By Talia Traskos-Hart
The Denver Police Department has honored officers Frank Potestio and Peter Walsh on its wall of fallen officers, 104 years after their passing.
Potestio was an Italian immigrant, a father of seven, and a long-time North Denver resident. He joined the force in 1909, on the same day as Walsh. Walsh and Potestio both died from the Spanish Flu in 1918. The men were later determined to have been the only two Denver officers to die from contracting the illness while in uniform.
North Denver’s Italian community was hit particularly hard by the Spanish Flu, creating risks and responsibilities for Potestio and Walsh in their line of duty. The first recorded death from the Spanish Flu in Denver, on Sept. 27, 1918, was a student at the University of Denver who had returned from visiting Chicago. Potestio contracted the illness the same year and passed away on Nov. 22. By the end of 1918, 1,218 flu deaths had been logged across Denver.
Potestio’s wife and seven children remained healthy throughout the course of his sickness, recalled his grandson Frank Queen.
“He was at home when he got the flu and was sick, of course. But none of them got it, and that we considered a true miracle,” Queen said. After Potestio’s passing, his wife received a $5 monthly widow’s check for the care of her home and children. Only one of the seven– Queen’s mother–would graduate from North High School rather than dropping out to work in support of the family.
Frank Queen, named after his grandfather, recalled growing up with stories of Potestio’s life, both on and off his job on the force. After moving to the United States, Potestio worked as a miner in Lake City, CO. He then briefly worked as a bartender after moving to Denver before entering police training.
The Potestios lived on 41st Avenue and Alcott Street in what is now the Sunnyside neighborhood. At the time, North Denver was predominantly Italian.
Accordingly, the Potestios raised all seven of their children with deep connections to their Italian heritage through language, cuisine, and hospitality. Queen fondly remembers childhood moments in the house on Alcott street, where he played card games at grade school lunches, ate from always overflowing pots of spaghetti at family dinners, and learned some of his grandmother’s native Italian (“only the curse words,” he regretfully noted).
Potestio’s work on the force and legacy as a caring father and husband inspired even those family members who did not know him. His grandson Harry Queen–brother to Frank–spent his career in the Denver Police Department. The Queen brothers recalled that, until her death in 1967, Mrs. Potestio always spoke fondly of her late husband.
“I was always fascinated by him, having been named for him,” Frank recalled. “Many of us never knew him, but we got all the stories from my grandmother.”
Both Potestio and Walsh have had their names added to the Denver wall of fallen officers and will be honored in a federal ceremony in Washington, D.C. this spring.