In Part 1, we met Clarence R. Van Buskirk – architect, engineer, preacher’s kid, and well-regarded Assistant Engineer for the Brooklyn Department of Highways. He would one day be the architect of Brooklyn’s most iconic structure: Ebbets Field Stadium. But before that, he needed to get out of deep trouble. In 1907, the Department of Highways was on the hit list of a local politician looking to make a name for himself by rooting out corruption. And he had Van Buskirk in his sights.
Bird S. Coler was the Borough President of Brooklyn, coming into office in the fall of 1905. But he had higher political ambitions, and was consumed with a fanatic’s zeal to weed out corruption in the borough. If it happened to further his political ambitions? Well, all the better.
Self-serving or not, he did have a point.
At the time, all of New York City was a hotbed of corruption of one kind or another, some forms more blatantly corrupt than others. Over at Brooklyn’s Department of Highways, where Coler first set his sights, the head of the department, Frank Ulrich, had continued a long-standing tradition.
He bloated his department with patronage jobs, played favorites with certain inspectors, accepted kickbacks, and hugely overbilled utilities like Edison Electric Company and Brooklyn Union Gas.
Ulrich overstepped and got caught accepting payoffs in exchange for jobs. He was indicted, arrested, and let out on bail awaiting trial. He submitted his resignation towards the end of 1906.
Coler called for a Grand Jury to determine if charges could be filed against anyone else in the department, especially Ulrich’s junior staff, which included Clarence Van Buskirk.
Investigators came to the offices and boxed up billing and other records pertaining to the utilities, and put them under lock and key, intending to remove them for review.
But in the early hours of February 25, 1907, at least two men entered the Department offices on the top floor of the old Municipal Building, broke into the locked desk which held the keys, and made off with the records. (more…)