Monday, August 10, 2009

The Madonna of Cherry Hill (postscript)

Thanks to a tip from the New York City Fire Museum, I have a tentative identification for Captain Michael E. Graham, whose promotion to Battalion Chief and subsequent death in the line of duty were mentioned in a manuscript account by William Siemes or Siemis. A Battalion Chief Michael Graham of Whitestone NY was fatally injured while fighting a major fire at a Standard Oil Company warehouse in Brooklyn in February 1909. The manuscript states that Graham's "aged mother" outlived him, though not by much, and in fact the obituary of Michael Graham's mother Marcella appears in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on June 2, 1910. The author of the manuscript had worked with Capt. Michael E. Graham at Manhattan's Engine Company 12, but the Graham who perished was assigned to a Brooklyn battalion, so he may have been transferred at the time he was promoted.

The fire at the Standard Oil facility, which was also known as the Pratt Oil Works, was one of a series that occurred around the same period. Eventually a teenager, William Reddy, was arrested and charged with arson. He confessed to setting several of the fires, telling police that he had hoped to win promotion at the company by reporting them. When asked about the incident that killed Graham he refused to answer.

The report of Reddy's fate, in the New York Times, suggests a different motive, and is worth quoting in full:
William Reddy, the eighteen-year-old pyromaniac, who confessed to having set fire to the Standard Oil Company's sheds at North Twelfth Street, Williamsburg, was sentenced yesterday to the Elmira Reformatory by Judge Fawcett, in the County Court, Brooklyn. After he was arrested for the crime, he said he had started the fire simply to see the flames. He admitted smoking 100 cigarettes a day. Judge Fawcett said he would be kept at Elmira long enough to be cured of that habit.
An account of the fire can be found in the New York Times for February 15, 1909. Reddy's sentencing was reported on April 6, 1909.

(Postscript backdated from January 2011)

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