by Steven Dugan
This month we’re featuring Tony Ciarriocco, a Homestead docent since 2009. Tony’s interests are wide and varied, ranging from history to baseball; from reading to traveling. Tony’s service to the museum has also been wide and varied. In addition to giving tours, he has participated in our festival events, special tour weekends, and being the chief “bookworm” for our Nonfiction Book Club. Tony and his wife, Delia, are often seen walking the museum grounds for exercise on a weekly basis. We asked Tony, who is well into his ninth year of volunteer service, to share with us his interests, his thoughts on giving tours, and his current role at the Homestead.
What is your most vivid memory of the museum?
On my first visit to the Homestead Museum I attended a Christmas tour. I remember walking through La Casa Nueva, absorbing both the story of the Temple family as well as the beauty of the Christmas decorations. I was impressed that the docent knew so much information and could figure out the route through the houses.
Some of your travels are due to your love of sports. Have you recently gone on any sports-related travels?
My son and I have made a few sports-related trips in the past and I try to incorporate history lessons while traveling. We had a great baseball trip to Baltimore, New York, and Boston, where we watched four baseball games and experienced both train and subway travel. In Baltimore we also visited Babe Ruth’s house where a calendar displayed the month of January 1913, the month President Nixon was born (Editor’s note: You’ll read about Tony’s Nixon connection later).
In New York, we visited the usual tourist sites; the Empire State Building, Wall Street, and the new World Trade Center. As a Ghostbusters fan, my son was eager to have his photo taken with one of the lions in front of the New York Public Library. I’m not sure if it was Patience or Fortitude. The Library has a sports connection, having been endowed in part by Samuel Tilden, who lost the 1876 Presidential election and was related to tennis great, Bill Tilden, who passed away in Los Angeles.
In Boston, we saw World War II hero, Louis Zamperini (a 1940 graduate of the University of Southern California) of Unbroken fame, throw out the first pitch before the game between Boston and the Chicago Cubs. To re-create the sense of their previous meeting in 1913 (long before inter-league play), the game announcer used a megaphone to introduce batters and pitching changes.
On a trip to South Bend, Indiana to see USC play Notre Dame in football, we visited the Main Building, which is topped by the Golden Dome. Inside were historical murals depicting the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the New World, as well as murals portraying the conversion of Native Americans to Catholicism. Of course, those murals have been caught up in today’s controversies.
When you are giving tours, what do you want your visitors to come away knowing?
I want visitors to come away from the tours with a sense that reminders of our historical past are all around us in the names of streets, mountains, cities, etc. If one has knowledge of history, it can explain how we live, how we think, how we are governed and how we behave the way we do.
You are also a docent for many of the Homestead’s special tours, such as Beyond the Grave and Behind-the-Scenes. What is the biggest difference between those tours and public tours?
The special tours are more demanding because they occur less frequently and the information differs from the regular tours. Special tours in the past have frequently involved living history characters. This demands that the docent pay close attention to the pace and timing of the tour. I always do a preliminary walk through the houses before special tours to focus on objects and artifacts that I speak to me and help me with the tour.
You have been the main moderator for the Nonfiction Book Club at the museum for a few years. How did you come to take on this responsibility?
Throughout my life, I have always loved to read books about history and biographies. When I started volunteering as a docent, I took advantage of the docent library and read many of those books and wrote book reviews; receiving volunteer hours for my efforts. The reading also provided additional information that I could use in my tours. Assuming the duties of moderator was a natural fit. I have worked closely with staff members Alex Rasic and Paul Spitzzeri, suggesting books to read and scheduling the meetings to accommodate the Museum’s schedule as well as my own.
When you’re not giving your time at the Homestead, what are some of your other hobbies?
I am also a docent with the Nixon Library, which is a different experience compared to the Homestead. There are more visitors from across the nation and the world. It helps that I was a young adult when President Nixon was in office; so I have a great deal of contemporary knowledge of his time in office. Of course, as a federal facility, there is much more formality. I have successfully recruited visitors at the Nixon Library to visit the Homestead Museum. On occasion, a visitor at the Nixon Library has recognized me from the Homestead.
After retiring in 2008, I had the hubris to believe I could play golf. My tip for new golfers is to buy cheap golf balls.