Vito and Miriam Marcantonio
Vito and Miriam Marcantonio became two of the Durr's closest friends in Washington. Durr tells an anecdote from their time together and then describes what happens to Miriam after Vito's death.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, October 16, 1975. Interview G-0023-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
I used to enjoy Marcantonio because he had the same feeling, that they all were so funny and a bunch of-well I won't repeat all his words. But Marc used to think it was awful funny if somebody on the floor of the House of Congress would make a violent anti-Communist speech like Martin Dies or something of that kind, he would arrange to have Martin Dies called to a telephone, and some voice would say, this is , or this is ,or whatever, is Vito there. He would play jokes on him; he'd think this thing was so funny you know. You see Marcantonio came from the upper East Side of New York and had lived on 116th Street all his life in an Italian community. But if he was ever scared of anything I never saw it. You know he felt perfectly safe too. Of course in the end the Catholic Church wouldn't bury him in consecrated ground, or at least they wouldn't give him the last rites, but I don't think that bothered him very much. He was one of the funniest people you've ever known in your life. He had a marvelous sense of humor. All of this to him was extremely funny. [Do you remember any more stories about him?] Oh heavens yes, I can remember thousands, but that would take a book in itself. You see I met him when he was first so rude to me and flew up and said, I was going to get that fancy-pants Baldwin or we were. And what the hell did he care about a little committee called the National Committee to Abolish the Poll Tax, that it was going to be his bill and he was going to get it through and so on and so forth. And he did you see. He made everybody else withdraw, because you see he was elected on the Democratic, Republican, and American Labor Party ticket. He was elected on three tickets. So he got everybody else to withdraw. He was a super politician. The people in the House liked Marcantonio. They may have called him a Red, you know, and a Wop and all like that, but they liked him. He'd take us to lunch at the cafe-the poll tax girls you know, all these volunteers-and he'd introduce us to everybody and there would be a lot of joking. And you'd have him out to dinner. I remember I had spaghetti. I thought since I was having Vito Marcantonio and his wife, who was this tall New England girl, that I would have spaghetti, you know, like somebody having me and having fried chicken. Well he was so funny because-I thought it was pretty good spaghetti-he ate it and he said, now Virginia, that
was fairly good spaghetti-well I had a lot of other things too; it was a real good dinner on the whole-he said, but that spaghetti was not as good as it should be. He said now come out here and I will tell you how to cook spaghetti. And you know he took an hour to tell me how to cook spaghetti-you boil a huge pot of water, if would have to be like a washtub practically, and you don't put a whole lot of spaghetti in it because it can't stick; it has to be all separate, and then you dip it out and then you immediately put butter on it or something to keep it from sticking. And then the sauce, instead of being cooked as I had from four oclock to six oclock, has to be cooked two days to be real good Italian sauce. And he explained to me in detail you know exactly-putting the little bit of sugar with . . .But he was such a human man, you know, and he really wanted me to learn how to make spaghetti since I was going to have spaghetti and he thought it was so lousy. He was a very straight-laced person in many ways. If he ever caught anybody in a lie, that was the end of them. He had a very, very straight sense of honor. And everybody knew you could depend on Marc's word. He might yell at you and blow you up, but he had a very strict sense of honor. You knew you could depend on his word. His wife was a perfectly lovely woman. He had met her-you know she had worked in a settlement house up there in New York, and she had met him up there on the upper east side. And it was the strangest combination because here she was this tall, slender, very handsome New England aristocrat who came from one of the bluest blooded of the bluest blooded of the New Englandfamilies, and here was this little short fiery Italian. They were aboslutely devoted to each other. And she and I got to be great friends and I used to stay with them up in New York. We'd have such a good time because I'd go up to beg money you know for the poll tax or something. We would go out for dinner and everybody knew Marc you know and would come up to him and we would eat in these little Italian restaurants where the clothes were hanging overhead you know-the laundry was out-marvelous food, really delicious Italian food. But everybody knew him and he was very popular and everybody would come and speak to him. And they liked her very much. And then they
would have the most marvelous breakfasts in the mornings- of Italian sausage-and they were a very happy couple, you know, it was-they loved each other and seemed to have a great respect for each other. I became extremely fond of her. After he died, we had been back in Alabama then and I went up and went to see her. Oh and what a hell of a time did she have after he died because she couldn't get a job, you see, that was when McCarthyism was in full flight. She had to get a job in the Belleview Hospital under another name, as I remember. By that time she was terribly thin. And she had his mother with her. You see he had a brother who was retarded or had some mental trouble, he was retarded. His mother had never let the brother go to an institution. But finally they had to put him in an institution after Marc died, you see, and the money was cut off, in a sense. But the Catholic Church hadn't buried him in consecrated ground, or something, or given him the last rites. But Miriam, you see, she had this old lady who was his mother, who never learned to speak English-just a few words. And Miriam kept her. Finally she had to send her to a Catholic Home because she cried all the time, just wept, wept, wept, and wailed and when she wasn't crying she was praying-both for the son that had been sent to the Retarded institution and the son that had died and not been buried in consecrated ground or hadn't been given the last rites. So she was either crying all the time or praying all the time. And poor Miriam was trying to make a living in Belleview Hospital and keep them going, because Marc never had any money. Oh, no, he just gave it away. Well you see they didn't make but about $10,000. And he was very generous; he gave money away and helped people out. She took me out to the burial ground where he was buried. And he was buried near Fiorello LaGuardia, you see, he and LaGuardia had been great friends and they'd started out together in a way. And so he was buried near LaGuardia. Well that was the most painful morning I ever spent, because his old mother went with us you see-the old mother was living with Miriam-and oh my Lord, she just went into hysterics and tore her hair and screamed and cried and threw herself on the grave. It was awful. It was one of the most painful mornings I have ever spent in my life. And it was right shortly thereafter that
Miriam had her put in a Catholic Home where they spoke Italian because it was terribly difficult to keep her. [Is she still alive?] Oh, no, Miriam didn't live very long after that. She had an awful rough time. She worked in the Belleview Hospital, some job under a false name. [They didn't have any children?] No, they never had any children. But she was 100% loyal to Marcantonio. It was such a curious marriage, you know, but it was one that seemed to work very well.