My dad always bragged about Newark’s Branch Brook Park and the great fun he had growing up in The First Ward after the war. There were many stories we tried to call him out on as kids but one he repeated involved a man who had mounted three metal drawers full of sweet potatoes on a cart and sold them for a penny, a nickel, and a dime each. The dime drawer had the biggest ones and was reserved for special occasions.
Thanks to Michael Immerso’s book, Newark’s Little Italy The Vanished First Ward, and The Old Newark Web Group (www.oldnewark.com), I have discovered that The Sweet Potato Man was named Francesco Galleto. According to Mr. Immerso’s book, Mr. Galleto was known as “U Fumo” because great clouds of smoke surrounded his pushcart.
People from the neighborhood would take a date by for a ten cent sweet potato even though they could normally only afford the penny or nickel ones. I like to picture the couples gathered around U Fumo’s cart, dressed to go see Sinatra or Jimmy Roselli, the smoke so thick it burned their eyes. The trick must have been seeing through the haze to pick out the right one.