Building it

Choices and Consequences

Elizabeth's Struggle
Newspaper Coverage, 1949-1951

For months, the dilemma in Elizabeth played out in the daily papers: would the Turnpike be routed through the city? Read through these transcriptions to see what unfolded. After Elizabeth lost several court cases to divert the Turnpike, construction began in the winter of 1950. But city officials responded with their own tactics, and it all reached a boiling point when two children accidentally drowned in a water-filled pit left by construction workers.


Newark Evening News, May 6, 1951

Staff Correspondent
     ELIZABETH— Norman Cool, 9, and his sister, Clara Ann, 8, drowned late yesterday in water-filled excavation along the New Jersey Turnpike construction project between South Park street and Broadway.
     The children were the son and daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Cool of 504 East Jersey street. A third child, Michael Caliendo, 8, son of Mr. and Mrs. James Caliendo of 502 East Jersey street, was in the water with the Cool youngsters and stepped out just before the others sank from sight. Michael ran to his home several blocks away and gave the alarm.
     Hundreds of residents of the Elizabethport section gathered at the scene. The turnpike construction has caused considerable controversy in Elizabeth and there have been disputes over the project between the turnpike authority, city officials, trucking concerns and residents.

Tells of Tragedy
     Held in his father's arms, Michael said after the tragedy: "The three of us went down to the railroad tracks (Jersey Central Railroad) and crossed over the top of them to the new road. There were big hills of dirt there and we saw water.
     "We took off our shoes and socks. I just wet my feet and got out. Norman and Clara had taken off their coats before they went in. Pretty soon I didn't see them. Just a lot of bubbles. Then I ran home and told my father."
     When Michael reached home, his father jumped into his car with Edwin Ross, Elizabeth tax assessor, and rushed to the scene. In the meantime, two boys ran to the home of Thomas Nycz, 334 South Park street, and told him they had seen children fall into the water. Nycz ran a few yards to the turnpike, took a look and then ran to fire rescue squad half a block away.
     The squad arrived and began grappling with poles and hooks. Caliendo had removed part of his clothing preparatory to jumping in when the bodies were located a few feet from the bank. He assisted in carrying them to the top of the railroad bank and level ground where inhalators were used.

Excited Crowds
     Firemen, under Captains Ross and Forrester, applied artificial respiration and oxygen for a half-hour before Clara was pronounced dead. Two hours later her brother was given up by doctors as beyond hope.
     Police under Captain Coyle and Lieutenant White had a difficult time controlling the excited crowds. They insisted in swarming up the embankment and crossing the busy railroad tracks. Trains slowed to a crawl as they made their way past the scene. The dead children's father went from one tot to the other watching for some sign of life. Finally, friends took him away.
     Shocked and dazed, he related how his wife was taken to a state hospital April 16 suffering a nervous breakdown. Because he stayed home from work to care for her he had been discharged from his job and is now without employment. The couple's other children are: Sadie Elizabeth, 12; Herbert Nelson, 10; Thomas Edwin, 4, and Dennis, 9 months. Herbert is being cared for by relatives in Freeland, PA.
     Ross, the assessor, said that two weeks ago yesterday, he and City Council President Tracey inspected the excavation and "saw its hazards and temptations to kids who were standing there throwing sticks and stones into the water." Ross said he and Tracey spoke with an engineer from the Turnpike Authority and were assured the pit would be "filled in over the coming week-end."
     The pit is about 20 feet wide, 50 feet long and ranges in depth from a few inches to 10 feet. Three sides are of clay and the fourth a retaining wall of stone that was there before the project began. The children entered the water opposite the retaining wall.
     Tracey arrived while firemen were working on Norman. He said: "I warned the authority engineers something like this would happen if strict safety precautions were not observed, especially with the hundreds of trucks that come through here daily."

Devil to Pay
     Tracey said: "There will be the devil to pay for this terrible thing," adding that he had demanded the pit be filled and had received promises it would. Surveying the crowd, Tracey said "the people are really up in arms now."
     Fire Chief Keelan had Engine Company 5 pump the water from the excavation last night.
     The Cool children attended Philip Carteret School. Norman was in the second grade and Clara in the first. The Caliendo boy is a student in Grade 3 of the same school.


Courtesy of the Newark Public Library.

4 of 7