Among the quasi-religious observances among the ancient Teutons was an annual welcome to His Majesty, the Sun, for in that great luminary the people believed they recognized the origin of all created beings. A day was set apart every year when with great festivities sacrifices were made and prayers offered that the sun might prove beneficent in all its doings. The progress of civilization and changes in religious beliefs removed the essence of these festivities, but the symbolism remained. Thus it came to pass that the German singing societies of Paterson for many years observed the ancient custom and gathered on the first fair Sunday in May for the purpose of extending a welcome to spring. The place of their gathering was Garret Rock, a bluff of the Watchung mountains which hangs frowningly over the city of silk and iron. Long before daylight the societies performed the laborious ascent to the mountaintop and all arrangements were made for a Concert, the signal for the beginning of which was the breaking through of the first rays of the sun from over the distant Palisades of the Hudson. Song followed song and when the festivities were over, those who had taken part in them frequently spent the rest of the day on the mountain, a place so near the centre of civilization of the eastern seaboard and yet untouched by the improving hand of civilization in its pristine wildness. It was but natural under such circumstances that thousands of the residents of Paterson and neighborhood should have joined the company of the singers.
It was the 2nd of May, 1880, and no fairer day ever dawned anywhere. When the first twittering of birds and the first strains of human music had arisen from the Rock, the peacefulness of the scene was suddenly interrupted by the discharge of a gun and a few minutes thereafter the mountainside was the scene of turmoil and desperate encounter such as frequently follow when there is an ebullition of wrath on the part of a multitude swayed by passion.
William Dalzell had obtained a lease on a small piece of property near the scene of the festivities. It had required a great deal of labor to coax from the almost barren soil any evidence of agriculture, but Dalzell had grown potatoes there for some time and his endeavors in previous years had been interfered with by the singers and the company they were in. With his son Robert he determined that there should be no such interference with his pursuits on this particular day. Some of the stragglers had already crossed his potato field, for the slight fence offered little hindrance to athletic limbs. Robert DaIzell had engaged in an altercation with a young man named John Joseph Van Houten in an endeavor to protect the family crop. Words were followed by blows, and, as the Dalzells had on previous occasions shown little welcome to visitors when these interfered with agricultural pursuits, a crowd of some hundreds soon gathered to witness the outcome of the encounter and, if provocation proved sufficient, take a hand in it. The elder Dalzell hurried to the house which stood in one corner of the enclosure and came out with a gun. He pointed it in the direction of the combatants and pulled the trigger: John Joseph Van Houten lay weltering in blood that issued from a gaping gunshot wound in his abdomen and he was dead before the nearest spectator could reach him. Pursuit came more quickly than had come the discharge of the gun, and DaIzell sought safety in the barn near his farm house.
Those who had come to enjoy peaceful song and the beauties of nature changed into an infuriated mob, whose only aim apparently was securing possession of William DaIzell and wreaking a bloody vengeance. The besieged fired from a window in the barn and a few pellets of lead entered the face of a little girl, doing little injury but inflaming the already hot blood of to the barn to set fire to it and the spreading flames were welcomed with shouts of exultation. When it was evident that the building would be burned to the ground, DaIzell made a dash and succeeded in gaining the house nearby. From a window he fired again and a few pellets of lead caused more slight injury and a corresponding strengthening of determination for vengeance. There are plenty of stones on Garret Mountain and a large proportion of them soon found entrance into the house, for in a very few minutes there was not a whole pane of glass left in any of the windows. The house was attacked from all quarters and many of the stones fell on heads and limbs they were not intended for. The fusillade stopped when it was found that a part of the house was in flames, for the same tactics had been resorted to which had trapped, that he would have to make another dash for life, and the mob was determined that he should not escape this time.
Coroner William S. Hurd endeavored to distract the attention of the mob by making a speech in which he counseled moderation; while he was talking some of the Paterson police, who had arrived in the meantime, rushed Dalzell out of the burning house and succeeded in gaining the house of John Ferguson, some half furlong away. Here Coroner Hurd offered the mob more oratory, but he was plainly told that there had been several unavenged murders in Paterson, but that this time there would a hanging and that very promptly. Police Sergeant John McBride had possessed himself of Dalzell’s gun and he and others of the police force did what they could to protect the hunted man. Chief of Police Graul arrived on the scene, but the mob cared no more for him than they had cared for any other would-he restorers of the peace. The fusillade of stones was renewed and an inventory taken subsequently showed that all of the besieged had been struck once or oftener, with the single exception of Dalzell.
When it became evident that the crowd, which by this time numbered some ten thousand, for many had come from the city to join in the conflict.
Another flight was determined upon, and to the chagrin of the seekers for vengeance a house owned by John McGuckin, some one hundred and fifty yards distant from the Ferguson domicile, was reached. Addresses made by Sheriff Van Voorhies, Mayor Joseph R. Graham and City Counsel John W. Griggs-afterwards Governor of the State and Attorney-General of the United States -tended little towards ensuring the safety of the quarry. In the meantime the clanging of church bells in Paterson had informed the inhabitants that something out of the ordinary was in progress and more came to the scene either to witness or take a hand in the doings.
It was during the tense excitement at the McGuckin house that Police Sergeant John McBride suggested that it might be well to send for William McNulty, dean of St. John’s Catholic Church, and the suggestion was quickly acted upon. One of the hacks, which during ordinary times, stood about the Erie depot, but which had been used to bring city and county officials to the mountain, was dispatched for the dean and soon returned with the reverend prelate. It took the dean but a moment to evolve a plan which promised success to his endeavors to restore peace. Taking Dalzell by the arm, in full view of the infuriated mob, he led the man to the hack and, seating himself by his side, ordered the driver to proceed. The crowd hesitated, bewildered between the bravery of the dean and his display of Christian charity, for he was the highest prelate of the Catholic church in Paterson and the man whom he was befriending had been prominent among the Orangemen. The driver received his instructions to proceed to the rear of the house; here the dean and Dalzell changed to another hack and the vehicle they had just left was ordered to drive on. The mob, having recovered from its astonishment, at once gave chase, but, before they ascertained that the hack was empty, the dean and Dalzell were well on their way towards Essex county, for it was not deemed safe to attempt to reach the jail in Paterson. It was this maneuver that foiled the plans of the mob. Many of them betook themselves to the jail at Paterson, enough to have overcome the resistance of the authorities, but they soon ascertained that the man they hunted was not in that building. They learned that the hack with the dean and Dalzell had gone to Caldwell, where the Essex county penitentiary is located; there was some talk about a pursuit thither, but hot blood had become cool, the day was waning and there would be little chance of storming the Essex county prison. So the crowd dispersed to their homes and the excitement of the day was over.
What was the military doing all this time? Paterson had been without any military organization for a number of years, but a few weeks before the day of the riot there had been organized the Paterson Light Guard, consisting of many men of prominence in the city. It was a volunteer organization and had not as yet been sworn into the service of the State. They had been equipped with rifles of the latest pattern and these were in the racks at head-quarters, Washington Hall. But the cartridges that were to go into the rifles were still in a storehouse in New York. Many of the members of the Light
Guard insisted on going as a posse comitatus, but their services were declined, as it was argued that guns that could not shoot for want of ammunition would only arouse the ridicule of the mob and would stand little chance against stones in the hands of thousands. So all attempt to use the Paterson military was abandoned.
The sheriff had telegraphed to Governor McClellan for assistance and Brigadier-General Plume soon had the Fourth Regiment in readiness. A special train was made up in Jersey City and the signal to start was about to be given when word came that the trouble was about over. The military held themselves in readiness until it was evident that there would be no occasion for their services.
Socrates Tuttle appeared as counsel for Dalzell and he tried the case of Dalzell just as he had tried numerous other cases-everywhere. From the day he was retained he began to argue in favor of Dalzell, first covertly, even obsequiously, then in stronger language; wherever he went he endeavored to foster a feeling in favor of his client. It was perhaps due to this species of clever propaganda that the grand jury’s indictment against Dalzell charged him with the minor offense of manslaughter, instead of with murder, as had been generally anticipated. When Dalzell had been arraigned and pleaded not guilty, Mr. Tuttle made an application for a foreign jury. He argued that so many people in Paterson had taken part in the riotous demonstration that it would be unfair to his client to select a jury from among people who were prejudiced either because they had been part of the lawbreaking crowd or because of friendship for some one or more of it Justice could be better done by taking a jury from among people who had no connection whatever with the proceedings. The State objected, but Mr Tuttle won his point. When it was known that the venire would be directed to Bergen’ county a general impression was created that Dalzell would be acquitted. For in those days Bergen county was not a county of commuters; it was populated principally by a farming element with exaggerated ideas as to the sanctity of property. “In Bergen county they hang a man for stealing a cherry” was the exaggerated but widespread opinion of the residents of Bergen county. So when the jury returned a verdict of acquittal there was no surprise. Dalzell left the court house a free man and for many years lived peacefully in Paterson and amicably with his neighbors.
Then came the turn of the alleged rioters. Perhaps the result might have been different if Judge Dixon had been less forceful and sweeping in his charge, but as a matter of fact the prosecution could not find sufficient witnesses to justify verdicts of guilty. Those who had set fire to the buildings or participated in the fusillade of stones were not doing any talking about what they themselves had done or what they had seen others do. Those who had enacted no role greater than that of witnesses, knew better than to tell what they knew, for by their own confession they might have been indicted and convicted as tacit partners in the guilt of others. The indicted were greater in number than were potential witnesses. The officers of the law were competent to give testimony, but they were the poorest witnesses that ever sat at the trial of any case There was so much confusion and there were so many strange faces that it was impossible to point with exactitude to any who had been guilty of violations of the law. And then there was an air about the court house which frequently found vent in half-suppressed whispers to the effect, “If Dalzell is to be let go, why should not all the others?” and perhaps some of the officers of the law heard these whispers.
The records and testimony of the Passaic county courts of that term do not exactly prove that enthusiastic demonstrations on Garret Mountain on the second day of May, 1880, were interspersed with prayers and hymns, but they would lead nearer to that conclusion than that there had been even the slightest violation of the law on that occasion.