Thursday, July 31

PITTSFIELD We have all heard of and read from "Ripley's Believe It or Not." The book's title is a rhetorical question, in my opinion, that Ripley asks. He throws out a hard-to-believe fact and asks you simply to believe it. Or maybe not to believe it.

I think the Ripley's people do their best to scour the world and come up with interesting facts that are, for the most part, true. But you never know when Ripley is going to throw you a change-up. It makes the entire Ripley's experience fairly interesting.

Did you know — and you can believe — that the city I love has been mentioned in "Ripley's Believe It or Not" on at least three occasions of which I am aware? Nothing too dramatic, mind you, but mentions nonetheless.

The first reference to Pittsfield, and perhaps the most interesting, is Ripley's claim that St. Joseph's Church on North Street is apparently the only Catholic church in New England, and perhaps beyond the region, not to have steps leading into the church. Run the Catholic churches in the city through your mind and you'll see it's true — they all have steps. Is this mandated from the powers that be in Rome, or just a strange coincidence?

The second mention is a quick story about our Smith Street, which connects upper Tyler and Burbank streets. It is the shortest street in the United States, Ripley says. Do I believe it? Why not? It is, for sure, one short street.

The third and final mention is of Silver Lake, which Ripley at one time put out to readers as the lake that would never freeze despite the New England winter temperatures. I hear the laughing — yes, I know why Silver Lake never freezes. You wouldn't freeze either with that particular kind of antifreeze in your system.

I once saw a picture of Silver Lake, taken around the turn of the century, that pre-dated General Electric Co. The picture was taken in the summer and offered what I remember as a Sunday afternoon scene — complete with rowboats adrift, occupied by young folks still in their Sunday best.

An amazing scene that has stayed with me. The ultimate fate of Silver Lake remains one of the great tragedies in the city's history.

So, with all that for backdrop, here are a few of my own fantastic facts about our city. And it's up to you to decide if you ... Believe It or Not.

  • The city once tore down a magnificent train station.
  • Mayor James M. Ruberto is the only mayor in the history of the United States to be named Ruberto. And he is currently the shortest mayor in New England.
  • Mermaids were sighted in the Housatonic River beyond the center field fence at Wahconah Park in the early 1920s.
  • Longtime city political heavyweight Pete Arlos is a direct descendent of the Greek gods.
  • As the turbulent 1960s segued into the more tepid 1970s, the city boasted just one Chinese restaurant.
  • When legendary former St. Joe's basketball coach and current youth court Judge Paul Perachi was a young teen, he sold Italian sausage sandwiches out of a push cart on North Street — and once sold one to jazz and trumpet great Louis Armstrong, who was spending the summer in Lenox.
  • The Marinaro brothers — Fran and Vin — gave up a promising singing career in New York City lounges to pursue their current careers at the Registrar of Deeds and executive director of the Catholic Youth Center, respectively. They performed under the name, "The Fabulous Calimari Brothers."
  • Former Eagle columnist and Pittsfield Gazette contributor Dan Valenti once had a tryout with the San Francisco Giants.
  • Former Eagle editor Dave Scribner once pitched a shutout for the Amherst College baseball team.
  • The city was named for a gal named Patricia Field, whose nickname was Pitiful because she was so inept doing her household chores. It was later shortened to Pitt — hence the origin of the city's name. There are at least two truths listed above. But it remains up to you to ... Believe It or Not.

    Brian Sullivan is an Eagle editor and longtime Pittsfield resident.