Looking Back in Beacon

Editor’s note: Beacon was created in 1913 from Matteawan and Fishkill Landing.

150 Years Ago (March 1872)

A man walking to Fishkill Landing from Matteawan was nearly struck in the head by a bullet fired from the direction of the planing mill.

A barn halfway between Fishkill Landing and Matteawan was destroyed by a midday fire, along with 2 tons of hay. It was owned by Patrick Murphy, proprietor of a liquor store on Front Street in Newburgh.

Charles Brewer of Cold Spring, the master builder of the Presbyterian Church in Matteawan, was climbing a ladder in the spire when it gave way and he fell 18 feet into the belfry, suffering serious injuries.

George Turner of Fishkill Landing was jailed for 30 days after he stole a calf’s pluck [internal organs] hanging in the slaughterhouse of Harvey Week.

A detective from Albany traveled to Fishkill Landing to arrest William Murray, who was charged with obtaining 22 barrels of ale, valued at $137, on credit against a house he said he owned in Fishkill, which authorities said was not the case.

The ferry Fanny Garner left the Newburgh dock for Dutchess Junction with 15 passengers but arrived long after the last train of the day had departed. The women stretched out overnight on the hard settees with muffs, shawls and cloaks for pillows while the men slept on the floor.

William Wood, the Matteawan printer, was diagnosed with smallpox.

A bald eagle that measured 6 feet from tip to tip was shot at Newburgh for a New York collection of birds. Twenty-four other eagles were observed that day.

125 Years Ago (March 1897)

Business was slow at the hat factories in Fishkill Landing and Matteawan, with the Dutchess Hat Works open only one day in the previous week.

L.L. Inman opened a bicycle shop in Fountain Square; he sold two of his own brands, the Wiccopee and the Inman, and was the authorized local dealer for the Fowler, Liberty, Dayton and Demorest.

The employees of the Matteawan State Hospital held a ball for the benefit of Highland Hospital, netting $40.

James McGuire, an attendant from the Hudson River State Hospital who came with a colleague from Poughkeepsie to retrieve a Fishkill Landing resident suffering from “homicidal mania,” was slashed at the train station. “Old Man Stevens” had asked to use the restroom as they waited for the train and was accompanied there by McGuire. Inside, he pulled a pen knife and slashed McGuire on the neck. McGuire and the other guard managed to overpower Stevens, but the passengers in the gentlemen’s waiting room who saw the bloodied attendant ran in every direction, crying “Murder!”

William Timmerman, a grocer in Matteawan, was fined $50 after he sold quinine pills to a detective during a sting operation. Timmerman said he would appeal.

100 Years Ago (March 1922)

The Trinity Council of the Knights of Columbus hosted a “smoker” at Columbus Hall on a Monday night. Three 4-round boxing bouts were planned, along with a wrestling match and songs and recitations.

Mayor Samuel Beskin

Mayor Samuel Beskin

Gov. Nathan Miller named former Mayor Samuel Beskin as the commissioner to represent New York State on the board of the National Good Roads Association.

A grand jury declined to indict Dominic Palissi, whose home in Beacon had been raided a few weeks earlier by state police, who confiscated several barrels of wine they said violated temperance laws. Palissi’s attorney said he would seek a court order for the return of the wine because it was taken from a private dwelling, which exempted it from regulation.

Michael Zeyakel saved a boy who had fallen into the icy Fishkill Creek by extending his fishing rod and pulling him to shore.

An investigation by the state Board of Health determined that the source of a recent epidemic of typhoid had been drinking water drawn from Fishkill Creek. It concluded that factories had discharged waste into the creek at a time when their filtration plants were not working.

Ernest Macomber of the Beacon Taxpayers’ Association asked the City Council to explain why it had allegedly sold all the standing timber and cordwood surrounding the Melzingah reservoir for $100 without seeking bids.

Stephen Jankura, who fought during the world war with the 27th Division in France, received a citation for bravery and heroic action when the division smashed the Hindenburg line, a defensive barrier erected by the Germans on the Western front. In one engagement, Jankura carried dispatches through the lines for several hours. He could present his citation at Tiffany’s in New York City to receive his medal.

A Beacon man, Joseph Knapp, suffered burns to his head when gas fumes ignited at a Hopewell Junction filling station. Because the station did not have a gas hose, customers used small containers to bring gas to their vehicles. While Knapp was filling his truck, an acquaintance approached while lighting a pipe. The match slipped from his hand and ignited the fumes from one of the cans, causing it to explode. Although Knapp was covered with flaming gas, he managed to climb into his truck and move it away from danger.

Henry Mully of Beacon and Paulette Spitzer of Switzerland were married aboard the French liner Rochambeau by its captain while it was docked in New York City. The couple had met at school in Zurich but parted when Henry returned to the U.S., where he took a job at the Glenham Embroidery Co.

The Ursuline Novitiate purchased Hiddenbrooke, the 400-acre estate of J. Noah Slee, president of the Three-in-One Oil Co. (and the second husband of Margaret Sanger, the birth-control advocate), that included a mansion with 18 rooms and six baths. In partial payment, the nuns deeded to Slee 98 acres of land they owned on Van Wyck Lake, where they had resided at the Knickerbocker Lodge until it burned down. [The Hiddenbrooke mansion burned down in 1972.]

Hiddenbrooke Novitiate

The Hiddenbrooke mansion (Beacon Historical Society)

The home of J. Bayard Verplanck, on his estate at Spook Field, was ransacked while he was on an extended trip to Europe.

Eighty boys were divided into three newly formed Boy Scout troops: Troop 1 at St. Joachim’s under Scoutmaster Collins, Troop 2 at St. Joachim’s under Scoutmaster Hayden and Troop 4 at St. John’s under Scoutmaster Kearney.

Volunteers and Beacon Engine Co. firefighters saved the incline railroad on Mount Beacon from a forest fire that started near the Settlement Camp.

“Gentleman” Jack Skelly, a Beacon resident and former featherweight boxer who owned a saloon in Yonkers, was fined for selling liquor over the bar. He was ticketed by liquor control agent Peter Reager, himself a former boxer. “You’re Jack Skelly, the famous pugilist,” Reager said, according to the Poughkeepsie Eagle-News. “I’ve seen you many a time.” “Your face is familiar,” replied Skelly, who was also a former sports editor at the Yonkers Herald. When Reager said he was thirsty, Skelly allegedly served him, violating temperance laws.

Jack Skelly boxer

Jack Skelly in his heyday in the late 19th century

Police were looking for a man accused of peeping into the women’s second-floor dressing room at the Beacon Theatre. He apparently used part of a fence from a neighboring home to create a makeshift ladder. A “bathing beauty” who was changing spotted him and began to scream, but he made his getaway before stagehands could get to the back of the building.

75 Years Ago (March 1947)

Although a recent state census listed Beacon’s population at 11,222, city officials said it was closer to 15,000. The federal census in 1940 recorded 12,572 residents.

The city and county health departments offered free X-rays at clinics to be held at health offices at 382 Main St., the National Biscuit Co. and Springfield Baptist Church.

Eight “maniacs” escaped from the Matteawan State Hospital prison by lowering ropes made from cocoa mats from the smoking porch on the third floor. All eight were recaptured separately, including one caught near the Beacon train station after a state trooper fired a shot at him. Three guards were accused of negligence and suspended.

A committee of residents said it would raise the money for uniforms and equipment if the school district restored football at the high school. Soon after, the district hired James Gauriloff, 26, as head football coach for the fall.

Members of the Men’s Club at the First Presbyterian Church presented a minstrel show at the parish house.

Gov. Thomas Dewey appointed W. Vincent Grady, a 1924 Beacon High School graduate, as the Dutchess County district attorney to succeed John Schwartz, who resigned to accept an appointment as a county judge.

Members of the Jewish Dramatic Club presented a one-act play, You Can’t Go Dancing Anymore, at the Beacon Hebrew Alliance.

A New Jersey man was charged with attempting to take a nightstick from a patrolman following a fight at Bank Square.

Melio Bettina, the Beacon boxer (or, more likely, his manager), wrote a letter to heavyweight champion Joe Louis challenging him to a bout. “What are you going to say when kids stop you on the street and ask: ‘Say, Joe, why didn’t you fight Melio Bettina, the fighter from Beacon, New York?’” Bettina said he was being told by promoters that the matchup would draw a $1 million gate — “and maybe more, since the entire Hudson Valley would declare a holiday.”

Roberta Rowland, 8, gave an organ recital at the Reformed Church of Beacon.

Joseph Baccamo of Poughkeepsie, a railroad track worker since 1916, was commended for saving a Beacon woman when she fell beneath a departing train as she attempted to jump to the platform.

The will of Harry Thaw, who 41 years earlier had shot and killed architect Stanford White, was filed for probate. The millionaire killed White in 1906 in the crowded rooftop garden of the former Madison Square Garden, which White had designed. He said he was angry over White’s past relationship with Thaw’s wife, Evelyn Nesbit. Thaw was acquitted by reason of insanity and sent to the Matteawan State Hospital but escaped a year later. A jury later declared him sane. Thaw and Nesbit divorced, but he left her $10,000.

75 YEARS AGO harry thaw evening tribute headline

The New York Evening Tribune from Aug. 12, 1909, when killer Harry Thaw was sent to the Matteawan State Hospital (RareNewspapers.com)

Dewey vetoed a plan that would have settled a lawsuit stemming from a claim by Beacon officials that the Fishkill Electric Railway Co. owed $20,000 as its share of the cost of paving the streets. The firm said it had not been given proper notice but agreed to pay $1,000 annually against the 19-year-old debt. The governor said the agreement “conflicted with the principles of the Constitution which prohibit the granting of tax exemptions and immunities by special laws.”

50 Years Ago (March 1972)

The state Department of Transportation denied a request from Mountain View Coach Lines to double its fares between Poughkeepsie and Beacon but suggested that it would approve a request for half that. The line had not raised its prices in 15 years.


A Mountain View bus in the late 1960s

The Cole All-Star TV Circus performed two shows at the Rombout Middle School.

A team of 70 officers from the state police, county sheriff and Beacon police executed 18 arrest warrants on Beacon residents accused of selling LSD or heroin to undercover agents.

Several meetings between members of the Neighborhood Service Organization, the Human Rights Commission and Beacon police resulted in a report that recommended officers “mix and mingle” more often with residents and that the department hire more minority officers. The report noted that 30 of the 32 officers were white.

Three Beacon elementary and middle school students presented a five-minute, 16-millimeter animated film they had made to members of the Kiwanis Club. Working with Patricia Hanna, the director of the Howland library, the students used the method of Norman McLaren, who drew abstract designs directly on the film stock. The students also screened a 1947 McLaren short, Fiddle Dee Dee.

A still from Fiddle Dee Dee

A still from Fiddle Dee Dee

A 33-year-old Beacon man was hospitalized after he was pinned beneath his car as he tried to stop it from hitting a passing train. He had stopped at 3 a.m. on a slight incline on Main Street to wait when his car began to slide on the ice. He jumped out and tried to hold it back but fell and was pinned between a front tire and the oil pan.

While arresting a woman on charges of issuing a bad check and possessing heroin, police said they found a “grenade bomb” in her Ferry Street apartment.

The school board appointed Francis Sapusinky, 32, the principal of Rombout Middle School, as superintendent. He had joined the district five years earlier as an administrative intern.

Police arrested a 21-year-old man on charges that he shot and killed a resident of the Pomey Hotel at 246 Main St. during an early morning fight in the hotel bar.

Mahmood Ali, a representative of the Bangladesh mission to the United Nations, spoke at Beacon High School about his newly independent country as part of a series of student-led “rap” sessions.

Guards at the Matteawan State Hospital voted 245-1 during a meeting at St. Rocco’s Hall to join a statewide strike if the corrections officers’ union and New York State failed to agree on a new contract by March 31.

The Beacon Piece Dyeing & Finishing Co., which pleaded guilty to discharging waste into Fishkill Creek, applied for clemency from President Richard Nixon. It had been fined $25,000 but claimed financial hardship.

Volunteers calling themselves the Beacon Environmental Recovery Group proposed to the City Council that an abandoned ferry dock be transformed into a waterfront park.

The Green Fuel Economizer Co., which opened in Beacon in 1892 and manufactured industrial fans, planned a $1 million expansion.

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