Historic, but not famous

James Butler, AFSCME union president

James Butler was elected AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) Union president of Local 420 in 1972, and immediately took on the battle for better pay, benefits and educational opportunities, and against privatization and hospital closings. Butler studied at City College and worked at Fordham Hospital starting in 1954. He led the Union through the financial crisis in New York City in the 1970s.

Butler raised the public profile of the Local through rallies, marches, involvement in community affairs and a firm commitment to national, and even international, campaigns for civil rights and human rights. The Union, under his leadership, developed the newspaper City Hospital Worker and participated in the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the New York State Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH, the NAACP, the National Urban League, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Labor Committee and other labor and civil rights organizations. The Local became a leading force in ASCME DC37’s Hospitals Division and in AFSCME’s Health Advisory Committee.

The Union, under Butler’s leadership, went up against the Giuliani administration, preventing them from selling off the city hospitals to private interests and undermining the city hospital system. They saved Coney Island, Elmhurst and Queens hospitals going to court against the city. The city did slash the budgets of the hospitals, but they remained city hospitals.

Butler lost re-election as Union president in 2001 after questions were raised about lavish expenditures by the leadership, a burdensome dues increase, and plans for an expensive new local headquarters that never materialized.

Historic, but not famous

Mark Fisher, AIDS activist

Mark Lowe Fisher (1953 – 1992) was a key figure in the activist group ACT-UP. He died of AIDS and insisted his funeral be political in nature as the AIDS crisis was being ignored by the Bush administration.

He wrote a “manifesto” before his death about the government ignoring the AIDS crisis.

“My friends decided they don’t want to speak at memorial services. We understand that friends and families need to mourn, but we also understand that we’re dying because of a government and a healthcare system that couldn’t care less. I want to show the reality of my death, to display my body in public. I want the public to bear witness. We are not just spiraling statistics. We are people who have lives, who have purpose, who have lovers, friends and families, and we are dying of a disease maintained by a degree of criminal neglect so enormous that it amounts to genocide. I want my own funeral to be fierce and defiant—to make a public statement that my death remains in a form of political assassination. We are taking this action out of love and rage.”
—From “Bury Me Furiously” by Mark Lowe Fisher


Historic, but not famous

Caleb Heathcote, mayor, colonel, leader

Caleb Heathcote (1665 – 1721) served as the 31st Mayor of New York City from 1711 to 1713. He was one of 9 children and 2 of his brothers were baronets of London. He was one of the most prosperous and influential leaders of the Colony in the early 18th century, after coming to North America in 1692 to establish himself as a merchant. He left his mark in the military and church instead of as a merchant. He was a colonel in the militia, and one of the original vestrymen of the Anglican Church.


He and his wife had 6 children. The area of Westchester County known as Scarsdale became the estate of the Heathcote family. One of his daughters married into the Delancy family, British loyalists that fled NYC during the Revolutionary War.

Dixon Fox has written a book on Heathcote, which is now out of print. Caleb Heathcote: Gentleman Colonist, Lord of the Manor of Scarsdale : The Story of a Career in the Province of New York, 1692-1721. A marble statue of him stands atop the Surrogate’s Courthouse (former Hall of Records) at 31 Chambers Street in Manhattan. 

Historic, but not famous

Carl Akeley, father of modern taxidermy

Carl Ethan Akeley (1864 – 1926) was a pioneering taxidermist, sculptor, biologist, conservationist, inventor, and nature photographer. His taxidermy was found in the Field Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History.

He grew up in Upstate NY, attended school for only 3 years, but took to taxidermy when taught and and entered an apprenticeship in taxidermy at Ward’s Natural Science Establishment in Rochester, New York. One of his projects was helping preserve Jumbo the Elephant of the Barnum Circus when she was killed in a railroad accident.

He lived in Minnesota and Chicago, perfecting his craft. His expertise allowed him to go to Africa with Theodore Roosevelt for the Smithsonian Institute. The gorillas he captured and preserved can still be seen in the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. His love of the gorilla led to him leading preservation campaigns for the animal. He established  Africa’s first national park, the Albert National Park in 1925, (since renamed Virunga National Park) to help preserve gorilla habitats.

Gorilla diorama is one of Akeley’s dioramas, on display in the American Museum of Natural History.

Akeley improved the motion picture camera for working in nature. He also wrote several books, including stories for children, and an autobiography In Brightest Africa (1920). He was awarded more than 30 patents for his inventions.

He died on November 18, 1926 of dysentery during a trip to Africa and was buried just miles from where he encountered his first gorilla.