Holy Cross Cemetery, Flatbush. Jim Henderson, Wiki 1

Pretty 16 year old housemaid Barbara Gronenthal was dead, and her boyfriend, James Walsh killed her. Now he was in jail, awaiting his murder trial. Would he end up like his older brother, sentenced to Sing Sing Prison, or, as we learned in the last chapter, would his fate also match his brother’s – death?

James Walsh sat in Brooklyn’s Raymond Street Jail alone and friendless. His mother, Catherine Duffy, came to visit him once, and left shortly thereafter, weeping bitterly. The guards told reporters that James would be calm and quiet in his cell, and then suddenly rage and throw himself at the bars. He also liked the prison food, which in their estimation proved he was insane.

An autopsy was conducted before Barbara was returned to her family for burial. It determined that the four inch knife had been plunged into her heart up to the hilt, killing her in minutes. She never had a chance. Her funeral took place on January 6, 1881. Only her mother, her two sisters, her brother-in-law, and a few family friends followed the funeral procession to Holy Cross Cemetery in Flatbush. The Carlisle family was not there.

Investigators went to talk to anyone who knew James Walsh. They visited his job and found out a lot of information that was not positive for James’ case. His supervisor said that James had been a fine worker until about a year ago, when his brother Buck had been arrested for the home invasion robbery. After that, James had started to pick fights with management and with fellow workers.

The day James killed Barbara he had suddenly taken off from work in the afternoon, and never came back. That was it for his supervisor, who told other workers that if James came back the next day, he was going to be fired. (more…)

Gowanus Canal, 1905, BPL

This is the story of two poor families in Brooklyn and a terrible crime. In the first episode, we met one of the ne’er-do-well Walsh boys and his sweetheart, 16-year-old Barbara Gronenthal, who worked as a maid for a well-off family in Bedford in 1881.

Barbara was eager to please her employer, the Carlisle family. They lived in a four story Neo-Grec brownstone on a quiet block filled with similar houses, part of the great building frenzy that had overtaken Brooklyn.

Like many upper middle-class families, they had at least one live-in servant, as well as help like Barbara and the cook, who were day workers.

Barbara lived in Brooklyn too, but not in a fine brownstone. (more…)

Walsh, 502 Willoughby, GS, PS

Everyone who knew the Walsh boys knew they would come to a bad end.

Brooklyn in the 1880s was a lot like today, with expensive neighborhoods and wealthy people, and those who served them. If you were poor, uneducated or an immigrant, sometimes you had to do unpleasant jobs to survive. In 1880, there was no social safety net.

The alternative was starving or becoming a criminal. For some people it was just more satisfying to simply take what others had worked for. That’s certainly what Frank “Buck” Walsh believed.

The four Walsh children came from a poor family. Their father had not been right in the head since he fell down and cracked his skull when the eldest, Frank, was a child. Their mother, Catherine, had to struggle to make ends meet, taking in washing and odd jobs to feed her children and husband, who could only work sporadically.

The family lived in a tenement in what is now Dumbo, one of the poorest areas in the city. Catherine often drank too much, and was unable to keep track of what her three boys were doing. Fortunately, her only daughter turned out alright, got married, and was a help to her parents. But no one could stop the boys from getting into trouble. (more…)

Ward Bakery, Wardbakingcompany.com 1

The Ward Bakery Company was founded in 1849, in a small bakery on Broome Street, in Manhattan. Eighty years later, the company was the largest commercial bakery in America, serving most of the Eastern Seaboard and the Midwest.

The company boasted in all of their advertising that no human hand ever touched their signature Tip Top bread as it made its way from bags of ingredients down to the finished wrapped and sealed product. It was all automated, even in 1911, when their Bronx and Brooklyn factories opened for business.

The details of the Ward family and their baking history can be found in Part One and Part Two. Robert and George Ward, the grandsons of the company founder had taken the company well beyond James Ward’s wildest dreams. (more…)

Wards Bakery, ballpark, 1915 Baseball Magazine 1

The Ward Bakery Company was one of Brooklyn’s largest commercial bakers, operating at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1911, their huge new gleaming white factory on Pacific Street and Vanderbilt Avenue began producing the first of millions of loaves of bread that would roll down their assembly line.

Ward’s was at the vanguard of a new kind of commercial baking. Gone were the bakers hand kneading their dough and shaping their loaves. Ward’s perfect loaves of bread were never touched by human hands.

As told in Part One, automated machines guided the baking process from the measuring of the flour until the packaging of the finished product. The customer’s hand that opened the package and lifted out that fresh loaf, ready to be sliced, was the first human hand on each loaf. Their advertising proudly proclaimed this, a guarantee of pristine freshness.

The new plant and all of Ward’s activities were the brainchild of the Ward family. The company had been started by James Ward in 1849, in a little bakery shop in Manhattan. James’ son Hugh, and his sons Robert and George had taken the company first to Pittsburgh, and then in 1910, back to New York.

In the years between, they had grown the company and were among the largest commercial bakers in a territory covering the market from Chicago to Boston, New York and Pittsburgh.

The new plant in Brooklyn had a twin in the Bronx, built at the same time. Both plants produced Tip Top Bread, the company’s signature loaf. These two factories produced all of the Ward’s bread sold in the metropolitan area. (more…)

Ward Bakery, Ad for opening, BE, 1911. 2

Many fortunes have been made by providing the public with the basic products of life. One doesn’t always need to reinvent the wheel. Take bread, for instance. For centuries, people have made their own bread. But for almost as long, there have been bakers who would do it for them. No one ever turned away a good baker.

For the busy urban household, bread making was time consuming, even for servants. If you’ve ever made bread, you know you have to set the yeast, mix the ingredients, let the bread rise several times, beat it and knead it to create gluten, and then let it rise again before actually baking. Or you could go to the baker and buy it.

The baker would also be able to make different kinds of bread, perhaps rolls, too, and even pastries. A baker and his bakery was an important part of the community. Interestingly, for centuries in Europe and America, the baker has generally been a man.

In 1849, a baker named James Ward and his son Hugh opened a one-oven bakery on Broome Street in Manhattan. A few years later, in 1852, Hugh and his wife Eliza welcomed young Robert into the world. (more…)

Yale Law School. SSPellen 1

This is the story of wealth, hurt feelings and stubbornness in a Brooklyn family, and the greed that surrounded the entire affair. In Part One, we met the Brasher family, millionaire residents of Park Slope. Widowed Mrs. Brasher did not like her only daughter Louise’s choice of husbands, and cut Louise and her daughter out of her large will.

Part Two is the story of the trial to break the will. At the end, Louise Bain lost, and unless the decision could be overturned by the Appellate Court, Louise and her family would never see a cent of her parents’ money.

When the case went to the jury in 1920, they pondered long and hard, pouring over the lengthy will, plus the four codicils, and days of testimony. At last they thought they had found a Solomon-like solution. Hidden deep in the original will was a bequest for Louise, after all. She was left a trust fund of $50,000 out of the $1,200,000 estate.

The jury voted to give that to her, plus $10,000 for attorney’s fees, and a $10,000 bequest already in the will for her son, William Clayton. They decided after 12 hours of deliberation to throw out the codicils which would have left Mrs. Louise Bain with nothing.

But when they made the announcement in court, they inadvertently set in motion a clause in the will that totally disinherited Mrs. Bain. The clause stipulated that she would get nothing if she contested the will. How they all missed that is inexplicable, but now Mrs. Bain could not legally receive any money.

The jury was devastated. (more…)

119 Henry St. Bain story, SB, PS

In Part One of our story, we met Louise Bain, who was disinherited by her wealthy Park Slope mother, Martha Brasher. In this installment, which takes place in 1920, the daughter tries to overturn her mother’s will.

Mrs. Bain sued, trying to break the will. She and her attorneys argued that her mother was not in her right mind when she cut her out of the will. They also argued that Mrs. Brasher’s lawyers had too much influence, as they were executors and beneficiaries. 

The Church Charity Fund, which received half the estate, teamed up with the lawyers for the executors to prove Martha Brasher sane, Louise Bain a horrible daughter, and the will valid.

All sides put forth a good case for their points. The trial lasted a week before the jury received the case. After long deliberation, they returned with a verdict upholding the will. Mrs. Bain lost. Then the story takes a strange turn. (more…)

58 7th Ave, BCM, KL, PS

The other day I featured 58 7th Avenue, the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music Building, as our Building of the Day. As I mentioned there, the house was originally built for William M. Brasher and his family, in 1881. Brasher had a factory down the street at 20th and 7th where he manufactured oil cloth. This material was used for many different purposes, and was the 19th century’s equivalent of vinyl coated fabric. Cotton duck fabric was soaked in linseed oil, which formed a waterproof fabric that could be used for tents, tarps, clothing, tablecloths and floor cloths. Brasher operated his factory during the Civil War period, and as you can imagine, he made a ton of money selling oilcloth to the government. Long story short – he was rich.

William Brasher and his wife Martha had only one child, a daughter named Louise. William died in 1912, leaving his tidy fortune, the house, and the yacht to his wife, Martha. She spent many subsequent years making other people miserable. She sued several people, and was sued in return. Aside from her servants, her lawyers probably saw her, and loved her, more than anyone else in her life. She hardly ever left the house, and did not socialize.

The Brasher’s daughter Louise had grown up and married Captain Bertram B. Clayton. He was a West Point graduate, and served in the Spanish-American War. He subsequently served a term in Congress, and was made a Colonel in the 14th Regiment of the New York National Guard. Their headquarters was the Park Slope Armory. Martha Brasher was very proud of her new son-in-law, and her new grandson, William, who was named after his grandfather. But her daughter’s marriage was not a happy one. (more…)

E.A. Laboratories, 692-696 Myrtle Ave, composite.2

In the fall of 1942, the Bedford Stuyvesant-based automobile horn and headlight company, E. A. Laboratories, entered World War II. As one of America’s largest automobile accessories companies, EAL was poised to serve the country by converting its factory into a war materials manufacturing plant. Their distinctive song-tune electric horns, their car heaters and windshield wipers were going to be replaced by gun sights for airplanes, landing lights, and horns for ships, Jeeps and other military vehicles.

The company was very patriotic in their embrace of the war effort. John Aufiero, EAL’s president, was the younger brother of the founder of the company, inventor Emanuel Aufiero. He published full page patriotic ads in the local papers, contributed tons of scrap metal to the war effort, and hired more workers to enable the plant to work non-stop at a 300% rise in production. The American flag flew highest over the corner of Spencer Place and Myrtle Avenue in the two adjoining buildings that made up the E. A. Laboratories. Please see Parts One and Two, which give lots of background.

All of that flag waving may have been a necessary distraction to point attention away from John Aufiero’s personal skeletons. As I mentioned in the last chapter of this story, those skeletons were about to goose-step out of his closet, and make a mess of his well-ordered public persona. Aufiero, it appears, had a great admiration for Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator of Italy, and the enemy of the United States and Allied forces. (more…)

E.A. Laboratories, 692-696 Myrtle Ave 1943 ad. Amazon.com 1

In 1929, Emanuel Aufiero, the president of E. A. Laboratories, the makers of the best car, motorcycle and bike horns around, had a nervous breakdown. His life had been an immigrant success story – a young man comes to America from Italy in the new century, and becomes a success in the field of automotive accessories. His designs and innovations are snapped up by the largest manufacturer of such items in the country, and he is paid more money than he’s ever imagined in his life. He marries, has children, and is living in Brooklyn, where he is respected and admired. What more could anyone want? Part One of our story introduces our characters and their products.

Success was not entirely all it was imagined to be. Aufiero was indeed a genius in his field, and he had produced dozens of designs for his employer, the Automobile Supply Company of Brooklyn. But he was ill-advised, or just hoodwinked on the terms of his contract. Early on, he had signed a very restrictive and exclusive contract with Louis Rubes, the president of ASC.

That contract gave his employer the lifetime rights to all designs produced for manufacture by ASC, and also the rights to anything Aufiero ever came up with in the future, even if he was no longer working for ASC. That, of course, guaranteed that Aufiero would never leave ASC’s employ, because what was the point of another company hiring him to design goods, when that company could not produce them without paying Rubes a cut of the profits? (more…)

E.A. Laboratories, 692-696 Myrtle Ave, composite

If you’ve ever been walking down the street and a car passes you blasting the horn with the strains of “La Cucaracha,” “The Godfather Theme,” “Here Comes the Bride,” or some other popular eight bars of music making it past your earbuds, then you owe a thought, or a good curse, to Emanuel Aufiero. In 1908, he invented the first electronically operated motor horn. That one merely honked. His company, E.A. Laboratories, located right here in northern Bedford Stuyvesant, was where the first theme-song car horn was born. That didn’t happen in the 1960s or ‘70s either. It was back in 1941, during World War II.

Emanuel Aufiero was born in Italy in 1882. He and his brother Michael came to America in 1900 to seek their fortunes. Both brothers were mechanically inclined, but Emanuel was an inventive mechanical genius. He was one of those people who could look at a piece of machinery and understand it, put it to good use, and fix it if it were broken. More importantly, he could see where that object, or tool or process could be improved. He was one of those idea men who could take something that already worked and evolve that object, taking it to the next step in its evolution.

At the dawn of the 20th century, there was nothing so intriguing and exciting as the ever-changing world of the automobile. It captured the 20th century imagination, and inventors and innovators were constantly evolving the motor car into something more efficient and better each year. The Aufieros got into the car accessory business. Starting in a small workroom in Manhattan, Emanuel invented the first motor driven automobile horn. It was a variation on the classic “ahooga” horn that you’ve probably seen in old movies or at vintage auto shows. It was an instant success, and helped promote Mr. Aufiero into auto history, and soon, into his first law suit. (more…)