[Adam Kuhlmann, Clam Staff]
GLOUCESTER—In a stunning reversal of centuries of tradition, the City of Gloucester has granted the official designation of “local” to someone born off-Island. That lucky someone is 92-year-old Vincent Cappelli, a retired businessman and transplant from Cleveland.
Anthony Donati, a spokesman from the office of Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken, confirmed the announcement. According to Donati, the City Council approved the measure by a vote of 5-4 following a contentious debate on Tuesday evening.
“Notwithstanding Mr. Cappelli’s birth in Ohio, a full 675 miles from the Man at the Wheel, the council decided he has earned the right to be called a local Gloucesterman,” said Donati on Wednesday.
Lacing his fingers behind his head, Donati added, “I myself was whelped while Mother sat splay-legged in a seine boat, rowing ‘The Santa Maria’ to victory on Sunday afternoon of St. Peter’s. But not everyone can have those credentials.”
City Councilor Melissa Cox, who endorsed Cappelli’s new designation, cited his 91 years of residence in Gloucester, the last 67 in the same tidy three-bedroom home in the Fort Square neighborhood. Cox explained, “It’s not Vincent’s fault that, during her eighth month of pregnancy, his mom left town to visit her dying uncle in Cleveland.”
Cox called it “plain bad luck” that Cappelli’s mother, Teresa, went into premature labor. According to documents submitted during the public discussion phase of Tuesday’s meeting, Teresa Cappelli underwent emergency Cesarian section on August 21, 1922, at Lutheran Hospital in Cleveland.
Records also indicate that Mrs. Cappelli, herself a fifth-generation local, resisted the procedure. As labor pains took hold, she demanded to be booked on the next flight to Boston, so her boy could be born “a real Gloucesterman.” Her request was denied, apparently because commercial aviation had yet to be established in the United States.
Reached for comment from a high top at St. Peter’s Club, City Councilor Joe Motta explained his position. “Look, I’m sympathetic to Vincent’s perspective,” he said. “It’s admirable that for fifty-odd years he operated a small fish canning business, creating jobs for real locals. And I respect that, when the wrecking ball moved in on the Birds Eye plant last August, Vincent wheeled his chair into its path and, in a gesture of defiance and solidarity, spilled his wizened body onto the ground.”
But Motta couldn’t bring himself to vote yes on Tuesday. “It would have cheapened the meaning of the word ‘local,’” he said. Motta, himself a father of two sons, elaborated: “I might as well have insisted my wife endure a lavender-scented water birth in the tub of some New-Agey doula in Rockport.”
According to Motta, the proper place to deliver a Gloucesterman is the State Fish Pier. “No need for an epidural,” he said. “Jam a slab of salt cod between the lady’s teeth, have her hold onto a cleat or two for leverage, and just squeeze that bambino out like a watermelon seed.”
Sal Giordano, another Gloucester native enjoying the afternoon at St. Peter’s Club, agreed with Motta’s assessment. “My wife wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said, adding, “The gulls love it too.”
Still, Giordano was ambivalent about sharing “local” status with Cappelli. “Over the years, Vincent has been good to me. My daughter Nicole got her nursing degree from Salem State on his dime,” he said, referring to the scholarship fund Cappelli set up for Gloucester High School seniors, using 97% of the profits from his canning business.
Tears sprang to Giordano’s eyes as he continued: “Then there was the kidney he donated to my son Frank. Always generous with his organs, that Vinny. Who knew you could make it to 92 without a spleen?”
Banging his fist on the table, Motta declared Cappelli’s charity “a smokescreen.” “You can take the man out of Ohio,” he said, “but you can’t take Ohio out of the man.”
So what does Vincent Cappelli think of his new designation—“local Gloucesterman”—after all these years?
“I’m over the moon,” Cappelli said from his home on Wednesday, a smile breaking across his deeply creased face. “I know Mamma is looking down, breathing a sigh of relief,” he said. “There was a lot of shame.”
Cappelli said there’s just one problem. “I’ll have to buy a new burial plot,” he explained, laughing. Local status entitles him to be interred at one of the City’s four cemeteries, rather than the tract set aside for outsiders, a vast shallow pit at the high tide line on the west bank of the Annisquam.
Anthony Donati, the mayor’s spokesman, hastened to note an important clause in the council’s decision. “Mind you, Mr. Cappelli has earned only probationary standing as a local,” he said. “Full standing doesn’t begin until March 2016. Were he to leave the Island at any point in the next twelve months—say, to receive cardiac care at a reputable hospital—Cappelli would forfeit his designation and be marched over the Cut Bridge on the end of a tuna harpoon.”