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Anthony Fiala: Soldier, Explorer, Artist

Jun 13, 2011 1:25 PM | 1 comment

If the three piece suit and rifle don't make you a believer, maybe a few headlines will convince you that Anthony Fiala, in his own time and in his own way, was one bad dude.

 New York Times May 6, 1928

 Brooklyn Daily Eagle October 13, 1922

Brooklyn Daily Eagle February 8, 1928

Brooklyn Daily Eagle August 29, 1927

Ok, maybe racing canoes is a stretch, but the following clipping, which appears beneath the page-long and inch-high headline: "Fiala Plans Hunt for Live Mammoths in Siberia" from a 1927 Eagle may just provide the best glimpse of this man's character.

Not only did Fiala believe that mammoths still roamed the Earth (it took guts to refute all that science!), but he believed he ought to set out on a hunting expedition to kill a few of them and, as he promised one Eagle reporter, share any of the meat he bagged. Along with his service for the American committee for Defense of British Homes during World War II, whereby he sought to arm both British and American citizens against any possible Fifth Column uprising, it's hard not to think of Anthony Fiala as a Ted Nugent for the Jazz Age. Hunting, guns, adventure; all he needed was a pair of hot pants and a flying V.

But comparing the long-time Bay Ridge resident (he lived at 148 83rd Street) to The Nuge doesn't really do him justice. No disrespect to the Motor City Madman, but Anthony Fiala was a remarkable man in his own right. And though the above clippings make Fiala out to be a rugged man of action, he wasn't always such a rough and tumble kind of guy. Before embarking on the boiling rivers of Brazil with Teddy Roosevelt, heading up a machine gun unit in the First Cavalry, and marooning himself on floating ice cakes with polar bears, Fiala was an artist.

The article goes on to describe Fiala as "a quiet soldier, gentle as a girl in manner, yet dashing and efficient in the field." Indeed, it was during his time with Troop C that Fiala transformed himself from a slender, delicate photoengraver for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle to a bronzed and rugged adventurer. 

This photo appears in the book Troop "C" in Service: An Account of the Part Played by Troop "C" of the New York Volunteer Cavalry in the Spanish-American War of 1898, which Fiala wrote and helped to illustrate with numerous photographs and sketches.

One of Fiala's photos.

And a sketch.

Before volunteering for the cavalry, Fiala was best known for his "chalk talks" and cartoon work. From 1894 to 1899 Fiala was in charge of art engraving for the Eagle, having installed the paper's first photo-engraving plant in 1894, and his work there carried over into numerous lectures and demonstrations, such as the one advertised below on so-called "Surface Signs." A study in physiognomy, Fiala would draw faces on a chalkboard and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the various lips, noses, and ears he sketched.  


In fact, more than anything else, it was Fiala's talent as an artist that that led to his life as an adventurer. In his first expedition, the Baldwin-Ziegler Polar expedition, he served as crew photographer. Here is a letter he wrote to an unnamed Brooklyn man which the Eagle published on Septmber 14, 1901.

In addition to taking numerous photographs on these expeditions, Fiala also shot the first films beyond the Arctic Circle.

In searching YouTube I was able to track down some footage posted by the British Film Institute.

The Library of Congress has also posted a compilation of film footage taken during Theodore Roosevelt's 1913-1914 trip to Brazil along the "River of Doubt." If you watch the opening credits you'll see that our own Anthony Fiala is thanked for the footage he has provided.

Following his days of high adventure through jungles and over glaciers, Fiala returned to Bay Ridge. He often gave illustrated lectures on the expeditions of which he was a part and, rather than completely retiring from the explorer's game, opened up a store where one could find lion nets, elephant guns, and sleeping bags (which, according to one obituary of Fiala, was invented by the man himself.)

We have numerous clippings related to Fiala, each one describing the man's unique and inimitable life. One death notice in the Eagle put his passing this way: "The passing of Maj. Anthony Fiala of Bay Ridge at the age of 80 brings to a close a life rich in adventure. It is doubtful whether its like could be lived again in our time." 


9/26/2012 12:56:36 AM #

TheMajor was the figure head for " The Committee For the Defence Of British Homes." Its objective was to collect fire arms for the citizens of Britian to defend them-selves from the expected German invasion!He told my Mother about Pearl Habor in November of 1941.

Robert H. Rogersrhrogers