Back in Time: Amiable policeman dies while rescuing woman on tracks

Schenectady police officer James A. Mynderse saved a woman's life but lost his own when he rescued h
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The woman was scared. She stood bewildered on railroad tracks in downtown Schenectady as a locomotive approached.

City police officer James A. Mynderse (pictured) was not afraid. In seconds, he was near the big engine and close to the pedestrian. He pushed the woman out of the way and saved her life.

But he lost his own. On Saturday, March 31, 1900, Mynderse was struck by one of two trains moving at the crossing on State Street near the site of the current elevated crossing by the Amtrak train station.

Edwin E. Ten Broeck was standing on the north side of the crossing, which had several sets of tracks. He was among a handful of people who witnessed the accident, which happened shortly before 6:30 p.m..

“I saw two ladies run across the D&H track in front of the train,” he told the Schenectady Gazette. “One of the ladies kept on across tracks 4 and 3 in front of the ‘pusher’ and the freight train. The other lady hesitated a minute between the D&H and track 4.”

The woman had only seconds to move, but seemed confused. “Her companion beckoned to her and she started on across,” said Ten Broeck, who lived at 213 Green St. “She cleared track 4 in safety and then rushed directly in front of the train on number 3.”

Instinctive action

Mynderse, 42 and a policeman since 1893, was standing between track 3 and the Edison Hotel, which once stood on the site of the current H&R Block tax-preparation office on State Street and formerly Jay Jewelers.

“He saw the woman’s danger and jumped to the rescue,” Ten Broeck said. “The woman could not possibly have escaped without his aid. He caught her and pushed her back between tracks 3 and 4. In doing so he stepped in front of the pusher, which struck him and sent him staggering between the engine and the freight train.”

Mynderse fell under the freight train and suffered fatal injuries. Officer John Ely, stationed at the corner of State and Wall streets, rushed to help his friend. Coroner Frank Dettbarn also reached the scene quickly and found Mynderse barely alive.

“Jim, have you anything to say?” Dettbarn asked. He repeated the question three times, according to the Gazette. Mynderse managed to move his lips, but could not answer.

The woman rescued by the officer kept a low profile for days after the accident. Dettbarn, during the course of his investigation, learned that her name was “Mrs. Aaron Behrisch” on Wednesday, April 4. She lived on Schuyler Street in Albany.

Distraught woman

Mrs. Behrisch would later say that one minute she stood in front of the approaching locomotive, close enough to see the big headlight right next to her. She also remembers seeing the buttons on Mynderse’s uniform. “I have been sick ever since,” she said.

Behrisch also said she had no idea about the tragedy until she read about it in newspapers. After her close call, she walked quickly up State Street and boarded a trolley car for home.

Dettbarn believed Mynderse, once he had saved the woman, turned to warn pedestrians away from track 3 and the approaching freight train. In the commotion, he probably did not see the switch engine approaching on track 4.

Officials later retrieved the contents of Mynderse’s pockets, and found coins, keys and a whistle were twisted or flattened by the train wheels. The policeman’s silver watch also was flattened, its hands stopped at 22 minutes past 6.

The newspaper learned Mynderse had been born in Princetown and spent the early part of his life working on his father’s farm. He arrived in Schenectady in 1888, working as a carpenter and later as a machinist. Reporters learned Mynderse was one of the most amiable guys on the police force. “He was so good-natured that he often was made the victim of innocent jokes about police headquarters,” the paper said.

Mynderse left behind his wife, Lucinda, and three children — son William, 17, and daughters Celia, 19, and Eva, 8.

William became a machinist, Eva became a music teacher, and both were still living with their mother at 541 Summit Ave., in 1910. William spent his life at the homestead; he was still listed as a resident in the 1963 City Directory.

The train accident — and the another during the summer of 1901 in which 22-year-old Clytie Curtis was struck and killed by a locomotive at the crossing — helped persuade railroad officials to construct overhead crossings.

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