Guests checking into Chicago’s luxurious Hilton & Towers hotel sometimes take one look at bellhop Sam Cascio and offer to carry their own bags. It’s not that he seems unwilling; far from it. And it’s not as though Sam can’t handle the job; short and squat as an upended steamer trunk, he has forearms that Popeye would envy. The problem stems from the fact that Sam is, well, oldish. How old? Older than Ronald Reagan. Older, even, than Ronald Reagan’s jokes. Put it this way: Bob Hope, 84, might feel morally obligated to give up his bus seat to Cascio, who turned 90 last June—making him, in all probability, the oldest full-time bellhop in Chicago, the U.S., maybe the world. To Cascio, oldest means best. “I’ll take that,” he says as he lifts a skeptic’s bag and heaves it atop a stack of luggage piled on his pushcart. “It’s easy for other people to say retire,” he observes. “But they don’t have to sit around the house staring at four walls all day. I need something to do to occupy my mind and pass the time. Besides, I never had it easier than I do today.”
Born in Italy and raised in Louisiana, Cascio worked as a laborer for pennies a day before going to work at the hotel—the 3,000-room Stevens, then the largest in the world—two days before it opened in May 1927. Six decades of toting bags for the rich and powerful—six presidents and countless entertainers have passed through—have left Cascio unawed by celebrity. “I’m pretty well-known by a lot of people myself,” he says.
Younger bellmen, like Louis Alvaro, 72, have trouble keeping up with Sam, who seems to be always in motion, lugging bags, fixing broken luggage, tending to the needs of guests. A widowed father of three, grandfather of 13 and great-grandfather of 18, Cascio says that the secrets of his longevity are beer and whiskey. He drinks four shots of the latter daily, two at breakfast, two at night. He also hoists 48 beers every day—one 24-can case in each hand, to strengthen his arms. “I’m trying to catch up with Sammy,” says Alvaro, “but I’ll never do it because he’ll never quit.”