REMINISCENCES OF ALBERT MICHAEL SALERNO and LUCY SALERNO
Copyright Jim Metzner Productions, Inc.
This interview focuses on sandmining in Port Washington and was part
of the Local Legacies initiative of the Library of Congress and "Pulse
of the Planet" radio program. The interview can be used only with
the permission of the copyright holder for such scholarly and educational
use as it may determine.
This interview was conducted for "Pulse of the Planet" by AMY
STANDEN with ALBERT MICHAEL SALERNO and LUCY SALERNO at the PORT WASHINGTON
PUBLIC LIBRARY on SEPTEMBER 21, 1999.
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 Jim Metzner Productions, Inc. or from the oral authors,
their heirs or forebears.
(c)Jim Metzner Productions, Inc.
Q: All right, can I just get you to tell me your name?
AS: My name is Albert Michael Salerno.
Q: And your name?
LS: Lucy Salerno.
Q: Okay, do you want ... And you share an address I take it?
LS: ... [laughs] ... Yes, 21 North Maryland in Port Washington.
Q: Okay. And the area [zip] code?
LS: Is 1-1-0-5-0.
Q: Okay, great. Can I just get you to introduce yourself?
AS: All right, my name is Albert M. Salerno.
I was born in Port Washington in 1928, and
Q: So now, back to, you were saying what
you did. You were the, you were
AS: Well, as the machine digs the material
the bank becomes overhanging and very dangerous to the machine.
Q: Because it's digging the material from below?
AS: Because it's digging underneath the bank.
And our job was to go up and to go in and
Q: Were you doing this from the top?
AS: In approximately the middle of the bank,
then we would have a rest for a
Q: But the sand that you were mining was just .., [inaudible] ...
AS: The sand that we mined from 1950..and
it started in 18..around 1864. And it used to
Q: So how does the sand that you mine ...
Actually, let's go back to when you were talking about your work. So becoming
a crane operator, that was a step up? That was better than being one of
the guys who was undermining ...
AS: Well, yes, being a crane operator was
dangerous in its work also. In the sand banksthere used to be many, many
men accidentally killed. As time went on machinery became safer, conditions
became safer. I think my father was about the last man to pass on in an
accident in the sand bank, and that was in 1950. What else?
AS: Well, the ...
Q: ... weight of it?
AS: The danger is always there and you have to be alert. Some accidents happen that are machine-wise unsafe, but everybody took precautions and to make sure that accidents did not happen. And there's, you had to walk around with a steel helmet on,a safety helmet because you never knew what was going to fall from the sky, especially walking under conveyor belts and under machinery that's always moving and churning. And, let's see, what else?
Q: Was it hard work?
AS: Oh, yes. It was hard work especially
when it came time to move the machines, move the conveyor belts, break
the conveyor belts apart, put planks down. Real hard
Q: Can you think of maybe the most, the most
difficult part of the work and describe it in a little bit of detail?
AS: The most difficult part of the work was being a caver. That was the most dangerous because you're up high in the air, like I said 175 feet. The bank would be probably 200 feet in different areas as the land sloped. And you had to be alert. When you are the first man in and the other man is behind you about six feet, he's constantly watching the bank with the movement of the sand trickling down, and that would be a
telltale sign that a cave was gonna be coming. I was caught running downhill in a cave three times, and youhad to run fast. Huh, you really had to run fast.
Q: What do you mean running downhill in a cave?
AS: Well, just imagine where that light is and the machine is down here and this bank is overhanging on the machine. You go in five or six feet in front of the man that's your partner, and you start undermining the sand. And when you see the trickling, your partner sees a trickling of the sand coming, he knows that it's gonna come so he'll tell you to back out. And if you don't back out fast enough, you go down with the slide, and you have to keep running at an angle. Not with the slide but at an angle of the slide to get out of it. Otherwise it sucks you in. It was really dangerous. But I was young and I liked it ... [laughs] ... It's crazy.
LS: A risk taker.
LS: Risk taker.
AS: Yeah, yeah.
Q: So you liked the danger of it, whereas
your wife didn't find it ...
AS: Yeah, it ...
Q: as exciting?
AS: Yeah, it was exciting and it was dangerous. Just...it pumps you up. And you gotta know what you're doing otherwise I wouldn't be here. Yeah.
Q: How old were you?
AS: I was twenty..twenty-two, just turned
twenty-two. I did that for I think eight months, then some other man thought
my job was easier and he wanted it. So I was glad to get out of it and
go someplace else, and some other danger some place else. It was, it was
very exciting at times. And the pay was good. I made thirty-five, forty-five
dollars a week. Can you imagine that? Today forty-five dollars a week?
Q: It wouldn't get you much.
Q: Back then what did that, what was forty-five dollars a week? What could you do ...
Q: For a young guy of twenty-two years old,
what was that like?
AS: Well, at twenty-two years old I had just
gotten married. I had a mortgage on my house. We went to the store with
forty-five dollars and you came home with bagfuls of groceries. It was,
it was a good life. It was no competition. Everybody was in the same boat.
It was really, really great, yeah.
Q: There was no shortage of jobs? Everyone
had a place to work?
AS: No, there was..no, there was no shortage
of jobs. I don't think there ... During the depression, yes there was,
but if people really wanted to work they would get out there and work.
It's..I remember one time I was on strike and I would go out and look
for another job, do everything. You didn't make much money. I think I
was making a dollar, dollar an hour. But..and in the beginning there was
no benefits and then eventually the union got more benefits and it became
more lucrative. And I really feel that.. well, I raised three sons and
paid all my bills and it was good, it was good. And without the union
we would have nothing.
Q: So you went on strike?
AS: Yes, we went on strike.
Q: When was that?
AS: The year, what year was that? That was
19..1950? Or '50..no, 1952. I think it was '52. But the strike only lasted
a week and then we went on strike again in 80..1 think , 84. And that
lasted seven weeks. But we all went back to work with a good contract
and from' 84 I believe the end of sanding, sand mining was in ' 87. It
was probably the last year that the material became unmineable and it
was too much clay. It was called dead sand, that you could not use for
Q: How does the sand on the beach of Long
Island turn into a skyscraper in New York? In New York?
AS: How did what?
Q: How does that, how is that sand made into
concrete? What's the process?
AS: Oh, well, the sand and the grit and the
gravel that's produced is mixed with a certain
Matter of fact, the sand banks, the sand banks are, in Port Washington
I believe, is one of the, was one of the largest in the world.
Q: What's so good about the sand here?
AS: I beg your pardon?
Q: What's so good about the sand here?
AS: I guess it started in 1864 when Gallaghers
were the first ones here and they found that to make concrete their concrete
would last longer to the elements than any other product made. Eventually
the stone products came in from upstate New York mixed in with the sand
from Long Island, it was very coarse and it made good binding and it was
good concrete. What else?
Q: So how do you turn sand into concrete?
AS: Well, you have your mixture of, you have your mixture of sand, grit, and gravel, whichever job requires. And then you also have stone, different grades of stone. And with the mixture of cement that gives you the different tests that they make with the different materials determines how much cement you could add to the sand and gravel.
and how much water. If you got too much water it crumbles. If you got too much less cement, it crumbles. It's gotta be measured right.
Q: So cement is just a mixture of all of these ...
AS: Cement is a mix..concrete is a mixture
of the sand, the grit, the gravel, and the stone, along with cement. And
to make other different products such as mortar you have to add lime to
it. That also you need a coarse sand to, with the cement and the lime
to hold your bricks and blocks together.
Q: So where did the sand from Port Washington
go? Where did it end up?
AS: Most..I would say most of the sand from
our area ended up in New York City and Jersey. But mostly in New York
City, because New York City was a booming
Q: This is still going on?
AS: Wingdale to my knowledge is still going on.
Q: ... [inaudible] ... Wingdale.
AS: Wingdale, New York.
Q: Where is Wingdale?
AS: Wingdale would be up near Mount Kisco,
somewheres around that area.
Q: ... [inaudible] ... So when you were working
on the sand mines did you ever go to
AS: Well, when I, when I went to... like
I said, after I became a crane operator the barges
That was also very dangerous because can you imagine a barge 44 foot wide, 130 foot long, 12 feet deep, and it's full of water. And as you unload this barge you don't know how the water is going to shift within the container. And when you see this barge corning up out of the water it's like a big monster that wants to grab you. And you just control it by the way you unload the material on the barge. That is also very dangerous. I've had a couple of close calls. One was in Hempstead Harbor where the barge was caught underneath my barge, the derrick that I was operating. And there was no way of getting off but jump overboard. But I stayed with it and the barge slipped out and I was all right. But it was ... That was very dangerous, the barges, 'cause you didn't know, you didn't know which way they were gonna turn: on top of you, underneath you, or sometimesthey didn't come up at all.
Q: You mean, this is if they're sinking.
If something happens to them ...
Q: ... and they start to go down?
AS: As it goes down you don't know which ...
Q: Sometimes they go like that, sometimes they go like ...
AS: Sure, they go like this. Oh, that's dangerous.
Like if, if you're digging material off a
Q: So you would go, you would take the sand
out from the sand pits. You would load it onto..can you just go through
that process again up until the point where it's on the barge?
AS: Well, after the barge is loaded it will
go off to the city. And ...
LS: How does it happen? How does it get
on? You know, points. You know, further back than that.
Q: Just start from the beginning again.
AS: Well, from the ...
LS: ... digging it out ... [inaudible] ... with the crane.
AS: From the processing plant it's put into three different piles. And underneath those piles is a tunnel. The tunnel has a conveyor belt and it goes down underneath the..Shore Road onto the barge that is in Hempstead Harbor or Manhasset Bay. And from there a string of barges would be, maybe about eight, nine, ten, or twelve, and a tugboat would come in and they would lash them all together and take them to wherever, to a point in Flushing Bay. And from there it's distributed by different tugboats to different docks. There are more than, more than a hundred docks in New York City that unload sand.
LS: How did the sand, though, get from say the plant to each of the barges?
AS: That's what I told you, through the conveyor belt underneath the ...
LS: Oh, I see. Underneath the road?
AS: Underneath the road, there's a tunnel.
And there's a conveyor belt and uh, in the tunnel.
LS: Uh huh.
AS: And then it's loaded onto the barge.
LS: Is the sand then washed as it's going
along? Or ...
AS: No, it's already, it's already been processed.
LS: Oh, I see.
AS: And it's put into three different piles
on the ground over the tunnel.
AS: Sand, grit, and gravel in three different
AS: However the orders came in. If it was
a full load of gravel it went to a certain place, but usually the barges
would be accompanied by sand, grit, and gravel, three..three barges at
one location. The operator at the dock can unload the sand to one hopper,
the grit to another, and the gravel, and then it's up to the concrete
mixer upstairs in the building to put those materials together with the
cement to make the concrete.
Q: I got it. So you'd use all three of those ... [ingredients] ...
AS: You have to..yeah. It isn't like one barge of gravel would just go to one plant because if you don't have the other ingredients you won't be able to make any concrete.
LS: Okay, okay.
Q: If you could watch the ... I'm thrilled
to have you ask questions, but since our voices aren't going to be on
LS: Oh, I forgot about that, okay.
Q: It's a tough thing to learn. But you said before that the..when we were in Elly's office, that the sand was washed with salt water, and that's not apparently the best way to prepare sand?
AS: Like I said, the sand is washed with
salt water, but then the state inspectors found out that, that there,
that sand that's washed with fresh water is much better because it
Q: So the Empire State Building and the Chrysler
Building and Woolworth Building,
AS: They were built in, in the thirties.
And, oh, I can't, I don't know the names of too many buildings in New
York City, but there are some of the buildings still standing from way
back in 1864. And it was..concrete was around then, and that's when ...
I don't know where they got the material before that, maybe small, little
plants. But the majority of..they say that New York City was built by
Cow Bay Sand from Long Island.
Q: So starting you said around eighteen ...
AS: About 1864. That's when the first sand
bank started around this area in Long Island. Of course, 1864 there was
no such thing as..it was all farmland out on the east end of Long Island.
The eastern end of Long Island I hear that they do have some small sand
mining plants that are portable. And it's good material. Like I said,
it's not washed with salt water.
Q: Um hmm. So how many hours a day did you
AS: Well, I'd..basically it was eight hours a day, but if the business was, called for more hours it would run to ten to twelve hours a day. But when I, when I left the sand
bank, when the operations were being shut down I was working twelve hours a day, seven days a week. And then the material got so bad that it wasn't, it wasn't mineable. You couldn't sell it. And it shut down the operation.
Q: In what year?
AS: Beg your pardon?
Q: When did they shut it down?
AS: I believe it was in '87..'87 or '88. I think it was....
Q: ... hundred and twenty years this sand mine operation was ...
AS: Yeah, about that, yeah.
Q: So you, your '" Oh, I'm sorry, go ahead.
AS: It was a good life, a good life. There
were quite a few people in Roslyn and Port
Q: And you, your father also worked in the sand mines and you grew up in the sand mines?
AS: Oh, yeah, yeah. My father came over at
the turn of the century and my mother did,
Q: So you'd sort of roll' em out of the way?
AS: Roll 'em out of the way, yeah. Yeah.
Q: That must have been dangerous, also.
Q: It all sounds pretty dangerous ... [laughs] ... actually.
AS: Yeah, yeah. It was..it was nice, though,
in Port Washington. You could roam the hills up Beacon Hill and there
was not many houses. It was mostly farmland, but the Gallagher Brothers,
they owned everything from Beacon Hill all the way across
Q: Gallagher Brothers owned the sand mining
AS: Gallagher Brothers owned that. There
was a land grant from the King of England and that was long before 1864.
And they held that property and eventually as their family died off it
was handed down to other members of the family.
Q: So hat was the community like? Everyone
worked in the sand mines, everyone knew each other ... [inaudible] ...
AS: Oh, yeah! Well, what happened was one
time there was a strike way back in '38. And to prove that the sand mines
were very valuable to the community of Port Washington, they were paid
with-after they went back to work-with silver dollars.And ...
Q: The workers were paid ...
AS: The workers were paid with silver dollars,
and they flooded Port Washington with silver dollars. And the merchants
Q: Who was giving out the silver dollars?
AS: The people who owned the company. It
was O'Brien, Metropolitan. There was always an element in Port Washington
that didn't want sand mining, but to prove that sand mining was valuable
to the town that's how they paid 'em. And they proved their point.
Q: That's quite ingenious, isn't it?
AS: ... [laughs] ... It's crazy.
Q: So they gave all of their workers silver
AS: Silver dollars.
Q: So anytime you spend one everyone knows where it came from.
AS: You spent it ... It came from the sand banks, yeah, yeah.
Q: What did people do for fun? What was the ...
AS: Oh, fun. I think after working all day in the sand banks there wasn't much time for fun. Just on a Saturday or a....a Saturday night or a Sunday wedding. Don't forget, you know, the town back in nineteen, in the twenties and the thirties, the population must have been maybe ten thousand people the most. There was no stores on Port Washington Boulevard to speak of, just up near Willowdale Avenue, a couple of buildings. We had Bohack and an A & P and a Ralston's. Those are the supermarkets that we had. It was a quiet, little lazy town. I think if the war hadn't come along, I don't think anybody would have left the town, they would've stayed right here. Like myself, I moved from 21 North Maryland to 30..from 30 North Maryland to 21 North Maryland. I didn't go too far.
Q: ... [laughs] ... That's where you live now.
AS: That's where I live now. I lived there seven..well, in my house fifty, fifty-one years. And then I was born across the street. It was a nice town.
Q: Can you say that again? The, "1 think if the war hadn't come ..."
AS: I believe that if the war didn't come ... 'Cause, you know, we were in a Depression and I don't think anybody would have left the town. I know my brothers, my one brother was working for fifteen dollars a week. My father didn't have a job 'cause the sand and gravel had come to an end. Nobody was building. There wasn't any money to be had.
Q: This was during the war?
AS: But..this is..no, this is before the
war. Before the war. Things started to change
Q: So then after the war you had ...
AS: After the war there was, there was a big building boom ...
Q: And all the sand miners went back to work?
AS: ... on Long Island. And in Port Washington
houses started to sprout up and things were getting better all the time.
But it was nice.
Q: Was there a time of year when people were
doing sand mining, or was this a year- round operation?
AS: What's that?
Q: What time of year were people sand mining?
Was there a seasonal change to it?
AS: It was, I would say it was seasonal up
until, up until 1950. Like I said, after the war
Q: So you'd be digging sand, mining sand
AS: Mining sand.
Q: ... April through October, something like that?
AS: We would be mining sand from April 'til
October. That's in the twenties and thirties. In the fifties on it was
six days a week, , cause the booming of the building industry.
Q: So right at, post..right after the war
AS: Right after the war.
Q: ... [inaudible] ... a year-round ...
AS: A year-round operation.
Q: Um hmm. I might ask you some questions.
LS: About what?
Q: What are your recollections of your community?
LS: Um, at that time?
Q: Yeah, what was it like? Did you grow up in Port Washington?
LS: Yes, actually I was born in Port Washington.
Three of my brothers and I were born
AS: ... [inaudible] ... mandatory.
LS: It was mandatory, okay, so that ... And that..and many of our friends, friends of my Mom and Dad, my father was of Sardinian background and he and many of his friends then came to Port Washington when they learned, I guess, through a mutual friend that there were jobs here in New York on Long Island. And so because of that, because many of his friends were from Sardinia, we sort of grew up in a Sardinian community. And many of us, you know, offspring of those people who worked in the sand bank became very, very..you know, it was almost like a very close family unit. And many of those children are, of course, within our age group and so we still see each other. We're not really that friendly because like all communities, all families, you know, marriage and children and so on. But when we see each other it's always a good feeling. And it's always, I think, you know that sort of connective thing. You know,
the..not always, you know, very..when we were always together it was
very happy. But then, you know, we were a community within a community
and sometimes felt a little bit, you know, insecure because we were of
Italian background, because our
Q: What were the women doing in ... You see these pictures of the sand mines and it's all men. So what were the women doing?
LS: Well, the women did, you know, as most
of the women in that generation did. Very few women worked. They then
took care of their families; were excellent, excellent housekeepers; excellent,
excellent cooks, and that was their way of life. If they
Q: Do you remember that..was this a happy
place to grow up?
LS: Well, this was really kind of neat because..because
of this community of Sardinian people, or Sardinese people as they're
called, what we would do is like..not every
happy, you know, as a unit. And this is, you know, not so nice to say, but misery loves company in that all of the families thatlived in our neighborhood were all more or less, you know, depressed people, you know? Depressed in that we didn't have that much money. So ...
Q: Was most of your peer group, were you the Italian contingent of the sand mining?
LS: Let me think now...
Q: Or it is '" [inaudible] ...
LS: ... where..see, where we left .... I think that no, the Italian community sort of..you know, sort of congregated together. I don't, I lived what we called up town on South Street and so we're ... And then there were different communities in different areas, different Italian communities. And one was in that West Shore Road area. And so then we didn't really see those children unless we had, you know, like a visit on a Sunday or some such thing. So if there was, you know, some calamity within the community, then of course one family helped the other or they all sort of ... But that was, you know, very common with most Italian communities, even with, you know, the people ...
LS: ... you were..when you were growing
up. See, and most of the areas where they settled, I mean it would be
common sense to settle where you would be more comfortable. And so, I
think to be more comfortable, that meant, you know, speaking Italian,
feeling comfortable about the language, feeling comfortable about customs.
And so, Al's family congregated in another..not congregated, but lived
in another part of town
Q: And everyone spoke Italian.
LS: Well, in my household, my father spoke
to us in Italian, but my mother was born in Pennsylvania. And so she spoke
to us in English. She spoke to my father in Italian. And with Sardinese..the
Sardinese language, that dialect is a language within its own, and unless
you were born in Sardinia, you would not be able to understand it. And
so, then, most of the men that we knew had gone to school, and in the
school, they taught Tuscan Italian. And so, my father was able to communicate
with other Italians. And that was interesting too. My mother could understand
the Sardinian dialect, and she maybe would use words now and again, but
never really attempted to..to speak it. And so, we grew up not really
knowing all of the Sardinese dialect, but we understood all of this Italian.
My older brother and I spoke Italian until probably we were about ten,
and then I don't know slowly we stopped using it. And now I hardly speak
Italian at all, only because I'm always afraid that, you know, the genders
are gonna come up upside down. And most Italians
about ... [laughs] ... "You're not speaking the language correctly."
So I hardly ever use it at all now.
Q: What was the music of the time? What would
you listen to on Sunday?
LS: Well, you know what? It's..that's kind
of like a lost art. What would happen was that the men would get together
and they..most, in most households they made their own wine. And so then..and
I think, you know, kind of thinking about it and talking about it throughout
the years, I think that probably Sundays in Italy the men just gathered
themselves and met at the local cantina. And because there were so many
of them in, you know, congregated together--excuse me-in one little town
Q: In Port Washington.
LS: In Port Washington, then they just carried over that custom. And so what they would do is they would drink wine. And you know what? I don't really remember them playing cards so much as just sitting around a table talking, talking, talking. And then they would start to sing, and it was really like a chant. And what they would do is one man would then tell a story of maybe about a second man that was there. Not necessarily something that happened present day but maybe when they were growing up, when they were children. And then he would chant that little kind of story. And then they would all chorus, youknow, with a "Boo, boo, boo!" Like that kind of
thing. And so it went around the table. And then for some reason they always held their hand up to their cheek. And I guess that made the "Boo" ... ... [laughs] ... I don't know! More focused. I don't know what that was all about. But instead of kind of, you know, taking some kind of pride in that, I can remember we as little kids were always, "Oooh! Oooh! That's not my father that did that, that's your father that's singing now." We were kind of embarrassed by it.
Q: Sort of the old, old ... [inaudible] ...
LS: Yeah, yeah, and oh, so, so ... I mean, we didn't verbalize this and maybe we didn't even, you know, kind of think it. You know, it sort of wasn't a thought, but maybe we were alike a little bit, kind of, "Oh, they're so Italian. Oh, dear, Oh, dear! So embarrassing!'! You know, Americans don't do that. It could have been that.
Q: So what was the music you would have listened to had you had your choice? Was it sort of swing music of the day or popular music?
LS: Well, I guess probably. You know, what was ever, you know, doing at that time. Yeah. I remember as a little child all of the songs from the "Wizard of Oz" that we all loved so much. And then as we grew older, of course, you know we were like jitterbugs and all of that, you know? ... [laughs] ... As it was, you know, whatever came into, you know, style; singing or dancing or whatever.
AS: Off the record.
Q: Okay, this is room tone.
Caving 2-3, 5-6
Empire State Building 17
Gallagher Brothers 10, 21
McCormick Sand and Gravel 11
Sand mining process 14-16
Transit Mix 11
West Shore Road (PW) 30