Most longtime residents of Greenwich know Sal DeAngelo or his son, Bob – or both.
Sal, who will turn 98 on July 26, shared nearly a century’s worth of memories this week.
Surrounded by family photos in his Cos Cob home, Sal recalled how as a boy growing up in the 1920s in Chickahominy, residents gathered to watch fireworks on the ball field behind Hamilton Avenue School. Of course, this was decades before Armstrong Court was constructed the neighborhood was built up as it is today.
Sal’s father, Frank, came to Greenwich from Italy in 1908 after being sponsored by Peter Mitchell’s construction company.
“Mr. Mitchell went to Italy to find men with masonry experience. That’s how my father got to this country,” he said. But my father was more of a gardener than a mason. Mr. Mitchell’s company built West Point and I assume they built most of the big walls in Field Point Park in Belle Haven too. That’s how my parents got to live on an estate in Belle Haven in Field Point Park.”
Sal conjures up a time when Chickahominy’s roads were unpaved, there was open farmland and few cars.
“Our neighbors had cows, chickens, pigs, goats and horses,” he said. “Every Friday Mrs. Tesei – Peter Tesei’s great grandmother – used to give my family eggs and a pail of milk. My mother would boil it in a big pot and pasteurize it so we’d have it to drink the whole week.”
As a boy he played outdoors with neighborhood kids. In the winter they skated in a rink neighbors created by flooding the creek that runs between the Booth cul-de-sac and Holly Hill.
“The people from Byram made the rink – they had some carpenters, and they flooded it and there was a big bonfire on the side where the dump is now,” he said.
Sal said over the years the town relocated the annual fireworks display several times.
“One year they did it in Bruce Park, but they decided the traffic jam was too bad so they moved it to Greenwich High School (on Hillside Road),” he recalled. “But after they installed the turf, they had to move the fireworks to the beach and Binney Park.”
As a young boy, Sal was a regular at the Boys Club, which at the time was located on in a wood frame building on Railroad Ave across from the train station.
“It was an old building and Jack Tracey was the head of it,” he recalled adding, that “Weeds” Camillo, Fred Camillo’s uncle, was the associate director for decades.
Sal said one of the popular activities at the Boys Club in the 30s was boxing. He shared a photo of himself as a successful 70 lb boxer, having been presented a trophy by Gene Tunney, who held the world heavyweight title from 1926 to 1928 and the American light heavyweight title twice between 1922 and 1923.
Another of Sal’s haunts was the Greenwich YMCA, where he played handball and racquetball, and swam in the old pool after school.
“They also had a lot of dances there in the Rendezvous Room,” he recalled, adding that the Lions Club sponsored his $5.00 membership fee.
“Frank Parker, the Hamilton Avenue School principal asked me, ‘Do you want to be a member? We’ll sponsor you.’ Back then a lot of guys lived there,” he said, referring to the single room occupancy section of the YMCA. “Mr. Parker lived on Washington Street (behind the YMCA), and when he retired he became the second Selectman.”
Another right of passage Sal didn’t want to miss was getting a job at the legendary steakhouse, Manero’s.
“All the Italians from Chickahominy worked for Manero’s,” he said, going on to recall how one fateful night, Major League Baseball great Joe DiMaggio came to the restaurant.
“It was a Saturday night and he walked in with Hedy Lamarr. She was a beautiful actress. I called Nick (Manero) up at his house and said Joe DiMaggio is here with Hedy Lamarr. He said ‘Don’t take an order. Just give them a glass of wine.’ He came down with his big chef’s hat on and said, ‘Now I’m going to give you a special dinner tonight – one of my special steaks,’ and he said to me, ‘You know where my special steaks are. Go get two of them and have them done.’ Then, when it came time for the check, Nick said to me, ‘Don’t charge them anything.'”
“Joe DiMaggio called me over and said, ‘Where’s the check”‘ and I said, ‘There is no check, Mr. Manero’s orders.’ He gave me $100 as a tip!” Sal said. “Nick Manero was a smart businessman. He knew what he was doing.”
Yet another rite of passage was working as a caddie at the Round Hill Club.
“All the Italians were caddies at the Round Hill Club. The guys (members) would ask the caddy master to ask the caddies what they wanted for Christmas,” he said, adding that the wish lists always featured toys.
“But we’d always get warm clothes,” Sal said.
Sal said his father Frank worked for Charles Donnelly Rafferty who had been an All-American football player and captain of the Yale Bulldogs. Rafferty went on to have a successful career in the chemical and fertilizer business at HJ Baker & Bro. in New York.
“My father tended the gardens on CD Rafferty’s estate on Calhoun Drive,” Sal said. “Every year his secretary would ask what we wanted for Christmas. I always said I wanted a wagon or a toy, but I’d get a pair of boots or a jacket. Then finally, one year, I got a pair of shoes and a wagon.”
More of Sal’s fond summer memories include trips to Island Beach two or three days a week.
“The town only had one boat at the time,” he said. “We’d spend the whole day there. They had the high dive back then.”
Sal recalled how Sam Pryor, an executive of Pan American World Airways, organized a “Hawaiian Day” at Island Beach, complete with hula dancers.
Anne Salvatore, who later became Sal’s beloved wife, grew up on Woodland Drive, and would often walk to the pier to catch the ferry. Sal said Anne’s father owned one of three cottages on Island Beach.
“Harry Allen had one. And DK Allen, who had a hardware store on Greenwich Avenue, had the third cottage,” he said. “They’d rent them out for the season. But when they had the big storm in 1976, that destroyed all the cottages, and they never put them back up.”
After attending Hamilton Avenue School, Sal went to the “old” Greenwich High School on Field Point Road, walking every day from Alexander Street in Chickahominy.
“People walked everywhere back then,” he said. “Some people took the trolley on Greenwich Avenue.”
“We had a teacher named Mrs. Carter. We called her ‘Ma Carter.’ At that time, there were homeroom teachers,” he recalled. “One day the subject was about animals. And in class was Kenny Berger who lived on Oak Ridge Street. He saw a cow in the field and brought the cow into the school. I felt kind of funny, but I knew we were going to get in trouble.”
From there the legendary prank took place, though Sal said he was a reluctant participant.
“Kenny was a nice guy, but I didn’t want any part of it,” he recalled. “We took the cow right up the stairway.”
Legend has it that a cow can walk up the stairs, but not down. But, in actual fact Sal said they pulled the cow back down the stairs.
Another time Sal said the school lesson concerned trees and leaves. “Ma Carter sent a couple guys to get some twigs. They came back with a big tree limb.”
When Sal attended the old GHS on Field Point Road, the principal was Harry Folsom, for whom a house at the current GHS is named.
“Then they built the new high school and John Bird was the principal. He was Bob’s principal.”
Bob DeAngelo, who was the GHS graduation speaker in 2015, was a member of the first class to graduate from the high school on Hillside Rd. “They used to call it ‘the Bird house,'” Bob said.
As for his class of 1975 graduation, Bob said, TV host Geraldo Rivera was the graduation speaker.
“He showed up on a Harley,” Bob recalled. “And my buddy streaked across the stage when (Rivera) was delivering his address. (The new high school) was still a work-in-progress, and graduation was in the far field with rocks and weeds in it. John Saxon and Basil Zaharis both streaked.”
Sal served in the 96th Signal Battalion during World War II. He said the battalion included 32 men from Greenwich.
“It was rare to keep so many people from one town together,” he said adding that the battalion served in Burma, China and India.
“We weren’t really combat soldiers. Were were all radio communication type guys.”
“I was a really good baseball player in the Army,” Sal said. “I played baseball against General Claire Chennault, the famous fighter pilot. He was in charge of ‘the Flying Tigers.’ And I got to play against Marine fighter pilots.”
Unfortunately, when he was in Burma, Sal contracted Malaria.
“They flew me back to India to recover,” he recalled, going on to say he had been sitting by a pool when a Red Cross nurse asked him where he was from. When he said Greenwich, she left and returned with another nurse who was from Greenwich. It turned out Sal had gone to school with her brother.
“Her name was Helen Gravis. She was an Olympic diver in 1938. She was head of the camp.”
Sal said today he is the only one remaining of the 32 men from Greenwich in the 96th Signal Battalion.
“The last person to die was Mike Harris four years ago. I’m the only one today.”
“Greenwich Was a Cadillac Town“
In 1946, when he returned from the service, Sal got a job at Allen Bros., a Cadillac dealership that was located in what is now the parking lot behind Greenwich Library.
“Greenwich those days was a Cadillac town,” Sal said, adding that Sam Pryor, a senior executive at Pan American World Airways, was a customer of Allen Bros.
“When I met my wife, we couldn’t make up our mind where we wanted to go for our honeymoon,” Sal recalled. “Sam Pryor came in and Harry Allen said, ‘Sal is getting married in a couple weeks.’ Sam asked where I was going on my honeymoon and I said I wasn’t sure. I said I wanted to go to Bermuda, but my wife was a bit timid.”
“He said, ‘You should go to Bermuda. Give me your phone number and I’ll have my secretary call you.'”
Sal said the secretary did call and told him Mr. Pryor was planning to put him and Anne up in the Waldorf Astoria, and then have a helicopter bring them to Idlewild, the precursor to JFK Airport. From there they got onto a Pan American Airlines flight to Bermuda.
“When we got airborne they opened up some champagne,” he said. “We were both totally surprised.”
In Bermuda, Sal and Anne stayed at the Elbow Beach Hotel.
“The manager met me at the door when the cab pulled up and said, ‘Mr. DeAngelo, welcome to Bermuda. Mr. Pryor called us and told us to take are of you.’ It didn’t cost us a penny.”
“Back then guys like him did a lot for people,” Sal said of Mr. Pryor. “Tremendous people, big people, all up on North Street, Round Hill Road and Lake Avenue.”
“(Pryor’s) family house was the famous house with the red thatched roof In Belle Haven,” Sal said.
Sal worked for Allen Bros after the war in 1946 until Fred Allen died in 1972 – a total of almost 30 years.
One of the highlights was playing on the dealership’s bowling team. The league played in the bowling alley across the street on Putnam Ave.
One of Sal’s colleagues at Allen Bros was John Wilson, who lived with his family on Lincoln Ave near the YMCA for decades.
“John Wilson – he never smiled. I said to him once, ‘Why do you never smile?'” Sal recalled. “He said, ‘What it there to smile about?'”
Sal said the Wilson’s had had a farm on the corner of Husted Lane and Lake Ave, but when Wilson’s father died his mother sold the farm and the family moved downtown.
Another memory of those years was that all the automobile dealers, including Allen Bros, Minchin Buick and Griffin Ford, would sponsor young people in the Soap Box Derby.
“They would shut down the Avenue for the Soap Box Derby. Back then it was parallel parking,” he recalled. “The winner got a $100 bond. The finish line was down by the Post Office.”
Bob said one of his favorite memories of his dad took place around 1964, when Bob was about six years old.
“My dad said, ‘We have to go pick up Santa Claus.’ He drove us to Allen Bros and got a convertible Cadillac. He said, ‘He’s coming from the North Pole to Binney Park.’ An old helicopter landed in the middle of Binney Park!”
“He got off the helicopter and into the Cadilac,” Bob said. “Charlie Bowles was Santa Claus. Mike Mason’s father Tom Mason got the helicopter from Sikorsky and they sent it down free of charge.”
Racking up the Hours as a Red Baron Volunteer at Greenwich Hospital
Sal has a favorite story about his 20 years volunteering as a Red Baron at Greenwich Hospital.
“I volunteered 22,000 hours,” he said, adding that only one other person logged in more hours. “Red Baron volunteers wore red jackets….We would deliver prescriptions to patients on different floors, do odds and ends and put stock away.”
“The first day I became a Red Baron at the hospital the pharmacist said, ‘I want you to deliver this prescription to room 128.’ I went down there and saw the room 128. I knocked and there was no answer. I kept knocking. There was a little blue light on the top of the door. A doctor saw me and asked, “What are you trying to do?’ I said they gave me a prescription to deliver.’ He said, ‘Let me see that. Who gave you this? You don’t look familiar. I said it was my first day as a Red Baron.”
The doctor told Sal he had been the subject of a prank. “‘This is the morgue,’ he told me.”
“‘I’ll tell you what,’ he said. ‘Put the prescription in your pocket and go back upstairs and don’t say anything to anybody.’ So I did. … I could see the two pharmacists were talking to each other. The fellow who gave me the prescription finally came over and asked if I delivered it and I said yes. He asked what happened and I told him someone opened the door – it looked like an old man in a smock and that he had thanked me and shut the door. He looked at me kind of peculiar and finally he and the other pharmacist said, ‘Come on, that’s not what happened.’ I said I’ll tell you what, you wanted to play a game with me. I kept knocking and nobody answered and a doctor saw me and asked what you’re doing. He said let me look at the prescription vial and it was empty. He told me, ‘You play their game!'”
On another occasion, about 18 years ago, when Sal was volunteering at the hospital, a nurse on the second floor told Sal he didn’t look alright.
“I said, ‘Yes, I’m alright.’ But she said, ‘No, you don’t look alright. Sit down.'”
After taking Sal’s blood pressure, the nurse put him in a wheelchair and brought him straight to the emergency room. “But I felt okay,” he recalled. “They found out I had something wrong with my heart. They took me to Yale New Haven and operated on me.”
“It was two days before Christmas,” he recalled. “On Christmas morning, I was sitting in bed and a doctor came in with a mask on his face and said to me, ‘You look pretty good. You checked out alright. You want to go home?'”
“I said, ‘I just had an operation. Who are you?'”
“He said, ‘I’m the fellow who operated on you!’ I apologized and he said, ‘You can go home tomorrow.'”
Like Sal, Anne was born in Greenwich and went to Greenwich High School, where she was captain of the girls’ basketball team and an avid field hockey player. She attended St. Francis Hospital School of Nursing in Hartford and graduated as Class President in 1952.
In addition to Bob, Anne and Sal have a daughter Dina, who lives in England, and Don who lives locally.
Sal said he loves to share stories of growing up in Greenwich with his five grandchildren – Annie, Julia, Ines, Bella and Scott – and feels blessed to have grown up in and live his entire life in town.
Sadly, Sal’s wife Anne passed away on June 8. She was 89.
All friends and family are invited to celebrate Anne’s life at a memorial service scheduled for Anne DeAngelo at St. Michael’s Church on Tuesday, August 3, 2021 at 10:30am.