When he was a child in the 1960s, Michael Cinquanti’s grandmother gave him and her other grandchildren a highball with a half shot of Seagram’s whisky and ginger ale to welcome in each New Year. When Michael turned 10, the amount of liquor increased slightly.
Michael’s parents were usually celebrating New Year’s Eve at the St. Agnello’s Club, the one occasion every year when they would dress up and go out for a night on the town.
Back at grandma’s on Leonard Street in Amsterdam’s West End, when midnight struck one of Michael’s uncles, dressed in his long johns, would go out in the street and fire a round from his shotgun to welcome the New Year.
Cinquanti said, “I can’t tell you how many people who lived in that neighborhood who read that story in [the section on local traditions] in my new book came up to me and said, ‘That was your uncle!’”
Cinquanti’s new book is “Fifty Amsterdam N.Y. Top Ten Lists.” The book contains more than 200 pages packed with nostalgic lists and photos of greatest local heroes of World War II (Richard Marnell and Reverend Anthony Sidoti); top athletes (in boys basketball Todd Cetnar and Tim Kolojay; in girls basketball Nina Fedulla and Brittany Stahura); best pizza makers (Bottisti’s and Russo’s); most effective church leaders (Rev. Frank Rhode and Rabbi Samuel Bloom); most successful women (former Lt. Gov. Mary Ann Krupsak and singer Inez Courtney) and most memorable plays directed by drama teacher and high school principal Bert DeRose.
Cinquanti, a lifelong resident very active in the community, had help compiling the lists from many people and asked experts in various fields to come up with some of the lists.
DeRose at first was reluctant to make a top 10 lists of his plays saying, “Oh my, they were all my favorite.” DeRose directed plays during the school year and put on a musical each summer for the city Recreation Department.
Ultimately, DeRose led off his list with the 1958 summer production of “Oklahoma.” Chester Kukiewicz played the male lead. As Chet Curtis, he went on to be a longtime popular TV news anchor in Boston. Curtis died in 2014. Cinquanti said DeRose’s productions were “our Broadway.”
Cinquanti’s favorite lists are of top traditions and pastimes in the city. Those sections are longer than the others and in memoir style get into favorite activities when Amsterdam was a prosperous mill town such as bowling (Michael got his first bowling ball at age 6); ice skating (the perils of the skating line); gambling on numbers (“if Amsterdam had its own Olympics, playing numbers would be a medals competition”); parades (the World War II victory parade was largest); visiting a neighborhood bar (Pink and Rock, Ivy Leaf) and sitting on the porch.
Cinquanti wrote, “Amsterdam’s front porches also served as juvenile jails for kids who were being punished for misbehaving. ‘You take one step off that porch and you are going to get it good mister.’”
Snow ball fights were legendary and sometimes dangerous. Cinquanti attended Guy Park Avenue Elementary School where students were divided into two camps. River Rats, like Cinquanti, lived south of the avenue. Hillbillies lived north of Guy Park going up the hill.
Cinquanti wrote, “The two camps would stand on the opposite sides [of Guy Park Avenue], fifty or sixty strong and hurl snow balls and chunks of ice at each other until a teacher at the school or a passing law enforcement official forced us to disband.”
Cinquanti’s book is available at Liberty Fresh Market and The Bookhound in Amsterdam and at genium.com/book.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.