On June 9, 1933, brothers Joseph C. and Eugene L. Marcure of Springfield confessed to burning a 300-foot barn in the Longmeadow meadows the previous Wednesday. Excerpts from the Springfield Republican outline the events of the day:
“Joseph said that he and his brother had gone to the “flats” in Longmeadow early Wednesday morning to shoot bullfrogs…It was while they were at this sport that they said they formulated the idea of setting fire to the barn which overlooked the river just for the sake of seeing a big blaze.” The two agreed to go home, then meet later in the evening to burn the building.
The two men became intoxicated. “Joseph said…that he and his brother set fire to the structure with matches between 11 and 11:30 Wednesday night and then, after extinguishing their automobile headlights, proceeded back to Emerson road from where they watched the fire for a while as they stood on a hilltop.”
The brothers decided to return to the barn to mix with the other automobiles that had been attracted to the blaze. On the way, they encountered a “Longmeadow recluse,” Berkeley H. Taylor, who tried to take down the license number of their vehicle. Both parties were armed. Shots were exchanged and Berkley Taylor was seriously injured.
“Following the shooting, Joseph said that he drove his car at full speed toward the railroad tracks and that two or three cars were waiting at the crossing for an approaching train to pass. The red light signals were against the automobile traffic but Joseph said that he stepped on the accelerator and shot over the tracks just missing the onrushing locomotive by scant yards.” The brothers then returned to their homes in Springfield.
The Marcure brothers admitted to shooting Berkeley Taylor, but they denied any intention to murder him. On September 20, 1933, Joseph and Eugene Marcure were sentenced to 4 to 7 years in prison for their actions.
In the newspaper articles, Berkeley Taylor was described as an eccentric and living in a “home-made shack near the scene of the fire.” Berkeley Taylor was charged with possession of an unregistered weapon. When he refused to provide surety of $1,000 due to his poverty, or to ask anyone else to provide it for him, he was committed to jail. On September 20, 1933, he received a sentence of probation due to extenuating circumstances.
The author first learned of these events and of Berkeley Taylor when a descendant of the Marcure family contacted the Historical Commission in 2016 searching for information about the burned barn, which was said to be located between Emerson Road and Birnie Road. I consulted with Historical Society board members and, unfortunately, we were not able to conclusively provide a location for the barn. The fire and all of those involved had disappeared from local memory. But the inquiry made me curious to know more about Berkeley Taylor. Who was this eccentric, impoverished man who was living in a home-made shack in the meadows? The archives of the Longmeadow Historical Society had no information on him, but a search on the online databases GenealogyBank and Ancestry revealed a busy and interesting life.
Berkeley Taylor was born June 12, 1895 to Palmer and Lena Taylor. The family moved from Springfield to 812 Longmeadow Street when Berkeley was young, and he was raised in Longmeadow. Newspaper articles reveal that Berkeley was active in youth activities at First Church and the Longmeadow Tennis Club.
Longmeadow did not have a high school in the early 1900s so Berkeley, like all Longmeadow teenage students, hopped a trolley car and traveled to Springfield for his education. Berkeley graduated from Springfield Technical High School in 1914.
Berkeley may have been Longmeadow’s first scoutmaster. According to an article in the June 22, 1916 Springfield Republican, “The boys’ club, which has been under the charge of Berkeley H. Taylor, has disbanded and the boys have decided to become Boy Scouts. They are called troop 7 of the Springfield district of the Boy Scouts of America. Berkeley Taylor, who was in charge of the club, will be scout master.”
On June 4, 1917, Berkeley Taylor registered for the draft. At some point, probably in 1918, Berkeley joined the U.S. Marine Corps as a 2nd Lieutenant.
In the fall of 1917, Berkeley learned to fly at the Curtiss Flying School in both Hammondsport, NY and Newport News, VA, and he received his pilot’s license by the end of October, 1917. He became an aviation instructor, working first at Mineola, NY, then at Wichita Falls, TX.
On March 25, 1918, Berkeley crashed his airplane during a training exercise. According to the Springfield Republican, “While giving a lesson March 25 looping the loop and other difficult maneuvers the machine went into a tail-spin and not being sufficiently high in the air to make the turn crashed to the earth.” Berkeley was injured, but he recuperated and was transferred to Miami, FL. After the war ended, Berkeley remained in the Marine Corps Reserves until 1927.
According to newspaper articles and Marine Corps records, after the war Berkeley shows up in many places: Fort Gamble, WA; Brookline, MA; Quantico, VA; Washington, D.C.; and Longmeadow, MA. He flew one of the earliest mail routes for the post office. He never lost his love of flying and in October, 1920 he was employed by the Aeromarine Plane and Motor Company in Keyport, NJ.
On July 12, 1930, Berkeley Taylor was testing an experimental airplane designed by the Springfield Aero-Marine Company when the plane crashed to the earth from a 40-foot altitude. The Springfield Republican reported that “Taylor, a mechanic at Dunn field, escaped with slight injury, but the plane was badly damaged when it came in contact with a tree.” Because the plane was unlicensed, Berkeley’s pilot’s license was suspended. When he tried to renew his license, he was turned down after a physical examination showed that he was unfit to fly. The medical report stated that Berkeley had a nervous disposition and had survived four serious airplane accidents.
Unable to fly, Berkeley was living in the meadows when he encountered Eugene and Joseph Marcure. Shortly after receiving his probation sentence on September 20, 1933, Berkeley Taylor was in McLean, VA where he married a widow, Narcissa R. Gorham on October 7. Due to the timing of the marriage, it is highly likely that the two had known each other during Berkeley's earlier travels.
In 1935, Berkeley found work in the Veterans Work Program on a project to complete the Overseas Highway connecting Key West with the Florida mainland. He was assigned to Veterans Work Program Camp 1, which was located on Windley Key, FL. On Labor Day, 1935, a Category 5 hurricane wiped out the three veterans camps in the keys and Berkeley was one of at least 259 World War I veterans who lost their lives during the storm.
We are grateful to the inquiry by the descendant of the Marcure family which led us to this forgotten tale of crime, service, aviation, and tragedy.
-Contributed by Beth Hoff, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member
Sources: Springfield Technical High School Yearbook, 1914 Springfield Republican: Jun. 12, 1914; Jun. 22, 1916, Aug. 21, 1917; Sept. 13, 1917; Oct. 15, 1915; Dec. 7, 1917; Apr. 11, 1918; May 4, 1918; Oct. 4, 1920; Jul. 25, 1930; Nov. 14, 1930; Oct. 23, 1931; June 9, 1933; July 11, 1933; Sept. 14, 1933; Sept. 20, 1933 Find A Grave U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 U.S., Marine Corps Muster Rolls, 1798-1958 Virginia, U.S., Marriage Registers, 1853-1935 Archives of the Longmeadow Historical Society