When Uncle John was perfecting what could have been a tremendous breakthrough in antisubmarine warfare my father, Dan Chirillo, went to work for Brooklyn’s C. Kenyon Company after being on tour as a trumpet player in a vaudeville show. It was always referred to as just “Kenyon’s,” a masonry building adjourning the intersection of Vanderbilt Avenue and Pacific Street. Kenyon’s was an easy five-cent streetcar ride from his flat in Greenpoint, via the Graham Avenue Line and transfer to the Vanderbilt Avenue Line.
It was an easier commute from Crown Heights. Miss Kate Primavera had only to walk less than one block to board the St. Johns Place streetcar and get off one short block from the firm’s front door about twenty minutes later.
Kenyon’s had a special meaning to Dan and Kate. That’s were they met and where they worked during their engagement. That’s where they were in April 1917 when the United States entered World War I.
Dan was anxious to enlist in the Navy. Joe Russo, his former music teacher, had already done so and soon became the leader of a Navy band. President Thomas Jefferson established the precedent in 1805 when he recruited musicians from Italy in order to create the U.S. Marine Corps band. With that heritage, it was easy for Joe Russo to arrange for Brooklyn-born Dan to become a Navy bandsman. All Dan had to do was be examined by a Navy doctor and swear an oath to protect the Constitution.
Alas, Dan was disqualified because he was nearsighted. Dan continued cementing lenses in gas masks at Kenyon’s. Upstream in the same production line Kate was performing intricate stitching.
After a courtship of nearly a year, Kate and Dan set a wedding date. Joe Russo advised, “I will arrange for the music.”
And so it was that in 1918, with patriotic fervor blossoming everywhere, a U.S. Navy band played at Kate and Dan’s wedding reception in Swabin Hall, midway between Greenpoint and Crown Heights, on Broadway near Gates Avenue in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. The musicians wore their dress blue uniforms except for Joe Russo. As the leader he wore dress whites.
Considering Uncle John’s accomplishment, a second shot had been fired for the naval tradition that was to attract the two sons eventually born of the marriage.
Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo