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.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Sketch Published with Story of Gruesome Suicide in 1902 May Contain Only Known Depiction of the Original Pelham Manor Train Station

He was a well-liked, athletic, and young Harvard-educated lawyer who was quite popular in Newport, Rhode Island and in New York City.  He was 32 years old.  His name was George Griswold 2d, only son of Mr. and Mrs. John N. A. Griswold of Newport, Rhode Island.  His uncle was W. J. Emmett, a member of the family that owned the famed "Kemble House" located at 145 Shore Road in Pelham Manor.   The original portion of the Kemble House was built before the Revolutionary War, likely in about 1750.  It still stands, with the original section now forming the left (southern) wing of the home when viewing it from Shore Road.

In the autumn of 1902, something changed about George Griswold 2d.  Mrs. Griswold arrived in New York City with her son and rented a studio apartment for herself and another for her son in Carnegie Hall.  In November, Mrs. Griswold quietly sent her son to a "retreat" in Bay Ridge, then arranged for her and her son to board in the Kemble House at 145 Shore Road in Pelham.  By the time she and her son moved into the Kemble House, George was suffering from severe mental illness.  He constantly attempted to harm himself and spoke frequently of suicide.  His condition was so bad that in addition to servants, Mrs. Griswold hired two burly male nurses to stay with them in the Kemble House so that at least one male nurse was with George every minute of the day.  Their names were Charles Hill and A. A. Walters.

Young George Griswold 2d was no longer permitted to have a razor to shave.  Soon his hair was quite long and he had sprouted a beard.  The nurses "guarded him" constantly in the Kemble House to keep him from harming himself.  

Late in the evening on Monday, December 22, 1902, it was Charles Hill's turn to watch Griswold during the overnight shift.  Griswold seemed agitated most of that night and paced the floor of his room, smoking a pipe and muttering.  About 5:00 a.m. on Tuesday, December 23, the whistle of a train traveling on the Branch Line that passed the Pelham Manor Train Station about a mile away blew its whistle.  Hill heard Griswold mutter "Oh, those trains, those trains.  How can I live with their rattle always in my ears?"  Griswold then became quiet.

Once Griswold grew quiet, Charles Hill stepped into his own room in the house for a moment.  When Hill returned, Griswold's room was empty.  An open window revealed how Griswold had made his escape.

Hill sounded the alarm.  He and A. A. Walters began a search of the neighborhood which, at the time contained only a handful of homes between Shore Road and the Branch Line railroad tracks.  They were still searching when word arrived that a man had just been killed on the Branch Line railroad tracks near the Pelham Manor Station. 

Hill and Walters raced to the scene.  What they found was gruesome.  George Griswold 2d, tormented by his own demons, had cast aside his hat, kneeled next to the train tracks, and laid his neck on one rail.  A passing train decapitated the young man.  

The nurses and the family tried to keep the matter private.  The body was taken to the distant Village of Westchester where the nurses informed the Coroner that they knew the deceased and his name was "G. G. Martin."  Although local police knew it was the body of George Griswold 2d, the Coroner issued a permit for removal of the body under the name of G. G. Martin to a funeral home even more distant on West Farms Road in preparation to have the body shipped to Newport, Rhode Island for burial.

Given the gruesome nature of the death, sensationalized newspaper accounts appeared in many newspapers throughout the region.  One such report appeared in the New York Herald on December 24, 1902.  Significantly, the newspaper report included not only photographs of Griswold, the Kemble House, and the two male nurses, but also a sketch of the area from a "bird's eye view" that included a depiction of the Pelham Manor Station near the spot where the body was found.

The published sketch appears below, with an additional detail of the station taken from the sketch.  The sketch may be significant because there do not appear to be any extant images of the Pelham Manor Train Station that was replaced with a station designed by noted architect Cass Gilbert that opened in 1908, six years after the suicide of George Griswold 2d.

Images Published with the News Article Published by the New York Herald
That is Quoted and Cited in Full Below.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.
Detail Showing the Pelham Manor Station as Depicted in the
Sketch Above Published by the New York Herald.  NOTE:
Click on Image to Enlarge.

The sketch must be taken with a grain of salt.  It does not appear to be a true-to-life depiction of a bird's-eye-view of the region at the time.  Clearly it is not intended to be to scale.  Additionally, there were more structures actually present in the neighborhood than depicted in the sketch.  For example, though the sketch includes a fairly accurate depiction of the Christ Church sanctuary building, it does not show associated church structures that existed at the time.  Likewise, the sketch only shows two residences located in the Manor Circle area, though several more existed (and the ones shown are generalized views of homes in that area).  Nevertheless, the sketch does purport to depict the train station.  Moreover, a comparison of the sketch of the station is at least consistent with a map published in 1899 that depicts the footprint of the same station.  

Moreover, there are elements of the sketch of the station that seem to ring true.  The structure is depicted as a long "shotgun style" station adjacent to the tracks.  A map of the area published by John Fairchild in 1899, only three years before Griswold's suicide, indicates that the Pelham Manor Station was a long "shotgun style" structure adjacent to the tracks, as the detail from the Fairchild Map shows immediately below.  

Detail of John Fairchild Map Published in 1899 Showing
the Pelham Manor Train Station and Surrounding Region.
Source:  Fairchild, John F., Atlas of the City of Mount Vernon
Plate 24 (Mount Vernon, NY:  John F. Fairchild, 1899).
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

As the detail of the station from the sketch suggests, there may have been an "eyebrow" style roof dormer facing the plaza side of the station.  There appears to be an entrance door flanked by a single row of windows on each side of the door on the plaza side as well.  On the side of the building facing the New York City boundary (the side depicted above the words "PELHAM MANOR STATION" in the sketch) there appears to have been a door flanked by a single window on each side.  It looks as though there is a wooden walkway outside that door and that the walkway extended around to the side of the station facing the railroad tracks as a wooden station platform.  It is very difficult to tell from the sketch, but there is at least a suggestion that a portion of the platform along the tracks was covered by an extension from the roof.  Interestingly, in 1902 there were three tracks adjacent to the station -- just as the sketch seems to depict.  

Although the station appears to have been a single story, the existence of the eyebrow-style dormer in the roof and a small window visible above the side door facing the New York City boundary both suggest that there was an attic above the ground floor of the station.  

Though the grisly death by suicide of George Griswold 2d in the early hours of December 22, 1902 was a terrible tragedy, it is possible that as a consequence of his tragic demise we have one of the only known images of the Pelham Manor Station that preceded the one designed by Cass Gilbert built in about 1908. 

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Below is the text of the New York Herald article that forms the basis of today's article.  It is followed by a citation and link to its source.

"George Griswold 2d Ends His Life While Demented; Eludes His Nurses and Throws Himself Under a Train
Had Been Cared For in a Cottage by His Mother and the Two Attendants.
Body Found Later on Tracks and is Identified by Men Who Sought Him.
Scion of Wealthy and Socially Prominent Family Lost Reason Just as Career Opened.

In an undertaker's establishment in West Farms road lies the body of George Griswold 2d, scion of a prominent family.  Demented, he had escaped the nurses who had guarded him in a cottage, where his mother lived with him,  and after a wild scurry in the biting cold and over the frozen country, he had placed his head on a railroad track and had been decapitated by a train.  

But as far as is known officially he was in life G. G. Martin.  As such his death is recorded on the blotter in the police station in West Chester village.  This is the name by which he is known to the undertaker, and under this same name the Coroner granted a permit for the removal of the body.  Yet there are policemen who knew he was George Griswold 2d; the undertaker has heard this was his name, and the nurse who reported the death to Coroner Williams says he told that official the true name of the dead man and his family history.


That such mystery should be observed, it is admitted, was to conceal the fact that he was the only son of John N. A. Griswold, an octogenarian, who makes his home in Newport, R. I.; that his uncle is W. J. Emmett, of New Rochelle; that his cousin is George Griswold, of Tuxedo Park, and last that he had lived with his aged mother and two men nurses in a cottage in Pelham road for the last three weeks, the restraint of the nurses being necessary because in his mania he had developed suicidal tendencies.

Thirty-two years old, a graduate of Harvard and the University of Oxford and recently admitted to the Bar, young Mr. Griswold was as well and favorably known in this city, as he was in Newport.  When in that city he lived with his father in his handsome residence in Bellevue avenue, opposite Touro Park.  Every summer he was there, and, with an inclination to athletics, he took part in the lawn tennis tournaments in the Casino.  For some years his mother had resided in Colorado.

About three months ago Mrs. Griswold took a studio in Carnegie Hall and soon thereafter her son took a studio in the same building.  There was nothing in his manner there to show he was erratic, but about a month ago he went to a retreat in Bay Ridge.  A week later his mother closed her studio, and a few days afterward she and her son took possession of a cottage in Pelham road, Pelham Manor.  With them were several servants and two nurses -- Charles Hill and A. A. Walters.


These men soon saw the young man's mind was affected -- in fact, this was not hidden from them by Mrs. Griswold.  His one idea was to kill himself, and so one of the nurses was constantly by his side.  He was not permitted to shave, because it was feared he might use the razor to take his life, and his hair grew long and his beard sprouted.  A dull silver knife was given to him at meal time, and whenever he went out for a walk one of the nurses was by his side.  

It was Hill's turn to watch him between midnight on Monday and six o'clock yesterday morning, and as the family deemed it best for the nurses not to be in the same room, at times Hill was in an adjoining room.  He noticed Mr. Griswold did not sleep; he walked about his room constantly, talking to himself and smoking a pipe.  About five o'clock he heard a freight train on the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad rattle along the tracks, almost half a mile distant, and he said: --

'Oh, those trains, those trains.  How can I live with their rattle always in my ears.'

Going to his room for a minute the nurse did not hurry back, as all was quiet in Mr. Griswold's room.  But when he did re-enter, it was to find it empty.  An open window showed how the young man had made his exit.


Alarming his fellow nurse, Hill ran from the house without delay.  But the country is wild there; the ground was frozen; no one is abroad at that time of the morning and there are few watchmen to guard the half dozen houses between the home of the Griswolds and the railroad station.

They were still searching when it was learned that a man who had been killed on the railroad track had been found where the tracks pass over Prospect Hill road, just above Bartow, and almost three miles from Mrs. Griswold's cottage.  When the nurses went there they saw the body was that of their patient.  It was taken to the police station in West Chester village, where Hill said he recognized it as that of G. G. Martin.  The Coroner O'Gorman was called and he made out a permit for the removal of the body, as that of Martin, to the establishment of Bernard J. Lavan, in West Farms road.

No attempt was made to deny the young man had been irrational.  That he must have deliberately placed his head on the rail and awaited the approach of a train was shown by the fact that his only other injury was a broken arm.  He had even thrown aside his hat before he threw himself on the track.

It was decided to keep the body in the undertaker's until Friday, when it will be taken to Newport for burial.  Young Griswold's other sister is the wife of Colonel H. R. O. Cross, of the British army, and she lives in England."

Source:  George Griswold 2d Ends His Life While Demented; Eludes His Nurses and Throws Himself Under a Train, New York Herald, Dec. 24, 1902, p. 5, col. 1.  

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