Other views, other voices:

A camera crew shoots a snowy Rikers scene for a 1957 TV retelling of the airline disaster
and dramatic rescue. The Armstrong Circle Theatre lens crew stands at the flagpole
of the circular drive's grassy area hidden beneath the snow. In the background
on the right is the Catholic Chapel of the Sacred Heart. On the left is
the Protestant chapel and mission house. The camera faces the Penitentiary area.

The flag pole's circular drive and grassy area that are hidden beneath the snow in the above 1957 photo can be seen in a detail (below right) from a 1948 aerial photo of Rikers Island. They appear below (D)
The above detail from a 1948 aerial photo of Rikers Island shows where the circular drive flag pole in the top-of-page image was situated: below (D) the Protestant chapel and to the left of (E) the Penitentiary entrance. Also shown in the detal is (F) Rikers island Hospital.
the Protestant chapel and to the left of (E) the Penitentiary front entrance. Also seen in the 1948 aerial photo image is (F) the Rikers Island Hospital.

Behind the Protestant chapel can be seen, in the aerial view detail, the outer edge of the vast tree nursery that in those days took up much of the island not occupied by the Penitentiary and its support buildings, many of which were clustered near the ferry slip facing the Bronx mainland.

The cultivated woodland supplied most of the trees and shrubs for the Parks Department and also gave inmates an opportunity for job training in tree planting and maintenance.

A Rikers Island 1952 map detail depicts resident chaplains' chapels. That for the Catholic priests is identified as "rectory" (lower right). It is on the same side of the roadway as the front of Penitentiary where the administration offices were situated (lower left). Across the roadway near the flag pole circular drive is shown the Protestant minister's chapel and home labeled as "mission house and chapel" (upper right).
For eight decades prior to the 1966 opening of the bridge linking the island to Queens, the city agency that operated correctional facilities on Rikers -- first the Department of Public Charities and Correction and later the Department of Correction -- built and maintained residences there for key personnel.

Wardens, doctors, clergy and others who were needed to respond quickly day or night to sudden emergencies had homes on the island for themselves and their families. Commuting to and from Rikers by ferry sufficed for most staffers since they worked various duty shifts. But a limited few were supposed be available 24x7. During pre-bridge decades, that meant residing there.

On the snowy night of Feb. 1, 1957, when Northeast Airlines Flight 823 crashed into Rikers moments after takeoff from nearby LaGuardia Airport, its initial impact point was the wooded acreage behind but some distance from the Protestant Mission House.

The Protestant Mission House and Chapel as it looked in the 1950s. Note that the residence of the minister and his family was attached to the chapel. Steps to an entrance for the home can be seen on the right near the rear. When about a quarter century ago the road in front of the chapels, Hazen Street, was widened into a divided roadway with long lawns running down its center, the Episcopalian Mission House and Chapel building was demolished.
The plane halted in the vicinity of the poultry farm some distance away from the cell blocks of the Rikers Penitentiary and the Catholic Chapel of the Sacred Heart.

The Protestant minister, the Rev. Dr. E. Frederick Proelss, and members of his family were among the very first on the horrific scene. They helped bring survivors to the safety of their home and soon turned it and its chapel into a makeshift emergency center. For this commemorative presentation, the minister's daughter Dalphine Proelss Lowe shared her recollection of the events of that night:

I heard a loud roar, saw a bright flash of light, and then my Mother screamed. Since I was only 11 years old, I ran into my older brother's room for protection, as he was running up the stairs to my room, and my father was charging into the kitchen to see if his wife was alright.

Though their chapels were on opposite sides of Rikers' main road, the island's resident chaplains, Rev. Proelss, left, and Fathers Anthony Glaser, S. J., were close colleagues and good friends, traveling the same pathway of service together. Both were honored for their response in the 1957 air disaster.
Then both my Mother and the houseman at that time (John Sawyer, a trustee) yelled that a plane had crashed in the field adjacent to our house. Our kitchen where they were preparing dinner was directly in the line of sight.

The first people on the scene were my father, brother (Michael) and John. We could see large flames, billowing white smoke and the outlines of what looked like very small shadows running through the snow. My brother lead the first survivors to our house, while John and my father remained at the scene. Shortly thereafter help came from staff and inmates who had volunteered.

It was an amazing sight, both frightening and truly heroic. The badly burnt survivors were taken from our house to the island's hospital."

The Catholic chaplain, Jesuit Father Anthony Glaser, also responded. Both Rev. Proelss and Fr. Glaser were among those receiving DOC's Meritorious Service Awards for their part in the rescue response to the air crash.

Given the role that the chaplains both played in the plane crash aftermath, calling attention to the presence of their chapels in background of the top-of-page photo of the Armstrong Circle Theatre crew filming the docu-drama about the disaster and rescue is apprpriate.

Above is an image, at least a half century old, of the Rikers Island Chapel of the Sacred Heart. Its first mass was offered Christmas Eve 1944 by Rev. Anthony N. Glaser, the Catholic chaplin for the Penitentiary. Early in the 21st Century, the former chapel was remodeled on the inside into a command center but the exterior appearance was retained, harkening back to the past era when it served as a house of worship.
The Armstrong series was a drama anthology that aired on NBC for eight seasons and CBS for six seasons.

Entitled Day of Disaster: Riker's Island, the air crash and rescue episode was Number 258 in the series and first aired May 14, 1957 during its 8th and final season with NBC.

The host was John Cameron Swayze, TV news pioneer and later Timex spokesman ("takes a licking, keeps on ticking"). David Susskind and Alfred Levy's Talent Associates, Ltd. produced the Armstrong Circle Theatre. It began as a half-hour show but in 1955 was expanded to a full-hour.

When the series expanded to hour shows, its emphasis on the story content over "star" actors intensified. It began presenting fact-based dramatizations using a news story as a basis or "inspiration." If not the first, it was among the first docu-drama type shows on TV.

John Cameron Swayze was host/narrator for the Armstrong Circle Theatre docu-drama Day of Disaster: Rikers Island, first aired May 14, 1957.
The docu-drama "factual feel" was strengthened by use of a well-known newscaster serving as host/narrator for the program, such as anchorman John Cameron Swayze. Swayze had made radio history in 1949 when he hosted NBC's first television newscast. It was called Camel News Caravan and aired for 15 minute. He read news wires and sometimes interviewed people in the news. When the Armstrong series moved from NBC to CBS in 1957, CBS news anchor Douglas Edwards replaced Swayze. The latter's son, Cameron Swayze, anchors news on WCBS Newsradio 880 Saturdays and Sundays.

The Armstrong Circle Theatre was not the only TV series to devote one of its episodes to the 1957 Rikers air crash and rescue. In 1964, a documentary series that retold stories of people who suvived disasters and other dangerous situations aired Survival: Flight 823.

Narrated by actor James Whitmore and making extensive use of newsreel footage, the documentary returned to the snowy night of Feb. 1, 1957 as seen through the eyes of the Solomonsky family of Syosset, L.I. -- Robert and Sandra and their small son, Gary.

Sherman Grinberg, left, creator-producer of the Survival documentary series using newsreels from his archives. The footage in the "Flight 823" espisode includes scenes showing the burning wreckage that night and the burnt debris the next morning. In the daylight scenes one can catch glimpses the Penitentiary wings, farm structures, and faint outlines of what could be the island's two chapels. Actor James Whitmore, right, was the host-narrator.
Robert's lumber business had prevented his accompanying his wife and child on Flight 823 but he had see them off at the airport. As he drove home, news of the crash flashed over the car radio. He returned to LaGuardia Airport, somehow secured passage on an emergency boat to the island, and found his wife and son.

Survival was a syndicated documentary series conceived by Sherman Grinberg and was distributed by Official Films. Grinberg had acquired the American Pathe and Paramount newsreel collections in the 1960s. He has been credited with helping pioneer the archived news film footage industry. After his death more than two decades ago, his company moved from New York to California.

Click the above image of the 1957 awards order Page 1 to download a printable copy (Adobe Acrobat PDF, 8 W x 10.8H, 100 dpi, 454 Kb). Click the image below of the 1957 awards order Page 2 to download a printable copy (Adobe Acrobat PDF, 8 W x 10 H, 100 dpi, 569 Kb).
A closing scene in Survival: Flight 823 shows Penitentiary inmates, backs to camera, filing past Correction Commissioner Anna M. Kross, First Deputy Commissioner Frederick C. Rieber, and other top DOC officials who are congratulating them for their part in the air crash response. Not shown was the ceremony in which more than 40 DOC staffers, civilian and uniformed, received departmental Meritorious Service Awards for their part. News media spotlight emphasis on the inmate participation in the rescue effort tended to downplay or disregard the initiative, involvement and supervision by Correction personnel.

But the Commissioners of NYC's other two major uniformed forces recognized DOC personnel's role in the emergency response. They were quoted by Commissioner Kross in her May 15, 1957 order bestowing the departmental awards. She noted that a Feb. 15, 1957, communication from Fire Commissioner Edward F. Cavanaugh stated, in part:

May I take this opportunity to again congratulate you and your staff for the magnificent work that was accomplisheb by way of rescue and relief to the victims of the plate crash on Rikers Island on Friday, February 1st, 1957. All in all, the work was in the highest tradition of municipal service.

She also noted that a Feb. 15, 1957, communication from Police Commissioner Stephan P. Kennedy stated, in part:

The late James W. Mulvey who, when a C.O., was among 40+ DOC staffers honored for their rescue response to the Rikers air crash. Click his image to access a page showing an example of the award certificate and the names of the honorees.
I wish to express our sincere appreciation for the cooperation extended by members of your department who were assigned on Rikers Island at the time of the recent airplane crash This is another fine example of the close coordiuation existing between our two agencies and aided greatly in the more efficent handling of a situation which was made most difficult by the bad weather and the location of the accident.

Kross' order also quotes a Feb. 19, 1957, commuication from Penitentiary Warden Harry Silberglitt that stated in part:

Click image for Part III of this presentation.
In view of the fine work done by the personnel and the inmates of this institution, it is recommended that consideration be given to the granting of departmental recognition to all employees who are found to have done their job over and above what ordinarily constitutes their normal duties.

NYCHS is indebted to
Click image for Part I of this presentation.
Warden Kathleen Mulvey for making available to this web site her father's original copy of Kross' order bestowing the awards. James W. Mulvey, then a Correction Officer assigned to the Penitentiary, was one of the more than 40 staffers so honored.

To List of DOC staffers honored for air crash response.
To: List of names of those aboard Northeast Airlines DC-6A Feb. 1, 1957
To The Andersons of Canada remember.
To Remembering Mario DeRosa.
To Remembering Esther Chopelas.
To CAB report on its investigation of the crash.
To: 1989 airplane crash into Rikers Island channel waters
To: NYCHS home page.
To NYC DOC history menu page.