|photo by Alice Lum|
No. 115 West 95th Street was one of Merritt’s designs—one of a string of six somewhat boxy brick-and-brownstone homes that stretched from No. 111 to 121—built for developer Charles Bouton. A rusticated, rough-cut brownstone first floor served as a base for two stories of red brick. Brownstone quoins framed the paired, centered windows and each peaked, tiled roof was interrupted by a single dormer.
|No. 115 was near towards the center of the row, marked by the purple banner above -- photo by Alice Lum|
In the meantime, Dr. Philip F. O’Hanlon was making a name for himself in the medical community. O’Hanlon’s family had a medical tradition—both his father and grandfather practiced medicine on East 18th Street. He earned his medical degree from New York University in 1886 and immediately became House Surgeon at Gouverneur Hospital until 1887. In 1891 he was appointed Medical Examiner in the Insurance Department of the State of New York. But after 1895, when he became the City’s Coroner’s Physician, Philip F. O’Hanlon’s name became a household word.
The doctor and his wife, the former Laura Lincoln Plumb, had one daughter, Laura Virginia, who was born in 1889. The year after receiving his position in the Coroner’s Office, he leased No. 115 West 95th Street.
|photo by Alice Lum|
The headline of the New-York Tribune on May 29, 1896 read “DR. O’HANLON TESTIFIES” and the article informed a shocked public that “Dr. Philip F. O’Hanlon, who conducted the autopsy on Mrs. Bliss’s body, was the most important witness yesterday, and his testimony was that in his opinion death was caused by arsenical poisoning.”
The following year he broke the sensational Geldensuppe Murder Case by detecting an obscure clue that resulted in the unraveling of the murder mystery, leading to the conviction of the murderer. The case had all the scintillating and gruesome trappings of a crime novel—a dismembered corpse, a menage-a-trois, and shocking extra-marital affairs. The New York Journal called it “a murder, most foul, deliberate, mysterious and terrible.”
The case firmly established Dr. Philip F. O’Hanlon’s reputation and renown.
The same year that O’Hanlon was instrumental in solving the Geldensuppe Case, he was forced to tackle another difficult question. Little 8-year old Laura Virginia O’Hanlon—known as Virginia to the family—faced a problem that summer. Her school friends chided her for believing in Santa Claus.
When she asked her father if, indeed, Santa existed, he deftly passed the onus of an answer to The New York Sun. So, relying on her father’s professed unswerving faith in the veracity of the newspaper, little Virginia penned a letter to the editor:
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun it’s so.” Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia O’Hanlon 115 West Ninety-Fifth Street
|Laura Virginia O'Hanlon in 1897 -- thebluegrassspecial.com|
“You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see…Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.”
Church’s long and moving column ended “No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”
Although Dr. Philip F. O’Hanlon was a celebrated and well-known physician and nerve specialist; his little 8-year old daughter’s heart-felt appeal to The New York Sun would eventually make her the famous member of the family.
A year later the country became embroiled in the bloody Spanish-American War. Philip F. O’Hanlon, along with Hamilton Williams and Edward J. Donlin—also Deputy Coroners—applied to the War Department to go to war either as soldiers or physicians. O’Hanlon became a lieutenant in the Medical Reserves Corps.
|photo by Alice Lum|
By 1920 the O’Hanlon’s former residence at No. 115 had become a boarding house, owned by Elizabeth Brogan. Among the 11 residents was the 35-year old motion picture actress Maude Wecherley. In the winter of 1920 Patrolman John Delaney came across Wecherley “entertaining a crowd on the sidewalk at Eighty-ninth Street and Columbus Avenue by singing in the small hours” of December 21. The singing actress was wearing glittering jewelry which concerned the policeman.
So he arrested her.
So he arrested her.
Delaney testified in the West Side Court “On account of the crime wave I thought it would be best to take her in before somebody got her diamonds.”
Apparently the movie actress, who went by the screen name of Maude Vancott, was unperturbed by the temporary loss of her freedom. According to the New-York Tribune the following day, she “thanked the patrolman for his thoughtfulness and Magistrate Mancuso suspended sentence.”
The house on 95th Street went through a quick succession of female owners. In 1920 Elizabeth Brogan sold it to Helen Egler. Florence Hull purchased the property next while 35-year old Simon Sunarian, a Russian-born “lecturer” was living here. She leased it in October 1927 to Helen Wandrie for five years. In 1957 the property was converted to apartments—two per floor including the basement.
As the century progressed, the neighborhood noticeably declined. In 1965 No. 115 West 95th Street was taken over by the City of New York as part of an urban renewal scheme intended to clean up the now-derelict homes along the block.
|No. 115 and its reportedly "rat-infested" neighbors are boarded up in 1969 -- photo NYPL Collection|
In 1974 a well-intentioned resident of the block, Jeanne Beaty, purchased five of the houses from the City for about $35,000 each. Among the homes she intended to renovate as investment properties was No. 115. Unfortunately Beaty’s ambitious plans never came to fruition and two decades later the structures had decayed to decrepit, vacant hulls. Legal battles dragged on until, finally, the city repossessed the buildings in 1992. The following year Moshe Shrem purchased three of the empty shells, including No. 115. Shrem paid about $175,000 for the former O’Hanlon house. The deal with the city required the buyer to reconstruct the property within six years.
In 2001, according to the Department of Buildings, No. 115 had been renovated to a single family residence with an apartment in the basement. The house was put on the market that year for $2.7 million.
|No. 115 lost its front door when it was combined with its neighbor to the left -- photo by Alice Lum|