Posts Tagged ‘Cook Street Brooklyn’

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

May 15, 2023

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.