Two events of historic note occurred a century ago on February 26, 1919:
Congress names the Grand Canyon in Arizona a National Park.
It was a hundred years ago on the 26th of February 1919 that Congress designated the Grand Canyon a national park. People from across our nation and the globe consider it a geologic “wonder of the world” and a must-see tourist destination. An estimated five or six million recreational visitors venture annually to northwestern Arizona to see and experience the Grand Canyon – on foot, by mule, in boats, and even on a glass-bottom skywalk. No doubt, to a large percentage of these tourists, a hundred years seem like a substantial period of time.
[image from the internet]
[images from the internet]
But, as a recent npr report reminds us, “long before it became a national park, the Grand Canyon was a place many Native Americans called home.” How long, one might ask? The following statement at the Grand Canyon’s official website places the passage of a single century into its proper context:
“The oldest human artifacts found [within the park’s boundaries] are nearly 12,000 years old and date to the Paleo-Indian period. There has been continuous use and occupation of the park since that time.”
Many Native Americans continue to call the Grand Canyon home. But, as the npr report underscores, Native Americans have had “a really long, bitter relationship with the park.” That “relationship” has included forced removal and sequestration.
And tensions continue today. As noted at the canyon’s website, “The park’s 11 Traditionally Associated Tribes and historic ethnic groups view management of archeological resources as preservation of their heritage.” And, as reported on npr, tribal leaders seek not only an opportunity to tell their stories, but also economic empowerment.
Congress designates Maine’s Acadia (then, Lafayette) the first National Park east of the Mississippi River.
Its name was changed in 1929 to Acadia, but on February 26, 1919, Congress also formed Lafayette National Park, the first national park located east of the mighty Mississippi. In contrast to the massive Grand Canyon park, which covers 1.2 million acres, Maine’s Acadia National Park encompasses just over 49,000 acres in three main areas, the largest located on Mount Desert Island, a short causeway from the mainland.
Although I have yet to visit the Grand Canyon, I know and appreciate Acadia’s scenic beauty – rocky coastlines, pristine ponds and lakes, granite mountains, secluded sandy beaches. Thanks to dear Buffalo friends, Franca and the late Robin Bannerman, I frequently stayed (starting in the early 1980s) at their rustic cottage in Bass Harbor on “the working-side” of Mount Desert Island.
Although, admittedly, I didn’t give thought to it while enjoying the beauty of Mount Desert Island, I now can’t help but wonder when it was that Native Americans first hunted and lived on lands that we now call Acadia National Park. How long did they remain on this land following the arrival of Europeans to their rocky coast?
Curiously, Acadia’s website omits any references to what was occurring on Mount Desert Island and the nearby coastline area prior to the nineteenth century. Instead, we are told that “we have all inherited these hallow grounds from those dedicated visionaries who came before us” – not indigenous people, but wealthy philanthropists who “anticipated the dangers that over-development would bring to this coastal wonderland.” Hopefully, I’ll have the opportunity in the foreseeable future to investigate the pre-colonial history of the lands included in Acadia.
But now I’d like to share with you a very personal reason that February 26, 1919 holds such significance to me. It was the day my father was born.
The birth of my father, Arthur P. Giacalone (1919 – 2008).
My father was born on February 26, 1919 in Lodi, New Jersey to Sicilian immigrants, Ignatio and Virginia (D’Amore) Giacalone. He was the fifth of five children, and remained, for better and for worse, “the baby” of the family his entire life.
[This is the only photo we have of my father’s parents, Virginia and Ignatio. Sadly, we have no pictures of my their son as a child.]
Attilio was Dad’s given name, a fact I was unaware of until I was perhaps 10 or 11 and asked him why my grandmother would often call him “Tee-lee.” According to my father, his first- grade teacher refused to call him Attilio because it was such “a silly name,” and insisted on using the name Arthur. The moniker stuck, at least when he was outside of his mother’s earshot.
As with most first-generation immigrants, the Giacalone family struggled to make ends meet. Although my father rarely complained about his childhood, I can recall him mentioning on several occasions how embarrassed he felt when classmates would tease him because of the worn, hand-me-down, wooly knickers he would wear to school, around the neighborhood, and when accompanying his father peddling produce. It’s no wonder that Arthur P. looked so baffled when his teenage sons insisted on wearing torn and ragged jeans in the 1960s
My paternal grandfather, Ignatio, died when my father was only four. The entire Giacalone family moved from Lodi, NJ to Rochester, NY a few years later. The Great Depression proved a difficult obstacle for his mother and siblings. My Dad never finished high school (a fact he tried to hide from his children who had the good fortune of attending school as long as they wished), dropping out in the 11th grade to help support his mother.
Dad and his older brother Frank, worked as box-makers at a local lumberyard. Perhaps it was this period at the lumberyard, with the two young men inhaling sawdust and other airborne contaminants (along with decades of smoking Camel cigarettes), that weakened their lungs and contributed to the emphysema that eventually robbed them both of their vitality.
My Dad rarely spoke about the three years and eight months he spent as a soldier in the U.S. Army during WWII. He did tell us that he had spent time in New Guinea and the Philippines, that he was wounded by shrapnel while in a foxhole making pancakes on an Easter Sunday morning, which resulted in a large scar on his back (which always reminded me of an upside down ice cream cone) where his right shoulder blade belonged. He also would smile and occasionally mention his Filipino girlfriend (but never provided details). Dad also shared the fact that he had contracted malaria twice while in the Philippines (and sent back to the front when considered healthy enough to fight).
Sadly, I never had the courage to talk with him about the horrors that he must have experienced, or the friends that he lost, and we never spoke about the camaraderie that he shared with his fellow soldiers. Private First Class Arthur P. Giacalone was of a generation that didn’t allow itself the comfort of openly discussing their fears or nightmares. And he was the product of a society that refused to acknowledge Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the impact the horrors of war had on the young men and women who experienced it firsthand. He never once took out his Purple Heart on Memorial Day, or put on his uniform to march in a 4th of July parade (although he always remained trim enough to easily fit into it). He was, nevertheless, proud to be an American.
Ironically, a window into my father’s war years opened up on the same day that the door was shut forever on any opportunity to talk with him about those years. Shortly after returning to my parents’ home a few hours after he died on January 11, 2008, my mother, searching for papers requested by the funeral parlor, found an envelope with military papers I had never seen before. They included his Honorable Discharge papers, an “Enlisted Record and Report of Discharge” form, and two handwritten pages of a chronology my Dad had prepared which started on 2/27/42 when he “Left home,” and ended on 11/28/45 when he wrote in large print: “Arrived HOME 11/28/45.”
As my brother so aptly expressed during my father’s eulogy, one common thread throughout my Dad’s life was his love for his family, his mother and siblings (who all pre-deceased him), and his wife and children. He met his beloved wife of 60 years, Connie M. Papagni, not long after the war (legend has it that he was showing off for her at Rochester’s Charlotte Beach by doing headstands). They were married on September 13, 1947. Being “good Catholics,” my sister Linda was born nine months later and my identical twin brother David and I showed up a mere 18 months after that.
Arthur P.’s “big break” job-wise was joining the U.S. Post Office as a mail carrier in the early 1950s. The rhythms of a mailman’s life influenced our family in many ways. Dad got up for work at about 5:10 a.m. for nearly three decades. That meant he was our fail-safe mechanism when David or I ignored the alarm clock and missed our 5:00 a.m. “rise-and-shine” the four or five years we had morning paper routes. It also meant that I occasionally had to see the look of disappointment on my dear father’s face when, as a young adult, I rambled into the house past 5:00 a.m. after a night of “socializing.”
The mailman’s timetable also left me with one very fond childhood memory. Although Sundays were always a non-work day, a mail carrier’s second day off rotated each week, meaning a two-day weekend only arrived once every six weeks. If, during the summer months, that rare Saturday off coincided with a good picnic day, my parents would pack us into our 8 or 10-year-old the car and we would drive across town to a bakery that made mouthwatering chicken pot pies. My Mom would carefully place the piping hot delicacies into the car’s trunk wrapped in a blanket or two, and my Dad would head south to Canandaigua Lake’s Kershaw Park and a wonderful day of food, swimming and play (and, if we were really lucky, a stop at the end of the day at Roseland amusement park).
My mother, Connie, started working as a sales clerk with a downtown Rochester department store when David and I were seven or so to help support the family and pay off medical bills. [Their health insurance policy’s “pre-existing illness” exception, and limited in-hospital coverage, placed a huge financial burden on this working-class family.] When my parents had trouble making ends meet on two paychecks, my Dad would find a part-time job, even if it meant bagging groceries (with a smile) at the local A&P supermarket. He was never extravagant when it came to his own needs, placing the family first. He didn’t experience the luxury of owning a brand new car until he was in his fifties and the children had moved away.
But my father also knew how to have a good time, and loved to dance – especially the jitterbug. Wedding parties, back in the day when everyone had a live band, were a favorite social event for my Dad. He would dress up and head out our door with a plastic bag under his arm – containing a change of clothes so he would have something dry to put on for the last dance and ride home. He enjoyed every dance, and when one partner would tire, he would find a new one – and no one (except, my Mom) would ever turn him down. “Night Train” was special to him, and when he heard the first notes, he would look across the room to find his niece Rosemary and dance up a storm. Arthur P. danced with joy and enthusiasm well into his seventies, and would still have been jitterbugging away if emphysema hadn’t robbed him of his breath.
Dad hung up his mailman’s uniform when he turned 60, feeling that the change a number of years earlier from the “U.S. Post Office” to the “U.S. Postal Service” had ushered in a new era where “service” to the customer was no longer the first priority. He also felt (correctly, I’m sure) that the USPS was doing everything it could to push the older carriers into retirement so less expensive replacements could be hired. Never sitting still for long (until his final years), Arthur P. took a job as a school bus driver shortly after retiring from the postal service, rising at 5:00 a.m. to transport “special ed” children to and from school. To his dismay, he was told when he turned 65 that, under NY law, he was not allowed to drive a school bus any longer. He was hurt and insulted by the law, amazed that such an arbitrary decision could be made without even testing his driving abilities. I offered to challenge the law in federal court as unlawful age discrimination, but my father never was one to openly challenge authority, and he declined my offer.
My folks never experienced the joy of having grandchildren living in town with them, except for the years that their first granddaughter, Linda’s daughter Kara, went to R.I.T. as an undergraduate. The initial round of grandchildren, Blake, Kara and Timothy, were raised in Massachusetts, and then New Jersey, depriving my Dad of an opportunity to whine a bit about having to baby-sit every now and then. Years after my father assumed that there wouldn’t be any grandchildren with the “Giacalone” surname, my children, Lissa (1997) and James (2000), brought sunshine into my folks’ lives. Living within an hour-and-a-half of Rochester meant that their Nana and Papa got to see and spoil them fairly regularly, although we never did visit often enough to suit either grandparent.
My father died on January 11, 2008, about six weeks shy of his 89th birthday. Dad had endured a tough ten-day hospital stay which followed several challenging years with emphysema progressively narrowing his physical world and dementia slowly robbing him of his short-term memory.
Arthur P. Giacalone was a good, honest, hardworking and decent man. He epitomized the dignity of “the common man.” I miss him.
Happy 100th Birthday, Dad!
With All Due Love and Respect,
P.S. Here’s a collage of four generations of Giacalone men:
And, here’s four generation of our family’s strong and resilient women: