Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ulysse Pahud

It's a low monument that matches the rest of the headstones surrounding the massive obelisk in the family plot of  Thurlow Weed and William Barnes (two very prominent names in Albany's political history). But two things set this marker apart from the others; the distinctive name and the verse on the bronze plaque which reads:

No Man Was Truer To The Pole Of What He Thought His Task.  No Fear Could Touch His Loyal Soul.  What More Can Human Ask?

An inscription like that certainly hinted at an interesting story and a look through the Cemetery's records reveled that he had died at the age of forty in Nantucket.  The cause of death was listed as "shock from burns" on June 25, 1911.  

His last place of residence was given as 229 State Street.  That address no longer exists; it was demolished to make way for the old State Office Building.  In 1911, though, it was the residence of the Barnes family and Ulysse Pahud was a Swiss immigrant employed as a valet there (some records list him as a butler). There's some discrepancy about his age;  some records list his birth year as 1879, but others give it as 1871.

The wealthy Barnes family had a boathouse at their summer home, the former Sherburne House Hotel in Nantucket.  On June 24, 1911, Ulysse Pahud was working with the estate's handyman and the Barnes' coachman to strip and wax floors in the boathouse. 

Thurlow Weed Barnes II (who'd just recently graduated from Harvard) and a party of young friends had spent the day sailing.  It was a warm afternoon and Pahud had made it a bit more pleasant by setting up a gramophone and making sure some cold soft drinks were close at hand for them in a small room adjacent to the main reception room where the refinishing work was underway.

He returned to his task in the reception room, but tragedy was only moments away.  A young man in the party tossed aside a lit cigarette.  The careless act ignited a mop which had been used to apply turpentine and, before anyone could react, a line of flame separated two young ladies from the rest of the group.  Hoping to douse the fire and aid the women, another young man grabbed a pail of water and tossed it onto the flames.  Only it wasn't water.  It was still more turpentine.

A few minutes later, a captain tying up a boat at a nearby wharf and a lady sketching on the landing witnessed the terrible site of two young women and a young man running out of the boathouse.  Their clothing was ablaze and so was the back wall of the boathouse itself.  Several members of the party made it outside, but the two young women who'd been cut off from their friends by the initial flames were still trapped.  Thurlow's own clothes were on fire and a witness heard him shout, "For God's sake, Ulysse, save those girls!  They are burning up!"

Ulysse Pahud tried to reach the girls, but by then, it was too late to help them.  The entire boathouse was aflame.  His own clothes completely on fire, he was able to dive into the water and was taken to a nearby doctor.  Despite immediate medical attention, he died about six hours later. 

In addition to Ulysse Pahud, the two young women (Helen Wilson and Mildred De Haven) died in the fire, as did a young man named Thomas Kerr.  Thurlow Weed Barnes II was severely burned, but survived.

Ulysse Pahud's body was returned to Albany and he was buried in the Barnes family plot on July 6, 1911. 

It's said that the Barnes family lost no time in rebuilding a new, larger and more luxurious boathouse.  The second structure stood until 1971.