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.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Tragic Accident Marred Pell Treaty Oak Ceremony at Bartow-Pell in 1915

On Saturday, May 1, 1915, New York Governor Charles Seymour Whitman was on hand for a special ceremony at the Bartow Mansion on Shore Road.  There was a ceremony that day to celebrate the transfer, by lease, of the mansion and its lovely grounds to the International Garden Club and to plant an oak tree to replace the Pell Treaty Oak that had died in 1906 after lightning struck the tree blowing off its top, followed by a fire set by youngsters that damaged the trunk, and a windstorm that finally toppled what was left of the legendary tree.

Photograph of the Pell Treaty Oak from The Office of The Historian of
the Town of Pelham and Painting of the Pell Treaty Oak by John M. Shinn,
Both Showing the Tree As It Looked Shortly Before its Destruction
in 1906.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

A Pelham legend, since determined to be apocryphal, said that local Native Americans signed a deed granting Thomas Pell the lands that became the Manor of Pelham under the branches of this mighty oak on June 27, 1654.  By the earliest years of the 20th century, little remained of the mighty oak as it neared its end and, finally, its destruction in 1906.

Thus, on May 1, 1915, Governor Whitman arrived at the mansion to plant a replacement oak.  The crowd that day was large -- much larger than anticipated.  Indeed, the planners of the event had expected up to 1,000 visitors.  Instead, more than 5,000 visitors showed up, along with more than eight hundred automobiles.  

As the Governor arrived, members of the New York State National Guard were on the scene to fire a nineteen-gun artillery salute to the Governor.  When the first round was fired, a troop horse harnessed to a caisson was spooked and reared straight up with his front hoofs flying.  As the horse came down, his hoofs struck a young private in Battery D named Charles Vail on the head.  Once Vail collapsed to the ground, the frightened horse trampled him, crushing his skull.  

Reports differed over Vail's injuries.  He was rushed to Fordham Hospital.  At least two newspapers reported that his injuries likely were fatal.  Another speculated he would recover.  Reports also differed over whether Governor Whitman was aware of the accident.  In any event, the ceremony continued after Vail was removed to the hospital.

With spectators and International Garden Club officers and members gathered around him, Governor Whitman used a silver trowel with blue, orange and white ribbons signifying the colors of New York City to toss dirt ceremonially on the newly-planted oak tree.  The tree was planted only a few feet from where the original Pell Treaty Oak had stood.

As noted in the book entitled "Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak" published in 2004, the location of the oak planted by Governor Whitman is now lost to us.  Eventually the iron fence used to protect the original Pell Treaty Oak was placed around the tree planted by Governor Whitman that day.  During World War II, however, the historic and protective fence was taken down to prevent its theft by those hoping to sell scrap iron to salvagers.  After the war, the fence was put back up around the wrong tree.  The fence and the tree it protects may still be found on the grounds of today's Bartow-Pell Mansion.

Bartow-Pell Mansion in an Undated Post Card View.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Following the tree planting that day, a tea was held in the Bartow Mansion.  During the evening, the President of the International Garden Club, Mrs. Charles Frederick Hoffman, and her husband hosted a dinner for the Governor at their home located at 620 Fifth Avenue in New York City.  

No account yet has been located that reveals the fate of poor Private Charles Vail who was so terribly injured in the ceremonies held at the Bartow Mansion that day more than a century. ago.

New York Governor Charles Seymour Whitman in 1915 as He
Looked at the Time of the Ceremonies at Bartow Mansion on
May 1, 1915.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

I have written before of the tragedy that occurred at the Bartow Mansion on May 1, 1915.  See Tue., Jun. 14, 2005:  Ceremony in 1915 to Open Bartow-Pell Mansion as Headquarters of International Garden Club Marred by Tragedy.  Below is the text of a number of articles that addressed the events of that day.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.

Bartow Mansion in Pelham Bay Park Turned Over to the International Garden Club
Private Charles Vail of Battery D Is Crushed by Horse Frightened by a Salute.

When the first gun of a nineteen-gun salute for Gov. Whitman was fired at the International Garden Club at the Bartow Mansion, Pelham Bay Park, yesterday afternoon, a troop horse reared and fell back, crushing Charles Vail, a private in Battery Day. The guardsman, with a fractured skull and probably mortal injuries, was rushed to the Fordham Hospital. Vail was standing at the head of a horse attached to a caisson wagon. As the first fun boomed out, the animal reared straight up, and, descending, struck him on the head with its hoofs and trampled on his body as he lay helpless on the ground.

Gov. Whitman came down from Albany to be present at the opening and to take part in the replacing of the Treaty Oak in the grounds of the clubhouse, and the officers of the International Garden Club sent out many invitations to view the ceremony, meet the Governor, and have tea in the historic Bartow mansion. The city turned over the house to the club with seventeen acres of wooded ground surrounding it, without rental. In return the club has put the house, which was sadly in need of it, in good repair, furnished it, and laid out the grounds, which are to be transformed by gardens. Mrs. Charles Frederick Hoffman is President of the club, Dr. George Norton Miller, Vice President; Mrs. H. de Berkeley Parsons, Secretary, and William A. Jay is the Treasurer.

Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, Honorary President of the club, made the speech of the day, and greeted the Governor, who arrived at 4 o'clock, accompanied by two aids [sic] ablaze with gold. After the ceremonies attending the planting of the oak, the Governor visited the clubhouse and had tea. He left a little before 5 o'clock.  

In the evening the Governor attended a dinner, given for him and Mrs. Whitman by Mr. and Mrs. Charles F. Hoffman, at their residence, 620 Fifth Avenue. The rest of the day, however, he spent on the thirty-day bills, and received no callers except Bainbridge Colby, an old college friend. On May 26 the Governor will start for California, and his Military Secretary, Major J. Stanley Moore, is now working out his iternerary [sic].  

A walk marked by many little red flags showed the way from the clubhouse to the roped-in inclosure, in which the speeches and the planting took place, and ropes marked with red flags indicated the parking space for the many motors. Tea and other refreshments were were served in the Colonial dining room and on the veranda and terrace outside.

The oak planted yesterday took the place of the famous treaty oak recently destroyed by lightning [sic], which was planted in 1643 [sic] when the Pell family obtained from the Indians the property on which Bartow Manor stands for $17 [sic].

Dr. Butler outlined the history of the tree, and said the city had now turned the ground over to the International Garden Club to be made into a breathing spot for the people. The club, whose headquarters will be in the Manor house, has already spent $25,000 in improvements.

The Governor used a silver trowel in planting the tree, and said that the new treaty between the city and the public was more important than the orginal one. The exercises also marked the turning over of the property to the club's use.

Bartow Mansion is a substantial and roomy stone house, and the front lawn is one of several acres. In the rear the ground slopes away to the Sound, and a series of descending terraces has been arranged. In the center of the middle terrace is a large fountain.  

On either side are tall old trees, and a wide veranda taken in the entire back of the house. On this and the upper terrace many pale-green tables, with lattice chairs to match, are placed. At the right of the house is a large conservatory, done entirely in white and pale, dull green. As yet few flowers are seen, but some rare orchids were on view yesterday, and outside the trracs [sic] showed some old-time gardens in pansies and primorses [sic].  

The walls throughout are done in palest dull blue and the woodwork in dull finished white. Each room is in a different color. One upstairs room is done in the most vivid colors in old-time chintz, with flowers of many kinds. Another is done in black and white stripes, with an occasional flower, and pink roses abound in another. A reception room on the first floor is done in brownish orange, with old-time black wooden plaques, and another room is in deep blue.  

Mrs. Hoffman, the President; Mrs. Parsons, the Secretary, and others received, and the official receiving committee included the President of the Board of Aldermen.

Commissioners of Parks for the Bronx and Manhattan and Richmond, the President of the Botanical Garden, the President of the New York Horticultural Society, the President of the Florists's [sic] Club of New York. On the committee also were Mrs. C. B. Alexander, Mrs. A. B. Boardman, Mrs. Amory S. Carhart, Mrs. Alfred Ely, Miss Sarah Cooper Hewitt, Mr. and Mrs. Oliver J. Jennings, Mr. and Mrs. F. K. Pendleton, Mr. and Mrs. W. B. Parsons, Mrs. Moses Taylor Pyne, Mrs. James Speyer, Mrs. Charles H. Senff, Miss Amy Townsend, Mrs. H. McK Twombly, Mrs. John Hobart Warren, Mrs. J. J. Wysong, Mrs. Newbold LeRoy Edgar, Mrs. J. Archibald Murray, Mr. and Mrs. John Callender Livingston and William Adams Delano.  

Among others who were present to receive or as guests were Mr. and Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish, Bishop David H. Greer, Mr. and Mrs. Seth Low, Mrs. Herbert C. PYell [sic], Mrs. Herbert L. Satterlee, Mr. and Mrs. H. W. Taft, Mrs. Whitney Warren, Mr. and Mrs. James B. Clews, Mr. and Mrs. F. Ashton de Peyster, Mrs. Lewis Cruger Hassell, Mrs. George B. de Forest, Mrs. Burke Roche, Mrs. Lauterbach, Mrs. Nicholas Murray Butler, the Misses Catherine and Margaret Leverich, Mrs. Gouverneur Kortwright, Mrs. E. Reeve Merritt, Lady Herbert, Mrs. E. H. Harriman, Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, Mr. and Mrs. Herbert C. Pell, Mrs. Oakleigh Thorne, George I. Rives, John D. Crimmins, Frederick C. Bourne, Miss Eleanor Hewitt, Mrs. James O. Green, A. M. Bagby, and Mrs. Henry S. Redmond."

Source:  Governor Plants A New Treaty OakN.Y. Times, May 2, 1915, p. 14, col. 1 (Note:  Paid subscription required to access via this link; free version available here).

"Governor Whitman Plants Treaty Oak for Garden Club
Hundreds of Persons of Prominence Attend Ceremonies When Historic Tree, Destroyed by Lightning, Is Replaced in Pelham Manor Lawn.

The celebration which included the planting of a new 'Treaty Oak' by Governor Whitman and reception in the Bartow Mansion yesterday afternoon marked the turning over to the International Garden Club b y the city of the twenty-five acres in Pelham Bay Park which surround the historic manor house.  Hundreds of persons prominent in society who are interested in the Garden Club attended the ceremonies.

For more than a year the society has been hard at work.  Its purpose in taking the grounds around the Bartow Mansion is to establish experimental gardens, such as those of the Royal Horticultural Society near London.  The other objects of the society are to hold monthly exhibits, to form a library, to give monthly lectures, to establish a department to give certificates to gardeners and to assist other horticultural societies and clubs.  

The appearance of the ground yesterday, the throng which attended the opening and the presence of the Governor told of the interest aroused by the undertaking.  The officers of the society were congratulated repeatedly.  They are Mrs. Charles F. Hoffman, president; Dr. George Norton Miller, vice president, and Judge William A. Day, treasurer.  Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler is honorary president.  

Eight Hundred Automobiles.

The arrangements for the opening exercises were in the hands of a committee which included persons of prominence.  Park Commissioner Thomas Whittle, of the Bronx, had prepared to accommodate nearly one thousand guests, and it was estimated that fully eight hundred automobiles were parked on the grounds.  Mr. Whittle has taken an active interest in the society, and recently $25,000 was expended to restore the Bartow Mansion.

Soon after the arrival of the Governor's party, which included Mrs. Whitman and Major J. Stanley Moore, the Pell 'Treaty Oak' was planted.  The new oak is to replace [the] old 'Treaty Oak,' which was destroyed by lightning in 1906.  According to legend, it was under the old tree that Thomas Ball [sic], in 1654, signed a treaty with the Siwanoy Indians for the purchase of the land which later was known as Pelham Manor.

When Governor Whitman arrived and the first gun of salute was being fired by Battery D, of the Second Field Artillery, one of the battery horses became frightened.  The animal reared, and in coming down struck Private Charles Vail.  His head was crushed by the horse's hoofs.  He was taken to Fordham Hospital, probably fatally injured.  Most of the guests were unaware of the accident, and Governor Whitman did not hear of it.

The new 'Treaty Oak' was planted only a few feet from where the former tree stood on the lawn in front of the mansion.  Governor Whitman, Mrs. Hoffman and George L. Rives led the procession of guests to where the young oak stood.  Dr. Butler introduced the Governor.

Governor Whitman threw dirt on the tree with a trowel, tied with the orange, blue and white of New York city."

Source:  Governor Whitman Plants Treaty Oak for Garden Club -- Hundreds of Persons of Prominence Attend Ceremonies When Historic Tree, Destroyed by Lightning, Is Replaced in Pelham Manor Lawn, N.Y. Herald, May 2, 1915, First Section, Part I, p. 5, cols. 2-3.  

Artilleryman Is Hurt by Horse Frightened at Firing of Salute.
International Garden Club to Make Breathing Spot Near Famous Treaty Oak.

While Governor Whitman was receiving a salute of nineteen guns on his arrival to open the International Garden Club, at Barton [sic] Manor, The Bronx, yesterday afternoon, a troop horse attached to a caisson wagon, frightened at the booming of the guns, reared and trampled Charles Vail, a private in Battery D, 2d Field Artillery, N. G. N. Y.  Vail had his skull fractured, and received other injuries.  He was taken to the Fordham Hospital, where it is said he will recover.

Governor Whitman, after witnessing the accident and inquiring about Vail's condition, proceeded with the exercises of turning over to the International Garden Club the seventeen acres surrounding the historic Barton [sic] Manor House, Pelham Bay Park.  Before 5,000 persons the Governor planted a small oak tree to replace the famous Treaty Oak, recently destroyed by lightning.

The Treaty Oak was planted in 1634 [sic], when the Pell family obtained the property from the Indians for $17.

Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, honorary president of the club, who presided at the exercises, said that the city had turned the ground over to the International Garden Club that it might be made a breathing spot for the people.  Improvements at a cost of $25,000 have been made recently, and it was announced that the club will have its headquarters in the mansion.  

Governor Whitman, before turning the soil with his silver spade, said that treaties had been signed under the old oak, but there were none of them as important as the treaty of yesterday between the city and the people, giving for public use such a large piece of property.

The exercises at Barton [sic] Manor saw the only public appearance of the Governor during his stay in New York.  In the morning he devoted himself to the consideration of several bills which he must pass upon within the thirty-day period.  In the early afternoon he had a long conference with several members of the Legislature.

Last night Governor and Mrs. Whitman were guests at a private dinner at the home of Charles F. Hoffman, 620 Fifth Avenue.

It was announced yesterday that the Governor has decided to set out on his trip to California on May 25.  The itinerary and make-up of the official party has not yet been determined, that matter being left largely in the hands of Major J. Stanley Moore, military secretary.

The Governor and his party will return to Albany to-day."

Source:  WHITMAN SETS TREE IN HISTORIC SOIL -- Artilleryman Is Hurt by Horse Frightened at Firing of Salute -- BARTON [SIC] TRACT GIFT TO THE PUBLIC -- International Garden Club to Make Breathing Spot Near Famous Treaty Oak, New-York Tribune, May 2, 1915, Vol. LXXV, No. 25,004, p. 6, cols. 6-7.  

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