Monday, October 25, 2010

Billy Dell, one of the foremen on the Flatiron job in 1902

Today I was back at the Flatiron Building, where I always seem to end up, across the street at Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop. There I met with the great-grandson of Billy Dell, one of the foremen at the Flatiron construction site in 1902. When Thomas Farawell came across his great-grandfather's name while reading my book, he contacted me. Whenever my father and I walked past the Flatiron, Thomas told me today, he'd say, "Your great-grandfather built this!" Billy "Bull" Dell came to New York from Chicago with his pal Sam Parks, the violent and corrupt leader of the Ironworkers Union, whom George Fuller paid handsomely to keep his rank-and-file from striking at Fuller Company construction sites.

Thomas brought along a photo to show me: his great-grandfather seated with eight other men, all dressed in sharply pressed suits and high collars. Looks to have been taken sometime in the 1890s. Next to Dell sits Sam Parks. Thomas is desperate to know more about Bull Dell, who, Thomas said, started out as a union organizer working with Parks, who went about construction sites, "inviting" men to join the Ironworkers Union. Dell eventually had his own contracting company in the tony Trinity Building and a beautiful home on the best block in Jersey City, where all the politicians had their houses. So where, Thomas wonders, did Bull Dell get all that money? Mmmmmm...My parents, Thomas said, never talked about their grandfather's business. Although there were vague stories of Bull Dell keeping guns in his house, along with the beautiful silver and other objects that only rich people had.

What an interesting addendum to the story of the Flatiron, a reminder that stories beget more stories.

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