When it came to me, it was a copy. It was probably a copy of a copy. At some point, my maternal great-uncle, Edward O’Connell, sat down and drafted several pages of notes on the Cooke, Boyle, O’Connell, and Kelly families. I am not sure what his motivation for doing this may have been. When my mother gave me a copy of it years ago, I stashed it in a file folder with some other family documents.
I don’t know if Uncle Ed intended to leave a trail for future generations. When I began to do genealogical research, I dug out Uncle Ed’s notes and started following his breadcrumbs. I had no idea how accurate the information was, but it was a critical starting point for my labors.
The twelve pages of notes are handwritten in his precise printing, I call the font “Uncle Ed.” There is a lot of basic family information scattered on the pages that allow me to open the doors to the Boyle, Cooke, Kelly, and O’Connell families who have branches in my mother’s family tree. He included a hand-drawn map of what is now known as the “Boerum Hill” neighborhood of Brooklyn with annotations of locations of key family sites from the 19th and 20th centuries. The other pages contain such gems as renderings of FDNY Badges for my maternal grandfather (more on that in a future post), a few grainy photos of ancestors, and copy of a 19th century drawing of the family church, St Paul’s Church at the corner of Court and Congress Street, where many of my ancestors had their baptisms, weddings, and funerals.
One of the photos that intrigued me was of the men of Hook and Ladder Company 10. The “Xerox” copy of the photo was splotchy and had a couple of holes in it. The men in the photo were barely distinguishable. My 2X great-grandfather, Anthony A. Cooke (25 May 1856 – 19 April 1928) is in the photo, perched on top of the horse-drawn “truck.”
I researched the photo to try to find a better copy and to determine its origin and date. I started with the New York City Fire Museum, but the image predates the consolidation of all the fire companies in New York City into what is now the FDNY. This was a Brooklyn Fire Department (BFD) photo. The email response from the museum recommended that I get with the Brooklyn Historical Society for more information. An evening of online research yielded the source of the photo, a book titled Our Firemen: The Official History of the Brooklyn Fire Department on the Cornell University Library website. The book, published in 1892, is a comprehensive history of the BFD “compiled from the records of the department.” I was able to get my hands on a reproduction of the book done by The New York Public Library. I found the photo on page 227.
I was thrilled to have this photo in the best condition for which I could reasonably hope possible. When I turned the page, I found something more interesting. The book contains small biographies of the firemen and anecdotes about the companies. This short blurb added to what little I knew about Anthony Cooke.
Anthony Cooke was born on Hamilton Avenue on May 25, 1856. He was the son of Owen Cooke and Mary Quigley, both were immigrants from Ireland. On the 1860 census, Owen’s occupation was listed as “Carriage Driver.” Anthony grew up around horses, and when he joined the BFD on February 18, 1887, he was an equipment driver. Between 1887 and 1892 he was “the driver for Engines Nos 3 and 26, and Trucks Nos 1, 5, and 10.”
BFD’s Truck 10 was an “improved second-class Hayes Truck” pulled by “three of the handsomest and quickest working horses in the Department”. “Larry,” Billy” and “Dick,” the team pulling Truck 10, also had brief biological information included in the book along with the firehouse cat, Patsey. The cat does not appear on the official roster, but he was reported to have arrived two days after the formation of the company and made himself at home at the firehouse.
Hook, and Ladder Company No. 10 was designated as ready for active service on 1 August 1891. They protected a district bordered by Johnston Street, Nevins Street, First Place, and Smith Street and on the west by the waterfront. It was quartered in a two-story structure on State Street, near Boerum Place.
On 22 February 1892, an article in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (on page 4) lead with a dramatic headline: “DEATH AT HAND.” The article goes on to chronicle the ordeal of the Goodman Family at 395 Fulton Street. David Goodman lived on the fourth floor of the building with his wife, Sarah; his infant daughter, Mamie; his mother, Etta, and brother-in-law, Jacob Michaelson. The lower floors of the building housed a tavern, a dentist office and the Sullivan Bros. Company, an awning manufacturer, occupying the third floor of the building as a factory and storage facility. As the firemen of Engine 5 from the house on Pierrepont Street and Truck 10, with Anthony Cooke at the reins, reached the scene the five occupants of the top floor were crowding the front windows as the three floors below them were consumed by the rapidly spreading fire. Much to their horror, the firemen realized that their ladders would not reach the trapped family. The firemen forced their way into an adjoining structure and made their way to the roof. While Anthony Cooke held a rope from the roof, another fireman (identified as Fireman Lester Roberts) was lowered to the window to assist the terrified family. He secured them, one by one, to the rope and lowered them to a ladder that was raised from the sidewalk to meet the end of the rope anchored by Anthony Cooke up on the roof of the burning building. As the Daily Eagle Article described the scene:
The aged Mrs. Goodman was first rescued and then the baby was lowered down in a blanket. The child fell out of the improvised pouch in transit, but luckily dropped on to the shoulder of a fireman who was on the ladder ten feet below. He caught it in his arms and the baby was carried into a neighboring restaurant, where it was found to be half unconscious from smoke suffocation. While all of this was going on an ambulance had been sent for, and Surgeon Duggan was there to attend to the baby and the other sufferers. The younger Mrs. Goodman was next rescued, almost paralyzed from fright, and Mr. Goodman last. Michaelson escaped by climbing to the roof and in doing so his hands were severely burned. The mother, child and husband were taken to city hospital, where their injuries were dressed. Mrs. Goodman and the baby were in a fair way to recover this afternoon, and Mr. Goodman was around looking up his loses.
After the rescue, the firemen focused their attention on fighting the fire. I will assume that Anthony Cooke and the other firemen scrambled down from the burning structure through the adjacent building from which they had originally made it to the roof. Firefighting efforts were hampered when the nearest hydrant was found to be “hopelessly out of repair.” The fire was under control after 2 o’clock. Later, it was ruled to be an arson. It was started in the hallway on the third floor.
The article goes on to discuss the police investigation of the suspected arson and a vague description of the alleged arsonist.
Once again, a hint from Uncle Ed and a grainy photo yielded a fantastic story from a generation of our family that had been lost for over 100 years.
A final note for my siblings and “Kelly Cousins”: Anthony Aloysius Cooke was the father of Nana’s mother, Ellen. Ellen (1877-1940) was the eldest daughter of Anthony Cooke and Mary Boyle. Anthony and Mary’s youngest child to survive to adulthood was Gertrude (1889-1978). We knew her as “Aunt Gertie” (our second great-aunt).