Back in March 1946, there was a strike at the massive General Electric facility, which stretched from 67th to 70th streets and Elmwood to almost Paschall avenues in Southwest Philadelphia’s Eastwick neighborhood.
William J. McNulty was among countless police officers from across the city who were deployed to keep the peace on the picket line.
McNulty lived in the Far Northeast on a large property near Byberry Road and Poquessing Creek. He was based out of the Center City police station at 20th and Buttonwood streets.
On March 6, according to newspaper accounts, McNulty was directing a police detail when he was stricken outside the GE plant, either by a cerebral hemorrhage or a heart attack. He was taken to Philadelphia General Hospital, where he died the next day. He is buried in St. Dominic Cemetery in Holmesburg.
A few weeks ago, more than 66 years after his death, a plaque was dedicated in his memory.
The GE property, which welcomed numerous World War II veterans to the workforce and employed 7,500 people in its heyday, is long closed and now a neighborhood eyesore.
The plaque was placed in the sidewalk across the street from the plant, at 6916 Elmwood Ave., home of the Southwest Senior Center, which opened more than four decades after McNulty’s death.
“I’m so happy. It lifted my spirits up to here,” said Joan Mullen, McNulty’s 85-year-old daughter, who was a recent Nazareth Academy High School graduate at the time of her father’s death.
George Shaffer was born nine years after his grandfather’s death. He described the Sept. 26 plaque ceremony as “honorable” and “noble.” Shaffer repeated the axiom that no one ever dies, as long as people remember them.
“Grandpa, you have lived a full life and you will live on,” he told the crowd in his remarks.
The officer, who was 44 when he died, was a 16-year veteran of the police department. He and his wife Eleanor had three children, daughters Joan and Patricia and a son William, who would go on to receive the first Hero Scholarship and become a deputy commissioner in the fire department. McNulty’s wife and daughter Patricia have passed away.
The McNulty family lived in South Philadelphia before moving to 4601 Vista St. in the Mayfair/Holmesburg area, then to the farm-like setting in Somerton.
McNulty once worked at the old 27th Police District at State Road and Longshore Avenue. Two years before his death, he developed a work schedule that revolutionized the way the entire police department was run. His motivation was, among other things, to get more officers on the street to prevent late-night attacks and holdups.
At the time of his death, he was a popular patrolman in the area of Broad and Clearfield streets in North Philadelphia. As newspaper reports chronicled, he delivered on a promise to bring 300 kids from the Simon Muir School to his home for a picnic.
McNulty’s 17 grandchildren and other descendants learned more about his life from a scrapbook kept by his son Bill. The scrapbook includes pictures, newspaper articles and touching telegrams from the officer to his wife about how he missed her while working evenings and holidays.
The plaque dedications are a joint effort of attorney James J. Binns and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5. In all, there have been 107 plaques dedicated to Philadelphia police officers and 258 overall for Philadelphia-area police officers, firefighters and other emergency responders.
Among those at the ceremony were Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, District Attorney Seth Williams, City Councilmen Bill Greenlee and Kenyatta Johnson and state Reps. Maria Donatucci and Ron Waters.
Ramsey and retired Chief Inspector Jim Tiano presented McNulty’s daughter Joan with a Philadelphia flag. FOP Lodge 5 recording secretary Bob Ballentine handed roses to Mullen and the other women in the family.
“He was a good person. He loved kids and he loved people,” his daughter said. “He was a wonderful dad. We knew we were loved.” ••
Anyone interested in sponsoring a hero plaque can contact James Binns at 215-275-3000.
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org