Sunday, November 20, 2022


[John Cowhey & Sons, 440 Van Brunt Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn, c. 1939–1941. From the NYC Municipal Archives Collections. Click for a much larger view.]

A recent Zippy strip featured a Mrs. Gowanus, which made me think of the Gowanus Canal, and I ended up wandering around the Red Hook section of Brooklyn. Thus I found myself at the corner of Van Brunt and Beard Streets.

I chose this photograph for the quotation marks around “MACHINERY,” which add, at least in my fevered imagination, an ominous tinge to the premises. We brought the “machinery,” boss, just like you asked. Marine equipment, anchors, chains — yikes. I think of Salvatore Bonpensiero being taken on his last boat ride: “Get the weights.”

In reality though, John Cowhey was, as far as I can tell, an upstanding Brooklynite.

[Brooklyn Times-Union, October 9, 1912.]

The following paragraph must be about a son John, as the article in which it appears says that this John and two other businessmen in the area are “fast friends”:

[“Ex-Barnacle Fighter Finds Waterproofing Skyscrapers Like Painting Ship Hulls.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 25, 1929.]

Here’s another Cowhey son:

[The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 2, 1937.]

A story that would be a bit scarier if the subhead didn’t give it away:

[The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 20, 1931.]

And a photograph accompanying the article:

[The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 20, 1931. Click for a larger view.]

Brooklyn Newsstand turns up several articles about a lurid story with the Cowhey name: in February 1884, an Annie and John Cowhey, sister and brother, were accused of killing their father Denis Cowhey and their sister and brother-in-law Catharine (Kate) and Thomas Collier (or Collyer — it’s spelled both ways, sometimes in the same article). The three died from arsenic added to soup and hash. Given the absence of any reference to the well-known Cowhey & Sons in articles about the murders, I’ll guess that this John Cowhey has no connection to 440 Van Brunt. And for what it’s worth, he is described as a former stone-cutter who tended bar. The Cowhey siblings were never prosecuted.

The most interesting detail about this case: a young woman matching a description of Annie Cowhey purchased two boxes of Rough on Rats poison, one before Denis Cowhey’s death, the other before the Colliers’ deaths. But Catharine Collier was deemed the likely killer: she did not want her father to remarry and, after killing him, was believed to have become desperate.

[The Delineator, January 1905.]

I have begun to realize that it’s impossible to just find a nifty photograph, post it, and be done.

The 440 location is now a private residence, with six bedrooms, six bathrooms, and 9,149 square feet. Pretty severe looking, if you ask me, or Google Maps.

Related reading
More OCA posts with photographs from the NYC Municipal Archives

comments: 4

Anonymous said...

What a story

Michael Leddy said...

Amazing where these photos sometimes lead.

John Gale said...

I always like your visits to New York City piloting the NYC Municipal Archives time machine. My son lives there, and works at Lenox Hill Hospital.

You live next door to the "Rules of Thumb" blog in my The Old Reader list, and the other day they featured this link to a sub-reddit of one of your other gentle obsessions:

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for your appreciative words, John. And for the sardines. I plan to keep doing a tax photo every Sunday until I run out of city. : )