12 such murder cases in 70 years: Dec. 18, 1869 thru Dec. 9, 1939

Rev. Cordello C. Herrick:
14 Years Auburn Prison Protestant Chaplain

8,000+ Inmates and More Than 2 Dozen Electrocutions

In the spring of 1911, the Rev. Cordello C. Herrick was preparing to leave his position as Auburn Prison Protestant Chaplain, a post to which he had been appointed October 15th, 1897, by the then State Superintendent of Prisons Austin Lathrop.

In the 14 years of his chaplaincy, Rev. Herrick had seen a prison population turnover of more than 8,000 inmates. During that same period, more than two dozen executions had been carried out in the prison's electric chair, including a number at which Chaplain Herrick provided spiritual support to the condemned.

On at least four occasions, his role on Auburn Prison's death row or in its death chamber drew mention in newspaper accounts of inmate executions: Leon Czolgosz, Chester Gillette, Pacy Hill, and Oscar Rice. (For details, see the Pacy Hill page.)

Auburn Prison Protestant Chaplain Rev. Cordello C. Herrick.
Rev. Herrick's predecessor, the Rev. Horatio H. Yates, who had been Auburn Protestant chaplain from December 1888, attended the world's first execution by electricity Aug. 6, 1890. Immediately prior to that electrocution, Chaplain Yates visited with the condemned man William Kemmler in his cell and prayed with him.

While imprisoned at Auburn, the illiterate Kemmler had been taught by Mrs. Charles Durston, the warden's wife, to write his own name, an accomplishment about which he was quite proud and pleased. He gave to Chaplain Yates the slate on which he had practiced in chalk and which still bore his autograph.

Both Yates and Herrick were M. E. Church pastors.

Rev. Yates's predecessor was the Rev. William Searls, first appointed Auburn Prison chaplain Jan. 1, 1873, serving three years and six months.

Rev. Searls was again appointed March 1, 1877, and served until receiving word from NY State Prisons Superintendent Austin Lathrop Tuesday, Dec. 11, 1888, that he would be replaced on "Thursday next" by the Rev. Yates.

The change was believed related to the fact that the Rev. Searls was an active Republican and the Rev. Yates, a Democrat. The latter's replacement, Rev. Herrick, was identified with the Republicans.

Son of Civil War veteran William Henry Herrick and Ada Flansburg Herrick, Cordello was born in Toddsville, Otsego County, N. Y., near Cooperstown May 4, 1866, and about two years later moved with his parents and siblings to Auburn, N. Y., where he was reared and educated. Initially he learned the machinist's trade but after some years began the study of theology.

Compressed view of Auburn Theological Seminary campus circa 1875.
One wonders whether the deaths in childhood of a sister, two brothers and his mother (1882) helped turn his mind from things mechanical to things spiritual. One also ponders what conflicting impacts on him might have come from growing up in a village where the most impressive building complexes were the Theological Seminary, the State Penitentiary, and the D.M. Osborne & Co. farm machinery manufacturing plant. David Munson Osborne, who founded what became the largest maker of harvesting machines in the world, fathered one of this country's greatest prison reformer, Thomas Mott Osborne, who succeeded to the presidency of D. M. Osborne & Co. upon the founder's death in 1886.

Even though the Auburn Theological Seminary was Presbyterian and the Herrick family was Methodist Episcopal, still the presence of that large campus of massive edifices devoted to the cause of religion must have exerted an influence cutting across sectarian considerations. One of Cordello's brothers also became a minister, the Rev. Albert E. Herrick of Nunda, NY.

At a juncture such as this -- his impending departure from a post in which nearly a decade and a half of service had been invested -- Rev. Herrick surely must have reflected upon the first steps that he took 25 years earlier which led to his chaplaincy.

Among these he would have counted two major personal moves which he made circa 1886 -- getting married and preparing to apply for a Methodist Episcopal "license to exhort," a status preliminary to applying eventually for a "license to preach."

The Wall St. M.E. Church, where Cordello Herrick made application for his "license to exhort," was near the intersection of Wall and Washington Streets, with a good view of Auburn Prison's wall. Click image to access Bill Hecht's 1857 Auburn map section from which this detail was extracted.
Cordello's "exhort license" application was made to the Rev Thomas Sharpe, pastor of the Wall Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Auburn.

Lest the reader think this was a wealthy financial district cathedral, the street from which the modest church took its name runs alongside one of rectangular Auburn Prison's two "longer" walls. Owasco River runs alongside the other "longer" wall. The penitentiary's State St. entrance is on one of the site's two "shorter" sides. See the map detail above.

Evidentially, the machinist-become-would-be minister convinced Rev. Sharpe that he possessed sufficient virtues, skills and knowledge "to exhort." On Sept. 14, 1887, the pastor of the church at 69 Wall St. granted the future prison chaplain his license to begin conducting worship services and proclaiming the Gospel.

The Thompson Memorial AME Zion Church at the 69 Wall Street site in Auburn, formerly the Wall St. M. E. Church where Cordello Herrick applied for a "license to exhort." Harriet Tubman had been an active member of the Thompson Memorial A. M. E. Zion Church,
One could speculate on the possibility of Rev. Sharpe arranging with the Rev. William Searls, then Protestant chaplain at the prison up the street, to provide, so to speak, a captured audience - the convicts - with whom the young "exhorter" might begin his proclaimings.

More than a century later -- to be precise, 106 years later -- the Thompson Memorial AME Zion Church relocated to the 69 Wall Street site in Auburn.

Underground Railroad "conductor" Harriet Tubman, famed as "Moses of Her People," had been an active member of the Thompson Memorial A. M. E. Zion Church, deeding over to it property she owned in Auburn. She set a proviso that the church continue to operate a home for the aged which she had established there and where she herself spent her declining days. She died in that home at age 92 or 93 in 1913.

In 1993 her AME Zion church moved into the former Wall Street M.E. Church.

After little more than two months of exercising his "license to exhort," Cordello sought to advance to the next level and applied for a "license to preach," which was granted Dec. 6, 1887 by the Rev. Dr. Luke C. Queal, presiding elder of the district.

Cordello advanced further Oct. 13, 1888 when he was "admitted" and granted "full connection" Oct. 11, 1890, with Bishop W. X. Ninde, presiding. On Oct. 9, 1892, with Bishop Folwer presiding, Rev. Herrick completed the ordination process he had initiated a half dozen years earlier.

Three NY counties where Rev. Herrick served.
The congregations whom he initially "exhorted" and to whom he first preached were situated in his own home county of Cayuga: Locke in 1888 and Union Springs in 1888 - 1890.

A quilt, made by members of Locke Methodist Church, was presented to Rev. Cordello C. Herrick and his wife Emily Elizabeth Taylor Herrick circa 1888.

The quilt was created either to welcome the new minister or to celebrate the birth of their first child, Ada Emily Herrick who was born July 22, 1888 in Locke.

Carol Galusha, Ada's granddaughter who lovingly preserves the quilt as a family treasure, isn't sure which motivation prompted the Locke ladies to begin stitching it but is just glad they did. Perhaps both motivations emerged and merged in due course in 1888.

Overall view of quilt. Click image above for larger version on the Cayuga County NYGenWeb Project site.
View of some quilt panels. Click image above for larger version on the Cayuga County NYGenWeb Project site.
The quilt contains 56 primary panels (8x7) and 42 interior panels (6x7).

Fifty-three primary panels and 14 interior panels are signed for a total of 67 signed panels.

On the Cayuga County NYGenWeb Project site, Carol's husband, Brian Galusha, has posted images of the quilt along with a list of panel singers' names. Click either quilt image above for the web page containing the panel signer names, the quilt description, historical background notes and larger versions of the above images.

Rev. Herrick's next congregations -- Hopewell and Flint Creek (1891-1894) -- were situated in a nearby county: Ontario.

He also served as a fill-in or "supply" minister at Savannah (1895-1896) in Wayne County, adjacent to the northern border of Ontario County and the northwestern border of Cayuga County. Wayne was also the home county of the first Mrs. Herrick. Emily was from Newark, about 20 miles west of Savannah. Later (1897) Rev. Herrick served as supply minister to the Locke church.

Above is a sepia image of the front cover of the 1913-14 Christmas/New Year issue of the Star of Hope, printed at Sing Sing but containing articles and poems from other NY prisons as well: Clinton, Great Meadows, Auburn and its Women's Prison. Click image for more details. Use your browser's "back" button to return to this page.
The above cited developments in his life, leading to his Auburn Prison chaplaincy, may very well have been among the reflections he pondered as he prepared to leave the post. But he also would have thought about his chaplaincy itself, nearly a decade and a half, closing out the 19th Century and opening up the 20th.

That turn-of-the-century era had seen renwed interest in reform of the penitentiary system that itself had been ushered in as a prison reform duiring the previous turn-of-the-century. Indeed, one of the motivations attributed to Cordello for his taking the chaplaincy post was the opportunity it would afford him to do something positive to help the prisoners.

"I recall reading somewhere among Chaplain Herrick-related materials that one of the reasons that he went to serve at Auburn Prison was to participate in the prison reform, which may well have been already underway but in which he wanted make his personal contribution," said Brian Galusha, husband of Rev. Herrick's great-granddaughter, Carol.

"The implication of what I read was that Cordello wanted to be part of the reform effort at the time to reduce the mistreatment of prisoners and to attempt to return more of them to society better that when they entered prison."

His chaplain duties had been many and varied. He interviewed all new admissions, recording their names, ages, occupations, education levels, habits of life, prior convictions, place and date of birth, parental backgrounds, religions, and other information including the sentences and the crimes that generated the sentences.

Each new inmate received two books, one spiritual and one secular -- a Bible or prayer book and a library book.

During Rev. Herrick's incumbency as Protestant chaplain, he built up a library of some 8000 volumes, both spiritual and secular. The latter included such subjects as history, biography, science, fiction, and trades.

He also served as a censor checking articles and poems written by Auburn prisoners for submission to the prison system's inmate newspaper, the Star of Hope.

The chaplain daily visited inmates in prison infirmary. While the number of those terminally ill may have been relatively few in any one year, the total in that category during all the years of his daily infirmary visits surely matched, if not exceeded the 15 or more condemned men whom he is said to have served as spiritual advisor in their final days, hours and minutes.

Above is a reduced image of the "Farewell Greetings" -- the original is 13.5 " by 17" -- presented by Auburn Prison inmates to Rev. Herrick upon his departure as chaplain. Below are detail images of key parts of the "Farewell Greetings," (a wonderful, if somewhat contradictory turn-of-phrase).
All "Farewell Greetings" images, above and below, appear by permission of Brian and Carol Galusha who reserve and retain all rights thereto.

While about 27 inmates were executed in Auburn Prison's electric chair during the years of Rev. Herrick's chaplaincy, about a dozen availed themselves of the Catholic chaplain or clergy they knew from their home communities.

For example, Mrs. Mary Farmer of Jefferson County, who on March 29, 1909, became the first woman electrocuted in Auburn Prison, relied on the services of the penitentiary's Catholic chaplain, the Rev. John J. Hickey, pastor of Holy Family Church, Auburn.

In addition to providing for the spiritual needs of the inmates, among whom every variety of religious (and in some cases, irreligious) thought could be found, Chaplain Herrick was involved in coming up with and carrying out programs that engaged, educated and/or entertained the inmates.

Rev. Herrick's prison school, teaching illiterates to read and write, attended by about 50 to 70 inmates, drew favorable mention in a 1904 statewide survey report by the Prison Association of New York.

The chaplain also arranged musical programs for the inmates. He likely smiled to himself as he recalled when his talented daughter, Ada, would appear in these concert programs, playing piano pieces for the prisoners.

Years later, Ada herself recounted to her own children and grandchildren, the many times that she would entertain the prison inmates by playing recitals for them when she was very young.

Evidentially her efforts were most appreciated by the inmates. Some of the convicts provided her with several gifts that she treasured all her life.

These included a peach pit carved in the form of a monkey, a necklace made from braided horsehair, an elaborate pair of doll boots, and an exceptionally well-made jewelry box complete with a hidden drawer.

"Gifts of exceptional love made by men who received little of the same from society in that day," her granddaughter Carol Galusha commented in sharing these family memories with the New York Correction History Society.

Among her family treasures is an Auburn Citizen Advertiser Saturday, Jan. 20,1973.clipping about Ada Herrick Yury's life It relates that Ada's first recital was performed when she was just 9 years old. Both her parents possessed musical talent; her mother often playing duets with her on the piano.

The article recounts Ada recalling that she would visit her father at the prison on many occasions and play for the inmates. One inmate trustee, imprisoned for manslaughter, was the prison librarian whom Chaplain Herrick regarded as a trusted friend of the Chaplain. The convict would read stories to Ada and her brother, Frank.

Ada Herrick attended Syracuse University, graduating in 1910 with a four-year degree in Piano and Theory of Music.

She married photographer Herbert E. Yury of Seneca Falls and lived in Auburn the remainder of her years. There she taught piano to hundreds of young students, was an organist at several churches in the Auburn region and conducted piano recitals for more than 70 years.

One of her husband's photo assignments was quite historic -- covering the 1929 Auburn Prison riots. He mentioned it in one of his many letters.

Herbert Yury died at a relatively young age in the 1930s. Ada kept alive memory of him, for herself and for her family, preserving a great number of mementos of and from him including virtually every letter he ever wrote to her.

Upon Rev. Herrick's departure as chaplain, he received a 13.5 inch by 17 inch "Farewell Greetings" (see images immediately above) from inmates appreciative of his efforts on their and other inmates' behalf. One suspects that the inmate artist (George Claire?) who illustrated the "Farewell Greetings" for the chaplain also did art work for the "Star of Hope" 11x17 inch front covers. See the 1913/14 "Star of Hope" cover further up this page for comparison. The style is strikingly similar.

NYS Prisons Superintendent Cornelius V. Collins, in his letter accepting the Rev. Herrick's resignation, spoke of the chaplain's work in the highest terms.

A local newspaper, while speaking well of his chaplaincy work, noted that he also was "a public-spirited man of affairs," referring to his activity in the secular and civic realms. His interest in real estate was cited. Rev. Herrick was active in that regard with others in the Auburn area, including former Mayor and prison reformer Thomas Mott Osborne.

Cordello Avenue Elementary School in the Central Islip School District, L.I.
In 1910 the Rev. Cordello Herrick saw development potential in a section of Central Islip, L.I. and formed an Auburn real estate company with various business associates.

His and their names were given to local streets.

Thus today there's a Cordello Avenue Elementary School, at 51 Cordello Avenue, a street that takes its name from the Auburn Prison chaplain.

In April 1913 his holdings included:

  • 4 "dwelling houses" in Auburn,
  • 1 "improved realty" in Auburn,
  • 10 city lots in Second Ward, Auburn,
  • 25 city lots in Geneva, N.Y.,
  • 1 city lot in Washington, D.C.,
  • 1 city lot in Rochester.

During his Auburn residency, with a life already filled with professional and business pursuits, ministerial duties, and family demands, Rev. Herrick still found time to serve nearly six years in the National Guard ("Second Separate Company, N. G. N. Y. S.") and maintain membership in various fraternal organizations.

His moving "from Auburn is regretted by the many friends he has made here," the local newspaper remarked.

What Cordello was embarking upon constituted more than just a move to a nearby county for another ministry post. Rather he was moving some 212 miles away to another state and to another kind of life. He was leaving active ministry to head up the Erie, Pa., branch of the New York Life Insurance Co., with a staff of 50 responsible for company coverage of 10 northwestern counties of Pennsylvania. Their offices were situated at 415-16-17 Commerce Building; his home was at 59 E. 6th Street.

But Mr. Herrick continued allegiance to the faith of his fathers, attending the First Methodist Episcopal Church services in Erie, Pa. He also kept up active involvement in fraternal organizations. A member of Perry Masonic Lodge, the Consistory and Zem Zem Shrine, Mr. Herrick was a leader in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

The original 1844 Wyoming Seminary building.
During WWI, he chaired Erie's Local Draft Board No. 1.

On Aug. 19, 1913, Cordello married Miss Grace E. Copp, of Auburn, a music teacher and organist.

Mr. Herrick's son, Frank C. was educated at Wyoming Seminary in Kingston, Pa., an general education institution founded by Methodist leaders in 1844. Frank married Helen Stephens of Nicholson, Pa.

Cordello C. Herrick died in 1939 at age 73. Mrs. Grace Herrick, who was born in 1877, died in 1959 at age 82. Their remains were buried in Weedsport Rural Cemetery, the Town of Brutus, Cayuga County.

Cordello clearly was a man of wide-ranging interests in this world as well as the next. He possessed remarkable capacity to turn his life from one major direction to another, as evident when he switched from mechanics to the ministry as a young man and from the ministry to business management in his middle years. Yet throughout he maintained ties to church and to community.

Mr. Herrick's story is worth mention in these web pages because it reflects much history involving the Auburn Prison chaplaincy in particular and life in general during his era in the Auburn region .


The New York Correction History Society expresses appreciation to Carol and Brian Galusha for their help with information and images used in this web page bio of her great-grandfather.

Thomas McCarthy,
General Secretary/webmaster
NY Correction History Society
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