Focus on History: Tragedy at Amsterdam convention

The 1958 New York State Volunteer Firemen’s Convention was nearing its conclusion at the former Coes

The 1958 New York State Volunteer Firemen’s Convention was nearing its conclusion at the former Coessens Park in Amsterdam’s East End when tragedy struck. An estimated 2,000 spectators had watched without incident as fire trucks reached speeds of 45 and 65 miles per hour, according to a newspaper account

At about 12:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 22, a small fire truck, something like a pickup truck, from Oyster Bay on Long Island, was taking part in a competition that required the driver to speed to a spot, stop and have the crew quickly unreel a hose. The hydraulic line in the truck’s brake system apparently broke. The Oyster Bay fire apparatus plowed through a six-foot wire fence, striking spectators.

One man, 67-year-old Fred Buege of Hagaman, died from his injuries later that day at Amsterdam City Hospital. Buege was catapulted into the air and dragged a short distance. Seven others were hurt, including at least one Oyster Bay firefighter on the truck.

By the time the subsequent lawsuits were being settled in 1961, another injured man, Felix Winkel of Forbes Street in Amsterdam, also had died. In the accident, Winkel was thrown face down to the ground into the wire mesh fence and dragged some distance.

The driver of the fire truck was Wilbur Young of Oyster Bay. According to a news account, Young frantically signaled in vain to spectators to get out of the way of his speeding vehicle. After hitting the spectators and the fence, the Ford truck powered by a Cadillac engine continued into a baseball field before finally coming to a stop.

The Oyster Bay volunteers were known as the Rough Riders, apparently a reference to a military group that had been led by President Theodore Roosevelt in the Spanish-American War. Roosevelt had lived in Oyster Bay.

The day after the tragedy, a Saturday, the fire trucks and firemen paraded from Locust Avenue to Coessens Park, where trophies were awarded. If memory serves, my family attended the parade. I recall a tense atmosphere, especially when the contingent from Oyster Bay went by.

Oyster Bay came in fifth place in the fire competitions. East Meadow won the nearly five-foot-high, first-place trophy.

Archived newspapers

Searchable databases of old newspapers have made it much easier to research local history topics. However, sometimes the history buff would rather look at an actual collection of papers. John Cromie of Ballston Spa was preparing a talk to the Hagaman Historical Society on compiling a house history and how to use that information when remodeling. Cromie asked if any local institution has saved old newspapers.

In Montgomery County the best place to find such information is the Old Courthouse in Fonda, according to county historian Kelly Farquhar, “We have a great collection of old newspapers here at the Department of History and Archives, including the Amsterdam Evening Recorder & Daily Democrat (1868-1947), Mohawk Valley Democrat (Fonda) (1865-1990 not complete), Canajoharie Radii (ca. 1860-ca. 1885), Mohawk Valley Register (Fort Plain) (1854-1895 not complete), Courier Standard (Fort Plain/Canajoharie) (ca. 1919-1970 not complete), and St. Johnsville Enterprise & News (1932-1936).”

Amsterdam, Gloversville and Schenectady newspapers are available on collector Tom Tryniski’s from 1884 to 1971. Farquhar encouraged use of that database and others, especially since many of the hardbound papers are very fragile. But she added that the actual newspapers can be viewed if necessary, and some of the newspapers in Fonda are on microfilm.

Farquhar asked that people call ahead to make sure someone is available to retrieve the newspapers. The department is open 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The number is 853-8186.

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