Biography of Captain Henry Rick
Bronx County, NY Biographies





CAPTAIN HENRY RICK - When some modern Diogenes comes to The Bronx with his lantern in his hand looking for an honest man, he should be directed to No. 450 Wales Avenue, for there he will find not only an honest man but a thoroughly contented one as well. Moreover, he will find a clear thinking philosopher with whom he ought to find many things in common. The contented man who has lived at the above mentioned address for thirty nine years is Captain Henry Rick, who for forty seven years has been in the employ of the Health Department of New York City. Ever since his eighteenth birthday he has been skipper of some craft or other, and for the forty seven years preceding his retirment in 1920, he was continuously engaged in piloting and "captaining" the boats of the Health Department used in transporting contagious cases from the city to the various hospitals located on islands in the East River.

Captain Henry Rick was born in Ensheim, Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany, September 15, 1846, and received his early education in the schools of his native district. When he was eight years of age his father brought the family on a sailing vessel to this country, landing in New York City. There were no immigration officials in those days and little attention was paid to those who landed. little assistance was to be had unless the new arrival had the means wherewith to make it worthwhile financially for those who offered assistance The little Rick family was sturdy and resourceful, however, and quite able to take care of themselves. They settled in New York City in the neighborhood of Twenty fifth Street and First Avenue. Eight year old Henry found employment in the Loquen Match Factory located at the corner of Thirtieth Street and Second Avenue, and while working long hours in the factory during the day light hours, attended evening school in order that he might master the English language and acquire as much of the education given in this country as time and the necessity for earning his own living would permit. He worked in the match factory until he was twelve years of age, and then, like many boys of his acquaintance, went to lobster fishing in the East River, especially centering his operations around Hell Gate. After a lifetime spent on the East River, Captain Rick still asserts that neither the Massachusetts capes, nor the Jersey coves, nor even the bays of Long Island can compare with the Harlem River of the old days as a lobstenng ground. He averaged from seventy to eighty pounds of lobsters a day, and, even though prices of that time were exceedingly low as compared with those of today, his day's catch represented a substantial sum for a day's earnings. The Harlem River and Diamond Reef on the lower end of Blackwell's Island were his chief fishing grounds, and he was prospering in this occupation when the big oil companies came into existence. Finally the Pratt refinery was built in Long Island City, and the lobsters who survived were obliged to seek new places of residence. Likewise young Henry Rick was also obliged to seek some other means of earning a living. The trouble was that though the use of oil had become somewhat general, no use had yet been found for gasoline, which, released in the process of refining the oil, was allowed to run into the East River, where it destroyed the lobster fishing industry. Young Henry then took to boating, but during most of the day he was kept busy painting and tarring rowboats until one day he persuaded his employers to permit him to use the oars. Then the lad found his calling, and from that day to the time of his retirement, some fifty six years later, he was master of some boat on the East River. In association with Joe Murray, who later was associated with the early political career of Theodore Roosevelt, he decided to run a rowboat ferry from Fifty second Street, East River, to Blackwell's Island. This venture proved successful and was continued until 1874, when he became captain of the steam launch named in honor of Mayor William H. Wickham, plying between Fifty second Street and East River to Blackwell's Island. supplanting the rowboat ferry. He continued as captain of the "William H. Wickham" until 1881, when he was placed in command of a larger boat. the "Psyche," which he operated until 1885, when the increased activities of the Health Department in the transport of contagious diseases made necessary a still larger boat. Captain Rick was then placed in charge of the "Franklin Edison." named in honor of former Mayor Edison, and it was while he was captain of this vessel that he became one of the heroes of the "General Slocum" disaster. That ill starred vessel had caught fire in Hell Gate and it was loaded with excursionists, including large numbers of women and children. Its captain tried to beach the boat on North Brother Island. but it ran on a reef. Captain Rick had just docked the "Franklin Edison" at the Health Department's pier at One Hundred and Thirty second Street when he heard the alarm. He put the "Franklin Edison" under steam, steered to within fifty feet of the burning "Slocum", threw overboard all his life preservers and though the heat of the burning "Slocum" cracked the paint and melted every pane of glass in the "Edison," Captain Rick remained in the pilot house and directed the work of rescue, later diving overboard and rescuing one person himself. In all, not counting those who were saved by the life preservers thrown overboard, the crew of the "Franklin Edison" saved the lives of twenty six persons. For this heroic action the city later awarded medals to Captain Rick and to each member of his crew. He also received a certificate of honor from the United States Volunteer Life Saving Corps. Captain Rick is modest, and considers that he simply did his duty, but he is glad that when the opportunity came to be of special service, a long lifetime of strict attention to duty enabled him to meet the emergency. Sometime later the city made an appropriation of $62,000 for a new boat to be used in the service of the Health Department, and when the fine new boat was completed Captain Rick was placed in charge. He operated the "Riverside," the above mentioned new boat, between Thirty second Street at the East River and North Brother and Hart's islands, in the employ of the Health Department, until the time of his retirement in April, 1921, at which time he had i completed forty seven years of continuous service n the employ of the Health Department of New York City. Few men living today have the intimate knowledge of the changes which have taken place along the East River during the last sixty years than has Captain Rick. He is now in his eightieth year. He comes of a long lived family and doubtless the content and simplicity of his philosophy of life will add some years to his sojourn in this world which he has always found to be a good world. During his long career as an officer of the Health Department's boats, Captain Rick carried an average of ten persons a day, all afflicted with contagious diseases, and in twenty five years he carried 90,000 sick people. He is familiar with practically every contagious disease, but long association has made him indifferent to danger from this source, and he has seemed to lead a charmed life. for not once has he contracted any of the diseases with which his passengers were afflicted. "I figure that a man should eat, sleep, and be warm," says Captain Rick. "When a man has enough to supply these needs, why bother about more?" Content seems to be the outstanding characteristic of the veteran pilot, but his has not been the content of inactivity. It has rather been the content of the busy man who attends well to each day's duty, and lets the rest take care of itself. That his philosophy is financially sound is evidenced by the fact that Captain Rick, who has recently sold his old home at No. 450 Wales Avenue, The Bronx, to the city of New York to make room for a new school building, also owns the properties at Nos. 430-432 Wales Avenue. and vacant lots on Nereid Avenue, four blocks from White Plains Avenue. He is a member of the Pilots Association.

Captain Henry Rick is a son of Philip Rick who was born in Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany, and came to this country alone before bringing his family, and worked in a tannery in Buffalo, where he died. He married Dorothy Krell.

Captain Henry Rick was married (first), in New York City, in 1880, to Jane Wiley, whose parents died when she was a small child. She died in 1882, and Captain Rick married (second), in 1886, Bridget O'Donnell, who came to this country from Ireland after the death of her parents. To the first marriage one child, Dorothy, was born in 1881, who died July I, 1926. She married Rudolph Strauss, and they became the parents of one son, Henry Strauss. To the second marriage two children were born: 2. John Henry, born in November, 1888. 3. Joseph, born in 1891, died in 1899.

From:
The Bronx and its people
A History 1609-1927
Board of Editors: James L. Wells,
Louis F. Haffen
Josiah A. Briggs.
Historian: Benedict Fitspatrick
Publisher: The Lewis Historical Publishing Co., Inc.
New York 1927


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