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, January 19, 2017

Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold: Don't Mess With a Pelham Fireman

It was 1914.  The First Fire District had just purchased a new "automobile fire truck."  Pelham volunteer firefighter Hans Gruber was appointed by the Fire Commissioners as driver and caretaker of the new fire engine.  One day in autumn, Gruber drove the new fire truck through Pelham Heights.

Frances Van Schaick lived in Pelham Heights at 116 Corlies Avenue.  She did not like the new "automobile fire truck."  She did not like it at all.  In fact, the exhaust it belched and the noise it made as it rumbled over the roads of the Heights bothered her so much that she filed a civil action against poor Hans Gruber and had a summons served on him to appear in village court to answer her lawsuit alleging he disturbed her with the vehicle.

Hans Gruber, it seems, did not like being hauled into court for doing his job driving the fire truck.  He did not like it at all.

Frances Van Schaick, it seems, must have been a rather difficult lady.  Shortly before filing her action against Hans Gruber, she had been in a dispute with a local taxicab operator and refused to pay the fare.  The taxicab operator filed his own civil action in village court against Mrs. Van Schaick seeking payment of the disputed fare.  Justice Stires authorized a summons directing Mrs. Van Schaick to appear at a civil trial to answer the claim and gave the summons to Constable King to serve on Frances Van Schaick.

Constable King did not know Mrs. Van Schaick.  As fate would have it, the day before the annual firemen's inspection, Constable King asked his friend, Hans Gruber, if he happened to know Frances Van Schaick.  As one news report put it, at that moment, Gruber "saw his opportunity to 'get even'' with Mrs. Van Schaick.  He hatched an elaborate plan with Constable King to achieve his revenge.

The following day, Pelham firemen gathered in the evening for their 21st annual parade and inspection.  Among those marching in the parade with the firemen were the Town Constables, including Constable King.  Tucked inside Constable King's pocket was the summons requiring Mrs. Van Schaick's appearance in court to answer the civil claim filed by the taxicab operator seeking payment of his fare.  Hans Gruber was in the driver's seat of the new "automobile fire truck."

Hans Gruber had made sure that the firemen's parade would include a march along Corlies Avenue where Frances Van Schaick lived.  As the parade passed 116 Corlies Avenue, there stood Mrs. Van Schaick in her front yard, cheering the parade!  The moment the new "automobile fire truck" passed the home, Hans Gruber turned the vehicle's searchlight onto Mrs. Van Schaick and held it steady, lighting up the cheering woman in front of the parade marchers.

Gruber had plotted with Constable King to train the spotlight on Mrs. Van Schaick if she was found outside so that the Constable would know who she was and could serve her with the summons for the taxi fare case.  While Gruber kept the searchlight on Mrs. Van Schaick (and while the entire parade procession watched), Constable King left the parade line, served a surprised Mrs. Van Schaick with the summons in the bright glare of the searchlight, and returned to the parade ranks as the parade continued.

According to one account, when Frances Van Schaick appeared in court pursuant to the summons, she "spent most of the evening protesting against the manner in which she was served" so that the trial had to be rescheduled for the following week!

116 Corlies Avenue Where Hans Gruber Turned the Fire
Truck Searchlight on Mrs. Frances Van Schaick During
the Annual Firemen's Inspection Parade in 1914.  NOTE:
Click on Image to Enlarge.

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Below is the text of a news article on which today's Historic Pelham article is based, followed by a citation and link to its source.

"North Pelham
Revenge Is Sweet.

It will be remembered that Mrs. Frances Van Schaick, of 116 Corlies avenue, summoned Hans Gruber to court several weeks ago because he was operating the new automobile fire truck in the Heights.  At a civil trial Friday evening it was learned that Hans Gruber had evened up the score.  Constable King had been given a summons by Justice Stires to serve upon Mrs. Van Schaick in a civil action brought by John Cammerano to recover for taxicab hire.  Constable King did not know who Mrs. Van Schaick was and asked Hans Gruber the day before the firemen's annual inspection.  Gruber then saw his opportunity to 'get even for his arrest [sic].  He arranged with Constable King that when the firemen's parade passed rs. Van Schaick's house that the searchlight would be played upon her if she happened to be in view.  The parade passed the house and there stood Mrs. Van Schaick cheering the firemen.  Hans Gruber from the automobile engine seat turned the searchlight upon Mrs. Van Schaick and held it there.  Constable King left the line and served the paper and then returned to the ranks.  Friday evening, when the case was called, Mrs. Van Schaick spent most of the evening protesting against the manner in which she was served.  The case will be tried next Friday evening by Justice Stires."

Source:  North Pelham -- Revenge Is Sweet, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Oct. 12, 1914, p. 11, col. 2.

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Below is a list of prior Historic Pelham Blog postings that touch on firefighting and the history of firefighting units within the Town of Pelham.

Thu., Jan. 19, 2017:  Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold:  Don't Mess With a Pelham Fireman.

Thu., Jan. 12, 2017:  Six of Pelham's Earliest Firefighters Marched in the 36th Annual Fire Inspection Parade in 1930.

Tue., Dec. 06, 2016:  An Account of the Tragic Vaughan Livery Stable Fire in Pelhamville in 1907.

Wed., Nov. 16, 2016:  More on the 1889 Fire that Destroyed the Hunter House on Travers Island.

Tue., Oct. 04, 2016:  Harry R. King, Fire Chief of the First Fire District From 1911 to 1913.

Wed., Jun. 15, 2016:  Organized Volunteer Fire Fighting in Pelhamville Began as Early as 1885.

Tue., Jun. 14, 2016:  The First Annual Inspection of Pelhamville Fire Fighting Units in 1894.

Tue., Jun. 07, 2016:  When Did Pelham's Minneford Engine Company Acquire its First Fire-Fighting Steam Engine?

Mon., May 16, 2016:  Fatal Fire in 1902 at One Fifth Avenue Burned Down the Post Office and Pharmacy.

Fri., Apr. 29, 2016:  Famous Meyers Mansion in Pelham Manor Burned Down in 1897.

Thu., Apr. 28, 2016:  Pelham Manor Dutifully Extinguished a Fire That Nearly Burned Down its Hated Wooden Train Station in 1896.

Mon., Jan. 04, 2016:  Pelham Manor Voters Voted to Disband the Pelham Manor Fire Department in 1928.  

Mon., Dec. 14, 2015:  Early History of the Village of Pelham Manor Fire Department.

Fri., Dec. 11, 2015:  Evidence of An Early Independent Firefighting Unit in Pelham Named "Indians."

Thu., Dec. 10, 2015:  Grand Fire-Fighting Competition and Parade Held in the Town of Pelham in 1891.

Wed., Dec. 09, 2015:  Pelham's Minneford Engine Company Built a New Fire House on City Island in 1894.

Mon., Dec. 07, 2015:  The Code Used on the City Island Fire Bell in the Late 19th Century Used for Fire Alarms.

Mon., Nov. 30, 2015:  Another Detailed Account of the 1901 Fire that Destroyed the Clubhouse of the New York Athletic Club on Travers Island.

Fri., Nov. 20, 2015:  Account of 1894 Fire in One of Pelham's Earliest Newspapers.

Wed., Sep. 30, 2015:  Was it Arson that Destroyed the Prospect Hill School at Jackson and Plymouth Avenues in 1917?

Thu., Sep. 17, 2015:  An Account of the February 28, 1925 Fire at Pelhamdale, A Home on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fri., Jun. 12, 2015:  The Tumultuous Reign of Pelham Manor Fire Chief J. Louis Cunningham in the Early 1900s.

Tue., Jun. 09, 2015:  Reminiscences of Firemen Who Served From 1893 Until 1923 in North Pelham.

Wed., Jun. 03, 2015:  The Bell in Firemen's Memorial Park at First Street and Wolfs Lane.

Tue., Jun. 02, 2015:  Important Early Images of the Pelham Fire Department.

Fri., May 22, 2015:  History of Pelham's Beloved "Nott Steamer" Known as "Jim Reilly's Boiler."

Thu., Mar. 26, 2015:  Fire Destroyed the Old Pelham Manor Post Office in 1945.

Fri., Mar. 20, 2015:  Fire in 1932 Devastated the Bolton Priory in Pelham Manor.

Tue., Feb. 17, 2015:  More on the Early History of Organized Firefighting in the Settlement of Pelhamville.

Mon., Feb. 16, 2015: The Great Furniture Fight of 1896: Company of Pelhamville Firemen Resigned En Masse.

Thu., Feb. 12, 2015: Rare 19th Century Image of Pelhamville Firemen Who Served in Relief Hook and Ladder Company No. 1.

Fri., Dec. 12, 2014: Parade and Housewarming Hosted by Pelhamville Fire Department in 1894.

Thu., Dec. 11, 2014:  Pelhamville's First Attempt to Create a Fire Department in 1893 Failed Due to a Legal Technicality.

Thu., Jul. 24, 2014: Dedication of the New Fire Headquarters in the Village of Pelham on December 29, 1927.

Wed., Jul. 02, 2014: Election Shenanigans Involving Fire Commissioner Election in 1898.

Thu., Apr. 24, 2014: Information About the History of Fire Departments in the Town of Pelham Published in 1927.

Thu., Jan. 30, 2014:  The Night Pelham's Town Hall Burned.

Fri., Jan. 24, 2014: Early Days of Organized Fire Fighting in Today's Village of Pelham.

Thu., Jan. 23, 2014:  Another Account of the Devastating Fire that Destroyed the Travers Island Clubhouse of New York Athletic Club in 1901.

Wed., May 12, 2010:  Fire Partly Destroyed Pelham Town Hall in 1908.

Fri., Jan. 15, 2010: Photograph of Augustine C. McGuire, President of the Board of Fire Commissioners of the First District Fire Department in 1913.

Thu., Jan. 14, 2010: 1913 Report of the Firemen's Benevolent Association in Pelham.

Thu., Dec. 10, 2009: More 19th Century Baseball and Firefighting References.

Tue., Dec. 08, 2009: The Darling Triplets: Three Brothers Among Pelham's Earliest Firefighters.

Thu., Oct. 08, 2009: Firefighting Units on City Island in Pelham During the Early 1890's.

Fri., Sep. 04, 2009:  1901 Newspaper Article About Fire that Burned New York Athletic Club Clubhouse on Travers Island.

Mon., Aug. 31, 2009: Contest in 1891 To Determine Which Steam Fire Engine Company Could Throw a Stream the Greater Distance.

Fri., Aug. 28, 2009: Reorganization of the Minneford Engine Company on City Island in February, 1891.

Thu., Aug. 06, 2009: Brief History of the Fire Department in the Village of North Pelham Published in 1913.

Wed., Aug. 05, 2009: Pelham Manor Fire Chief Pleads for Taxpayers to Authorize Purchase of Village's First Fire Engine.

Wed., July 15, 2009: Liberty Hose Company Election in 1898.

Thu., Feb. 19, 2009:  The Old Hunter House Burns to the Ground in an Arson Incident on Travers Island on April 4, 1889.

Thu., Jan. 19, 2006: Pelham Manor's Earliest Fire Fighting Equipment.

Wed., Jan. 18, 2006:  Newspaper Report of the Infamous Vaughan's Livery Stable Fire in North Pelham in 1907.

Mon., Oct. 17, 2005:  The Firemen's Memorial of the Pelham Fire Department.

Mon., Aug. 01, 2005: An 1896 Inspection and Drill of the Fire Department in Pelham.

Tue., May 31, 2005:  The June 6, 1940 Fire That Destroyed the George M. Reynolds Mansion (Part I of II).

Wed., Jun. 01, 2005:  The June 6, 1940 Fire That Destroyed the George M. Reynolds Mansion (Part II of II).

Fri., May 06, 2005:  The Great Furniture Battle at Pelhamville's Relief Hook and Ladder Company in 1896.

Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.

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