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):
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
JAMES GULICK, Chairman.
ALEXANDER KEVAN, Secretary.
--adpF, 11 January 2002
"In remembrance of
Jean and Leonard Boudin
They passed this way"
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:
denied a second time for former radical
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.)>
--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.
It's turning into a regular memorial park, this.
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
--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.
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.
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. ...