Boston Bathhouses

By R.D. ROSEN  |  July 20, 2009

Masucci is called the Harmonica Man because he is in fact an accomplished harmonica player who on occasion still entertains Bath House clients; and no one is prepared to contest as apocryphal his many stories of former glory. Sixty years old, he talks of his exploits without modesty. Johnny Puleo of the old Harmonicats is an old friend of his: "I've known him for forty years, got a heart condition, poor man, excellent harmonica player, I don't make comparisons but I can play everything – opera, classical, anything. I grew up right here in the North End – I stole a ten-cent harmonica in Scollay Square – you know where that was, don't you – and the first song that come out was "East Side, West Side" – you know, East Side, West Side all around – I've been playing ever since, they call me 'the master of the harmonica,' I played with Satchmo for nine years, was down in New Orleans, a very good entertainer, very nice man, in 1944 I played harmonica in the Los Angeles Coliseum in front of 76, 000 while Kate Smith sang 'God Bless America.' That was in '44 when I was in the Coast Guard; I've played in hospitals for retarded children. I'll play for any charity, because I love children and I love music; specialists, doctors have come up to me and said, 'You're right, Frankie, music is therapy.' I played for muscular dystrophy and cancer research. During the war I played in France; when I say Johnny Puleo and I are friends forty years, he's a beautiful player, I'm a comedian too, we're going to do a Godfather skit down at Southbury Beach, Jack Ellis, Gig, and Me, Jack directed it, I'm good, I don't get stage fright, Jack, Gig, and I are partners twenty years; I know Welk real well. Hey put something in about Jack, Gig and Me – we're called the Passport Three &ldots; ."

In time, Frank and I even got around to talking about death. After reciting a litany of lost ones, he looked up: "What can you say, the Lord'll come to me and say, 'Frankie, we need another Harmonica Man upstairs.' " Just then, Robert LaRocco, a muscular physical instructor in the gym above the baths came in. As Robert jogged up the stairs, Frank didn't break stride: "Wonderful body, good body, physical instructor, good boy, a credit—"

A Close Call For Cleanliness

It came as no little surprise to The Harmonica Man when, on Thursday June 20, he received word that Parks and Recreation Commissioner Anthony Forgione had decided to close for renovations the public baths and its athletic facilities for the summer. The next day, on Friday, The Harmonica Man put on a "Closed" sign at the entrance to the baths and reported to the waterfront swimming pool and bathhouse on Commercial Avenue.

Although in the past the city had closed the indoor gymnasium at the public baths for the summer, never had the showers themselves been closed to the public. Most agree that renovation of the showers is needed, but most people also know that closing them would deprive many residents of their bathing facility, forcing the elderly who use it to walk a longer distance to the waterfront pool showers. Not only did many of the older people object to having to bathe in open showers with the kids (the North Bennett St. public baths have individual showers), but it was thought dangerous to have the elderly crossing busy Commercial Ave.

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  Topics: Flashbacks , U.S. Coast Guard, Kate Smith, North End
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