Pete: The Story of Peter V. Cacchione, New York's First Communist Councilman

By Simon W. Gerson | Go to book overview
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in a sweatshop. They married soon after they met and left the city to try to better their lives. After working for several years in Syracuse where Pete was born on. November 1, 1897, they moved to Sayre, Pennsylvania, where Pete grew up among nine brothers and sisters.

Young Pete enjoyed his boyhood. Sayre, population then 6,000, is a railroad town. Freight yards and roundhouses are wonderful places to kids, and the Cacchiones lived in a big wooden house across from the shops of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Papa and Mama Cacchione had opened a grocery store and bakery in the house, and these are wonderful places to children, too.

The sixteen-room house was shared with Anna Maria's married sister, and between the two families Pete had twelve playmates related to him by blood -- and a sense of fun. Besides, his mother kept a flock of goats with whom he could wrestle on a dull day.

To be happy a youngster needs heroes, and Pete found them among the men who ran the trains. There was Henry Stevens, the oldest, most respected engineer on the road, allowed to call even the president of the Lehigh by his initials. Stevens, one of the men who had gone out on strike in 1893, lost fifteen years' seniority when the strike was crushed. Years later a railroad official offered to restore his full seniority.

"Not by a darn sight, J.F.," said Henry Stevens. "One day I'm going to be dead and gone, and they're going to bury me in Tioga Point Cemetery. On some Memorial Day when the vets and schoolchildren go to visit and decorate the graves, someone may happen to see my grave- stone. That person may go back to the office of the crew dispatcher, go over the seniority list, see my name heading it until 1878, and he'll say. 'Well! I never knew Hen Stevens scabbed in 1893!'"

No boyhood can be completely happy in a town where the railroad tracks divide the "Americans" from the "foreigners." In Sayre, the "foreigners" lived on the East Side and were mostly Catholic. Bitter fights were fought at the tracks and whichever side was victorious would explore the enemy territory, seeking something alien which was never there. Pete enjoyed the fights. He was at the age where rocks hurt more than the names.

It was different when he crossed the tracks to go to high school. Although his friendliness, zest for games and mischief earned him wide popularity and life-long friends, he was nevertheless the "Italian boy," marked as surely as though every day were Ash Wednesday. He was the first Italian-American ever to graduate from Sayre High School, and he

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