Tune in tomorrow at noon when I’ll be featured on or WPKN 89.5 FM on the dial.
12:00 PM to 1:PM

It’s called: What a Story!

Here’s what host Ina Chadwick had to say about the show:

Tomorrow I am introducing new-to-my-show storytellers. A master of the genre: Charles R. Hale‘s Grandfather was a firefighter whose presence and then absence left a big hole in Charles’ life.

Circa Norman Rockwell’s Oeuvre:  Grandpa Charlie (right) and his firefighter buddies of the FDNY Engine 14. Painting by fireman Eddie Brady.

Do yourself a favor and visit Charles R. Hale‘s Musical History of New York City FB page. If his daily pictures and vignettes (all eras) and embedded musical references don’t t grab you by the heart, it’s time to buy one of those pulse-meters now flying off the internet.



I’ll never forget the moment I was standing in a Barnes and Noble bookstore, paging through “Naked City,” a book of photos taken by the famous NYC crime photographer Arthur Fellig, better known as Weegee. I turned a page…a number of firemen and a priest were standing over body bags. The fireman on the far right is my grandfather Charles F. Hale.

Historian Shelby Foote once said, “So you get that thing and you get the weather, you get the soil and you get the coloration of things; get the true feel of it.”

So I’ve often wondered…How do you get the true feel of those who came before you? How do you breathe of an ancestor’s space and time?

I’ve spent a lot of time retracing my NYC ancestor’s footsteps…where did they live, what streets did they walk on, what did they see and hear?

I wondered about the Weegee photo.  How could I determine when that photo was taken? What could I learn about the fire? It was dark so it occurred at night or in the early morning. The priest wore a heavy topcoat, which suggested it was wintertime. And since the fire claimed one or more lives, I surmised that the fire would have kept the company out of the house for at least an hour. I carefully examined the old journals I found at Engine Company 14’s basement, noting the fires that fit those parameters. I found eight.

I learned that The International Center of Photography was the largest repository of Weegee photos. I called the ICP and was directed to an archivist in charge of Weegee’s work. I started with the first fire on my list. It matched my criteria. The fire occurred during a cold-weather month, March; the call came into the firehouse during darkness, 4:51 AM; the company was out of quarters for two hours and twenty-four minutes, and Firefighter Hale was one of the firefighters who responded to the alarm.

I was lucky; the archivist found the photo in a moment. The photo was published in PM Magazine on March 8, 1942.

The next day I visited the New York Public Library’s microfilm room. I requested the specific date of the PM Magazine that I wanted. I found the photo and the story on page three of the March 8, 1942, edition.

A fire had ignited—it appeared someone had fallen asleep while smoking—and the building’s occupants fled in panic. A woman, however, holding one of her children, was trapped on an upper floor. She leaped from the building with her child in her arms. They were killed on impact.

I often sit and stare at the Weegee photo and imagine the events. The photo captures the hard times and sufferings of the poor, and the immediacy of life and death. I imagine the compassion the firefighters must have felt, their feelings of helplessness and despair as the woman prepared to leap from the window with her child in her arms. I think of the men running into burning buildings, coming to the aid of people they’d never met, risking their lives to help those in need.

I walked the street my grandfather did…I saw the building where the women and her child were killed and I listened to the music my grandfather might have heard when he returned to the firehouse, early that winter’s morning…perhaps the perfect title for the night’s events…Blues in the Night


When I began researching my family history I discovered that there were few mementos from the past. There were no letters, only a few old photos—one may have been taken in the 1890’s, and only a few before 1930–a 1913 funeral receipt and an oil painting. The painting captures a nighttime ritual, three FDNY firemen from Engine Co. 14, including my grandfather, (right), sitting around a table, playing poker.

The painting hung on a wall in my grandparents’ NYC apartment and other than Grandpa Charlie using it as a prop for one of his riotous tales, I didn’t know much. I knew that a fireman, Edward Brady, painted it but I never gave much thought to the history of the painting.

As I searched for links to the past–events that would elucidate my ancestors’ space and time–I began considering the painting. I imagined, given my grandfather’s appearance, that it was completed in the nineteen-forties. Once I learned that Edward Brady was a fireman at Engine 14 during the early forties, I was confident in my dating of the painting. As I studied, what I call “Firemen Playing Cards” and American art and artists of that period, I also learned the history behind the style in which Brady painted. It was a school of painting, very different than a generation earlier, and a style that enabled Brady to capture that singular moment in my grandfather’s life.

At the turn of the 20th century American Artists and photographers rebelled against the predominating art of aristocratic portraiture. A new style of painting developed, which was loose and impressionistic, and based on a new subject matter: modern life. Artists developed an interest in human elements: every day subjects in dramatic light. Art became a revelation of life’s experience, both the exciting and the mundane. This school of painting became known as Ashcan Art and included artists such as Robert Henri, John Sloan and George Bellows. Two artists who were greatly influenced by this style of painting, both of whom were associated with New York schools of art during the developmental period of this style, were Edward Hopper and Guy Pene du Bois.

As I studied “Firemen Playing Cards” in greater detail, I noticed that there was a similarity in style or at least a suggestion of Edward Hopper’s painting, “Nighthawks.” Deliberate and spare, each painting captures a singular New York moment in which three New Yorkers seem lost in their thoughts, anonymous and uncommunicative. The diner’s harsh electric light sets it apart from the dark night outside, as does the softer light emanating from the hanging lamp over the poker table. 

Brooklyn born, Guy Pene du Bois who, like his good friend Hopper, depicted narratives of inaction and themes of emotional disengagement, differed in style. While Hopper was interested in capturing moments of solitude, using bold, simplified forms to infuse his scenes with drama, du Bois used smooth curves striking a balance between abstraction and realism. And while at first glance there appears to be no similarity in Brady and du Bois’s work, there is one commonality: the hands.

I’d always believed that Fireman Brady could not paint a pair of human hands. The firemen’s hands are nothing like I’d expect them to be, strong, large and rugged, but rather they look childlike and small.

But then I look at the style in which du Bois painted hands and I wonder if Brady was familiar with du Bois? The hands are almost identical. Was Brady familiar with the school of painters who had studios on 14th St. and Union Square, a few blocks from Engine Co. 14, which is located on 18th Street. Did he take lessons at any of these art leagues?

I don’t remember hearing Edward Brady’s name when I was a child. I noticed his name on the painting after his art was bequeathed to me a number of years ago.  Looking through old firehouse logs of Engine 14 I was able to determine that Brady and my grandfather were fellow firefighters. And now I stare at the painting every morning, grateful that my grandfather’s friend, a man with whom he risked his life fighting fires, captured this singular moment in my grandfather’s life.



Carnegie Hall’s first public concert was performed on May 5, 1891. Fifty years later they featured the man whom the Hall was named for and the person most responsible for bringing the Hall into existence, Andrew Carnegie. 

Here’s what the Golden Anniversary cover of the program looked like, including the musical program of December 3rd, 1940, conducted by Leopold Stokowski. I also notice that my good friend Joe McElligott’s grand uncle, Fire Commissioner John J. McElligott’s “Fire Notice” is included in the program. 

A few years earlier, in 1937, my grandfather Charles F. Hale, a member of the FDNY, received an award for bravery at City Hall. It was handed to him by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and Joe’s commissioner uncle, John J. McElligott. It’s a very big city, but at times it’s a very small world.