Final Resting Place: Murdered Activist’s Grave Gets Headstone

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Faith, Family, Graves, Inspiration, Italian American, Italian-Americans, Media, Queens, NY

by Katie Vasquez

One by one, people left red carnations at the new headstone of Pietro “Pete” Panto at St. Charles-Resurrection Cemeteries on Long Island.

The grave, now piled high with carnations, was once unmarked until Joseph Sciorra of the Calandra Institute at Queens College stepped in.

“There was no tombstone and I was just sort of shocked,” Sciorra said.

Panto worked as a longshoreman in the late 1930’s, loading and unloading ships on the docks stretching from the Brooklyn Navy Yard to Red Hook.

At the time, their labor union, the International Longshoremen’s Association, was controlled by organized crime. Panto denounced their corruption, rallying thousands of workers, but his activism came at a price.

“Here was a man who was murdered by the mob, here was a man who fought against a corrupt union that was not looking out for the workers,” Sciorra said.

The Italian American went missing in 1939. When his body was found two years later, Panto’s family couldn’t afford a funeral, so Scotto Funeral Home stepped in to cover those expenses.

Deacon John Heyer who runs the funeral home, now says he learned about that day that Panto’s body was found through family members.

“You would see the words “Dov’e Panto” or “Where is Panto,” and eventually when he was found, which was about two or three years after he initially went missing, it was kind of a sigh of relief,” said Deacon Heyer.

After discovering his grave almost eight decades later, Sciorra set out to honor the activist by raising money for a headstone through GoFundMe. Donations poured in from as far as Tacoma, Washington.

“People were saying, ‘You know, my grandfather, he was a Swedish immigrant but he worked on the docks, so this is for all the working people,’ ” Sciorra said.

Now with the new grave marker, his legacy can continue with the hope that future generations will remember him.

“Unfortunately, he paid with his life, for that truth just as we relate to Christ, you know, dying for the truth, and so Pete did that for that community. and these are the stories that I think as Italian Americans we need to continue to tell,” Deacon Heyer said.