Huntington's Horrible "Tar Town" Murder
Now available online:  The Kelsey Outrage:  A full, impartial and interesting account of the most cruel and remarkable crime - evidence in full, Doings of the Trial.  (Note - this is in places a bad copy.  Unfortunately it is the only one I have been able to get my hands on)

     The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported a most unusual funeral in the small village of Huntington, Long Island, in its issue of September 13, 1873. The coffin contained only the lower part of the tarred and feathered body of Charles G. Kelsey, wealthy bachelor, farmer, school teacher and poet. The upper part of the corpse was never found and the search for it attracted attention in the national press for several years.
     Kelsey's romance with Julia Smith, a plump young lady just out of her teens, ten years his junior and a former member of his Sunday School class, had brought mob violence upon him and thrown the village on the North Shore of Long Island into turmoil.
     Julia, an orphan, was the ward of her grandmother, Mrs. Charlotte Oakley who lived in a mansion on West Main Street. She objected violently to Kelsey's attentions to her granddaughter.
     Kelsey was a native of the village, worth some $15,000 which was a small fortune for that day. He had spent his thirty-odd years educating himself to the point where he spoke three languages and was a local authority on literature. He was an orphan. Occasionally he taught in the local school and at other times took care of his farm and wrote poetry about his surroundings. One book of poems, "The Old Burying Hill," had been published.
     The poet's romance with the young girl apparently started while he taught in the public school and in the Sunday School of the Second Presbyterian Church. There is evidence that Julia and Kelsey had begun meeting secretly when she was a schoolgirl.
     Kelsey was regarded by Julia's relatives and friends as being too old to be going with her; his interest in poetry and his romantic leanings also made him objectionable to the practical minded residents of the village. There was general objection to Kelsey's suit.
     The admirer was not permitted to call at the Oakley home and so he made secret nighttime visits, and it was these that led to his destruction.
     It was November 4, 1872, the eve of Grant's victory over Horace Greeley. The Democrats were holding a big rally and the village was filled with visitors. Kelsey attended the rally and started home to his sister's dwelling. The night was intensely dark and the winter cold had seti in. The home of Mrs. Charlotte Oakley stood gloomy and silent on its large plot on Main Street, near Spring. Behind the Oakley home a band of masked men waited, concealed behind a hedge of willow trees. They were there to "take care" of Charles Kelsey if he made another attempt to see Julia Smith. On the way home Kelsey saw a signal light in the basement of the Oakley home and changed his course. It was said that the girl treacherously betrayed her lover into the hands of the posse by displaying the beacon.
     As Kelsey approached the house, the masked men jumped from their hiding place, seized him and dragged him to the back yard. There they removed his clothing. The men dragged out a large pot of hot tar and bundles of feathers. After cutting off his beard and hair the assailants applied the steaming tar to his body and spread on the feathers. When the job had been completed, the masked men dragged the victim to the porch on which had assembled Julia, her grandmother and her aunt.
     From the home of Dr. Bank next door, one of the posse brought a lantern to prove that their captive was Kelsey. In a desperate lurch, the schoolmaster freed himself from his captors, picked up one of his shoes and threw it at the lantern, extinguishing it. The masked men then struck Kelsey on the head with the lantern to subdue him.
     Apparently satisfied with their work, the band handed Kelsey his clothing and released him. Naked he ran down the dark lane at the back of the house, sobbing and moaning. Who were the members of the posse? The question troubled Huntington for years and many accusations were made. Various hearings were held but no one was proven guilty. That the band contained some of the village's most honored citizens was accepted as a fact.
     We now come to the brutal murder of Kelsey and the dismemberment of his body. The man's movements from the time he disappeared in the dark lane back of the Oakley home are a mystery. The victim's sister, Charlotte Kelsey, discovered signs that he reached home. His tar-covered watch was found in the kitchen without the chain and there were signs of a struggle in the front yard.
     The village was seething with excitement over the series of dark events. Charlotte, the sister and the two brothers, Henry and William, started a determined search to find Kelsey. Just at that time a fisherman discovered a blood-soaked shirt on the shore of Lloyd's Neck, about six miles from the village. It was identified as having belonged to Kelsey.
     Justice of the Peace William Momford ordered everyone who might have a scrap of evidence of any kind to appear in his tiny court and also to tell where they had been on the night of November 4. He met stout resistance from persons believed to have participated in the tar and feather episode. No information of any value was obtained by the Justice.
     The winter passed with no new developments in the case and the community divided itself into two groups, the Tar Party and the anti-Tars. It was discovered that Kelsey had many loyal and determined friends and Huntington was generally condemned throughout the country for its failure to solve the murder mystery. In April, 1873, at a Town Meeting, the people voted a $1,000 reward "for the recovery of the body of Charles G. Kelsey in behalf of the town."
     It was on August 29, 1873, that two fishermen working in Cold Spring Harbor found the lower half of a body, separated at the waist, floating on the surface of the water. Tar and feathers covered the legs. On September 3, two doctors testified that before the body had been thrown into the harbor, it had been mutilated in a manner more becoming savage African tribes than members of the peaceful village of Huntington.
     On September 4, a sign was posted in a general store on Main Street, announcing "The Funeral of the Legs," obviously the work of Kelsey's enemies. The funeral was a strange affair. The Second Presbyterian Church was jammed with spectators, but the pastor, the Reverend W.W. Knox, would not permit the coffin with its half body to be brought into the church and it was left on
the church lawn. Another minister, one friendly to the anti- Tars, preached the sermon and the coffin with the part body was interred on the burying hill which Kelsey had written about in his book of poetry.
     The coroner's jury continued to sit and hear testimony at Oyster Bay and with each day the outside attacks on the village of Huntington grew more violent. More than ninety years have passed now and the black secrets of the Kelsey case are still unsolved; the participants have taken their secretes with them to their graves.
     All of the dire events seem to have had little effect upon the plump young lady, Julia Smith. She was married to Royal Sammis, member of a respected pioneer family in June, 1873, three months before the dismembered remains of her former lover were found floating in Cold Spring Harbor.
     It was as a matron that Julia appeared in Oyster Bay to testify at the coroner's inquest. She admitted that she lured Kelsey to her home with a lantern signal the night he was captured by the band of masked  men, for which treachery she was universally condemned by the press. Sammis was regarded as a member of the band which had tarred and feathered the poet.
     To avoid the hostile gazes of their fellow townspeople, Mr. and Mrs. Sammis left Huntington and went to New York City where they dropped into oblivion. Other members of the community suspected of participating in the crime also moved away and disappeared in New York and other large cities.