THE REMINISCENCES OF ANTONIO CARTA
The following interview is one of a series of tape-recorded memoirs in the Port Washington Public Library Community Oral History Program. This series was developed in order to systematically gather historical information about the important themes in Port Washington's history from before the turn of the century until the present time.
This interview focuses on sandmining in Port Washington, and was part of a New York Council for the Humanities Project, "Sands of Port," conducted by the Public Library in 1981-82.
This interview was conducted for the Port Washington Public Library by Elly Shodell with Antonio Carta in Port Washington on March 22, 1982.
The reader is asked to bear in mind that he is reading a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written, word. Editorial corrections have been inserted by hand, when required, to help preserve the authenticity of the verbatim transcript. Permission to quote for publication must be obtained from the Port Washington Public Library or from the oral authors, their heirs or forebears.
Port Washington Public Library
Oral History Program Director
Funded by the New York Council for the Humanities
(c)PORT WASHINGTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
Antonio Carta(AC) AND John Pinna (JP) interviewed by Elly Shodell (ES) March 22, 1982
ES: Thank you so much for coming to the library today, Mr. Carta. I just wanted to ask you a few questions about your experiences before you came to Port Washington. Where did you come from?
AC: Before I come to Port Washington I worked in West Virginia in a coal mine. Then 1924 I come to PW and then in 1925 started working to Gallagher Brothers. I started working there they called 'em "the cave men." They had a long stick, a 60' stick, caving in the banks about 250' high. When I cave, the head come down, dead people. Then the engineer is calling.
JP: A skull came down from the bank. He was using a long stick to loosen up the dirt and the skull came down.
AC: Up from 250' high.
ES: How did you feel when you saw that?
AC: When I see, I take the head and put it away and the engineer, Billy, said, "Go and see the boss." The boss at that time was Burt Thompson. I said, "Mr. Thompson, a head come down.
Superintendent, we've got to stop." He says, "See the manager." I see the manager. "Mr. Kay, the heads is coming down the banks. Should I stop the machine or keep it going?" "Keep it going." (laughter) Then I come back from Mr. Thompson. He say, "Go in the office." I go in the office. And Mr. W (?) there. "We gotta this and this." "Oh no, stop, stop, stop." Stop. About 4 5 men dig it out. We dig about 24 24 dead people. Everyone dig a head. And the bone was green like grass. Then I tried to pull a head. I can't. Only 10 head. Then Mr. Thompson said, "Make a box, make a box, all the bones put in a box." He says he's gonna take it to the cemetery. I don't know if in PW or if he take it to NY to a museum. I don't know that. Then we found one flagstone, with a name C H A L. That man was 165 years ago. That's on the stone.
JP: The interesting part is that these bodies, they were lined up. Instead of being in a row they were one somebody's foot and then somebody's head and then again.
ES: Were you scared when you saw these bones?
AC: Well, I respect dead people. As soon as I saw them coming down I put it away. The first head coming down, that's where the choo-choo train and other conveyors were. And one guy, the name of Frank, he grabbed the head and put it on the locomotive. I said, "No, no that no good." We found them in the direction of Bar Beach.
JP: They were buried about 4 ½ feet.
ES: What year did you find them?
AC: 1925. I don't remember the month. Maybe June, July, August.
ES: And what company was that?
AC: That was Gallagher Brothers.
ES: Can we talk about your life back in Italy? Why did you come here?
AC: I came for working. And then I have a lot of friends over here. Then in 1929 I go back to the country, I got married. For brothers, sisters, then my wife, then my father, mother. I stayed there for 22 months. Then I come back here. Then I go to the country. Then I come back here in 1951. I stayed there about 20 years. I got married in 1929. When I leave my wife, she's about 6 months pregnant. And when my son was born I was over here. The first time I saw my son, my son is 20 years old. When I come back to the country around 1951 I go on the train to Califano and then my wife not there. And then my son says, "Hey mister, what time is this train leaving to go to my town, Esparlatu? "Hey, you're my son, you're Luciano. I recognized him 'cause I see the picture all the time. Then I stayed about another 5, 4 months and then my wife and my son Luciano come over here.
ES: What did you expect when you got to America the first time?
AC: Really like it. The first day I came , "America, America," like a miracle. And I'm telling the truth.
ES: How did you come?
AC: In the boat. We took the boat, 16 days to come. The name of the boat is the Julio Caesar. It was tough. And then it was time to go to West Virginia work, in the coal mine.
ES: How was that?
AC: I wasn't used to working down in the mines. My friends over here called me up and I came to Port Washington in 1924. I got four brothers and sisters. And then my wife stayed with her mother who was 94 years old and I stayed a few months and then I came back here.
ES: When you left Italy, how old were you?
AC: The first time I was 23 years old.
ES: And what did you do in Italy?
AC: Sheeps, cows, all like that. Like a cowboy. That's the truth. I didn't want to do that anymore. Come back to America.
ES: What did you hear about America?
AC: America's good. America's a good country. A lot of working. A lot of everything. That's the truth.
JP: Was it is as good in America in 1923 as it is now?
AC: 1923, 1928 you can work day and night, day and night. No trouble for the job.
JP: What about the pay? Do you remember how much they paid you?
AC: I made about 45 cents an hour. In
the sandpits. 6 days a week, 9 hours a day. You make about $27 a week.
That's good. One thing, they got work. That time no machines. No machines
that time. All muscle. Or by horses. No truck, no pay loader, no bulldozer,
ES: What did the workers wear?
AC: Thick socks, boots, heavy clothes all the time, very heavy. Because in wintertime I remember the ice.
Like the rich people, I remember Mr. Gallagher, like a church, like a villa on the right, he had a horse and wagon, and they'd pull some hay, some ice, some hay, some ice, like that. They'd put it in the smoke house.
ES: Where was the church?
AC: Past St. Peter on the right. I don't know if Gallagher people live up there anymore, I don't know.
ES: Did you work for Gallagher all the time ?
AC: No, I worked for him for 1946, something
like that. And then I worked for O'Brien
Brothers. 1933, December 18th.
ES: How do you remember the day?
AC: Because O'Brien had a big dredge and I lie on it the day I quit (?)
ES: Can you describe what it was like working the dredger?
AC: Oh yeah, that was a time nobody was workin'. Me lucky, me lucky. Nobody workin'. If
you want to work for 10 cents an hour. No job, no job. And Mr. O'Brien he know me for good, put me on the dredge. They get about $42 a month. About 45 people working there. Before I worked for Gallagher as a caver. Then the Depression coming. Everything stopped. So the boss, Mr. O'Brien, put me on the dredge. The dredger was a big boat, about 14,000 ton. Go to Port Jefferson in the water and pick up gravel and sand. Then it got all the bins inside. Then you go to New York. It's stacks of boats in there near the Statue of Liberty. It goes to the conveyor. It puts all the sand and gravel on the conveyor. Then it's empty it come back and load it up.
ES: Did you take the whole trip to New
AC: Oh yeah, all the time. I stayed in the boat. It had all the machines to take all the sand, all the gravel, out. Then it emptied and you load it up again in Port Jefferson.
ES: Was it dangerous work?
AC: No, no. Sometime it go to (Brockaway?) to repair. Once a year. When I worked for O'Brien maybe you know Ralph Lamberti, a stone started comin' up, a big stone, about 16 feet thick. It started coming down. I go on top of the bank, far away, about 15 feet I see a crack. I told the engineer, "You better watch it." "Oh no, don't worry," he said. This stone put the machine upside down. After this they removed the stone. There's a picture of it in O'Brien Brother's office. Then my two cousins they went on top of it to drill. That stone made 40 truck loads. They took it to a stone crusher. Make it 3/4 gravel, anything you
wanted. They were full. Boy, that stone I never saw such a stone in my life. I think it was the biggest stone they have on Long Island.
ES: Where was the O'Brien office?
AC: In New York. In the Chrysler Building 44 floors. Before. Now there's still one in business, Tommy O'Brien. He got all the derricks in the NY. After that, a guy comes, he wants a big stone for all the names of the boys who died in the First World War. For Glen Cove. They found a big stone, and put a chain around it, little by little, little by little, they rolled it and put it on back of the train. It took one week to load that stone onto the back of a trailer. Lamberti can tell you this I think that stone is by the water in Glen Cove.
JP: Tony, you had two cousins here before you came. How long had they been in the US before you came?
AC: They came in 1923 and went back to the country in 1934. They came to West Virginia and come with me to Port Washington.
JP: Why did you go to West Virginia? Did you know somebody?
AC: Yeah, yeah. It supposed to work, it was boom, boom, all the time the noise in my head.
I came in the big boat. I stayed on the Island one day. Then I took a train to Washington DC, then to West Virginia, to the coal mine.
ES: How long were you in the coal mine?
AC: I stayed about 7 months.
ES: Do you remember the workers in the sandbanks?
AC: Everyone worked very hard, even the engineers. It took two hours to put the coal on. Working, working. When they come home, they feel tired. One of them is my neighbor, Christiansen. Today you got machines, automobiles, easy, easy.
ES: What did you think about when you were working at the sandpits?
AC: It was good because you didn't know any better before. I really liked working. You can ask Tom Salerno here, Marino over here. Al Salerno, his father died up there. (Describes accident hard to understand.)
JP: You see, Tony was in World War I when he was 17, 18 years old.
AC: A little boy, they take you in the army. Italian army. I was in the army here in 1922.
ES: Did you speak Italian in the sandbanks?
AC: If you had an Italian boss you speak Italian. If it was an American boss, you speak American.
ES: Where did you live when you first came to Port Washington?
AC: Next to Shore Road. There were a lot of people. The house was owned by the company. The people are now dead. We called them the Greco. His wife died I think 4, 5 years ago. The goods, chickens, everything was there. Owned by the company. The Trinchitellas. Only Gallagher, and Nassau, they had houses and then after Nassau they call it McCormack. The company house was really cheap, you know. It was good for the time. O'Brien had a camp About 20 people were in the camp. Everybody has a room. And then the had 2 kitchen. Then 2 places where you wash, water coming. O'Brien had two. One by the water, one by the big hill. (Beacon Hill?) About 40 people lived in 2 camps. They didn't have hot water; they had cold water. In the winter it all froze. No steam.
ES: Did you have a fireplace?
AC: (laughter) No.
JP: Because in Sardinia every house has its own fireplace.
AC: We didn't care. You dress up good and wear filly (?) boots. I had a heavy blue half coat. Even if you shoot it, it wouldn't go through.
ES: What do you think now when you see the sandbanks?
AC: What I see now makes me feel bad. Like before you could look out and it was all green. All the trees apple, cherry, anything you wanted. All green, all green. Now we see only all sand, only sand. Before, you go up there, you could lose yourself in the trees. Then by Summit you had sheeps, you had chickens. That was a long time ago. Now only rich people are up there.
ES: What would you like to see done with the sandpits?
AC: Now that the sandbanks are all finished, fix up Shore Road.
JP: Wouldn't you like to see it developed? Like for farms? Or industry?
AC: No. It would better like a park. Pick up all the stuff that's left here and make a park. That would be good for Port Washington. Then you could put trees. Somebody told me
the Town bought O'Brien and some of Metropolitan.
ES: When you talk to your grandchildren, do you tell them you worked in the sandpits?
AC: Stefano and Mark Alessandro, they start laughing. Two weeks ago, Stefano went by the sandpits. There was a bulldozer working. Stefano says, "Allo, allo." He says, "What's your name?" "Stefano Carta." "You know Tony Carta?" "He's my grandfather." So he gave him a ride on the bulldozer.
ES: How did you feel when you heard the library was doing a study of the sandpits?
AC: Sounds good, sounds good. I had a lot of pictures, plenty, plenty. I lost them when I went over to the other side.
(discussion of photograph collection)
ES: Did you help to build any of the sandbank buildings?
AC: The washer, yes. They make the form first. Then I think about 40 people, local boys, everyone had a jack, then at night working making concrete, and little by little you get up, up, up for reaching maybe about 25 feet. And on top of that they built all the bins, all the rails, the screens, the washer, all like that. The old ones were knocked down. But this one I remember when they built, not long ago. Then before I worked for an engineer, he died
now, Bobby Markland, and then Stewart Carmichael, nice man. I worked for him too. All the same company. Gallagher, Phoenix, Kings, I remember. Then Gallagher bought Kings. Then buy Phoenix. All Gallagher. Gallagher was there. Gallagher was the biggest sandbank all over the world. He had about 350 men worked up there. Gallagher had a sandbank in Northport too. I worked there from time to time with my nephew, but most times over here.
ES: Did you know Mr. Gallagher?
AC: Oh yeah, yeah.
ES: What was he like?
AC: He's good, good man. Good for the people. Then he go bankrupt. And then Metropolitan take over. Because he owed a lot of money to Metropolitan, Gallagher. The Depression was coming. Up by Bar Beach was the Gallagher house. He had sons and a daughter. Big house. That road up there they had a farm, cows, lot of pears, fruit, everything. There were five or six roads, all on top of each other. When the tide came in, you better watch out.
ES: When did they build Shore Road?
AC: About 1950. Not too long ago.
ES: When did you retire?
AC: When I was 70 years old. Now I'm 82.
ES: Did you have to retire at 70?
AC: Oh yeah. The company said, "Tony, that's enough for you."
ES: What do you do now?
AC: Now about 4 days a week, I work on landscaping, for myself. I work or I'd go crazy. And then Stefano helps me a lot.
AC: I worked in the banks, everything was the best. I got a good house, everybody liked me, my wife and my son, my grandchilds. Good. You make money. Even the money I make, I got the pension. I got rich. All from the sandbank, the sandbank.
ES: If you had something else to do, if you had your life to live over again, would you have chosen to work in the sandbanks?
AC: Sure, sure. When I come back I go
to the sandbank.
Return to page 1
Bar Beach 2, 13
Beacon Hill 10
Califano (Italy) 3
Carmichael, Stewart 13
Carta, Luciano 3
Carta, Mark Alessandro 12
Carta, Stefano 12, 14
Christiansen, Christian 9
Chrysler Building 8
Depression 7, 13
Esparlatu (Italy) 3
Gallagher Bros. 1, 3, 6, 7, 10, 13
Glen Cove 8
Julio Cesar 4
Kings Sand Co. 13
Lamberti, Ralph 7
Markland, Bobby 13
McCormack Sand Co. 10
Metropolitan Sand Co. 12
Nassau Sand Co. 10
O'Brien Bros. 6-7, 8, 12
O'Brien, Tommy 8
Phoenix Sand Co. 13
Port Jefferson 7
St. Peter's Church (Port Washington) 6
Salerno, Al 9
Shore Road (Port Washington) 10, 11, 13
Statue of Liberty 7
Summit Road (Port Washington) 11
Thompson, Burt 1-2
West Virginia 1, 4, 8-9