German Immigrant Ancestors
in Syracuse and Onondaga County, New York

Obituary and gravemarker of
Philipp Eckel

The following article appeared in the 3 Juni/June 1886 issue of the German-language newspaper, the Syracuse Union (page 2, columns 5 and 6). The English translation immediately below is copyrighted and was contributed to this website and its readers by Joni L. Pontius (many, many thanks!) in July 2009. A facsimile of the article in German as published appears below that. Photos of the Eckel gravemarker appear at the bottom of this webpage (scroll down).

Obituary of Philipp Eckel

From the June 3rd, 1886 edition of the German-language newspaper, The Syracuse Union

When on the first morning of June, the month of roses, the fire bells of our city at 5:30 a.m. called the local fire department to fulfill its serious and danger-laden duty, Mr. Philipp Eckel, the chief of the department, was as usual on the spot. Because his usual nimble team of horses was not at hand, he sprang onto the ladder wagon near the front wheels. The wagon went on its path down East Fayette Street, and in the vicinity of Irving Street the driver saw a freight train of the Central Railroad coming slowly out of the tunnel towards the vehicle. In any case it was the so-called innate zeal of the former (Chief Eckel) to be ready for anything, which destined Mr. Eckel to get ready to jump down during the swift drive; he jumped down when the ladder wagon turned into Irving Street, making way for the train. He fell on the rails and the rear wheels went over his body from the head nearly to the feet of this man whose hair had grown gray in service. His subordinates, who were with him on the wagon, don't know themselves how this all happened, because the whole thing took just the blink of an eye. The wounded man, half crushed, still possessed enough energy to pull himself from the rails to escape the nearing train and in a few steps the vigorous man collapsed, who for nearly half a century was one of those whose motto was "At all times ready!"

Philipp Eckel was born on the 11th of August, 1827, in St. Julian, Rheinbaiern (Rhenish Bavaria), the sixth child of the married couple Peter and Elisabeth Eckel, née Schneider. In the summer of 1840 all of St. Julian was excited that Peter Eckel was going to America with his wife and his seven children, and that Philipp, although he was barely 13 years old, was going to be blessed through confirmation by the aged pastor of the town. The family came to New York, where the parents remained, together with the eldest daughter and the youngest son, while the other brothers turned to Syracuse, a lively spot due to its blossoming salt industry. The sons let the parents follow them after the space of a year and the eldest sister, Mrs. H. Schäfer, tells with affection that at that time Philipp, barely fifteen years old, would not be held back from any fire, but was one of the first on the scene as "Torchboy" (torch bearer), at a time in which Syracuse was only a village and there was very little or no talk of volunteer service. The fire department company "Empire no. 4", organized by the late Johann Graff in 1851, whose fire house was located behind the old County Clerk's building, appointed the deceased as its Assistant Chief, which position he maintained for 8 years under Peter Ohneth with self-sacrificing energy.

In the year 1854 in the old courthouse (now the Mantel? Coat? building) the German citizens of the second ward elected Mr. Philipp Eckel to be their German policeman. Even those unable to vote helped with that, just to give expression to their affection for "Phil". The high waves of the Civil War, just beginning in 1861, found the young man, popular everywhere for his uprightness of character and affable nature, in the front ranks, following the call of his country. On August 28, 1862 he joined the 149th Company "B" commanded by Colonel N. Grumbach and was on September 2nd of that same year appointed first lieutenant. On May 3, 1863 he was wounded at the Battle of Chancelorville, Virginia, and taken prisoner by the enemy. A shot through his left arm resulted in a wound that was slow to heal, so he was allowed to be traded and treated at the military hospital at Ego Creek. After about a year's respite he obtained his honorable discharge from the army, turned homewards and his returning comrades at arms found him chief of the fire department of our city once again. In 1864 he married Miss Barbara Messmer, to which marriage were born three children, two girls and a boy. The official position to which his life was dedicated, interrupted for two years, he conducted to the satisfaction of his fellow citizens for nearly two decades. The strict discipline of his subordinates is the best memorial that he earned in his time of service.

He died at his home about three hours after the accident, at 178 Townsend Street, and besides his wife and their three children the heroic death of this man, beloved by all, is mourned by a sister and five brothers, one in Buffalo and one in San Francisco. His quick and ghastly death awakens the sympathy not only of those who stood near to him as friend and comrade, but the entire citizenry, who can feel what a great hole his death has created. The funeral will take place tomorrow, Friday, at 2:00 in the afternoon, at the home of the deceased and at Woodlawn Cemetery, Mr. Pastor Oberlaender of Zion Church presiding.

To all those concerned

Headquarters Lilly Post, No. 66, Syracuse, N.Y., June 2, '86


Members of the "Lilly Post" No. 66 are hereby sought to make an appearance at the local pub where they gather on Friday, June 4th, at 1:30 p.m., in order to attend the funeral of their late comrade Phillip Eckel.

D. C. Kling, Adjutant.

Johann Gebhardt, Commander.

Philipp Eckel obit part 1 Philipp Eckel obit part 2 Philipp Eckel obit part 3

Photos by M. Stone 2004
Eckel gravemarker

Eckel gravemarker
Philip Eckel's gravemarker at Woodlawn Cemetery, Syracuse:

Philip Eckel
Chief Engineer
Syracuse Fire Department
Aug. 11, 1827
June 1, 1886

Barbara Eckel
May 11, 1837 - Oct. 7, 1909

Link to Philip Eckel's monument in Syracuse