Monday, September 7, 2015

The Scandal of 1922: The Cast of Characters

Now that we know the outcome of the trial of Chief John J. Cruise for dereliction of duty, it is of interest to consider the people who played major roles in this drama. The Chief Cruise was investigated, accused, and tried by the Commission of Public Safety, a governmental body that appears to have been created by a charter amendment adopted in May 1921. (A Commission of Public Safety is not mentioned in the previous 1895 version of the charter.) The commission was made up of three men who were appointed by the mayor, who at that time was Henry C. Galster. 

Up until quite recently (2004 to be exact), being the mayor of Hudson was not considered a full-time job. Mayors had other occupations, and being the mayor was just a part-time gig. Galster, who served for one term, in 1921 and 1922, was a doctor. During his term as mayor, he was in his early 30s. The 1920 census indicates that he owned 454 Warren Street (now the location of Nolita), where he lived with his wife, Kathryn, and her two younger and unmarried sisters, and practiced medicine. This picture of the house, taken by Walker Evans probably in the early 1930s, shows Dr. Galster's shingle on the street-level door that gave access to his office.

Galster appointed the three men who made up the Commission of Public Safety that took action against Cruise for dereliction of duty. He appointed a fellow medical man to be the president of the Commission of Public Safety: Sherwood V. Whitbeck. Whitbeck, who was 40 when the 1920 census was taken, lived at 363 Allen Street with his wife, Caroline, their two children, Mary and Volkert, and a servant named Grace Fuller. Whitbeck also conducted his medical practice at 363 Allen Street. Interestingly, it is also a Walker Evans photograph (discovered and identified by Sam Pratt a few years ago) that shows us Whitbeck's house. The house, which stood west of the Columbia County courthouse, where there is now a parking lot, was demolished around 1970.

The second member of the Commission of Public Safety, often mentioned in accounts of Chief Cruise's trial, was Charles A. Van Deusen, who was a bank president. In the 1920 census, Van Deusen, who was then 54, lived at 441 Allen Street with his wife, Grace, and their two sons, both in their late 20s. Also residing at the house in 1920 were Saddie Wood, a cook, and Margaret Sheldon, a servant. Van Deusen's house is now the office of the law firm Freeman Howard.

The third member of the Commission of Public Safety was William Petry, who owned the Hudson Garage, located at 724-730 Columbia Street, in the building that was originally part of the Gifford-Wood foundry and was most recently Van Kleeck Tire.

Petry was by all accounts a very successful business man and a well-liked member of the community, but he lived more humbly than his colleagues on the Commission of Public Safety. His house, where he lived with his wife, Lelia, and their three children (no servants), was at 538 Washington Street. When the 1920 census was taken, Petry was 50.

Then there were the lawyers--two for the prosecution, representing the City of Hudson, two for the defense. The lead prosecutor was city attorney, a.k.a. corporation counsel, William J. DeLamater. In 1920, according to the census, DeLamater was 38 years old and lived at 604 Gifford Place, in one of the houses originally built for the sons of Elihu and Eliza Gifford. DeLamater's household included was his wife, Anna, their son, William, who was then a toddler, a servant named Lucy Sowdek and her 8-year-old daughter. Today, the block where DeLamater lived is no longer called Gifford Place but Columbia Street.

Assisting DeLamater was Samuel B. Coffin, an attorney who has figured in more than one historic tale retold by Gossips. When, in 1914, Malcolm Gifford, the eldest son of the eldest son of Elihu Gifford and heir to the Gifford Iron Works, learned that his eldest son, Malcolm, Jr., had been arrested and indicted in Albany for murdering a chauffeur somewhere near Watervliet, the elder Malcolm rushed to his son's side, bringing with him the family attorney: Samuel B. Coffin.

When, in 1916, Mabel J. Hoffman, daughter of Fred W. Jones sued the New York & New England Cement and Lime Company for damages caused by cement dust to real and personal property at what had been her father's home on Route 9 just south of Hudson, Samuel B. Coffin represented the cement company in the case.

In 1920, according to the decennial census, Samuel B. Coffin was 55 years old and lived at 5 Willard Place, which is now the bed and breakfast The Croff House, with his wife, Frances, his mother-in-law, Cecelia Lewis, and a servant named Mary Monthia.

Coffin was still living at 5 Willard Place in 1941 when a fire destroyed the third floor, with its mansard roof, and tower of what had been a Second Empire house similar to several others on the street.

Coffin was not at home when the fire occurred in the early morning of Memorial Day, 1941, although his wife, his sister, and a servant named Alice Moore were. Coffin, then 76, was in Rhode Island, about to embark on his annual cruise along the eastern seaboard in his yacht. 

Early accounts of Chief Cruise's trial make reference to the "formidable line-up of counsel" assembled to represent him. Principal among them was Robert Monell Herzberg. In the decennial census for 1900, Herzberg is a 20-year-old law student living with his mother, Mary Herzberg, at 123 Union Street. Mary Herzberg is identified as the head of the household and her status is given as married. Her husband (Robert's father) is not listed, but his place of birth is given as Germany. Also in the household are a cousin, Louisa Waldron, and German servant named Tillie Bierson.

Robert Monell Herzberg cannot be found in the census records for 1910 or 1920, but the Hudson city directory for 1912 indicates that he is practicing law in partnership with Mark Duntz, and the offices of Duntz & Herzberg are located at 542 Warren Street, now The Barlow Hotel. The directory indicates that both men live in Claverack.

In the 1930 census, eight years after the Cruise trial, Herzberg reappears. He now lives at 3 Willard Place, a house valued at $7,500 which he owns. He now has a wife, Sarah, and a son, Robert W. In 1930, Herzberg is 49 years old, and his wife is 61. According to the census records, they were married when he was 25 and she was 37, and their son in 1930 was 24.

The census, of course, does not indicate when Herzberg bought the house, but it's intriguing to contemplate the possibility the Cruise's principal attorney lived just two doors away from the attorney who was representing his accusers.

Cruise's other attorney, John J. Moy lived nearby at 316 Allen Street, directly across the street from Willard Place. There is no longer a house at that address, but the one that was there in 1920 must have been substantial, because it accommodated two households.

The first household living at 316 Allen Street in 1920 was headed by Daniel Moy, then 67, who had immigrated from Ireland in 1873. Daniel lived there with his wife, Mary, an unmarried daughter, Catherine, and a married daughter, Winnifred O'Rourke, who had a 10-year-old son. 

The second household was headed by John J. Moy, presumably Daniel's son, who was 32 in 1920. His household included his wife, Anna, their two sons (one 3 years old, the other 6 months), Anna's father, Marcell Frananski, who had immigrated from Poland in 1890, and her brother John Frananski. The census records indicate that both Daniel and John Moy owned the house.

And that is the cast of characters who played major roles in the 1922 trial of Hudson police chief John J. Cruise.

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