Part I of a Brooklyn Cow Tale
Some suggest that animals have a greater sense of imminent danger than people do. Did the cow in this true New York story have a sixth sense that allowed her to predict her sorrowful future, and thus, take action to try to prevent the final outcome?
The story begins on November 30, 1901, in Greenpoint, the northernmost neighborhood of Brooklyn. Although the town had already become more industrial by this time — with rope factories, glass works, lumber yards and maritime industries lining the East River and Newtown Creek — the interior section of the Greenpoint peninsula still had its share of stables and cows in the early 1900s.
On this particular morning, Patrick McCarthy was leading a cow from her bucolic home in Greenpoint to Eastman’s slaughter house on 11th Avenue at 59th Street in Manhattan. The first part of the trip, from a stroll through Greenpoint streets, over the swing bridge connecting Manhattan Avenue to Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City, across the six tracks of the busy Long Island Railroad, and then down Borden Avenue to the Hunt’s Point Ferry, was seemingly peaceful. Published reports even note that the cow seemed to enjoy the ferry ride to East 34th Street in Manhattan.
But trouble began when man and bovine reached the corner of 34th and Fifth Avenue…
The Manhattan Avenue Swing Bridge
The bridge that Patrick McCarthy and his cow crossed in 1901 was a 168-foot wrought iron and wood high-truss swing bridge built by the King Iron Bridge and Manufacturing Company in 1880. By 1895, the archaic movable bridge, which was rusting and rotting, was the only one of its size and importance that was operated manually. According to The New York Times, “three stalwart men and an old army veteran” used an upright iron rod and two oak bars, each about nine feet long, to open and close the bridge. The men would walk in a circle nine times to open or close it, which took about seven minutes. The bridge was opened about 140 times a day, so each man walked about 11 miles a day. Although an electric motor was installed at one point, it failed the first time it was used.
In 1894, the United States War Department gave Kings and Queens counties an order to take action regarding the structure of a new bridge. For two years the War Department threatened to demolish the bridge unless it was replaced with a more modern structure. The new bridge, called the Vernon Avenue Bridge, was finally opened October 18, 1905, for pedestrian and trolley traffic.
Unfortunately, as early as 1916 there were complaints that the safety of the bridge was being compromised by the heavy truck and car traffic it was carrying. The bridge was rebuilt several times over the years, and was finally removed in 1954 when the nearby $11 million Pulaski Bridge opened. This bridge was also to be called the Vernon Avenue Bridge, but in recognition of Greenpoint’s large Polish-American population, it was named for the Polish patriot Casimir Pulaski, who fought and died in the Revolutionary War.
Recently, the non-profit Brooklyn Greenway Initiative proposed a Pedestrian/Bicycle Bridge Study Project to give people an alternate route for crossing the Newtown Creek between Manhattan Avenue and Vernon Boulevard. The study is part of a large capital project to implement a 14-mile Brooklyn waterfront greenway stretching from Newtown Creek to Owl’s Head Park in Bay Ridge.
The Trouble on Fifth Avenue
Now back our story…
With a loud Moo-oo, Patrick McCarthy’s cow broke from her halter and started to run. “Stop her!” Patrick cried. “Head her off!” he shouted while dodging pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages. The cow charged at Patrick, turned onto Fifth Avenue, and ran a zig-zag course until ramming her head through the side door of a horse-drawn cab in front of the Waldorf-Astoria.
According to the tale, William Mackey, an actor, was in the cab in front of the hotel when the cow decided to “hail” the same cab. William was reading the newspaper when he heard a crash and saw the cow’s small horns protrude through the door. He quickly moved over the other door, yelling, “Help! Help!” while jumping out of the cab.
Patrick Darcy, the cab driver, jumped down from the box and excitedly tugged at the cow’s tail in an effort to save his cab from being demolished. Darcy should have known it’s not such a good idea to pull a cow’s tail: This action only made her ram her head further into the cab and destroy it even more.
There were several cabs and carriages in front of the Waldorf-Astoria at the time, and a few of the coachmen and footmen came to Darcy’s assistance after leading their own teams out of danger. Some police officers also tried to help, but everyone’s efforts were all for naught. Patrick McCarthy was finally able to get inside the cab and tap the end of his whip on the cow’s nose, causing her to back out of the wrecked cab. Unfortunately for both the cow and the driver, this story does not have a happy ending: The cow eventually made it to the slaughter-house and Darcy’s cab was totaled.
Mr. Mackey and the Greenwich Wheelmen
Just five months before his near brush with death in front of the Waldorf-Astoria, Mr. Mackey was involved in another accident, this one involving bicycles. William and Miss Angela Knowlton, both members of the Greenwich Wheelmen, were riding their bicycles home from Central Park one June evening when they collided with another woman on bicycle at 34th Street and Broadway (The New York Times actually wrote that this was a colored woman). Both women were thrown to the pavement. Before he could stop, Mr. Mackey ran into the tangle and was also thrown from his bike. Miss Knowlton was treated for a slight scalp wound at a nearby drugstore, but the other woman was not hurt. Mr. Mackey was only slightly bruised.
In 1880, the League of American Wheelmen was formed to promote bicyclists’ interests. Over the next decade, local clubs of cyclists or “wheelmen” formed throughout the country. Although most of the members were men, many clubs also admitted women. Susan B. Anthony was in fact a big proponent of women cyclists:
“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammelled womanhood.”—The New York World, 1896
William Mackey and Angela Knowlton were members of the Greenwich Wheelmen bicycle club, which was organized on May 11, 1892, by G. De Shay, H.C. Reynolds, C. Scheier, W. Whelpley, J. Thompson, and G. Lippmann. These men were all descendents of the original inhabitants of Greenwich Village – hence, the club’s name. The club first met in a basement at 17 Abingdon Square, but then moved to an old factory building at 66 Charles Street as the club continued to grow in leaps and bounds. By 1894, the club was headquartered in a three-story brownstone at 509 Hudson Street. This building featured a large double parlor, a room for storing wheels, a training room, card room, and secretary’s room.
509 Hudson Street and the Amos Farm
The Federal style townhouse at 509 Hudson Street was built in 1828 for Richard Amos, a veteran of the Revolutionary War and a prominent early property owner in Greenwich Village. In 1788 Amos purchased a large plot from Willoughby Bertie, the 4th Earl of Abingdon, England. The Earl had inherited the land from his father-in-law, Vice-Admiral Sir Peter Warren, a British naval officer who owned a 300-acre estate and large mansion at the present intersection of Charles and Bleecker streets. The Amos property, which extended from Washington Street to Bleecker Street and from Charles to Christopher Streets, was later known as the Amos Farm.
Today the building at 509 Hudson Street is an upscale co-op with a rooftop terrace. Although the building is pet-friendly, I don’t believe any cows currently reside there.
If you enjoyed this story, you may also like When the Waldorf-Astoria Went to the Dogs.