A "Gathering" to mark the 25th anniversary of the plane crash that took the lives of Jim Croce and Maury Muehleisen took place in Philadelphia, Jim's home town, on the weekend of September 19-20th, 1998. Fans from all over the USA, plus Canada and England gathered to pay tribute to their idol, Jim Croce. The following is a condensed version of events that took place that weekend.
As people started checking in at the Comfort Inn, we started to "Gather" in Tom & Christine Orecchio's room, # 202. There was "Gathering" organizer, Tom Orecchio and his wife Christine, Scott Lamaestra and his girlfriend Rose, Don Parsons and his mom Sylvia from Alabama, Margaret Cafarelli from Connecticut, Ron Gletherow from London England, Tom and Debbie Brun from Rhode Island and Steve Schueler from Philadelphia. We were all anxiously awaiting the arrival of one of Jim's closest friends from college, Mike DiBenedetto, for a first night, get acquainted, full blown Croce Jam.
Mike showed up around 7:00pm and the party began. Mike sat on a stool in the room and started to play some of Jim's songs and telling old stories about him and Jimmy. Pretty soon Mike invited us all to join him and the jam began. It was great to play with everyone for the first time.
As the party continued, Jim & Maury's Canadian Connection arrived. Lynn Armstrong and her friend Sue. Lynn met Jim & Maury while they were touring in Canada, and she had some great stories to tell.
The next knock on the door came from Jim's cousins, Steve Angelucci and his sister Helena, John Croce and his girlfriend Marie. I can still hear the Croce songs playing and everybody telling their Jim and Maury stories coming from every part of the room. Even though we had to get up early for our big tour the next day, the party went on pretty late. Steve had many stories of the early days, growing up with Jim - up to the times Jim was just starting to make it big, and the last time he saw Jim, at the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1973. John Beitzel, who had met Jim and Maury through Joe Salviuolo (aka Sal Joseph), also related interesting tidbits about times he spent hanging out at Jim’s house, watching everyone jam, much like the "jam session" we had just had.
Photo (Left to right): Don Parsons, Mike DiBenedetto, Ron Gletherow, Margaret Gletherow (nee Cafarelli), Tom Orecchio & Scott Lamaestra
The following day, we set off for a bus tour of Philadelphia with our host and narrator, Steve Angelucci. We drove straight to South Philadelphia, past the Methodist hospital where Jim was born, then on to Broad Street where we were able to view Jim's plaque on the "Walk of Fame". From there we headed over to Upper Darby, stopping off at Upper Darby Junior High School that Jim attended. It was a roller coaster ride for us fans, driving through the neighborhood where Jim grew up and we were very grateful for the wonderful stories of Jim's childhood as told to us by Steve. We drove on to Frazer, where we visited Jim's grave at Haym Salomon Memorial Park cemetery. For the sake of the Croce family privacy, we were told not to take any photographs. Finally, the tour continued to Villanove University, where Mike DiBenedetto had secured a room for the purpose of a concert for Jim. Mike sang many of Jim's hits, interspersed with more tales and anecdotes of his college days with Jim, and was joined by several "Gathering" members on guitar and vocals.
Photo: Steve Angelucci
The following day, September the 20th, and the anniversary of that fateful plane crash, Maury Muehleisen's parents had arranged for a Memorial Mass to be said at St James Church in Pennington, New Jersey, at 8 A.M. Sunday, September 20th, 1998. Tom and Debbie Brun from Rhode Island, who had attended the Gathering, got up early and joined some of Maury's family for the Mass, followed by breakfast at a local restaurant. The Bruns then visited Mary and her husband Ray, at their home. Tom played his rendition of "Salon and Saloon" on their piano....a nice tribute to Maury on this anniversary. Early in the afternoon, several of the Gathering attendees made the trip to Trenton, New Jersey, to spend some time with the Muehleisen family at Maury's gravesite in St Mary's cemetery. After meeting Maury's parents and most of his siblings, we listened to a tape of some of Maury's "Gingerbreadd" songs and paid our respects for this gifted young man - a life cut short while helping his close friend, Jim Croce.
Photo: All at Maury Muehleisen's graveside
Parting from the cemetery, a few of us travelled to the North Jersey studio of Tommy West, Jim Croce's best friend and producer. He welcomed his guests and gave a tour of the studio, sharing stories of times spent with Jim and Maury. Later, Tommy broke out the guitars that Jim and Maury used on all the albums. There was a Gibson Dove, beautifully refinished by Phil Petillo, a beautiful nylon string guitar that Maury used on "I'll Have To Say I Love You In A Song", and another steel string guitar used on "I Got A Name", all built by Petillo. "Petillo was a genius" Tommy said. Finally, Tommy played some piano for us, and we were treated to a great story of how the piano opening to "Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown" came to be.
Tommy had been the perfect host, and provided a fitting end to what had been a perfect weekend. We had met some of Jim's closest friends over the past three days, and felt we had learned so much more, not only about Jim Croce, the musical phenomenon, but also Jim Croce, the man.
Photo (Left to right): Margaret Gletherow (nee Cafarelli), Tommy West, Ron Gletherow, Tom Orecchio