Monday, June 29, 2015

Lubricators and Puns

by Erin Doane, curator

The other day I came across an odd item in collections storage. That in itself is not unusual. With over 20,000 historic objects here at the museum, I’m bound to find things I haven’t seen before. This item is a group of 50 advertising cards for The Swift Lubricator Co. of Elmira. A small picture is glued to the back of each card with a number written in pencil above it and a word or phrase below – Bird or Fowl, Animal, Vegetable, Flower, or Composer of Music. The pictures themselves show a wide variety of things, from a teacher in front of a classroom to children in a field to a goat crashing into a mug. The whole pack of cards was a mystery and I decided to investigate.

Advertisement on one side of the card
Game on the other side
The Swift Lubricator Co. was started by Allen W. Swift around 1885. Swift first appears in the Elmira city directories in 1877. He is listed first as a steam engine manufacturer and then as a lubricator manufacturer. In 1882 he was granted a patent for a steam engine lubricator that he had invented. An October 3, 1884 Commercial World & United States Exporter article describes how Swift’s lubricator worked. “…the steam passes it [the lubricator] on its way to the cylinder, a small portion of the live steam carries with it into the valve chest and through this into the cylinder, a constant succession of drops of oil which it reduces to the condition of vapor, so finely are its particles divided. The oil vapor enters with the steam into every part of the valve, chest and cylinder and secures them a perfect lubrication.” Railroads including the New York, West Shore and Buffalo Railroad and the Chicago and Alton Railroad used these lubricators on their locomotives. Over 200 of them were sold in June 1884.
Swift's lubricator patent
So, what does all that have to do with the pile of cards I found? Not much, really. The cards were obviously used to advertise the Swift Lubricator Co. but I think the pictures on the back were added later and have little to nothing to do with the company. My guess is that someone repurposed leftover cards. When the cards were produced, the company was located on 730 W. 1st Street. Around 1900, the business moved to 729-731 W. 2nd Street. The cards with the old address then became useless. Someone, perhaps a member of the Swift family, perhaps not, took fifty of the cards, added pictures to the backs and created a game. Fortunately, someone included a numbered list with the cards so we can understand how the game was played. Each picture represents a bird, an animal, a flower, etc. as indicated by the category written below it in pencil. You have to guess what the picture is. For example, the picture of the teacher at the blackboard I included above is from the vegetable category and represents peas. Got it? Here’s some more to try with the answers at the bottom of this post.

Answers: 1: pheasant; 10: robin; 14: woodchuck; 21: tomatoes; 32: hollyhock; 40: buttercup; 41: Schumann

Click here for a pdf with all 50 cards and the answer key. Disclaimer: a couple of the images are racist. There’s no other way to say it. The game is a product of its time and CCHS does not endorse any such cultural depictions.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Gangs and Juvenile Delinquency in Elmira Parks in the Early 20th Century

by Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

"Kids these days are so violent/rude/illiterate/destructive/terrible!" “Things were so much better in the past than they are today.” As historians (and just in regular daily life), we hear these statements all the time and, frankly, they drive me crazy.  They’re ahistorical, false, and colored by the romantic and nostalgic idea that there was some bygone “simpler” time.  The story of juvenile delinquency in Elmira’s parks around the turn of the 20th century helps illustrate the falsehood (or at least the persistence) of the “kids these days” myth.
From about 1906 through the 1910s, the local newspapers were in a tizzy reporting about the youth gangs that used Elmira’s parks as the home base for their illegal behaviors.  Two gangs gained the most notoriety:  the Grove Park Angels and the Eldridge Park Gang.  The Grove Park Angels were primarily ethnically Irish, young school drop-outs who drank and harassed anyone in the park after dark.  In 1909, the city resolved to deal with the Angels because they were receiving increased complaints about their use of profanity, loudness, and attacks on people in the neighborhood.  In one incident, the Angels “insulted two women and whipped their husbands when the latter resented the insult to their wives.” The problem grew so dire that the police department stationed an officer at the park specifically to deal with the gang activity.
It wouldn't have been safe for these "respectable" park-goers to be in Grove Park at night.
Boys in Grove Park around the time the gang was active (although their behavior doesn't look too delinquent).
Police intervention in Grove Park seemed to have some impact on decreasing gang activity.  By 1911, there was a baseball team named the Grove Park Angels, but I’m unsure if there was any affiliation between the gang and the team.  Still, the gang didn’t disappear, and in 1913, the newspapers complained that the gang persisted because their delinquency was being passed down from generation to generation.
The Eldridge Park Gang appears to have been even fiercer than the Grove Park Angels. In 1907, their crimes were reported to “rival those of Dime Novel Desperados” (see, we’ve always blamed pop culture for youth violence!).   In that year, they threw eggs at women, stole from trains, and put gravel on the tracks of Lackawanna Railroad.  In their most daring act, they confiscated a Lackawanna caboose, ransacked it, shot out of windows, and then set it on fire.  In 1912, a 16 year old was arrested for stealing a handcar from the railroad and taking it for a joyride.  The next year, gang members were arrested for throwing stones at the police officer stationed in the park.  The gang was notorious for threatening to throw police “into de lake.”  The gang also attacked an automobile driver, breaking his car’s left lamp. 
In the early 1920s, Elmira came up with a novel idea to help curb juvenile delinquency in the parks: they would use the parks themselves as a force for urban renewal.  The Elmira City Recreation Commission formed on February 26, 1921 and was soon recognized by the National Recreation Association as one of best recreation organizations in the country.  The Commission reclaimed unused or derelict city land for parks: Washington Park was built on an old rolling mill property and dumping ground; Sly Park was formerly a swamp; Eastside playgrounds replaced dilapidated old buildings.  According to the Commission, Elmira had only one public tennis court in 1921, but that number jumped to 21 by 1931.

Mayor George Peck helps build Patch Park in August 1921.

Patch Park was one of the many new parks built in the 1920s.
City recreation programs were created to teach children to be good citizens.  A variety of clubs and sports teams met regularly in the city parks.  The Commission believed that its work was directly responsible for a decrease in rates of juvenile delinquency through the 1920s.  According to the city Recorder, there were 247 cases of juvenile delinquency in 1918, but only 29 in 1928.  He believed that playgrounds were successfully attracting children who would “otherwise go to the streets.”
A play performed by children in a City Recreation program in Grove Park, 1928.
Clearly, the Elmira City Recreation Commission didn’t solve the problem of juvenile delinquency, but its work does illustrate some of the ways that adults can work proactively with kids.  Things change from generation to generation, but in reality, nothing is really ever that different. 


Monday, June 15, 2015

A Man A Plan A Canal Panama

by Rachel Dworkin, archivist

             In 1907, Moses Goldstein got bored.  The 22-year-old Elmiran was an active man, an athlete, who played football, boxed and was a member of the Kanaweola Bicycle Club.  Since graduating high school he’d been stuck working as a clerk in his father’s Water Street clothing store.  So he did what any bored 22-year-old man would do: run away from home to go work on the Panama Canal.

Postcard of the Canal Commission headquarters, 1907
            The French began working on a canal across Panama in 1884, but didn’t make it very far on account of engineering difficulties and rampant tropical diseases.  America took over in 1904 and spent the next ten years working to complete the project.  When it was finally opened for shipping on August 15, 1914, it drastically cut down on the time and expense of shipping from the Atlantic to the Pacific (and vise versa). 

Moses Goldstein's Canal Commission employee ID
         In June of 1907, Goldstein was hired by the Isthmian Canal Commission to work as a guard and policeman.  It was a fairly good-paying job ($75 a month) but, once again, he got bored and instead took a position as a track foreman overseeing a team laying rail lines to move construction supplies.  He traveled extensively in the Caribbean during his time off and enjoyed every minute of it.  “You would be surprised to see how were treated,” he wrote to his family on April 22, 1908 after a trip to Costa Rica.  “I don’t believe that if some party of aristocrats would have come that they would have been treated as good as we were.” 

Photo postcard of Goldstein's track team, 1908
            Still, Goldstein’s life abroad wasn’t all fun and games.  “No more getting up at 7 o’clock and getting to work at 8 o’clock and working a couple of hours,” he wrote on April 30, 1908.  “Now I get up at 5:30 and work my 10 hours.”  He enjoyed the long hours, but was getting restless again.  “I may get dissatisfied and leave for I have been here for some time and you know that I have been staying here a longer time than I have stayed before.” 

            Within a year he had quit and taken a new job as a track foreman with May & Jeckel, an engineering firm constructing a railroad near the headwaters of the Amazon in Brazil.  Malaria was rampant in the area and dozens of workers died every week.  Goldstein himself suffered a severe bout of it and was hospitalized for a week in July 1909. 
Note from the doctor excusing Moses Goldstein from work on account of malaria, 1909
             Ultimately, the malaria killed him.  While visiting Elmira in January of 1910, Goldstein suffered a relapse.  He died at St. Joseph’s Hospital on January 13, 1910 at the age of 24.  His adventures abroad may have lead to his death, but, before he fell ill, he had been planning to go back, this time working for a fruit export company. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Make a Teen Movie!

by Linda Norris, museum consultant

Are you a teenager (or know one) who’s interested in video production and/or history?  This summer, CCHS is offering a great weekend opportunity to learn about video production while helping create our new exhibit on 20th century teenagers in Chemung County.

On the weekend of July 18-19, workshop participants will get the chance to produce video interviews about teenage experiences.  You’ll learn what makes a great question, how to set up, shoot and edit a video interview, and ways to share that content online and in exhibits.

I’ll be co-presenting the workshop with Drew Harty.  I grew up in Elmira and graduated from EFA, so I have my own collection of teenage Chemung County stories, just as your parents or grandparents might.   Drew is a videographer who’s worked for all different kinds of organizations and as a filmmaker in residence at the arts magnet high school in Cleveland, making films with students, some of which you can see here on his website.

Together we’ll be working together to create great questions—but here’s a couple to get you started thinking:
  • Where was your favorite place to hang out?
  • What piece of clothing made you feel cool?
  • What music, when you hear it on the radio, instantly brings back school? 
  • Who were your heroes?
Space is limited for the free workshop, so register now by contacting education coordinator Kelli Huggins at (607)734-4167 x205 or

And yes, that’s me somewhere in a class photo from EFA at the top of the post!

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Students Tell All

by the Elmira College "Doing Public History" Class

Time flew over our six weeks taking the course and our four weeks here at the museum. At the beginning of this experience, many of us were uncertain of what “public history” would entail and how you would “do it”. Reading The Modern Temper by Lynn Dumenil before starting our exhibit gave us a good background on the 1920s but was dry and strained the brain. To also give us the tools to build the exhibit, we were assigned interpretive talks, where we picked an object and used it to tell a story.

These prior discussions helped prepare us for our time at the museum, but many of us did not have experience with primary source research. While some of us were able to stay with our original topics, others had trouble even finding one, due to the lack of resources and interest level of the students. Once we all found a topic that suited us, looking through the archives became an enjoyable objective. We found information by looking through old documents, pictures, and artifacts. Some interesting examples were playbills from theatres around Elmira, old police journals, Iszard’s blueprints, cooking recipes, and letters from the Federation Farm.

Writing our research paper based off our topics gave us a helpful guideline for creating the exhibit, although the Chicago citation style was difficult to learn. The most trying part of the entire class was attempting to organize ourselves into groups for the exhibit. Pairing the individual topics together was difficult to conceptualize since our topics varied so much. Once in groups though, it was easy to get our ideas down but challenging to refine them making sure it was at an 8th grade reading level. During this time, it was common to hear exasperated commentary such as “What do 8th graders even know?!”

When we had finished our section labels, we moved on to attempting to write our overall exhibit label. Here we struggled with finding an overall conceptual idea for our exhibit, which would bring everything together. We had many ideas but making them coherent on beautiful Friday morning proved almost impossible.

With that dark day behind us, we moved on to a very important part of exhibit planning: choosing objects. It was more difficult for the conceptual groups to find relevant materials for their image captions, than it was for other groups. But having the previous research experience helped us identify the objects we wanted to include.

This process has definitely been a journey, both in terms of history and learning the behind the scenes workings of a history museum. We created a learning experience that will last longer than the typical college term paper and will be seen more than just our professors.

We are excited to share our research and hard work with you!
See their finished product here:

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Saving for the Future

by Erin Doane, curator

The building that now houses the Chemung County Historical Society was once the original Chemung Canal bank. It opened in 1834 as the first bank in Elmira. Amman Beardsley designed and built the two and a half story brick structure, combining elements of Greek Revival and Federal styles.  The brick construction was unusual because most buildings in Elmira were made of wood at that time.

Chemung Canal Trust Co., c. 1905
In 1868, a third floor was added.  The new windows and cornice were done in the Italianate style. The banking facilities were located on the first floor, business tenants occupied the second floor, and the new third floor had rental apartments for single young men. Noted architects Pierce and Bickford renovated the building in 1903. At that time, decorative features such as mahogany counters and terrazzo flooring were added as well as two more vaults. Visitors can see the large vaults in our main gallery.

Bank Vaults at the museum
The Chemung Canal Bank was originally chartered in the 1860s as publically owned company. The Arnot family took over ownership of the bank in 1857 and ran it as a private business until 1903 when it returned to public ownership. In 1920, the bank moved to new headquarters at the corner of State and Water Streets. For many years after that this building housed law offices and apartments. The Chemung County Historical Society purchased the building in 1982 and made it into a museum.

Many features of the banking floor remain 
in the museum gallery including the wood 
columns, terrazzo flooring, and tin ceiling.
People deposited their savings here when it was still an active bank. Money was kept safe in the formidable steel and concrete vaults. Many people also kept a stash of cash and change at home. The museum has a great collection of small savings banks ranging from the 1870s through the 1980s. We have wooden, metal, and plastic banks and even a couple mechanical banks. Here are a few examples:

The Tammany Bank of 1873 is a mechanical bank. 
When “Boss” Tweed is handed a coin he puts it into his pocket.

The Union Bank, made by Kenton Brand 
around 1905, has a combination lock.

Traditional piggy bank that is also a souvenir of Elmira, early 20th century

Cast iron camel, rabbit, and elephant banks, early 20th century

A generic Bank bank from the early 20th century

Wooden Presbyterian Church bank “used to 
House Money and to Pay Off Mortgage,” 1930s

The Uncle Sam’s Register bank from the 1930s 
records change as it is deposited and has an 
added security feature – the bank will lock 
when the first $.25 is added and it will stay 
locked until it reaches $10.00.

These banks from Mechanics Savings Bank of Elmira and Elmira Bank & 
Trust Co. from the 1940s record the amount of change as it is deposited.

The plastic Tarco Juke Bank, made around 1948, lights up when a coin is deposited.

Chemung Canal bank produced for its 150th anniversary in 1983.