Category Archives: Gravesend characters

Gravesend Characters Past: The White Rats Picnic of 1910

“Band at White Rats outing Ulmer Park Aug 4th 1910.” Photography 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: “Betsey” (c. 1726-1843)

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.

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (

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Gravesend Characters Past: Vamps of 1915

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 appeared 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 (


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Gravesend Characters Past: Charles R. Stillwell (1854-1920)

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, here is a profile of Charles Rushmore Stillwell, transcribed from Peter Ross, LL. D., A History of Long Island From its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, vol. 2 (New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1902), 111:


Charles R. Stillwell (1854-1920)

Charles R. Stillwell, an esteemed resident of Gravesend, was born October 13, 1854, at Gravesend, in a house which is still standing. His ancestors were among a company of thirty-nine people who received grants of land from Lady Moody in 1643, and one purchased a plantation, thus becoming the owner of a portion of Coney Island. His father was Jacques R. Stillwell and his grandfather was Richard I. Stillwell. The former was born at Gravesend. Representatives of the family have long been associated with things which have formed the history of this portion of the Empire state, for the family was founded on Long Island in 1638 and has been identified with Gravesend since 1643, Nicholas Stillwell being the first to locate at that place. In 1640 he was associated with Governor Stuyvesant in fighting the Indians. Richard I. Stillwell, the grandfather, was a very powerful man, noted for the strength in all the athletic contests throughout the region around. Jacques R. Stillwell was a farmer by occupation, providing for his family by agricultural pursuits. His was a noble nature, his life being characterized by benevolence and charity. he married Miss Cornelia Stryker, a daughter of Samuel G. Stryker, of Gravesend, and both died in the year 1898. They had two children, Charles R. and Frederick, the latter a resident of Hackensack, New Jersey.

Charles R. Stillwell mastered the branches of English learning taught in the schools of Gravesend, New Jersey, and in Brooklyn, but at the age of fourteen he put aside his text-books and took his place upon the farm and for some time he was associated with the work of developing and improving the fields. For thirteen years he was engaged in the cultivation and sale of flowers, and as a florist carried on a successful business. He is now quite extensively engaged in the raising of fancy fruit, and in this enterprise is meeting with well deserved success. Industry and careful management have always characterized his work, and as the result of his diligence and perseverance he has acquired a comfortable competence. In connection with his other business affairs he is now engaged in speculating and his keen discernment, sagacity and foresight enables him to place his money so that it brings a good return.

Advertisement from the souvenir program of the fair of the wives and daughters of the members of Franklin Lodge, No. 182, I.O.O.F., at Sheepshead Bay, 26-28 April 1911. [Collection of Joseph Ditta]

In public affairs Mr. Stillwell has been quite prominent, having been called upon to fill a number of positions of trust and responsibility. In politics he is an independent Republican. He served as postmaster at Gravesend from 1890 until 1894, resigning his position in the latter year. He was then appointed shore inspector and acted in that capacity until 1898. He was also deputy inspector of the New York harbor from 1895 until 1898. He belongs to the Odd Fellows fraternity, which is his only lodge connection. On the 23d of October, 1879, occurred the marriage of Mr. Stillwell and Miss Elizabeth Voorhies, a daughter of John L. Voorhies, who for many years served as town clerk of Gravesend. They have three children: Walter E., Elizabeth J. and Cornelia E., and their home is upon a part of the original grant of 1643. Coming of a family of prominence, Mr. Stillwell’s record has cast no shadow upon the untarnished name and he is widely known as one of the leading, honorable and substantial citizens of his community.

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (

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Gravesend Characters Past: The Dog Who Would Not Be Saved

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 troublesome four-legged Gravesender. As the Brooklyn Eagle reported on Monday 9 February 1948:

Cold Dog on Ice Floe Is Hot Potato For C.G., P.D., F.D., A.S.P.C.A.

An ungrateful stray pup grudgingly accepted the hospitality of the A.S.P.C.A. shelter at 233 Butler St. today while the Police and Fire Departments, United States Coast Guard and the A.S.P.C.A. hoped the mutt would never venture onto an ice floe again.

The mongrel, mostly white Spitz, was discovered yesterday sitting forlornly on a six-foot cake of ice in Gravesend Bay, off Bay 35th St. The floe was about 200 feet from shore and 100 feet from the end of a pier. The dog’s plight was noticed by householders who had gathered to get kerosene from the Bay Fuel Oil Co. terminal.

Police Sgt. George Huson of the Bath Beach station, on fuel detail at the terminal, attempted to lure the stray dog to shore by waving some dog food. The pup was not interested. Then August Rizler, 30, of 535 Park Ave., a driver for the A.S.P.C.A., arrived with a rescue truck.

Rizler crawled out on the ice, using several sheets of corrugated sheet steel and three ladders placed end-to-end to get near his quarry. He tossed food to the dog and attempted to drop a net over his head. The dog grabbed the food but backed away and Rizler fell into the water. He got back to the shore, made another attempt and fell in the water again. He got back to shore the second time.

ACME TELEPHOTO of the rescue of the ungrateful pooch from icy Gravesend Bay. Note the arrow pointing to the dog. For orientation, the apartment building at far right is the Lena Arms, at 2315 Cropsey Avenue, corner of Bay 34th Street. [Collection of Joseph Ditta]

Police Launch No. 1 from 39th St., chugged into view off the pier with Sgt. Fred Mohrmann in command. Because of the closely packed ice the launch could not get near the dog.

So Hook and Ladder Company 149 pulled up to the pier and dropped its 85-foot extension ladder. Fireman John Carian climbed to the tip with a 50-foot rope, which proved too short. Then the Coast Guard–skilled in sea-rescues–confidently reached the scene in a cutter, but shallow water kept the 64-foot boat away from the pooch.

Finally, six hours and 15 minutes after rescue attempts had been started, three civilians in a 12-foot sailboat propelled by poles, rescued the dog. They were Fred Landa, 27, of 8871 18th Ave. and Jack West, 38, of 2055 85th St., who operate a flying school near the scene, and Nathan Levy, 32, a pilot.

While Landa and West poled, Levy draped himself over the bow and kicked ice cakes out of the way with his feet. Nearing the dog Landa jumped out and began playing tag with it. As Landa jumped from one cake the dog jumped to another. Finally, he enticed the pooch with some food–after it tried to bite him–and he got into the boat with the dog. Meanwhile, West fell in the water. He, too, climbed back into the boat, which was then pulled to shore with a pier line.

Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (

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