A Brooklyn coal hole cover with an ironworker’s name leads to a life story

If you’re a walker in the city, then you’ve seen coal hole covers. These iron lids can still be found in the pavement in front of some old houses. Sometimes plain but often decorative, they cover the chutes leading to underground coal storage spaces, which were crucial back when coal was routinely used to heat residences.

Coal hole covers at one time were purely functional. Today, I like to think of them as historical markers that tell stories. Case in point is this one above, spotted in front of 1107 Lorimer Street in Brooklyn.

The cover carries a name: A. Fluegel. Who was A. Fluegel, and what was his life like? Bits and pieces of his story have emerged.

Anton Fluegel was born in Germany in 1842, according to his 1880 passport application. He came to the United States in 1867 at the age of 23 and earned his citizenship in 1872. Most of his time in the U.S. was spent as a resident of Brooklyn.

His passport application offers a physical description: He described himself as standing five foot, six inches and having brown hair, brown eyes, a large nose, and a dark complexion. (These descriptions apparently stood in for photos in an era before passport photos were routine.)

For profession, he wrote: “iron railing maker.” Perhaps he worked for another company then, but in 1887, he erected a “two-story frame shop” at 219-221 Cook Street in Brooklyn. Here he operated his modest ironworks company, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Fluegel passed away in April 1902 of “cerebral apoplexy”—or a stroke, in today’s parlance. By this time he had moved to Maspeth, Queens. His son, Anton Fluegel, Jr., took over this father’s ironworks, per Walter Grutchfield, who researched Fluegel on his eponymous website.

It’s really just the barest outline of a life. But Fluegel’s 19th century story—immigrating to America, settling in Brooklyn, and building a family and a business—is similar to that of so many other New Yorkers. His life journey doesn’t sound extraordinary, but it is, and a century later his name survives on a Brooklyn coal hole cover.

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7 Responses to “A Brooklyn coal hole cover with an ironworker’s name leads to a life story”

  1. Susan Schwartz Says:

    Connecting the person to the object does a lot to enliven the artifact and stir the imagination. You use the tools of genealogy buffs in this posting. I would love to see more like this.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I love the way you put this: connecting the person to the object. I do plan to post more stories along these lines.

  2. Greg Says:

    Interesting stuff. My great-grandparents lived in that same 19th-century North Brooklyn German world, and I always enjoy catching a glimpse of it.

  3. Andrew Porter Says:

    There are so many of these in Brooklyn Heights that I always lose count on a walk.

  4. Daniel Sheehan Says:

    My parents home on Noble Street, a few blocks away from 1107 Lorimer Street in Greenpoint Brooklyn had the exact same coal chute cover.
    The Municipal Arts Society used to give a walking tour of Greenpoint and they would always stop at our coal chute cover as the guide explained what it was. One morning as I was leaving the house I noticed a hole in our sidewalk where the cover used to be.
    I assume one of the tour takers came back under the cover of night. May he rot in architectural hell. Which is probably full of aluminum siding and Formica.

  5. velovixen Says:

    I love the way you give voice to “ghosts” through objects most people never notice.

    There’s also another interesting story: 1107 Lorimer is in Greenpoint which, like its neighbor Williamsburg, had a large German immigrant community. (Pfizer started in that part of Brooklyn, which was also home to more breweries than anyplace else, including Milwaukee.) Over the decades, the children of those immigrants moved along Myrtle, Metropolitan and other major thoroughfares into Bushwick, Ridgewood, Middle Village, Glendale and Maspeth, often taking their businesses with them. (That Herr Fleugel opened his shop on Cook Street fits into this pattern perfectly.) In later decades, other groups of immigrants, including the Irish, Italians and Poles, followed a similar “migration,” if you will.

  6. Steve Nesselroth Says:

    I work in Brooklyn Heights (or rather that’s my office location which I have rarely visited since March 2020), and at lunch I love(d) to take walks in the neighborhood. Years I ago started 2 slightly tongue-in-cheek running posts on my FB page, first was “Another in the Occasional Series: Doorways of Brooklyn Heights,” and then came “Another in the Occasional Series: Coal Chute Covers of Brooklyn Heights.” They are exactly what the they sound like, relatively tightly photos of doorways (including the stairs and other elements that make up the doorway, as opposed to just the door) and, well, coal chute covers. Both have proven to be very popular with my friends. I love how you’ve given voice to the maker of this humble coal chute cover, and now I want to find out about the BK covers’ makers!

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