Save Lady Moody’s House!

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (

On October 8, 2015, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) will hold a public hearing to determine if the house at 27 Gravesend Neck Road — known as Lady Moody’s House — meets the criteria for landmark status. Despite what many locals believe, the house is not an official landmark. That means it is not protected by law, and could, conceivably, be torn down by some uncaring developer. (If you’d like to be its guardian, the house is currently for sale!) However, the house has been on the LPC’s radar since 1966, when it was “calendared.” That provides a modicum of protection in that any application for demolition should send up a red flag, spurring the LPC to action. But they’ve had half a century to decide. After the October hearing, a public meeting in early 2016 will determine the next step, which — fingers crossed — will hopefully lead to designation of this most iconic of Gravesend houses.

What follows is my open letter to Meenakshi Srinivasan, chair of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, urging her to act now. I beg you all to drop a line, however brief, to the LPC, by the October 1st deadline (whether or not you plan to attend the hearing), stating your support for the house. The more of us they hear from, the better. Take a look at the LPC’s informative fact sheet about the house (even I learned some things!), then write to I’d love to read your thoughts if you’d care to copy me (

Oh, and don’t miss the gallery of wonderful images at the bottom of this post!

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle featured the Lady Moody House on the cover of its 1947 booklet of Gravesend history.

The Brooklyn Eagle featured the Lady Moody – Van Sicklen House on the cover of its 1947 booklet of Gravesend history.

August 29, 2015

Meenakshi Srinivasan, Chair

New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission

1 Centre Street, 9th Floor, North

New York, NY 10007

Dear Commissioner Srinivasan:

Ask anyone in Gravesend, Brooklyn where Lady Moody lived. Invariably they’ll point to the house at 27 Gravesend Neck Road, just next to Public School 95. How do they know she lived there? A teacher told them. Or their grandmother. And who was Lady Moody anyway? Oh, she helped George Washington escape the Redcoats through a tunnel running from her basement to the cemetery across the street. And during the Civil War she hid slaves in that tunnel on their way north to freedom.

None of this happened, of course: Deborah Moody died late in 1658, nearly seventy-five years before the birth of Washington, and over two centuries before the Civil War. The general public, knowing instinctively that Lady Moody bore some significance, but lacking specifics, attaches her — and the house at 27 Gravesend Neck Road — to the seminal events of American history.

The facts are these: Deborah Moody (ca. 1586-1658) was the wealthy, freethinking widow of a baronet. By 1639 she was in Puritan Massachusetts, where her Anabaptist leanings branded her “a dangerous woman.” To avoid censure she moved in 1643 to New Netherland, where she petitioned the tolerant Dutch to grant her and some followers a spot on western Long Island where they could worship as they pleased. They called their settlement Gravesend, the patent to which ensured they could enjoy “liberty of Conscience . . . without molestation or disturbance from any magistrate or . . . ecclesiastical minister that may pretend jurisdiction over them.”

Moody’s fellow patentee, the surveyor James Hubbard, designed the town’s central plan: a sixteen-acre square bounded by present-day Village Road North, Village Road East, Village Road South, and Van Sicklen Street, and cut into quadrants by the intersection of McDonald Avenue and Gravesend Neck Road. In each quadrant ten house lots bordered a common yard for holding livestock. Records show that in 1646 Lady Moody was assigned a double lot in the northwest quadrant, corresponding (in part) to the modern street address of 27 Gravesend Neck Road, Brooklyn (block 7123, lot 64).

Lady Moody must have built a house on her property between 1646 and 1658. Is the house standing there today the one she occupied? A structural evaluation conducted in 2005 by Robert Silman Associates, Consulting Engineers, suggests the present building incorporates three phases of construction: The part most visible — Phase 2 — is an eighteenth-century “random rubble [stone] building supporting hand-hewn wood floor beams and simple log beam roof trusses.” Phase 3 reflects the early twentieth-century changes made by then-owners William and Isabelle Platt, who excavated a full basement under the ground floor, added dormers to the roof, and stuccoed the exterior to conform with the prevailing Arts and Crafts aesthetic. But evidence of an earlier structure, one possibly dating from the seventeenth century, is visible in the basement, where there are four stone bearing walls, three of which support the current above-ground walls. The fourth lies buried beneath the main house and its rear extension. This “out-of-place” wall led Silman Associates to hypothesize that the Phase 2 house is a reconfiguration of an older building, a Phase 1 house that was enlarged in the 1700s.

This 1893 watercolor of an African-American laundress by Charles W. Bauhan --

This watercolor by Charles W. Bauhan  — “Wash-day. Gravesend L. I. Sep. 4 / [18]93.” — was painted looking east from a spot now in the schoolyard of P.S. 95. It captures the west gable end of the Lady Moody – Van Sicklen House rising above the fence. {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

Was this Phase 1 house Lady Moody’s? Or was it built by one of the later seventeenth-century owners of her land? We may never know. But its expanded  form — the rubble-stone Phase 2 house — is probably the work of the Van Sicklen family, who came into possession of the property in 1702. Most eighteenth-century houses in sandy, coastal Gravesend were of wood-frame construction. Stone houses tended to be built near ridges, where appropriate-sized boulders were plentiful. To build a stone house at a location where rubble was scarce required significant manual labor, and the Van Sicklens, who, like most Dutch farmers of the period owned slaves, likely employed those slaves to transport rock to the site.

The Van Sicklen family occupied the house for the rest of the eighteenth century and through most of the nineteenth. Eventually it descended to Cornelia Van Sicklen, whose husband, Thomas Hicks, acquired it in 1842. (His carved initials survive on a ceiling beam near the eastern ground-floor fireplace of the house.) Hicks died in 1884, and his wife followed in 1893. The house sat vacant for a time, and then served briefly as meeting place for the fledgling Gravesend Methodist Episcopal Church in 1899. In 1904 the Hicks estate sold the house to William and Isabelle Platt, whose renovations resulted in a romanticized Dutch farmhouse set in a lush garden, which Mrs. Platt profiled in the June 1909 issue of Country Life in America. The Platts were the first to call this the “Lady Moody Homestead,” a name it has kept for more than a century.

By 1910 the Platts put the house up for sale (William Platt was a real estate speculator who was then involved in developments on Staten Island), and so began the perennial cries from preservationists and press that the Lady Moody House be rescued by the City or a civic group, or moved to Prospect Park or even to the grounds of the 1939 World’s Fair. Its fate seemed secure after it became a V.F.W. post in 1945, but that was a short-lived incarnation. The house reverted to private status, and was bought in 1955 by Nunzio Maisano, who covered the front in imitation stone veneer. Ironically, this facing hides the real thing. (It wouldn’t be too difficult to restore the house to the attractive state in which the Platts left it; the original door, removed by Maisano, survives in care of Eric J. Ierardi, president of the Gravesend Historical Society.)

Nunzio Maisano’s descendants held the house for nearly fifty years before selling it. Now it is on the market again, and time is running out. (Couldn’t the City acquire the house as a gift to the neighboring school for use as a meeting place or exhibition space? Both the Historic Districts Council and the New York Landmarks Conservancy have expressed interest in the house. Why not tap them for assistance and grants?)

The Landmarks Preservation Commission calendared the property in 1966, but a hearing that year did not result in designation. Nor did subsequent hearings in 1970 or 2004, due to owner opposition. But the Commission has designated other sites when faced with similar resistance (e.g., the Hendrick I. Lott House at 1940 East 36th Street in Brooklyn), and in cases where the fabric of a structure has been significantly altered (e.g., the asphalt-shingled Sandy Ground cottages at 565 and 569 Bloomingdale Road on Staten Island). And the recent designation of the Stonewall Inn, birthplace of the modern LGBT movement at 51-53 Christopher Street in Manhattan, illustrates that the Commission is cognizant of the historical associations of a building, even when its architectural integrity has been compromised.

Despite the changes it has weathered, the Lady Moody – Van Sicklen House remains the sole surviving eighteenth-century stone farmhouse in Brooklyn. It is one of two extant Dutch-American houses within the boundaries of the original Gravesend town square, where as late as the 1920s there were seven. It sits directly opposite the landmarked Van Sicklen Family Cemetery, which holds the remains of many generations who occupied the house. At the very least, it stands on the property of the remarkable Lady Deborah Moody, the first European woman to found a community in North America, a settlement chartered on the principle of religious freedom some hundred and thirty years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I trust you will seize this opportunity to recognize publicly, formally, and legally, the significance of this site tied inextricably to the themes of Brooklyn history, Women’s history, American slavery, and religious freedom. Without landmark protection the house is doomed.

Thank you for your valuable time.


Joseph Ditta

Author, Then & Now: Gravesend, Brooklyn (Arcadia Publishing, 2009)

 Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (


Filed under Charles William Bauhan, churches, Gilbert Hicks, Gravesend artists, Gravesend Cemetery, Gravesend Neck Road, Hicks family, historic houses, Lady Moody House, Maud Esther Dilliard, Slavery, streets, Van Sicklen family

Gravesend Characters Past (16): Alexander Ganiard (1836-1904)

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (

Continuing the challenge posed by my fellow members of the Society for One-Place Studies that we blog about the residents of our respective places, I turn my attention this time to letter carrier Alexander A. Ganiard and his pony, “Babe.” Credit for the discovery of this true pair of Gravesend characters goes to my friend, the talented artist, Steve Bialik.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Saturday 22 May 1897, p. 5, col. 6:


A Veteran Letter Carrier, Who is the Pioneer of the Present System of Postal Wagons.


Alexander A. Ganiard (1836-1904) astride “Babe.” Click here to read Ganiard’s obituary in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of Monday 11 January 1904.

The question as to the best way to deliver mail to the families who reside in the remote sections of the suburbs has been a topic for discussion among letter carriers in the new wards ever since their annexation. [Note: Gravesend became the 31st ward of the City of Brooklyn on 3 May 1894.] The regulation carrier’s wagon has given satisfaction in nearly all instances when put to the test, but Alexander A. Ganiard, a veteran carrier attached to Station H, at Bath Beach, has found that running his route on horse back beats anything he has yet tried. His district lies between Bensonhurst and Coney Island creek, including what were formerly the villages of Unionville and Gravesend beach, and the West Meadows. The houses are in many instances far apart and quite a few are so situated that it is impossible to get up to them in a wagon. On the West Meadows before Aleck, as the mounted carrier is called, secured his pony, it was necessary for him to leave his wagon standing a considerable distance away from the settlement while he delivered the letters to the inhabitants of the place on foot. Babe, his pony, walks through water, brush[,] and, in fact, almost anything, and carries Aleck right up to the front door of nearly all the houses.

Ganiard and his pony are now familiar figures in the Bath Beach and Bensonhurst sections. Both have many friends and Babe is particularly well liked by the children. Letter Carrier Ganiard was born in Rochester and is 61 years old. He has been in the Brooklyn postal service for twenty years and has an excellent record. He is a war veteran, having served three years in Battery L, New York First artillery, as quartermaster. He was the first carrier to use a wagon for delivering mail in Brooklyn. It was a little over nine years ago and Joseph C. Hendrix was postmaster at the time. Babe, Ganiard’s pony, was formerly the property of Buffalo Bill. The animal is gray in color, 7 years old, 14 1/2 hands high and weighs about 900 pounds. When Ganiard first got him Babe was very wild and he has not got over it yet. It takes a pretty good man to ride him. Babe frequently runs away, but never does any damage and always ends up at the stable door.

Superintendent H.G. Buckley of station H says that Aleck and his pony do the best work imaginable and he also believes that the horseback delivery is the best yet tried for that particular section of the suburbs.


Undated pen and ink sketch signed “Cook” of a “Scene between Coney Island and Bensonhurst, Long Island,” showing the marshy West Meadows traversed by Ganiard and Babe. [Collection of Joseph Ditta]

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (

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Gravesend Characters Past (15): Henry R. Williams (1840-1904)

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (

Continuing the challenge posed by my fellow members of the Society for One-Place Studies that we blog about 52 residents of our respective places, I turn my attention to Henry R. Williams with this excerpt from The Eagle and Brooklyn: The Record of the Progress of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Issued in Commemoration of its Semi-Centennial and Occupancy of its New Building; Together With the History of the City of Brooklyn From its Settlement to the Present Time, edited by Henry W. B. Howard (Brooklyn, N.Y.: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1893), vol. 2, pages 1141-42:

Henry R. Williams (1840-date)

Henry R. Williams (1840-1904)

Captain HENRY R[OBERT]. WILLIAMS, one of the assessors for the town of Gravesend, was born on November 22, 1840, in New York City, but his parents moved to Brooklyn when he was nine years old. He attended one of the public schools until he was fifteen, when he engaged in the printing business. he worked as a printer until the civil war [sic] began, and in the spring of 1861 enlisted as a private in the 14th Regiment. His attention at all times to his duty and his bravery in the field soon won him the approbation of his superiors, and he passed rapidly through the different grades until he attained the rank of first lieutenant in 1862. In January, 1863, he served as acting assistant inspector-general of a brigade, in the First Army Corps, and thence was transferred to the command of the Balloon Corps of the Army of the Potomac. While serving on the staff of Major-General French, 3d Army Corps, he was severely wounded in the leg, near Culpepper [sic] Court House; when convalescent, he was transferred to the Veteran Reserve Corps, and thence to the 45th U.S. Infantry, finally retiring from the service in 1871. he then took up his residence in Buffalo, remaining there until 1886, when he removed to Gravesend and began to deal in real estate. Four years ago he was appointed to fill the unexpired term of one year as a member of the board of assessors, and subsequently was reappointed for a further period of three years. Captain Williams was president for two years of the Republican Association of Gravesend, of which he is now the secretary; he was a delegate to the national Republican convention, in Minneapolis, in 1892, and to the New York State Convention. He is connected with Long Island Post, G.A.R. [Grand Army of the Republic], and with Coeur-de-Leon Encampment, Knights of Malta.

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (

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Gravesend Characters Past (Week 14): “Governor of Coney Island”

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (

Continuing the challenge posed by my fellow members of the Society for One-Place Studies that we blog about 52 residents of our respective places in as many weeks, I turn my attention this time to the curious stereoscopic view below. It surfaced recently, as so many fascinating treasures do, on eBay.


E. & H.T. Anthony & Co., stereoscopic view no. 2076, obverse, “A Trip to Coney Island. / Wyckoff, Governor of Coney Island,” circa 1864-1869 [Collection of Joseph Ditta]

The image side shows a seated, portly gentleman, hands clasped across his rumpled, outdated frock coat. He wears equally unfashionable ruffles at his neck, and squints at the camera with a bemused half-smile, looking for all the world like William Claude Dukenfield, despite his flowing hair.

The reverse side of this stereoview — one in the series “A Trip to Coney Island” published by E. & H.T. Anthony & Co. circa 1864-1869 — bears the cryptic caption “Wyckoff, Governor of Coney Island.”

Most internet searches on the phrase “Governor of Coney Island” return hits for Gilbert Davis, an early owner of the Pavilion, a dancing and entertainment venue at Norton’s Point (present-day Sea Gate). Davis, who died about 1870, was a wine merchant who so relished his unofficial honorific that he marked his casks “CGI” for “Governor of Coney Island.” But Davis was an upstart newcomer to Coney Island, at least in the eyes of the Wyckoff family.


E. & H.T. Anthony & Co., stereoscopic view no. 2076, reverse, “A Trip to Coney Island. / Wyckoff, Governor of Coney Island,” circa 1864-1869 [Collection of Joseph Ditta]

The Wyckoffs were among the first permanent European settlers of Coney Island. John Wyckoff (1787-1871), a great-great-great-grandson of Wyckoff family progenitor Pieter Claesen (died 1694), opened a seaside hotel, the eponymous Wyckoff House, in the 1840s. By the time the Anthonys issued their stereoview, Wyckoff’s son, John Jr. (1809-1873), had become proprietor.

Although the Wyckoffs are one of the best-documented families in the world, the Coney Island branch seems to have fallen through the cracks. Published information is sketchy or outright wrong. The standard genealogy of the Wyckoff family states that John Jr. died in 1868. He did not. He passed away December 8, 1873. His funeral took place three days later at the Wyckoff House, and he was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Flatbush. A subsequent notice in the Sag Harbor Corrector positively identifies him as the man in the stereoview:

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (

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Gravesend Characters Past (Week 13): The White Rats Picnic of 1910

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (

Band at White Rats outing Ulmer Park Aug 4th 1910.” Photograph by Jack Rossley published in the New York Clipper on Saturday 20 August 1910 with the caption “The White Rats Band.” [Collection of Joseph Ditta]

Is it finally spring? The calendar says so, but these fluctuating temperatures have yet to break free of winter. We’re all ready for outdoor activities sans umbrellas and boots. Continuing the challenge posed by my fellow members of the Society for One-Place Studies that we blog about 52 residents of our respective places in as many weeks, my thoughts turn this time to long-gone Ulmer Park, at the foot of 25th Avenue on Gravesend Bay, the setting for countless warm-weather excursions, such as the picnic-cum-baseball game thrown by the White Rats in 1910. The White Rats was a short-lived labor union of male vaudeville performers founded by the monologist George Fuller Golden (who penned a 1909 history of the organization, My Lady Vaudeville and Her White Rats). Although the Manhattan-based White Rats were not technically residents of Gravesend, and thus outside my loose definition of “Gravesend characters,” they did visit for a day, and left this record of how they spent their time:

New York Clipper, Saturday 13 August 1910 (p. 649, col. 5).


The annual Summer affair of the White Rats was held at Ulmer Park, Brooklyn, N.Y., Thursday, Aug. 4, and proved to be a big success, despite the threatening weather early in the day. The White Rats Band led the procession, down Broadway to the Thirty-third Street station, where the members and their families took the car for Brooklyn. Mayor Harry Thomson headed the parade. As the train passed Greenwood Cemetery, the band struck up “Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?”

1907 overview of William Texter's Ulmer Park. [Collection of Joseph Ditta]

A 1907 overview of William Texter’s Ulmer Park at the foot of 25th Avenue, Gravesend Beach, Brooklyn. [Collection of Joseph Ditta]

At the athletic grounds refreshments were served and two nines from the Rats played an exciting ball game, with the score 11 to 10 at the finish. The Freeport, L.I., Rats arrived in seven automobiles. They brought their baseball suits, and quickly challenged the New Yorkers for a contest on the diamond. The teams [lined?] up as follows:

Freeports: Cartwell[?], Morton [Sam Morton, Director], Smith, Pettet, Bailey, Austin, Castenbeer[?], Middleton and Kelm. New Yorks: McCree [Junie McCree, Vice-President], Platti[?], Felix [Geo. Felix, Director], Jerome, Klein, Barnes, Lorella [Colie Lorella, Trustee], Brockman and Jenkins. Umpires: Potts and Dody.

After a series of strike-outs, knock-outs and other laughable incidents, interrupted occasionally by some real ball playing, the score stood 9 to 1 in favor of the Out-of-Towners. Several photos were taken by Jack Rossley, who has favored THE CLIPPER with copies of them, which will appear in our next issue.

[Two of Rossley’s photos, the originals of which were found tucked inside a copy of Golden’s My Lady Vaudeville, are reproduced here. They were published in the New York Clipper on Saturday 20 August 1910, p. 671, col. 3.]

White Rats Outing Aug. 4 / 10 Ulmer Park B’klyn NY.” Photograph by Jack Rossley published in the New York Clipper on Saturday 20 August 1910 with the caption “The White Rats Ball Team and the Rooters.” [Collection of Joseph Ditta]

Mike Conkley[?] was a successful coach. Among the rooters were Major Doyle [Major James D. Doyle, Director], Joe Phillips, “Pop” Donegan, John World, Tom Lewis, who had got his second wind after playing in the first game; Harry Thomson, Harry Mountford [Secretary to Board of Directors], Tim Cronin [Director], Mattie Keene, Fred Buskirk, Frank Evans, Billy Hart, Mlle. Marie, Andy McLeod, Kelly and Ashby, and M. Keeler. The ladies enjoyed the fun immensely, and the band made a big hit. After supper the Freeporters automobiled homeward, and the Manhattanites trained it to Thirty-fourth Street, and from there paraded with the band to the clubrooms.

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (

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Gravesend Characters Past (Week 12): “Betsey” (c. 1726-1843)

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (

Continuing the challenge posed by my fellow members of the Society for One-Place Studies that we blog about 52 residents of our respective places in as many weeks, I turn my attention this time to a Gravesend woman for whom the barest traces survive. Scraps, really; but taken together, they provide a glimpse into her long life of servitude.

She first appeared in a Philadelphia newspaper, of all places. The National Gazette of Tuesday 8 March 1831 (p. 3) did not name her, but focused on the fact which made her a curiosity: her great age.

Longevity.–There is now in the family of Mrs. Stillwell, in Gravesend, a colored woman, who has attained the age of 103 years. She came into the family when she was 28 years of age, and has remained in the same house since that time. She is industrious, milks the cows, and does the washing for a family of ten persons, and will not suffer others to assist her. Her faculties are all good, and particularly her eyesight. [1831 – 103 = a birth year of c. 1828]

Similar accounts ran in New England papers in the following weeks. She remained nameless, and her age varied slightly–102 instead of 103 (which calculates to a birth year of c. 1729)–but the recitation was verbatim.

1840.census.Stillwell.Maria - Copy

Detail of page for 1840 U.S. census, Gravesend, Kings County, N.Y., showing household of Maria Stillwell and the tick mark for her servant who was upwards of 100-years-old.

She was still alive nine years later, on 1 June 1840, when the federal census enumerator stopped into the residence of Maria Stillwell to count her household. Again, the National Gazette and Literary Register of Philadelphia tells the story (Tuesday 1 September 1840, p. 2):

The officer, employed to take the census of King’s [sic] county, N.Y., met at the residence of Maria Stillwell, at Gravesend, a colored woman at the advanced age of 113 years. She appears to be in perfect health, eats, drinks, and sleeps well, and performs her duty as a domestic with astonishing energy and activity. She says she can milk the cows as readily as she could a hundred years ago. [1840 – 113 = a birth year of c. 1727]

Before 1850, the decennial United States federal census did not record the names of every member of every household. Only the head of the family was listed; everyone else was entered by tick marks or numbers in columns describing their status, sex, and age. In Maria Stillwell’s household, under the column headed “Free Colored Persons / Females / 100 and upwards” is a lone scratch of the pen, nearly off the page, for her 113-year-old servant.

Remarkably, she lived nearly another three years, until March 1843. In death, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Wednesday 8 March 1843, p. 2) finally gives her name:


Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Wednesday 8 March 1843, p. 2. [Note: 1843 – 117 = a birth year of c. 1726. “Saturday last” = 4 March 1843.]

A briefer notice, in the Christian Intelligencer of the Reformed Dutch Church for Saturday 11 March 1843 spells her name “Betsey” and pushes her death back to Friday the 3rd.

And what have we learned from these bits and pieces? That an African-American woman named “Betty” or “Betsey,” born between 1726 and 1729, entered the service of the Stillwell family at age 28, sometime between the years 1754 and 1757 — when she would certainly have been enslaved — and continued to do their laundry and milking for the better part of a century, until her death at the supposed great age of 117.

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Gravesend Characters Past (Week 11): Vamps of 1915

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (

Photograph of poster announcing 1915 ball of the G.E.V.F.A. [Collection of Joseph Ditta]

Photograph of a poster announcing the 1915 ball of the G.E.V.F.A. [Collection of Joseph Ditta]

Continuing the challenge posed by my fellow members of the Society for One-Place Studies that we blog about 52 residents of our respective places in as many weeks, I turn my attention this time to the Gravesend Exempt Volunteer Firemen’s Association (G.E.V.F.A.). This is not so much a profile, as an endless list of names of those who attended the association’s annual ball in 1915.

When Gravesend became the 31st ward of the City of Brooklyn in 1894, Brooklyn’s paid fire department supplanted the town’s volunteer force (only to be replaced by the FDNY when Brooklyn became a borough of Greater New York City in 1898). With no fires to put out, the volunteers reorganized on January 21, 1896 as the Gravesend Exempt Volunteer Firemen’s Association, a social club-cum-mutual aid society. (In restitution for their voluntary service, they were “exempt” from military conscription and jury duty.) The major activity of the G.E.V.F.A., aside from parading on Washington’s Birthday, seems to have been the throwing of a lavish, annual ball around Lincoln’s Birthday. To judge by the report below from Brooklyn’s Daily Standard Union, and the large group photograph of the grand march, their 1915 affair seems to have been quite popular. (I don’t expect you to read all those names! Just scroll down for the picture and invitation.)

Incidentally, old-time firemen carried megaphones, or speaking trumpets called “vamping horns,” through which orders were shouted above the din of a blaze. Hence the firemen, by extension, were nicknamed “vamps.” Read how the Gravesend Vamps kicked up their heels . . . .

The Daily Standard Union, Brooklyn, N.Y., Tuesday 9 February 1915, p. 12, cols. 1-2:


Old Gravesend Hand Engine in Place of Honor at Coney Island Reception.


Sons of Veterans Give Drill on Dance Floor.

All roads led to Coney Island last night, when the invitation ball of the Gravesend Exempt Volunteer Firemen’s Association was held at Stauch’s Pavilion. Many hundreds of residents of Coney Island, Sheepshead Bay[,] Bath Beach and the adjoining sections attended and helped make merry with the old “vets” who fought fires in the days prior to consolidation.

As usual, the members appears in their uniforms, with red shirts, and the old hand engine, which remains in solitary confinement during the year in the barn of “Father Bill” Lake in Gravesend, was brought upon the scene and occupied a prominent place at the entrance to the hall. The interior of the hall had been tastefully decorated, and with the lighting effect presented a pleasing picture.

The committees in charge of the affair had prepared an exceptionally good order of dance, including the fox trot, tango and all the latest steps, which were thoroughly enjoyed by all present. During the evening several selections and a drill were given by members of the Gravesend Exempt Volunteer Firemen’s Sons’ Fife and Drum Corps.

Invitation to the 1915 ball of the G.E.V.F.A. at Stauch's Palace Hall, Coney Island. [Collection of Joseph Ditta]

Invitation to the 1915 ball of the G.E.V.F.A. at Stauch’s Palace Hall, Coney Island. [Collection of Joseph Ditta]

Three Hundred Couples in Line.

At midnight the grand march was led by Mr. and Mrs. Francis P. Gallagher, Mr. and Mrs. William Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. William T. London, Mr. and Mrs. Lockwood, Mr. and Mrs. William B. Lake, Mr. and Mrs. William Van Cleef, Mr. and Mrs. Frank G. Walther and followed by some three hundred couples.

Dr. Alfred Chambers was floor manager, assisted by Charles M. Brewster, Patrick Gillen and Herman Wacke.

On the floor committee were: James Jameson, Jr., chairman; Andrew W. Ahearn, George J. Ahearn, Charles Allen, William A. Aldrich, Arion [sic] M. Aumack, George A. Aumack, Berend W. Baas, Adrian Bogart, Simon Bogart, John J. Bowen, Andrew Boyle, Charles Brewster, James Brewster, George S. Brown, Jacob Buhler, Albert D. Buschman, John Byrnes, Dennis J. Costigan, Jr.; Hiram [sic] N. Cropsey, Anton Deferee, George C. Dangman, Patrick Dempsey, Charles L. Feltman, George H. Fredericks, Louis Frederick, Stanley French, Augustus Friend, George Gilmore, J.N. Goodfellow, Ernest Goskay [sic], Joel Halstead, Charles Hardwick, Richard Hayman, Frank J. Herman, Norton Inge, James Jameson, Sr.; Andrew S. Jameson, John H. Joyce, Ward B. Jones, Charles M. Kies, John Knuth, Jr.; Theodore Knuth, John Kopf, Johannes Kouwenhoven, George Kuckler [sic]; Abraham Lane, John H. Lockwood, Leo Loesing, Edward Maybert [sic], Benjamin McGray, Frederick A. Miller, Richard B. Moore, Thomas P. Murphy, Thomas Murray, George C. McBride, Bartlett McGettrick, John S. McGettrick, George Neusser, John Oliver, Peter J. O’Connor, William H. O’Connor, Paul Petrucelly, Andrew Poole, John Lundy, John W. Murphy, John B. Potter, Henry Schiffman, Gottlieb Seyfried, Charles Simmon, Louis Stauch, William H. Stewart, James Tanzey, George C. Tappen, Theodore E. Tripp, John Vandernoot, George Vanderveer, Charles F. Vanderwater, Strycker [Derrick Stryker] Van Sicklen, Fred von Fricken, Edward T. Walsh, John Whalen, George W. White.



Reception Committee.

Richard Garms was chairman of the reception committee. On the committee were: Jeremiah H. Aheran, Frederick Below, Charles E. Boyd, Frederick Burkhardt, Charles Buschman, Alfred Chambers, James Connor, Cornelius Colwell, Frederick R. Corsen [sic], John M. Cun[liffe?] Jr., James Dooley, Frank Dunig[???], John W. Durand, Andrew J. Darb[???], Michael H. Daly, William V. [Eberhart?], Harry J. Ettricken, Charles E. Fowler, James Gallagher, Thomas J. Gavin, Peter Gillen, Patrick Gillen, Alfred Girardot, Louis Gottlieb, John S. Griffin, George A. Hann [Hahn?], Frederick B. Henderson, Peter Hourigan, Anton Huebner, John M. Jones, Henry E. Jones, Murray Kahn, Charles Kies, Jr., Hans Kronika, Frank Knuth, Henry Koch, Fred Lundy, William Muller, Morton Morris, William H. Miller, David Martin, Charles E. Morris, John J. McGettrick, Patrick McDonald, John W. McKay, William McKeon, Duncan D. McKinlay, Elwin Pl. Page, Louis Potter, Michael T. Reily [sic?], Uriagh [sic] J. Ryder, Ambrose P. Rickerman, George Schwieckert, John Shaw, John B. Steininger, Harry Van Wart, John G. VanDuyn, Thomas Van Riper, Charles S. Voorhees, Herman Wacke, John T. Walsh, George Webb, Robert Whiteford, Nelson Williams, George T. Wood, Joseph Wright, Frederick Wyckoff, James F. Yarrington, William A. Young, Henry C. Young.

The stokers are: William Kister, chairman; William Bishop, Christ Butterbrod, Joseph Byrne, George Campbell, W.T. Campbell, James Carr, Thomas Chatterton, George Clark, Frederick Cronin, H. M. Cummings, Frank G. Curnow, John M. Driscoll, Louis Duncan, William G. Ferris, Thomas Gallagher, Richard Geary, Edward Gray, Ernest Grotzinger, Frederick M. Hall, Louist T. Hauck, Gustav A. Hedler, Gustav A. Hedler, Jr., Charles A. Hollock, Louis Howard, John H. Jackson, Ike Jacobs, John F. Jameson, Christian Jensen, Phil Jolly, Chris Kavakos, John Kavakos, James Kennedy, Adam Klein, Stephen Knapp, William F. Kearns, Walter Larsen, Jim S. Lee, Burt G. Lewis, John Luhrs, John Lundy, Jr., Martin Lynch, John Madden, Charles Martin, Dennis J. McCarthy, George Menakakes, William F. Messiter, Charles Miller, Walter E. Morson, John M. Mulrean, Patrick McDonough, Peter McElroy, Barney McGuire, Ira McKane, Philip I. Nash, A. Nebenthal, Morton Newman, John Nichols, Frank C. Nostrand, Gus Oberland, John Oberlie, Stephn O’Brien, J. J. O’Connell, Goerge Pfaff, John Woodlin, porter; William Proudman, Martin J. Rauscher, James T. Reily [sic?], Lester A. Roberts, James H. Robinson, Julian Robinson, Louis Rogers, William C. Rogers, Robert Rehm, Charles Rosenberg, Oscar Rubein, Samuel Samuels, John Savarese, Gus Schindlbeck, Frank Schulze, Philip Schweickert, Jr., Thomas A. Sharkey, John Sheridan, Jessie Sherwood, William Slavin, Edward Slavin, Edward Smith, Martin E. Smith, Thomas Spellman, Arthur J. Stern, Abraham Stiefel, Edward Strattan, Thomas Sutphen, Chris Talbot, Harry Temple, William F. Ulrict [sic?], John A. Vance, Edward Vermilyea, Charles Victory, Gus Von Thaden, Samuel B. Weisberger, Joseph White, Joseph Whiteley, Albert Whitworth, Charles Wolford, James Woods and Adam Yockel.


A postcard view of the G.E.V.F.A.’s 1850s hand-pumped engine, the one stored in Bill Lake’s barn and brought to Coney Island for the 1915 ball. It now resides in the permanent collection of the Museum of Firefighting in Hudson, New York. [Postcard from the collection of Joseph Ditta]

The officers of the organization are: Francis P. Gallagher, president; William E. Johnson, first vice-president; William T. London, second vice-president; John H. Lockwood, third vice-president; William B. Lake, treasurer; William Van Cleef, financial secretary; Frank G. Walther, recording secretary. Trustees–William Fitzpatrick, chairman; John J. Hynes, secretary; Henry Bateman, Peter Kappelmann, Charles Buser.

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (


Filed under Gravesend characters, Gravesend Exempt Volunteer Firemen's Association