Murdering the Electrician

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Electrician Brutally Killed in RensselaerMost things on Hoxsie are found when we’re looking for other things. This is one of those things: while searching for some background on the Albany and Hudson Railroad, we came across a brief mention in the San Francisco Call of May 17, 1907 of the murder of the railroad’s chief electrician, Alonzo Hewitt. Turns out the local papers covered that little event, too.

Hewitt was a resident of the city of Rensselaer, who had previously worked as a lineman for the power side of the business that eventually became the A&H Railroad. He was also the foreman of the Mink & Claxton Hose Company and superintendent of the fire alarm system of Rensselaer. He invented a new style of shoe for a train’s contact with the third rail that prevented the formation of ice, in 1901.

At about 7:30 on a Thursday night in May, the 16th to be exact, in 1907, Alonzo Hewitt went to his home at the corner of Glen and Fourth streets and, according to the Amsterdam Evening Recorder,

going into the sitting room, removed his coat and shoes and laid down on a lounge. In a few minutes the door bell rang, and his 12-year-old daughter, May, answered the ring. She saw a man standing on the piazza, whom she later described as in general resembling her mother’s cousin, Peter Lozon. The man asked for her father and she turned to call him.

On his daughter’s call, Hewitt sprang up and went to the door, May standing back of it. As he appeared in the doorway, the unknown assassin fired a shot gun at him point blank, shooting him in the throat. The murderer then fled.

Hewitt died half an hour later, and the police scoured the city for Lozon. The Recorder reported that

the supposed motive is found in a family quarrel. Hewitt was to have appeared this morning in court to answer to a charge of assault preferred by Roscoe Lansing. It is alleged that Hewitt had assaulted Lansing on the street because Lansing had been circulating stories in the saloons that Hewitt had beaten his wife. Lozon, the suspected murderer, is a brother-in-law of Lansing, and is also a cousin of Hewitt’s wife.

The Troy Daily Times, reporting on the 20th that there was a warrant for the arrest of Lozon, said the district attorney and police were satisfied that the crime was the outcome of a family feud and that the murder had been premeditated for some time, possibly with the involvement of others. Mrs. Hewitt, who was left with six children to tend to (May was the eldest), made a statement corroborated by neighbors that Mr. Hewitt had been under threat of his life for some time.

Wednesday night [the night before the murder] Mr. and Mrs. Hewitt were awakened from sleep by incessant ringing of the doorbell, and only through the persuasions of his wife was Mr. Hewitt prevented from responding to the call. They had just dozed again, says Mrs. Hewitt, when they were startled by the report of a revolver, and a bullet whizzed past the bedroom window. Someone was heard prowling about the yard and barn for some time after, but Mr. Hewitt did not get within range of the windows. Neighbors, who corroborated the statement, said that for some time the Hewitts were persecuted by some unknown persons and were frequently aroused in the night by the ringing of the doorbell.

On the afternoon before the murder, Hewitt told a saloon keeper on Partition Street that he had just had an argument with Lozon. “It is said that Lozon and Hewitt were the best of friends until Hewitt, an electrician for the Albany and Hudson Railway, discharged Lozon.”

Lozon’s plan always had to have been to skip town, because he hardly kept his plans quiet. For starters, he borrowed the murder weapon, which he dropped in the street nearby, from someone who lived nearby at Catherine and Fourth. In Joseph Ayers’s saloon at First and Harrison, Lozon ordered a drink and made a show of paying for it with a $2 bill, which apparently was about $2 more than he normally had on hand – he had previously in the day tried to get a haircut on credit.

Lozon said to Mr. Ayers, “You’ll be a witness,” but when asked what he meant he failed to explain. He called in two or three other men from a rear room to drink with him and repeated his declaration that they would be “witnesses.” They laughed and one asked, “What are you going to do, the Dutch act?” (meaning suicide.) “No,” replied Lozon, “there’s something doing,” and he put his hand on his coat pocket significantly. A little later Lozon was seen going over Catherine Street, and he went to the home of William F. Arris at Catherine and Fourth Streets and borrowed his gun, saying he was going coon hunting. Mr. Arris remarked that it was a poor night for hunting, but Lozon was insistent and asked for some shells.

Hewitt was buried in Albany Rural Cemetery. Lozon, as far as we can tell, was never found; police believed he had headed directly for the rail yards and grabbed a freight out of town. The 1908 Rensselaer Directory, in listing the rest of his family at 59 Pine Street, notes that Peter Lozon “moved from city.”

Improper Diversions, 1800

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Another of the notable laws of Albany in 1800: A law to suppress improper diversions in the streets and lanes. It was ordained

That if any person or persons shall at any time or times hereafter make any noise or disturbance in any of the streets or lanes of the said city, or promote the same, or shall play, act or perform, or shall assist in the performance of any game or improper diversion, to the annoyance of passengers or otherwise, or shall obstruct and interrupt, by assembling in crouds [sic] or circles, for any of the purposes aforesaid, in any of the streets or lanes, each and every person so offending, shall in such case and for every offence forfeit and pay thirty-seven cents and five mills;

Improper DiversionsIf the offender was not above 21 and failed to pay, the parent, master or mistress was to pay the same. If the offender was above 21, and “has not goods or chattels whereof to levy the said forfeitures with costs,” a warrant for his arrest would be issued and he was to be “committed to the common gaol [sic: archaic spelling of “jail”] there to remain for the space of two hours, unless the said forfeitures with costs shall be paid or surrendered, or both as the case may be.”

The law leaves it unclear just what constituted an improper diversion. Gambling? Dice games? Street-corner magic acts? Not a clue, but since they didn’t feel the need to spell it out, we can assume that it was pretty well known what they meant, and that you’d better just knock it off or face two hours in gaol.


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Wharves and WharfageAgain mining the laws of Albany from 1800. Are they interesting, or is Hoxsie just overwhelmed with other work? Doesn’t matter: here we go, with the law for regulating the manner of using the wharves and fixing the rates of wharfage.

Each year, specifically on the second Monday of March, the owners and proprietors of the docks and wharves in Albany were to appoint “some suitable person to be their Dock-master.” It was the job of the dock-master to collect fees from “any vessel, craft, boat or flat, (canoes, two handed batteauxs and three handed batteauxs excepted) which shall come to lie at or within any of the said docks, wharves or slips…” Such fees could be paid by the season or by the day. The seasonal rate was $1.06 for every vessel five tons and under, and 20 additional cents for every ton of “burthen” thereafter. The daily rate was two cents per ton per day for any boat 20 tons or under. Boats between 20 and 40 tons were charged a cent and a half per ton per day. Boats above 40 tons got the discounted rate of one cent and a quarter per ton per day.

No vessel, craft, boat or flat was to lie within the dock, wharf or slip “longer than shall be necessary for the convenient lading or unlading the same.” If your vessel, etc., prevented any other vessel from coming in or going out, you were obliged to pay for every tide that such other vessel was prevented from coming or going, at $2.50 per tide.

Cast or deposit on any of the docks, wharves or slips any ballast, lumber, stone, filth, dirt, or any other thing, and not remove it within the required time, and you would forfeit the sum of $1.25.

You couldn’t just avoid the wharfage fees by anchoring in the river either, though you could get a discount. Any vessel lying at anchor in Hudson’s river “from or to which vessel, craft, boat or flat, any goods or merchandize shall be landed or embarked, on or from any such dock, wharf or slip, shall be liable to pay half the rate of wharfage for every day in which such dock, wharf or slip shall be used for the purpose aforesaid.” Perhaps that was just a way to deal with overcrowded docks.

By the way, “wharfage” is totally a word.

The Ornamental Hair Store

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Ornamental HairHey, Schenectady! Need ornamental hair? You’re in luck. In 1840, John Xavier opened a new ornamental hair store at 92 State Street, three doors west of the post office. Everlasting curls, plain and curled frizetts, puffs, everlasting and curled ringlets . . . he had it all, kept constantly on hand or supplied at the shortest notice.

John Xavier was born in 1821 in Portugal, so when he opened this store he was merely 19. By 1870, he was listed as owning a “Fancy Store” (at 128 State Street in 1884), possessing $20,000 in real estate and a $15,000 personal estate.

Time to Build the Highway, Citizen

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Repair Public HighwaysRemember how residents of the city of Albany in 1800 were required to pave not only their sidewalks, but half their streets? That’s nothing compared to their obligations with regard to the city’s highways.

The laws of 1800 don’t make it clear exactly what was considered a public highway – it was likely at least the King’s Highway (think of Washington Ave. heading west), and possibly the extensions of Broadway north and south. But they do make it clear that most people in the city were responsible for working on the roads.

There was a complicated formula. The Mayor, aldermen and council were commissioners of the highways, and they were charged with forming a list of “all freeholders, housekeepers and other persons exercising any trade, business or labor for themselves or on their own account, or receiving wages for such labor, (Ministers of the gospel excepted).” They were to take an assessment of 1200 days of work for the highways, and “shall affix to the name of each respective person mentioned in such list, the number of days which each person shall be liable to work on the roads, for the said twelve hundred days during the continuance of this law, and the same assess in proportion to the estate and ability of each person.” No one was to be rated at more than twenty days.

The list was to be delivered to the chamberlain, who was, within three days of receiving it, to cause public advertisements to be put up in at least two places in each ward, announcing when and where he would be in attendance to receive payments.

Oh, did you think everyone was actually going to be required to work? Not quite. Anyone on the list could pay two shillings (within the time prescribed in the advertisements) would be exempted from working on the roads, and the moneys received were to be applied to repairing and improving the public highways by contracts or otherwise. The chamberlain, by the way, got 2.5% for his troubles.

So, once it was determined who had paid their way out of work, the list was sent on to overseers appointed by the commission.

“Such overseer or overseers of the highways shall from time to time warn such and so many persons, not less than thirty, whose names shall be contained in such list to be delivered to such overseer or overseers by the said chamberlain as may be necessary from time to time to make and repair such roads or parts of roads as the said Mayor, Aldermen and Commonalty shall . . . designate and for that purpose direct, and shall employ such persons as shall from time to time appear to work in consequence of such warning, until each person so rated . . . shall have worked the whole number of days at which he or she shall have been so rated as aforesaid; and that the said overseer or overseers shall from day to day (Sundays excepted) continue to employ, weather permitting, so many of the said persons as shall be necessary to work on such road, until the whole shall be completed, or until all the persons so rated shall have worked out the number of days at which they shall be so rated as last aforesaid, in the manner herein after mentioned.”

In fairness, you could send someone in your place – “some able bodied man to be by him or her employed for the said purpose.” Failing to appear (or send an able bodied man), ready to work and with such proper tools as the overseer shall have directed, would cost 62 cents and five mills. You should also have expected to work at least an eight hour day.

In addition to having to show up, you could also be required to provide a wagon and two horses with an able-bodied man, or a cart and a horse with an able-bodied man, to be used to move materials needed to repair the highways; providing a wagon with two horses and a man reduced your assessment by four days, and providing a cart, horse and man reduced it by three days. If you had a wagon or cart and a “horse proper for drawing the same” and refused to furnish them, you would forfeit 75 cents.

We don’t know how long this arrangement existed, but it wasn’t unusual, as we have seen similar arrangements in other towns.

A Remarkable Winter

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From Joel Munsell’s Annals of Albany, a reminder that another winter was pretty mild, a mere 214 years ago:

A meteorological table was kept for the month of January, 1802, and published in the Gazette, by which it appears that the lowest range of the thermometer was 10°, and the highest 55½° above zero. The winter was so remarkably mild as to have more the appearance of April, the river was navigable 17 days, so that vessels passed from Albany to New York, and at no time was the ice strong enough for any team to pass on it, and not more than 1¼ inches of snow fell within two miles of the city during the months of December and January.

Streets and Lanes, Gutters and Kennels

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Paving ActPaving of city streets is a big deal these days. Or lack of paving. Or, in poor Troy’s case, paving and then having the fresh pavement collapse into a sinkhole. But it has always been a big deal. Going back to the laws of Albany from 1800, we find an entire law “to regulate the paving and keeping in repair the streets and lanes in the city of Albany,” under which all streets and lanes were to be “paved agreeable” to the following regulations.

The foot-path or walk on each side of a street or lane was to be the breadth of one-fifth part of the street or lane, but no more than twelve feet, “laid or paved with bricks, pebble or other good and sufficient stone.”

Don’t let it be said the Dutch didn’t understand drainage. The middle and remaining part of every street or lane

shall be and remain a cartway or passage for carriages; and shall have a gutter or kennel on each side thereof, and next adjoining the foot-path or walk, and shall be paved with sufficient paving stones, and arched as follows, that is to say: For every eighteen inches such cartway shall measure, from the gutter or kennel to the middle of the street, the arch or rounding of such street or lane, shall be raised one inch, to commence at the respective gutters or kennels. Provided always, That if any street or lane so to be paved, the sides whereof shall not exactly range, the superintendant of such pavement, shall lay out the gutters or outside of the foot-paths, as nearly in a strait line as the street or lane will admit of; that the ascent and descent of every street and lane shall be regulated by such superintendant, and by him reported to the common council for approbation.

There were restrictions on things that stuck out into the street – no canopy, awning, shed, porch, portico, cellar door, platform, stoop or step was to extend more than one tenth of the breadth of the street (or lane), but no more than eight feet from the house or lot.

Driving a horse, cart or other wheeled carriage on a foot-path was forbidden and carried a penalty of fifty cents. If any cartman or other person broke down or injured the walk, they were answerable in damages to the owner or occupant of the house or lot, who in turn was bound to keep the same in repair. It was also not lawful

for any person to lead, drive or ride any horse, or to wheel or drag any wheel or hand barrow along, or to saw or lay any fire-wood, or other thing, on any of the foot-paths or walks aforesaid, whereby the same may be lumbered, or foot-passengers incumbered or endangered, under the penalty of fifty cents for every offence.

Today, we complain that the sidewalks are our responsibility. In 1800, it went out to the middle of the street. Every inhabitant of the city in possession of any house, building or lot fronting any street or lane, “shall at his or her own proper charge and expence, or at the expence of the person whose tenant he or she is, well and sufficiently keep and maintain in good repair, and level, pitch and pave so much of the same street or lane as shall be between such house or lot and the middle of the street or lane opposite thereto …”

Leather Bags and Gunpowder

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An important note from the laws of Albany as they were set forth in 1800, and proof that city officials were as safety-conscious as they are today: the law set some very strict standards for the transport of gunpowder through the city. Well, perhaps “strict” is an overstatement:

And be it further Ordained, That after, and whenever, leather-bags shall be provided by the store-keeper of the Mayor, Aldermen and Commonalty, no barrel or other cask with gun-powder shall be carried through any part of the said city but such as shall be covered with leather-bags; and that any person carrying any barrel or other cask of gun-powder, in, or through any part of the said city, without having the same covered as aforesaid, shall forfeit for every barrel or cask so carried as aforesaid, sixty-two cents and five mills.

Albany wasn’t the only city to require this, and was a good thirty years ahead of New York City in requiring leather bags for gunpowder casks. The Big Apple’s law (actually passed by the State Legislature) at least mentioned that the purpose was to “prevent any such gunpowder from being spilled or scattered,” which seems entirely reasonable. New York City didn’t fine offenders, but provided that any gunpowder carried in any other manner through the streets “shall be forfeited to the fire department of the said city.” It may have been best to stay in the fire department’s good graces.

Who will carry our filth from the streets? Albany’s cartmen

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Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 9.02.52 PMIn early 19th century Albany, there were no garbage cans – household garbage, food waste, chamberpots, and animal dung were tossed out into the nearest street or alley.  Albany’s Laws and Ordinances of 1800 prescribed a law for cleaning the streets of the city, and regulated the cartmen who carried such waste and everything else too.

Under the ordinance, anyone who should “throw or lay” in any streets or alleys any filth or dirt was subject to a penalty of 37 cents and five mills. Failure to pay would have you thrown in jail until you could pay. Anyone who should deposit “any casks, stone, boards, plank, staves, timber, or any other kind of lumber or merchandize, and permit the same to remain in such street or alley for any time exceeding twelve hours (materials for building or repairing houses or other buildings excepted)” was subject to a fine of six shillings, and four shillings for every additional 24 hours. Materials for building or repairing buildings could be placed in streets or alleys only with permission from two of the aldermen and assistants of the ward in which they were to be placed. Even then, “such permission shall be only given to place such materials between the house or lot of the person applying for such permission and the middle of the street or alley opposite thereto, if there be sufficient room for that purpose between the same.”

It was further ordained “that no person or persons shall, between the fifteenth day of December and the first day of April, place or keep any firewood in any of the streets, lanes or alleys of this city, fronting the house or lot of such person or persons, for a longer time than ten days successively, to be computed from the day that the owner or owners of such firewood shall receive notice for removal of the same from the Mayor, Recorder or any one of the Aldermen, and that no person or persons be allowed within the time aforesaid, so to lay, pile, or place any greater quantity of firewood at one time, than ten loads, in any of the streets, lanes, or alleys as aforesaid, and only in such manner as the Mayor, Recorder or any one of the Aldermen of the ward may permit or direct.”

Anyone was allowed to carry away “and apply to such purpose as he shall think proper” any soil, dirt, dung or rubbish left in the streets or alleys for 48 hours. If such a person was a licensed “carman,” he was entitled to one shilling and sixpence for every load. Sounds like the carman had the right to just pick up anything a resident left lying in the street and charge for its disposal, and the city would enforce the charge. But if any carman neglected or refused to cart away any soil, dirt, dung or rubbish, “or any materials with which any box herein after mentioned may have been constructed,” he would forfeit 75 cents. The boxes were constructed in the streets, along with holes “for depositing manure or any kind of dirt or filth,” which each spring were to be broken down “and filled up and paved wherever such holes shall adjoin a pavement,” the person who owned the house or lot adjoining the box or hole was responsible. Failure to remove a box or fill up a hole was subject to a penalty of 62 cents and five mills, plus expenses. So the streets of Albany weren’t exactly paved with garbage – it was just the base layer.

The carmen, which the law also referred to as cartmen (and which more modernly might have been called carters), were regulated by the city. Any cart to be used to convey loads within the city or to “the colonie” was required to have fellies (the outer rim of a wheel) of a breadth of at least four inches on the exterior circumference, and every cartman or carriage for hire had to pay $1.25 for the annual license. Carts were prescribed to be two feet eight inches wide, and the rungs thereof three feet high.

“No person under age or a slave, shall drive any cart for hire or wages within the said city; and that every carman shall drive his cart personally” unless he had special permission from the Chamberlain. Apparently cartmen could be required to carry anything that was asked of them; refusal when he was not otherwise employed, carried a fine of 75 cents. Showing the importance of river commerce and the ferries, cartmen were essentially required to drop everything in order to carry any grain, hay, provisions, or merchandise from any open boat, canoe, batteau or other open vessel in which it was exposed. The cartman was required to “leave every other employment for the purpose aforesaid.” They were required to carry as much as could conveniently be put in their carts, “and as much as an able bodied horse can conveniently draw.

Anywhere within the city east of Hawk Street, the charges for loading, carting and unloading carried the following rates:

  • For every hogshead of rum, or other spirituous liquors, or molasses exceeding ninety gallons: two shillings and six pence.
  • For every pipe of wine, or other spirituous liquors, two shillings and six pence.
  • For every tierce of molasses, rum, or other spirituous liquors, exceeding sixty gallons and less than ninety gallons: two shillings.
  • For every cask of molasses, rum, or other spirituous liquors exceeding forty, and less than sixty gallons, one shilling and four pence.
  • For every cask of molasses, rum, or other spirituous liquors exceeding thirty, and less than forty gallons, nine-pence.
  • For every hogshead of sugar, two shillings and six pence.
  • For every tierce of do. [ditto, meaning sugar], one shilling and three-pence.
  • For every barrel of sugar, beef, pork, pot or pearl ashes, six-pence.
  • For every barrel of flour, four-pence.
  • For every load of flax-seed, in casks, one shilling and six-pence.
  • For removing of every load of dirt or filth out of any of the streets, east of Hawk-Street, one shilling.
  • For every load of gun-powder, to or from the powder-house, three shillings.
  • For every load to or from any place, to the eastward of Hawk-Street, from or to any place to the eastward thereof, if the distance between each place exceeds half a mile, and is less than a mile, double the rates herein before established.

(For pipes, hogsheads, and tierces, see this Wikipedia entry.)

Death by Railroad, 1858

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Accidents on NYS Railroads 1858From the 1858 New York State Engineer and Surveyor’s report on the many railroads operating in the state, we find this interesting tabulation of the human cost of running the rails in that year.

The number of passengers killed for the year was 20; 142 were injured. Railroad employees: 29 killed, 24 injured. Others (presumably those within some proximity of the tracks at the wrong time): 68 killed, 36 injured.

Pretty dry statistics, but have no fear: State Engineer Van Rensselaer Richmond found a way to put that passenger mortality statistic into perspective:

Dividing 373,159,179, the mileage of passengers, by 20, the number of passengers killed, we find that only one passenger was killed for 18,657,959 miles of travel. To travel this distance it would require more than 106 years, moving incessantly at the rate of 20 miles per hour.

So there you have it. As the human lifespan is considerably less than 106 years, and on average we travel at much less than 20 miles per hour (and certainly not incessantly), there’s actually no chance we will ever die by rail. Or, if by chance you were to take that trip, you’d simply need to get off a mile short of 18,657,959 and you’d be fine.