On November 23, 1889, at three in the afternoon, a group of East New York dignitaries, Brooklyn officials, and well-wishers stood on the corner of Atlantic and Pennsylvania Avenues to watch East New York’s first bank have its cornerstone laid in the ground for its new building. The architect, Richard Upjohn, Jr. did the honors, and the venture was celebrated with speeches, prayers, and well wishes. The keynote speaker, Gustaf Dettloff, reminded his audience of how far East New York had come; from a small town called New Lots, inhabited by Dutch farmers, to the bustling community it was that day. He spoke about how a group of these Dutch farmers and businessmen, whose names read like a map of the city’s streets, had gotten together in 1868 to form the East New York Savings Bank. Most of the men were now gone, but they weren’t forgotten.
One of the East New York dignitaries at the front of the crowd was Edward F. Linton, the president of the Atlantic Avenue Improvement Commission, the local business improvement organization that had lobbied to get the bank built, as well as other amenities and services in the 26th Ward. As Linton listened to the early families being remembered: Schenck, Remsen, Stoothoff, Rapelye, Vanderveer, Lott, Palmer, Wyckoff and others, he must have chuckled to himself. Most of those names were very familiar to him, he had bought their farms, mostly from their heirs, and he was now the largest landowner in the 26th Ward.
He ran his empire from an office on the corner of Atlantic and Van Siclen Avenues, only blocks from the site of the new bank. His real estate and development company had been involved in building a new East New York while ENY was still New Lots, and Linton was responsible for blocks upon blocks of cozy, middle-class cottages which lined the streets of the Ward, as well as many of the business buildings that lined Atlantic Avenue. His architects and builders couldn’t build them fast enough, and he still had plenty of land left over for later projects.
Mr. Linton had a lot on his plate; he was fielding his own projects, as well as trying to get city and state officials to pay more attention to East New York’s infrastructure and transportation needs, and he had just bought a baseball team, and was building a stadium to house them. The stories of these ventures were told in the first three chapters of this story. He was also raising a family, and for fun, besides the baseball team, he had just bought a yacht, and joined a local yacht club. His wife, Julia, was a great advocate of early education, and was promoting the idea of kindergarten to the school boards and mothers of East New York. Linton was a frequent speaker at educational events. His daughters were also active in education and charitable events, and both would soon be engaged to be married.
Apparently, Edward Linton was also too busy to wait for the East New York Savings Bank to catch up to him. His real estate business was booming, but he wanted to be able to extend credit to potential customers, and not rely on banks approving loans. He also needed to be able to borrow for investment. So he did what any sensible mover and shaker would do – he opened his own bank. In 1890, Edward F. Linton & Company opened for business at 2787 Atlantic Avenue, next door to his real estate office. It helped to own the buildings. It was a handsome private banking office, and in addition to the main business office space, had a separate office for women, so they didn’t have to be seen in the dirty business of commerce and finance. His business also offered home and business insurance.
His partner in this venture was William H. Winberg. He had been the cashier for the real estate business, and would now be not only the head cashier at the new bank, but would be a partner, as well. The cashier, in those days, was not just a bank teller, he was in charge of the day to day money operations, kept the books, and literally, had the key to the vault. In modern parlance, he was the CFO.
That same year, Linton went into another partnership, with four other men, forming the D. & M. Chauncey Real Estate Company, with offices on Montague Street. This company formally incorporated, and was poised to jump into the market by buying and selling real estate, collecting rents and taking care of property management, and act as appraisers and auctioneers of properties. Furthermore, in 1893, Linton incorporated his Linton Real Estate Company, and took as partners Frank E. Hart, who was his son-in-law, William J. Winberg, and two other men.
William Winberg had become an important part of the Linton organization. In fact, over at the banking end of the block, Winberg WAS the bank. He was the sole employee and officer. He was, by all accounts, a morose and nervous man, but a shrewd businessman. He hailed from North Carolina, but his parents had come from, and his education had been in Germany. Rumor had it that he had wealthy and noble relatives in Germany, but his only living relative in the States was his widowed mother.
He had made money in the lumber business in N. Carolina, and then decided to come to Brooklyn, where he met Edward Linton. Winberg had dabbled in real estate development himself, and built a group of houses on ENY’s Shepherd Avenue, and a house for himself, just over the ENY border, in Ridgewood, Queens. The two men became friends, and when Linton offered him a job as chief cashier, Winberg accepted.
His Ridgewood home was shared with his wife, three children, and two servants. The children were seven years old and younger, and his wife, Susie, was a few years younger than Winberg, who was 35 in 1895. Linton and Winberg must have been a pair. Linton was a bundle of energy packed into a small frame, a relentless go-getter who had no problem promoting himself, or his causes; the kind of man who offended people daily in his quest to get what he wanted, but was admired in spite of that, because he was so effective.
Winberg was the kind of man that people generally don’t notice; the efficient and meticulous power behind the throne. He was the kind of man who also didn’t care what people thought, but that was because he didn’t particularly like people. While Linton loved sitting on the throne, being king, Winberg was happiest in the counting house, making sure the kingdom was prospering. It was the perfect partnership. But all was not well with the counting house, as Winberg was not himself.
After the events that took place in August of 1895, Linton told the press that William Winberg had been suffering from excruciating headaches for months beforehand. Winberg thought that the pain was due to ill-fitting glasses that were not allowing him to see correctly, causing him to strain his eyes as he labored over ledger sheets and accounting documents. The pain had become so acute that he had become short tempered, and in constant agony, the pain driving him insane. Today we would surmise that he may have had a brain tumor of some kind, a condition that could have been diagnosed by modern technology.
But Winberg didn’t have modern technology to help him, and began self-medicating with alcohol, often drinking himself into a drunken rage. He began carrying a gun around, saying that as a banker, he needed it for protection. On one incident, he was showing a gun around at his local tavern, telling his audience that it was old, and he needed a new and better gun. “I’m going to get a new revolver soon,” he said. “And when I get it, I’ll make it talk.”
William knew he was not himself, and as his personal life was taking a toll on his marriage, decided to send his wife and children down to Georgia, where she was from, and had relatives and friends. They were gone for several weeks, and had taken Gussie, the sixteen year old nanny with them to look after the children. When the family returned, a few weeks later, Susie Winberg had grown increasingly dissatisfied with Gussie’s work, and on the morning of August 20, 1895, fired her.
Gussie was furious, and marched over to Winberg’s office, and demanded to see him. She proceeded to tell him that while they were in Georgia, Mrs. Winberg had been in the acquaintance of an old beau, a tall man who had followed them back to New York. Gussie was sure that Mrs. Winberg was stepping out with this man, and thought that Mr. Winberg should know. She also insisted that that was the reason she had been fired, because she knew of Susie’s infidelities.
Perhaps because of the tumor and pain, perhaps because of paranoia, or guilt, William was convinced Gussie was telling the truth, even before she had finished her sordid tale. He got angrier and angrier, and the pain of it all pressed against his temples and threatened to explode from his skull. He began drinking. He went home that night and said nothing. The next day, he left for work, and began drinking again, and as the evening came, did not go home for supper, as was his usual habit. His wife was beginning to get used to his erratic behavior, and simply put a plate aside for him, for whenever he got home.
She had brought a friend back with her from Georgia; a Miss Gibbs from Savannah, and the two ladies had just put the children to bed, and were in the parlor when an angry and intoxicated William burst in the door. He began shouting at his wife, accusing her of being unfaithful and demanding to know who her lover was. She vehemently protested her innocence, and said she had never been unfaithful to him. This only made him angrier, and as his head pounded with pain, he grew more and more agitated and angry, and began throwing things and threatening his wife. At last, he pulled out his new revolver and “let it talk,” shooting his wife through the chest. The bullet went through her body, and as she collapsed, he turned the gun on himself and finally stopped the pain, shooting himself in the temple. He dropped to the floor, dead.
Miss Gibbs was able to take Susie to the couch and lay her there, and she and the housekeeper went screaming for a doctor and the police. The doctor came rapidly, and Mrs. Winberg was still conscious. The bullet had passed through her breast and lung. She was in great pain, but still asked about her husband. No one wanted to talk about him, upsetting her even more, and they finally had to tell her that he was dead. Susie collapsed, and was finally taken to the hospital, where doctors were not sure that she would make it.
Edward Linton was telegraphed in Maine, where he was vacationing, and was told, “Winberg died suddenly. See NY papers. Come home at once.” He later told reporters that he immediately knew his friend had taken his own life. As the press clamored for more information, he issued a written statement saying that there was no truth whatsoever that Susie Winberg had been unfaithful. It was a lie told by a vindictive former servant. He also said that he and his family had been close friends with the Winbergs, and were devastated by the recent events.
Mr. Winberg had been the best of business partners, an exemplary employee, and a good friend, who would be sorely missed, Linton went on to say. His work had been meticulous and above board, and the police investigation would not find any impropriety that may have caused the insanity that followed. He believed that his friend had been driven insane by the pain from the severe headaches he had been suffering from, and would have never committed these acts had he been in his right mind.
When Susie Winberg had been taken to the hospital, the doctors didn’t think she would live, but in the next few days, she was more comfortable, although still in critical condition. They upgraded her status, and now thought that she may pull through. Linton promised that he would help the family, which he said was like his own. Speaking about his friends, reporters noted that the usually unemotional Linton had tears in his eyes, and was choked up. This terrible tragedy truly affected Edward Linton, and helped fuel his increased drive to make the changes he felt were necessary in East New York. He was shaken, but not defeated. William Winberg was now gone, but the work continued.
(Postcard dated 1912 showing ENY Savings Bank, at Pennsylvania Avenue. East New York Project)
Next time: You wouldn’t think sewers would be such a big deal. Dig them, lay the pipes and be done with it. Ah, but this is Brooklyn, East New York, to be specific. There would be drama in City Hall, and on the streets, and Edward Linton was in the midst of the fray, fighting for his community.