Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.
It's interesting to talk to Paul Landini today. Paul's about my age, he graduated from the high school in 1952. We had different childhoods, different stories. He had a completely different flavor of Concord than I did. There was indeed this polarization when I was growing up, while today neighborhoods have melded. - Fritz Kussin.
My family moved to Concord from Somerville in 1933, but I was born in Concord. We lived on Highland Street in West Concord. We stayed there until I was in the fourth grade then we moved to Concord on Thoreau Street. I lived there until 1956 when I got married. I got out of the service, got married, then went on the police department, and I've lived on Prescott Road ever since then.
My father came from Italy when he was very small. I think he told me he was around two or three when he came to this country. I think they came into Boston. I don't think they came into New York. My mother was the only one in her family born in this country. Everybody else was born in Italy. My father's name was Alfonse George Landini and my mother's name was Louise Marie Salvo. It's kind of sad because nobody in our family ever spoke Italian. I kind of wish we had. My mother could speak it and understand it, and even though my father was born in the old country, he couldn't speak it. He spoke perfect English. He could understand Italian because he would go to relatives in Somerville and Salem, and they would always be speaking Italian. But my mother would join right in the conversation.
We didn't have too much of an Italian community here because we lived in West Concord on Highland Street and all the other Italians that I can remember lived downtown behind the depot on Belknap Street. Some also lived on Bedford Street on the farms which are still there. But my father worked for the gas company. I guess they called them pipe fitters back then. He installed gas meters and gas lines. So there was no real Italian community in West Concord, but every weekend we would go to our relatives in Somerville or Salem, and they all lived in Italian neighborhoods. We'd go down there every Sunday and have dinner and go to church. I felt very integrated into Concord life, I had no real problems. I had a few growing up with kids making fun of you and things like that, but that's the way life was back then.
We would always hang out in downtown Concord at the drugstores like Richardson's or Snow's Pharmacy at the soda fountains. There wasn't much else to do down there, but we all chummed around together. There was Larry Lyons, Dickie Lyons whose father was chief of police, and Donnie Mulcahy who lived above Vanderhoof's Hardware. There wasn't much to do. Maybe go over to the library and drive the poor librarian crazy or chase other kids. I know we used to go to the Boy Scouts meetings and chase one fellow, Bobby Ramsey, and we'd depants him - we'd take his pants off and hoist them up on the flag pole and he'd have to walk home without his pants. I think those are some of the things that Fritz Kussin was talking about that he never got involved in during his growing up in Concord. I don't think he was allowed out to play with us kids. We probably wouldn't have accepted him anyhow. We probably would have called him one of the rich kids.
We used to have friends, or maybe friend, when we'd go up to Nashawtuc Hill, there was one fellow we got to know, Billy Whitman. We'd take his toboggan and wouldn't let him use it. Back then there used to be a big crowd at Nashawtuc Hill sledding. I don't think Fritz got into the Boy Scouts like we did. Boy Scouts was a lot of fun. It was something to do. There used to be things going on at the Veterans Building, or 51 Walden now, too. There were parties for the kids and I don't recall him being there. There were socials at the Girl Scout House and on Halloween night, you'd go out and have a lot of fun, and he wouldn't be around then. I remember one night Fred Nolan was the policeman on duty, and myself and Dickie Lyons and Larry Lyons, we were fooling around down by the post office. We were hiding a ladder and Larry was on the ladder and he thought we were coming around the corner and he let out a yell and jumped. It was Fred Nolan the policeman who came around the corner. The next day we saw Larry going up to the police station in the cruiser. We went up and Dickie saw his father and we got him out.
Highland Street in West Concord isn't too much different now than it was then except there are a few new houses in there. There used to be a sand pit there. We lived in the house if you looked across to Main Street right to the rear of the rectory. Just the left of that was a sand pit that we used to play in. There were a couple of other houses then Our Lady's Church at the end of the street where we went to church. I went to Harvey Wheeler School, but the other school was there too on the corner. At the bottom of the hill we used to go down to Hogan's Spa. It was like a little soda fountain place. Then down the other street was Mandrioli's who we called Johnny Bananas. They had penny candy. Mandrioli's is in the exact same spot now. Then down across the tracks was the Bartelomeo fruit store. Condon's Package Store was there then, and I used to chum around with Butch (Jack) Condon.
Later we moved to Thoreau Street in Concord and after high school, I went into the service. I got out of the service in February 1956 and had no idea what I was going to do. My father spoke to me about where to get a job and he thought for security reasons to try three places. He said put an application into the police department, he would get one for the gas company, and Mr. Parsons down the street who worked for the phone company got an application, so I put them all in. Then I got a job at the road department. I was probably out of the Marines about two weeks and I was working at the road department. I filed all the applications, and one day every one of them came in at the same time with a job. So I chose the police department.
I don't really know why I chose the police department. I think maybe because I had just gotten out of the military. Bob Kelly was the police chief then, and I think I made the right choice. I enjoyed it. I was with the police force 22 years. When I first got on the force, there was actually no training. I went down, they gave me a pair of pants, some shirts and a gun, and that was it. I went right to work. I think I was probably there a year when they sent us to the state police academy for training. But I went right to work with no training other than my military training and I walked the beat. I was on the night shift. Back then when you walked the beat, you stayed on it for the eight hours. If you were in West Concord on the beat, you had to take your own car up or however they got you there and then you spent eight hours there. Rain, shine, snow, whatever it was, you walked the eight hours, you rattled every door about four times a night.
I think the police had a good relationship with the residents of the town. I never had any problem with the people in town. I think they respected us and we respected them, and it was a very good relationship. I think it's a little harder now because they've got a different type of people. To me it doesn't seem the men today have the fun we had on the police department. When I say fun, I mean we did the job, but we had a good time. We socialized together and they don't seem to do that today like they used to. I think today most of them are there just to get a week's pay and that's it. Back then you had to be a resident of the town. When I got married, I wanted to live in Acton and they wouldn't allow it. Now I think you can live wherever you want, but back then you couldn't.
The biggest thing we would had to do then was traffic. During the day when you went downtown, you were there eight hours doing traffic. You don't see that any more. And there would be a man in West Concord walking all day long. I think that was kind of nice because the merchants got to know you. It was good. Now downtown they have the meter man. In the old days, you'd walk in and sit down and talk to the merchants, have a cup of coffee with them, they don't do that any more. It's sad in a way because you developed a relationship and people got to know you and you got to know them. Back then you knew more of the people in town than you do now. Back then you'd see the same people all the time and you'd get to know them by name. Then the parking meters came in and things gradually changed, you got more crime out here, then the drug scene and all that. I mean drugs were around then but it wasn't the issue it is now. Back then we had a lot of house breaks and we used to check houses at night. People would call in when they were going away and then we kept checking the house.
I can always remember one funny happening while I was on the police force. It was this time of year and some of the farm stands on Bedford Street were complaining about kids breaking their pumpkins. I was working one night and I got a call that he had caught one of the kids. The farmer couldn't speak very good English. When I got there, he had this boy on the ground with a shotgun to his head and he was speaking in Italian, he was so mad. But I bet that kid never stole another pumpkin. He was from Bedford. He had his foot on his back and a shotgun to his head.
While I was on the force, President Ford came to Concord for the Bicentennial. That was hectic. They had the ball that night and we went to the ball. But we all got called out within an hour to go to work. I've never seen so many people in the town in my life then. They sent me up to the North Bridge and they had that big group of protesters up there. Plus the capital police were there with the mounted patrol. It was quite a thing to see. When they all came down off the hill from the Buttrick estate, I thought, oh God, they going to overrun us. But it worked out pretty good. And then Jackie Kennedy was here when her daughter Caroline was going to Concord Academy. They had Secret Service for the girl and we worked with them, and we never had any problems.
But the time with President Ford at the Bicentennial, there were quite a few days there that there were an awful lot of people in town. We had meetings six months before that with Town Manager Paul Flynn, and even after it was over, some of the state police had to come in with their dogs because some of the protesters wouldn't leave town. Bill Costello was police chief at the time of the Bicentennial.
Back then we had more special duty officers than they do now. They worked special detail because a lot of regular guys didn't want to work them. I was never one who wanted to work special detail. I worked my eight hours, but I never liked to get out on Route 2, for instance, and stand there. Then we'd use them in the summertime for house checks and on the parades or any big event. They were a big help, but I don't think they have that now. They called them civil defense police at one time or Concord auxiliary police. James Power was a special for years. There were many that were specials for years, but I don't think they have them any more.
I stayed with the police department until 1976 and retired, and then I went to Concord Clothing with Wally Peterson until he closed the store. There aren't any men's clothing stores in town any more. That was an institution. It was there when I was a kid. It was kind of sad to see it go, but the malls and the discount stores just made it too hard. Wally's father worked there and his Uncle Tom started it, so it was there a long time. It was on Main Street but the main entrance was on Walden Street. There was a little shop at the location on Main Street, and when that lady closed her shop, Wally decided to take that space too. So he cut through the wall and connected the two stores and then had an entrance on Main Street as well. The toy store is where Snow's Pharmacy was as well as where the clothing store was. The store also used to do the outfitting for Rose Hawthorne School. Back then they called them uniforms. I think it was in the late ‘70s that the clothing store closed. Then Dr. McGregor's wife went in there first with the toy shop.
I opened the Milldam Store at 55 Main Street in about 1977. I don't know why. I just thought it would be a good idea and I've been there ever since. I enjoy it. It's a lot of work, a lot of hours. My wife probably thinks I'm crazy but it's a lot of fun. We sell sandwiches, cold drinks and snacks, junk food and ice cream. We have Richardson's ice cream. It's a big seller. My son works with me and my sister Charlotte. My wife Virginia works now and then. But she's been a crossing guard for 36 years. She's probably the only one now that still gets the town retirement system. When she started, they had it and she's been on it ever since. I think she's going to stay two more years when she's 65. She likes it. When she first started, she used to take our own kids with her in the car before they started school.
I don't think the Milldam has changed that much since I was a kid in the type of stores that are there. There used to be a bar room there and that's gone, but the store fronts are still there. No new buildings have been added other than the Colonnade Building. Back then the stores were probably more basic. Vanderhoof's was, and is still there. Now the stores are probably more boutique-type stores.
The busy times on the Milldam are during the tourist season starting in April and going right through the end of October. Winter months are sometimes slow. There are a lot of tourists that come here from all over, and there are a lot of interesting people. They ask about the town and how to find Author's Ridge, so sometimes you feel like a tour guide. I've been here all my life but I've probably been to the Old Manse once and that was when I was on the Police department, and the same with the Alcott House. It's strange but when you live here you don't go see it. My wife will stop in every morning and without fail, somebody will toot at her and want directions to somewhere because they see her crossing guard uniform.
I was on the football team at the high school in 1950. We were undefeated. Bernie Megin was the coach and a great coach. John O'Connell and Walter Carew were the other coaches. We went to North Carolina and played in the Piedmont Bowl and we lost 14 to 13. The next year we went down and we won. It was a lot of fun going down to North Carolina. We went by train and stopped in Annapolis and did some practice there and then went on to North Carolina. The first game we played was with R.J. Reynolds High School and the next year's game was with Winston-Salem High School. They don't have that anymore. They do it more local now.
I have a picture here of my mother holding a hammer. She was living at Everett Gardens at the time and this was when they broke ground for the Peter Bulkeley Senior Citizens housing. She was the head of the committee at Everett Gardens and she was involved in the groundbreaking. My mother and dad lived on Estabrook Road and when he passed away, I applied for her to go to Everett Gardens and she really didn't want to go there. But once she got there, she loved it. This picture of me standing outside Peter Bulkeley was when I was in 8th grade in 1948. The principal was Morton Seavey and the teachers were Miss Dixon, Minna and Maude Findeisen. One was the old disciplinarian and the other one you could put anything over on her and she'd start to cry and go get her sister. I think Minna was the tough one and Maude was the easy one. They were great teachers.
One of the other teachers who's not in the picture was Bill Boland. His son runs the package store now. Bill left teaching to join the FBI when I was in school. We gave him a little book about Dick Tracy and a pair of toy handcuffs.
These pictures are when they were filming Never Too Late with Maureen O'Sullivan. They were quite a while in town doing that movie. That was in 1965. They spent most of the time up in Nashawtuc Hill area filming. It was quite interesting to see them film. Then they had the premier in Maynard at the Fine Arts Theater. We usually had to go to Maynard to see any movies. When I was a kid they would have movies at the Veterans Building on Saturdays. But we usually went to Maynard at least once a week to the movies. They had two theaters, the Peoples and Colonial. The Colonial was where all the kids went. Concord never had a movie theater. They always said they were going to do it, but then they would always say we were too close to Boston, we wouldn't get the films. I don't know if that was true or not. So we would go to Maynard, Lexington or Waltham, and they're still going.
We were talking about ice cream and back then drug stores would usually have a soda fountain. I think Snow's was the last one to have a fountain. We used to go to Richardson's more as a kid than Snow's. I think they had a better soda fountain back then. Charlie Voigt at Richardson's took his out first while Walter Foley at Snow's kept his for a while.