The Hatching Cat Was Hacked

Posted: 26th March 2017 by The Hatching Cat in Uncategorized

Dear Readers,

Last weekend a got a vicious virus on my computer which encrypted all my files. I had to erase my entire hard drive to get rid of this virus, and in doing so, I lost all the research that I had done for my next story about the cats of the Towne Topics newspaper office. I hope to be back up and running in about a week or two, so please stay tuned. The Towne Topics cats is a great story and I look forward to posting it in the near future.

The Hatching Cat

118 Clinton Street, police station constructed in 1909

Constructed in 1909, the large, block-long police station at 118 Clinton Street was quite the fortress, but it was simply not big enough to peacefully accommodate Buster and Topsy, the rival police cat mascots.

In December 1911, the policemen of the old Eldridge Street police station in New York City’s Lower East Side moved into the new station house constructed for the men of the old Delancey Street station. Although the new station at the corner of Clinton and Delancey streets was more than big enough to accommodate everyone, the rival police cats, Buster and Topsy, refused to share the same territory.

In Part I of this old New York City Police mascot story, we learn that the move to 118 Clinton Street was a disaster for the little male cat, Buster, who was clearly bullied by the much larger female cat, Topsy. One has to wonder if the outcome would have been different had the two feline mascots been of the canine persuasion instead.

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Buster Topsy

This vintage photo is not of Buster and Topsy, but it’s how I imagine they may have looked had the two feline mascots actually liked each other (and had Topsy lost some weight). 

Part I: Buster and Topsy, the Rival Police
Cat Mascots

On the evening of December 6, 1911, the men of the old Eldridge Street police precinct in New York City’s Lower East Side moved into the brand-new station house occupied by the men of the old Delancey Street precinct.

The large modern building at the corner of Clinton and Delancey streets, with dormitory quarters for 250 men, was more than adequate to accommodate everyone. Everyone, that is, except for Buster and Topsy, the two rival police cat mascots.

In other words, when the two stations merged peacefully, the feline mascots refused to do the same.

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Chico and Punch, the two pampered pooches of photographer Alice Austen, on the porch of Clear Comfort, the 17th-century farmhouse on Staten Island where Alice spent most of her life. Chico and Punch lived with Alice for about 15 years, during which time she took many photos of them. Alice took this photograph in 1893. 

In Part I of this Old New York dog tale, we met Alice Austen, an American photographer who grew up in the Austen family’s 17th-century farmhouse in Rosebank, Staten Island. Part I left off on June 24, 1950, the day Alice, once of prominent woman of New York’s high society, took an oath declaring herself a pauper.

In Part II, we’ll visit the Staten Island poor farm where Alice lived for a short time and briefly explore the history of Clear Comfort, the home where Alice spent most of her life with her family, her lifetime partner, Gertrude Tate, and her dogs, Punch and Chico.

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Chico Punch Alice Austin

Chico and Punch in the wash tub, August 6, 1887. Photo by Alice Austen

George Washington. Ben Franklin. General William Howe. Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt. These are just a few of the prominent men in history who visited the 17th-century farmhouse on the banks of The Narrows in Rosebank, Staten Island, where photographer Alice Austen made history in the late 19th century. Today, this old farmhouse where Alice lived with her family and her dogs Punch and Chico is a National Historic Landmark known as the Alice Austen House, aka, Clear Comfort.

Part I: Alice Austen

Alice Austen was one of America’s first female photographers. She was also a landscape designer and gardener, a master lawn tennis player, a banjo player, a sailor, a mountain climber, an avid bicyclist, the first woman on Staten Island to own a car, and an important figure in America’s gay and lesbian history.

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John Henry Dolph The Duchess

John Henry Dolph, “The Duchess”

“The leading cat-painter of America is Mr. J. H. Dolph, whom everyone knows, for his works appear constantly at exhibitions. He has worked and studied much abroad, at Paris, Antwerp, and Rome. Mr. Dolph excels in the delineation of feline and canine character.”–The Monthly Illustrator, Vol. 2, 1894

In Part I of this Old New cat tale, we met John Henry Dolph, a popular painter of cats and dogs who kept hundreds of cat “models” at his New York City studio on West 57th Street and at his summer studio in Bellport, Long Island.  In Part II, we’ll visit the summer studio, where Dolph’s cats Princess and Josephine made their home.

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J.H. Dolph Mother with her KittensMother and Her Kittens, John Henry Dolph

“What J.G. Brown has done for the American street urchin, Mr. Dolph has done for the American cat”–The Recorder

Unlike most 19th-century New York City residents who wanted nothing to do with stray cats and kittens, J.H. Dolph welcomed the neighborhood children with open arms (and a few coins) when they brought him baskets of kittens. If the kittens were very young and had no mother, John Henry Dolph was even willing to play mother cat.

Lifting each kitten by the scruff of the neck, he’d gingerly place them on the workbench in the small workshop behind his summer cottage-studio. Then he’d dip a large paintbrush into a cup of milk and touch the tip of the brush to the kitten’s mouth.

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Aimee Crocker bulldogs Gilsey House

Aimee Crocker with two of her many prized pampered French bulldogs.

This is a story about a princess and her three French bulldogs, the first cricket club in New York City, an old farm, and a grand hotel called Gilsey House.

In Part I of this Old New York dog tale, we met the princess, Aimée Isabella Crocker Ashe Gillig Gouraud Miskinoff Galitzine. In Part II, we’ll explore the old Casper Samler Farm and re-visit the three bulldogs in their home at the Gilsey House.

Part II: Living the Life of Luxury at the Gilsey House

In 1889, when Ms. Aimee Crocker was on the second of five marriages, she and her husband Henry Mansfield Gillig spent winter months in their suite of rooms at the Gilsey House, a luxury hotel at 1200 Broadway. It was here that their three bulldogs — Dicbutau, Shugi, and Boola Boy — lived in Gilded Age style.

Not only did they have their own room, but these pooches had their own attendants. Their personal footman walked them down Fifth Avenue and gave them a massage three times a day. And they had a maid who bathed them daily in their own private bath (the perfume for these baths cost $1 a day).

Each dog wore a massive collar made of Japanese coins worth a fortune. And their blankets and boots, changed every few months, cost hundreds of dollars.

Izora Chandler Hatching Cat

Mrs. Izora Schwartz Chandler, a famous painter of dogs, was hired to paint the three bulldogs’ miniatures at $100 each. 

But wait, there’s more. These spoiled little doggies dined on the same food as their mistress. They slept in imported baskets on elder-down pillows. And they had skilled medical care from one of the most fashionable physicians in New York.

The bulldogs also had the honor of living in the Gilsey House, which was one of the most luxurious hotels in New York City at that time.

The Old Casper Samler Farm

The Gilsey House was erected from 1869 to 1871 on the former homestead of Casper Samler (aka Semler).

Samler was a Dutch farmer who had a large dairy farm along the Bloomingdale Road (Broadway). His 41 acres comprised the 1655 patent of Anthony Mathys (a free African American), part of the land of Claes Martensen van Rosenvelt, and part of the Common Lands of the City of New York (later the Parade Ground and Madison Square Park). The triangular-shaped farm was bounded by the Bloomingdale Road and the old Eastern Post Road (the road to Kingsbridge), from about present-day 23rd Street to 42nd Street.

From the book “Early New York Houses” published in 1900:

On March 27, 1780, [Samler] purchased from Dr. Samuel Nicoll and others, “a farm or plantation, and messuage or dwelling house, lying and being at the third mile stone, bounded west by the Bloomingdale road, south and east partly by the road to Kingsbridge and partly by the Commons of the city.

Casper Samler built his first farmhouse near present-day East 28th Street and Park Avenue. He constructed a new dwelling, stables, and outbuildings in the early 1800s on the northeast corner of West 29th Street and Broadway.

Randel 1811 Map Parade Ground Casper Samler Farm

Once called the Commons Lands of New York City, Casper Samler’s farm comprised the Parade Ground and arsenal, which was used for military maneuvers and drills prior to the War of 1812. The Parade Ground was renamed Madison Square in 1814, and in 1847 Madison Square Park was created. Click here to explore this 1811 Randel Composite Map. 

Casper Samler died in 1810, leaving the farm and other property to his grandchildren and a step-daughter, Margaret. The farm was divided into lots, and Lot # 2, which included the homestead on the Bloomingdale Road, was conveyed to Elizabeth Galilee. Elizabeth married James W. Anderson in 1815; her son, also James Anderson, lived in the farmhouse until 1869, when Peter Gilsey leased the land for his new hotel.

1807 Samler Farm Map

In this 1807 map, three dwellings are shown on the Samler farm (spelled Semler on this map), including the original homestead near present-day 28th and Park Avenue (Fourth Avenue), the second homestead at the Bloomingdale Road (Broadway) and 29th Street, and what was probably stables or other outbuildings on Broadway near 30th Street.  You can explore this map at the Library of Congress by clicking here

 

Casper Samler Homestead now the site of Gilsey House 1200 Broadway

The old Casper Samler homestead at 1200 Broadway was still standing in 1865. The house was torn down in 1869 to make way for the Gilsey House. NYPL Digital Collections 

 

Casper Samler Homestead now site of Gilsey House

In this colored illustration of Casper Samler’s homestead, the Marble Collegiate Church, constructed in 1854, is in the background on West 29th Street. According to the church’s website, when the church was constructed, congregants were surprised to learn that their new church was near a dairy farm on a dirt road (Fifth Avenue). An iron fence, like the one around the Samler house, surrounded the church to keep out the farm livestock.  

The St. George Cricket Club Grounds

Many websites note that when Peter Gilsey leased the land from the estate of Casper Samler for his Gilsey House hotel, a portion of this land included the former grounds of the St. George Cricket Club. But that’s all they say. I did some digging and got the full scoop on what was New York City’s first cricket club.

The St. George Cricket Club of New York City, aka, the Dragonslayers, formed in 1838. Most of its playing members were British-born; the club excluded Americans from participating in their “English game.”

Gilsey House built on grounds of St. George Cricket Club

Here’s an illustration of a cricket game on the grounds of the St. George Cricket Club behind present-day 1236 Broadway sometime around 1838. The buildings in the background may either be the Casper Samler homestead and stables, or perhaps Ralph Burrough’s ale house, depending on where the artist was standing. 

Some sources say the men played on grounds near some vegetable farms on 42nd Street.But I found an obscure article published in the “Spirit of the Times” on March 18, 1882, which states that the club played on vacant ground behind an ale house at what is today 1236 Broadway, between 30th and 31st Street. This would have been just up the street from the Casper Samler homestead at 1200 Broadway.

From the “Spirit of the Times”:

For the purposes of a cricket ground the Dragonslayers scoured occupation of a plot  of land, severed from a kitchen garden, to the rear of a diminutive wayside tavern on  Broadway, then the Bloomingdale Road, a short distance above the House of Refuge (Fifth Ave and 23rd), which penal reformatory at that period must have covered a section of suburban property nowadays confronted by Madison Square, as the cricket ground itself extended over a region traversed in subsequent years by Fifth Avenue, not a long way off from its junction with Broadway.

The wayside inn or ale cottage, for it was a mere two-story shingle tenement, guarding entrance to the cricket-field was, however, a well-known place of resort, despite its dwarfish and insignificant appearance, with pedestrians, as its proprietor, Ralph Burroughs, an uncouth Englishman, was notorious among his epicurean countrymen as the cultivator of the most luscious and delicious kitchen stuff to be purchased upon Manhattan Island.

The St. George’s ground was of narrow dimensions and topographically unsuited for a prodigious display of batting,  as a hard hit to the long field too often carried the ball either amid the main body of admiring spectators, thereby causing dire confusion, or else sent it flying over the fenced-in boundaries, necessitating a gymnastic performance upon the part of fielders, more vigorous than graceful.   

RedHouseGroundsHatchingCat.jpg

The Red House Grounds were located at the corner of Third Avenue and 105th Street. The grounds, which also included a trotting course, extended to the Harlem River.

Ralph Burroughs was reportedly a rough, course Englishman. His wife was described as a “rotund, rosy checked, blooming matron.” They had a daughter who often flirted with the cricket players.

Ralph’s vegetable dishes made with celery, asparagus, and other vegetables grown in his garden were very popular. It was through this garden that one had to traverse down a narrow path to reach the cricket grounds.

Eventually, when development along Fifth Avenue began to encroach on their playing field, the St. George Cricket Club moved to the Red House cricket grounds in Harlem. In 1854, the members accepted the invitation of the New York Cricket Club to share their space at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey.

The End of the Gilsey House
The Gilsey House closed in 1911 after a lengthy legal conflict between the operator of the hotel and the Gilsey estate over the lease terms. In 1946, the ground-level storefronts were modernized. The building was converted into co-operative apartments in 1980.
Following is a photo of the Gilsey House taken in 1920 before it was renovated. I also took some recent photos of the Gilsey House and the Marble Collegiate Church. (Part of the old iron fence that once kept Casper Samler’s cows off the church property is also still standing).
Gilsey House 1920
Gilsey House Broadway Hatching Cat
Gilsey House 1200 Broadway Hatching Cat
Marble Collegiate Church Hatching Cat

The Empire State Building now looms behind the 1854 Marble Collegiate Church.

Broadway Casper Samler Farm

 In the 1860s, this building was the Excelsior Stables, shown in the photo of the Samler homestead, above.
Aimee Crocker with Bulldog

Aimée Isabella Crocker Ashe Gillig Gouraud Miskinoff Galitzine with one of her many pampered bulldogs.

This story is about three French bulldogs, the first cricket club in New York City, an old farm, and a grand hotel called Gilsey House. It stars a pseudo-princess named Aimée Isabella Crocker Ashe Gillig Gouraud Miskinoff Galitzine.

If I had the ability, I’d turn this Old New York tale into a movie.

Part I: Aimée Isabella Crocker and Peter Gilsey

The princess was born Amy Isabella Crocker on December 5, 1864, in Sacramento, California. Her father, Judge Edwin Bryant Crocker, was the chief legal counsel for the Central Pacific Railroad. He was also one of the principal investors for the world’s First Transcontinental Railroad.

When E.B. Crocker died in 1875,  Aimée was left with a fortune of $10 million.

Much has been written Ms. Crocker, and I’d rather focus on the history of the Gilsey House. However, a quick summary of her eccentricities is warranted for one to fully appreciate this two-part story.

In a nutshell, Aimée Crocker was a wealthy heiress who embraced Buddhism and once joined an Asian harem just for kicks. She had a giant tattoo of a blue python on her left arm and loved doing snake dances for her Bohemian friends. (As they say, her father was probably rolling over in his grave.)

She also enjoyed collecting things, including bulldogs (at least 25) and husbands (5).

In 1924, after spending an extended time in the Far East, Aimee Crocker returned to New York City sporting a python tattoo.

Aimee’s first husband, Porter Ashe, “won” Miss Crocker in a poker match in 1883, when Aimee was just 19.

Reportedly, Ashe drew four aces during a match with another suitor, Henry Mansfield Gillig, which earned him the right to claim his young bride. (Aimee also got quite the prize: Porter’s forefathers gave their name to Asheville, North Carolina; his uncle was the great Civil War Admiral David Farragut.)

Aimee Crocker with pet python, 1890

Aimee Crocker reportedly acquired her pet python in India (the fangs had been removed). She was often seen riding down Fifth Avenue with the snake wrapped around her shoulders.

Aimée’s first marriage did not last long (none of her marriages had staying power). This story takes place in 1889, the year Aimée married her second husband. Surprise, surprise, this was Mr. Henry Gillig, the wealthy San Francisco banker who lost her in the poker match six years earlier.

Aimee and Henry made their New York City winter home at the Gilsey House, a luxury hotel at 1200 Broadway. It was here that their three bulldogs — Dicbutau, Shugi, and Boola Boy — lived in fairy-tale luxury.

Not only did they have their own room, but these pooches had a personal footman (paid $30 a month) and maid ($25 a month) who catered to their every canine need.

Peter Gilsey and the Gilsey House

The Gilsey House was designed by Stephen Decatur Hatch for Peter Gilsey and constructed from 1869 to 1871 at the cost of $350,000.  The seven-story, 300-room hotel featured rosewood and walnut finishing, marble fireplace mantles, bronze chandeliers, and tapestries. The hotel also had “speaking tubes” in each room that provided a direct form of communications with the main desk.

 

Gilsey House 1200 Broadway

The Gilsey House at 1200 Broadway (extant), on the northeast corner of East 29th Street, celebrated its grand opening on April 15, 1871. The Marble Collegiate Church, built in 1854 and also still standing, is in the background.  NYPL Digital Collections

Peter Gilsey, a wealthy New York City merchant and city alderman, is the epitome of the American dream. Born in 1811 in the Province of Jutland, Denmark, he started out making moderate wages in a New York City piano factory after emigrating to America 1827. Within a few years, he had saved enough money to start his own business as a retail tobacconist in the Bowery near Prince Street.

Peter was quite successful in his new trade, and he was soon able to move to a larger location on Broadway and Cortlandt Street. It was here, in 1854, that he built the Gilsey Building. Located on the site of a former wood frame building owned by Bogart the baker, the Gilsey Building was one of the first large iron structures erected in New York City.

Gilsey Building 171 Broadway

The Gilsey Building at 171 Broadway was constructed in 1854 on the site of Peter Gilsey’s tobacco store and a bakery. Museum of the City of New York Collections

Peter Gilsey went on to become a New York City real estate tycoon, erecting numerous buildings in the new theater district along Broadway. His properties included the Coleman House hotel on the northwest corner of Broadway and West 27th Street (1867), and Apollo Hall at 31 West 28th Street (1868).

Gilsey Leases the Casper Samler Farm

In 1869, Gilsey leased a large plot of land on Broadway between West 29th and West 30th Street for $10,000 a year from the estate of Casper Samler. The plot, designated Lot 2 of the old Samler Farm, included the former homestead of Casper Samler.

It was on the site of this old homestead where Peter Gilsey constructed the Gilsey House. And it was here where three very spoiled bulldogs lived in luxury for two years until their mistress married again…

Peter Gilsey house and Apollo Hall

Peter Gilsey lived at #33 West 28th Street (left) until his death there in 1873. To the right is the old Fifth Avenue Hotel, formerly Apollo Hall. Gilsey’s wife, Mary, continued to live in the home until January 1891. She died there on September 13, 1891. Today a parking garage occupies this site.

In Part II of this Old New York dog story, I’ll tell you more about the Casper Samler farm (which has a connection to New York City’s first cricket club). I’ll also report on the wonderful life of Amy Crocker Gillig’s three bulldogs at the Gilsey House.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Part I of this Old New York cat tale, we left off at the the car stables of the Forty-second-Street and Grand Street Ferry Railroad, on the east side of Twelfth Avenue at the foot of 42nd and 43rd streets. It is the night of June 12, 1886, and about a dozen cats are fighting for their lives as a large fire burns their home to the ground…

enginecompany1firemen

Engine Company 1, stationed at 165 West 29th Street (pictured here sometime between 1873 and 1881), was one of the many engine companies that responded to the car stable fire. As the stables continued to burn, many firefighters helped rescue the cats that had been living there.

The Rescued Cats of the Green Line Car Stables

From the June 14, 1886, issue of The New York Times:

Rescued cats were a drug in the market at the Forty-second-street fire early yesterday morning. The car stables seemed alive with them when the fire was under control, and a half dozen firemen each got a cat. They were scorched, drenched, and thoroughly frightened animals when the firemen took them in charge.

How they had managed to stay in the burning building for the two or three hours they must have been there before falling walls and floors sent them scurrying out of the doors into Forty-second-street without being burned to death is a mystery that even the firemen cannot solve.

Of all the cats saved by the firemen, there was one feline in particular that evidently had at least 10 lives. This kitty, later named Hero by the men of Engine Company No. 1, was rescued by Assistant Chief John McCabe.

chiefjohnmccabe

Hero’s hero: Assistant Chief John McCabe.

According to the Times, the tabby had been seen lurking behind a chimney on top of the wall on 42nd Street just after the roof had collapsed. As the firemen approached her, she ran quickly along the wall toward the river, trying to limit the amount of time her paws had to land on the very hot bricks.

At one point she tried to jump from the wall to a telegraph pole, but instead she scurried along to a portion of the wall nearest the river, where the bricks were cooler. When the firemen found her again, they directed a stream of water against the wall below her in an effort to cool off the bricks. This only frightened her more, causing her to hide in space in the wall.

The tabby continued to hide for about an hour, until the firemen were forced to direct their hoses toward her once again to extinguish some flames in the area. Everyone had assumed the poor cat had roasted to death, but when the water hit the wall she jumped out of her hiding spot and tried to escape again.

About five minutes later, “a forlorn-looking cat with her hair well singed off” jumped from a window on 43rd Street. Assistant Chief John “Bucky” McCabe caught her, and, wrapping her up tenderly, turned her over to the care of one of the firemen from Engine Company No. 1.

enginecompany1900s

Hero the tabby cat made her new home at the firehouse at 165 West 29th Street, pictured here sometime in the early 1900s.

The men immediately brought the kitty to their engine house and treated her burned and blistered paws with liniment and tender care. According to news accounts, by the next day, the cat the men named Hero was recovering, and her paws “were resuming something like their normal condition.”

The Firehouse at 165 West 29th Street

engineco1firehouse

The old firehouse is still standing at 165 West 29th Street. Photo by P. Gavan

Metropolitan Steam Fire Engine Company No. 1 was organized on July 31, 1865, at 4 Centre Street (northeast corner of City Hall Park), in the former headquarters of the Exempt Engine Company, a reserve corps that was composed exclusively of exempt members of New York’s volunteer fire department. (The Exempt Engine Company was organized on November 14, 1854, at the home of H.B. Venn at 298 Bowery, a building with a very interesting history.)

On February 17, 1873, Engine Company No. 1 was reorganized at 165 West 29th Street (first photo above). A new firehouse at this same location was constructed in 1881 (photo at right). The firemen stayed at this location until 1946, when they moved to 142 West 31st Street, where today they share quarters with Ladder Company 24. (Incidentally, Father Mychal Judge was the fire chaplain at this firehouse until he became the first officially recorded victim of the September 11, 2001. attacks.)

The firehouse on West 29th Street was constructed on what had once been the estate of James A. Stewart. Stewart was a wine merchant who had a country seat along what was once called Stewart Street, a diagonal street that intersected his property bounded by 29th and 31st streets, the Bloomingdale Road (Broadway), and the Fitz Roy Road (near today’s 8th Avenue).

jamesastewart1867

In 1809, James A. Stewart sold about 71 lots on Stewart Street (depicted in blue and green on the 1867 map) to Matthias Ward, who in turn conveyed the lots to David Dunham in 1810. The lots were sold at auction for the Dunham estate in 1825 to Charles Smyth.

In 1809, James A. Stewart advertised for sale or lease “a very convenient country seat” and about 71 lots (each 25 feet x 100 feet) along Stewart Street. According to the ad, the home was very roomy, and featured four rooms on the first floor, fireplaces, a coach house, stable, about two acres of mowing ground or pasture, a garden with fruit trees, a good well, and “a cistern that never fails.” The ad also boasted that Stewart Street would be “the handsomest road in the city,” as it was 58 feet wide and featured two rows of trees.

In 1810,  Stewart asked the Common Council to accept Stewart Street as a public road. But Street Commissioner Samuel Stillwell said that the diagonal road might interfere with the the new grid plan then under consideration (the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811).

Stewart Street remained as just stakes in the ground until it was eventually reorganized into conventional lots. However, the buildings on the north and south sides of 30th Street between 6th Avenue and Broadway still follow the original diagonal, as one can see in Google Earth:

30thStreetGoogleEarth.jpg

All of the buildings on the south side of West 30th Street have recently been demolished to make way for the future Virgin Hotel at 1205-1227 Broadway, so today only those buildings on the north side of the street preserve the old diagonal line from Stewart Street. 

 The Demise of Deputy Chief John McCabe

John McCabe, better known as Bucky, was a printer by trade who started his long career with New York City’s fire department as a runner for Oceanus Engine Company No. 11 at 99 Wooster Street.  He joined the city’s new paid fire department in September 1865, was promoted to Battalion Chief in 1881, and to Second Assistant Chief in 1884. By the time he retired due to health reasons in 1893, he was Deputy Chief of the department.

ChiefJohnMcCabe1895.jpg

Deputy Chief John McCabe around 1893.

On the morning of April 25, 1895, John Bucky McCabe left his home at 78 Washington Place, bought a revolver and a pack of cartridges, and walked over to the John E. Milholland Club at 111 Clinton Place (today’s 8th Street). John was president of the political club, which had been founded in 1893 to fight the “Platt Machine” and “Boss Platt” (Thomas C. Platt), the reportedly corrupt leader of the Republican Party in New York State.

At 12:15 p.m., after talking with some friends in the club for about an hour, John McCabe walked into the back room and shot himself in the head. According to news reports, McCabe had been privy to corrupt activity and so he chose to end his life rather than testify and implicate his close friends (including state senators and officers in the fire department).

As General O.J. LaGrange, president of the Board of Fire Commissioners, told the press during the hearings on April 28, “He  had  been  trusted  by  his  associate,  or some  of  them,  with  things  that  he  could  not tell.   He   expected   to   be  called   before this   committee. He  had  Irish  blood  In  his  veins, and  could  not  be  an  Informer.”

The Demise of Hero the Cat 

johnemilholland

John E. Milholland was a newspaper editor and social reformer who played a large role in the city’s pneumatic tube mail system. He was also very interested in advancing the rights of the colored race (which back then included Jews and African-Americans), and was a founder and treasurer of the NAACP.

Three months after McCabe’s death, on July 16, 1895, a fire started in the cellar of the firehouse at 165 West 29th Street. Nearly all the members of the company were in the firehouse at the time, including another man by the name of McCabe — Engineer Thomas McCabe.

Although the men were able to save the horses and the fire apparatus, two gray cats that made their home in the cellar perished in the fire. I can’t say for sure that one of these cats was Hero, but one has to note the irony.

The Car Barns Burn Again

On March 4, 1906, the rebuilt car barns at the foot of West 42nd Street were destroyed in another spectacular fire. This fire was way more devastating then the one 20 years earlier; one man was killed and the fire forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents in nearby tenements and patrons at the adjacent Terminal Cafe and Annex Hotel.

Once again the car barns were rebuilt (see photo below), but sometime before 1941 the building was demolished, leaving an empty 27,000 square foot lot. That year the lot was leased by a syndicate that planned to operate a large gas station on the site.

west42ndstreettrollybarn1915

The car barns of the 42nd Street and 34th Street trolley lines in 1915. 

Today, the site where a tabby cat named Hero was rescued from a fire in 1886 is occupied by the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in New York at 520 12th Avenue (constructed in 1962).

consulategeneralchina