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Whenever I tell people I have lived in the North End for almost seventy years they invariably ask two questions; where should I eat and how has the area changed? The answer to the first one is easy, eat where the longest lines are, the hive knows. The answer to the second one is more difficult because the North End was always in flux, but certainly one of the most profound changes is in the number and type of storefront businesses.

For a hundred years, the North End was the center of Italian American life in Massachusetts. The culture and traditions of Southern Italian towns were transplanted here and the local shops catered to the needs and desires of these paesani. One of the most important services was that of the undertaker which is the subject of this essay because my family has been involved in the funeral business for almost a hundred years.

The picture I am sharing with you was taken on a beautiful summer day, probably in 1934, when the country was in the middle of a terrible Depression. Banks were failing, millions of people were out of work, every city had food lines and here is my uncle Arthur, movie star handsome, dressed in a tuxedo, leaning on his new Packard sedan. Note the spats on his shoes. I think this was the day Arthur got married, July 4, 1934. Arthur is on the left, the cute, curly haired boy in the middle is our cousin the great Angelo Picardi, the finest vocalist ever to come out of the North End. I was with Angelo a few weeks ago, he looks and sounds great. You can watch him on You Tube. The fellow on the right is unknown, one of the many “gualione” of the North End. Behind Arthur is the funeral parlor he ran with his brother Fred which was on the South side of Prince St. near the corner of Hanover. The sign mentions a religious goods store which was around the corner on Hanover St. where Mike’s Pastry is. It was called the Helio Light Company and they sold all sorts of statues, holy cards and medals and other items used in the Roman Catholic liturgy. On the far right the man in the straw hat is Angelo’s father standing in front of his business, Dello Russo Florist.

Funerals were serious business in Italian American life and were solemn affairs. Wakes would go on for days and family and friends would come from near and far to mourn with the family. In the summer time they would pack ice in the coffin, under the corpse, to retard decomposition. Every wake had lots of flowers, probably to mask the odor but also out of respect for the deceased. A small funeral cortege would have one flower car but many had two or even three. At the cemetery there was always a scene when the coffin was lowered into the ground. It was so common for the widows or daughters to jump down into the grave they had to have ambulances standing by to take the injured to the hospital.

In 1939 Arthur and Fred moved the funeral home across the street to Ida (Dello Russo) and Tony Lombardozzi’s building where they could have two chapels and an embalming table in the cellar. My father, the black sheep of the family, would sometimes use the embalming table as a bed if it was unoccupied. It was also used for crap games and one day the crowd from Bee Gee’s social club across the street decided to have a game. About ten of the guys started down the steps. When the first one turned on the lights it startled my father who sat up opened his eyes and moaned. The boys thought a corpse had been resurrected and ran down Prince St. screaming and yelling.

Arthur went on to become mayor of Medford and the funeral home, now on Main St. in Medford, is run by Fred’s grandsons. Only one funeral home remains in the North End and that is not even locally owned.

I want to issue a challenge to those who read this and think they know North End history. I’ve given Matt Conti a gift card for the Cafe Paradiso. The winner will be the one who can remember the names of the most North End funeral homes, where they were located and what occupies the spaces today. Email info@northendwaterfront.com with your answers. In the case of a tie, the one that responded first will win the gift card.

Good luck and Matt will determine the winner in two weeks.
Nick Dello Russo

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30 COMMENTS

  1. Great article, Nick. I vividly remember the embalming table in the cellar. Fred junior and some of us kids from Prince street always had a card game or two down there. I sure do miss the old neighborhood.

    • Guarantees’ on Hanover and Harris,,,, Earnest Guarantee a funny man and perennial political candidate who became a bail commissioner.

  2. What a good story. Thank you for sharing this. I particularly like the bit about the women jumping into the grave. The husband of a friend of mine died, and she said that was what she felt like doing.

  3. Cincotti’s Funeral Parlor on Cooper St. we lived diagonally across from it, it is vacant now, looks like some renovation will be done to it. Thank you for your stories, I love the N. End and miss the way it used to be.

  4. Great article, I especially enjoyed reading about the revived corpse and the efficient use of space. Agree with Lisa about the lines. Seriously, with so many great options, who needs to wait.

  5. 1) Langone’s~~Hanover St. 2) Cincotti ~~Cooper St. 3) DelloRusso~~Fleet St. 4) North Square 5) Langone’s~~190 North St. then moved to Merrimack St. then moved to Hanover St.

  6. Oh I forgot about what the spaces hold now~~~~1) Strega’s Restaurant 2) Empty apartment 3) Was Bernardo’s now is Prezza 4)Mamma Mia’s 5) Lemoncella~~~then West End Development~~.
    then Strega’s.

  7. I grew up on Salem Street at the corner of Noyes Place. My parents, Mac and Vi, owned the pastry shop at that location. My dad and I rented garage space in Cincotti’s garage on Thatcher(?) Street, near the Regina. I also remember playing cards in Dello Russo’s on Prince Street with my cousins the Simboli brothers. Unfortunately,, I can’t remember which Dello Russo I knew. As a boy, I was known as “Richie”. All this brings back a lot of memories.

    • Hi Richie I lived in the same building at 1 Noyes Place. My mother was “Ninni” Antonetta Troiani and my father was “Tony” Anthony Troiani. I remember Cincotti’s Funeral home on Cooper St., Guarente on Hanover St., Langone on New Chardon St., Also remember your cousins Joe and Bob Simboli. My mother worked for your parent’s in the coffee shop located on Salem St.

  8. My late sister-in-law, Connie Cieri was Angelo’s godmother..My husband Mario Cella grew up with Angelo and his brother Pat in the North End..Great singer then and NOW! God bless.

  9. Nick,
    I remember BG’s as I lived a few floors above his club. BG was often out front in the doorway of his club. Policemen walked the beat in those days and I would remember a very affable cop, pretty nice to everyone , name Casey I believe. He would go in the club to keep warm on wintry days. I used to play in the area behind 36 Prince , a paved over area next to the Christopher Columbus Youth Center. One day we saw about ten guys, all ages going over the wall and running in our direction. One of them dropped some dice in front of us and said, “have some fun kids”. BG’s was raided on that day.
    The funeral home your family had on Prince, I believe, is now or was a restaurant, as is the one on the corner in North Square, the square is actually triangular shaped but who would ever call North Triangle :).

  10. These stories are the best Wish we could all go back to the way we where People do ask where the best restaurant is Now we all know that real Italian people rarely eat Italian food out No affence I would say 5 out of 80 or so are authentic. We had it all hired bikes to go to Ghost Town (custom house) roller skating making scooters going to dances plays tap and ballet lessons every Sunday Down North End Park football games cheerleeding

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