Looking Back in Beacon

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

150 Years Ago (May 1873)

Two teenage girls, Mary Van Nostrand and Emma Gildersleve, were walking on Elm Street in Fishkill Landing when they were attacked by a mad dog, which they held off with an open umbrella. When the dog grabbed the umbrella and began to chew on it, the girls escaped.

Fishkill Landing residents presented the Board of Trustees with a petition with 34 signatures asking that it convert the street lights from kerosene to gas.

A coroner’s jury investigating the unexpected death of Sarah Thorns of Glenham heard from a chemist who testified he found nothing suspicious in her stomach that might have caused her fatal convulsions.

Henry Alden of Fishkill Landing was granted a patent for a billiard cushion.

According to a news report, the keeper of the elephant and camel for Stone’s circus had tied both to a tree in Fishkill Landing when an express train roared past. The camel fainted and the elephant took off, dragging the tree, camel and keeper.

The Fishkill Landing Machine Works was busy building a 350-horsepower engine for the New York & Rosendale Lime and Cement Co.; a 500-horsepower engine for the Toledo and Wabash Elevator Co.; and two hot-air engines for the Hudson River Iron Co.

According to the Daily Freeman in Kingston, Matteawan lots were selling for $125 to $150 [$3,200 to $3,800 today].

Wladyslaf Pralatowski of Fishkill Landing wrote to the editor of the Irish World to dispute its report that Poland, his native land, had ever been “conquered.” He noted that, most recently, following a general revolution from 1863 to 1864, “the governments that control Poland have been trying to destroy her language and her nationality, but they will never do it.”

The Kingston Journal reported that a woman at the house of a newly married couple in Matteawan “undertook to repel the assaults of a skimelton party by throwing hot and cold water upon them. Unfortunately, a party of guests arrived at that time and right into the faces of ladies and gentlemen went a whole bucket full.” [According to an article in New York History, skimeltons in the 19th century were a ritual in which “people of the town or village, sometimes in costume or disguise,” surrounded the home of the newlyweds banging pots and pans, blowing horns and singing until they were given a “fine” or treats to go away.]

125 Years Ago (May 1898)

A Poughkeepsie woman was sent to the Matteawan Asylum for Insane Criminals after being accused of stabbing her two young children to death. Her husband had died a month earlier; the Odd Fellows Lodge, where he had been a member, had attempted to get her committed but said neighbors intervened.

C.W. Stanley (alias Tanner), who had been arrested in Port Jervis and charged with swindles in Matteawan, was sentenced to a year in Sing Sing.

The Newburgh Telegram reported that a young woman employed at a Matteawan hat factory enjoyed responding to personal ads in New York City newspapers. She arranged with a young man to come up on the train and meet at the ferry house at Fishkill Landing. He said he would be wearing a tan suit, a pearl gray fedora with a black band and a flag on the lapel of his coat. At the appointed hour, a young man approached her and tipped his hat — he was Black! She ran up Beekman Street in a panic and her co-workers had “great sport” teasing her.

A New York City dentist who set fire to his office while high on cocaine spent 18 months in the Matteawan asylum before being cured and released.

100 Years Ago (May 1923)

While sliding into second base during a steal attempt in a Factory League baseball game, Ignatius Mulla, 26, of Glenham, was hit in the side of the head by a low throw from pitcher Ted Lewis. Mullen complained of pain behind his ear but was able to walk off the field. Dr. Charles Dugan accompanied him home but Mulla died a half-hour later. An autopsy revealed a fractured skull and blood clot.

William Romaine (aka William Bastels), who had lived quietly in Beacon for 11 years, was arrested and taken to Newburgh, where he was accused of abandoning his wife and three children more than a decade earlier. A Newburgh detective and Beacon patrol officer tracked down Romaine by showing around a tintype photo taken in 1905. One of his sons had passed Romaine on the street in Beacon and told his mother he had seen a man who looked like his father, and she alerted police.

The 190-acre Whitfield Seegur farm was purchased by New York State for $20,000 [$355,000] to expand the Matteawan State Hospital.

Voters approved a $40,000 [$735,000] addition to Beacon High, 275-139. The proposal had been defeated three times when only taxpayers were eligible to vote. For the fourth vote, the district allowed parents to cast ballots.

The Poughkeepsie Eagle-News noted the upstart Poughkeepsie-Highland ferry was making a play for the Newburgh-Beacon ferry’s truck traffic by offering crossings after midnight and erecting roadside billboards touting its service.


The Poughkeepsie ferries competed with Newburgh-Beacon for customers.

Ground was broken for a two-story convent on the grounds of St. John’s Church on Oak Street. The former convent on Willow Street had been sold.

Marianist College, on Sargent Avenue, was dedicated. The all-male school, one of 600 operated by the Society of Mary, had been founded the previous year with 28 students.

William Hardy broke out of the prisoner’s room at the police station and hid in the cellar for an hour before a sergeant found him there. Hardy had been arrested after firing a .38-caliber revolver at the railroad station while drunk.

Two Beacon veterans of the World War died when they were thrown from an Essex touring car after it struck a tree along the state road near Poughkeepsie. The driver, who was not injured, told state troopers he was only going 23 mph and was forced off the road by other vehicles, but witnesses said they saw no traffic.

75 Years Ago (May 1948)

Twenty-three students came out for Beacon High School’s newly formed track team, coached by William Forrestal. The school already had a cross-country team.

Augusto Lanari, who operated a shoe repair shop at 3 Fishkill Ave., died at age 71.

Two Beacon men were arrested after a 19-year-old Wappingers Falls woman accused them of rape. [In September, a judge dismissed the case against one defendant for lack of evidence and in October sentenced the other to six months in jail as part of a plea bargain.]

In the first major theatrical production at Beacon High School in several years, students performed the comedy You Can’t Take It With You.

A Beekman Street man was sentenced to 30 days in jail for hitting a woman with a pick handle.

The Beacon school board hired Vincent Stearns as its first attorney, at a salary of $1,000 annually [$12,500]. The superintendent said some board members wanted a lawyer at the ready, not just when called upon.

Members of the Spring Street School PTA, assigned by the school board to identify a location for a new building, proposed a site on Liberty Street next to the old city dump.

The board appointed Calvin Dening, a graduate of Fredonia State Teachers’ College, as instructor of instrumental music.

Construction began on a 24-by-34-foot fieldhouse at Memorial Park for use as a dressing room and to store equipment. The structure was being built by vocational students from the high school.

In an innovative move, the Beacon High School chorus recorded its practices to play back and correct faults.

Melio Bettina, the Beacon heavyweight, in his first appearance since a disastrous loss at Madison Square Garden, knocked out Jackie Fisher in the fifth round of a fight in Bangor, Maine. Two weeks later, he knocked out Ross Strickland in the fifth round at the Avalon Rollerdrome in Newburgh.

Melio Bettina

A trading card depicting boxer Melio Bettina in 1947, with his surname misspelled

After 23½ hours on the run, an inmate who escaped from the Matteawan State Hospital was apprehended near Chelsea. He had been in the asylum for 15 years after killing his wife in New York City. While he was at large, state troopers set up roadblocks and checked every car leaving the county.

50 Years Ago (May 1973)

A federal grand jury indicted a company for allegedly dumping liquid cement and oil into the Hudson River. Officials credited Allen Thorpe, a Beacon High School student, with spotting the discharge from the Price Brothers Co. plant in the Town of Fishkill. The firm faced up to $25,000 [$170,000] in fines.

The police station was inundated with calls when a black bear cub was seen wandering near Main Street. It later headed toward Mount Beacon.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that New York State’s policy of sending defendants to the Matteawan State Hospital without an indictment or having a jury rule whether they were “dangerously incapacitated” was a violation of their constitutional rights. The case was brought by four Matteawan inmates, including George Matesky, a Con Ed employee known only as the “Mad Bomber” before his 1957 arrest for planting three dozen devices in New York City over 17 years.


George Matesky at a Connecticut police station following his arrest in 1957; he was later sent to the Matteawan asylum in Beacon. (Library of Congress)

25 Years Ago (May 1998)

Police were searching for suspects in two robberies of pizza delivery workers, one at Tompkins Terrace and the other at Forrestal Heights. In each case, a person emerged from under a stairwell and put a knife to the driver’s throat.

The school budget, which included a 2.75 percent tax increase, was approved, 763-372, and Deborah Sheers, Edward Tucker, Carla Pettorossi and Michael Riehl were elected to the board.

The Otero family, newly relocated from the Bronx to North Walnut Street, were featured in a segment on Good Morning, America about how moving affects children. The ABC producers found the family through U-Haul.

Students at Glenham Elementary collected 1,850 pounds of pennies, or about $3,000, to help fix the roof on the Howland Cultural Center.

John Robinson, a Beacon High School graduate, won Division III titles in the 110-meter hurdles and the long jump for SUNY Farmingdale.

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