Pueblo County, Colorado
Tony Bacino

Contributed by JKaren Mitchell

Pueblo Chieftain 2-17-2002 'Extra! Extra!' An Old Newsboy Remembers a Special Friend Shorty remembers.

He remembers the camping excursions, the fancy holiday banquets, the Easter egg hunts, the trips to the movie theater, all the good times made possible by one man's generosity.

But, mostly, Shorty remembers George McCarthy Sr.'s kindness.

"He was more than a friend - much more," says Tony "Shorty" Bacino.

"He treated us all like human beings - even though most of us were Italians."

Bacino and his buddies were newsboys in the 1920s and '30s - a bunch of rough-and-tumble kids who staked out their street corners in Pueblo's bustling Downtown and hawked copies of The Pueblo Chieftain, the Star-Journal and The Denver Post.

It was an era in which the newspaper was still undisputed media champ, despite the emergence of radio as a burgeoning news source, and a time when ethnic tolerance was far from universal. Some of the city's dance clubs still pointedly advertised that their events were for "Americans only" - that meant "No Italians," Bacino says.

And the local roller-skating rink was a popular spot for youngsters, unless they happened to be of Italian heritage - "If we wanted to skate, we had to go to Canon (City) or (Colorado) Springs," he says.

But the newsboys were befriended by McCarthy, a funeral director with a soft spot for the hard-working kids, most of whom lived in the old Goat Hill neighborhood.

"He felt everyone was equal," says Bacino, who started selling papers as a pint-sized 8-year-old. "He didn't care if you were black, white, green or yellow."

And McCarthy was a man of action. He didn't just lend verbal support to the newsboys, who sold papers before and after school and worked seven days a week to help their families get by; he went out of his way to organize special outings for the boys, ages 8 to teens.

He made memories for dozens of youngsters - for Chuckles, Specks, Freckles, Gump, Inky, Speed, Buckshot and all the other newsboys who were members of McCarthy's unofficial newsies' club.

In the summer, he took them to Beulah for overnight camping trips. To celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, he held banquets for the kids in the city's fanciest hotels, the Vail and the Congress. He organized a massive Easter egg hunt for the town's orphans (including African-American kids from the Lincoln Home) on the Monday after the holiday, and enlisted the newsboys to help hide the eggs in City Park; after the search, everyone slurped ice cream cones.

"You know the movie, 'The Jazz Singer,' with Al Jolson - the first talkie? Bacino says. "Mr. McCarthy got us into that movie. He was very, very nice to us. It was like he adopted all of us newsboys."

It was a friendship that lasted a lifetime, too. McCarthy went on to help start the sport of greyhound racing in Colorado, and Bacino remembers dropping by the track in Denver one day in the late 1940s, in hopes of saying hello to the man he still reverently refers to as "Mr. McCarthy." Bacino asked the track usher if Mr. McCarthy was around. Yeah, but he's busy, the usher said. Oh, too bad, said Bacino, mentioning that he'd been a newsboy in Pueblo. "The guy grabs my shirt and yanks me in," says Bacino, "and said, 'If he finds out one of his newsboys was here and I didn't let him in, I'd be fired.' He took me upstairs to the Sky Room, and Mr. McCarthy saw me and said, 'Shorty!' He was always happy to see us."

McCarthy also had photographs of the newsboys taken in the late '20s and early '30s - classic black-and-white photos that today grace the wall in the George F. McCarthy Funeral Home, a business founded by McCarthy and now run by Kevin McCarthy, his grandson.

The images perfectly capture the newsboys' spirit, in all its floppy-capped, overalled, grinning glory.

"Grandpa was an activist," says Kevin McCarthy. "He was involved with the orphanage and dog racing and all sorts of things - he had a lot of interests. He loved the Italians and the Slovenians, and he was revered by them. In some ways, he liked those folks better than he did his own family."

Bacino, 83, visits the funeral home every once in awhile, to look at the faces and reminisce.

Most of his peers are gone now, and only a handful remain from Mr. McCarthy's group: Phil "Slicker" Cabibi, Juventino "Hoovay" Flores, Henry "Gook" Bradish and Frank "Squinty" Paval, all well into their 80s. Each time Bacino looks at the old photos, he thinks about George McCarthy, the man who helped make Shorty's childhood the best of times.

But these days, for Bacino, the memories are not enough. "After all he did for us, I think it's time to do something for him, even if it's this late," says Bacino. His plan: to have a plaque made in honor of McCarthy, who died in 1968. It'll be something simple, from the heart, and paid for out of Bacino's pocket. Something to hang beside the photos so beloved by Mr. McCarthy.

Kevin McCarthy says he'd love to have a commemorative plaque in honor of his grandfather, but added that he'd been thinking about trying to find a new home for the photos, since "they don't get much visibility at the funeral home." "Maybe we could do a whole wall of photos somewhere and a plaque could be part of that," Kevin McCarthy says.

"That would be great - because Grandpa loved those kids."

to the Pueblo County Index Page.

Please e-mail comments and suggestions toKaren Mitchell.
© Karen Mitchell