Point Lookout, Long Island, New York, U.S.A.

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Piccolo Pete

Piccolo Pete's Last Ride North

In his later years, Piccolo Pete struggled with his love of the road and the reality of old age. He arrived back in Point Lookout after a long absence only to discover that it was more difficult to find shelter and acceptance. The Dowlings agreed to house him in their garage as a temporary measure until a solution could be found. His days were spent, as always, playing his harmonica, fishing, eating a simple diet of fish, cheese and bread, and generally enjoying life (unlike most Kings of the Road he did not drink or smoke).

Pete soon became a community project. Dr. Wertheimer, John Panarello, Marylou McPhillips, Agnes Keenan, even Otto from the Deli all participated in helping Pete. When autumn came, Pete had been to the Department of Social Services and had been accepted at Jones Institute ( a home for homeless men on the grounds of the Singer estate). However, when the time came, Pete did not want to leave his home in the garage. We drove him to Jones and left a tearful Pete in his new home.

A few weeks later, a call from the Director of the Institute informed us that Pete had escaped. That was almost incredible since he was almost blind. Shortly thereafter, some members of the Staudt family saw him in Penn Station panhandling with his harmonica.

Later, he fell and was brought to St. Vincent's Hospital and subsequently to a men's shelter.

After a bad time there, he called home and we arranged to bring him back to Jones. Unfortunately, after his adventure he was no longer ambulatory. The Director of Jones could not take him back in this condition but helped guide us through the red tape.

His new home became the Bayview Nursing Home. This time he went with a happy heart. Pete spent his last years well taken care of, happily playing his harmonica to a captive audience.

Later, Charlie O'Shea took care of the funeral arrangements, Tom and Jimmy Dowling were the altarboys, and old and young turned out for Pete's funeral at OLMM.

Newsday covered the story and entitled it "Piccolo Pete's Last Ride North." We remember the many humourous incidents along the way and hope Pete is entertaining the angels.

We, the Dowlings took in Pete when we discovered him hitchhiking out of town in the rain. He had been asked to leave his summer home in the shrine because for some reason it began to smell. He carried a grudge thereafter directed at our then pastor Father John Fagan.

We settled him in the garage which had a convenient door to an adjacent toilet, but Pete preferred outdoor facilities.

I recall that young Tom and Jim finally persuaded him to use empty milk bottles. They still had to make regular visits to the garage to dispense a cheap perfume.

Through all his trials and tribulations, Rosemary was there to help him. Maybe that's why Rosemary's memorial stone in the Shrine bears the words "Always There".

-- Tom Dowling