Fallen NY officers - some from Civil War era - finally honored
By TOM HAYS
NEW YORK- For more than 75 years, the death of a motorcycle patrolman named Christian Kirkeland was, at best, an obscure footnote.
But thanks to an unusual effort by the New York Police Department to identify and finally honor its forgotten dead, Kirkeland's name and those of dozens of other fallen officers were added to a memorial wall on Tuesday during a ceremony at police headquarters.
"I'm very moved by this," Christopher Kirkeland, 79, said afterward. "I'm very grateful."
The ceremony was hosted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and was attended by a handful of the officers' descendants. It culminated an ongoing project by a team of police officials, detectives and retired officers to research on-duty deaths as far back as the mid-1800s.
Kelly noted that one of the plaques recognizing 100 officers who died between 1849 and 1997 was that of Peter McIntyre. An angry mob beat the patrolman and father to death in 1863 during rioting over the draft in the Civil War.
"Regrettably, he was not adequately remembered by the department he so nobly served," Kelly said. "Today we are redressing that oversight by giving Officer McIntyre and 99 of his fellow members of the service the honor they so richly deserve."
The police researchers mined city archives, timeworn police logs and newspaper clippings for evidence of overlooked police deaths. The chore was complicated by the department's old habit of "destroying records like clockwork" in the wake of corruption scandals, said Mike Bosak, a retired detective and history buff who helped launch the project 10 years ago when he discovered glaring omissions from the memorial wall.
The honorees' stories provide a vivid history lesson about the hazards of 19th-century police work. It was an era when officers commonly died after being bitten by infectious prisoners, mowed down by runaway horses and trolleys, or attacked by intoxicated suspects armed with an odd assortment of weapons like daggers, sandbags and three-blade knives. Even fellow officers were a deadly threat.
"It was a different world back then," Bosak said.
Among those honored:
- Robert Montgomery, a supervisor, then known as a roundsman, who was shot by a foot patrolman he was writing up for wandering off his post on Jan. 11, 1887. "I'll fix you," the shooter said before opening fire, according to an account at the time in The New York Times.
- John Delehanty, an officer who died from head injuries after being attacked by a professional acrobat armed with a sandbag on Jan. 25, 1895. The incident prompted police officials to restore use of nightsticks.
- Robert McChesney, a patrolman killed by a drunken woman he tried to stop from harassing people on Canal Street on Oct. 19, 1867. The woman "dealt him a sudden blow in the left side of the neck with a common, pearl-handled, three-bladed knife, the blade severing the jugular vein," the Times reported.
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