Berkshire Eagle, The (Pittsfield, MA) – May 20, 2013


It was Tuesday night and I got out of ” The Great Gatsby” at the Beacon Theater and received a return phone call from Patty Passetto, an old friend. The symbolism of the story that was about to unfurl equaled that of Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, yet surpassed it in its tragedy.

Earlier that day, I had read the headline about her son’s death in The Eagle and called Patty immediately; she had just gotten back to me and had been on the phone all day with veterans groups and the like. She was remarkably composed and coherent.

Patty’s son, Edward, had leapt from the top of Monument Mountain. The consciousness of the choice, as Patty told the story to me, could not be any clearer. But to understand it, you need to know a little about the lore of the mountain and its summit, Squaw Peak, which no doubt her son knew.

It is said the story is of Mohican legend, which was set forth in a poem in 1815 entitled “Monument Mountain” by William Cullen Bryant. According to Bryant’s poem, “there is a tale in these old gray rocks” of an Indian squaw. “She loved her cousin; such a love was deemed, by the morality of those stern tribes, incestuous.” One thinks of Edward with the line, “She went to weep where no eye saw, and was not found.” Like the Indian squaw, Edward said, ” I am sick of life.” Like the Indian squaw, Edward looked upon himself as “a thing accursed, that has no business on the earth.”

You see, despite the Italian last name from his father who passed from cancer in 2005, Edward is half Native American. Patty is full-blooded Native American, coming from both the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes in Maine. She has a cabin on reservation land, where she goes to escape this life’s noise. Unlike the vast majority of these souls that roam this orb, Edward carefully picked the place and manner of his meeting with eternity. He was a Native American, and he was going to jump off Squaw Peak like the squaw of the legend.

Bryant’s poem paints the mountain. ” But to the east, sheer to the vale go down the bare old cliffs.” He writes, “It is a fearful thing to stand upon the beeting verge.” But Patty tells me it was not a fearful leap, but a quiet step. Patty insists, “He did not leap. He just stepped into the darkness. He did not see where he was landing.” She feels it and just knows as a mother would.

You can read Edward’s open letter to President Obama on Patty Passetto’s Facebook page. It is the story of a war hero who was getting the runaround from the VA for more than two years with no end in sight. He was told he could not have his claim expedited because he was not homeless.

Patty was quite upset about the handling of her son’s death. The Great Barrington police did not let her see the body. She told me on the phone, and wrote on her Facebook page, “As his mother, I watched as he came into the world and as his mother I should have seen him after his exit.”

She had been listening to the police radios and heard the police at the top tell the police at the bottom that they did not want her to see him. She probably could have taken it. She comes from rough stock – Patty is a Navy veteran herself. Her husband served both the U.S. Army and the Mass Army National Guard. Her daughter is currently serving the Maine Army National Guard and is training for deployment. Patty’s Facebook picture is of a baseball hat honoring Native American veterans.

“Monument Mountain” was named after the monument left for the squaw, “a simple monument, a cone of small loose stones. Thenceforward, all who passed, hunter and dame, and virgin, laid a stone in silence on the pile.” Perhaps we should have another monument for our other Berkshire Native that jumped from Squaw’s Peek.

“But when the sun grew low and the hill shadows long, she threw herself from the steep rock and perished.” Let the new legend begin of a Native American warrior who leapt to his death when forgotten by his country.

Rinaldo Del Gallo III is a frequent Eagle contributor.