Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Madman Assaults Belleville

On a Tuesday morning in January of 1899, a madman armed with a club assaulted Belleville leaving a trail of injury and ruin. A crowd pursued him but none could stop him until finally, one man subdued him and then rescued him from a lynch mob. This is a story best told by those who saw it happen. Here is a contemporary account :

Belleville, N.J., Tuesday, Jan 31, 1899 - Thomas Reynolds, a brawny laborer, ran wild in Belleville this morning.

Reynolds had been sick for some days at his home on Williams Street. His mother and brother, with whom he lived, noticed that he acted queerly, and determined to keep a close watch on him. About 11 o'clock this morning, he escaped. Arming himself with a club, started for the center of the town.

Reynolds entered John Manning's place, on John Street, where he beat two children into insensibility and smashed the furniture and windows. He started down William Street. Near Bridge Street he struck down Nellie Flanagan, twelve year old daughter of James Flanagan, badly injuring her. A crowd of about a hundred began following him.

Near the Stamar residence, Reynolds struck down Mrs. Coyne, making a deep gash in her head, and beating her black and blue about the body. He continued down William Street, and met Mrs. Cummusky. He struck her on the arm, breaking it. Mrs. Cummusky managed to get away from him before he could harm her more. At the Belleville Building and Loan office, Reynolds smashed the whole store front of plate glass. John Ashworth's store was similarly treated. Reynolds struck wildly at Ashworth, who threw up his arm and kept the blow from descending upon his head. Before Ashworth could grapple with Reynolds the latter had run away.

Peter Truester, a barber of William Street had just left his shop when Reynolds began a fierce attack on him. The barber received several severe knocks on the head before Reynolds turned and ran away.

The crowd increased, stones were hurled at Reynolds without effect. No one would attempt to capture him, none of the town officials were in sight. Reynolds broke the windows in Haggerty's Hotel on the corner of Washington Avenue. He crossed the street to Jaroleman's butcher's store where he smashed in the store front.

Jaroleman ran out to stop him. Reynolds struck at him with the club. Jaroleman is a stalwart man and closed with his antagonist. Reynolds wrenched himself away and continued down the street.

Reynolds went to Bennett's bicycle store, where he broke all the windows. Mrs. Bennett, who was in the store with the children, fainted when she saw him, and the children were badly frightened. Mrs. Mary Hannon, who was standing near by, received a blow on the head which knocked her down.

Reynolds went to Blake's store. The crowd stoned him. He turned and started back up Washington Avenue. Near William Street, John McGuirk ran up behind him and tried to snatch the club from him, but Reynolds turned and nearly severed McGuirk's thumb with a knife he also carried. He then went to John Street , turned and continued up the hill.

Jay La Faucherie, the son of Justice of the Peace La Faucherie, finally got near enough to make a grab at the fugitive. Reynolds turned and swung his club at La Faucherie, but the latter eluded the blow and leaped upon the madman. There was a short, violent struggle, in which La Faucherie was aided by several men in the crowd, and Reynolds was overmastered. A rope was procured and Reynolds was tied.

Someone said the Flanagan child was dead. There were cries of lynching. Someone brought a rope and tried to put it around Reynold's neck. The cooler heads in the crowd tried to prevent the others from hanging Reynolds, but they were thrust aside and the madman's chances looked slim. A wagon happened to be passing, and La Faucherie and two others suddenly grabbed Reynolds and threw him into it. The horse was whipped up and driven to the jail. Reynolds is now in a padded cell in the county jail.


The new book, "A Dutch Christmas in Old Second River" is now available at


Friday, July 06, 2007

Great Race of '49

There was the rolling roar of noises one always hears when a large crowd has gathered. More than twelve hundred very excited townspeople pressed along the edges of Greylock Parkway on this 11th day of June to watch the Great Race of 1949. The road, closed by police, was temporarily re-named "Greylock Speedway" in honor of the spectacular event about to take place. At the center of attention were 20 of Belleville's elite automotive engineers and racecar drivers, between the ages of 9 and 15, who were about to test their skills in front of this huge, anxious crowd.

Each gravity powered racecar, under the contest rules, was entirely built by the young man who would drive it. Each vehicle had to pass a safety inspection by the race committee, especially the brakes and steering systems !

In addition to the prestige of being the best engineer and fastest driver in town, there were serious prizes on the line. There were two beautiful gold trophies to be awarded to the divisional champions (9-11 year old and 12-15 year old divisions). The champions also received merchandise certificates from a local sporting goods store, awarded by the Belleville BPA. Medals were awarded to first, second and third place finishers in each race. Every participant received a racecar driver pin. In addition, four young lads, selected on the basis of good sportsmanship, would be escorted to a Yankees - Tigers game at Yankee Stadium.

It was now 1:00 pm, time to start. Races started on a raised ramp ensuring that maximum speed was reached as soon as possible. A pair of entrants were poised on the starting ramp, tense, eyes straight ahead. The green flag dropped ... go! They're off ! The crowd was silent, only the sound of chattering wheels and wind sweeping over the hand-made chassis' could be heard as they rushed by at a screaming 20 mph. The checkered flag dropped, and the winner is ...

At the end of the day, it was young Master Keller, whose ole Number 14, crossing the finish line at a sizzling 24 mph, who was declared champion of the 9-11 year olds. Young Mr. Greulich, driving his big Number 5, "Silver Bullet", was named the older division champion. During the day, a hotly contested event between two lads had brought the checkered flags down simultaneously. The race was repeated. The flags dropped simultaneously again. The race was finally decided in heats against the clock. Racing is not without its hazards. One driver lost a wheel half-way through the course. He bailed out. His car careened into the crowd. No spectators were injured but the driver came away with a skinned knee.

Indianapolis may have its "Indy 500", but on this day, Belleville was the proud home of the "Greylock Two-Tenths". Two-tenths of a mile, that was the length of the raceway set out on perfectly hilly Greylock Parkway. The event was organized primarily by the Belleville Times - News however, many town businesses and citizens contributed to its success. It was a wonderful event. It was just one of the many reasons why post-war Belleville was such a really good place in which to grow-up.

A Note To Readers:

The new book, "A Dutch Christmas in Old Second River 1697" has finally arrived from the printer and is now available. Learn about holiday customs and traditions as they were practiced in our town more that 300 years ago. You can find a slideshow of sample pages and a description by clicking this link -