Volume 76, Number 48 | April 25 - May1, 2007

Harriet Pifer, 96, a matron of close-knit Chelsea family

By Albert Amateau

Harriet Pifer, known as Hattie, died at the age of 96 in a fire on April 11 in the Chelsea apartment where she had lived with two of her sons for the past 46 years.

Her son William, 70, a retired longshoreman known as Ike who took care of her, was not at home when the fire broke out around 11:45 a.m., because he had an appointment six blocks away at St. Vincent’s Hospital. By the time he returned home around 12:30 p.m., the second-floor apartment at 246 W. 18th St., was engulfed in flames.

“He had to stand there on the sidewalk watching the fire. He’s still devastated,” Christina Lyles, Hattie’s grandniece, said in an April 17 telephone interview.

A younger son, Fred, was at his job as a caretaker at St. Michael’s Church on W. 99th St. at the time of the fire.

Born Harriet Hairston in Winston-Salem, N.C., she was the youngest of 15 children in a tobacco-farming family. She married William Pifer and moved to Everson, Pa., southeast of Pittsburgh, where she raised her three sons. Her husband died around 1959 and she moved with her sons to New York in 1963.

“She lived in two other apartments in Chelsea before she moved to W. 18th St.,” said Lyles. A Fire Department spokesperson said the fire started in an electric extension cord that was covered with papers.

A niece, Myrtle Craft, who lives in the Robert Fulton Houses on W. 17th St., cooked for Hattie, Lyles said. “We’re a very close family,” she added. Another grandniece, Bridget Gilliam, is also a Chelsea resident on W. 22nd St. between Eighth and Ninth Aves., and a grandnephew, Gary Lyles, lives on 10th Ave. at W. 25th St.

Hattie’s third son, Paul Pifer, lives in North Carolina. Another niece, Mary Malthis Ford, lives in Stroudsburg, Pa. Two grandsons and three great-grandchildren also survive.

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