Some Dark Days at the Old Plaster Mill…

Some Dark Days at the Old Plaster Mill…

People have suggested that my writings are, at times, somber. With books on cemeteries and murders I suppose I see their point. Of course, these books are from an historical perspective, not from an obsession with death. So, at the risk of verifying what some may think, here is a new blog that describes some dark days at the old plaster mill

But let’s start on a happy note… Who doesn’t love Gerardi’s on Richmond Terrace?  I know many people who are not only glad, but who are actually thrilled to see it open each spring. Fruits, vegetables, plants, shrubs… this business is truly a Staten Island display of sunny spring and summer days. But, the buildings on the grounds where Gerardi’s is located, well they do have a history…

E. Robinson’s atlas of Richmond County, 1907.

During the 1870’s the north and east shores of Staten Island were the setting for a number of prosperous manufacturers. In 1876, Jose Berre King established the Windsor Plaster Mills on what is now Richmond Terrace opposite Franklin Avenue in New Brighton. The company thrived. By 1900, King also had a plant in Roslyn, Long Island.

Unfortunately, accidents were not uncommon in factories at this time. Aside from industrial mishaps, some very disturbing events occurred at the plaster mill.

July 15, 1901 was a sweltering summer day. For this reason, mill employees Angelo Santora, age 16, and Michael Fiorintino, age 15, went for a swim off the company’s dock on their lunch break. At this time factories were generally located near railroads and on waterways to facilitate the arrival of raw materials and the shipment of finished products. In this case King’s dock was on the Kill Van Kull.

Michael was just learning to swim. It did not go well. Soon he was screaming for help. Angelo went to his aid with the result that Michael threw his arms around Angelo’s neck. Both boys were submerged and drowned.

When Angelo’s parents were notified, they ran to the river. Once there Mr. Santora threw himself in front of an oncoming Staten Island Rapid Transit railroad train in an attempt to kill himself. Fortunately, he was grabbed and the endeavor failed. When Mrs. Santora reached the Kill Van Kull, she tried to relieve her misery by drowning herself in the river. Several men jumped in after her and she was safely pulled to shore. Mr. Santora then attempted to leap into the river, but the crowd was savvy by this point and he was restrained.

Advertisement. “Tammany Times,” 1904.

Factories were plagued by fires. On December 3, 1901, a ferocious blaze roared through the King plant while three-hundred employees labored inside. The factory was a complete loss with the amount of damage set at $250,000. Four days later the fire was still burning and the coroner wanted it extinguished immediately. He believed as many as seven bodies were in the ruins.

The J. B. King factory was soon thriving. Cement, mortar, plaster, and lime were all being produced a few years after the fire. But, a suspicious episode took place during the night of July 14, 1906, when shift supervisor Frank Getzner was tied to the revolving shaft of a fly wheel by his coworkers. His body was found the next day by the day shift. A description of the remains is too gruesome to recount.

When interviewed the men of the night shift stated that Getzner had died because a rope had somehow gotten around his neck causing strangulation. Obviously, this was questionable and if it was that simple why hadn’t the accident been immediately reported?

A Russian immigrant who had only been in the country for two months, Frank Getzner was 25-years old. It was reported that both his wife and child were sailing to the United States so that all could begin a new life.

From the “Tammany Times,” 1907.

It was soon discovered that a subordinate had a grudge against Getzner for reporting him as being lax in his duties. The individual was soon manipulating his co-worker’s opinions against the supervisor. Their mood escalated so much so that Getzner was murdered.

In 1913, there was more tragic news. The company’s president, Jose B. King committed suicide on April 22. King was said to have been suffering from nervousness for more than a year and a half. At this time, 1000 individuals were employed at his New Brighton mill. King was so successful, friends and colleagues referred to him as the “Cement Magnate.”

In 1924, J.B. King was taken over by United States Gypsum. The mill was absorbed and then expanded. According to James Ferreri the New Brighton plant was a leading manufacturers of building materials. Mr. Ferreri states that “chances are, if you bought a new house on Staten Island” between 1945 through the mid-1970’s, “it was erected with materials manufactured” at U.S. Gypsum on Richmond Terrace. In 1976, the corporate headquarters of U.S. Gypsum announced that the New Brighton factory would be closed. Today the Atlantic Salt Company operates on this site, as does Gerardi’s market.

Sincere thanks to Gina Sacco for assisting with this blog.

Works Cited:

Evening World. “Long Illness Drove Cement Man to Take His Life.” April 23, 1913.

Ferreri, James. Staten Island Advance. “From Wallboard to Street Salt in Staten Island’s New Brighton.” January 25, 2013.

New York Press. “Body Found.” December 9, 1901.

New York Times. “Tied Man to Flywheel.” July 15, 1906.

New York Tribune. “Boys Drowned Swimming.” July 16, 1901.

New York Tribune. “Only the Chief.” December 8, 1901.

Oswego Daily Times. “Tied Man to a Fly Wheel.” August 18, 1906.

Standard Union. “Strangled by Rope Tangling Around Neck.” July 14, 1906.

Tammany Times. “A Cement Centre.” August 6 1904.

The World. “Escape Fire on Ladders.” December 3, 1901.

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