A Dyckman Street Tale: The Trouble with Sparrows

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Dyckman Street in the 1920s. (NYHS)

On an early summer day in 1904 New York Police Detective Berckridge was dispatched to the Inwood section of northern Manhattan to quell a neighborhood disturbance.  

Complaints had been filed, first with the Audubon Society, then with the Kingsbridge police station, that a wealthy, shotgun-wielding, French widow was shooting sparrows in front of her Dyckman Street home.

The suspect, 47-year-old Marie Ackerman, was well-known to uptown coppers.  

She lived alone, with several servants, in a large, old-fashioned, wooden home near Payson Avenue.

The Detective knew she was armed to the teeth.

Daily Standard Union, June 30, 1904.

Three years earlier Ackerman shot a would-be burglar who entered her home while her then-living husband was away on business.  The intruder, later identified as William Goeffrey, jumped from a parlor window, whereupon he left a trail of blood to the nearest trolley station on Broadway.

A week later,” she told a reporter, “he was caught in Brooklyn, where he applied at a hospital for treatment of a gunshot wound to the leg.  Blood poisoning had set in, however, and he died in the course of a few days.”  (The Sun, June 30, 1904)

Ackerman claimed the stress of the incident sent her husband, 26 years her senior, to an early grave.

This time her victims were birds.

Detective Berckridge approached the home carefully.

Ackerman’s home,” according to a news account, was “a veritable arsenal.  In every room there are guns and ammunition.  There is also an elaborate electrical burglar alarm.  The servants have been trained to handle the guns.”  (The Sun, June 30, 1904)

The Detective “had trouble in getting into the house,” the account continued,  “but after he flashed his shield several times the servants opened the door and Mrs. Ackerman consented to come with him.” 

Appearing in court, Ackerman told the Magistrate that she believed she was within her rights to shoot birds on her own property.

Bird Lore, 1911, National Audubon Society.
Bird Lore, 1911, National Audubon Society.

They make so much noise in the early morning that I can’t sleep,” she told the Judge.  “Then too, they drove away the bluebirds that came on my lawn.”

The Magistrate explained that it was against the law to shoot sparrows within city limits.  He released her after securing a promise that she would discontinue the practice.

I won’t shoot sparrows anymore,” Mrs. Ackerman told a reporter, “because both the Magistrate and the police told me it was unlawful, but with burglars it will be a different case.”

Ackerman died in 1927. She’s buried in Trinity Cemetery.

Marie Ackerman grave, Trinity Cemetery. (Source findaagrave.com)
Marie Ackerman grave, Trinity Cemetery. (Source findaagrave.com)

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