irish on the other; both with long, proud histories in the neighborhood. Some could trace their people back to the turn of the century, and beyond. Till this very day, I am reminded (townie shamed?) that “you’ve only been in the neighborhood for 60 years, Peter.” But I digress.
Here I bring you back to 1977 Malden. A simpler time – well, I know that word is subjective, but it sure did feel “simpler.” As I mentioned, one side of Edgeworth was densely populated by Italian immigrants, who formed a tight-knit community full of extended family and paisans, many of those same families remaining. Edgeworth was still dining at Tricca’s, the Stadium Cafe, Gennetti’s Spa and the Highland Café – getting their haircut by Wendell on Pearl Street, Johnny Angelo on Highland Avenue, Frankie Rao also on Highland, or by the heartthrob of housewives throughout neighborhood, “Sal the Barber” on Charles. Social clubs, such as the Italian American War Veterans Club, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Italian American Citizens’ Club and the Irish American were flourishing – much to the chagrin of (those same) housewives (or significant others) across the Ward – waiting for hubby at dinnertime. Billy Callahan’s 4th of July Parades/Celebrations were stuff of legend, and the annual Saint Rocco Feast was the highlight of the summer no matter your ethnic/religious background. Amongst the Italians, friends in Edgeworth were made for good and were kept close, forever; unless, of course, you held a grudge, which also lasted forever (insert smiley face and fuhgeddaboudit!). I digress once again.
In 1977, Jim Conway sat in the corner office. He was friend to all with an innate ability to connect with all sorts of people. He was also a shrewd politician who could “press the flesh” with the best of them. Here he is at his best, pressing the flesh, so to speak, with the Italians of Edgeworth. It was said that Jim counted votes “by the pound.” The neighborhood decided to throw themselves a party – a grand affair that is still reminisced about to this very day.
First, we have “A Proclamation” from hizzoner then we’ll recap the shindig:
“Whereas: The people of Edgeworth, Malden, have been dispersed to all parts of the country and the world, by marriage and occupation, and the upheaval of wars, the Edgeworth of old still lives in their fond memories.
“Whereas: The present residents of Edgeworth and many former Edgeworthians will gather in joyous reunion and brotherhood to reminisce and tell tales of nostalgia and glory of days long ago in a proud Edgeworth.
“Whereas: The people who grew up here were bound together by strong ethnic ties. For them it was a focal point of excitement and adventure. A marvelous mixture of the free American spirit coupled with the character-building traditions of, ‘The Old Country.’
“Whereas: As years have passed, interest and anxiety will be of the utmost concern seeing how the ‘Old Gang’ has fared over the years in this trying and turbulent world.
“Whereas: This being the first reunion of the citizens of Edgeworth, Malden, everyone will celebrate this happy occasion in a cheerful and blessed manner.
“Whereas: I, James S. Conway, Mayor of Malden, do hereby declare Saturday, November 12, 1977, as ‘Edgeworth Reunion Day,’ to be celebrated at the Malden Armory, Mountain Avenue, Malden.”
As Peter Falk’s iconic TV character Columbo would say, “Just one more thing sir” – this night was a once-in-a-lifetime event. The Edgeworth community showed up – en masse. Such an unmitigated success that a second event took place only a few short years later. Residents started discussing the inaugural event at J. Amicone’s Jelly Factory on Pearl Street (yes, there was a jelly factory on Pearl Street). It was there that the Edgeworth Reunion Committee was formed. Familiar neighborhood names, such as Dom Fermano, Paul Callahan, Gus and Frankie Disano, Joe Fontana (who recently passed away – my condolences to the Fontana family) and Marge Vogel were Committee Officers. Arthur Cuscuna, Gerri Belknap, John Colangeli, John and Joey Amicone and Sal “Butchie” Gennetti were on the Board of Directors. Tickets went fast at $17.50 a pop and could be purchased at Gabby’s Barber Shop on Highland Avenue or Amicone’s Jelly Factory on Pearl. Four generations of Edgeworthians – over a thousand people – attended. You read that right: 1,000 showed up to the “elaborately decorated” Malden Armory! The fun got under way at 4 that long ago Saturday with a “get acquainted happy hour” featuring “The Satinaires.” My thoughts – how many gallons of homemade vino were consumed in that hour (in that night?!). At 7 sharp, dinner was served. Our elders danced and made merry until 1 in the morning to the sounds of “The Big Band” before staggering home. I was told services at Saint Peter’s Church were cut short the next morning due to poor attendance. Urban myth? You be the judge.
Postscript 1: Most of the committee members in the photo are no longer with us. Joe Bogan, Butchie Gennetti, Dom Fermano and Joan Goodwin may be the “last men standing” – so to speak. But the memories remain. Butchie remembers the night vividly and recalls it as a “very emotional evening.” He called it a “happy emotional” gathering (my note: especially with an open bar all evening!) with names and faces not heard or seen in Malden in decades. Paraphrasing Butchie: Time was marching on, carrying friends and (some) family members further and further apart, but the emotional connection between this community survives outside of time. It was a “night for the ages,” he concluded.
Postscript 2: In my mind’s eye, all roads lead back to Edgeworth, to that time and place where our/my life journey started. Life stretched out in front of us – exciting, mysterious – to that first at bat on Devir Park’s Bruce Field. To that very first Saint Rocco Feast. To that first stolen kiss on the Bandstand. To that first gym class at Beebe with Mac Singleton. To that first Italian sub with everything (including hots) at the Big A. To that first pizza at the Highland (or DiPietro’s). To that first bucket of fried clams at King Neptune. To that first draft beer at Mike’s Cafe. To that first lime rickey at O’Neill’s Drug Store. To the very first time being chased by Malden Peace Officers off the corner of Highland & Whitman and the Bandstand. To the very first Joe Levine organized “Chill Out” at the ITAMS. To the first time meeting our brand-new park instructor at Devir, Cliff Cioffi. To meeting (the one and only King of Edgeworth) Albert Spadafora for the first time. All roads – seemingly – leading back to Edgeworth, in my mind’s eye, anyway.
Postscript 3: Disclaimer: But you can easily replace Edgeworth with Maplewood, or Lincoln Park, or Linden, or Oak Grove, or Newland Street or Green Street or Amerige. Have a go at it. Don’t cost nothing. And it’s fun!
Postscript 4: Congrats, by the way, to Butchie and his daughter Lisa who are just crushing it in bocce tournaments this winter down in Florida. Looking forward to seeing that handsome kisser of yours once again in person, Butchie! Stay well, my friend.
—Peter is a longtime Malden resident and a regular contributor to The Malden Advocate. He can be reached at PeteL39@aol.com for comments, compliments or criticisms.