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 18, 2018

Early Fatal Automobile Accident in Pelham Manor in 1909

It truly is difficult to imagine how profoundly different parts of Pelham are today from what they were like barely a century ago.  Take Pelhamdale Avenue between Shore Road and Boston Post Road for example.

In 1909, the roadway was a dark, desolate, and lonely stretch.  There were virtually no homes between a cluster near Christ Church all the way to the New Haven Branch Line railroad overpass where a few homes stood on Manor Circle adjacent to the railroad tracks and Pelham Manor Depot.  Old growth woods lined both sides of the roadway.  With no streetlights, the towering trees made the roadway exceedingly dark at night.  In addition, with virtually no homes yet built along either side of the road, the ground on each side had not been leveled and embankments stood along the roadway.

Along that dark roadway at about 1:00 a.m. on September 6, 1909, Mount Vernon resident William Hobby was driving home from an evening of work.  In his car were three fellow musicians.  Indeed, the entire group of men were all talented and well-trained musicians who played music for churches and a temple in the region.  The group had finished performing at an event at the famed Bay View Hotel on City island that night.

 The Bay View Hotel, City Island, Circa 1904. Source:  Image from
Post Card Postmarked in 1904.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

The tiny little automobile had a rumble seat.  William Hobby was driving.  Joseph Eisinger, 63 years old, of 522 West 112th Street in New York City, was in the passenger seat next to William Hobby.  Henry Claussen, aged 54, of 319 East 87th Street in New York City was in the rumble seat in the rear.  It appears that the fourth musician, 27-year-old Sidney B. Chase of 22 North Fourth Avenue in Mount Vernon was crouched on the floor of the car, likely beneath Eisinger's feet.

1909 Advertisement Depicting Example of Automobile with
Front Driver and Passenger Seats and a Rumble Seat in the
Rear.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

As the car bounced along Pelhamdale Avenue headed westward toward Boston Post Road something terrible happened.  Precisely what happened was disputed thereafter.  According to the driver, William Hobby, about 300 feet east of the New Haven Branch Line railroad overpass above Pelhamdale Avenue, a tire on the vehicle suddenly exploded.  As the car veered out of control, the steering mechanism "became disarranged."  Hobby lost control and the automobile veered off the roadway into an embankment with a large rock.  When the vehicle struck the rock, it nearly stopped, throwing all four men out of the car.  Once the men hit the ground, the vehicle chugged along and scraped several trees along the embankment until it stopped.

Fortuitously, Pelham Manor Police Officer James Butler, in his third year with the force, was nearby and heard the crash.  He hustled to the scene and found the wrecked vehicle and four men lying on the ground.  He contacted headquarters for assistance.  

A local physician was called to the scene.  Joseph Eisinger and Henry Claussen were badly injured.  The other two men were bruised and banged up, but not seriously injured.  Eisinger was in critical condition with a fractured skull.  The police contacted a local garage to arrange for an automobile to take Eisinger and Claussen to Mount Vernon Hospital.  On the way, Joseph Eisinger died in the car.  Claussen survived.

The automobile was just coming into its own in Pelham in 1909.  Though there had been other automobile accidents in the town before that time, this one was notable not only due to the fatality, but also because the men were such well known musicians.  Sadly, this would not be the last fatal automobile accident in our little town.  Many since have followed.

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Car Operated by William Hobby Goes Over Embankment in Dark Road and Joseph Eisinger, of New York, Dies From His Injuries on Way to the Hospital
Henry Clausen Also Hurt -- Owner and Other Occupants Escape With Bruises -- Car Wrecked -- Were on Their Way Home From City Island

A fatality attended an automobile accident about 1 o'clock yesterday morning in Pelham Manor, when the car owned and driven by William Hobby, of this city, and containing, besides Mr. Hobby, Sidney B. Chase, aged 27, of 22 North Fourth avenue; Joseph Eisinger, aged 63, of 522 West 112th street, and Henry Claussen, aged 54, of 319 East 87th street, New York, struck a rock and ran up an embankment on the north side of Pehamdale avenue about 300 feet east of the bridge of the Harlem River division of the New Haven road.

Mr. Eisinger was thrown out and struck on his head, sustaining a fractured skull.  He died shortly afterward while being hurried to the Mount Vernon hospital in an automobile.  Claussen and Chase were also thrown out, but were not severely injured.  Claussen received a scalp wound and a contusion of the back and was taken to the Mount Vernon hospital.  Dr. Woodruff, who attended him, stated this morning that he was not seriously hurt and did not show signs at present of being internally injured.  Mr. Hobby suffered some bruises and is confined to his home today, it is reported.  

Both Hobby and Chase had remarkable escapes from being severely injured.  Erroneous reports appeared in the New York papers that Mr. Hobby was thrown forty feet out of the car.  This is not so.  According to the statements of the Pelham Manor police, Mr. Hobby, who was driving the car, was thrown only a few feet after it ran up the embankment.

Mr. Hobby and the three men, who are musicians, were returning from the Bay View hotel at City Island.  Eisinger and Claussen are violinists.  They were driving along Pelhamdale avenue, which is one of the darkest thoroughfares in the town of Pelham on account of the woods, when, as they reached a point about 300 feet east of the railroad bridge, a tire exploded, according to Mr. Hobby's statement at the time.  At the same time the steering gear of the machine became disarranged.  Mr. Hobby lost control of the car and it shot up an embankment on the north side of the road.  It first struck a rock, which caused it to stop so suddenly that all of the occupants were hurled out.  Officer Butler, of the Pelham Manor police force, heard the crash of the car as it struck the rock and then ground along into some of the small trees, situated along the embankment.  

When the policeman reached the scene, he saw four men lying on the ground.  Shortly after his arrival he saw one man, who later proved to be Eisinger, lying about 20 feet in front of the car on the road.  Near him was Claussen.  About that time Chase raised himself from the ground and exclaimed 'I am lucky that I was not killed.'  Shortly afterward Mr. Hobby revived.

Officer Butler notified police headquarters of the accident, and Dr. Washburn of Pelham Manor, 
(Continued on Page Six).

(Continued From Page One.)

was summoned.  He examined Eisinger and Claussen and found that the former was in a critical condition and ordered that they be removed to the hospital at once.

An automobile was secured from Reynold's garage and the two injured men, in company with Dr. Washburn, were hurried to the Mount Vernon hospital.  On the way to that instituion Eisinger died and was later removed to Van Arsdale's morgue.

After the injured men had been taken away, Chief Marks ordered Officer Butler to place Mr. Hobby under arrest, and he was brought to police headquarters.  Coroner Boedecker was notified of the accident and went to police headquarters in Pelham Manor.  When asked as to what caused the accident, Mr. Hobby told the coroner that one of his tires blew out, as far as he knew, and that he consequently lost control of the car.  The coroner released him under $5,000 bail to appear for examination at the inquest which will be held next Monday evening at 8 o'clock.

Coroner Boedecker said this morning that there was no evidence to show that any of the tires on the car blew out.  As far as could be ascertained, it appeared as if the machine suddenly left the road and struck a rock.  The coroner also said this morning that in view of the fact that an external examination failed to show the extent of Eisinger's injuries and what caused his death, he directed that an autopsy be performed.

This was done yesterday afternoon by Dr. Washburn, of Pelham Manor, and Dr. Knapp, of Mount Vernon, and showed that Eisinger's skull had been fractured and that death had been caused by cerebral hemorrhage and shock.

Another version this morning is that Hobby and Eisinger were sitting in the front seat and Chase on the floor of the car.  In the rumble seat in back was Claussen.

Yesterday morning Chief Marks, Coroner Boedecker and two experts went to the scene of the accident and examined the car.  They found the two front wheels smashed, the spokes of one of them being torn out.  The axle was also bent.  The car was brought to this city in the afternoon.  

Chief Marks declared this morning that the car was so badly wrecked that it must have been travelling [sic] faster than twelve miles, although Mr. Hobby said that the machine was not going faster than that.

The dead man was a musician of note, being organist of St. Aloysiuis Church, West 132nd street and of Temple Beth-El, Jersey City.  He was a composer of church music as well.  He was born in Copenhagen.  In 1846, and studied music at Leipsic [sic], Prague and Copenhagen, before going to New York in 1867.  He was organist in St. Jerome's church in the Bronx for twenty years and at St. Lawrence's church for ten years.  His Easter compositions are in use in the large churches thoughout the country.  He is survived by a widow and five children.

The body was taken to Mr. Eisinger's late home, in New York, last evening, and the funeral services will be held tomorrow afternoon at 2 o'clock."

Source:   MAN WAS KILLED IN AN AUTO ACCIDENT AT PELHAM MANOR EARLY YESTERDAY -- Car Operated by William Hobby Goes Over Embankment in Dark Road and Joseph Eisinger, of New York, Dies From His Injuries on Way to the Hospital -- Henry Clausen Also Hurt -- Owner and Other Occupants Escape With Bruises -- Car Wrecked -- Were on Their Way Home From City Island, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Sep. 7, 1909, No. 6026, p. 1, cols. 1-2 & p. 6, col. 4.

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I have written before about the early days of automobiles in Pelham.  For a few examples, see:

Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.

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