Archive Record

  • Email This Page
  • Send Feedback
Title Report: [Fire investigation and response to] Admiral Benson Service Club, (Hoboken), Dec. 15 to Dec. 31, 1919.
Object Name Report
Catalog Number 2007.047.0201.24
Collection Papers of Florence G. Miller & Family
Credit Gift of Frank Ballogh
Scope & Content Report: [Fire investigation and response to] Admiral Benson Service Club, (Hoboken), Dec. 15 to Dec. 31, 1919. Eight typed carbon leaves, signed by supervising field secretary, A.J. Barrett., undated, but presumably January or February 1920. Text transcribed in notes.

The report details the fire that destroyed the club on December 10, 1919 in which two people died (William Clark and Walter Vance). Claims from families and buildings affected by the fire, National Catholic War Council's restitution to victims, families and employees affected and to employees losses of property are noted. Mrs. Mary H. Markey (F.P. Markey) and her local committee were credited in the report.

Attachments referred to in the text are not present.
Notes Transcription of archives 2007.047.0201.24.

ReportPeriodDec. 15 to Dec.31st. 1919 Benson Service Club.

Owing to the assistance of Mrs. F. P. Markey and her committee the following report is possible.

Accompanied with Mrs. Markey your representative sailed on Mayor Griffin, Commissioner Bernan [Bernard] McFeeley [sic McFeely] and the Fire Chief, Mr. Gilday to ascertain some information as to the general sentiment regarding the fire, among the peoples of Hoboken, and one and all expressed themselves along the lines that the National Catholic War Council [N.C.W.C.] had more money than they knew what to do with, and expected that this organization would pay any and every claim made by the people affected by the fire; this impression of money galore was offset to a certain extent, by stating that all expenditures of the N.C.W.C. were subject to governmental inspection, and that nothing could be paid that was not a proven and just claim.

Letters attached to this report, received from Mr. John Fallon, Corporation Council Attorney of Hoboken, expresses the wishes of the Catholics in general, who have not the inside knowledge of contracts and agreements permitting the erection of the Benson Service Club. [note: these documents were not present with this copy.]

The main object of our visit to the officials of Hoboken was to obtain their assistance and good will in all matters pertaining to the effects of the Burning of the Benson Service Club and we believe our visit was successful. Commissioner McFeeley, getting a contractor to remove all debris, thus removing any restrictions that might issue from his office. Fire Chief Gilday razing a chimney for us without expense, and done cheerfully at Mrs. Markey's request, thus saving about $300.00.

The Hoboken Police Department cooperated in every way, in the protection of materials remaining after the fire.

It is expected that by Jan.10th.1920 the lot upon which the Benson Service club was erected, shall have been cleared of all material and the ground put in its original condition.

[end page 1]

Report Continued. #2Benson Service Club.

The Benson Service Club on Dec.15th.1919 was totally destroyed by fire, between the hours of 10 A.M. and 3 P.M. the same day.

Position of Club. Built on a lot bounded on the North by an apartment house, four stories and basement and an open yard; on the South by an apartment house four stories and basement, and a Protestant Church, The First Reformed; on the East by Bloomfield St. and on the West by, Washington Ave. [sic] the artery of the city or main street. The Club fronted on this avenue.

People in building at the time if [of] fire: William Mulcahy, secretary of the club in the boiler room of the basement; Walter Vance, night secretary asleep in the emergency room, north side of the second floor; Mrs. Mary Ryan in kitchen located in the basement; Mrs. James Flad and Mrs. Robert Alexander behind the counter on the south side of the building and directly across the hall from the starting point of the fire; William Clark asleep in a chair in the Reading-and-Writing room located in the east end of the building on the main floor. Total people in building, six.

Apartment house number 814 Washington Ave. housed the following families: Mrs. Nora Bowes., I .P.J. Gerhardt, Schuman, William Kneib and Albrecht.

Apartment house number 830 Washington Ave., located south of the club, housed the following families: Thomas McGrane owner of 820 ,and the only one to refuse any assistance from the local committee; yet stating that he wanted $15,000.00 to cover the losses; Rev. Mr. L.T. Shelford; McMahon; Walsh living with McMahon family; and Muir.

The First Reformed Church directly in the rear of apartments 820 and 822 Washington Ave. has but the four walls standing after the fire. The matter of adjusting this loss is in the hands of Mr. Edward Arnold.

The families of 820 Washington Ave. lost everything they had by fire; while those of 814 Washington Ave. the upper stories, families lost by fire, and the lower floors lost principally by necessary destruction by and water. Attached to this report are some of the claims made [these documents are not present] by the people affected.

[end page 2]

Report Continued #3B.S.-Club.-

The Burning of the Benson Service Club:
Cause of fire unknown. The first blaze was seen by two women, volunteer workers, who were behind the counter on the south aide of the building on the main floor; the blaze broke through a partition soma two feet from the ceiling and separating the women's reception rooms from the telephone booths on the north side of the club, and some twenty feet from the main entrance. Mrs. Robert Alexander immediately left the building while her companion Mrs. James Fladd rushed into the writing room and aroused William Clark telling him of the fire in the front of the building; she then left the building through the front entrance. Neither of these women knew of the presence of Walter Vance in the club. Mrs. Alexander left some clothing and a pocket book with $80.; these we recovered later in the report; Neither of these women were injured.

An account of the burned, living and dead;
William Mulcahy, Secretary in charge,a few minutes before the fire started, on request for more heat by the two ladies, went to the boiler room and found three pounds of steam registered; proving the fire was not caused by an overheated furnace. Mr. Mulcahy stated that he was in the boiler room about two minutes, when he heard something fall on the upper floor, also a crackling noise; and at once rushed up stairs and found the ladies reception room all on fire, with the flames licking across the hall to the counter where the two women were working, and in his greet dread for their safety, he attempted, by protecting the right side of his face with his hands to rush through the flames, but got but a short distance in the fire, when he concluded it would be impossible to reach the women, and he trusted that they had escaped; Mr. Mulcahy in his attempt burned his face, neck and hands, his wearing glasses at this time saved his sight.. Leaving the flames he rushed to the assistance of Mrs. Mary Ryan in the basement, where he found her in the center of the pool room hysterical and bewildered, Mr. Mulcahy in his badly burned condition forced open a window, some

[end page 3]

Report Continued #4B.S .Club.

five feet from the floor, in doing this he tore the burned flesh from the back of his left hand; but clearing the window himself and with the assistance of a sailor just passing, pulled Mrs. Ryan to safety. Mr. Mulcahy's next thought was the safety of the two women.; after investigatin[g] several stores on Washington Ave. he found both women safe and uninjured. Then it dawned on him that Walter Vance was asleep in the building and rushed to Fire Chief Gilday to make the fact known, but the chief said it was too late as the entire building was in flames by this time; and to order two men to the rescue of Mr. Vance simply meant the death of two more men; however at this time reports were that several men had been seen jumping from the building and it was presumed that Mr. Vance possibly was one of the men seen leaving the building. Mr. Mulcahy was then taken to Dr. Richard Paganelli 1006 Garden St. Hoboken.

(It is well at this time to ©all the attention of the N.C.W.C. to the fact that Dr. Richard Paganelli attended every case of sickness during the existence of the Benson Service Club, gratis; and it is recommended that a letter of sincere appreciation be sent to this kind and generous Catholic gentleman.)

Mr. Mulcahy was then taken to the home of Mrs. F.P. Markey and with Mr. Clarence Hessemer janitor of the club, now taken as nurse for Mr. Mulcahy; and remained in this home until Dec. 25th. when Mr. Mullcahy called on his people in Brooklyn, and calling his home or family doctor he was ordered at once to St. Catherine's Hospital where he is at the present report, but improving every day.

John Mulligan a young man passing the front of the building at the time of the fire, and knowing from his past visits to the club that a number of women were usually in the building, decided that some assistance sight be needed rushed into the main office on the south side and finding only some clothing and a pocket book containing $80.00 left the building and gave then to Mrs. Alexander to whom they belonged; but

[end page 4]

Report Continued #5 Benson Service Club

after doing this he saw Mr. Clark aflame making his way out and rushing to his assistance into the flames sustained a bad scalp wound and was burned on face and hands, he was taken with Clark to the hospital where he, Mr. Mulligan remained to the 24th, of December when he was discharged, and is now living with his sister, Mr. Arnold suggested that $100.00 be given to Kr. Mulligan for his heroic work, and as an act of appreciation from the Hoboken Council.

William Clark, this man thirty three years of age, and an ex-janitor of the club, at the time of the fire was working nights for the Lackawanna R.R. in Hoboken, and being an ex-service man Mr. Mulcahy the seeretary of the club, permitted him to use one of the beds in the club during the day. Some few weeks ago Mr. Mulcahy told Mr. Clark to look for rooms elsewhere, as the Benson Service Club was about to be closed, but Mr. Clark was so attached to the club that he was willing to take a chance and wait until the club was actually closed. As stated before Mr. Clark was asleep in a chair in the writing room when the fire started, and Mrs. Flad [or Fladd] aroused him told him of the fire and then escaped herself, why Mr. Clark did not leave with Mrs. Flad, or shortly after is not known. And the story of MR. Mulligan aiding Mr. Clark to get out has been told. At the hospital the doctors found Mr. Clark two-thirds burned, the flesh on the head was burned almost to the bone, his entire back was burned, and his legs from the thighs to the knee; his hands were so badly burned that the flesh was hanging from the fingers to the wrist; the doctors did not expect kiss to live that night, but he lasted until the following Sunday night, when he died at 8:50 P.M. The funeral which took place Tuesday was from Our Lady of Grace church, Hoboken; the Pastor Rev. Fr. Carroll honored the dead man with a High Mass; and the General in charge of the port of Hoboken, sent a guard of honor and six pall bearers, and Mr. Clark had a military funeral. The only relatives were an Aunt by marriage and her two grown children. The parents of Mr. Clark died when he was very

[end page 5]

Report Continued #6Benson Service Club.

young, and. the "boy was placed in St. Agathas Home Sullivan County, N.Y. At the age of fourteen he was taken by Mrs. Kelley his Aunt referred to and cared for by her for three years, when he joined the Navy. Mr. Clark has Cousins in New Briton [sic Britain], Connecticut; but Mrs. Kelley stated that she did not think that they even knew of his existence, so nothing was done to notify these people. Mr. Clark was insured with the Bureau of War Risk Insurance; but after investigation it was found that the last premium paid was August 1919; no one seems to know who his beneficiaries are. We have not given up hope that payments made by him up to last August have been in vain, and at present can report progress.

WALTER VANCE, age twenty six, height six feet, weight 190 lbs., A man of noble character, loved by all who knew him, frequently called the saint of the club, was employed as night secretary in the Benson Service Club since his discharge from the navy May 1919. His individual efforts for the welfare of the thousands of service men, gave to this club the splendid reputation of one of the best in the Country. The day of the fire instead of this young man as usual going to his home in Brooklyn to rest, made an appointment to meet his mother in New York at 3:00 P.M. and decided to sleep in the emergency room of the club, from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M. thereby saving the time of travelling to Brooklyn and back to New York with his mother for her Christmas Shopping. This was only the second time Mr. Vance slept in the club; therefore his presence was so unusual that none thought of him until it was too late. The crisp remains was found in the debris about three in the afternoon by Rev Fr. Kelly Chaplain of the Hoboken Fire Department, directly under where the emergency room stood, it is supposed that he was caught in a sound sleep. The remains were prepaired by undertakers Bosworth and Connors, and brought to Mr. Thomas Vance's home Tuesday for burial Wednesday at 10:30 A.M. from St. Ambrose Church with Rev. Fr. Blaber officiating. None of the Vance family were permitted to view the remains. The Council of Hoboken were represented by Mrs. F. P. Markey and several of her co-workers.

[end page 6]

Report Continued #7 Benson Service Club.
A great deal could "be said about Mr. Vance, said his confessor has promised to send a short account of the young man accompanied by a picture, for the next issue of the bulletin.


Mrs. Mary Ryan. the woman taken from the basement, lost her winter coat and her pocket book containing $12.00. These have been replaced by Mrs. F.P. Markey with whom Rev. Fr. John J. Burke left an emergency fund.
Clarence A. Hessemer, janitor and nurse for Mr. Mulcahy at the Markey home lost effects as per statement attached. Mr. Shea of the Norfolk employment bureau found a position as second mate on a ship leaving for South American ports and then Europe, and awaits a settlement as soon as possible. Mr. Hesssemer a faithful employee of the Club. In New York during the fire.
Mrs. F. P Markey, dlrector of the club with the consent of the Hoboken Council, had borrowed two pianos for the Benson Club and the same have been destroyed; Mrs. Markey lost other things of value loaned for decoration in the club; she would like something done about the pianos as she does not feel in a position financially to pay for the pianos.
William Mulcahy, secretary of the club, this is the young man who because of his heroism still is found in the hospital; his claim for losses are attached to this report.


That all claims that can be met, be attended to at once for the Honor of the National Catholic War Council, and to show our personal regard for the good people in Hoboken who are today fitting for the good-will and generosity of the National Body. The people interested in Hoboken beg the unsatisfied ones to wait and see what the National Council will do in the matter before condemning, as it takes time to complete the adjustment of claims; in fact the committee report difficulty in get tin some people affected to make any statement just at present.

[end page 7]

Report Continued #8 Benson Service CI

The Local Committee of Hoboken are working very hand to induce the families affected by the fire, to present in writing any claims of assistance that they think should be given or paid than from the N.C.W.C. Attached to this report will be found claims received to date.

That a letter of appreciation be sent from Head Quarters to Mrs. F.P. Markey for her loyal self sacrificing volunteer co-operation in all things pertaining to the welfare of men in service, and her unceasing loyalty to the National Catholic War Council during this sad affair.

That Certificates of Honorable Mention be issued to all volunteer workers of Hoboken.

That checks in payment of claims obtained through the Hoboken Committee be sent to Mrs. F. P. Markey for delivery.

That a substantial cheek be sent to the Father of Walter Vance, Mr. Thomas Vance, not as payrment of his sons life; but as some assistance towards the support of a large familfy, of which Walter was a needed helper.

Permission to pay funeral expenses, and hospital bills, doctors fees etc.


Mr. Walter Vance had received Holy Communion the day before his death.
Mr. William Clark was anointed as soon as he reached Christs Hospital, and his religious needs were attended to until his death.
The people who sent claims will be very grateful if we will assist them. The sooner we clean up the claims the better for the Catholics of Hoboken.

Respectfully submitted,
[signature] A. J. Barrett
Supervising Field Secretary

People Markey, Mary H.
Markey, Mary Miller
Mulcahy, William
Vance, Walter
Ryan, Mrs. Mary
Flad, Mrs. James
Alexander, Mrs. Robert
Bowes, Mrs. Nora
Gerhardt, I. P. J.
Shelford, Reverend M.T.
Paganelli, Dr. Richard
Hessemer, Clarence A.
Clark, William
Mulligan, John
Vance, Thomas
Griffin, Patrick R.
McFeely, Bernard N.
Gilday, John J.
Fallon, John J.
Date 1919-1920
Year Range from 1919
Year Range to 1920
Search Terms Admiral Benson Service Club
World War I
816 Washington St.
1006 Garden St.
814 Washington St.
820 Washington St.
First Reformed Church
Hoboken Fire Department
Hoboken Police
Bloomfield St.
Eighth St.
Ninth St.
Washington St.
716 Bloomfield St.
Caption pg [1] of 8
Imagefile 061\2007047020124.TIF
Classification Social & Personal Activity
Government & Politics
Real Estate