Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Cancellation of 1909 Fatt Calfe Ceremony Due to "Sharp Lawyers" Prompted a Pell Family Feud



On September 20, 1689, John Pell, and his wife, Rachel, sold to Jacob Leisler of New York City 6,000 acres of Manor of Pelham land.  At the same time they gifted to Leisler another 100 acres for use as church grounds.  Leisler reportedly had been commissioned to acquire the land on behalf of French Huguenots seeking to relocate to North America, many of whom fled from La Rochelle in France.  The land became today’s New Rochelle, named in honor of La Rochelle from which many of the Huguenots fled religious persecution by the French Catholics. 

A condition of the sale in 1689 was that Jacob Leisler, his heirs and assigns should deliver to “John Pell his heirs and assigns Lords of the said Manor of Pelham . . . as an Acknowledgment to the said Manor one fatt calfe on every fouer and twentieth day of June Yearly and Every Year forever (if demanded).”  

Why was there a provision in the deed requiring delivery of a "fatt calfe" to Pell and his "heirs and assigns" on June 24 each year thereafter?  It was a symbol of good will between the Manor of Pelham and the new French Huguenot settlement of New Rochelle to encourage an annual celebration and feast among Pelhamites and the Huguenots.  June 24 is the Feast of St. John the Baptist celebrating the Nativity of St. John.  The celebration is considered one of the oldest festivals of the Christian Church listed as early as 506 C.E. by the Council of Agde as one of the principal festivals typically celebrated as a day of rest in preparation for the upcoming Christmas season.  A "fatt calfe," if demanded, provided a perfect opportunity for a celebratory feast and likely would have been "demanded" only after prior consultation and preparation for such an event.



1938 New Rochelle U.S. Commemorative Silver
Half Dollar (Obverse) Depicting John Pell Receiving
the "Fatt Calfe" in 1689. Photograph by the Author.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.



Portrait of John Pell Who Sold Portion of
the Manor of Pelham to Jacob Leisler on
September 20, 1689.  NOTE:  Click on 
Image to Enlarge.

Every few generations, it seems, there is a "rediscovery" of that ancient provision in the deed by which John Pell transferred the lands to Jacob Leisler.  With each such "rediscovery," members of the Pell family approach the City of New Rochelle and "demand" delivery of a "fatt calfe" -- typically as part of an anniversary or family reunion celebration.  

In 1909, George H. Pell joined the long line of Pell family members who "rediscovered" the provision contained in the ancient deed.  He demanded delivery of the "fatt calfe."  New Rochelle officials agreed to participate.  In perhaps one of the oddest instances in the history of the famed "fatt calfe" ceremony, however, the ceremony was canceled at the last minute after more than 500 invitations had been issued due to a fear of "sharp lawyers."

What did New Rochelle fear?  It feared that lawyers would seize on the fact that New Rochelle agreed to pay the "Acknowledgment" after failing to pay for many previous years to argue that there were defects in the titles of all properties in New Rochelle.  Under such a "sharp" theory, sharp lawyers might argue that title to the thousands of properties would revert to members of the Pell family.  

I have written about this interesting incident before.  See Fri., Mar. 04, 2005:  In 1909 Fear of "Sharp Lawyers" Prompted Cancellation of the Pell Family's "Fatt Calfe" Ceremony.  

A fascinating dispute arose among two members of the Pell family after the event was canceled.  H. W. Pell of Rome, New York came forward and claimed that he was the rightful claimant entitled to receive the famed fatt calfe, not George H. Pell.  The dispute erupted into a series of newspaper articles about which I also have written before.  See Thu., Sep. 10, 2009:  1909 Dispute Among Pell Family Members Over Who Would be the Rightful Recipient of the Fatt Calfe from New Rochelle.  

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes a different article published in 1909 regarding the Pell family dispute that arose over who would be the rightful recipient of the fatt calfe.  The article is fascinating because it discloses a portion of H. W. Pell's letter that claimed that since the time of John Pell, nephew and principal legatee of Peham founder Thomas Pell, a punch bowl that belonged to John Pell was passed from each purported "Lord" of the Manor of Pelham to the rightful successor entitled to receive the fatt calfe.

According to that letter, John Pell's punch bowl was made of lignum vitae, a trade wood from trees of the genus Guaiacum that are indigenous to the Caribbean and the northern coast of South America.  The wood was an important export to Europe since the beginning of the 16th century.  According to H. W. Pell, the wooden punch bowl was bound with silver hoops.  He claims to have played with the punch bowl as a child, but the silver hoops separated from the wood and "the bowl was broken and lost."  

H. W. Pell provided in his letter a detailed genealogy that, he claimed, demonstrated that he and not George H. Pell was entitled to receive the fatt calfe.  The dispute, it appears, was never resolved.

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I have written about the requirement that the "heirs and assigns" of Jacob Leisler, as purchaser and recipient of the 6,100 acres that became today's City of New Rochelle, deliver a "fatt calfe" to Pell heirs each year "if demanded."  For examples, see:

Bell, Blake A., Tradition of Demanding a New Rochelle "Fatt Calfe", The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 16, Apr. 16, 2004, p. 8, col. 2.

John Pell and the New Rochelle Commemorative Coin Dated 1938, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 7, Feb. 13, 2004, p. 10, col. 1.

Tue., Dec. 01, 2015:  Lean Roast Beef Is NOT a "Fatt Calfe" Though Pell Family Members Accepted it in 1956.

Thu., Sep. 10, 2009:  1909 Dispute Among Pell Family Members Over Who Would be the Rightful Recipient of the Fatt Calfe from New Rochelle.

Fri., Mar. 04, 2005:  In 1909 Fear of "Sharp Lawyers" Prompted Cancellation of the Pell Family's "Fatt Calfe" Ceremony.

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"ANOTHER LORD OF THE MANOR
-----

Had Mayor Raymond presented the fatted calf and three peppercorns to George H. Pell, as seventh lord of the Manor of Pelham, as had been arranged recently, he would have hurt the feelings of another claimant to that title, H. W. Pell of Rome, N. Y.

In a letter of detailed explanation H. W. Pell states that he has read about the proposed presentation of the fatted calf and of the subsequent refusal on the part of Mayor Raymond to carry out the ceremony, also noting the statement that George H. Pell claims to be a true descendant of the lords of Pelham Manor.  

'There must be some mistake in that,' goes on the letter.  'My family records give the geneology [sic] of our family as follows:  Henry W. Pell, born June 23, 1835 (which is the writer of this); Thomas Pell, M.D., his father, born April 15, 1806, deed November 1, 1869; Thomas Pell, his father, born at Manor Pelham March 1, 1775; Thomas Pell, his father, owner of Pelham Manor, born 1774 [??].  He had but three children, Thomas, Helena and Margaret; Joseph Pell, lord of Pelham Manor, born 1701, his father; Thomas Pell, his father, second lord of Pelham Manor, born 1675; Sir John Pell, his father, born in London, 1643.  He came to America in 1671 [sic], and in 1685 was appointed by James II a Justice of the Peace for the county of Westchester, N. Y., and Judge in 1688.  1687, he was created lord of the Manor of Pelham, N. Y., by letters patent from the Crown.  He married Rachel Pinckney and was succeeded by his son.

'This is far enough to assure you that I a the only living and true descendant of Lord John Pell, of Pelham Manor.  I have the geneology [sic] back to the origin of the name.

'Lord Pell transmitted his punch bowl to his successor.  It came to my father and was of lignum vitae, bound with silver.  The hoops came off, after which the bowl was broken and lost.  I have played with it time and again, therefore I remember it perfectly.'"

Source:  ANOTHER LORD OF THE MANOR, The Bronxville Review, Jul. 23, 1909, p. 3, col. 2.  

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Wednesday, December 07, 2016

The Largest Gem Heist in Pelham History


It was the biggest jewel heist ever in the Town of Pelham.  Early estimates of the value of the purloined gems ranged up to $250,000 at the time -- more than $4.7 MILLION in today's dollars.  The heist was the "Pink Panther" diamond and jewelry heist of its day.  As things turned out, the theft was as much a con job as it was a heist.  Pelham Manor and New York City Police suggested that the heist took up to two years to plan.  Based on the various news accounts of the crime, it may have taken longer.

Twenty years later, long after the crime had been solved and the malefactor had been caught, convicted, and served his time, a most remarkable coincidence followed.  Both a victim of the con and the malefactor died at virtually the same time.  The coincidence was not lost on the press.  

The malefactor who made sensational headlines as the Pelham jewel thief was reputedly a Belgian national known as "The Major."  Police said he was believed to be "a thief of international fame."  The thief, it turned out, was Jacob Svoboda, known as "one of the cleverest of the 'British butler thieves.'"

Svoboda had a clever ruse followed by a number of similar thieves.  He presented himself as the "perfect butler" though at least one report described him as a "footman" (i.e., a liveried servant).  He then reported to various employment agencies.  In 1917, the agencies with which he dealt were all in the New York City region.  

In 1917, the Major bided his time.  Employment agencies tried to send him to a variety of jobs, but none was quite what he was looking for.  Indeed, what he was looking for was a job in a gentleman's home filled with jewels.  He repeatedly rejected job opportunities until, finally, the right offer came along -- a chance to work for Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Hobbes Allen, owners of Bolton Priory in Pelham Manor.  

Only a few weeks after beginning work as a "servant" in Bolton Priory, the Major had his chance.  Frederick H. Allen was in Washington, D.C. working with the American Relief Fund of France.  His wife, Adele Livingston Stevens Allen, prepared to attend a reception in New York City for Marshal Joseph Jacques Césaire Joffre, the French General who served as Commander-in-Chief of French forces on the Western Front from the beginning of World War I until the end of 1916.  The entire staff of servants at the Priory, all of French background, planned to travel with Mrs. Allen to Manhattan to be near the celebration for Marshal Joffre.  Svoboda, known as The Major, volunteered to stay behind to watch Bolton Priory apparently because he claimed to be Belgian.

In her hurried preparation for the grand event, Mrs. Allen collected many of her most magnificent jewelry from which she selected what she would wear to the event.  Running late, she selected her jewels and thrust the remainder in a dresser drawer that she locked with a "skeleton key" rather than returning the jewels to a large safe on the premises.  She and the servants then left for Manhattan.

When the group returned, The Major was nowhere to be found.  Indeed, the "Perfect Butler," it seemed, was not so perfect.  Mrs. Allen found her dresser drawer broken open.  The Perfect Butler was missing.  So was the jewelry.

Within days New York City and regional newspapers were blaring headlines about jewelry worth $200,000; $225,000; and even $250,000 missing from Bolton Priory.  New York City Police and Pelham Manor police soon determined the job was a professional job by a slick international thief that likely had learned of major jewel purchases by the Allens in Paris two years before and decided to target them.  A list of the missing jewels was distributed.  It read as follows:

"Pearl necklace, valued at $50,000; diamond ring $10,000; diamond ring, pearls in the centre, containing a large white pearl in centre, surrounded with diamonds, $10,000; gray enamelled watch, surrounded with diamonds, $2,000; gold lorgnon chain, with pearls, $5,000; gold and white enamelled pencil, with pearls; gold chain, with saphires and topaz; gold tortoise shell lorgnon, gold bracelet, watch on gray suede strap, emerald ring, surrounded by diamonds; several gold watches, inlaid with diamonds; pearl and diamond pins and other jewelry."

Police expected to make a quick arrest.  Frederick H. Allen returned to Pelham Manor from Washington, D.C. only to discover that his dressing room had been ransacked.  His bejewelled gold scarf pins were missing, including one bought two years earlier in Paris for $10,000 and valued at $25,000.

Mr. and Mrs. Allen traveled to New York City to view images in the so-called "Rogues Gallery" to identify the servant they knew as "The Major."  While there, Mrs. Allen visited the family's safe deposit box maintained in a New York City bank where she discovered that several of the pieces of jewelry that she thought had been stolen were sitting safely in the safety deposit box.  The jewel thief had made his getaway with only about $85,000 worth of jewelry -- about $1.6 million in today's dollars.

Police apparently did not make a quick arrest.  Though the story remains obscure and no detailed accounts of what actually happened at the time have yet been located, it seems that twelve years later Pelham Manor Police Chief Philip Gargan and two of his detectives were able to collar Jacob Svoboda, alias "The Major."  Svoboda was tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison for his misdeeds.

The story, however, does not end there.  On Thursday, November 29, 1934 -- Thanksgiving Day -- Jacob Svoboda died a pauper in New York City.  Within 24 hours his victim, Frederick H. Allen also died.  As one newspaper put it in a blaring headline:  "Death Drops Curtain on "Perfect Butler" Burglar and His "Bolton Priory" Victim -- Commander Frederick Allen Follows Man Who Robbed Him 20 Years Ago to Grave."

The Bolton Priory jewels were never recovered.


"FREDERICK H. ALLEN"  
The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Mar. 21, 1932,
p. 7, cols. 1-2.  NOTE: Click Image To Enlarge.

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Below is the text of a number of articles related to the subject of today's Historic Pelham Blog posting.  Each is followed by a link and citation to its source.

"EXTRA
-----
Big Robbery in Pelham Manor
-----

Pelham Manor, May 12.  --  One of the biggest robberies in years in Westchester county was reported this afternoon at Bolton Priory, the home of Frederick H. Allen, and one of the show places of Pelham Manor.  It is reported that the loss exceeds $50,000 and may reach $75,000.  One missing necklace alone was said to be worth $50,000.

No details of the robbery could be learned, but at the house this afternoon it was said that a servant was missing and suspicion pointed to him.  Mr. Allen was said to be away, in Washington, D.C., and Mrs. Allen was not at home either.  It is believed that the robbery occurred while both Mr. and Mrs. Allen were absent.

Inquiries at police headquarters were met by the policeman at the desk with the response 'that he knew nothing of any robbery.'"

Source:  EXTRA -- Big Robbery in Pelham Manor, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], May 12, 1917, p. 1, col. 6.

"$200,000 Jewels Stolen from the Country Home of Frederick H. Allen
-----
Pelham Manor Robbery Revealed When Mrs. Allen Returns from Manhattan -- Had Left Valuables in a Drawer in Her Haste to Go to Joffre Reception.

[SPECIAL DESPATCH TO THE HERALD.]

PELHAM MANOR, N. Y., Saturday.  -- It became known to-day that jewels valued at $200,000 were stolen in a mysterious manner from Bolton Priory, the country home of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick H. Allen here on Friday during the absence of the family.  The Chief of Police, Mr. Marks, said to-night that he had a clew [i.e., clue] to the robbery and expected to make an arrest within a short time.

The robbery occurred while Mr. Allen was in Washington and Mrs. Allen was attending a reception to Marshal Joffre and the French mission to Manhattan.

The jewels belonged to Mrs. Allen, who is connected with a prominent French family.  Mr. Allen has been interested in French relief work in Paris.  He is a member of many clubs and formerly was chairman of the Westchester County Democratic Committee.

The Allen home was entered by burglars two years ago, and after a running fight with the police two of the robbers were captured.  They were sent to prison for ten years.

At the Allen home little information was forthcoming about the robbery on Friday, but it was learned that the police were asked to send out a general alarm for a man known to the family.  A list of the stolen jewelry was sent to the New York and WEstchester county police.

The following is a list of some of the jewels stolen: --

Pearl necklace, valued at $50,000; diamond ring $10,000; diamond ring, pearls in the centre, containing a large white pearl in centre, surrounded with diamonds, $10,000; gray enamelled watch, surrounded with diamonds, $2,000; gold lorgnon chain, with pearls, $5,000; gold and white enamelled pencil, with pearls; gold chain, with saphires and topaz; gold tortoise shell lorgnon, gold bracelet, watch on gray suede strap, emerald ring, surrounded by diamonds; several gold watches, inlaid with diamonds; pearl and diamond pins and other jewelry.

Mrs. Allen, in haste to attend the reception to the French mission, placed the stolen jewelry in a drawer of a dresser instead of locking the jewels in a safe in the house.  When Mrs. Allen returned on Friday night she found that the drawer had been opened with a skeleton key and the jewels removed.

Mr. Allen was received by General Joffre at army headquarters in France in June, 1916, while in that country on behalf of relief work.  It was to Mr. Allen that General Joffre, now Marshal, made known the fact that the time and money given by Americans in the rellief work had touched French hearts.

Mr. Allen, son of Elisha Hunt Allen, at one time Chief Justice of the Hawaiian Islands and Minister to the United States, was for a time Charge d'Affaires at the Hawaiian Legation.  Twice he hs been a member of the Executive Committee of New York.  

Mr. Allen is a member of the Union, Knickerbocker, Manhattan, Downtown, City, Country and New York Athletic Clubs.  Mrs. Allen was Miss Adele L. Stevens."

Source:  $200,000 Jewels Stolen from the Country Home of Frederick H. Allen -- Pelham Manor Robbery Revealed When Mrs. Allen Returns from Manhattan -- Had Left Valuables in a Drawer in Her Haste to Go to Joffre Reception, N.Y. Herald, May 13, 1917, p. 3, cols. 1-2.

"$200,000 IN GEMS STOLEN FROM HOME OF F. H. ALLEN
-----
Jewels Taken From Dresser Drawer While Lawyer's Wife Was Attending Joffre Reception, and French Servant Is Missing.
-----

Jewels worth at least $200,000 were stolen in a mysterious manner from Bolton Priory, the country home of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick H. Allen at Pelham Manor, on Friday in the absence of the family.  Chief of Police Marks has a clue to the robbery which it is said was an 'inside job.'

Mr. Allen was in Washington, while Mrs. Allen was attending a reception to Gen. Joffre in Manhattan.  The jewels belonged to Mrs. Allen.  A servant is missing.  

Two years ago the Allen home was entered by burglars and after a running fight between the police and the burglars, two of them were captured and they were sent to prison for ten years.

Following is a list of some of the jewels stolen:  Pearl necklace, valued at $50,000; diamond ring $10,000; diamond ring, pearls in the centre, containing a large white pearl in centre, surrounded with diamonds, $10,000; gray enamelled watch, surrounded with diamonds, $2,000; gold lorgnon chain, with pearls, $5,000; gold and white enamelled pencil, with pearls; gold chain, with saphires and topaz; gold tortoise shell lorgnon, gold bracelet, watch on gray suede strap, emerald ring, surrounded by diamonds; several gold watches, inlaid with diamonds; pearl and diamond pins and other jewelry.

Mrs. Allen was in the habit of keeping her jewels in a private safe.  Selecting such as she desired to wear to the reception to Marshal Joffre, with whom she was acquainted in France, she hurriedly dropped the rest in a dresser drawer instead of in the strong box, locking them with a small key.  On her return, intending to put the ornaments away in their accustomed place, she discovered that the dresser drawer hd been opened.  The [illegible] of the servant -- a Frenchman and therefore a compatriot of Mrs. Allen -- next was [illegible]

Frederick H. Allen, a member of the law firm of Allen & Cammann of 63 Wall street.  Among his clubs are the Knickerbocker, Union, Downtown, Manhattan, New York Athletic, City and Country.  Mrs. Allen is a member of the Colonial Dames of American and the [illegible] Club.

Mr. Allen is treasurer of the International Reconstructionist League, which, [illegible] of France and Belgium after the War."

Source:  $200,000 IN GEMS STOLEN FROM HOME OF F. H. ALLEN -Jewels Taken From Dresser Drawer While Lawyer's Wife Was Attending Joffre Reception, and French Servant Is Missing, The Sun [NY, NY], May 13, 1917, p. 1, cols. 6-7.  

"ALLEN HOME LONG MARKED FOR WORK OF JEWEL THIEVES
-----
Investigation Shows Value of Gems Stolen To Be $225,000.
-----
BURGLARY RECALLS AN EARLIER EFFORT
-----
Purchase of $10,000 Pearl Two Years Ago in Paris Led to Warning.

[SPECIAL DESPATCH TO THE HERALD]

PELHAM MANOR, N. Y., Sunday. -- More careful investigation of the jewel robbery at Bolton Priory, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick H. Allen, shows that for two years Mrs. Allen's noted jewel collection had been marked for plunder by a thief with an international record and that he obtained $225,000 worth of gems, instead of $200,000, as reported yesterday.

When Mr. Allen returned late last night from Washington, where he had been in connection with affairs of the American Relief Fund of France, of which he is the head, he discovered that his room adjoining that of Mrs. Allen, had been entered and robbed.  Among his pieces of jewelry taken, all valued at $25,000, was a scarfpin with a single pearl, which he had purchased in Paris a little more than two years ago for $10,000.

Warned to Watch Jewels.

At that time Mr. Allen was warned about the purchase, that thieves probably would 'mark' him for robbery, as in Paris it was known that he and Mrs. Allen had been extensive purchasers of jewels from time to time.  Mrs. Allen is a daughter of the Duchess De Dion, of Paris, formerly Mrs. Stevens, once owner of Bolton Priory.

Soon after that an attempt was made to rob the Priory, and after a fight with the police two men were arrested and sent to prison.  Investigation of the big jewel robbery of Friday shows, according to the police, that the man under suspicion, and whose arrest has been requested of police in many cities, was known at several at several employment agencies and that he had been seeking employment in certain homes known to possess large jewel collections.  A certain employment agency is said to have sent him to several places, where he refused to go to work.  At Bolton Priory, however, there was a jewel collection of vast value and the employment agency did not hear from him again.  That was only two weeks before the robbery was committed.

Mrs. Allen was to ill to be seen to-day and Mr. Allen said he had been asked not to discuss the theft by Chief of Police R. H. Marks, of Pelham Manor, who expressed a fear that the thief might learn the police were after him.  However, it was known that $225,000 may not cover the loss.

List Not Yet Completed.

The list of stolen pieces given to the police included only those which Mrs. Allen could remember.  An accurate list will not be made until Mrs. Allen is able to go to her safe deposit vault in New York and make an inventory of the jewels there and of the jewels, said to be valued at about $100,000, which were locked in a safe at the Priory and therefore not disturbed.  

Upon the advice of Washington Irving the Rev. Robert Bolton purchased forty acres at Pelham Manor in 1830 and he and his two sons built the Priory with their own hands and also Christ Church, adjoining.  For many years Miss Annette Bolton conducted the Priory as a school for girls.  Mrs. Stevens, mother of Mrs. Allen, purchased it twenty-eight years ago and later married the Duke de Dion.  It is now one of the finest country homes in Westchester.  

Mrs. Allen was in such haste to attend a reception to Marshal Joffre in Manhattan on Friday that instead of locking the jewels in the safe she placed them in a drawer, but locked it.  In her absence the drawer was broken open and the jewels stolen."

Source:  ALLEN HOME LONG MARKED FOR WORK OF JEWEL THIEVES -- Investigation Shows Value of Gems Stolen To Be $225,000 -- BURGLARY RECALLS AN EARLIER EFFORT -- Purchase of $10,000 Pearl Two Years Ago in Paris Led to Warning, N.Y. Herald, May 14, 1917, p. 2, col. 1.  

"CLUE TO $225,000 GEM THIEF FOUND
-----
Arrest of Man Who Looted Allen Home Expected.
-----

The jewels stolen from Bolton Priory, the Pelham Manor home of Frederick H. Allen are now estimated to be worth at least $225,000.  While the police declare they know the identity of the thief, so far neither he nor the jewels have been found.

R. H. Marks, chief of police of Pelham Manor, left his office for New York city last night, saying that an important clue had been discovered here.  He said that he is sure the author of the theft will be in custody within twenty-four hours, and further that the jewels are of such great value that there will be difficulty in disposing of them before the police can get on the trail of their whereabouts.

It was strongly hinted last night that a servant recently in the employ of the Allens who is missing has since turned out to be a jewel thief of international reputation, and that other mysterious disappearances of jewels have occurred in homes where he was employed.

Mr. Allen last night said that everything points to an 'inside job,' and that he is convinced the capture of the thief will not be long deferred.

The robbery occurred while Mr. and Mrs. Allen were in New York attending the reception at the Metropolitan Opera House to Marshal Joffre.

Mr. Allen said he discovered yesterday the thief visited his dressing room and stole several valuable scarf pins, one of which he valued at $10,000."

Source:  CLUE TO $225,000 GEM THIEF FOUND -- Arrest of Man Who Looted Allen Home Expected, The Sun [NY, NY], May 14, 1907, p. 6, col. 1.  

"Loss At the Pelham Manor Robbery Is Placed At the Sum of $225,000 Today
-----

Pelham Manor, May 14. -- No further information could be ascertained today at the Bolton Priory, this village, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick H. Allen regarding the robbery that took place there some time Friday whille Mr. and Mrs. Allen were attending the reception to Marshal Joffre at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.

The news of the robbery was published first on Saturday by the Argus.  It was said today at the Allen home by the maid in charge, 'I cannot talk, I must refer you to the Pelham Manor police.'  At the Pelham Manor police station no news was forthcoming owing to the absence of Chief Marks who is in New York.

The report obtained Saturday gave the loss at $75,000 and this was revised on the return of Mr. and Mrs. Allen to their home.  It is now estimated at $225,000.

The robbery it has been strongly hinted, was planned and executed by an international crook, who had made his way into the Allen household by being engaged as a servant.  This servant was familiar  with the location of the missing jewels and when he was sure of the absence of Mr. and Mrs. Allen, the robbery was easily effected.

A general alarm has been sent out to detective bureaus throughout the country by the New York police, who are co-operating with the local police in an effort to run down the thief."

Source:  Loss At the Pelham Manor Robbery Is Placed At the Sum of $225,000 Today, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], May 14, 1917, p. 1, col. 6.  

"Detectives Have Clew in $225,000 Jewel Robbery
-----
Home of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick H. Allen Long 'Marked' Is Belief -- Police Seek Employe Who Left Some Time Ago.

Announcement by the Pelham police that they were confident that the robber who stole the gems from the home of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick H. Allen in that place last Friday would soon be captured wsa followed to-day by the information that the jewels were worth $225,000, instead of $200,000, as first reported.  It is said that suspicion attaches to a man who worked as an employe in the Allen home, but who left some time ago.  

This man is believed to have been a thief of international fame, who, among other ruses, obtains employment in the homes of wealthy persons so as to rob them.

Among the pieces of jewelry taken was a scarf pin valued at $25,000, which Mr. Allen purchased in Paris a few years ago for $10,000.  It is said that Mr. Allen was warned that thieves might 'mark' him for robbery, as he and Mrs. Allen were known to have purchased large quantities of jewels from time to time.

Mrs. Allen is a daughter of the Duchess d'Dion, of Paris, formerly Mrs. Stevens, once owner of Bolton Priory.

Soon after that an attempt was made to rob the Priory, and after a fight with the police two men were arrested and sent to prison.  Investigation of the big jewel robbery of Friday shows, according to the police, that the man under suspicion, and whose arrest has been requested of police in many cities, was known at several employment agencies and that he had been seeking employment in certain homes known to possess large jewel collections.  A certain employment agency is said to have sent him to several places, where he refused to go to work.  At Bolton Priory, however, these was a jewel collection of vast value and the employment agency did not hear from him again.  That was only two weeks before the robbery was committed."

Source:  Detectives Have Clew in $225,000 Jewel Robbery -- Home of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick H. Allen Long 'Marked' Is Belief -- Police Seek Employe Who Left Some Time Ago, The Evening Telegram [NY, NY], May 14, 1917, p. 16, cols. 1-2.  

"Value of Stolen Jewels Is Reduced To $80,000 Now
-----

Pelham Manor, May 15. -- The Pelham Manor police have no information in connection with the robbery which took place Friday last at the residence of Frederick H. Allen, known as the Bolton Priory in this village, but the valuations of the articles missing have been reduced from $250,000 to $80,000.  Mr. and Mrs. Allen yesterday visited the rogue's gallery in New York and spent an hour viewing the photographs in an effort to find one that resembled a missing footman employed up to the time of the robbery.  The missing man it has been learned was in charge of the Allen house last Friday while the remainder of the domestics who are French went to New York to attend the celebration.

The description of the missing footman is given by the New York police as being about 50 years of age, short and stocky built, gray hair with bald spot on top.  In a search of the premises, was found a bottle of hair dye under the window of the footman's room and it is believed that he used this to change the color of his hair.  Mr. Allen told the New York police that he had engaged the servant who described himself as Belgian from an employment bureau in Fourty-third street.  The domestics at the Allen house have been instructed by the police not to talk to anyone regarding the raid.  The name of the missing servant is also withheld."

Source:  Value of Stolen Jewels Is Reduced To $80,000 Now, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], May 15, 1917, p. 1, col. 4.  

"Death Drops Curtain on 'Perfect Butler' Burglar and His 'Bolton Priory' Victim
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Commander Frederick Allen Follows Man Who Robbed Him 20 Years Ago to Grave -- Lives of Two Men Recalled in Pelham Manor
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By JANICE LEVY
(Special To The Daily Argus)

PELHAM MANOR, Dec. 4. -- A human drama rivaling fiction was revealed here today as the Grim Reaper dropped the curtain of life's stage over two actors who played the first act 20 years ago.

Back in 1917, the 'perfect butler,' Jacob Svoboda, was accused by police of having taken jewelry valued at $85,000 from Commander Frederick H. Allen, master of Bolton Priory, and a veteran U.S. diplomat and outstanding authority on international law.

'Major' Svoboda died a pauper in New York City Thursday.  He was eighty-nine.

Within 24 hours Commander Allen succumbed in a Newport, R. I., hospital to pneumonia.  He was seventy-nine.

Old-timers at police headquarters recalled the $85,000 theft of Mr. Allen's jewels and the subsequent arrest and conviction of 'Major' Jacob Svoboda, the man who prided himself as being 'an excellent butler.'

Captured in 1929

'The Major,' as Svoboda was called, was captured on Aug. 21, 1929, by former Chief Phillip Gargan and two detectives for the robbery at the Allen Estate, Bolton Priory.

Svoboda left the home of Commander Allen on May 10, 1917, and took with him the $85,000 in jewels.  'The Major' was credited by police with being one of the cleverest of the 'British butler thieves.'

Although police suspected Svoboda had deposited huge sums in safe deposit vaults, his body lies in a New York City morgue, awaiting burial.

As police were recalling the robbery last night they received news of the death in Newport of Commander Allen.

Members of the family were at the bedside when Commander Allen died.  They included his wife, a son, Frederick, and a daughter, Miss Priscilla Alden Allen.

Commander Allen was one of Westchester County's most prominent attorneys.  He was an authority on international law and served the United States Government on many occasions as an of-
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(Continued on Page Two)

GRIM REAPER
(Continued from Page One)

ficial observer at peace conferences.

Aided Neighbors

He never forgot his Pelham Manor neighbors, however, and whenever there were any problems to solve, Commander Allen usually was called upon to aid.

Commander Allen gave to the village what is now known as Pelham Manor Park [i.e., Shore Park].  

He was born in Hawaii while his father was on a mission there.  During this sojourn, Commander Allen's father, Elisha H. Allen, became Chief Justice of the Hawaiian kingdom and chief advisor to the native rulers.

Commander Allen was in his late boyhood when his parents returned to the United States and he entered Harvard University where he earned his M.A. and LL.B.  In 1892, he married Adele Livingston Stevens, and Bolton Priory, which nestles in the rural wooded hills, became their home.

Served Legation

Early in his career, Commander Allen became secretary of the Hawaiian Legation in Washington and later was Charge d'Affaires of that group.  In 1894, he established his own law firm in New York.

He was a member of the commission sent to Europe to study agricultural problems and rural credits and upon the report of this commission the Federal Farm Loan Act was based.  He also served as a ember of the commission which formed the Lafayette Escadrille in 1916.  When the United States entered the World War, he was made Lieutenant Commander of the Naval Reserve Flying Corps and in 1917 became aide to the commander of the U.S. flying forces in France.

After the armistice he was assigned to President Wilson's staff at the peace negotiations and served as aide to Colonel House.

Settled Disputes

Commander Allen played an important part in settlement of disputes of the smaller countries and was instrumental in organization of the Republic of Poland.

He was honored by the Polish Government and presented with the Cross of Polonia Restitute and the Star of Polonia.

Commander Allen had 14 decorations, including the Legion of Honor, French, and the Order of Leopold II, Belgian.

A quarter of a century ago Commander Allen was active in Democratic Party affairs in Westchester County and in 1912, 1920, and 1924 was a member of the Democratic National Finance Committee."

Source:  Levy, Janice, Death Drops Curtain on "Perfect Butler" Burglar and His "Bolton Priory" Victim -Commander Frederick Allen Follows Man Who Robbed Him 20 Years Ago to Grave -- Lives of Two Men Recalled in Pelham Manor, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Dec. 4, 1937, p. 2, col. 6.  

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I have written before about Adele Livingston Stevens and her husband, Frederick Hobbes Allen and their ties to Bolton Priory in Pelham Manor.  For a few such examples, see:

Tue., Jul. 07, 2015:  Frederick Hobbes Allen of Bolton Priory in Peham Manor.

Wed., Jan. 28, 2015:  Pelham Manor Resident Pushed for Removal of the Causeway from Shore Road to Hunter's Island in 1902

Wed., Dec. 12, 2007:  Another Biography of Frederick Hobbes Allen, President of Pelham Manor and Owner of Bolton Priory in the Early 20th Century

Thu., Mar. 1, 2007:  Biographical Data Regarding Frederick Hobbes Allen, President of Pelham Manor and Owner of Bolton Priory in the Early 20th Century.

Tue., Aug. 23, 2005:  Society Scandal:  The "Strange" Story of Mrs. Adele Livingston Stevens Who Acquired the Bolton Priory in Pelham Manor

Jun. 10, 2005:  Pelham's Most Magnificent Wedding Gift:  The Bolton Priory.  

Tue., May 3, 2005:  Colonel Frederick Hobbes Allen, An Owner of Bolton Priory in Pelham Manor.

Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2016

An Account of the Tragic Vaughan Livery Stable Fire in Pelhamville in 1907


A terrible blizzard raged across Pelham that night.  The winds were blowing furiously as the brutal cold and heavy snow pounded the little town.  Even the local police were hunkered down in their offices when, according to one newspaper account, the telephone rang.  A woman's voice on the other end of the line shrieked:

"Please send help quick.  The house is burning up.  I cannot get out.  Oh, for God's sake do something!"

One of the worst fires ever to rage across Pelham had begun.  Within a short time, according to various accounts, "it was feared that the whole town would be destroyed by fire" as gale force winds began carrying burning debris high into the air and depositing the flaming torches throughout the Village of Pelham and the Village of North Pelham where wooden frame residences and structures seemed like kindling.  By the time the fire was over, the woman who made the sad telephone call to the police and three others were dead.  Additionally, about thirty horses died in the fire.

I have written about this tragic fire before.  See Wed., Jan. 18, 2006:  Newspaper Report of the Infamous Vaughan's Livery Stable Fire in North Pelham in 1907.  

Known as the Vaughan Livery Fire of 1907, the tragedy frightened local taxpayers into finally passing a bond referendum to update their antiquated fire-fighting force.  Indeed, the Vaughan Livery Fire of 1907 was such a wakeup call that taxpayers voted a bond issue to build the fire station that preceded today's station (on essentially the same site).  The new firehouse included a large apparatus room and five stalls for horses on the first floor as well as a 40 x 70 feet hall above for entertainments that came to be known as "Firemen's Hall."  The tiny old fire building was moved to the rear of the same lot and attached to the new firehouse. Once the old building was attached to the new firehouse, it was used for company rooms upstairs.  On the first floor below were the Fire Commissioners' office and a room for the fire alarm system and motors.  The bond issue also furnished a steam fire engine and team of horses as well as a horse-drawn hook and ladder truck.  The two fire companies were enlarged to fifty members each.

The fire began in a livery stable owned by a man named Richard L. Vaughan.  It was a large livery stable located on Wolfs Lane roughly at today's 105 Wolfs Lane where famed Pelham restaurant "Rockwells American Restaurant" is located (see map detail below).  Vaughan and his family lived with a housekeeper and a boarder above the stable. 



Detail from Map Published in 1899 Showing Location
of the Livery Stable on Wolfs Lane in Lower Left Corner.
Source:  Fairchild, John F., Atlas of the City of Mount
Vernon and the Town of Pelham, Plate 21 (Mount Vernon,
NY:  John F. Fairchild, 1899).  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

At about 4:00 a.m. on February 5, 1907, a blinding snowstorm accompanied by a forty-five mile gale raged throughout Pelham.  An acting police sergeant named Champion was at nearby Police Headquarters when he noticed a reflection on the snow that looked like fire. He ran outside and saw the livery stables ablaze.  He broke open the front door yelling “fire”!  He raced to a nearby apartment building known as “the Lyons flats” yelling “fire” and ringing doorbells.  In the apartment above the stables, liveryman Vaughan realized what was unfolding.  He woke his wife and child and began pushing them toward the front staircase of the building. Before reaching the staircase, Mrs. Vaughan collapsed from the smoke. As liveryman Vaughan tried to save his wife, child, housekeeper and a boarder named Thomas McKay, he collided with an iron column in the hallway, rendering him partially unconscious. 

The entire building was engulfed in flames.  Nearby Lyons flats (a tiny wooden apartment building) was next.  For the first time in the Town’s history, it looked as though the entire business section of Pelham would be wiped out by fire.  With the downtown at risk, fire fighters from Mount Vernon and New Rochelle joined the battle.  

Inside the inferno, Richard Vaughan regained consciousness and searched for his family. As he stumbled about, he fell down the stairs to the first floor where firemen rescued him, though he was badly burned. Seconds after rescuers carried Vaughan out of the building, the entire structure collapsed in a burning heap.  Vaughan’s family, the boarder and the housekeeper perished in the blaze.  Thirty horses died in the fire as well.  Some reports indicate that three people perished in the fire.  Others say it was four.  It appears that four died.  

The firefighters suffered brutal conditions that night.  Their water froze.  They were covered in ice in the midst of the brutal storm.  Nevertheless, after the building collapsed, the fire was brought under control. The business district was saved. The cause of the fire was never determined.



Livery Stable Fire in the Early 20th Century, Though
Not a Photograph of the Vaughan Livery Stable Fire
in 1907.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.


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Below is an account of the Vaughan Livery Fire of 1907 that appeared in a local newspaper published in the Scarsdale Inquirer on February 7, 1907.  The text is followed by a citation and link to its source.

"THREE BURNED TO DEATH
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Fire at North Pelham Tuesday Morning Destroys A Whole Block
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In a mysterious fire which destroyed the large livery stable of Richard Vaughan, and an adjoining flat house at North Pelham near Mount Vernon, early Tuesday morning, Mrs. Vaughan the wife of the liveryman, their two-year old son and a hostler, who was asleep in the stable were burned to death.  At first it was feared that the whole town would be destroyed by the fire as there was a blizzard in full blast and big firey torches were carried by the wind for a long distance.

The firemen had a hard time fighting the flames as the water froze and the volunteer firemen became covered with ice and snow and suffered greatly from the cold.

It is believed Mrs. Vaughan died while calling over the telephone in her room for help.  It is definitely known that she called up the police station and shrieked over the wire 'Please send help quick.  The house is burning up.  I cannot get out.  Oh, for God's sake do something!'

The body of Mrs. Vaughan was recovered from the ruins but the bodies of the baby and the hostler could not be found.  Twenty-eight horses belonging to Mr. Vaughan were also burned."

Source:  THREE BURNED TO DEATH -- Fire at North Pelham Tuesday Morning Destroys A Whole Block, Scarsdale Inquirer [Scarsdale, NY], Feb. 7, 1907, p. 3, col. 3.




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