Former renter in Greenwich Village, waiting out the turnaround in Manhattan's midtown. Working on a blog-to-book project about my NYC/NJ ancestors. Everyday I'm amazed by what I find with Ancestry and in old newspapers.

March 22, 2022

1912, Asbury Park: Undertaker Burtis goes for a drive in his new Haynes touring car

Atlantic Highlands bridge, early 1900s
Photo: Walt Trevors - Historical Society of Highlands

It was a year of disasters, around the world and in Asbury Park. In April two summer residents, Mr and Mrs Herbert French, died aboard the Titanic on their voyage back from a winter in Italy; in early July the Dunes hotel in Allenhurst burned to the ground, and a couple weeks later on a Sunday after church when the Burtises of Asbury Park took their dear friends, Mr and Mrs Howard Leroy, for a scenic drive in their new five-passenger Haynes touring car their delightful ride came to an end on their approach to Highlands bridge.

Asbury Park Press, Mon. July 29, 1912
Page One

Did the other driver leave the scene?

The Haynes was undertaker Burtis's first car, and a keeper. With an Eisemann magneto starter, 40 h.p., a speedometer, windshield and five lamps, advanced design elements at the time that were meant to impress . . .   

Catalog excerpt from ChucksToyland.com

. . . and a big purchase, in cash, only a year after erecting a building for his funeral business and piano store. As a booster and board member of the Wheelmen's club, the F. & A. M., B. P. O. E., K. of P., Jr. and O. A. U. M. and Golden Eagles, 'Big John' Burtis was a prominent businessman and pioneer participant in Asbury Park's $1,000,000 building boom. With the prodding of friends in insurance and real estate, he was quickly learning about financing, got over his fear of debt, and took out a mortgage to secure a piece of Asbury Park for his business and family. The Burtis Building at 513-517 Bangs officially opened on Easter weekend in 1911.

Did Burtis plan on buying an automobile when he decided to invest in a building? New Yorkers were driving their automobiles to Asbury Park and the future was coming up fast. Haynes autos were popular. Owning a car may not have been on his mind but some good-natured ribbing from the Domino Club could have lit a fire under him.

Asbury Park Press, 22 Mar 1911

Their occupations: dentist, physician, Asbury Park postmaster, gas company executive, banker, mayor (two) Eskew and Thomson from nearby Allenhurst and Avon--top ranking amateurs all in bowling, fishing and hunting competitions. Bandleader Arthur Pryor and euphonium player Simone Mantia might sound familiar.

When Burtis saw this ad from Croce Auto Works he must have been enthused

    because he ordered one.

Asbury Park Press, 25 Mar 1912

After a fire at the Haynes factory in February 1911 delayed orders for seven months, new models were sold at lower prices in appreciation of dealers' loyalty. While other brands could be had for under a thousand Burtis bought the pricier showy touring car at $2,100, and it paid off handsomely in prestige. That August, a month after the accident, his son Ralph drove Gov. Wilson's daughter in the annual baby parade, and Burtis sat on the reviewing stand with Wilson himself who was being celebrated that day as Democratic candidate for president and local hero (newspaper clip). Dreams of wedding bells must have danced through the heads of Ralph's parents, both ardent Democrats, but they would have to wait until 1923 for Ralph to marry my much younger grandmother, the actress from Brooklyn

On the day of the auto crash, July 28th, 1912, Ralph was chauffeur to his parents and their friends.

They were on a back road, probably Bay View or Navesink, approaching the Highlands bridge. Off to the side not too far off they could see construction of the new coastal highway Ocean Boulevard. Hotels and shopkeepers had lobbied for a motor-friendly highway to compete with towns on Long Island's shore. With ocean views all the way from the Highlands through Long Branch, Asbury Park and Ocean Grove to Cape May their new Ocean Boulevard could not be beat. 

"The bids for the road gravel and retaining wall are in," Howard said. Howard was a freeholder and spoke at meetings for Asbury Park's stretch of road. John felt he had to say something. 

"I heard Allenwood gravel is the best."

"Because it costs more? No, we're voting for Hopping's. It's been tested and approved."

"Well, I hope they use Miller's concrete. It's waterproof. I used it for the Burtis Building."

"That's very interesting, John," Howard's wife Lizzie said. "While you men talk about roads and buildings, I'd like to appreciate the scenery. The next time you take us driving I'd love to go to the beach in Long Branch and paint watercolors. En plein air, that's the thing!"

"That would be a good idea," Howard said. "The landscape will change as they straighten the roads. It would be good to have a record of it."

Borough of Atlantic Highlands

"Or we could buy a camera," Ralph said.

Burtis looked over his shoulder at Howard and went on. "The Haynes contracting band clutch is still the single most compelling feature," he said, quoting a circular. He expected the Leroys, especially Howard as a sportsman and hunter, to be more complimentary, even awed by the auto ride, but they had been nothing more than polite. He turned to his son who was driving and said, "You're driving a little slow, aren't you, Ralph?"

"If you say so." As Ralph shifted into first and revved the motor the car picked up speed and the adults lightened up. The laughing passengers held onto their hats and pointed out barns and other remarkable features in the landscape.

"Keep your wits about you, son," Burtis said. "It's always the other guy."

Ralph looked over at his father. "I will, Pop," then turned his attention back to a bend in the road when they came upon a line of stalled cars at the approach of the bridge. Ralph stopped just in time.

But the car behind them did not.


Burtis put his head in his hands and cursed and his wife said please! not on Sunday and Burtis and his son jumped out to inspect their precious car and speak to the reckless driver. The offending car was posh. Burtis didn't know the make and the driver was young like Ralph, with his father beside him and mother in back. Look what you did! This is a brand new Haynes. $2,100! Why didn't you stop? The woman shot back, It's your fault. You should have signaled. Uppity, thought Burtis. Probably from New York. You from around these parts? Other drivers got out of their cars to see the commotion, and a reporter appeared with notebook in hand. As emotions escalated the nameless perpetrator backed up and drove off before names could be exchanged. It all happened so fast.

"Did you get the license plate?" Burtis asked the reporter. 

"Yessir. Deal 38111. I'm sorry about your Haynes." 

Well! At least someone appreciated fine automobiles. Still upset, Burtis warmed to the reporter and provided names of his family and himself, the Leroys, and pointed out specific injuries to the Haynes. "--rear shoe torn off, the panel smashed, and my beautiful lamp. A new car!" 

The reporter turned to Ralph. "You look familiar. I think we've met before."

Ralph reddened but didn't say anything.

"Weren't you in another crash?" the reporter asked.

Contact: Debbie Carter, (212) 925-3721, VillagerExpat@aol.com

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