Longform Philly

Month: September, 2014

Mystery: Trashed

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Dan P. Lee | Philadelphia Magazine | June 2008

TINY TULLYTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA, population 2,090, sits on the banks of the Delaware River, 25 miles from Philadelphia. It’s an old, modest town to which the picturesque grounds of William Penn’s summer home are immediately adjacent. Liquid is everywhere, both natural and in the vast blue lakes that are the product of gravel harvesting, Tullytown’s former lifeblood. In the late 1980s, renewal came in the form of the large, verdant hills that rise 220 feet above town, visible even from the tall buildings across the river in Trenton. Buried within them are 50 billion pounds of human refuse.

On April 25, 2006, as on any other day, massive trucks came and went, orderly but relentless, kicking up fresh dust by the minute. It was a warm, windy day. The trucks rumbled deep into the landfill, to the area known as the “working face.” Above it swarm some of the highest concentrations of rare gulls in North America, which in turn attract birders who point their binoculars toward them. Through their lenses on the afternoon of April 25th, however, the birders observed not just the gulls but also a small flock of television news helicopters, hovering above a cordoned-off one-acre area. Below, police officers wearing white plastic suits were erecting a makeshift tent to block the view.

For three weeks, the officers had toiled, excavating down through 25 feet of rotted food, paper, bottles, diapers, containers and dirt, using backhoes, rakes, shovels and even their hands. Around 2 p.m., an investigator finally uncovered what remained of the body of John Anthony Fiocco Jr., a well-liked, smart, athletic, curly-blond-haired freshman at the College of New Jersey in Ewing who’d gone missing one month to the day earlier. He was 19 years old.

Fiocco (pronounced “fee-AH-co”) was last seen alive in the early morning hours of March 25th, asleep in a dorm room near his own. A protracted search had discovered his blood in and around a basement trash container at the college, which brought the investigation to Tullytown. But the unearthing of his body, fractured and badly decomposed, failed to provide any insight into the cause of Fiocco’s death; who, if anyone, might have played a part in it; and how his body had ended up in his dormitory’s trash system.

Writer bio: Dan P. Lee, a South Jersey native, wrote for The Press of Atlantic City and Philadelphia Magazine before joining New York Magazine as a contributing writer.

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The Man Who Couldn’t Read

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Gary Smith | Esquire | August 1990

Slowly, so the bed wouldn’t creak, the millionaire who couldn’t sleep rose and walked barefoot to the bookshelves. “Tonight,” he whispered to himself. “Please let it happen tonight.”

* * *

He turned on the lamp. His eyes moved past the two framed rectangles of glass on the wall — past his college diploma, past his teaching certificate — and fell upon the book cover, the one filled by the angry black face. He stared into the rage and hurt in the author’s eyes. He moved his fingers across the title, Soul on Ice.

This man understands, the millionaire thought. This man, too, is a prisioner, an outsider; maybe this man will help me tonight.

* * *

His thumb riffled the pages. Don’t force it, he told himself. This man is screaming, this man writes words that jump into your ears and eyes; just stand here, very calmly, and let them come in. …

* * *

All his life? Is that how long he would have to play this game? He lay back down in bed and looked at his wife. No one else knew his secret. Not his two children, not his friends. Not his old college professors, not the high school students he had taught for eighteen years, not the business associates in his multimillion-dollar real-estate-development company in southern California.

Only Kathy knew.

They would take everything if they found out — the diploma and teaching certificate, the apartment complexes and shopping centers and rental properties, the Mercedes and the big house overlooking the ocean. Or they’d refuse to believe his secret, insist he was playing them for fools.

Writer bio: Hands off, Gary Smith is ours. We claim Smith, a four-time winner of the National Magazine Award, as our own. He grew up in Delaware, graduated from LaSalle University and covered the Eagles for the Philadelphia Daily News before spreading his wings at Sports Illustrated. He is one of the most celebrated narrative journalists of our time. And he’s ours.

Continue reading “The Man Who Couldn’t Read.”

The Street of Lost Fathers

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Will Bunch | Philadelphia Daily News | June 2002

ADA PRO knew something was very, very wrong when she saw the headlights of the car that was creeping slowly the wrong way up the 1900 block of South Lambert Street.

It was after midnight on a hot, sticky July night, 48 summers ago. Just hours earlier, the narrow canyon of boxy, brick rowhouses had echoed with the shouts of men slamming down cards on a concrete stoop, while the familiar odors of hot coffee and moist cake from the corner bakery hung in the hazy air.

But now, there was deathly silence on the South Philadelphia street. Pro, just a teen-ager, watched the wrong-way car creep to a stop in front of one stoop across the street, then another – first 1925, then 1927, 1929, 1931, 1939. Finally, authorities rang the doorbell at the Pro rowhouse.

Just a short while earlier, six of the guys playing cards outside had decided on a whim to go off for a late-night joy ride. Pro’s older brother, Dante, had to pick up his new bride from her job at the airport, and one of his friends wanted to show off his new 1953 Oldsmobile, a Rocket-88. They thought the car ride would cool them off.

Four of the men never came home. Gaetano Ricevuto, Anthony Tulina Sr., Eugene Santarlas Jr. and Vincent Caruso Jr. all died after a horrific head-on, two-car collision at 12:10 a.m. on the old Industrial Highway between the airport and South Philly. Newlywed Grace Pro was also killed. Dante Pro, neighborhood teen-ager Nicholas Russo and the driver of the other car were seriously hurt.

The men who died in the July 9, 1954, wreck were all married fathers. They left behind 10 children. The oldest was 14, the youngest just 18 months.

* * *

Even after all this time, memories of Lambert Street and its four dead fathers still linger for the survivors.

This Father’s Day, the heat and humidity of another summer on the way will likely bring back some of the old ‘what ifs?’. Why did so many pile into the car so late on a Thursday night? How would their lives have turned out differently with a father’s guiding hand, occasionally applied sharply to a wayward son’s backside?

“I still think about him a lot – I really do,” Anthony Ricevuto – who was 14 the night of the accident, now 62 – says today of his dad. “Your mind tends to wander back. All the questions. Why did five of them have to go along?”

For the 10 children, all South Philadelphia natives, now middle-aged, Father’s Day isn’t a time of Hallmark cards and titanium golf clubs. Instead, it’s a day to reflect – about loss, but also about strength, about how one remarkable city block acted as a tough yet consoling extended Italian family to pull them through a tragedy still difficult to fathom.

At times, they mourn the street and their lost Philadelphia of the 1950s almost as much as they do their fathers. “It was South Philly the way it used to be,” said Joyce Caruso Quintieri, Vincent Carsuo’s daughter, who stayed in the neighborhood and runs a luncheonette at 16th and Ritner. “We never wanted to leave the street.”

No one imagined it could end – the steamy days when their dads would open up the block’s fire plug, the work nights when dinner was always served at exactly the same time, when father came through the front door. The smells of manhood – of fresh-baked rolls and strong Italian coffees and a bottle of Schmidt’s – were the overpowering aroma of Lambert Street.

When it did end so abruptly for the kids – their fathers dying before they woke – they were far too young to understand.

Eugene Santarlas III was just 5, and he had gone around the corner to his grandmother’s house to sleep. The next day, he was sent to an aunt’s home while family members scurried around. He grasped that something was wrong.

“We were walking back to my grandmother’s house, and a kid came up to me and said, ‘Your dad died last night.’ I started running to my grandmother’s house and burst through the door. There must have been 100 people inside. My uncle took me aside and told me what happened.”

He now knows that what happened that long-ago July night was the end of one thing, and the beginning of something else.

“My life pretty much began the night my dad died,” Santarlas said. “That’s when I started remembering things.”

* * *

Today, a visitor in search of those memories on Lambert Street, between Mifflin and Mc- Kean, will find the basic layout – the boxy line of symmetrical two-story rowhouses, separated by a narrow funnel of asphalt – that was there in the ’50s.

There are signs of both urban decay and working-class stability. There’s some litter on the block, but most of the brick or stone rowhouses are well-kept, some with American flags in the window. On a hot June Sunday, kids rode toy cars in the street and some grownups sat on the stoop. Almost all of the residents now are black.

The only person left from the old days, when the block was almost exclusively Italian-American, is Ada Pro. She still lives in her family’s red-brick home with the faded Carrier air-conditioner sign – the house where she lived with Dante, Grace and her parents 48 years ago.

When a visitor stopped by, Pro – now in her 60s – was reluctant to turn the inside key of her wrought-iron outer door, until he mentioned the accident. Her living room was pale and dimly lit on the sunny day, and pop music blared from a stereo. Sinking into the plastic slip-cover on her sofa, she spoke wistfully of the old days.

“This used to be paradise,” Pro said. “They used to have a ball here. Doors were always open, and people sat on the steps every night. You never worried about somebody.” Every Sunday, people dressed up and headed to Mass at St. Edmund’s. And when it got really, really hot, it wasn’t unheard of to sleep out on the concrete slab to stay cool.

So, after the kids were put to bed on Thursday, July 8, the men were out where they always were – on one of the stoops, playing a late-night card game called “briskel.”

Ricevuto, who’d just quit as an office worker for the Pennsylvania Railroad because of failing eyesight, was the oldest of the crew at 40. Caruso, a Navy veteran and firefighter out on injury leave, was 35. Tulina, an oil-truck driver who also had served in World War II, seeing action at the Battle of the Bulge, was 30. Santarlas, an insurance agent, was just 23 but already the father of three. The youngest of the group was Nicholas Russo, only 17.

Dante Pro, a commercial artist, was 25. He and Grace had been married for just 10 months, and they were looking forward to a shore vacation with family once she got off work at the airport, where her pleasant voice had gotten her the job as flight announcer. Her shift there was up at midnight.

“Come on with me, fellows,” the Philadelphia Bulletin would later quote Pro as saying. “It’s hot. The ride will cool us off. You’ll sleep better.”

But there was a problem with Pro’s car. Ada Pro recalls that some of the springs in the back seat were broken, so Caruso volunteered his wheels instead. He seemed eager to show off his new Rocket-88, and the five others piled in. It was 11:30 p.m. His wife, Rose, is said to have begged her husband not to go, but Caruso insisted.

Russo, who would survive the crash and now lives in Bucks County, says that the happy-go-lucky group made one final stop in the meadows near the airport, to shoot off a firecracker that was left over from the 4th of July.

With Grace Pro sitting next to her husband, the group headed back toward Passyunk Avenue. The men hadn’t been drinking, but apparently Caruso was driving quite fast – perhaps 95 mph, some would later say.

Ten minutes after midnight, Caruso lost control on the sharp curve just west of 63rd Street and jumped the low concrete divider. They slammed head-on into an oncoming car – ironically, also a 1953 Oldsmobile – driven by a 28-year-old Chester man, William Nixon. Other motorists remembered the horrible sound of ripping steel and a thick cloud of dust.

Some of the passengers in Caruso’s Rocket-88 were hurled onto the concrete, and others were trapped in the twisted metal. Even now, the crash survivors and the relatives of the dead still brood about the twists of location and fate that allowed some to live and caused others to perish.

* * *

Russo, the only passenger still living today, says he believes the firecracker stop saved his life, because when he got back in the Olds, he switched seats with Santarlas. He had just swung around to talk with Grace Pro when the car jumped the center divider.

“The only thing I remember is that I’d just turned around,” Russo said. “The two doors on the right side flew open. I flew out, and the door closed on my ankle.”

Ada Pro remembers how her young sister-in-law, Grace, who was killed instantly, was still wearing a pair of sandals when she was found.

Ricevuto clung to life for a week in Methodist Hospital before he died. His son Michael says that his glass eye stayed in during the crash, and he was still clutching a cigarette lighter.

Michael Ricevuto says that doctors were slow to respond to his father’s internal injury, and he still wonders whether Gaetano Ricevuto would have survived in a modern trauma center. “He basically drowned in his own blood.”

Mass for the three fathers who died instantly – Tulina, Caruso and Santarlas – was said at 9, 10 and 11 a.m. the following Tuesday at St. Edmund’s. Anthony Tulina recalls that his father was laid out beforehand in the parlor of their rowhouse.

The young Tulina was just 4, too young to comprehend the loss of his father.

“I was trying to wake him up,” he recalled. “My sister was 7, and she actually tried to jump in the coffin. She thought he was sleeping.”

* * *

Indeed, the fatherless children of Lambert Street say it would be a long time for their loss to really sink in.

World War II, Korea and dangerous workplaces meant that the death of a young male – while no less tragic – was also more common. The extended family of Lambert Street did what it could to fill the deep void.

“I felt we were protected,” Caruso’s daughter, Quintieri, said. “It wasn’t until we were a lot older that we realized the gravity of the situation.”

That first Christmas, the families were written about in the newspapers, and readers of the Inquirer donated gifts. None of the young widows and their children moved away, at least at first. The 10 kids formed a close bond.

“We were all tough kids,” Eugene Santarlas said. “We knew we didn’t have a father, but we all hung together – we got into fights, and we played ball. Our life, really, was OK.”

It was harder for the adults. Most of the mothers had to work incredibly hard to earn enough to support their families.

Anthony Ricevuto says his mother worked an overnight shift at the Sheraton in Center City, from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. She got home in time to send the kids off to school, and then made some extra money as a seamstress. She was home when the kids got home at 3 p.m. Ricevuto can’t remember when his mom slept.

No one seemed more devastated than Dante Pro, the young widower, who spent weeks in the hospital but fully recovered from his injuries. He eventually worked as an engraver for the Franklin Mint and would marry two more times, but never had children. He died in 1995.

The children started feeling the loss more as they grew into teenagers. In the 1950s and early ’60s, fathers were looked to for family discipline – and that had been especially true on Lambert Street.

“He was very strict,” Quintieri said of her dad, a smile crossing her face. “He was the typical 1950s dad – he went off to work every day.”

Anthony Ricevuto says that he and some of the other boys on the block could have used a stern fatherly hand.

“There wasn’t anybody around to discipline me,” said Ricevuto, recalling some wild teen-age years. Eventually, he said, he joined the Army to get back on track. “I was a totally different person when I came out.” Santarlas also joined the Air Force in the late 1960s.

Not everyone was so lucky. Vincent “Jimmy” Caruso III, who was 8 when his dad died, was the most troubled of the group. In the mid-’60s, Caruso was shot in an argument and left paralyzed.

Life brought some strange twists and turns for the others, especially for Anthony Ricevuto. He’d been training as a musician when his dad died in 1954, a career path he abandoned. But nearly two decades later, he was asked to sing at a friend’s wedding and started performing again.

He performed a lot of the music from his childhood on Lambert Street. The ’50s had been the heyday of South Philly music – Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell – but the performer that Ricevuto really loved was Elvis Presley. By the early ’70s, Ricevuto started taking the stage as a full-blown Elvis impersonator, performing under the stage name of Anthony Richards.

Ricevuto moved to Center City and then Northeast Philadelphia before settling in Bucks County.

Irene Ricevuto died in the 1970s, but the three other widows from the crash – Rose Caruso, Rose Tulina and Marie Santarlas – are all alive and have resettled in the Philadelphia suburbs. Caruso and Santarlas eventually remarried.

For the most part, the children have been quite successful as adults. Eugene Santarlas III, who lives in Newtown, Bucks County, has worked for several local auto dealerships, while his brother, Joseph, runs a painting business on the Main Line. Their sister, Lynn, lives in Florida, and the three siblings have raised nine children.

Anthony Tulina, the concrete- truck driver, lives in Deptford, N.J., and is the father of three young children. His sister, Clara, and his mother live together in Turnersville, N.J.

Jimmy and Joyce Caruso both stayed in South Philadelphia. She has been running the luncheonette at 16th and Ritner for 17 years now.

Michael Ricevuto, an electrician, lives in Delaware County, and his sister, Anna, is in Lower Merion. In addition to impersonating Elvis, Anthony Ricevuto has had a long and successful career with SEPTA, where he is a manager at the transit agency’s headquarters in Center City. He’s already planning for his retirement in a couple of years.

But even with long afternoons in his suburban garden looming and pictures of grandkids on his desk, Ricevuto – like the others – still grasps for clues to the mystery of the dead fathers of Lambert Street.

He says he occasionally catches a flash of something when he plays with his young grandson. “He’s left-handed, just like my dad, and they’re built the same way, the same ears.”

Santarlas says that one day at a family get-together, his uncle explained to him the legacy that did not die on that hot July night.

“What was he like?” Santarlas asked.

” ‘If you lookinthemirror, you’re your father,’ ” his uncle told him. ” ‘You have a personality just like him. When you walk into a room, the room lights up.’

“That made me feel good.”

Writer bio: Will Bunch is a senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily News and author of “Tear Down This Myth” and “The Backlash.” He shared the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Reporting with a group of New York Newsday reporters who covered a deadly Manhattan subway derailment in 1991.

Ireland’s Rage

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Richard Ben Cramer | Philadelphia Inquirer | May 1981

BELFAST, Northern Ireland – In a grimy gray drizzle, under ragged black flags that lifted and waved balefully in the fitful air; to the wail of a single piper, on streets, winding through charred and blasted brick spray-painted with slogans of hate; by silent tens of thousands, past fathers holding sons face-foward that they might remember the day, past mothers rocking and shielding prams that held tomorrow’s fighters, past old men who blew their rheumy red noses and remembered their own days of rage. . . Bobby Sands was carried yesterday to a grave of raw Ulster mud.

It was the largest spectacle Belfast ever saw. There was no way to count the crowd that started as a file 10 abreast and a half-mile long, then grew with every passing block to a surging, spreading flood that washed up and broke, finally, amidst the drizzle-darkened stones of a rundown graveyard.

In some ways it was the scariest. For in the faces that lined the route, amoung the thousands who formed the cortege, there was none of the grief that passes and cleanses with a rush of hot tears, there was not the anger that can suddenly spark fiery riots and just as suddenly vanish. There was instead a grim, lingering rage, a quiet, determined, smoldering spite; these mourners will not be pacified.

* * *

At the head of the long procession, ahead of the coffin, ahead even of the marshals who cleared the way, a quiet man named Liam Rice, 66, walked the three-mile route. Hed had walked a hundred funerals, fought for years with the IRA; he had been wounded by a soldier’s bullet and lived to fight again; he had joined a hunger strike and watched his friend, Sean McCaughey, die from self-inflicted starvation 35 years ago.

“It’s been going on a long time. Yes, a long time,” said Rice as he turned to gaze at the endless mass of mankind behind him. “I could tell you of my time. The ones my age remember. No, but I can tell you, now: There’s never been a feeling like this.”

St. Luke’s, in the housing project of Twinbrook, southwest Belfast, was not meant for crowds. The church is a spare, brick octagon with eight blond wood beams sweeping up from the joints of the walls to a modest dome.

Bobby Sands’ coffin stood at the base of the altar.

* * *

In the pews, people were shoulder to shoulder. In the aisles, they stood with their faces half a foot from the next person’s back. There were thousands who could not get in.

The Rev. Liam Mullan’s voice cut briskly through the heavy air. He wasted no time. He minced no words. “We are here to help Bobby Sands’ soul, and as we help Bobby today, let us pray for all the people who have died in our country since 1969 because of violence.”

Father Mullan made it a Mass of peace. He never asked for prayers for Sands without adding another plea: for the souls of two men who died in Belfast the day before in the spurt of violence that heralded this Mass. “Love one another today by striving for peace, for restraint, for moderation and for an end of violence. . . . ”

Father Mullan, 63, a priest for 38 years, did not try anything fancy. His remarks were short and clear. The Sermon on the Mount provided his theme. He did not glorify Bobby Sands but commended the Sands family for their courage.

And faith.

He knew where his duty lay. Pope John Paul II, the ” bishop of bishops,” had spelled out the message of peace in Ireland in a visit almost two years ago. “And we can hardly be called Catholic,” Father Mullan said, “if we do not believe in the counsel of our bishops.”

Perhaps he also knew fancy words would not alter anything. Perhaps he knew that the crucifix he had laid on Sands’ coffin would be replaced, just outside the church doors, with the Irish tricolor flag and a commando’s gloves and beret. He knew, perhaps, that he could offer Holy Communion to only a fraction of the 1,200 who had packed the church, while just outside the doors, 5,000 who could not get in were staring, fascinated, at seven hooded IRA men drawn up as an honor guard.

He knew, perhaps, after 22 years in Belfast, that the lesson of peace – respectfully received amid stifled coughing and shushing of babies in church – might not carry far on the glitter-glass-strewn, bitter bomb-blown streets.

“It’s two different things,” said Maire Lyons, a steel-gray woman who stood outside the church in the green tunic and cocked ranger hat of the Clann Na Ngael, the women’s wing of the IRA. “Our funerals are always quiet. We have respect for the dead. But when our dead is buried, then we’ll see how quiet it is, please God!”

* * *

Oh, it was deathly quiet on that long march yesterday while the rain damped the footfalls and the faithful said not a word. Even the disrespectful clatter of army helicopters continuously circling above could not break the grim stillness on the street.

The marshals murmured their commands.

The Daimlers carrying the coffin and two carloads of family – Sands’ mother and sister, his 5-year-old son, Gerard, his cousin, a nun, Sister Bernadette, who read the Gospels at the funeral Mass – purred in a silent idle at the head of the file.

Alongside the lead car, the IRA honor guard marched in two noiseless rows.

Here was muteness intensified; their hoods hid all expression and lent with round, unblinking eyeholes a horrifying android stare.

Then, rank of gray silent men, the Republican Burial Society, who tend the IRA cemetery and add to events of this sort a careful competence with death.

Then, hundreds of women, carrying before them hundreds of wreaths, the front row with four identitical arrangements contrived in the shape of an H. These conjured the H-block configurations at the Maze, where Bobby Sands died and where his friends and fellows still are refusing food.

Then, the mourners, stretched in a solid file so massive and, when seen from a distance, so still it might have been paint on the street. The pace was slow and halting. Each block had to be cleared ahead. Each block yielded new marchers who lengthened the line.

And yet it was silent.

* * *

Near the midpoint of the route, an IRA squad bearing rifles materialized near the hearse. Without haste, without apparent fear, they fired three volleys in salute. Then they and their illegal guns melted back into the crowd.

When the column squeezed into a curve around a Protestant neighborhood that the police and army blocked off with huge, portable metal and canvas screens, there was no jostling, just tens of thousands waiting patiently in the rain. When spray-paint on the walls of that neighborhood screamed ” F- the IRA hoods,” there were no screams in reply.

To be sure, the detour and the insults were noticed. “That’s the one little bit of Loyalist territory the route goes through – a couple of hundred yards,” muttered Willie John McCurry, one of the burial society men. “And they’re diverting the whole funeral. That shows you who’s the first class and who’s the second class.”

But he, too, had caught the mood of the march. There would be no unruly display. “Aye, it’s determination we’re showing – to finish the job this time.”

The Andersonstown and Falls Roads took the march into the IRA’s breeding ground. Here, the scarred walls were spray-painted “F- the Brits.” And “Smash the H-blocks.” Here, the mesh-clad windows displayed pictures of Bobby Sands – chubby and scruffy and smiling at the camera, not the wasted little frame in the coffin ahead. Still, there was no loosening of control. Still the marshals murmured the procession along.

Still the crowds watched, grim and quiet.

* * *

At the gates of the Milltown cemetery, the column paused while the marshals linked arms to hold the crowds away from the narrow passage. The mourners closest to the gates knelt and, as if on command, recited the rosary as the Daimlers and the faceless honor guard squeezed onto the cemetery grounds.

At the window of one of the limousines, Rosaleen Sands, Bobby’s mother, gripped her haggard face with one hand, as if, physically, to hold in the pain, to keep control, just a bit longer.

Slowly, the cortege moved up the graveyard’s main path. On either side mourners flooded in toward the grave site, picking their way among tombstones in high, untended grass. From the main path, with the thousands moving along on either side, it seemed as if the mourners stood still while the graves of Ulster’s Catholic dead floated by in a supernatural review.

At the grave site, the service was brief, invisible and incomprehensible to the crowd that pressed vainly to see and hear.

Father Mullan conducted the burial rite in Latin. Gerry Adams, vice president of the IRA’s political wing, made a short oration in Gaelic, the ancient Irish tongue.

A few of the mourners who got to the grave site grabbed handfuls of the red Ulster mud as keepsakes of the day. Most of the crowd, unable to get near, started to drift away.

Police and army vehicles were drawn up in force on sidestreets near the cemetery gates. The troops, the neighbors and the mourners themselves knew that the Bobby Sands affair would not end with the burial rite.

Liam Rice, the IRA veteran, stood near the old monument to Republican volunteers and watched the crowd moving through the tall grass in the late afternoon mist.

“It will have its reaction, you know. It has its reaction in Ireland.” His friend, Patrick O’Neill, who served time in jail with Rice, said solemnly, “How soon?”

“Here, England will have to give up and pull out,” Rice said. “That’s the only thing that faces them now.”

He added, without emotion: “It could be that they’ll let the other ones hunger-strikers die, too. ”

O’Neill wiped his damp nose. “If they die,” he said, “there’ll be many to fill their places. There’s 70 volunteers at the moment.”

Rice nodded and said: ” Aye, plenty.”

Writer bio: Richard Ben Cramer, who died in January 2013, won the Pulitzer Prize for The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1979 for his coverage of the Middle East. He is the author of the American classic, “What it Takes.”

A Village, A Hill, Horror

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David Zucchino | Philadelphia Inquirer | April 2000

Trung Luong was a remote hamlet folded into a fertile valley in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam, not far from the South China Sea.

None of the young American soldiers who fought there, and died there, and left pieces of themselves there, had ever heard of Trung Luong until they approached the village on a brutally hot day in June 1966. Today, 25 years after the war ended and 34 years after an airborne battalion spent three unforgettable days in the hamlet, there are still very few Americans who have heard of Trung Luong.

By the time the Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975, more than 58,000 Americans were dead and 153,000 had been wounded. Thirty-one died at Trung Luong, many of them teenagers. In addition, 155 were wounded, some grievously.

For the men who survived the terror of that place, it is difficult to comprehend that the most searing events of their lives could pass with such little notice, then or now. You will not find Trung Luong ((pronounced trung long) in Gen. William C. Westmoreland’s official account, Report on the War in Vietnam, nor in Stanley Karnow’s seminal work, Vietnam: A History.

“This was a big, but not a huge, battle. It was a significant, but not an overwhelming, battle,” says John Carland, a military historian who is writing Stemming the Tide, about Vietnam battles in 1965 and 1966. “It was like so many, many battles of that war.”

Writer bio: David Zucchino won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1989 for his series, “Being Black in South Africa”. Zucchino, who wrote for the Inquirer for 21 years, currently serves as a foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times.

Continue reading “A Village, A Hill, Horror.”

30 Yards and a Cloud of Dust

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Seth Wickersham | ESPN The Magazine | August 2014

LeSean McCoy is dressing for his first Chip Kelly practice. It’s a year ago May. Like all of the Eagles, he is unsure what to expect from his new coach. He knows that practice will be fast, because everything about Kelly is about speed — from how he talks, to how he hustles around the facility, to how, as the coach at the University of Oregon, he once chastised an assistant for exiting the freeway onto “inefficient” side streets. So it’s important for McCoy, who likes to be “the flyest guy on the team,” to be dressed and ready to roll: a white long-sleeve shirt, black shorts, a black headband and, finally, black socks.

Looking good. Feeling good. But then a team staffer says, “Uh, LeSean, I don’t want to burst your bubble. You look nice, but you got a dress code.”

It’s Chip Kelly’s dress code, and it mandates white socks. Kelly wants the Eagles to be uniform, like a team. No exceptions — not even for McCoy, a 2009 second-round pick out of the University of Pittsburgh who, with warp speed and quick feet, has become an NFL All-Pro. He’s desperate to join Adrian Peterson as their generation’s only Hall of Fame running backs. McCoy has a broad forehead and football-shaped eyes. He never stops moving and yet is late to everything. His mood is as shifty as his running style, which is why they call him Shady. And at this moment, he is, along with Michael Vick, the core of former coach Andy Reid’s decidedly NFL offense. Reid was fired and replaced by Kelly — a “college guy,” McCoy calls him.

The white socks feel like a gimmick.

So McCoy wears black socks to the first practice — and tapes them white.

Writer bio: From what we can tell, Seth Wickersham has never worked in Philadelphia, or frankly, for anyone except the World Wide Leader. What is blatantly obvious, though, is he is a damn fine writer. Here is the ESPN The Magazine’s superstar’s take on Chip Kelly, LeSean McCoy and our beloved Iggles.

Continue reading “30 Yards and a Cloud of Dust.”

Mayor’s daily, early-morning check of A.C.’s pulse

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Amy S. Rosenberg | Philadelphia Inquirer | July 2014

Every mayor of this vexing town deals with its ghosts at some point and maybe that is why they are drawn to very physically take in the entire place every day.

Jim Whelan rowed or swam around the city’s back bay and ocean. Lorenzo Langford walked the Boardwalk in a track suit.

Now, it is Don Guardian’s turn. And sure enough, this Atlantic City mayor’s days begin with a 6:30 a.m. bicycle ride the length of the Boardwalk and back to his home near Gardner’s Basin.

It is a day that, like most since taking office in January, carries him along like a stormy sea, throwing him rip currents (city’s in junk-bond status!), some organized waves to surf (big-time developer settles into mayoral armchair to play medium hardball over a key piece of land the city wants), against a horizon of casinos in the intensive-care unit, but for once includes some meals.

As usual, it ends back on his narrow porch with longtime partner and new husband (they wed July 11) Louis Fatato, sharing cigars and fancy beer, watching, as Fatato says, “the drunks leave Back Bay Ale house” for amusement.

Writer bio: Amy S. Rosenberg, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, has written for the Philadelphia Inquirer for the last 28 years. She lives at the Jersey Shore.

Continue reading “Mayor’s daily, early-morning check of A.C.’s pulse.”

The Phillies Thirty-Eight

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Brian Hickey | Deadspin.com | May 2012

There’s a smoking section near the first-base gate of Nationals Park. On Saturday, it hosted a mixed batch of fans. You could tell who was whom by the lettering on their red-and-white gear.

What gave Josh Carter away was the black Zorro mask, sombrero, and Phillies-cape combo that accentuated a drawn-on mustache and Raul Ibanez Phillies jersey.

“When I heard about this trip, I knew I had to go,” he said outside, around the same time Jayson Werth hit a three-run dinger that managed to muzzle the right-field Phillies fans heckling him heavily up till that point. “They haven’t done it since the draft. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The draft of which Carter spoke was the 1999 NFL draft, for which Philadelphia sports-talk radio station WIP organized “The Dirty 30,” a crew of fans who traveled to NYC and lustily booed the announcement of the No. 2 overall pick, Donovan McNabb. The quarterback seemingly never got over that moment, and neither did anyone else—the event still on heavy rotation on the “Philadelphia fans are horrible people” playlist.

The trip that Carter referenced was the “Phillies Phorty Bus.” It consisted of 40 fans, in numbered T-shirts, who drew enough respect from WIP’s morning-show host, Angelo Cataldi, to be included in the first trip he’s honchoed since that draft event. It would prove to be a disaster, at least for some of the fans. This is the story of how the Phillies Phorty became the Phillies Thirty-Eight.

Writer bio: Brian Hickey, a South Jersey native and graduate of the University of Delaware, has written for both alt-weeklies as well as Metro Philadelphia and Deadspin.com. Hickey joined WHYY Newsworks.org in 2011.

Continue reading “The Phillies Thirty-Eight.”