Local memorial to WTC lost Village firefighters and police officers | <home>
Five fortnights on the perimeter:
11 to 24 September | 25 September to 8 October | 9 to 22 October | 23 October to 5 November | 6 to 19 November |
... and after || Updates and corrections || 30 May 2002: Job done? || Winter Garden photo update || What next?

Circumnavigating the frozen zone              

An event peculiarly calculated
to excite the keenest emotions
of the human heart

photos: adpFisher

Copyright © 2002-2005 Diane Fisher.

SOUTH OF 14TH STREET, NEW YORK CITY, 25 January 2002-- Time was, whenever I gave an older taxi driver my address, he'd tell me that Mayor Jimmy Walker had lived in my block. Then, a decade and a half after that generation of drivers was gone, at two one Twilight Zone morning a jaunty hack laid that line on me again. After I'd pulled myself together he explained that he'd kept his medallion because some nights he just felt like driving even though he was 82½ years old.

I'd like to think that he's still out there some nights and is pleased when he drives past the gaslight still burning at the entrance--something he and his contemporaries always pointed out--of the brownstone where that rascal pol of the Scott and Zelda era frolicked with his mistress. (I believe the matching gaslight is a fairly recent addition.) The park that fills most of the spacious block the house faces has been given Walker's name, so it lives on around here.

Across James J. Walker Park, next to the school where I would soon vote in the mayoral primary cancelled later on 11 September, through a narrow slot between two buildings farther south I first saw in real-life the lacerated WTC north tower.

In the park, directly across St. Lukes Place from the Walker house, carved in stone, old-timey fire department gear and two Eagle 13 helmets facing opposite directions sit atop a baby-sized coffin. The modest monument commemorates two firemen killed almost before their lives had begun by the collapse of the smoldering wreckage of a large commercial building near the end of Fulton Street--the other end of Fulton Street from the World Trade Center site, a distance of five blocks. One fireman was born the year the War of 1812 began, the other the year before it ended. Inscribed in the pedestal:

Here are interred
the bodies of
aged 20 years 7 months and 9 days
aged 22 years 1 month and 16 days
who lost their lives by the falling of a building
while engaged
in the discharge of their duties as
on the first day of July

The opposite side of the pedestal proclaims:

NO. 13

Continental Eagle Engine No. 13's minute books, dating to 1791, are the earliest on record in the city.

A plaque on one end of the monument declares: "This ground was used as a cemetery by Trinity Parish during the years 1834-1898. It was made a public park by the City of New York in the year 1897-8. This monument stood in the cemetery and was removed to this spot in the year 1898."

Don't believe everything you read that's cast in bronze: The monument was removed several yards to the spot where it is now from a more prominent location when the park was redesigned in the 1970s (or was it the late '60s?). "This spot" was a constantly used bocce court till the planners paved it over, driving out the bowlers who planted morning glories every year and trained them to climb strings tied to the wrought iron fence alongside their court. Now, in an awkward corner behind locked chainlink, shadows with keys plant private flora only they see. The planners planted a traffic obstacle with a footprint nearly as big as a quartet of stretch limos, perhaps deluding themselves that a demented compulsion to play bocce in the grim Germanic cast-concrete trough of mud or dust might one day overcome somebody forced to detour the forbidding eyesore. [photo]
A warm Sunday, April 2002: An uncommon sight, played out in front of one set of the daffodils, tulips, and other flowers that bloomed citywide with the effect the Dutch company B&K Bulbs and the City of Rotterdam intended when they gave New York City millions of bulbs to plant after the attack. In the dark corner, center top, the locked garden.
We're lucky the planners didn't trash the nearby monument too. But who knows where--if anywhere--the firemen's remains are now. (... Sound familiar?) Their comrades dug through wreckage for many hours to recover them. Five blocks south of the park you can see the kind of primitive apparatus firefighters of that era, volunteers all, dragged to fires themselves (no wonder members of Eagle 13 in 1834 were no older than their mid-20s), convinced that employing horses to do the task would compromise their masculinity: [photo] The New York City Fire Museum is in a handsome old firehouse on Spring Street, like Walker Park between Seventh Avenue South/Varick and Hudson streets.

Part of the 11 September memorial display in front of the fire museum entrance. One could only wish that the framed photo--firefighters hanging a tattered flag backward from a familiar NYC lamppost, that gray dust still thick in the air--had become iconic rather than that contrived Iwo Jima reenactment.
One can't help but wonder what became of the rest of what was in the cemetery, and how Trinity--which still owns vast amounts of property in the area--came to forsake the monument. Presumably the parish wasn't nursing a grudge. Stationed in 1790 at the corner of Maiden Lane and Gold Street, the year after the company lost Ward and Underhill "Lucky 13" surely would have been one of the first companies to respond to the worst of the city's several "great fires." The Great Fire of 1835 destroyed Trinity Church as well as the Mercantile Exchange and 672 other buildings in the vicinity of Wall, Broad, and South streets on 16-17 December. Then as in 2001, St. Paul's Chapel was spared.

Even by 1834 a New York City reporter who expressed nothing but lavish admiration for firemen may have been dealing in subtext when he pointed out that Eagle 13 was "composed wholly of [...] men of great respectability, many of them merchants, and most of the others clerks in mercantile houses." Population more than doubled, from 170,000 to 360,000, in the 15 years between 1827 and 1842. Fire companies were a power base; seven mayors began their political careers as volunteer firemen. The "important and hazardous post" of foreman could confer financial rewards, not always lawful, as well as status. A cabinetmaker named William Marcy Tweed founded Americus Engine Company No. 6 in 1848 in the headquarters of--and absorbed members of--a company that had been disbanded for unruly behavior. Fire companies brawled over personal, political, and ethnic differences; Five Points was in full swing. After Tammany became cozy with many fire companies, embezzlement of their funds followed as night the day. The City replaced volunteer companies with a paid force (and began harnessing the apparatus to horses) in 1865. Not without turmoil. That seems to go with the turf.

While this particular dispute didn't turn physical, one of several current FDNY controversies in fact concerns ethnic issues and a proposed monument, and makes all the more striking the enduring effectiveness of Eagle 13's nonrepresentational tribute to two brave New York City firemen who died at the east end of Fulton Street 167 years, two months, and 10 days before 11 September 2001.

Its symbolic nature and discreet scale even may have helped the monument survive orphanhood and more than a century of indifferent municipal bureaucracy.

Across the street from the monument, the house with the white cornices was Walker's; at right at the bottom of the stoop one gas lamp is visible.
The monument's poignancy has haunted me ever since I moved to the neighborhood at about the age Ward and Underhill were the night they perished. The last day of 2001 struck me as a fitting time finally to go up to the 42nd Street library to try to learn something about the "sad event" that left them dead so young, perhaps the more so then since it would require negotiating early stages of the New Year's Eve Times Square antiterrorist lockdown.

[photo: fortress-style apartment
building at Fulton and Pearl streets]
17 July 2002
(near gateway to the seaport theme park)

"Follow the money" isn't a contemporary concept. The lede of the Evening Post 1 July 1834 account deals exclusively with property matters--not least insurance--and the report revisits them in the last graf. Only in graf two does the writer mention fatalities, and he doesn't get around to naming names till he's finished describing the calamity in detail. A tendency toward the lurid and, as you'll read in the follow-up, inaccurate reporting turn out to be Post traditions (the paper's founder, Alexander Hamilton, had been dead 30 years by then):
DESTRUCTIVE CONFLAGRATION--LOSS OF HUMAN LIFE.--At about a quarter past three o'clock this morning a fire broke out in the large three story brick building, 271 Pearl street, three doors above Fulton street, occupied by Messrs. H. and R. Haydock, wholesale druggists, and E. R. Yale, dealer in japanware. The entire building, except the mere front and rear walls, together with its contents, was destroyed. The fire also extended to the adjoining building above, No. 273, occupied by Messrs. C. H. & W. Van Wyck, dry-good merchants, and injured their stock of merchandise to the amount of seven thousand dollars, being 2,000 more than the sum insured upon them.

But the most distressing circumstance connected with this fire is the loss of human life which it has occasioned. While the conflagration was raging with the greatest fierceness, several officers and members of two of the nearest engines, animated by noble emulation and zeal of public usefulness, which are distinguishing characteristics of the New York firemen, made their way into the burning edifice, with the view of being able to direct the water where it might be most likely to arrest the flames. One of these two sets of intrepid young men, finding their efforts fruitless, fortunately withdrew from the building unharmed, and they had barely retired, when its roof, timbers, and the whole weight of goods stored on the upper floors, together with a large portion of the end wall, fell with a sudden and loud crash, overwhelming beneath the burning wreck the four persevering firemen who were still continuing their efforts within the edifice. Two of these have been recovered from the ruin, alive, but dreadfully, though it is hoped not mortally injured. The other two are still buried underneath the hot and smouldering heap, and there is no hope entertained that they have survived the dreadful accident. The probability is that, situated as they must have been where the ruin fell with the heaviest shock full upon their heads, they were killed on the instant, and not left to linger in vain and excruciating tortures, to die at last before succour could reach them.

The two victims of this distressing casualty were Eugene Underhill, of the firm of W. & E. Underhill, druggists, 15 Peck slip, and Frederick Ward, a clerk of Adams, Brothers, crockery merchants, 248 Pearl street. The two who were happily rescued are Zoble Mills, assistant foreman of Engine No. 13, and William R. Crooker, formerly foreman of that engine, but at present fire warden of the Fourth Ward. Mr. Mills is severely wounded on the head and otherwise bruised and injured; and Mr. Crooker is cruelly scorched and lacerated,--but not to such a degree, (as were are happy to learn from an authentic source, while we are penning these lines) as to threaten his life, or probably to deprive him of the use of any of his limbs. One of his feet and legs are much burned and shrivelled, and the flesh is torn from his body in several places. His fingers, also, are scorched and torn, by the exertions which he made to force his way from beneath the ruins. We understand that this gentleman displayed the most remarkable coolness and presence of mind, and immediately on his rescue gave clear and particular instructions to guide the search for his companions. While buried under the ruins, and immediately after the catastrophe had occurred, he heard a smothered voice crying for assistance, which he supposes was that of Underhill. It made but one inarticulate exclamation, and then was silent. There is no doubt entertained that both Underhill and Ward are dead.

Three of these young men were members of Engine No. 13, and the fourth, Mr. Crooker, had but recently left the company, after filling the important and hazardous post of Foreman. This company of firemen is composed wholly of spirited and active young men of great respectability, many of them merchants, and most of the others clerks in mercantile houses. They are none of them over five or six and twenty years of age--and Ward, one of the victims by this dreadful accident, was but twenty-two. We have most of these particulars from one of his associates, who was in company with him as late as ten o'clock last evening, when he left him, little thinking so soon to be called on to deplore his untimely death, and assist in the search for his crushed remains.

It seems that the pipemen of No. 10, (who entered the building with those who were overwhelmed in its fall) did not leave it soon enough wholly to avoid participation in the calamity. The roof fell while two of them were yet within the walls, slowly retreating from their post of danger, and some of the fragments struck them in their descent. But we are happy to learn that they have been but slightly wounded.

We learn from those who have the best means of forming an accurate judgment that this fatal accident is not imputable to any blameworthy cause. No censure attaches any where, unless indeed men choose to censure that daring spirit of emulation, that generous and noble rivalry, that zeal of usefulness, to which our citizens are indebted for that sense of security which enables them to sleep undisturbed when the signal of fire is ringing through the city. We must deplore the effect, but cannot blame the cause.

The Fire Department, as is the invariable custom on such melancholy occasions, will take due means to pay a suitable tribute of respect to the memory of the deceased, and the citizens generally will doubtless embrace the opportunity to show their appreciation of that hardy and valiant spirit which distinguishes our firemen, and their regret for the catastrophe to which it has, in this instance, led. The same qualities so often displayed by that body of men, would, on a different field of action, win for them the name of heroes.

We learn that Mr. Haydock was insured for $10,000--half at the City Insurance Company, and half at the Howard; and that Messrs. Van Wyck was insured for $5,000 by the United States Insurance Company.
Pipemen, in case you wondered, handled the pipe attached to the business end of the firehose--information that like all the historical context here came from the New York City Fire Museum. You will have noticed that, back when words still meant something, the writer resisted--if with difficulty--the temptation to call even the firemen heroes, and described the event as the catastrophe it was--not as a "tragedy," which it wasn't anymore than the terrorist attack was. And the 19th century Post had the grace to acknowledge factual errors, going so far as to quote Times reportage (getting me off the hook, I hope, for failing to nail 1834 Times microfiche). From The Evening Post, 2 July 1834:
The bodies of two unfortunate young firemen, EUGENE UNDERHILL and FREDERICK A. WARD, who perished while zealously engaged in the arduous duties of their profession at the fire yesterday morning, were recovered from the ruins last evening, but so crushed and scorched that they could scarcely be recognized. It will be seen, by the resolutions which we subjoin that the Fire Department has taken prompt and suitable measures to pay a tribute of respect and sorrow to the memory of its deceased members.

There were one or two inaccuracies in our article yesterday, which the more carefully collected statements of the morning papers enable us now to correct. The fatal accident did not occur, as we were led to suppose, at the moment when the conflagration was raging with the intensest fury, but after the fire was so far subdued, that all the engines had withdrawn, except number 10 and 13, the companies attached to which were left to guard against a fresh eruption of the flames.

The Times says--

The engines No. 10 and 13, with the men attached to them yet remained on the ground, and a number of firemen were stationed in different parts of the building. Mr. John McBriar, foreman of No. 10, and Messrs. Artemas Gower and Benjamin Blonk, attached to the same engine, were in the fourth story of the building, and in the first story were Messrs. Edward Crooker, Eugene Underhill, Frederick Ward, and Zephan Mills, attached to engine No. 13.

While these gentlemen were actively engaged inside the building, the peak of the gable end of the south side of the store fell with a tremendous crash, carrying with it the floors and timbers into the cellar. Mr. McBriar, at the moment the mass commenced falling, sprang to the window sill, which he clung to until he was relieved from his dangerous situation, Messrs. Gower and Blonk were precipitated into the second story, the former was completely buried among the falling ruins, but prompt assistance was at hand, and he was rescued alive. The latter scarcely received the slightest injury, being shielded from the falling bricks and timbers by a stove, which fell diagonally over him. Messrs. Crooker, Underhill, Ward and Mills, were precipitated into the cellar. Messrs. Crooker and Mills were after much exertion, rescued from the ruins, though both of them were terribly burnt and mangled. The bodies of Messrs. Underhill and Ward remained under ruins until a late hour in the afternoon, when they were recovered.

The following are the proceedings of the Meeting of Firemen, held last evening to adopt measures in relation to the fatal event which had deprived their association of two of its most active and worthy members. James Gulick, Chief Engineer of the Fire Department, was called to the chair, and Alexander Kevan was appointed Secretary. The preamble and resolutions subjoined were offered to the meeting, and adopted unanimously. In pursuance of these resolutions Mr. Gulick requests the Fire Department to meet this afternoon at the Hospital green, at half past three o'clock.

Whereas the recent painful occurrence which has deprived our department of two of its most active and efficient members, while in the discharge of their duties as Firemen, is an event peculiarly calculated to excite the keenest emotions of the human heart, and to call into action a feeling of near and tender sympathy with the relatives and friends of the deceased, and with their associates in the company to which they were attached--

Therefore, Resolved, That we deeply deplore the painful and affecting catastrophe which has thus suddenly called from the active duties of life our late associates EUGENE UNDERHILL and FREDERICK A. WARD, and that participating, as we do, with their relatives and friends in this sudden and unexpected bereavement, we tender them the sympathetic feelings of the Department, in the full assurance that there is not an individual among our number but who must mingle his with their tears over the remains of those who have thus fallen victims to their zeal.

Resolved, That to the members of Engine Company No. 13, to which the deceased were attached, we tender the feelings of our condolence in the loss which they have sustained, knowing as we do, that they have been deprived of two of their associates to whom they became attached by the strong ties which dangers and hardships so firmly cement, and upon those services they have been accustomed to rely with a confidence which has never been misplaced.

Resolved, That from the feelings of respect which we entertain towards the memory of our deceased associates, we will, as a department, attend their funeral at such time and place as may be designated by their friends.

Resolved, That the Chief Engineer be requested to invite the members of the Fire Department to assemble this afternoon at half past 3 o'clock, at the Hospital Green, with their Banners trimmed with the Badges of Mourning.

Resolved, That the members of the Brooklyn Fire Department be respectfully requested to join in the procession.

Resolved, That it be recommended to the members of the Department to wear the usual badge of mourning on the left arm for the space of 30 days.

R.I.P., Eugene Underhill and Frederick A. Ward, and all firefighters who've sacrified their lives to provide that sense of security that enables citizens "to sleep undisturbed when the signal of fire is ringing through the city." Of the events of 11 September 2001, we must deplore the effect. If we cannot blame the cause, we must blame the multitude of officials who Enron and like corporations have bought to represent the American people, for lacking the courage to examine the intelligence and oversight failures that permitted the attack. The cause of our unpreparedness has yet to be determined. If the task is left to a future generation, don't expect history to be kind.
--adpF, 11 January 2002

"In remembrance of
Jean and Leonard Boudin
They passed this way"
--inscription on a plaque at the base of the tree in front of a house
closer to the Seventh Avenue South end of the block where Walker lived.
Leonard Boudin was a lawyer, well-respected and well known for supporting progressive causes and clients. The name of the Boudins' daughter, Kathy, surely is more familiar now, for blowing up the house on 11th Street while building bombs and subsequent, equally cold-blooded Weather Underground crimes. She was young then, now is, I believe, in her 50s--model prisoner doing lots of good works that no doubt would have made her parents proud. Parole nonetheless was denied--shortly before the WTC attack, if memory serves. What with the way things are, I don't suppose she'll ever see the small bronze plaque that since the deaths of her parents has been at the base of the ginko tree in front of the house where she grew up on the north side of Walker Park <update, 15 May 2003: "Parole denied a second time for former radical in killings"> <update (clouded-crystal-ball department): 20 August 2003 "Former radical granted parole in '81 killings," and 18 September 2003: "With bouquet and a wave, Boudin is free 22 years later." (... Comment below.)>

It's turning into a regular memorial park, this. [photo] Each of a dozen trees that march along the Clarkson Street sidewalk on the south side and one around the corner on Hudson now has a brass plaque at its base with the name of one of the firefighters from the Sixth Avenue and Houston Street firehouse killed 11 September, or one of the Sixth Precinct cops.

I don't know who planted the plaques, or when. One morning about a month ago they were just there. An inspired--indeed, a perfect--gesture.

The lack of noisy ceremony about it makes the effect even more piercing. Every day a few more flowers seem to crowd each little patch of earth (part of Rotterdam's glorious gift). ...

Word around the nabe is that the city rec center in the same block as the park became one of the mayor's ad hoc secret bunkers after the one he insisted on placing on a high floor at 7WTC was destroyed. ...


But spring is here, and--as should be--kids play softball on the park's diamond oblivious to the nearby reminders of the history of various eras. Would those honored have wished for a more imposing tribute?
--adpF, 4 April 2002

Snaps in this section shot April-June 2002. In the first photo, facing south, beyond the tree on the park side of Clarkson Street are a federal building (U.S.P.S., passport office, immigration office [and jail?], and other agencies) and part of the sliver of sky where I first saw the north tower, mortally wounded but still standing, the morning of 11 September. Tomorrow is the 168th anniversary of the fire that killed Ward and Underhill. ... --adpF, 30 June 2002
... And on the 5th of July:
The roses and baby's breath weren't there, nor was the flag attached to the fence, the evening of 1 July. The tulips and roses and pansies are gone now from the Clarkson Street memorials, and nothing remains to suggest that the holiday was observed there.

24 July: Indeed, some maintenance issues have formed on Clarkson Street. Not only are the memorial patches unplanted, the Parks Department routinely dumps trash on the plaques. The solution--cooperation between survivors of each victim (family and firefighters) and neighbors (business, institutional, and residential)--is obvious, and itself would be a sensitive tribute. pq22 Presumably, family members don't have much occasion to visit Manhattan, which precisely underlies my objection to dedicating the WTC site to a vast memorial--one that those demanding it have no quotidian stake in while thousands of Manhattanites do. pq21
19 July 2002

8 August: I asked informally at the Fire Museum. The Ward & Underhill monument is well-known there, of course. The plaques on Clarkson Street were news. I was out of evasions. I steeled myself and marched up to the door of the Sixth Avenue firehouse and asked who'd placed the plaques. The high school across the street! City-as-School High School, referred to here often previously as my polling place, in my heart now and forever, creator and sponsor of a tribute that could and should serve as a model for all other WTC memorials.

What is the Parks Department thinking about? If the attack and the tribute mean nothing to maintenance workers, have their supervisors no respect--if not for the firefighters and police officers who rushed the few blocks to the World Trade Center 11 September and died serving the city, then at least for the schoolkids across the street who planned and planted those plaques?

18 September 2003: Since I brought up the subject I feel compelled to add that (contrary to what I implied earlier) in no way can youthful idealism gone wrong be blamed for the reprehensible crimes my long-ago neighbor Kathy Boudin committed. Sixty at the time of her release, she'd have been two years short of 40 when she was convicted for participating in the fatal Brink's robbery. A child of privilege--intellectual (Bryn Mawr magna cum laude) and social as well as financial--she grew up to be a radical angel of death. Where Kathy Boudin surfaced, so did corpses. However: A judge sentenced other participants in the murders to life times three and Boudin to 20 years to life. Not life. For better than two decades she all but wrote the book on how to be a model prisoner. One might have objected to a perceived leniency in her sentence, but not to Boudin's release. She fulfilled her part of the contract, the parole board did likewise. As far as I'm concerned that's that. Boudin entered prison in a generous social climate that gave her a chance to rehabilitate herself. Time will tell whether she did or is just one of those people who thrives under imposed structure. News coverage of statements at the time of her release by the families of the Brink's victims raise questions of whether the quality of victims' services matches that of Bedford Hills inmate rehab programs. Finally, one wonders whether Boudin and like-minded violent zealots ever ponder their incalculable contribution to creating the toxic, vengeful climate (a/k/a "compassionate conservatism") in which she has regained her freedom. ...

Five fortnights on the perimeter:
11 to 24 September | 25 September to 8 October | 9 to 22 October | 23 October to 5 November | 6 to 19 November |
... and after || Updates and corrections || 30 May 2002: Job done? || Winter Garden photo update || What next? || recommended reading :
Eyewitnesses, in their own words; heroes; Afghanistan then and now;
Israel and the Palestinians; intelligence gathering; on watching
what we say; some other politics; periodicals; and archives.

copyright © 2002-2005 Diane Fisher.

adpFisher nyc 18 september 2003