A COLLAPSE, A DEATH, & AN INQUIRY (1912)

It happened just before Christmas of 1912. A young husband in the prime of his life rushes to buy a last-minute Christmas gift for his beautiful wife. With the pearl necklace safely deposited in his suit-coat pocket, he dashes to catch the train that is approaching. Rushing up the stairwell to the Long Island Rail Road (L.I.R.R.) platform, he quickly reaches the top step. As he turns the corner to run for the platform, he barely senses the very stairwell beneath him shifting almost imperceptibly beneath his feet. Then, as a loud crack reports his entire balance has shifted, and he is suddenly in a terrifying free-fall. Seconds later the young husband’s body is covered with tons of – what had seconds before been – concrete stairs. This fatal collapse of the L.I.R.R. stairwell occurred at Atlantic and New York avenues, and was subsequently blamed on the corrosion of two cast-iron posts which supported the entire concrete structure. The tragedy on the L.I.R.R. stairway at New York and Atlantic avenues ended in the sudden death of a well-known art expert, David H. Cochran of 113 Macon Street. THE BEGINNING OF A “BIG” INQUIRY The very day afterward, as the finger-pointing already began to take place, a “big” inquiry was established which would look into the cause of the accident. All city elevated stairwells, it was announced, were to be subject to “service board tests,” which would determine their strength and suitability for the daily traffic they received. Experts would be […]

“GROUND TO PIECES” IN THE CUT (1914)

Martin Conly was the first to die by the cut in 1908. He and a boyhood “chum” were back from Coney Island at about 1 a.m. when the automobile they were traveling in ran into the low iron guard rail. Conly, the son of a prominent Brooklyn Democratic ward leader, was thrown from the vehicle and onto the tracks below. He was killed instantly. The Long Island Rail Road, which was not held accountable in court for the death, would later remove the light iron fencing and replace it with a thick concrete wall to prevent the same thing from happening again. Just a month later, though, before they could eradicate the danger – it happened again. Five young men, enjoying a “joyride” in a “large touring car,” heading north on Howard Avenue toward Atlantic Avenue, plunged into the wide trench and landed on the tracks “25 feet below,” just as a train was scheduled to pass. It was 2:10 a.m. It wasn’t until 27 December 1914, though, that an automobile would plummet into the cut while a passing train “ground to pieces” a man and his automobile. It had been traveling south on Howard Avenue towards Atlantic Avenue, when it crashed into the iron fencing. Unfortunately, the Long Island Rail Road had not found it necessary to build the same type “re-enforced” concrete wall on the north side of the cut (as it had on the south). MITIGATING THE CUT Today, the mitigation is noticeable – but just barely. […]

SURVIVING THE ATLANTIC AVENUE “CUT” (1920)

O! What a difference 90 years makes. The Long Island Rail Road (L.I.R.R.) “Cut,” which divided the eastward and westward sides of Atlantic Avenue, was a much more scenic feature back in the day. In this photograph taken looking eastward from Howard Avenue, a small family walks with a baby carriage at the lower right, and a woman, above them, looks out of the window. Shoppers along with residents of the houses fill the sidewalks, as they run errands, talk with one another, and take in the streets scenes, themselves. These scenes were representative of the entire stretch of the avenue of the time. As the automobile came into prominence, though, and repair shops and filling stations began congregating along the avenue, the people began to disappear, along with their residential buildings, the latter of which were really not that old at the time. Sadly, none of these buildings appear to be standing today. Notice the number of ornate Victorian-era wood-frame houses that were in existence then. Also, notice the cast-iron fencing that the L.I.R.R. used to keep pedestrians from falling – and drivers from plunging – down into the “cut.” Unfortunately, for a number of motorists driving in the direction of the tracks, this fencing was of little help. With the low height of the old cast iron fence that lined the “cut,” many night-time drivers had a difficult time realizing – as they perpendicularly approached the “cut” in the dark – that there was actually no path between […]

BLOOD ON THE SNOWBALL: THE RAZOR (1888)

As the snow piled up during the Blizzard of 1888, Brooklynites began to experience countless fights. Snowball fights, that is. Most were lighthearted and fun, romps in the snow bringing joy and relief from the endless shoveling and the stress of everyday life with the white stuff. But sometimes these snowball fights turned ugly, exposing the more unsavory side of Brooklynites. They showed how quickly a snowball fight could evolve from a joyful game into mayhem-filled terror. Two cases, in particular, made the pages of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle during the week of the historic blizzard. One involved a razor. The second involved a gun. THE RAZOR The day after the “Great White Hurricane” struck Brooklyn, Vincent Ciemon was a very tired man. He had reason to be after a long day of shoveling snow following the first full day of the Blizzard of 1888. He had just been employed by the Long Island Railroad Company as that organization needed day laborers to help dig out their engines in the city and beyond. On his way home around 5 p.m., to the apartment where he lived with his family on East New York Avenue in Brownsville, Ciemon had just reached Rockaway Avenue “when a snowball struck him in the back.” Ciemon, identified by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in the story as “The Italian,” had only a hundred or so feet before he arrived home and so, tired as he was, he did not even turn around to challenge his tormentors. […]

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