"Tar Town" Murder
Now available online:
Kelsey Outrage: A full, impartial and interesting account of
the most cruel and remarkable crime - evidence in full, Doings of the
Trial. (Note - this is in places a bad copy. Unfortunately
it is the only one I have been able to get my hands on)
Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported a most unusual funeral in the small
of Huntington, Long Island, in its issue of September 13, 1873. The
contained only the lower part of the tarred and feathered body of
G. Kelsey, wealthy bachelor, farmer, school teacher and poet. The upper
part of the corpse was never found and the search for it attracted
in the national press for several years.
romance with Julia Smith, a plump young lady just out of her teens,
ten years his junior and a former member of his Sunday School class,
brought mob violence upon him and thrown the village on the North Shore
of Long Island into turmoil.
an orphan, was the ward of her grandmother, Mrs. Charlotte Oakley
who lived in a mansion on West Main Street. She objected violently to
attentions to her granddaughter.
was a native of the village, worth some $15,000 which was a small
fortune for that day. He had spent his thirty-odd years educating
to the point where he spoke three languages and was a local authority
literature. He was an orphan. Occasionally he taught in the local
and at other times took care of his farm and wrote poetry about his
One book of poems, "The Old Burying Hill," had been published.
poet's romance with the young girl apparently started while he taught
in the public school and in the Sunday School of the Second
Church. There is evidence that Julia and Kelsey had begun meeting
when she was a schoolgirl.
was regarded by Julia's relatives and friends as being too old to
be going with her; his interest in poetry and his romantic leanings
made him objectionable to the practical minded residents of the
There was general objection to Kelsey's suit.
admirer was not permitted to call at the Oakley home and so he made
secret nighttime visits, and it was these that led to his destruction.
was November 4, 1872, the eve of Grant's victory over Horace Greeley.
The Democrats were holding a big rally and the village was filled with
visitors. Kelsey attended the rally and started home to his sister's
The night was intensely dark and the winter cold had seti in. The home
of Mrs. Charlotte Oakley stood gloomy and silent on its large plot on
Street, near Spring. Behind the Oakley home a band of masked men
concealed behind a hedge of willow trees. They were there to "take
of Charles Kelsey if he made another attempt to see Julia Smith. On the
way home Kelsey saw a signal light in the basement of the Oakley home
changed his course. It was said that the girl treacherously betrayed
lover into the hands of the posse by displaying the beacon.
Kelsey approached the house, the masked men jumped from their hiding
place, seized him and dragged him to the back yard. There they removed
his clothing. The men dragged out a large pot of hot tar and bundles of
feathers. After cutting off his beard and hair the assailants applied
steaming tar to his body and spread on the feathers. When the job had
completed, the masked men dragged the victim to the porch on which had
assembled Julia, her grandmother and her aunt.
the home of Dr. Bank next door, one of the posse brought a lantern
to prove that their captive was Kelsey. In a desperate lurch, the
freed himself from his captors, picked up one of his shoes and threw it
at the lantern, extinguishing it. The masked men then struck Kelsey on
the head with the lantern to subdue him.
satisfied with their work, the band handed Kelsey his clothing
and released him. Naked he ran down the dark lane at the back of the
sobbing and moaning. Who were the members of the posse? The question
Huntington for years and many accusations were made. Various hearings
held but no one was proven guilty. That the band contained some of the
village's most honored citizens was accepted as a fact.
now come to the brutal murder of Kelsey and the dismemberment of his
body. The man's movements from the time he disappeared in the dark lane
back of the Oakley home are a mystery. The victim's sister, Charlotte
discovered signs that he reached home. His tar-covered watch was found
in the kitchen without the chain and there were signs of a struggle in
the front yard.
village was seething with excitement over the series of dark events.
Charlotte, the sister and the two brothers, Henry and William, started
a determined search to find Kelsey. Just at that time a fisherman
a blood-soaked shirt on the shore of Lloyd's Neck, about six miles from
the village. It was identified as having belonged to Kelsey.
of the Peace William Momford ordered everyone who might have a
scrap of evidence of any kind to appear in his tiny court and also to
where they had been on the night of November 4. He met stout resistance
from persons believed to have participated in the tar and feather
No information of any value was obtained by the Justice.
winter passed with no new developments in the case and the community
divided itself into two groups, the Tar Party and the anti-Tars. It was
discovered that Kelsey had many loyal and determined friends and
was generally condemned throughout the country for its failure to solve
the murder mystery. In April, 1873, at a Town Meeting, the people voted
a $1,000 reward "for the recovery of the body of Charles G. Kelsey in
of the town."
was on August 29, 1873, that two fishermen working in Cold Spring
found the lower half of a body, separated at the waist, floating on the
surface of the water. Tar and feathers covered the legs. On September
two doctors testified that before the body had been thrown into the
it had been mutilated in a manner more becoming savage African tribes
members of the peaceful village of Huntington.
September 4, a sign was posted in a general store on Main Street,
"The Funeral of the Legs," obviously the work of Kelsey's enemies. The
funeral was a strange affair. The Second Presbyterian Church was jammed
with spectators, but the pastor, the Reverend W.W. Knox, would not
the coffin with its half body to be brought into the church and it was
the church lawn.
minister, one friendly to the anti- Tars, preached the sermon and the
with the part body was interred on the burying hill which Kelsey had
about in his book of poetry.
coroner's jury continued to sit and hear testimony at Oyster Bay and
with each day the outside attacks on the village of Huntington grew
violent. More than ninety years have passed now and the black secrets
the Kelsey case are still unsolved; the participants have taken their
with them to their graves.
of the dire events seem to have had little effect upon the plump young
lady, Julia Smith. She was married to Royal Sammis, member of a
pioneer family in June, 1873, three months before the dismembered
of her former lover were found floating in Cold Spring Harbor.
was as a matron that Julia appeared in Oyster Bay to testify at the
coroner's inquest. She admitted that she lured Kelsey to her home with
a lantern signal the night he was captured by the band of masked
men, for which treachery she was universally condemned by the press.
was regarded as a member of the band which had tarred and feathered the
avoid the hostile gazes of their fellow townspeople, Mr. and Mrs.
left Huntington and went to New York City where they dropped into
Other members of the community suspected of participating in the crime
also moved away and disappeared in New York and other large cities.