In April of 1873, when the warming breezes of spring caressed the sideburned cheeks of wealthy male Brooklynites, they, as one, turned their attentions to their favorite pastime – racing their fancy horses and carriages along the roads leading to Coney Island. It was the place to be seen, and anyone who was anyone could be viewed on a fine weekend day, taking in the fresh air. Some of these swells rode their pedigreed ponies, but some were content to be driven, sitting comfortably in their carriages and cabs, racing along the road with a controlled abandon. For the most part, this was a man’s show, and wives did not usually come along for this show of male preening. Some men drove their own rigs, but many more content to be driven by coachmen, while they waved and nodded at their peers.
One of these was Cortland A. Sprague, a wealthy Brooklyn Heights merchant. His preferred mode of Promenade to the Sea, according to the Brooklyn Eagle, was to ride in a “one-horse park phaeton driven by his colored coachman.” From there he could pretend to read his newspaper, or just watch the scenery go by, content that all was well in his world.
For aside from his lucrative business, Mr. Sprague was also the City Treasurer of Brooklyn, a political appointment that had lasted, in the spring of ’73, into its second term. He held the strings to the purse of a growing and prosperous city. But had he really been reading his paper on his ride to the ocean, by the summer of that year, he would have been a very nervous man, as skittish as a thoroughbred in a field of gopher holes. Because Cortland Sprague’s world was about to come tumbling down around him. (more…)