23 March 2021

His Visitor Was Dead...

Friends of Stephen P. Tallman began arriving at the foot of Liberty Street before 9 a.m. on the morning of June 25th, 1897. As they waited for the Central Railroad of New Jersey ferry that would take them across the Hudson to Jersey City, they spoke to each other about their friend's tragic passing. 

The Central Railroad of New Jersey Ferry Terminal, NYC
circa 1900

Tallman was an attorney working in the railroad business. He was also an inventor who held several patents around stock car improvements, and an entrepreneur who turned some of those inventions into businesses of their own.

Tallman's automatic brake - 
illustration from the September 28, 1883, Science Magazine

One of his first successful enterprises was the Tallman Automatic Car Brake Company which was incorporated in 1881 with a capital stock of $2 million. In later years he took his expertise to the Burton Stock Car Company. Lately, he had retired to Flagtown where he purchased a stock farm.

Illustration from the July 1897
Official Railway Equipment Guide

Tallman's friends must have been shocked when they picked up their daily newspaper on March 8, 1897. The Sun, The Telegram, The Herald - they all carried headlines such as the one below. On the morning of the previous day, Tallman was cleaning a double-barreled shotgun at his farm when some mishap caused the firearm to discharge directly into his hands. The newspapers reported that Tallman was known for his cool reserve - which he displayed by walking calmly to his bathroom and placing his arms in a bowl of water. 

8 March 1897 New York Evening Telegram

He called out for his farm manager James Painter. When Painter got to the house, he removed his hands from the water, held them out, and said, "Jimmy, please cut off these fingers for me." After Painter removed four of the most mangled fingers, he harnessed the fastest horse on the place and they drove the seven miles to Somerville over the rough country roads. 

Office of Dr. William J. Swinton, Main Street, Somerville,
circa 1891

By the time they reached Main Street the men and the wagon were covered in mud and blood - shocking the townsfolk who were on their way to church. They pulled up at the office of Dr. W. J. Swinton - an ear and eye specialist who Tallman was acquainted with when Swinton was a physician for the Jersey Central Railroad. Swinton did what he could with what he had to work with - it was reported that Tallman left the office that day in a cheerful mood, but missing half his fingers.

Tallman's New York friends were certainly relieved. And that would have been the end of the story if real estate broker William Tunis had not decided to pay Tallman a visit at his farm some week after the incident. As Tunis and his driver approached the Tallman farm, Tunis asked for the carriage to be stopped so he could look around. When he stepped down, he collapsed from a massive heart attack. The driver put him back in the carriage and drove with all speed up to the farmhouse. 

7 June 1897 New York Sun

Tallman had been sitting on the porch with Dr. Swinton. When they saw the agitated state of the driver, Swinton ran out to meet them and found that Tunis was dead. This was such a shock to Tallman that he immediately collapsed and died two weeks later.

Flagtown Station

The New York friends changed trains at Somerville and were met by carriages at the Flagtown Station to take them out to the farm for the funeral. Stephen P. Tallman was reported to be 61 years old.

No comments:

Post a Comment