When Healy’s Park didn’t burn

Many area residents can still recall when the earlier, much narrower Route 30 just west of Perth’s four corners was made even narrower when cars parked along both sides of it to bath, canoe, or attend evening dances at the popular Healy’s Park. (Photo courtesy of Peter Betz)

May 7, 1934 was a Monday. That night, an unsuccessful attempt was made to burn down the popular Healy’s Park Pavilion nestled just north of what is now the Route 107 and Route 30 intersection.

The May 11 Morning Herald reported, “The proprietor of the place, upon arising, discovered someone had poured a quantity of gasoline over the porch at the rear of the place. Alarmed over the occurrence, Mr. Healy decided to arm himself and maintain a watch. He also hired an extra guard who was armed. The two were watching the place yesterday morning about four when an automobile drove by with men in it. The men alighted from the car and proceeded to throw several pails of gasoline over a section of the pavilion. The watchman, upon hearing their noise, started for that part of the dance hall. The men became alarmed and ran away, but not before Healy fired a load of buckshot after them.”

Four of the men, on hearing Healy’s shotgun blast, entered the wooded acreage behind the park, all except Roman Crocetta, who ran back to the car, hoping to escape in it. Theoretically this wasn’t a bad idea, but you needed a key to start a car even in those old times, and one of his fellow conspirators had taken it. “Healey and the armed guard approached the car where they picked up Crocetta.”

Healey’s blast awakened several neighbors, and these, armed with their own weapons, quickly arrived at the dance hall and began searching for the other arsonists. Joe Ferrara, another conspirator, was shortly discovered walking along the highway. Although he denied any involvement, police, having arrived at the scene, quickly noticed that “the edge of his trousers appeared to be wet, and an investigation revealed he’d been hit in the ankle and foot by some of the buckshot.”

Between work by the sheriff’s deputies and the volunteer searchers, the rest of the group was shortly apprehended.

The May 11 Herald stated that the ‘gang’ consisted of “five Gloversville men and one Amsterdam resident. The men, each anxious to turn state’s evidence before his companions did, made confessions to the authorities, revealing they intended burning down the dance hall of Thomas A. Healey of Amsterdam, located in the town of Perth, and were to have been paid several hundred dollars for the job. Those involved were Roman Crocetta, John Clemente, Frank Isola, Joseph Ferrera, Fred Beretta, all of Gloversville, and Max Brown of Amsterdam.”

Brown vehemently denied any knowledge of the plot.

The May 23 Morning Herald devoted an entire page relating the sequence of events, particularly quoting the confession of Frank Isola. Speaking of their first failed arson attempt, Isola admitted, “We took 2 five gallon cans, drove down to the filling station at the corner of Burr and South Main Street, put four gallons in, paid seventy cents, drove to Johnstown and filled the other can at the Perry Street station. We drove through Vails Mills and down the road to Healy’s. We poured gas on the pavilion porch. Ferrara tossed toilet paper on the porch and set some rags on fire. We jumped in the car and headed toward Amsterdam. We kept looking back watching for a reflection of the burning building in the sky but didn’t see it. We knew the job was a failure and that the wind must have blown the toilet paper off the porch.”

As usual, poor workmen blame their tools.

Being a businessman, Max Brown was portrayed as the ‘big fish’ and/or the brains of the gang, if it had any brains going for it. ho was Max and how did he attain this dubious honor? One newspaper article characterized him as a “well-known real estate man in Amsterdam” while another revealed he was owner of Amsterdam’s Jollyland Park. This caused speculation that Brown’s motive for having Healy’s burned was probably to increase his own park’s business. District Attorney Kearney thought that by setting a high (for those days) bail at $25,000, all his hens would remain locked in the county roost, but he was wrong. The May 14 Morning Herald used large, dark type to announce, “Max Brown, Subject of Arson Attempt at Healy’s, Gains Freedom by Posting $25,000.00 Bond,” while his co-conspirators continued cooling their heels in the Fulton County Jail.

But was Max Brown actually guilty? He had been identified as the instigator of the plot by another conspirator, Carmen Keriker, and was arrested on Keriker’s testimony. Keriker, however later recanted his accusation. The Feb. 4, 1936 Morning Herald announced the conclusion of the business. “Judge Calderwood suspended sentences of Carmen Keriker of Amsterdam and John Clemente of Gloversville who both entered pleas of guilty to charges of attempted arson at the Healy dance hall in 1934. Max Brown, indicted by the grand jury for complicity, was exonerated by Keriker who begged off in court as having used Brown’s name when excited, and as a possible means of squeezing out of the tight situation.”

Of the remaining would-be arsonists, on May 29 1935, Isola, Crocetta, Ferrara, and Berretta received jail terms. Isola was sentenced to one and one-half years at Dannemora while Crocetta, Ferrara and Berretta were invited by Judge Calderwood to assume residence at Onondaga for eight months. All four were expected to do hard labor, which in those days was, well, really really hard.