Revere’s pre-eminent historian, Peter McCauley, dies at 86

By Seth Daniel

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The city’s most prolific and knowledgeable historian, Peter McCauley, passed away last Friday, Aug. 28.

He was 86 years old and had suffered from a long illness.

McCauley was born and raised in Beachmont and graduated from Revere High School in 1941 – furthering his education at Wentworth Institute and graduating there in 1943.

McCauley – like many young men from his era – entered the Navy after college and served in World War II.

Professionally, he was the long-time Sealer of Weights and Measures for the City of Revere, and he also served as a judge at Wonderland Dog Track for the State Racing Commission.

He was devoted member of the Immaculate Conception Parish for 60 years.

Additionally, living on Butler Street, McCauley was the unofficial guardian and curator of the Old Rumney Marsh Burial Ground for 50 years or more.

However, it was history that was McCauley’s passion – especially the history of Revere Beach. He even published seven books on the history of Revere and Revere Beach – books that serve as the authoritative source for any information on old Revere Beach. He was also a founding member of the Revere Society for Cultural and Historic Preservation (RSCHP).

By all accounts, his friends said he “got bit by the bug,” as he often said about the study of history, when he began collecting postcards.

“He started collecting old postcards,” said his close friend, Bob Furlong, of the Point of Pines. “That was his hobby. Then he started finding all of these old postcards of Revere Beach and became interested in the history behind those cards. He went as far back as Eliot – the architect who designed the Beach…He also had a lot of information on Wonderland Amusement Park and did a lot of research on that and the bicycle race track that was there for a short time. He was interested in that because he knew some of the people who raced the bicycles.”

Said another friend of his, Bob Upton, who runs a Revere Beach website, “It was the number of post cards that he had. He told us he had about 3,000 of them.”

Most of the postcards were purchased by the City of Revere several years ago, and are currently in the custodial hands of the RSCHP.

Upton worked on many Revere Beach projects over the last 20 years with McCauley, and said he was a dear friend and a great historian.

“We talked about anything on Revere Beach; it was our shared passion,” said Upton. “Just the other day I asked him who owned the old Ocean Pier Bath House and he knew it. He was a wealth of historical information and he was willing to share it. I can’t tell you how many college kids knocked on his door when they were doing a thesis on Revere Beach. He was always more than happy to help them…The pride he had in Revere and Revere Beach was amazing.”

Interim City Clerk John Henry – also a noted Revere historian – said McCauley really re-focused the city on the glorious past of it Beach.

“He probably, more than any other person, was responsible for rekindling peoples’ interests in the history of Revere and Revere Beach,” he said. “His collection was a beautiful collection and his publications were very good. It gave people a sense of pride in the Beach and its role in the city’s history.”

Mayor Tom Ambrosino said that McCauley gave him some of the best history lessons he had even been given on Revere.

“He was a very nice man and a great advocate for Revere and Revere Beach,” he said. “He was a great historian of this city and over the last 10 years we would chit chat in this office about the city’s history. We will miss him in this office.”

The high point for McCauley was organizing the Revere Beach Centennial in the 1990s, Upton said.

“There were 250,000 people who came to that event,” said Upton.

Additionally, McCauley – who moved to Reading a few years back for health reasons – was very excited about the resurgence of Revere Beach in the last few years, and especially the annual Sandcastle Festival.

He attended several of those festivals, and even made an appearance at this year’s festival.

Beyond the history, McCauley’s friends said he was a genuinely nice guy – a gentleman.

“I’ve known him since he was in Beachmont; we grew up down there,” said Furlong. “I think they should name something down at the Beach after Peter. If you never knew him, you missed something in this life because he was a solid individual. It was his pleasure being his friend.”

3 comments for “Revere’s pre-eminent historian, Peter McCauley, dies at 86

  1. George Coade
    September 16, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    Dear Sirs:

    I am interested in pictures of the Gavioli Organs used on the Hippodrome Merry Go Round. Does anyone have pictures of the organs at the park?

    Please let me know if there is anyone who is a historian of the rides and organs.
    I love the old sounds of a fairground.

    Sincerely, George Coade

  2. George Coade
    September 16, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    Dear Sirs:

    I am interested in pictures of the Gavioli Organs used on the Hippodrome Merry Go Round. Does anyone have pictures of the organs at the park?

    Please let me know if there is anyone who is a historian of the rides and organs.
    I love the old sounds of a fairground.

    Sincerely, George Coade

  3. Andrew E Barrett
    November 20, 2013 at 12:28 am

    Dear Mr. Coade,

    I too am interested in the Revere Beach Gavioli organs, particularly because one of them was rumored to be very large.

    According to a friend on Facebook who is a well-known organ aficionado, the two Revere Beach organs were originally 84-key and 94-key, respectively.

    These are lesser-known Gavioli scales, were almost completely chromatic, and, (I believe) were mainly for indoor dance-type of organs.

    (I think the 94-key Gavioli scale IS completely chromatic, but I’ll have to pull out “Treasures of Mechanical Music” again and check).

    I have also heard that one or both of these Gavioli scales could be the basis for one of the early Mortier dance organ scales, but I’m not positive so please don’t quote me on this.

    Both the Revere Beach organs are supposed to survive today, and one of them was in a well-known U.S. collection. Those folks have moved to another state, and I’m not sure whether they still have this organ.

    I do not know the identity of the current owner of the other organ, either, although I would love to be able to eventually see and hear one or both organs in person (if possible).

    What may be the most complete study of the Revere Beach organs currently available anywhere (in this case, in print),

    is Mr. Fred Dahlinger’s article

    “Bernie’s Berni—The Revere Beach Whip Gavioli”,

    available in issue #33

    of the Carousel Organ Association of America’s

    journal, “Carousel Organ”, which can be purchased via becoming a member of this group. (They *might* sell the CD-ROMs of COAA Journal back-issues to non-members, but I really am not sure).

    I have not yet read this article, and (although possessing a few COAA Journal back-issues sold to me by a friend) I am not yet a member of this fine group but will probably join very soon so I too can read this and other fine articles in the Journal and finally see photos of this and other legendary band and fairground organs, not available anywhere else online.

    Best regards,

    Andrew Barrett

    P. S. the current organ owner (s) should be informed that at least one of the original Gavioli statues for at least one of the original Revere Beach organs has survived and is currently for sale. I have no connection whatsoever with the seller, but this figure should really be reunited with the proper instrument:

    P. P. S. an old (turn-of-the-century) postcard photo of the skating rink (I think) at Revere Beach, showing at least one Gavioli organ, was reproduced in an old (1970s? 1980s?) Musical Box Society International Journal back-issue, so if you look in the archives, you should be able to turn it up and at least get an idea of how one or both of the organs looked.

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