On a warm summer day in July, 1873, Ethelbert S. Mills, the president of the Brooklyn Trust Company, took a couple of days off to go to the beach at Coney Island. The rest of his family was summering in the country, but Mills had banks to run, extensive real estate holdings to manage, and was president of the Brooklyn Arts Association and a member of the Academy of Music Company. He stayed in Brooklyn that summer, but even a busy mogul needs some time off. He took the train to Coney Island and checked into the Oceanic Hotel, enjoyed a pleasant dinner at surfside, and retired for the evening.
The next morning, on July 15, bright and early at 5 am, he left the hotel to take a swim in the ocean. Mills walked on the beach, picked his spot, took off his clothes, folded them into a nice tidy pile, and ran into the ocean to greet the dawn. The 55-year-old Mills was in good shape, and was an expert swimmer. He took brisk strokes, his arms cutting deeply into the approaching surf, and was soon far away from shore. The sun was rising, and it was a beautiful day. Ethelbert S. Mills was never seen alive again.
At 7 am, his absence was noted, but there was no alarm. His clothes were found on the beach soon afterward. The groundskeepers and attendants of the nearby bathhouse were getting ready for a new day of work when they found his clothes. Just then, one of them waded into the surf to dip a pail into the water and found the body of Ethelbert Mills floating face down in the shallow water. He was about 200 feet from where he had gone in. The body was taken up to the hotel, where an inquest was quickly held by Justice S. J. Voorhies, the acting coroner.
It was known that there was a fierce undertow out where Mills was swimming, and the verdict was that he had been pulled under and drowned, no doubt exhausted from trying to break free of the current. His death was ruled accidental. Mills’ wife, who was the sister of Abiel A. Low, one of Brooklyn’s most powerful and influential citizens, was notified, and she and their children left their country estate in Nantucket to take care of the grim and unexpected duty of burying a husband and father. (more…)