When I began college at UMass Boston in 1972, my love of history and human nature made me want to major in Political Science and Psychology as a dual major because of my involvement in North End politics during the late 50’s early 60’s. In those days, Joe Langone and my close friend Ernie Guarente were two mortician’s and always running for one office or another. I announced mortician Ernie’s Guarente’s candidacy with a loud speaker mounted on the roof of his car belching out his name for whatever position he was running for many years.
My friendship with Ernie began in the mid 50s. While playing in the streets, I accidentally broke a window at his funeral parlor, which is now the site of Lucia’s Restaurant at the corner of Hanover and Harris Streets. I knocked on his door and confessed that I had accidentally broken his window with a ball and wanted to make restitution. He was so impressed with my honesty that we became friends for life.
In a sociology class at UMB, we were assigned to read a book by William Foote Whyte called “Street Corner Society.” His study of the North End mentioned that funeral directors were always in politics because it was usually the highest profession possible in poor and immigrant communities. Encouraged by my Professor Harry Finkelstein, I decided to do research on this subject for a term paper. When I finished, he wanted to publish my paper in a journal but deferred to a well-known Professor Robert J. Kastembaum who published it in his Journal of “Death and Dying Lethal Behavior” during my junior year.
What I found in my research was that in the fifties and prior, morticians were the profession only second to lawyers as members to the General Court of Massachusetts. Fascinated with this curious statistic I spoke to my friend Ernie to find out why he was always running for office? What he told me was simple, yet obvious.
In those days, morticians and lawyers did not advertise their profession because it was unseemly so that running constantly was a way to advertise your business. Even if you lost, name recognition was key. Ernie himself never won an election. He told me many years later that he was appointed bail commissioner when he ran as a plant for Tip O’Neil to take away some of the Italian vote from a popular man named Ciccarello (phonetic, I have forgotten his first name) who was running for Congress. Although Ciccarello had Jimmy Durante campaign for him at a rally at the Michelangelo Jr. High School, he lost … mission accomplished. Eventually Ernie was rewarded and appointed bail commissioner by Tip’s friends. Plants were a common practice in old Boston Politics.
Armed with this new information, I decided to try and interview Fred Langone a perennial candidate for office and former City Councilor who was a North End Icon even at that time. Because of his status in the community, I really wondered if he would even allow me to interview him. He did. He told me that the theory expressed by Ernie had validity. But more importantly his reason for running was his passionate love of the North End’s people and wanting to serve them. He was very gracious.
Langone’s father, another famous politician, was born in Boston on September 8, 1896. He attended St. Mary’s Parochial School, Warren Grammar School, and English High School.
Fred’s grandfather, Joseph A. Langone Sr., was an Italian immigrant and former representative, who also opened a successful funeral home in Boston. He is credited with bringing the Order of the Sons of Italy in America to Massachusetts. In 1907, he was awarded a bronze medal by the Italian government for “notable progress in business and finance and society.”
Langone’s funeral home also handled the funeral of Sacco and Vanzetti, who were unjustly executed for a crime that most believed they did not commit. Today, the trial is known to have been steeped in prejudice rather than any proven facts. Their appeals were based on recanted testimony, conflicting ballistics evidence, a prejudicial pre-trial statement by the jury foreman, and even a confession by an alleged participant in the robbery. All the appeals were denied by trial Judge Webster Thayer. The event drew thousands of mourners. The injustice and severe prejudice was experienced by Italians of that day.
Phil Bellone grew up in Boston’s North End in the 1950’s and 60’s. He writes eclectic articles, about the old and new Boston.