West Barrington, R.I., Train Station

North End Light, Block Island

1st Lt. George E. Gilson Council Resolution – 1944

     1st Lt. George Gilson was born October 8, 1920.  He died February 14, 1944 while serving with the U. S. Marine Corps 14th Defense Battalion in New Caledonia.  The details of his death are unknown at this time.  He’s buried in Long Island National Cemetery in East Farmingdale, New York – Plot H 9443.  (Source: www.findagrave.com) 

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Steamship Spartan Shipwreck Off Block Island – 1905

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The Daily Morning Journal & Courier,
New Haven, Ct.
March 20, 1905

Scituate Reservoir Plane Crash – 1982

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine.  

Ablaze Over The Scituate Reservoir

By Jim Ignasher

     The pilots opened the cockpit windows, but it did little to ventilate the toxic smoke filling the cabin and choking their lungs.  Meanwhile flames licked at their legs from under the control panel, burning away clothing and flesh while inflicting excruciating pain.  Yet both men remained at their posts, for to do otherwise would mean certain death for all aboard. 

     The date was February 21, 1982, and Pilgrim Airlines Flight 458 had been on a routine flight from New York to Boston when disaster struck. The plane was a twin-engine De Havilland Otter, capable of carrying up to eighteen passengers and used by many of the smaller airlines of the day.

      After making a brief stop in Groton, Connecticut, Flight 458 continued on at 3:10 p.m. with ten passengers and a crew of two aboard.  The pilot was Captain Thomas Prinster, age 26, and the First Officer was Lyle Hogg, age 27. 

     The plane climbed to its designated cruising altitude of 4,000 feet, but before long frost began to form on the exterior of the windshield, so Captain Prinster activated the external de-icing system. Just after doing so he noticed a strong odor of the de-icer solution permeating the cockpit, followed by wisps of smoke that began to emanate from behind the control panel.  Realizing there was an onboard fire situation Prinster radioed T. F. Green Airport and declared an emergency, and was granted priority clearance to land.  However, the aircraft was still over western Rhode Island and it soon became apparent that they were now in a race for their lives. 

     As Prinster and Hogg set a course for Green Airport, the smoke grew thicker as the fire quickly gained headway feeding on wires and other materials behind the dashboard. Then flames appeared at their feet and began to attack.

     As smoke began to waft back into the passenger cabin, one man raced forward and attempted to smother the flames with his jacket, but was unsuccessful.  He then retreated back to the cabin and began using a tennis racket to attempt to break out a Plexiglass window hoping to release the smoke that was now throughout the entire aircraft. 

     Meanwhile the cockpit was now so full of smoke that the crew had to stick their heads out the windows as they flew the plane in order to breathe.  Imagine their plight; faces freezing in the 150 mph slipstream while flames burned at their legs. 

     The smoke was such that the pilots couldn’t see the instruments leaving them unable to read a compass heading, see the artificial horizon gauge, or other navigational equipment.  Below them, at 1,400 feet above the ground, was a thick layer of clouds about 400 feet thick that obscured all visual reference points which might aid them in their situation. 

     It was now obvious that they wouldn’t make it to Warwick where fire and rescue trucks stood at the ready. They would have to take their chances going down through the clouds and hope for a successful crash landing.  What lay below the clouds was unknown. They could suddenly find themselves over a populated village, a steep wooded hillside, or a radio tower, any of which could appear in an instant with no time to react.  Yet there was no choice, so they began to drop down through the scud. For a few seconds the misty whiteness was all about them as the engine noise seemed to dim.  Then suddenly the mist parted as they broke through at one-thousand feet and found themselves over Scituate, Rhode Island.  Scanning the barren winter landscape Prinster sighted the Scituate Reservoir ahead in the distance, frozen, and covered with snow.  There was no way to know if the ice could support the weight of the aircraft, but the only alternative was to come down in the woodlands, which had a higher probability of ending badly.  Choosing the best option, the pilots brought the plane down to tree-top level and approached from the northwest, passing over the Foster/Scituate town line, then Route 102 near the famous “Crazy Corners”, and setting down on the ice of the tributary that runs along Tunk Hill Road.

     When they hit the ice the impact tore away a portion of the landing gear sending the plane into an uncontrolled sideways skid during which the right wing broke loose and slid away. The aircraft continued to slide across the snow covered ice for another five-hundred feet before finally coming to rest.  And it was still burning!  Passengers and crew scrambled out as spreading flames quickly engulfed the fuselage.  A headcount revealed that one passenger, a 59-year-old New Hampshire woman was missing.  Her body was later recovered, still strapped in her seat.

     Despite serious injuries, Captain Prinster remained in charge of the situation as he and First Officer Hogg calmly led the survivors away. They reached the  safety of the shoreline as the first police and fire vehicles arrived on scene.  Unfortunately most of the fuselage was destroyed before firemen could douse the flames.  Investigators later determined that the fire was caused by a loose connection in the de-icing system which allowed the alcohol based liquid to spray behind the electrical circuits of the control panel.        

     The survivors were transported to Rhode Island Hospital for treatment.  Both Captain Prinster and First Officer Hogg were admitted with potential life-threatening injuries due to their severe burns, but both ultimately survived. 

     Their fortitude, determination, and quick-thinking under extreme pressure didn’t go unnoticed.   Captain Prinster was awarded the Lieutenant General Herald L. George Civilian Airmanship Award by the Order of Daedalians, and both men received the Flight Safety Foundation Heroism Award, and the Rhode Island Lifesaving Medal.   

     Furthermore, few may realize that there’s also a memorial park built in honor of these men located at Scituate’s famous “Crazy Corners”, known as Prinster-Hogg Park.  Just in from the roadway, amidst some overgrowth, stands a large granite boulder with a brief story of the incident engraved on its face.  It is the only aviation memorial in Rhode Island dedicated to an incident involving a civilian aircraft. 

 

 

A Murderous Night In Cumberland

Originally Published in The Smithfield Times, November, 2015

A Murderous Night in Cumberland

By Jim Ignasher  

    The Valley Falls Baptist Church was filled to capacity as the funeral service began, forcing some mourners to wait outside.  At the head of the isle was a simple black coffin in which the deceased lay.  One newspaper reported that he looked “life-like”, as if “only sleeping”.  The Reverend Ellison delivered a eulogy that moved many to tears, and when it was over, a horse-drawn hearse carried the departed to his place of final rest in the Moshassuck Cemetery in Central Falls.  The date was April 29, 1901, and the funeral of the murdered police officer was the culmination of events which had begun four days earlier.

      In the spring of 1901, businesses in Cumberland, Lincoln, and Central Falls had been the targets of nighttime burglaries, all believed committed by the same person(s). In recent days three unsuccessful attempts had been made to break into the Burnham Store Company in Cumberland, a dry goods, grocery, and general merchandise establishment.  Figuring that a fourth attempt was likely, on the night of April 24th, Cumberland’s Chief of Police concealed himself inside hoping to make an arrest. At about 1 a.m., he heard someone outside the back door, and with revolver at the ready waited to see what would come next.  The would-be burglars worked on the door for the next fifteen minutes but couldn’t get it open, so they left.  The chief remained inside to see if they’d return, for he wanted to catch them in the building where there could be no doubt of their guilt.

      About forty minutes later, Special Officer Herbert Moore was walking a post in Valley Falls near the Central Falls city line when he encountered two men attempting to break into a store, but not the one the chief was located in.  This was an era before automobiles and police radios, and in 1901 even telephones were uncommon.  If an officer encountered trouble, he was generally on his own.  

     As Moore approached, one of the men pulled a gun and started shooting.  The officer returned fire, sending six rounds in the direction of his attacker, but missed.  Then a bullet struck Moore just above his right hip and knocked him off his feet.  The pain was intense.  The slug had torn through his lower intestines and lodged next to his backbone.  As the wounded officer lay in the street his assailants left him for dead.

     Officer Burlingame had been patrolling nearby, and when he heard the shots came running to Moore’s aid.  After assessing the wound, he helped Moore to his feet and led him down Broad Street towards the Town Hall where police headquarters was then located.  Along the way they encountered Maurice Mountain, a street car conductor for the Cumberland Electric Railway who was on his way home.  Burlingame apprised him of the situation and told him to go to for a doctor.  As Mountain ran down the darkened street he inadvertently encountered the gunmen, who likely mistook his conductor’s uniform for a policeman’s.  Without a word, they fired three shots at the Good Samaritan, striking him in the cheek, neck, and right shoulder.  Although wounded, Mountain managed to escape by running towards the relative protection of a shack near the Valley Falls railroad crossing.   

     Officer Moore’s wound was serious, and after being treated at the police station he was transferred by horse-drawn ambulance to Rhode Island Hospital where he succumbed on the 27th.  Conductor Mountain was more fortunate, and was sent home to recuperate.   

     One odd fact related to this story is the prophetic dream had by Officer Joseph Whipple of the Central Falls police about a week before, which was reported in the (Woonsocket) Evening Call on April 25, 1901.  It said in part, “In the dream he heard a shot, investigated, found that a Valley Falls store had been burglarized and an officer and a man shot.”  Whipple had told fellow officers about his premonition, but they didn’t take it seriously.  On the night of the shootings, he was on patrol near the Central Falls – Cumberland line, and when he investigated the sounds of gunfire he found the situation was just as he had seen it in his dream!     

     Within hours of the shootings, Chief Donahue and Officer Burlingame arrested a suspect, a 25-year-old Pawtucket man well known to police who went by different names.  The man claimed he’d been home asleep at the time of the gunfire, but his father denied this and said his son didn’t come home until daylight.  With his criminal record and no alibi, the suspect was brought before a judge who ordered him held on $5000 bail, and remanded him to the state jail in Cranston.  Chief Donahue admitted to the press that the case against the arrestee was circumstantial, but it was hoped that if he hadn’t taken part in the shootings that he might know who did.  The prisoner denied any and all knowledge of the crimes, and on May 6th he was released for lack of evidence.     

     In the ensuing weeks police continued their investigation, but nothing new was learned.  Then weeks turned to months, and months turned to years, and the case faded into history.    

    Then, ten years later, a possible solution to the mystery was put forth.  In the summer of 1911 two men from Cumberland, both brothers, were convicted of various crimes in Massachusetts and given long prison sentences to serve at the Charlestown State Prison.  Officer Burlingame, now Chief Burlingame, was summoned to Fitchburg, Massachusetts, to give testimony in one of the cases because one the men was a suspect in the shooting of Officer Moore.  

     On August 30, 1911, the (Woonsocket) Evening Call reported that an unnamed prison inmate serving time in Cranston had given an affidavit “to the effect that one of the brothers had told him that he was the one who shot Moore.”   However, suspecting someone of a crime and proving it can be two different things, especially when the only evidence is hearsay from a convicted criminal.  The article ended with the hope that further evidence would be gathered to finally bring those responsible to justice. Unfortunately, history has shown that nobody was ever charged with Officer Moore’s murder.     

     Herbert Daniel Eaton Moore was born in Kittery, Maine, August 2, 1871, and was 30-years-old at the time of his death.  He was survived by his wife, three children, and a brother.       

Officer Herbert Moore’s Grave
Moshassuck Cemetery
Central Falls, R. I.

     Moore was appointed a special officer to the Cumberland Police in 1899.  In the early days of Rhode Island law enforcement, many cities and towns employed “special officers” to supplement the often small full-time force.  In some cases, there might be more “specials” than “regulars” on a department’s roster.  “Special officers” carried the same police powers as “regular” officers, (And took the same risks.) but only worked when needed.  In the case of Officer Moore, he was filling in for the regular beat officer who had the night off.  Many Rhode Island police departments continued to utilize “special officers” into the 1980s. 

     In Washington D.C. there is the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial.  Inscribed on it are the names of more than 20,000 United States law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty since the earliest days of our nation’s founding. (Presently there are 46 names from Rhode Island.) 

     From time to time, forgotten incidents such as the one involving Officer Moore come to light, and until quite recently, the Cumberland Police Department was unaware of his death in the line of duty.  As of this writing, efforts are underway to have his name added to the national memorial.     

—Officer Moore’s name has since been added. J.I.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Valley Falls, R. I., Train Wreck – August 12, 1853

From The New York Herald, August 14, 1853.

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Steamship Martha

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Pawtucket Police

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Slater Mill, Pawtucket, R. I.

 

1881 illustration from Picturesque Rhode Island.

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