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, November 30, 2017

Once Proposed as Another Site for New York City's Principal Airport, Cuban Ledge is Now a Virtually Unknown Pelham Island

For a mere two hours a day, a tiny island seems to rise from beneath the waters of Eastchester Bay, once part of the Town of Pelham, not far from Pelham Bridge.  Some say the islet is more of a shoal.  Nevertheless, the island only appears at ebb tide, then slowly seems to sink about an hour later as the bay water starts to flow.  The cycle repeats twice a day with every change of tides.  Thus, the islet "appears" for only about two hours each day.  The islet lies about a half mile south by southwest of Rodman's Neck (also known as Pell's Point and Pelham Neck) and is named "Cuban Ledge."

Cuban Ledge once was proposed as a possible site for New York City's principal airport.  Thus, as one might expect, the history of the tiny island and the legends as to how it got its name are fascinating.  Today's Historic Pelham article provides background on "Cuban Ledge."

No one knows why the little islet is called "Cuban Ledge."  Indeed, there are many legends told about how it received its name.  According to one brief item that cites multiple sources:

"According to some accounts, it was formed in 1898 when sailors dumped cargo rocks overboard from a ship that was abandoned when its crew left for Cuba to fight in the Spanish–American War.  Another version of the story indicates that it was created when a large barge carrying sand and gravel ran aground on a shoal.  A salvage crew was mounted there and the barge was rescued, but much of the sand and gravel it was carrying needed to be removed in order to aid the rescue. The workers dumped the sand and rock overboard to get the barge off the shoal, thus forming the reef.  One story of its name stipulates that a ship by the name of Cuban Lady ran aground on the reef in the 1880s.  Other theories suggest that the ledge resembles the outline of the island of Cuba."

Source:  "Cuban Ledge" in Wikipedia -- The Free Encyclopedia (visited Nov. 25, 2017).

While no one seems able to agree about how Cuban Ledge got its name, everyone seems to agree that it is a shipping hazard.  Indeed, as one might imagine, for centuries vessels have had difficulty negotiating Eastchester Bay to get to and from the mouth of the Hutchinson River (also known as Eastchester Creek).  Coming into Eastchester Bay via the Stepping Stones area from Long Island Sound, for example, Big Tom would be on the west and Cuban Ledge would be on the east.  Either of those hazards could rip the bottom out a a small vessel or cause a larger vessel to run aground and become fouled in the bottom.  Thus, a great deal of attention has been paid to such hazards in and around Pelham waters including Cuban Ledge for hundreds of years.

During at least the latter years of the 19th century, Cuban Ledge was marked with a "spindle" -- i.e., a spindle buoy that looks a little like a spindle and floats vertically in the water above the hazardous area.  In about 1911, however, local mariners began agitating to have lights placed on Cuban Ledge.  It was not until the Waterway League of Greater New York and Long Island got involved that something finally was done.  After four months of pressure on Federal officials by a Waterway League committee, it was finally announced to members of the league that the lights had been installed.  Only a few years later, on about June 25, 1918, the spindle buoy was replaced with a more substantial "Cuban Ledge Buoy, HS," a fourth class spar.  

One of the most interesting aspects of the history of Cuban Ledge occurred in 1927.  At the time, urban planners were considering where to establish a number of major airports to serve the New York City region.  Among the areas considered, of course, was a portion of today's Pelham Bay Park adjacent to the Pelham Manor border and even extending into a portion of Pelham Manor.  See Mon., Sep. 28, 2015:  Pelham Manor Narrowly Avoided Becoming Part of the World's Largest Airport.

While potential airport sites were being considered, a suggestion appeared in The New York Sun on July 19, 1927 that the airport should be constructed at the tip of Rodman's Neck extending out into Eastchester Bay onto Cuban Ledge and beyond.  Thankfully, like the similar proposal to locate New York City's principal airport adjacent to the Pelham Manor border, the proposal to build the airport at the tip of Rodman's Neck.

Some have suggested that the many, many islets including those that were once part of Pelham but since have been annexed by New York City should be assembled into a "Little Island Park"  Indeed, a pair of authors who have studied the so-called "Pelham Islands" (and other islands in the New York City region) have written about such a Little Island Park as follows:

"could offer rentals of kayaks, canoes and sailboats, as well as snorkeling and scuba-diving trips out onto the Long Island Sound.  It could even sponsor swimming races to and from 'islets' like the East and South Nonations, the Blauzes, Chimney Sweeps and Cuban Ledge.  And, if all went well, maybe concessionaires would start opening shops on some of those tiny outcropping.  Just imagine a line of New Yorkers waiting for their goodies from the Shake Shack while sitting in kayaks and canoes.  It's not as crazy as you think."

Source: Miller, Stuart & Seitz, Sharon, Miller and Seitz:  The Unloved Islands of New York, N.Y. Daily News, Oct. 5, 2011 (visited Nov. 25, 2017).  

Indeed, such an idea as a Little Island Park with concession sales and kayak, canoe, and sailboat rentals is not as crazy as you think.  It actually is an idea that goes "Back to the Future."  Such concessions and rentals were handled from a number of rocky islets, (particularly those near Pelham Bridge in Eastchester Bay), throughout much of the last half of the 19th century.  

Detail from 1899 Navigation Chart Showing Cuban Ledge
in Lower Left Quadrant of the Image.  Source:  "LONG ISLAND SOUND
Coast and Geodetic Survey, May 1899).  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

Progress Reported on Several Important Matters.

In the absence of President George J. Vestner, who is ill, the well attended meeting in the Johnston Building last night, of the Waterway League of Greater New York and Long Island was presided over by First Vice President Acker.  It was the first gathering since the summer days and many topics of interest were discussed.

Although much influence was brought to bear upon the Government officials, by wealthy residents of Long Island, to have lights placed on Cuban Ledge and No Name Rock, two large rocks in Long Island Sound, nothing was accomplished until the Waterway men took hold of the matter.  It was reported that after four months work their committee had succeeded in having lights installed. . . ."

Source:  WATERWAY LEAGUE MEETS -- Progress Reported on Several Important Matters, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov. 15, 1911, p. 3, col. 5.  


New York -- East Chester Bay -- Long Island Sound -- Cuban Ledge Buoy, HS, to be established about June 25, 1918, a fourth class spar, in about 1 1/4 fathoms of water, in lieu of Cuban Ledge Spindle, which will then be discontinued.  Belden Point tangent, 106 deg (SE by E 5/8 E mag):  Stepping Stones Lighthouse, 128 deg (SE 1/4 S mag); Throg's Neck lighthouse, 168 1/2 deg (S 1/8 E. mag)."

Source:  NOTICE TO MARINERS, N. Y. Herald, Jun. 18, 1918, p. 8., col. 2.  

"Letters to The Sun
A Plan to Make an Airport by Extending Rodmans Neck.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE SUN -- Sir:  I was greatly interested in your editorial article of Friday on 'Metropolitan Airport Sites.'  While the Hackensack meadows, favored by Merchants Association, would undoubtedly be ideal for Western and Southern air traffic they would be very inconvenient for Eastern traffic.  There seems little doubt that this great metropolitan area will require more than one airport, and as Pelham Bay Park was given favorable comment by the Port Authority the following suggestion is made which would overcome the objections of 'park protectors,' to which you refer, and in fact, should elicit their hearty support.  

There is in Eastchester Bay a shoal area covering several acres at low tide known on the charts as Cuban Ledge and locally as the Middle Grounds.  There is also a strong appeal for a regatta course at a convenient place in New York Harbor, as the Harlem River is now almost impossible for boat racing.  Hence my suggestion is for the city to obtain permission from the War Department to fill in the area between the southern point of Rodmans Neck in Pelham Bay Park and Cuban Ledge to an extent which will include an airport of the necessary 120 acres area and at the same time create a straightaway racing course of one mile and a half from Pelham Bridge south to the end of the filled in area at Cuban Ledge.  The water in the proposed fill is quite shoal and the bottom is of soft mud, so that the expense of creating this combined airport and regatta course would not be excessive.

I have within the last month inspected the great airports at Le Bourget in France and Croyden in England, and believe that this Pelham Bay site would be superior to either of them, both for convenience of access and for the landing of planes.

The creation of a suitable racing course for rowing regattas has long been advocated, and this very site has been the one selected by oarsmen, as several of the boat clubs have recently moved up there.  The disadvantage has been the lack of protection of the southerly part of the course from easterly and southeasterly winds, which protection would be amply provided by this proposed Airport.

New York, July 18."

Source:  Letters to The Sun -- A Plan to Make an Airport by Extending Rodmans Neck, The New York Sun [NY, NY], Jul. 19, 1927, p. 20, col. 8.

New Lighted Markers to Be Installed Soon at Entrance to Channel

The Eastchester Creek Improvement Association was advised today by the Department of Commerce in Washington that new marker buoys will be placed in the waterway 'in the near future.'

J. T. Yates, superintendent of the Lighthouse Service, wrote that, since dredging work was nearly complete, a lighted buoy will be provided to mark the entrance to the creek on the west side of the channel, and buoy Number 2 will be shifted to the edge of the new channel.

Two more markers, he said, will be installed between Cuban Ledge and the present buoy Number 2. 

Meanwhile, a committee of five, headed by Robert Jennings and A. P. Brooks, officers of the association, was preparing today to sound out opinion of owners of property along the waterway on contributing to the cost of financing Mount Vernon's share of the waterway improvement."

Source:  U.S. TO PLACE BUOYS IN CREEK -- New Lighted Markers to Be Installed Soon at Entrance to Channel, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Oct. 8, 1936, p. 9, col. 1.  

"Cuban Ledge

South of Rodman's Neck in Eastchester Bay, this islet can be seen only at low tide.  Several legends attempt to explain its name, one originating in 1898, when a crew threw its cargo of rocks overboard after learning that the USS Maine had been blown up in Havana Harbor.  The sailors went ashore and enlisted in the Spanish-American War, leaving the rocks to form a reef or ledge.  Others say the islet is cigar-shaped like Cuba, while a different tale says the island was so named when the intoxicated crew of the Cuban Lady ran aground there in the 1880s."

Source:  Seitz, Sharon & Miller, Stuart, The Other Islands of New York City -- A History and Guide, 3rd edition, p. 148 (Woodstock, VT:  The Countryman Press, 2011).  

"Cuban Ledge lies about 1/2 of a mile S. W. by S. from Rodmans Neck and is marked by a spindle.  It is dangerous for any draught."

Source:  Pugsley, R. M., Pugsley's New York Pilot and Guide to the United States Local Inspectors Examination of Masters and Pilots for New York Bay and Harbor to Yonkers and Great Captain Island and a Complete New York Pilot Containing All Useful Informationp. 41 (NY, NY:  R.M. Pugsley, 1916).

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Pelham Grows Up: Installation of "Silent Cop" Traffic Lights and Traffic Semaphores in the 1920s

Pelham was growing up.  

By about the time of World War I, traffic was becoming so heavy on Boston Post Road and accidents were becoming so frequent that a traffic cop was assigned to direct traffic at Red Church Corner, known today as Four Corners (the intersection of Boston Post Road and Pelhamdale Avenue).  Pelham Manor posted John McCormack to handle the duties.  He became known as "Mack," the "Smiling Cop," who became famous and even played himself in a movie.  See Mon., Feb. 24, 2014:  Mack, the Movie Star Traffic Cop of Pelham Manor, 1916-1928.  

During the Roaring Twenties, however, traffic in Pelham exploded.  Two things quickly became clear.  First, traffic was an issue around the clock -- not just during the workday.  Second, intersections throughout all three villages were experiencing a rise in traffic and, in numerous instances, increases in the number of intersection accidents.  It was time to harness the power of "Silent Cops" as early traffic signals were known.

As early as 1922, one such "Silent Cop" was installed at the intersection of Highbrook Avenue and East First Street not far from where the tiny traffic island sits along the Highbrook Avenue railroad overpass.  Apparently, however, the Silent Cop was not always obeyed.  A brief news item published in The Pelham Sun on May 12, 1922 complained as follows:

"When you are in that neighborhood [Highbrook and First Street at the railroad overpass] pause a minute and observe the effect of that handsome silent cop that was erected there recently.  Some people obey the instructions and keep to the right, but alas, so far as many drivers are concerned it might as well not be there.  My observation is that the negligent ones are mostly women and chauffeurs.  They seem to think that traffic rules were not made for such as they.  It might not be a bad notion to put a live policeman at that point until folks get used to the new regulation.  One conscientious soul came down First Street and detoured around the post before continuing up the grade. . . ."

Early traffic signals in Pelham often were placed on some form of pedestal -- often concrete -- in the center of the intersection.  This, of course, could create a traffic hazard as was the case at the intersection of Pelhamdale Avenue and Boulevard in 1925.  The Pelham Sun reported:

"The flash light at the corner of Pelhamdale avenue and the Boulevard was hit at moved three feet Sunday night at 5:30 o'clock by a Dort car [manufactured by the Dort Motor Company] driven by William Locklair of 335 Main Street, New Rochelle.  The flash light was not seriously damaged and is now in position again."

The same year (1925), traffic at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Fourth Street (today's Lincoln Avenue) grew so dangerous that the Village of North Pelham arranged for the installation of a sophisticated new "automatic traffic signal" manufactured by the Horni Signal Manufacturing Company.  Although installation of the light had to be delayed due to a patent infringement suit brought against the manufacturer, the need for the light was so great that the Village of North Pelham had an attorney work to arrange a letter of indemnification from the manufacturer to allow installation of the signal without risk that the village might have to pay a judgment in any subsequent patent infringement action.

1925 Horni Signal Manufacturing Company Traffic Light. 

Residents of the three villages began petitioning for installation of traffic semaphores, traffic signals, and blinking caution lights at numerous intersections during the 1920s.  As is wont in our little Town, controversies soon arose.  There were battles over whether to place lights at intersections.  There were battles over whether such lights should be full-blown traffic signals or blinking caution lights.  

One issue that arose repeatedly was the fact that on busy streets such as Boston Post Road and Boulevard, traffic lights forced heavy trucks to stop and start all night long.  The consequent noise including grinding gears disturbed the sleep of local residents who made their displeasure known to the Village Boards of Pelham (today's Pelham Heights) and Pelham Manor.  The boards studied the issue and handled it in different ways based, principally, on the nature of the intersection involved.

Yes, the little Town of Pelham was growing up in the 1920s.  

Early Traffic Semaphore.

*          *          *          *          *

"Reveries of An Old Resident

It's about time now for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad Company to dump a lot of loose blue stone on the corrugated, lumpy, holey and generally disreputable road under the Highbrook Avenue arch and leading up to the Westbound station.  It will lie there until it is pushed into the gutters by passing automobiles and washed into the sewers.  If their practice in this respect is typical of the management of the rest of their property it is not at all strange that they cannot pay dividends.  Why in the world don't they save themselves a lot of expense and bring on their heads the blessings of a long suffering Pelham public by putting that road in first class condition?

When you are in that neighborhood pause a minute and observe the effect of that handsome silent cop that was erected there recently.  Some people obey the instructions and keep to the right, but alas, so far as many drivers are concerned it might as well not be there.  My observation is that the negligent ones are mostly women and chauffeurs.  They seem to think that traffic rules were not made for such as they.  It might not be a bad notion to put a live policeman at that point until folks get used to the new regulation.  One conscientious soul came down First Street and detoured around the post before continuing up the grade. . . ."

Source:  Reveries of An Old Resident, The Pelham Sun, May 12, 1922, Vol. 13, No. 11, p. 2, col. 2.


The flash light at the corner of Pelhamdale avenue and the Boulevard was hit at moved three feet Sunday night at 5:30 o'clock by a Dort car driven by William Locklair of 335 Main Street, New Rochelle.  The flash light was not seriously damaged and is now in position again."

Source:  SILENT COP HIT AGAIN, The Pelham Sun, Nov. 27, 1925, Vol. 16, No. 39, p. 3, col. 1.

"Installation of Traffic Signal Is Postponed
Horni Co. Owners of Patent Involved in Law Suit Over Validity of Rights

The new automatic traffic signal to be installed at Fifth avenue and Fourth street has arrived.  Its installation will be delayed as the Horni Company, manufacturers of the device are being sued by a Rochester individual who claims infringement of patent.  Attorney Lambert is seeking a letter of protection so that signal may be installed."

Source:  Installation of Traffic Signal Is Postponed -- Horni Co. Owners of Patent Involved in Law Suit Over Validity of Rights, The Pelham Sun, Nov. 27, 1925, Vol. 16, No. 39, p. 5, col. 4.  

"Blinking Lights To Replace Mack's Smile
Pelham Manor Trustees Order Semaphore For Installation at Red Church Corner 

'Mack' is going. His successor has been ordered. In place of the smile of the Hibernian who has held down his post at the Red Church Corner for the last seven years, motorists will be greeted with the blinking of red and green lights of a traffic semaphore. The Pelham Manor village trustees, Monday night placed the order for the semaphore. 

Although removed from his fixed post at the center of the street intersection, 'Mack' will still reign supreme, for he will occupy the post at the controller of the semaphore, a few yards distant from his accustomed post. 

But one semaphore will be purchased at this time. After a sixty day trial at the Red Church Corner, the trustees will decide on locations for additional signal lights on the Boston Road. The new light will cost $424. No charge will be made for the installation. 

Village Engineer Edward F. Campbell recommended that a white line be painted on the center of the roadway on the Boston Road from Pelhamdale avenue to the New York City line. The board favored the suggestion." 

Source:  Blinking Lights To Replace Mack's Smile, The Pelham Sun, Oct. 15, 1926, p. 16, col. 4.

"All Night Traffic Semaphore Brings Protest In Manor
Noisy Stopping and Starting of Trucks Disturbs Sleep of Tenants of Pelham Arms

Following complaint of tenants of Pelham Arms apartment house who protested against the operation of the traffic semaphore at the Red Church corner all night long, the Pelham Manor police department will make a survey of traffic at that point.  If found practical operation of the traffic semaphore will be discontinued after midnight and resumed at 6 a.m.

Village Trustee Ralph C. Angell of Pelham Manor suggested the survey, Monday night, after a second request that the light be discontinued, had been received by the Village Board of Trustees.  The petitioners stated that the screeching brakes and noisy starting of motor trucks halted by the light was disturbing to sleep, and suggested that the light be set at 'caution' during the early morning hours.

President House stated that it had been deemed advisable to continue the operation of the light inasmuch as several serious accidents had occurred at the Red Church corner at night when traffic was heaviest.  He however approved of the suggestion and ordered Chief Gargan to make the survey."

Source:  All Night Traffic Semaphore Brings Protest In Manor -- Noisy Stopping and Starting of Trucks Disturbs Sleep of Tenants of Pelham Arms, The Pelham Sun, Jun. 3, 1927, p. 12, col. 3.  

"No Action Taken On Request For Signal Light At First Ave.
Taxpayers Have Petitioned Board To Eliminate Traffic Danger.  Committee Still Investigating

For the third time in as many months the proposal to install a traffic semaphore was discussed at the meeting of the North Pelham Village Board Tuesday night.  For the third time the matter was referred to committee without action.  Trustees Harder, Dillon and Shaw favored a white light that will not halt traffic.  Mayor Reilly favored a red and green semaphore but stated that it would be too costly.  Village Clerk George O'Sullivan read a petition which was received three months ago, signed by 26 taxpayers.  Trustees Harder announced that former Village Trustee Joseph Lawlor had suggested that the light be installed.  Meanwhile a committee will investigate further.

In their petition the taxpayers protested against the speeding automobiles which cross this intersection and suggested the installation of a traffic light with a view toward eliminating the danger of accident."

Source:  No Action Taken On Request For Signal Light At First Ave. -- Taxpayers Have Petitioned Board To Eliminate Traffic Danger.  Committee Still Investigating, The Pelham Sun, Dec. 9, 1927, p. 9, col. 5.  

"More Signal Lights For Dangerous Corners
Increased Number of Accidents Prompts Trustees To Investigate Traffic Conditions

The increasing number of automobile accidents in the village is responsible for an investigation of the traffic problem in Pelham Heights.  The Board of Trustees is considering installing additional traffic semaphores and flashers to warn motorists at dangerous intersections.  Tuesday night at the meeting of the Village Board it was proposed to install a semaphore, at the intersection of the Boulevard and Highbrook avenue.  After discussions the matter was laid over for future action.

There have been several accidents at this intersection in the last few months, and it was with a view toward relieving the situation that the semaphore was proposed.  Mayor Maxwell B. Nesbitt announced that the light could be installed on the same control operating the light now in service at Pelhamdale avenue and the Boulevard.  Opinion was expressed, however, that as the dangerous intersection was at the foot of a long hill, householders on the Boulevard might be unnecessarily disturbed by the noise of cars, which would be forced to negotiate the hill in low gear after stopping at the light at the foot of the hill.  No action was taken."

Source:  More Signal Lights For Dangerous Corners -- Increased Number of Accidents Prompts Trustees To Investigate Traffic Conditions, The Pelham Sun, Aug. 23, 1928, Vol. 19, No. 26, p. 3, col. 4

"Caution Light Will Relieve Village of Motor Disturbance

Suggestion of a traffic semaphore to eliminate danger at Highbrook avenue and the Boulevard has met with the approval of many residents of the village.  Among those to express their favor of the plan is Ernest G. Goodwin, of Irving Place, who forwarded a communication to Mayor Maxwell B. Nesbitt this week in which he offers the suggestion that this signal be set at 'caution' instead of showing the usual 'stop' and 'go' lights.  Such a method, in his opinion, will speed up traffic, and also spare the residents of the village from the disturbing noises of stopping and starting of automobiles at the foot of the steep grade at this point.

Mr. Goodwin's letter follows:

'Dear Mr. Nesbitt:

'I note from the column of a recent issue of the Pelham Sun that consideration is being given to the adoption of some means of eliminating, or at least reducing the number of accidents occurring at the intersection of Highbrook avenue and the Boulevard.

'In this connection the writer suggests that in view of the particular circumstances which make many of the standard traffic signals impractical here and slightly less so at Pelhamdale avenue that a standard semaphore similar to the one at Pelhamdale avenue, or better still, the duplex curb-post type, be installed and controlled by the same mechanism.  He further suggests that the control be set to flash the 'caution' light only and of course at both intersections.  The control might also be arranged so that if the volume of traffic becomes such as to warrant the use of the 'stop' and 'go' lights at periodic intervals, the control could be switched by the passing police officer or otherwise; or, changed permanently as conditions warrant.

'The above should provide normal safely at small cost to the Village, with minimum inconvenience and delay to the traveler and with no additional annoyance to the adjacent residents.  It can hardly be disputed that this is a traffic speed problem rather than a traffic volume problem.  In view of this fact, an effective warning signal should be more practical than a stop signal.

'The latter serves to unnecessarily delay traffic, increases the wear and tear on both vehicle and driver, and many residents by the noise of brakes and gears, particularly on grades.  Of course the stop signal is desirable and necessary or congested points where the volume of traffic is so great that some lines of traffic have to be stopped while the others pass in order to effect sufficient increase in the capacity of the streets to allow all to pass without serious delays and traffic tangles.

'The traffic is not excessive at either of the above intersections, especially for the major part of the day, and it is partly due to this fact that the motorist approaches at high speed.  If he approached at low or moderate speed and on the lookout, he would seldom need to stop if there were no technical reasons, such as violating traffic regulations.

'A flashing amber light is a very efficient warning, is in considerable use where traffic is not too heavy and where a motorist is likely to exceed a safe speed, particularly at the foot of grades.  This warning signal is generally heeded with the desired results, no accident, no appreciable delay, braking, shifting gears, undue noise, etc.

'As regards the type of semaphore, for obvious reasons, it is only natural that the motorists especially would favor a low mounting at the side of the street to one mounted high or on a support in the center of the street.

'The above suggestions are submitted with the hope that they may convey some useful thought for the betterment of the present conditions at these or other points.

'Copy of this letter is being forwarded to the Pelham Sun.

'Respectfully yours,

'E. G. Goodwin.'"

Source:  Caution Light Will Relieve Village of Motor Disturbance, The Pelham Sun, Sep. 27, 1928, Vol. 19, No. 28, p. 8, col. 4.

"Friday Unlucky.

Hot weather dizziness was responsible for the damaging of a traffic light at First street and Wolf's Lane, on Friday night.  A captain of a yacht named Bassy, failed to throw the helm to port hard enough, with the result that his craft, a Chrysler, ran on the rocks, wrecking the lighthouse.  The bow of the Chrysler was wrinkled, and the main deck almost fell overboard.  Bassey's craft was backed off the lighthouse and towed into port at Pelham Garage.  The damage will be repaired and Bassey (phonetic) will be billed for the cost, which the skipper has agreed to pay, as soon as the statement reaches him at the N. Y. A. C."

Source:  Friday Unlucky, The Pelham Sun, Jul. 12, 1929, Vol. 20, No. 15, p. 2, col. 2.  

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Chief Cameraman for Silent Film Director and Legend D. W. Griffith Was Harold ("Hal") Sintzenich of Pelham

Harold S. Sintzenich was a famous cinematographer and film director of the early 20th century during the silent film era.  Born August 14, 1884 in London, England as Arthur Harold C. Sintzenich, he was known variously as "A. H. C. Sintzenich" as well as "Harold" and "Hal" Sintzenich with his last name occasionally spelled "Sintzenick."  His nickname was "Snitch."  He served as Chief Cameraman for famed silent film director D. W. Griffith during the 1920s.  His personal papers including diaries are held in the collections of the Library of Congress.

Portrait of Harold A. C. Sintzenich as a First Lieutenant in the
U.S. Signal Corps While in Paris in May, 1919.  NOTE:  Click
on Image to Enlarge.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Sintzenich and his family lived in Pelham when.  In addition to his camera work, he tried his hand at directing.  He filmed at least one silent movie in Pelham (in part) in 1926.  The movie, entitled "A Short Tail" was released in American Theaters on September 10, 1927.

The two-reel silent movie was a drama filmed entirely from the perspective of a dog.  A portion was filmed in the home of W. L. Brann of Pelham Manor, then located at 669 Wolf's Lane.  Though the original home no longer stands, a lovely Cape Cod home built in 1949 now stands in its place.  The movie reportedly starred actress Beatrice Roberts of New York City and featured a host of Pelham youngsters including two of Sintzenich's sons (Cedric and Robert) as well as:  Edward and Frank Fenlon of Secor Lane in Pelham Manor; Harmon Fisher, son of Mrs. Julia Fisher of Second Avenue in North Pelham; Fred Head, son of Mr. and Mrs. Gorham Head of Fourth Avenue in North Pelham; Harold Zeller, son of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Zeller of Fourth Avenue in North Pelham; Rodman Pitman, son of Mr. and Mrs. Jean Pitman of Fifth Avenue in North Pelham; and Robert Held, son of Mrs. Marion Held of Fifth Avenue, North Pelham.  Though the youngsters were filmed for the movie, the work was considered unique at the time not only because it was filmed from the perspective of a dog, but also "hardly" showed a single human face.

During his cinematography career, Sintzenich worked with some of the greatest actors of the era in addition to such silent film visionaries as D. W. Griffith.  For example, he worked with Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel in "The Tree in a Test Tube" (Sintzenich's last film, a brief World War II propaganda film released in 1943); W. C. Fields and Alfred Lunt in "Sally of the Sawdust" (released in 1925); Al Jolson in "Mammy's Boy" (released in 1923); Carol Dempster in a host of films including "America" and "Isn't Life Wonderful" (both released in 1924); Hedda Hopper in "Has the World Gone Mad!" (released in 1923); and many, many more.

Sintzenich's sons were active members of the Scouting program in Pelham.  Thus, Sintzenich was an avid supporter of the program.  In fact, he served as a Troop Committeeman while living in Pelham.  See Formal Court of Honor Held By Pelham Scouts, The Pelham Sun, Jun. 18, 1926, p. 5, cols. 1-4.  

Sintzenich and his family lived in Pelham at least during the period 1925 to 1933, if not longer.  However, in 1928 Sintzenich was sent to India for three years by the Eastman Kodak Company to serve as technical advisor to the entire motion picture film industry of that nation.  Although he spent much of his time in Bombay, he visited virtually every section of the country as part of his job before he returned to reside in Pelham, once again, in 1931.

Sintzenich began his career as a cinematographer while still living in England in 1909.  In 1914 he filed an African safari, foreshadowing a major film presentation he made to all of Pelham in the Pelham Memorial High School auditorium in 1925 during which he showed exciting film of big-game hunting in Africa.

In 1917, during World War I, Sintzenich received a commission as a cameraman in the U.S. Signal Corps.  He became a driving force behind the formation and administration of the U.S. School of Military Cinematography in 1918.  In May, 1918, Sintzenich became a U.S. Citizen.

After the War, Sintzenich moved his family to Pelham, apparently during the 1920s.  He became a notable resident.  Though he spent several years in India (as noted above), his family remained in Pelham.

Sintzenich eventually moved to Charleston, South Carolina where he died in August, 1974.

Harold Sintzenich With His Movie Camera While Serving as
Official Photographer with the U.S. Signal Corps. During World
War 1.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.  NOTE:  Click on Image
to Enlarge.

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"Boy Scouts to Hear Adventures In South Africa
Harold Sintzenick, Chief Camera Man For D. W. Griffith to Tell of Filming Big Game

Pelhamites are to have an unusual opportunity in a Thanksgiving party arranged by the Boy Scouts when Harold Sintzenick, Pelham, chief camera man for D. W. Griffith, will lecture on Big Game Hunting and adventures in Central Africa in connection with seven reel pictures in which is shown the most thrilling lion charge ever filmed and the first photographic record of a rhinoceros charge.  Mr. Sintzenick, through whose courtesy the pictures were secured, had the experience of a wounded lion charge his camera and leap over it and him and this is all faithfully recorded.  Those who see these pictures will find many an intense moment as well as much of interest in the way of such animals as elephants, giraffes, hyenas, apes, zebras, water buffaloes, antelopes, and hippotami [sic].  African scenes and the mode of travel are also depicted and these coupled with the descriptive talk by Mr. Sintzenick will make an evening well spent.  The Boy Scouts are taking this means of expressing their appreciation to the people of the Town of Pelham for their support and interest in the new log cabin.  The Thanksgiving party will be held at Memorial High School, Saturday November 28th at 8 P. M.  There will be no charge for admission and no solicitation of any kind.  The Boy Scouts are hosts and they cordially extend an invitation to everybody in the Town of Pelham to see these remarkable pictures."

Source:  Boy Scouts to Hear Adventures In South Africa -Harold Sintzenick, Chief Camera Man For D. W. Griffith to Tell of Filming Big Game, The Pelham Sun, Nov. 20, 1925, p. 9, col. 1.

"Scouts Invite Visitors To Movie Party
Harold Sintzenich, Camera Man Will Tell of Filming Wild Animals in Africa
Interesting Entertainment at Memorial High School Tomorrow Night

When the hero of the movie finds himself in the jungle surrounded by wild beasts and in imminent danger of death from lions, tigers, elephants, etc., etc., one seldom gives a thought to the camera man who is busy clicking off the reel so that the untold millions of picture fans can be thrilled.  Sometimes the camera man gets an unexpected thrill himself, as when a huge lion dashed out of African jungle and -- 

But we're not going to spoil you evening.  Harold Sintzenick, chief camera man for D. W. Griffith will tell you all about the dangers of filming wild animals in the jungle if you accept the invitation of the Boy Scouts to attend their Thanksgiving party tomorrow (Saturday) night at Memorial High School, where Mr. Sintzenick will present an evening of talk and pictures on big game hunting and adventures in South Africa.  Sintzenick by the way is a Pelhamite.

Pelham scouts are anxious to show their appreciation of the many things that Pelham people have done for them and take this means of showing it by inviting you all to the Thanksgiving party at Memorial Auditorium where you can be assured of a great evening.  No admission fees."

Source:  Scouts Invite Visitors To Movie Party -Harold Sintzenich, Camera Man Will Tell of Filming Wild Animals in Africa -- Interesting Entertainment at Memorial High School Tomorrow Night, The Pelham Sun, Nov. 27, 1925, Vol. 16, No. 39, p. 1, col. 7.  

"Griffiths' Camera-Man Gave Great Entertainment
Harold Sintzenick Exhibited Films of Big Game Hunting in Africa to Boy Scouts

The Thanksgiving party of the Boy Scouts to the people of Pelham last Saturday night was a success with the auditorium of Memorial High School well filled with enthusiastic supporters and well wishers of the Scout movement.  The seven-reel picture of Big Game Hunting and Adventures in Africa proved to be even more thrilling than had been promised and this, coupled with the most interesting descriptive talk by Harold Sintzenick, the man who 'shot' the picture and chief camera man for D. W. Griffith, left nothing to be desired for a worthwhile evening.  The Scouts are greatly indebted to Sintzenick, through whose courtesy the picture was secured, for both the pictures and for his efforts on their behalf.  Mr. Burroughs of the High School Staff again gave his services as operator of the moving picture machine."

Source:  Griffiths' Camera-Man Gave Great Entertainment -- Harold Sintzenick Exhibited Films of Big Game Hunting in Africa to Boy Scouts, The Pelham Sun, Dec. 4, 1925, p. 4, col. 2.  


Last Monday there was a parade -- unofficial -- of boys and dogs.  The parade led directly from 'location' where Harold Sintzenick of North Pelham, chief camera man for D. W. Griffiths [sic], had been 'shooting' the boys and dogs in a puppy picture, to the nearest soda fountain where the 'actors' replenished themselves with a certain delicacy dear to their palates.  Unfortunately Sintzenick was not on hand to 'shoot' this scene.

The local boys who will appear in the new release were Cedric and Robert Sintzenick, sons of the camera man; Edward and Frank Fenlon, Secor Lane, Pelham Manor; Harmon Fisher, son of Mrs. Julia Fisher, Second Avenue, North Pelham; Fred Head, son of Mr. and Mrs. Gorham Head, Fourth Avenue, North Pelham; Harold Zeller, son of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Zeller, Fourth Avenue, North Pelham; Rodman Pitman, son of Mr. and Mrs. Jean Pitman, Fifth Avenue, North Pelham; and Robert Held, son of Mrs. Marion Held, Fifth Avenue, North Pelham.  Miss Beatrice Roberts of New York City is the star.

The residence of W. L. Brann, 669 Wolf's Lane, Pelham Manor, is 'location' for part of the two reel picture which is not a comedy.  The picture will be unique in that all the pictures are taken from the angle of vision of a dog, hardly a human face appearing.  The title of the new picture is 'A Short Tail.'"

Source:  BOYS, DOGS, ICE CREAM, MOVIES, ALL MIXED UP, The Pelham Sun, Jul. 2, 1926, p. 9, col. 1.

Harold A. C. Sinzenich Returns to Pelham After Spending Three Years as Technical Advisor to the Motion Picture Industry in India; Says That Indians Are Fond of Movies, But Sound Films Are a Problem

By G. Allyn Van Winkle

Motion picture theatres are sprouting up along the Road to Mandalay because of the fact that India, land of mystery, of many sects and creeds, and home of 360,000,000 persons, likes to go to the movies just as much as America or any other land into which the lure of the silver screen has entered.

Mr. Sintzenich was sent to India in 1928 by the Eastman Kodak Company as technical advisor to the entire motion picture film industry of that country.  During the three years spent there, he visited practically every section of this country and spent much time in Bombay.

India has a thriving film industry, Mr. Sintzenich told this interviewer, there being at the present time about 50 companies producing motion pictures for Indian consumption.  These are entirely Indian companies, with native stars cameramen, officers and the like.

'One way in which the growth of the film industry in India during the last six years can be gauged,' said Mr. Sintzenich, 'is by the fact that in 1925, importations of raw film totalled 500,000 feet, while in the latter part of 1930, these had grown to 21,000,000 feet.'

India's film industry has two great centers, one, Dum Dum, being situated on the east coast, and the other, Dadar, on the west coast.  Dum Dum originally received its name from the fact that there was a large arsenal there at one time which turned out bullets of this type.

The majority of the films produced in India are based on Indian history and mythology, although recently, said Mr. Sintzenich, 'attempts have been made to introduce the love interest, so prevalent in films of the western world.

'The Indian does not understand the word love as we do,' Mr. Sintzenich explained, 'because the parents of boys and girls of that country make all marriage arrangements and the prospective bridegroom does not see his bride until the ceremonies.'

Because of the great number of different languages and dialects spoken in India, it is not uncommon to see a picture with the sub-titles printed in six different languages in addition to English, he explained.  When productions are imported, the sub-titles which may be in English, or some European language are translated by an ingenious device.  Two screens are used in the theatres, one for the two, while the other hangs down some distance below.  The sub-picture being the smaller of the titles are translated into the prevailing languages and dialects of the district and then made on lantern slides.  When the picture is exhibited, the operator must watch closely and when the sub-title appears on the picture screen, he flashes the translation onto the lower screen so that all may understand.

Due to the great amount of illiteracy in India, Mr. Sintzenich said, the educated natives who attend the theatres read the sub-titles out loud so that their neighbors who cannot read can still follow the picture.  This causes a steady hum during the entire performance.

Although the Indians are very backward in their methods of making motion pictures, they have recently introduced talking pictures and at the time he left India, Mr. Sintzenich said that seven companies were producing Indian sound films.  Here again the fact that over 360 different languages and dialects are spoken in India had to be considered.

'I told them,' said Mr. Sintzenich in referring to heads of a number of film producing companies, 'that if they made their pictures in the language of their district they would lose money.  They did not see it that way but after their first picture they realized that I was right.  This narrowed the choice down to two languages, English and Hindustani.  As English is spoken by only the more educated natives, Hindustani was selected and this in my opinion is the greatest step ever taken towards a unified  India.  After some years, a constant universal use of this language in talking pictures will result in a better understanding between the various sects and peoples of India.'

In Bombay there is only one small modern theatre, but there are a considerable number of former legitimate theatres which have been converted into movie houses.  Five of these are European and there are 25 or 30 native theatres.  When they attend theatres, the natives never sit with their feet on the floor but sit cross-legged on the chairs, their feet on the seat.

India has its own movie stars much as the United States and for India, their salaries are large.  The top price for a film luminary according to Mr. Sintzenich, is 2,500 rupees per month.  This is about $900 a month.

After this discussion of Indian motion pictures, this interviewer asked (as thousands of other interviewers have and as thousands more will in the future) about the Taj Mahal, termed one of the seven wonders of the world.

'It is a very beautiful building,' said r. Sintzenich, 'and although it is more than 300 years old, it appears to have been only recently completed.  It is of white marble and gleams brightly in the sun.  But the building I think is even more beautiful than the Taj Mahal and perhaps the most beautiful building in the whole world is the Diwan-i-khas, or Hall of Private Audience in Delhi.  This is the hall in which former emperors of the country received royal visitors, and it cannot adequately be described.'  Pictures which Mr. Sintzenich had taken of this building and its interior during the inauguration of New Delhi, bore out his contention of its beauty.  This inauguration held last February, marked the return by the British of the capital from Calcutta to Delhi which was the capital of India down through history.  When the British took over India they moved the capital to Calcutta.

'India is so varied that that is a rather difficult question to answer,' said Mr. Sintzenich when asked what part of the country he liked best.  'You can almost be boiled in some sections and if you go into the Himalayas you will find the opposite extreme.  Of all the cities, I prefer Bombay because it has the most even climate.  It is situated practically on an island with water on all sides so that there is always a sea breeze.  Even at that the humidity is high, averaging 85 to 95 the year round and 98 to 100 at the hottest seasons of the year.'

Speaking of the great amount of illiteracy in India, Mr. Sintzenich said, that many persons might believe something was wrong when such a condition existed in a country over which England had had control for 50 years.  He pointed out that this was due, however, to the caste system which relegates each native into a division from which he can never escape without universal education and in the past, the higher castes have taken care that the lower castes were kept ignorant.

Taking another angle, this reporter asked Mr. Sinzenich regarding the fabled Indian rope trick and was promptly told that he had not seen it nor had he encountered any person who was positive he had seen it.  He spoke however of a Mohammedan who had performed, in the streets of Bombay with four trained sparrows.

'Time means nothing to these people,' he said.  'They know that the sun rises and that it sets and care little about anything else.  This Mohammedan had trained these sparrows to perform various tricks.  One would thread beads on a needle and thread while another, which the old man claimed was the dove from the Ark, would fly out of sight to return with a leaf in its bill.'

Another instance depicting the great patience that the Indians show, was exhibited by a present that Mr. Sintzenich brought to his wife and two sons.  This consisted of a chest covered with plush which contained magnifying glasses and a small glass tube.  In the lid of the box was a typewritten message from Mr. Sintzenich the words of which contained a total of 196 letters.  The entire message was printed on one grain of rice which is contained in the small glass tube and when examined through the magnifying glasses, the message appears clearly.

Besides numerous souvenirs he brought back with him, Mr. Sintzenich has in his apartment some living examples of life in India.  He has a cage in which nine birds of three varieties are quartered.  The plumage of these feathered creatures, one in particular, is much brighter than the birds of this country.  This bird, a small creature, has a red head, a purple breast, a yellow stomach and a green back, all colors being distinctly outlined by a darker band of color.

Starting from India on his home trip, Mr. Sintzenich purchased ten of these birds but while at sea one day he was feeding them and one escaped from the cage.  The porthole being open, it flew out and vanished.

Mr. Sintzenich does not contemplate an immediate return to India but says he is on a vacation now and will rest for a while and get acclimated.

Mr. Sintzenich numbered among his personal friends during his sojourn in India, Prince Azam Jab, heir and oldest son of Sir Osmari Ali Kahn, Nizam of Hyderabad, termed the richest man in the world.  The young prince was welcomed last Thursday in Nice, France, to Princess Durai Shehvar, daughter of Caliph Abdul Medjid Effendi, spiritual leader of 300,000,000 Moslems."

Source:  Van Winkle, G. Allyn, MOTION PICTURE MAKES PROGRESS IN THE LAND OF GHANDI; SOUND FILMS ARE DIFFICULT BECAUSE OF DIALECTS -- Harold A. C. Sinzenich Returns to Pelham After Spending Three Years as Technical Advisor to the Motion Picture Industry in India; Says That Indians Are Fond of Movies, But Sound Films Are a Problem, The Pelham Sun, Nov. 27, 1931, p. 11, cols. 4-8.

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