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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : features : features August 19, 2014

2/4/2013 10:15:00 PM
Column: Fiorello always called Prescott his hometown

Jerry Jackson
Courier columnist

New York City lost a former colorful mayor last week when Ed Koch died at age 88. But let's flash back two-thirds of a century earlier when another feisty one - Fiorello La Guardia - passed away in 1947. And, what is common knowledge to Prescott oldtimers may be news to newcomers to our city who may have raised their eyebrows now and then when crossing the La Guardia Bridge there on downtown's North Montezuma Street.

Fiorello, incidentally, translates to "little flower" in Italian, and gave credence to "The Little Flower" nickname he inherited. You see, he stood at 5 feet 2, which is also my wife Pat's height, but he had considerably more girth than her. And my memory of the exuberant little guy was refreshed in an unexpentant way last Friday during the recycling of newspapers and magazines with the Prescott Noon Lions after a handful of Reader's Digest mags from the 1980s came toddling down the conveyor line. Out of curiosity I resurrected seven of them, one of which - published in February 1983 - featured an article by Lawrence Elliott titled "La Guardia: Portrait of an American Original" which, on the lead-in page, carried this glowing testimonial: "Zany, impetuous, kind, generous, compassionate, insulting and profane. Flamboyant, visionary, incorruptible, bombastic. Take your choice. There are few words that do not describe Fiorello (The Little Flower) La Guardia, the finest mayor that New York - or any other American city - ever had."

Now, regarding that local angle: Fiorello's dad, Achille, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1885 and was assigned to the 11th Infantry Regiment as its chief musician, and he eventually became bandmaster at Fort Whipple. During that time, Fiorello attended public schools and high school here and, noted Elliott, "always considered Prescott, Ariz., where he spent six years, his hometown. Later, he wore a high-crowned Stetson to emphasize his wide-open-spaces background."

Elliott went on to say that "Prescott was where young Fiorello started working out the important matter of who he was, and understanding that some classes, religions and nationalities were 'better' than others. In his only specific reference to an early ethnic slur, La Guardia recalled an organ grinder who 'blew into town' with his hurdy-gurdy and dancing monkey. 'A dago with a monkey!' jeered the blue-eyed children. 'Hey, Fiorello, you're a dago - where's your monkey?'

"Despite his western upbringing, Fiorello had an insatiable appetite for New York City newspapers," Elliott wrote. "The New York Sunday World reached Prescott five or six days late, and Fiorello would rush to the local drugstore to grab it. He read the comic section on the spot." And "as he grew older he started to follow the news."

La Guardia would go on to serve three terms as New York City's mayor (from 1934 to 1945, which generally coincided with FDR's tenure as president), and his lifetime affection for the comics surfaced in July 1945 when - to soften the blow of a newspaper deliverymen's strike - he bridged the gap by reading the Sunday comics of the New York Daily News over the radio to the delight of the city's younger set, which you can call up by Binging "Mayor La Guardia's radio readings" on the Internet. The focus is on Orphan Annie and Dick Tracy and, I think in a way, that hearing Fiorello's take in his staccato style might have even been an improvement over eyeballing the action in the Sunday funnies. In that way, you see, the kids could've visualized Annie with pupils in her eyes and straightened out Dick's Roman nose in their mind's eye. Just a thought.

Contact the columnist at editorial@prescottaz.com.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, February 05, 2013
Article comment by: Jerry Insley

As a Prescott native, when in the fourth grade we were marched from Lincoln School to the court house to hear Fiorello La Guardia speak. He kept the interest of the kids and made some men apprehensive by mentioning such places as the local "ladies of the evening." and location of their enterprizes. He really brought out some of the history we kids hadn't heard about. During World War I, LaGuardia was in the Air Corps and took charge of our interests in Italy. Truly a man to remember and a high spot for a little kid like me. Thanks to Jerry Jackson for the memories. Jerry insley - Ashland, Oregon

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