What John Basilone did while growing up in Raritan
by Bruce Doorly
|The battle heroics of Raritan’s hometown hero John Basilone are well known, but what he did right here
in his hometown is not well known.
So, in this article we take a look at John Basilone when he was growing up in Raritan in the 1920s and early 1930s.
|John’s father Salvatore Basilone came to this country from Italy in 1903 when he was just 19.
He would settle in Raritan and meet Dora Bengivenga at a church dance. They later married.
After having 5 children Sal and Dora temporarily moved away from Raritan to Buffalo. While living in Buffalo, on November 4th 1916, John was born. He would be their only child (of ten) not born in Raritan. The family soon came back to Raritan and in a few years moved in at 113 First Avenue. That home was at the North-West corner of what is now Route 202 (and First Ave.) – where the Shell Station is today.
|John is the baby on the chair|
|It was a two-family home that was owned by Dora’s family.
The Basilones lived on one side of the house while a Bengivenga family lived on the other side.
Each half of the home had just three bedrooms and one bathroom. But no one complained, as that is how things were back then.
|The Basilone home stood at 113 First Avenue|
where the Shell station is today
|In John’s day kids played outside unsupervised.
John’s brother Carlo explained in a 2003 interview that across from the Basilone home was an open field that served as their playground.
(Today an office building and a “dreaded” jug handle are there.) In this field they played a variety of sports including baseball and football.
But it was the hitting of golf balls that was their favorite pastime.
|In the 1920s there was a field here|
that the Basilone kids played sports on
|In the 1920s there were no local public pools and air conditioning was decades away. So, on a hot summer day
John and dozens of other boys would swim in the Raritan River. That was at times dangerous. Their favorite spot in the river was
two blocks west of where the Basilone Statue is today. Since most boys did not have a bathing suit they swam naked. This led to the swimming
location being labeled the “bare ass beach”. Girls did not swim in the river for obvious reasons.
|John Basilone was referred to as “the town’s biggest soda drinker”.
Back then most soda consumption was not in the house, but at shops. The popular place that kids could order a soda and drink it was Raritan’s Candy Kitchen which was located at the North-East corner of Somerset and Wall Street. (Today the Raritan Music Store has that building.) This store was beloved by Raritan kids. It was open for decades around 1918-1968.
|When it snowed, John and his friends sometimes went sledding down First Avenue as the hill begins in the north and goes downward across Route 202. John’s cousin Carl Bengivenga recalled that once Carl, John, and another kid were speeding down the hill when they realized that they were on a collision course with a car. Carl said that he and the other kids froze in fear, but John Basilone - displaying coolness in this potentially deadly situation - managed to dig his heels into the ground flipping the sled over so they avoided being hit by the car.|
|The hill coming down First Ave.|
made for some fun and dangerous sledding
|The movie theatre was another popular place for kids to go to in Basilone’s youth.
The local kids were fortunate as there were three local theatres. In Raritan was the Empire Theatre (later called The Playhouse) on Anderson Street. In Somerville there were two more theatres – The Regent Theatre and The Cort Theatre.
It was no big deal and very common for young kids to walk to Somerville alone.
|The Raritan movie theatre was here|
|To compound the danger of kids playing outside without adult supervision back then was the fact
that Raritan kids in the 1920s had access to transportation. There was a trolley line that ran down Somerset Street.
Raritan’s Augie Sena said in a 2004 interview that all a kid needed was a nickel and they could get on the trolley. The trolley could take you to Somerville, Bound Brook or even further.
When kids wanted to head in a direction that the trolley did not go, hitch hiking was a popular option. Many adults fortunate enough to own a car back then would think nothing of helping a few kids from town venture out somewhere.
|For school John Basilone initially went to the Raritan Primary School which was located where the municipal building is today.
But he was a rowdy kid, so his parents decided to send him to Catholic school where the nuns “might” be able to provide him the discipline needed. This school was St. Bernard’s Parochial School which was on Somerset Street. It was open 1888-1938. John went to that school until 8th grade when he graduated. That building was later used as the VFW hall. It burnt down around 1980. The Italian Bakery is there today.
|St. Bernard's School was open 1888-1938|
|As for local employment John Basilone had a couple of jobs. In the summer months he was a caddy at the Raritan Valley Country Club.
(That had opened in 1911 and is still open today.)
He also worked at Gaburo’s Laundry which was located in Raritan on Farrand Street. The building still stands, but today appears to have no tenants. This laundry pickup and delivery service served the surrounding towns.
|Gaburo's Laundry was on Farrard Street|
|For church, the Basilone Family attended the original St. Ann’s church which was a small wooden church where the rectory is located today.|
|St. Ann's original church|
|Whatever happened to house that the Basilone family lived in ?
The two-family house, once occupied on one side by the Basilones and the other side by the Bengivengas, was inherited by the Bengivenga family.
Over time the road that the house was on became a main road. So, to take advantage of this in 1950 Carl Bengivenga built a gas / repair station on the property next to the house. Then in 1961 the house was knocked down to make more room for the gas station. A Shell Station remains there today.
Currently no marker or plaque exists on the location to commemorate that John Basilone lived there. Perhaps there should be something there. (Yes – those things do cost money – easy to write about – yet hard to find a donor.)
|In the 1950s the Basilone home and |
the gas station were both on the property