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Governor Cuomo Announces Unveiling of Plaque Honoring Night Watchman Who Perished in 1911 Capitol Fire

Legislation Directing the Office of General Services to Install and Maintain Plaque Signed into Law Last Year

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo recently announced the unveiling of a plaque in the New York State Capitol that honors Samuel J. Abbott, a Civil War veteran who lost his life while serving as a night watchman during the Capitol fire of 1911. Last year, Governor Cuomo signed legislation sponsored by state Senator Catharine Young and Assemblymember Patricia Fahy that directed the Office of General Services to install and maintain the plaque.

"Samuel J. Abbott served this nation and this state with honor and his tragic passing was a significant moment in the history of this building," Governor Cuomo said. "With this marker, we will help ensure that his contributions and his memory will not be forgotten."

OGS Commissioner RoAnn Destito said, "We at the Office of General Services are pleased to recognize Samuel J. Abbott's service and his sacrifice with the placement of a commemorative plaque in New York's statehouse. As the caretakers of New York State's Capitol, we have a great deal of appreciation for the women and men who are dedicated, just as Mr. Abbott was, to keeping safe and secure this grand, historic building that has served as our seat of government since the 1880s. I encourage everyone to visit and take a tour of the Capitol to see the plaque installed in Mr. Abbott's honor."

Senator Catharine Young said, "Samuel Abbott was a decorated Civil War veteran and dedicated public servant who tragically lost his life in the catastrophic fire that swept through the Capitol on March 29, 1911. Legend has it that he delayed his exit from the fiery hallways to ensure that no others were trapped, closing doors behind him along the way to slow the fire's advance. Those selfless actions sadly cost him his life as he was overcome by deadly smoke before he could reach safety. With this plaque, we etch his place in the history of this devastating event and justly pay tribute to his memory and sacrifice."

Assemblymember Patricia Fahy said, "Samuel Abbott's service to his country and to New York State merits his recognition in the Capitol. Over 100 years ago, his heroic actions saved the lives of many public servants. The sole casualty of the Great Fire of 1911, Abbott was dedicated to his job as a night watchman and spent many years in service to the Capitol. I am proud to have sponsored legislation in the Assembly to permanently memorialize Samuel Abbott's heroism with a plaque near his post in the Capitol."

Senator Neil D. Breslin said, "Samuel J. Abbott was an exemplary serviceman. I applaud Commissioner Destito and the Office of General Services for taking the 107th anniversary of the Capitol fire as an opportunity to commemorate the night watchman as a treasured piece of our State Capitol's rich history."

Assemblymember John T. McDonald III said, "I am glad to see this long overdue honor bestowed upon Samuel Abbott who sacrificed his life in the New York State Capitol Great Fire of 1911 attempting to preserve the records he was tasked with protecting. Thank you to Assemblymember Patricia Fahy and the Office of General Services Commissioner RoAnn Destito for spearheading this effort and recognizing this distinguished public servant and for this fitting tribute to his service."

Abbott was born in 1833 in Syracuse. During the Civil War, he achieved the rank of first lieutenant in the 12th New York State Volunteer Infantry. In 1895, he was hired as a watchman at the New York State Library, then housed in the Capitol, where he patrolled the three floors of the Capitol devoted to the library from approximately 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

On March 29, 1911, when Abbott was 78 years old and walked with the aid of a cane, the Capitol fire began around 2:15 a.m. It took many hours for firefighters using horse-drawn pumpers to bring the blaze under control. Abbott was reported missing, and it wasn't until two days later that his remains were found in a fourth-floor corridor. He had almost made it to safety but was overcome by the smoke and flames. His silver-headed cane was discovered a few feet away.

Abbott's funeral took place at St. Peter's Church in Albany, with Governor John Alden Dix in attendance. Abbott was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Syracuse, alongside his wife Jennie, who had died just two months prior.

The plaque honoring Abbott was installed on the Capitol's third floor, just outside the Legislative Library.