Scenes, written pieces, premises, what-not ...
OGH Scene List and Descriptions
1.Night Black, tunnel, voices heard above, men working, talking. Rat picks its way along cables, slight smoke rolls along under the rat. A fire is brewing.
2.Basement workshop/furnace room. 2 men. Dialog in regards to the building, owners, tenants. Incompetent/uncaring men talk about their ďbetters.Ē
3.Cold night, woman in heavy coat sitting on balcony of above building, smoking cigarette. Mrs. Latcher. Mr. Latcher enters outside balcony, they argue. Unhappy couple. Latcherís role established.
4.Train station, winter afternoon. Sarah, Mary, then Annie, Mr. Gorman, policeman, etc. Mary meets Annie.
5.Hotel Street House. Annie and Mrs. Gorman argue. Mrs. G. has imported Annie to serve her male (mostly) customers. Annie is trapped, runs.
6.Mrs. Piattís school. Mary there by design, Annie there as she runs. Mary hires Annie, determined to bring her home and force her into the household.
7.Flat of John B. Wood. Daytime. John, Mary, with Annie and Mary entering. On their way to the apartment, Mary and Annie pass the two men from the cellar, as they work outside, pulling wire or pipe in some manner.
1. Woods Leave The Fire
Now, to Mr. Wood. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I seem to remember that while enroute to an exit, Mr and Mrs. Wood and their daughter Mary stopped, and Mr. Wood told them to wait while he went back for a box. When Mrs. Wood and Mary had been waiting a while, along came another party of residents, who convinced Mrs. Wood to accompany them. Frightened and thinking Mr. Wood may have been unable to get back to her, but had hopefully found another way out, Mrs. Wood and Mary went along with the other party, but a few minutes later left them, evidently to go back and wait for or find Mr. Wood. Mrs. Wood and Mary were never seen alive again. The party they had briefly joined made it to safety.
Mr. Wood had returned to their flat and met another party passing through his living room along the escape route that the Flat's builders had intended, north or south from balcony to balcony on the front of the building.
[ASIDE: Each flat's living room had two front doors, one leading to a balcony on the left and another leading to a balcony on the right. This was a convenience and a safety feature. On a summer evening, you had a choice of balconies for your use, in case one neighbor was using either. Plus, the balconies were built on the somewhat fireproof brick front of the building. (Most of the Genesee Flats was built of wood.) To escape in a north or south direction from your apartment, which stretched from the front of the building to almost the back, you went to the front of the building and walked out on a balcony, then walked into your neighbor's living room and out on to the next balcony, progressing away from the danger. This route would only be successful if your neighbor's doors were unlocked and unblocked by furniture. The idea was for residents to leave their front doors unlocked, considered safe because they were at least one story above ground. But few did, evidently. Plus, to augment wall space, the doors were often blocked with furniture.]
If I remember correctly, Mr. Wood helped the party passing through his living room. I think the smoke in main hall across the back of the building by that time no longer allowed him to leave the apartment anyway. I'm not sure what he did to help, possibly he helped them to get down to the next floor, dropping from balcony to balcony, in hopes that a path was clear through more living rooms on the floor below, where they could possibly make their way to an end of the building free of smoke and fire. At some point Mr. Wood felt that his wife and Mary would have gone on without him and on to safety. When he finally got out of the building, he headed to the Albrights across the street assuming he would find them there.
If Annie Sullivan the character were with the Wood family as their maid, this would be an excellent position from which to tell the story. She's practically Mary's friend, she is frightened out of her wits, she might choose face the choice of accompanying the women or (for some reason) Mr. Wood. She may stay with the women and with them join the party that came along, but then refuse to go back with Mrs. Wood and Mary when want to retrace their steps through the smokey gloom, pleading with the women to stay with the group. Lots of possibilities.
He went back for the box that was on the parlour table at his wife's request. The rest of the time line and action you posted is very close to what we have read in the old papers. So, we will leave it as that is what he did. Yes, Annie could have done any of those things, as I have her as Mary B's ladies maid. not the family maid. There are lots of possibilities. Please read my intro in "Sullivan" which I posted tonite. Also, remember that I have 90% of "The Flats" hardcopied and in a binder so I can look up facts very fast. I am going to copy the other 10% this upcoming week. I don't think Clipper would ever go the route of Joe Mezz, but something else could happen. Also, let me point out that, according to the accounts, the "serving girl" came out of the building alone and when interviewed by the reporter as to why she was sitting down on the sidewalk a ways from the fire. She replied that "she was putting her shoes on the right feet, as she had left the building in such a hurry, that she had put her shoes on the wrong feet." And yes, the layout of the building is correct, one long hall along the back, and don't forget, the building was a labryinth of halls and stairs, so it was easy to get lost. I will begin posting some bios as early as tomorrow night.
About the halls, there was one long back hall along the east side (back) of the building from which all other halls and stairways connected. The Olbiston and the Kanatenah were constructed in the same way. Also, the flats were French Flats, some would call them railroad apts, and they were constructed like dumbells. Each flat had along internal hallway from which the rooms extended. The public rooms were in the front, chambers (bed rooms) off the hall, and the kitchen in the back,
Annie in Street
Annie couldn't for the life of her figure out why she couldn't stand. "I got here, didn't I?" she thought, "Oh, Jesus, where was Mary? Why did I leave her?" Annie lunged to her feet once more and began to run toward the road. Her feet twisted underneath her and the young woman went sprawling into the mud surface of Genesee Street. She quickly twisted around, sat up and looked at her feet. Her shoes were on the wrong feet! She wasn't going anywhere far unless she switched them. At the sound of hooves, she glanced over her shoulder to see 4 horses bearing down down her, their steaming breath snorting through flared nostrils in the frigid morning air. She quickly bent forward and began to unlace the shoes. The horses were now pounding a path directly at her, ice and snow and mud kicking up from their feet in every direction. "Oh, God. Oh, God," she wailed, lying back and trying to kick the shoes off But they were tied too well, too tightly. How the heck had she managed to do that when Mary first woke her, she couldn't remember. "Feckin' shoes," she shouted. "I didn't get outta the feckin' fire to die like a feckin' dog in the feckin' street!" With all her might, Annie flipped her body toward the curb, landing in an upright position on the curb as the horse and the chemical engine rumbled past, trampling the spot that almost been her grave. "Are you all right?" a male voice came from behind her. "Where the feckin' hell were YOU!" she wanted to say. But always the maid, she simply said, "Yes. I guess I got the wrong shoes on my feet."
Song: Blue Eyed Mary
Blue Eyed Mary
Tommy Makem - Lyrics
There's a black crow sitting on a bare oak tree
And the winter sun is low
And it's painting shadows on the old brown hills
And the meadows down below
But when Mary walks those misty fields
It's like a summer's day
For sunshine goes where Mary goes
To light her on her way
Blue eyed Mary, lovely Mary
Blue eyed Mary, the love light of my soul
There's a blackbird singing in a green oak tree
And the song is sweet and clear
To welcome crocuses and daffodils
In the springing of the year
But when Mary sings her golden songs
The birds are hushed and still
And spring is sweeter than before
On every flowering hill
Oh Mary is fairer than the brightest dawn
Or the sweetest flower in May
But it was her tenderness and gentle soul
That stole my heart away
And where Mary goes, I'll follow her
'Til time has ceased to be
For yesterday, she kissed my lips
And gave her love to me
(Playing with the lyrics from the two songs ....)
There's a black crow singing
in a bare oak tree.
Blackbird has spoken,
Morning is broken,
And time has ceased to be.
Description of Mary
....finishing school and appears to be a strong willed young woman who is used to material comforts and to having her own way, up to a point. I like her gaze: It's very direct and the hair is perfect for Mary B. The blouse is beautiful and since she already told me "she hates those huge leg-o-mutton sleeves and prefers "rational dress" I would go with this young lady. She's no shrinking violet, yet, as a 15 year old, is still full of questions about the nature of things. I feel a formality about this girl that suits the social mileau the Wood's moved in, yet, as a woman approaching a new century, is already questioning her role in society and what the future will bring. I also think she has great posture! Plus,Dave, look at the pin on her collar: The Saturday Evening Journal plainly stated that she owned a sterling silver pin with the name Mary upon it in the form of interlocking hearts and that such a pin was found in the debris field near where they had found the mothers wedding ring. This tells me two things, that they were together when they died and that she (Mary) had the pin on. It must have been very special to her if she put it on at 5AM as the family was getting ready to exit the apartment. I like this girl very much. Nothing much gets past her.
Writing to Grandman. CHANGE
Only a few times in her young life has Mary B. left the peaceful surroundings of her home to travel by train. The contrast between the somnolence of an upper class neighborhood and the cacaphony of a rail yard and station was frightening. As she considers her upcoming trip to California, she also bears in mind the terrible accidents that seem to befall rail travelers in the 1890's. (And it's true; speed and congestion have outpaced technology and traffic control as the new century begins to dawn.)
Mary B's mother is too busy to listen, worrying as she does daily about the health of the man of the family. Her aunt Blandina is of no help. The spinster ... who herself seems often not of this world ... regards Mary B as the silliest of girls. So the young woman writes her grandmother and namesake, the only woman in her life to whom she can speak of her fears.
Mary at end
Mary lie quiet and still now. She felt she was floating. The storm was over, if it had been a storm. Her mind confused, she sensed she had been through something terrible, but couldn't bring it back. Terror, loss, Momma! Momma! She let it all go.
Blinded, burned and broken. It had hurt so much to breath, so she stopped trying. Now she remembered, and the terror returned. Running, running, trying to breath through her coat sleeve, then ripping off her hat to use as a mask, entangling her wrists in the bright Easter ribbons that had adorned it. Pounding on doors, on walls, on the floor. Trying to rip clothing off as it caught fire. Down on her knees, cowering in a corner, she suddenly knew her young life was over. She would never return to Mrs. Piatt's, never wear her new Easter dress, never kiss a boy, have a husband, be a mother, live a life. The fear was now overtaken by a deep sadness. As the burning pain became unbearable, Mary knew she was at the end. Mary would be no more. She was disappearing before her own blinded eyes.
Down and down she fell, into the pit. A cacophony of noise ... sharp cracks, booming thuds and thunderous rumbles of a mighty weight collapsing all around her. Later, a silence of despair and sorrow crept over her as water seeped in all around and quietly edged up around her body. So cold.
Now, a noise sounds above her. A shaft of light cuts down through the darkness to light her face and shoulders. A wonderful light she can feel, more than see. Above, a workman curses and warns his coworker away from the hole in the debris over the second cellar.
But Mary hears a gentle voice, beckoning her upward to join her mother and the others who are waiting for her. Mary rises and leaves her wasted body as she crosses to another place.
Gormans on Whitesboro St.
the location of Gorman's and Peter Wolff's Imperial Hotel, but let's keep it as it is. There are not many houses at all left on Hotel Street due to urban renewal and, of course, there is nothing on Whitesboro St. I went to the UPL yesterday and after much research got the info. In 1898 Peter Wolff's Imperial Hotel and saloon was located on the corner of Whitesboro and Hotel Street and consisted of his home and his business, 34 to 41 Whitesboro Street, home - 37 W. Boro St. From a picture I recall in the Sat. Globe, part of it, the cafe, is still standing and is now Rockford's Auto. Gorman's lived directly across the road at 36 Whitesboro Street. The husband, James Gorman, was a teamster. In this the reporter for the Globe was correct. Before I can construct a scene I have to do more research. Apparantly, that area was lined with Hotels, saloons, ect, a coal yard was directly next door, The Sat. Evening Globe offices nearby, a few doors away. it was avery tough neighborhood, mostly Irish and a few blocks away, blending into a heavily Jewish neighborhood. the houses were already old when the map you posted was made and I think most of the people had moved on. So, for all practical purposes, let's keep this as Gorman's, OK? I also found a John B. Wood, caterer, living at 43 Seneca Street from 1912 to 1914. This may be him. More research is needed. The Albert was an apt house or hotel at 249 Genesee Street, next to the Masonic Temple. Nothing is there now except the modern offices of ARC. About the chapter headers: That is a good idea. Go ahead and name them. Also, it is OK to put up the letter. I have to ask you...would you be interested in doing the bio's of John and Latcher? We really need a man's point of view and you seem to be more indside the head's of these characters than I am. And we need to choose a photo of John . Also, there is a photo of Latcher in the GF thread. In the mean time I will be working on the street scene. It's a long one and I need some time. All is well and I think the plot line is developing. Now, by seeing things cinematically, do you mean - like a movie?
As I previously wrote, I made a mistake on the location of Gorman's and here is the correction: 36 Whitesboro Street was originally built around 1820 and occupied up until around 1893-4- by Henry Seymour and then his children. Henry Seymour, as far as I can ascertain, is a relative of the Miller's, according to Blandina Miller in "A Sketch Of Old Utica". The Utica Directory has the house vacant, until 1897- 8, when it is occupied by James Gorman, Teamster, and his family. The house then becomes a boarding house and is featured as a "house of assignation" in the Saturday Evening Globe's story on the death of Carrie Cobb and John Karl, December 24, 1898. A photo of the house may be found on page 53 of "A Sketch...", and a free download of "Sketch" can be found at "A Sketch Of Old Utica:www.archive.org.
I don't mean to be morbid, but how hard is it to completly burn a human body- and then- two of them-? I am thinking the total weight of the building fell in on them - or they were carried down with and then buried under the debris. There are so many millions of unknown bits, so many what if's... for instance...what if, at least some parts of the bodies were found and there was damming evidence that Mary B. was " in a family way" for instance,
wouldn't it be better to say "the bodies were never found?" Or perhaps The father went to Latcher, - say or someone- the Mayor - the Chief of Police- and begged them to stop digging-
who would know? Who would go up against a broken man? How would the general population know? They wouldn't. I keep having this idea that reruns through my head like a repeat recording- that some small bones were found- some finger bones of a woman - and they were given to John - and he kept it silent and lined the pockets of the man who found them very well and that man also kept silent, on the agreeement that he would take the money and "go away" and never ever speak of it again. And people could just go away during those times and no one would ever think any more about it. It's just an idea, but it keeps coming back. I have been so close to these characters for years they are now like my second skin. I did read about the lock of blown hair a while back and that it was brown and found in the far North side of the building on the first floor. I did not read about the watch, but about the pin that belonged to Mary B. that was sterling silver with two pearls set in two intertwined hearts and engraved with the name Mary. Funny the pin survived so well and the watch, under all those tons and tons of rubble. Aside from this: I read in the reports that " two pieces of horse bridle and two overturned horse shoes were found hanging on a wall in an apartment on the far North Corner and that some people said : "Latcher's Luck had run out" because the horse shoes were nailed to the wall upside down and that was the "cause of the fire."
We may have discussed this previously. I've always thought it unlikely that there wasn't some evidence of the bodies. The trunk of Noble Hopkins' body was found, and after all, I've always heard it is quite difficult to totally consume a human body by fire. However, even if portions of the bodies survived the fire, finding them is another matter. They didn't have the tools that are available today. Nor did they have the motivation to sift so carefully as to find the bodies. By the newspaper reports, the only folks digging among the ruins for items and possibly bodies were paid workmen. Finding a body part would have not been something they looked forward to and therefore their search may not have been very thorough. Nor did the authorities have any reason to prolong the search, because the activity was keeping the site from being cleaned up and the neighbors were complaining. Remember the brick front facade? They didn't want to drop it in the road, and the couldn't drop it backwards onto the building site until they were finished searching the ruins. Meanwhile, the eerie site of just the front wall standing there must have been upsetting to the neighbors, as well as to the owners and local authorities. Appearances were everything in the Victoria era.
We don't know how John Wood felt about leaving his wife and daughter underneath what would rise as the Olbiston. But I imagine the city building inspector carried in his head a date by which he would give it up, if Sarah and Mary weren't found, and the date would not have been very far in the future.
And I think peole railed less against death a hundred years ago, because so little could be done about it. Only so much effort would be put into finding bodies.
Now ... all that said, I've also wondered about other scenarios. I hadn't thought of "leave them in the basement, Mary was preggers." Don't think it would have been necessary to do so to hide her condition, anyway. A word or a few bills to any Doctor would have kept the secret from the public, I'm sure.
But there are other what ifs:
- John killed his family and then lit the fire
- Sarah and Mary were separated in the smoke. Mary was never heard from again, but Sarah got out (there were reports in the newspaper of her being seen outside at the fire), saw her opportunity to disappear from a bad marriage and had her paramour scoot her off to Stittville, where she lived out her days as a poor but happy milk maid.
- John, Mary and Sarah escaped to California, just as they planned when they set the fire. This elaborate scheme had John as the lone survivor so that he could ensure that Mary and Sarah were safely considered dead and gone, in case any doubts came up. The purpose of their scheme was to entirely cut ties with the Miller family because Blandina ......
One more. Mary and Sarah had actually left Utica a few days before, fleeing from the insanity of life with John. Only immediate members of the family knew their destination, where the two planned to begin a new life apart from John, a vicious and dangerous crazed opiate addict. In fact the women did indeed change their names and within five years each was married with new lives, children and loving husbands. They never looked back.
John, of course, knew the women hadn't died in the fire, but his pride prevented him from admitting that they had left days before. Besides, he hoped to collect the insurance, and after a conversation with Blandina was quite sure his wife and daughter would never surface while he was alive. And they never did.
These are all interesting premises, Dave, some more valid than others, some, like mine about Mary B. totally absurd and invalid. None of that explains the finding of the ring in the basement, however. It is my belief that there was a sub basement, or root celler, beneath the basement and that the bodies fell into the sub basement or were at the very bottom of tons and tons of rubble and could not be found by simply sifting through the ruins by hand. You are right about the laborers and possibly many of them could have cared less, having no vested interest in wether or not anything or anyone was found. 1896 was a hard time for the poor in Utica, shoe factories, ect were closing down and the country had had five hard years of financial downturn. These men simply wanted a dollar in their pocket to feed their families. Also, Latcher had labor problems, he was known as a "shyster" and paid lowest of all, the city paid $1.75 a day, I believe Latcher $ 1.25 a day. This is pretty much a pittance to spend 12 hours a day hauling bricks and sorting through filth in the freezing cold, and trying to look for "bodies" at the same time.
All the debris had to be hauled by wheelbarrow, cart or wagon to the yard where it was dumped and sorted through. It is a wonder they found anything at all. Also, you are right, the city wanted it down as fast as possible and the digging couldn't go on forever. There had to be an end point. I would also like to point out another fact, that from my point of view far off ina distant future, I find strange. In all these articals we have read, hundreds of thousands of words, was there ever any mention of or statement by The Munson Williams Proctors, who were considered the patriarchs of the city and who would have seen the whole conflageration from their terrace? How about the Deveraux? No statement either from any of the Miller family. Also, I went to Westminster Church last month to do some research and I did find a small enrty in an old book of records dated 3/3/1896. The entry stated that the men's club of the church had met that evening at the home of J.B. Wells and "passed a pleasent evening" and broke up about 7:30 PM. J.B. Wells had a beautiful home near Oneida Square on Genesee Street and was considered one of the leading philanthropists of the city. No statement. I cannot transport myself there to ever know why, but I think it had a lot to do with propriety and social class. Certaintly the Millers would have wanted to grieve privatley, as they were old old money and, despite all of this horror, still had a certain image to uphold. One more point, I have been to the OCHs and physically read every Saturday Evening Globe that had anything to do with the fire and nowhere to be found are any pictures or drawings of Mary B, Sarah or John. There are many photos as you know including some of the lesser known tenants, like Miss Kimbal. It is my feeling that the Millers used their social status and connections to keep some info out of the paper, like photos and death notices and obits, ect. This is just my feeling, a hypothesis. We'll just have to keep writing and see what happens. Did you recieve the photos of the plaque?
Link to Post -Fiona
Dark before the storm
I'm thinking Sarah is very strong willed. John is not so. Even without health problems, in the strongly competitive world of late 19th century lawyering, John would not have made a great showing. Mary is somewhat like her mother, but more egalitarian, warmer and certainly more spontaneous.
Sarah may have been most responsible for their return to Utica. We'll be in the dark almost as much as their friends and family as to how John's successful law career devolved to running an orange farm in California, and then home to the maternal family where he lost his wife and daughter to the tragic fire.
We don't know what John's health issues were, but if I were fashioning the entire story from whole cloth, so to speak, I would add some tension and intrigue. Perhaps Sarah made arrangements to return to Utica with her daughter, offering John the option to follow them if he promised to give up his opium habit, a fairly common addiction in that time among many classes of people.
Sarah and Mary often clash, and the rough edge lately has been John. As Sarah draws away from her husband, Mary in the latter phases of her "I love Daddy" girlhood draws closer to John. Enter Annie, hired as a do-all maid and oft times companion, but a person uniquely gifted with insights into human behavior. Annie's deficit is her lack of experience in the world of the Woods, and her habit of assuming the rich are always stupid and uncaring, which after all was true enough in her world.
This all comes together in a smoky hallway at the Genesee Flats in the early morning hours of March 3. Annie is beside herself with fear, trapped in a building "bigger than the train station," filled with smoke and the sounds of people crying and shouting. The Woods take the time to dress properly as Annie runs back and forth from the front balcony to the back hall, afraid to leave without the family, since she figures they will somehow save her. They appear capable of that much, anyway. Finally crying out, she begs them to hurry. They get started, but John decides he must go back "for the box." He'll later say Sarah sent him. He'll never discuss it further. The three women wait for him to return and fall to arguing over whether to continue to wait or to go, and if the latter, by what route.
Then the other party comes along and the picture of who goes where gets even more chaotic.
Mother, daughter and maid drop all pretense as if on a sinking ship, which indeed they are. Sarah attempts to make the decision for the three of them, but Annie knows to trust no one but herself and immediately goes with the party, but then also separates from them later. Mary insists they go back for her father. But Sarah literally drags the girl with her in the opposite directions. To their deaths.
I have been reading your synopsis with some interest and I like it. I know a little about Opium addiction in the late 19th century - it wasn't frowned upon - and there were places you could go to indulge, so to speak. I have read, somewhere, in passing that there was at that time a Turkish Bath somewhere in downtown Utica and that opiates were used there on a daily basis - also, there were other addictions - to Female Bitters- which were mostly alcohol - and to laudenum, a powerful pain killer. I agree about Sarah's p-ersonality also and Mary's personality. I see the 3 as a triangle in which Mary can easily manipulate her father and is good at placating the mother also. She has a survivor mentality. I also see Mary as , after her heady experience in the train station, reality sets in. Reality that she is not in California and has trouble making freinds, or so she thinks. She is essentially suffering from anomie, I see her as somewhat troubled and lonley going into the autumn and starting a new school - that's when I have the scenes set up where she meets Annie and hires her on the spot as a private ladies maid. She has previously asked her mother for a ladies maid and Sarah has resisted because it would mean giving control of her daughter over to another source. Sarah does not want to admit to herself that Mary is really growing up. This is really a bone of contention in the family. When Mary meets Annie and hires her, without the consent of her parents, she is really saying , in the modern vernacular " Hey! Don't tell me what to do." We can see in the train scene how she is "just a little bit naughty". Well, it get's worse. And how different is she from today's teenager? It's just a matter of degree. About the box - the box is very important -I have been thinking about it quite a lot. You have a good plot line, Dave. We can really expand on it. And you know what else, I think the pic we have of Annie is an later photo - by that I mean,she has matured as a character into her true beauty - and we shall see that Latcher is also in love with her- but that his affections are not returned. I would like to see Annie as she looked when she "got off the boat" . I am not advocating changing the first pic, I really love it, I just envision her advancing over the year into this full blossomed woman, but in the beginning, just as we see her, the scared immigrant girl, but with a thousand years of "Irish" behind her. She, like Mary B., knows how to survive in the world, so yes, they do become two sides of one coin.
Billy Foley's Morning
Itís just so peaceful in the morning. No one is out and about, and all I ever hear are the trains and factories running all night over on the west side, out Whitesboro Street. And in the winter, the swish of tire rims when a hack is pulled past by a weary horse. And, you know, me and Da need the money, so before school I run down to the Herald and get me a bag of papers and sign the slip to pay tomorrow and take the whole shebang up Genesee Street, selling the news to whoever will give me a couple of pennies for the paper. I bring home the coins I earn to Da and he counts them out and gives me the money thatíll go to the Herald. He always has me put it in the old teapot on the window sill for tomorrow.
Itís been a cold winter and if Da didnít kick me out of bed in the morning, I wouldnít be out there slogging through the slush and snow, I can tell you. And, Jesus, I got a welt on the back of my shoulders from Brother Barnabas at the Ďcademy, and he keeps hitting me there every time I fall asleep reading the catty-kism.
I most often sell all the papers by the time I get to Court Street, so I donít always get as far up as Genesee Hill. But that morning I walked all the way to the fountain at Oneida Square, and by that time I could smell the smoke. Then all hell broke loose as the team of horses and men from the No. 1 fire company came pounding by me and headed south down Genesee. Holy Cripes, a real fire engine! I threw down the rest of the papers and I ran like the dickens to catch up. By the time I got to the Flats, and saw the people trying to get off the front of the place, Iíd wished I gone home instead. Nobody should ever have to see people dying like that. I still have dreams about it. Yeah, I know, not as many died as I thought were going to. But enough did Ö. and that poor lady I saw fall. I heard her head crack open. Sometimes when Iím dozing off in school, Iíll hear that crack and my stomach will get queasy if itís just before lunch.
Iím a good reader, and Iíve read everything in the papers about the fire, at least in the Herald, because thatís the paper I sell. By whatís in print, youíd think everyone got called up by the management and politely told about the fire and pretty please just get dressed and meet across the street for tea. But thatís not what I saw.
When I first came up on the building, all I saw were firemen. They were scurrying around and they didnít look like anybody had told them the fire was right in front of them and they should be doing something about it. I didnít see any flames, at first. But I heard this awful sound, people screaming and crying and yelling for help. I lost my bearings for a minute, and wondered where the hell they were. It was dark and there was smoke everywhere. For just a second, I wondered if all the voices were in the trees. Then a trunk of clothes split open about ten feet from where I was standing. Just dropped down right out of the sky! I looked up and saw coats and shoes and a ladyís dress floating down at me. And then, over at the far end, I saw a man drop to the ground clinging to what looked like a string of sheets or clothing. Then I had to laugh, thinking it was funny. I wanted to shout at them to go back inside. There werenít any flames. I thought this would be just a smoker Ö like maybe someoneís couch was burning and theyíd have it out in the snow in just a bit.
It was getting lighter now, and people were coming down like theyíd been on a balloon ride. Some were wailing and shouting and trying to find each other. One lady kept grabbing me and asking if Iíd seen her brother. She mustíve asked me ten times. It shook me. I realized I was afraid again. There were still folks hanging from the balconies.
Two firemen ran up to me and started yelling about fire engines. At first, I thought they wanted to tell me something, but they happened to stop where I was standing. They were arguing about whether to call in more engines. One fellow said there was no need, and that he was going to the basement to make sure the fire was out. When he ran off, the other man asked me if I knew how to use the alarm box up the street on the corner. I said I guess you just pull it, and he told me how to break the glass and turn the crank. I must have looked like I wasnít sure I wanted to do it, because the man put his hand on my shoulder and said Iíd be saving lives, son.
When I got to the box, I was so worked up I couldnít break the glass with my mitten still on my hand. I found a stone and broke the little window. My finger still hurts a little from the cut I gave myself.
I turned back toward the building and if I live to be 90 years old I will never forget what happened next. I was running and watching firemen and people around the bottom of the building, neighbors coming out on their porches in their nightdress, folks still clinging to the balcony railings Ö and I was beginning to hope no one would get hurt playing acrobat on the balconies, because this might not be a real bad fire Ö. when the whole place just went wooooosh! It broke out in flames. Brother Barnabas says the word is erupted. Well, thatís what it did Ö it erupted in flames. One huge sheet of flame shot up from the roof of the building and at the same time flames blew out the windows. Holy Mother Molly, Iíve never heard or seen anything like it!
All the voices hushed for a moment, and then a loud moan went up from the crowd, probably firemen included. I stopped running and almost sat down in the snow. But after a few seconds, I kept going back toward the Flats. Oh, why didnít I go home?
That poor lady. She was coming down a string of sheets and towels like some others had done, and she was crying all the way. She wore a hat kinda like the one I used to see on my old mother Ö God rest her soul as she walks with all the saints in Paradise Ö and she was old. The young man made her get on the ďropeĒ and slide down, I think. He probably thought he was just trying to save her life. I yelled up at her to hold on with both hands, even though one of her arms was hanging kinda useless. I ran up to where she would land and I held out my arms. Iím a strong kid. I shouted up to her, ďJust a little farther!Ē She was half way down, but then she just hung there. That takes a lot of strength, with just one hand. I knew she couldnít last long.
ďCímon! Slide! Iíll catch ya!Ē I shouted.
She had been looking up at the young man, but now looked down at me. She looked sick and tired. Brother Barnabas says the word is miserable. Well, miserable is how she looked. Oh, how I wish I had not said what I did next.
ďLet go and slide,Ē I yelled. But she just let go altogether and fell. Right next to me.
On her head. She hit a railing first, bounced off and then banged down right next to me. She came so fast! Honest! I tried, I had my hands up. She was past my arms and on the ground before I could catch her. Next day the Herald said she landed on her shoulder and broke it, not her head. Iíve never before heard either break. But I have to tell ya. If you ever hear a head break, youíll know it. It sounds like nothing else in the whole world. I donít feel so good.
Biography of John Brandegee Wood
John Brandegee Wood, husband of Sarah Miller and father of Mary Brandegee Wood, was born in Morristown New Jersey on June 25, 1844. His father, Theodore Talbot Wood was, among other things, a successful banker and owner of iron ore mines. His mother, Mary Jane Brandegee bore nine children, of whom John was the oldest. The family home was the Wood farmhouse, a 20 room home still standing at 83 South Street, Morristown NJ. (1.)
John attended Yale Law School, graduating in 1868. While a student there he was a member of the prestigious Alpha Delta Phi Fraternity and may have also been a member of the Skull and Bones Society, as many Delta Phi brothers were. After graduation he went on to obtain a law degree at Columbia University in New York City, where he taught law, philosophy and rhetoric. He then entered the practice of law in Morristown and lived there until around 1892-3. For some reason his health began to fail and it is interesting to note that the Asiatic Flu or Le Grippe was then raging in America, reaching it's peak from around 1889 to approximatly 1890 and that Morristown, New Jersey was not spared. Around 1892 he gave up the practice of law and relocated with his wife and daughter to Riverside, California where he became succesfully engaged in citrus farming. At this time the industry was new to Southern California and many Easteners banded together or formed corporations to start and operate citrus farms. (2.)
In 1895 he and his family returned to Utica, NY possibly for the purpose of having his daughter, Mary B. attend finishing school, but to also visit his wife's mother, Mary Foreman Miller, wife of Rutger B. Miller, who was in her late eighties at this time. The family spent the summer of 1895 in Whitestown at the family homestead and then, in the autumn, engaged rooms at the new Genesee Flats Apartment House, on Genesee Street in Utica NY. On the morning of March 3, 1896 the Flats burned to the ground, his wife and daughter being lost in the fire. Their bodies were never found. After the fire he returned to Riverside, where he devoted the rest of his life to "psychical and ghost research, mathmatics, philosophy,and the culture of oranges." (3) His address in 1916 was 422 South Lake Street, Los Angeles California. The date and time of his death are unknown, as is the place of his burial.
The Wonderful Cane
John, tall, slender and articulate, with a handlebar mustache and a head full of dark grey hair, wore a meticulous brown checked suit, a gold pocket watch hanging from a green paisley vest softly ticked away the hours until they would arrive in Utica. A cane of dark malacca wood lay on the seat beside him, a reminder of an old injury- he had fallen from a horse while out riding with Sarah many years ago- and the injury would always pain him. The cane was his favorite, a gift from a fellow Bones man when he had graduated from Yale in 1867. Delicate and sartorial, the tip was sterling silver, the ivory handle banded with gold and carved into a life like rendition of the Greek God Pan. Sarah, of course, had taken an intense dislike to the cane. "Why" she had asked when they were newly married, "My Dear John, do you have to carry a cane with a Satyrs head upon it?" And he had answered in the best way he knew how: That he was the PaPa, was he not? The Pater Familias of the home and was it not her job to sit in front of the fire and knit him a delicate little cap or neck muffler for a cold night? Sarah was not amused, but she acquiesced, and John was allowed to carry the cane at any time except Sundays. Each had won a small victory; on church days the cane sat in the Chinese jardiniere with the others and life went on.
The repetitive clacking of the iron wheels, the swaying motion of the Pullman car, had lulled John into a somulent state and as he slept he dreamt once again of Yale. It was a dream, the meaning of which had eluded him for years. He was a young man approaching the Bonesman's Tomb on High Street and the numbers 322 drifted into view beneath the symbol of the grinning skull, then morphed into 369 and 371. He saw imposed upon the skull the face of an old love, Marie Jolicoeur. the French actress and mentalist. She moved towards him in a spectrum of color. Marie, So passionate, with dark eyes and hair; her delicate long fingered hands had wrists like brittle bird bones. She was a student of the Theosophist Madame Helena Blavatsky and all the memories of Paris in that spring of 1873 always came rushing back in a flood of longing and desire. Then came Sarah, his beautiful Sarah, so quiet and serene, just the opposite of Marie.
John had met Sarah on a visit to Utica in the spring of 1872. It had been a long trip from Morristown. It had rained. The trains were delayed, they took a carriage to the Bagg's Hotel. The wheels, bogged down in mud and debris, had to be pried out with boards and long poles. John and his mother arrived wet and exhausted. The next day being Sunday he wanted nothing to do but sleep, but his mother would not hear of it. They must attend church. It was for the "glory of God" and " the good of his soul", Hell was too hot and eternity too long.
Grace Episcopal Church stood ponderous and grey in the wan spring sunshine. Sarah, there in an end pew, with her parents Rutger B. and Mary Seymour Miller, sat in a pool of light from a tall window. She was modestly attired in a grey silk walking dress with a light bustle , high lace collar and a bodice of white lace and jet buttons. Her chestnut brown hair, through which she had threaded a white ribbon, fell in ringlets down her long slender neck. She wore pearl ear rings on delicate ears and when she bent her head to pray, the light caught them and a longing grew in John's heart.
She was twenty seven, a woman of independent means, unmarried, a ripe fruit as yet unplucked. He was twenty eight, a well educated man of means, well traveled and unmarried as well. That evening at dinner he gently broached the subject with his mother, who clucked and tutted before saying," John, my son, wait a while longer. I beg of you. You are my heart of hearts, my first born and it would pain me to loose you so soon." She lifted a little choice bit of the chicken she was eating and put it on his plate. "Please. My dear. Not so soon."
But he knew he had waited to long, even now. They returned to Morristown shortly thereafter, but Sarah's face swam in his memory. He returned alone to Utica to court her, but she would not yield to him. She was cool, self composed. She would rather remain a maiden lady. After all, she had no pressing need to marry, to bear children. She was independent and could travel. She had her harp and her piano, books and a paintbox. She was sorry but she would rather not.
A year had passed and John, still broken hearted, went abroad to Paris in the spring of 1873. There he had met Marie. She burned hot. He abandoned his holiday to stay with her. He proposed. She accepted and in June she packed her trunk for America.
That preceding month John had written his mother telling her he was " bringing home his bride to be", the beautiful French actress Marie Jolicoeur. He asked for her blessings and would she please begin to plan an August wedding. They were to arrive during the middle of June and as he had to return to New York City, the couple would be residing there. He wrote that he was deliriously happy and hoped to bless her with many grandchildren. He closed with the salutation: Your most loving and devoted son, John; sealed it and sent it off.
A month later a reply was delivered to his flat. It was the day before they were to sail. His mother wrote that " Yes, she had heard of Madame Jolicoeur. Not only was she Roman Catholic and an actress, but she was also a divorcees. Was John aware of that fact? And thus she could not, would not ever approve of their marriage. She could not offer her blessing. Therefore, although she loved her son deeply: had she not told him many times how she had carried him under her heart all those long months? Was he not her first born? She would not receive her (Marie) and please make an alternate plan. She signed it: Your most faithful and loving mother, Ma-Ma.
John felt hot tears spring to his eyes. Marie not received?? A divorcee?? It was unthinkable! Marie had never said anything, no one ever mentioned a former husband! He would have surely known about it. His mother was delirious; out of her mind! He would find a way. Logic would win the day! Saying nothing to Marie, he crumpled the letter and threw it into the stove where it caught flame and burned away to nothing, a small blackened scrap of paper among the coals. They sailed for New York the next day.
The couple arrived in Morristown in high spirits. John assisted Marie down from the carriage and driver, horse and vehicle stood waiting in the turn about for a house man to arrive and assist with the trunks. The carriage man, put a feed bag on the horse, unpacked his lunch and munched contentedly on a sandwich of head cheese and mustard.
Arm in arm the lovers went up the long walk to the house. Marie wore a high bodiced aubergine silk dress from the House of Worth and carried a slender tightly rolled parasol. A strand of pearls shown luminously at the base of her neck. She had caught her black hair up in a fantasy of curls and braids and smoothed her heavy eyebrows with pomade. She had been practicing her English and had prepared a little speech for John's mother. John looked at her and his heart beat faster. How could anyone not love Marie? All of France loved her did they not? And did not his mother love things French, also? Furniture, food? Therefore he was sure she would relent; logic would invariably win the day.
Before he could open the heavy double doors, a parlor maid in a black dress and white cap appeared. She ushered them into a spacious dimly lit hall that smelled of lemon oil and fresh roses. The maid greeted them courteously, then disappeared into the depths of the house. She wanted no part of this and would not be privy to any sufferings to come. From the inner rooms came a happy cry: "My son! You are here!' Suddenly John's mother appeared at the end of the hall, a small white haired woman in a lilac hued lace dress and white cap. John caught his mother up in his arms. She was so small, so light. He set her back on her feet and turned to grasp Marie's hand. "Mother, this is..." and then he stopped. Everything stopped. The hall whirled, the heat of the day rose up and stifled him. His mother looked at Marie and said one word "Non!" turned, walked down the hall and shut the door to the inner rooms behind her. Marie was not received. John mother had been true to her word. It was over.
Footnotes below for links to websites and U Tube.
1. http://www.morristown-nj.org/history.html for a virtual tour of Morristown and a view of the Wood Farmhouse.
2. http://www.riversideca.gov/museum/heritage.asp for a video tour of the Heritage House, a turn of the century home owned by wealthy orange grower Catherine Bettner
3. www.archive.org (Yale University biographical record of class of 1865, record 119, John Brandegee Wood.