Monday, February 20, 2017

The Orpheus Club



By Rachel Dworkin, archivist

During the 1930s, there were over a dozen clubs at the Elmira Free Academy and none of them accepted Black members. These clubs offered kids a chance to socialize, showcase their talents, perform community service, and enhance their academic studies, but EFA’s Back students were excluded from all of it. In the spring of 1938, junior Edith Smiley decided to change all that by creating the Orpheus Club. According to their statement in The Torch, the club was created “to increase the number of social activities for colored students and to give them an opportunity to exhibit their talents.” By the end of the school year they had formed a glee club and hosted a party at the home of one of the club officers.
 
Edith Smiley, Founder and First President
Over the next few years, the Orpheus Club became a vital part of the school. Club members performed for their classmates in various school assemblies. They regularly hosted a booth at the Annual Fall Carnival. They threw jitterbug dance parties in the gym and at club members’ homes. 1942 was a banner year in terms of programing. That spring, they brought in Rev. George F. Fauntleroy of AME Zion Church to lecture on Black history and sing traditional Black spirituals, and hosted the Double VV for Victory dance honoring the first Black fliers to receive their wings from the U.S. Army Air Corps (including former club member and Tuskegee Airman, Clarence Dart).  The 1940 EFA yearbook said “For the few years this club has been in existence, it has risen to be one of the outstanding and respected organizations in the school.”

Orpheus Club show off their dancing skills, 1942
In some ways, the success of the club lead to its disappearance in 1943. In just a few short years, the Orpheus Club had succeeded in integrating Black students into the social life of the school. During the 1940-41 school year, Blacks were finally allowed into the various clubs and the first Black student, Orpheus Club member Charles Brown, was elected to Student Council. By 1943, Black students were involved in so many different clubs it must have been hard to schedule Orpheus Club meetings around them. 

Original Orpheus Club, 1939

Thanks to the Orpheus Club, Elmira Free Academy’s Black students now had many opportunities to participate in the social life of the school. Once the club was gone, however, they lost the very group that had allowed them to organize and work together for social justice.

Orpheus Club in their final year, 1943

**As a side note, if you, dear reader, were a member of the Orpheus Club or know someone who was, I would very much like to speak with you. Please drop me a line if you’d like to share your story**

Monday, February 13, 2017

Colored Citizens of Elmira

by Erin Doane, curator

In 1844, the Colored Citizens of Elmira was formed. The organization was created to help promote social, economic, and political issues important to the African-American community. Groups such as this were being organized throughout the United States as early as the 1830s. Elmira was somewhat of a hotbed of abolition activity leading up to the Civil War. Both white and black citizens were involved in public movements to end slavery and in the more secret business of the Underground Railroad. John W. Jones, an escaped slave and Underground Railroad conductor, served as secretary of the Colored Citizens of Elmira in 1850. His duties with the organization included preparing and disseminating resolutions made by the group.

John W. Jones, c. 1850
Through these resolutions, the Colored Citizens presented their stance on political issues and declared how they intended to act in regard to those issues. In October 1850, the organization resolved:
That we, the colored citizens of Elmira, do hereby form ourselves into a society for the purpose of protecting ourselves against those persons, (slave-catchers) prowling through different parts of this and other States since the passing of that diabolical act of Sept. 18th, 1850 [the Fugitive Slave Act], which consigns freemen of other States to that awful state of brutality which the fiendish slaveholders of the Southern States think desirable for their colored brethren, but are not willing to try it themselves.
They also resolved to protest against and resist the Fugitive Slave Act “though every one of us be assassinated.” They declared that if they discovered anyone working with the slave-catchers, those people would be treated as enemies.

Jones was tasked with having these resolutions published in the village papers, the New York Tribune, the North Star, and the Impartial Citizen. The full text also appeared in the November 15, 1850 issue of the Boston Liberator.

The Colored Citizens were active for years, taking stands against many injustices. In 1854, they organized a petition to remove the requirement of African-Americans to have $250 in property in order to vote in New York State. The state finally removed the requirement in 1873.

In the 1890s, the group met several times to discuss the frequent occurrences of lynchings throughout the country. Rev. M.H. Ross, chairman of the organization, considered an 1893 meeting one “of grave importance, one that should concern every American on this broad land of ours; that should call forth expression from every lover of justice and liberty – the continual lynching and outrages that are being perpetrated on the colored people by lawless mobs, without just cause, only because they are negroes, is to us a subject that should concern all.”

Elmira Daily Gazette and Free Press, July 9, 1892
In 1916, the Colored Citizens issued a protest letter to Mayor Harry N. Hoffman regarding the scheduled showing of Birth of a Nation in Elmira. (You can read more about that incident here.)

When it came to politics, the Colored Citizens of Elmira openly endorsed or condemned candidates. In 1872, they passed a resolution strongly endorsing the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant who went on to easily win a second term. In November 1891, they had a notice published in the newspaper urging voters to remember how Mr. Fassett had defeated the civil rights bill in 1890. The Lodge Bill or Federal Elections Bill, as it was called, would have authorized the federal government to ensure that elections were fair by enforcing the ability of African-Americans to vote in the south. J. Sloat Fassett of Elmira who was running for governor in 1891 had apparently been against the bill.

The Colored Citizens also organized community events to celebrate significant occasions such as the ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870 which prohibited the government from denying a citizen the right to vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude. They also held events to commemorate the anniversaries of the Emancipation of the Slaves in the British West Islands and the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 that ended slavery in the British Empire. Highlights of these events were speeches by renowned orators. Hiram Rhodes Revels of Mississippi, the first African-American to serve in the United States Congress, spoke at an 1870 event in Elmira. Frederick Douglass spoke at Colored Citizens-sponsored events here at least twice, at a civil rights celebration on July 17, 1873 and at another event on August 3, 1880.
Frederick Douglass, c. 1870s
I had some difficulty in tracking the activities of the Colored Citizens of Elmira after the early 20th century. The name of the organization appeared in newspapers in the 1920s and later but was never capitalized. Because of this, I am not sure whether the articles were referring to an official organization or rather the community in general. An April 26, 1928 article in the Star-Gazette reported that “Colored citizens of Elmira are planning a concerted movement which it is hoped will bring them more recognition in civic and intellectual affairs. … It is proposed to form an organization which will take an active part in the advancement of the colored race.” To me, this indicates that the Colored Citizens of Elmira as an organized group had dissolved at some point. The organization, however, did appear to have an active history for some 70 years.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Henry Wilson’s Walks

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

Elmiran Henry Wilson took something rather mundane, in his case, walking, and made it extraordinary. He could walk a lot and over long distances. To my knowledge, he made two such long, walking “tramp” journeys: one in 1895-96 and one in 1901-2. This is what I can piece together about his trips. They’re a rather remarkable look at the life of a local black man that transcends many typical narratives of that time period.

In July 1895, the local papers reported that “local colored boys” Henry Wilson and Frank H. Jones were planning to walk across the country if they could get enough money to do so. There was no real mention of their motives for doing so. At some point, Jones must have dropped out of the plan, because on August 4, Wilson alone departed from Elmira wearing a “black velvet suit with knickerbockers” and pulling a little red wagon.

By August 7, Wilson made it to Hornellsville. There he laid out his itinerary with the local paper. He planned to go though Salamanca to Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and the Santa Fe route to California, all the while following train lines. He suspected it would take 13 months. Wilson planned to collect signatures from newspapermen and hotel proprietors “as evidence of good faith.”

By the end of November 1895, made it to northern Arizona. He sent a letter to an Elmira friend saying he was doing well and making some money giving lectures. He next would have to cross the Mojave Desert, however, facing about 200 miles “without water or shelter along the route.” Everything he needed he had to carry in his wagon. He wanted to be in California by Christmas.

There is a bit of a gap in the record at that point, but we do know that he made it to San Francisco and then started the return trip home. In August 1896, Wilson’s half-brother was killed jumping off a train in Ohio. At the time of his death, he may have been going west to see his brother, who was in a hospital in St. Louis. Wilson reportedly had been held up significantly in his return with “mountain fever,” which required substantial hospitalization. Wilson eventually recovered and made it back home. In April 1897, he lectured about his trip at the Bethel A.M.E. Church.

Wilson’s walking career didn’t end there. In 1901, he and another Elmira man, William Boggs, were hired to walk across the country and to go to England and France to promote the 1903 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, by handing out promotional images and flyers.
Ticket for the Louisiana Purchase Expo
On November 12, 1901, Wilson and Boggs set out at 10 am pushing a three-wheeled wagon with an American flag atop the canopy. They started at the corner of Lake and Water Streets and were sent off by a small crowd, including two sad young women who “followed along for a few blocks gazing wistfully after the stalwart young men.” Wilson and Boggs were wearing “knee bicycle trousers and stockings, russet shoes and canvas hunting jackets. Each man had a tight-fitting skull cap.”

The paper praised the two men, but did also include some racist commentary about them; they were reportedly “pushing their cart and looking as happy as if they were bound for a water melon picnic or a cake walk.”

The men were scheduled to first go north through wine country and then on to Buffalo. When they reached St. Louis, their contracts with the Exposition were said to begin. From there, they would go to Charleston, S.C. for the Midwinter Exposition. Then they would head back to New York and board a steamer to Liverpool, from where they would go to Ireland and France. France was a big part of the plan; the men were supposed to tell the French people how “the American people are to celebrate the centennial of the Louisiana purchase from Napoleon in 1803.” Along the way, Wilson and Boggs were also doing vaudeville-style performances and dances, in part to draw attention to their advertisements and to also make a little extra money.

After their departure, the last reference I can find of them is from early January 1902. After that, the trail goes cold. I have no idea if the trip was a success or what happened to either man. Understandably, this could have been a dangerous assignment, and something could have gone wrong. So for now, this story ends abruptly. If I find more information, I’ll post an update.



Monday, January 30, 2017

Digitize This!

by Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

Who doesn’t love a good digital collection? It’s just so handy having everything right there at your fingertips instead of having to schlep all over creation to track it down.  Why isn’t everything digitized? Well, for one thing, it takes a whole lot more effort than you think.

Way back in 2015, the folks from the Corning Museum of Glass’s Rakow Library approached me about digitizing the Thatcher GlassManufacturing Company Collection. From 1905 to 1985, the company produced milk, beer, and juice bottles, as well as other food containers right here in Elmira. Our collection includes bottle and container designs, company newsletters, advertising, annual reports, financial reports, correspondence regarding corporate lobbying, and other administrative records. If you’re into the history of bottles or glass or manufacturing or labor or environmental lobbying, this is the collection for you. I was excited at the prospect of digitizing it, but I knew from experience it would be a job of work, and one which would keep me from my usual duties. We decided to apply for a $10,000 grant from the South Central Regional Library Council so we could hire someone to help with the project. In the spring of 2016, we received $5,000 and off we went.
 Contrary to popular belief, the first step in any digitization project is not scanning: it’s planning. Since we only received half of the money we requested, we needed to prioritize which parts of the collection would be digitized. We decided to start with the 3.5 linear feet of bottle designs, then move on to company newsletters, and finish with as much promotional material as we could until the funds ran out.



Priority 1 - bottle and jar designs
Priority 2 - Company newsletters

Priority 3 - Advertising and promotional material

Next, we had to figure out metadata. For those of you who aren’t professional librarians, metadata is information about an image. The right metadata can not only let viewers know what they are looking at, it can also make it easier to find that image in the first place. The trick is figuring out the right metadata for the project. When we collaborated with the Chemung County Library District on a digital collection of historic flood photos our metadata fields included photographer, location, date, and flood. Since those fields wouldn’t work for the Thatcher bottle designs, we settled on project number, client, bottle type, designer, and date(s) of creation.

With our plan in one hand and a big wad of cash in the other, we hired Corning Community College student, Christina to do all the scanning and data entry. She got started working back in December and has already fully digitized 570 items. At this rate we will be on schedule to have the collection on-line by this time next year.

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Courtroom Mystery

by Erin Doane, curator

I was recently summoned for jury duty at the Chemung County courthouse. This turned out to be an unexpected opportunity to learn a little more about local history. When I entered the courtroom I saw a familiar face. There was a marble bust sitting in a carved niche behind the witness stand that looked very much like a bust we have at the museum. The courthouse bust was labeled “Hathaway” but I was sure that the one at the museum was listed in the collections database as being of John Arnot, Jr. Fortunately, I was chosen to serve on the jury so I had some more time to study the statue.

Interior of the Chemung County courthouse, Dec. 29, 1896
The bust can be seen in the background on the right.
 I tried to hold the image of the courthouse bust in my mind when I went back to the museum during the lunch recess but I was still unsure if they were indeed the same. On day two of jury duty, I asked if I could take a picture of the bust to compare it to the one here. The court officer kindly allowed me to do so as long as I was quick about it. 
The fuzzy picture I took of the courthouse bust.
Back at the museum, I stood in collections storage before our statue, comparing it to the photo I had taken. Others on staff stood and contemplated the two as well and we decided that they were indeed the same man.

The bust at the museum
So, we had two matching busts but who were they depicting – Hathaway or Arnot? The identity was very quickly cleared up when Kelli, our education coordinator, handed me the biography file of Colonel Samuel G. Hathaway, Jr. Inside was a picture of the bust at the courthouse, some biographical information, and documentation of how and when the museum had received an identical bust. This was the fastest history mystery I’ve seen solved in a while.

I had never heard of Colonel Samuel Gilbert Hathaway, Jr. even though in a 1961 letter historian Clark Wilcox called him “probably one of the most respected men ever to live in Chemung County.” A January 29, 1889 article in The Evening Star praised the colonel’s “stately step, manly form and genial countenance.” In his 1892 book, Our County and Its People, Ausburn Towner described Col. Hathaway as “an exceptional man in physical proportions and mental capacity” and declared that “his many virtues so far outweighed his faults that the latter are forgotten and the former treasured as a heritage that belong not only to the county, but to all mankind.” So, who was this exceptional, respected, stately, manly man?

Image of a young Col. Hathaway published in
March 3, 1940 issue of the Elmira Telegram
Samuel G. Hathaway, Jr. was born January 18, 1810 in Freetown Township, Cortland County, New York. He was the oldest son of General Samuel G. Hathaway and is said to have gained the title of colonel when he served on his father’s staff at age 18. He graduated Union College and began studying law in Cortland before moving to Elmira in 1835. He was admitted to the bar in 1836 and became a well-respected attorney in the city. In 1842 and 1843, Col. Hathaway represented Chemung County in the State Assembly. He was known as the “Democratic war horse of Chemung Valley.”

The Civil War began in April 1861. After more than a year of fighting, President Abraham Lincoln put out a call for 300,000 additional volunteers. Col. Hathaway answered the call by helping to raise ten companies of soldiers to form the 141st New York Volunteer Infantry. He served as commander of the regiment which was made up of men from Chemung, Schuyler, and Steuben Counties. The 141st was mustered in for three years of service on September 11, 1862 and mustered out June 8, 1865. In the meantime, the regiment was involved in many engagements including the Siege of Suffolk, the Battle of New Hope Church, the Siege of Atlanta, and Sherman’s March to the Sea. The 141st lost a total of 249 men in action and from disease including Col. Hathaway.

Col. Samuel G. Hathaway, Jr., 141st New York Inf.
Image from the Library of Congress
On February 12, 1863, the 141st moved from Miner’s Hill to Arlington Heights, Virginia but Col. Hathaway did not go with them. He resigned his post because of a heart condition and returned to Elmira. On the advice of his physician, Dr. W.C. Way, he moved into his father’s home in Solon, New York to convalesce. His condition did not improve and on April 15, 1864, Col. Samuel G. Hathaway, Jr. died.

Several years earlier, Col. Hathaway’s father, General Hathaway ordered a plaster bust of himself to be made by Edward Chase Clute. Gen. Hathaway was so pleased with Mr. Clute’s work that he ordered a bust of each of his family members. He intended to have the plaster models taken to Italy to have marble busts sculpted from them but the Civil War prevented that from happening. Gen. Hathaway died in 1867 but Miss Elizabeth Hathaway went to Italy sometime later and had the busts made. One may assume that she had two (or more) made of Col. Hathaway.

And I did find out when these two busts ended up at the courthouse and the museum. A November 14, 1884 article in the Elmira Star Gazette reported that the bust of Col. Hathaway would “soon ornament the Chemung county court house.” The museum received our bust in 1992 as a transfer from the Tioga County Historical Society in Owego, New York.

Could there be a third bust of Col. Hathaway out there?
Glass-plate negative by Robert Turner, Jr.




Monday, January 16, 2017

The Donkeys of Rorick’s Glen

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

When we talk about Rorick’s Glen, we mostly remember it for its amusement rides, theater that hosted the Manhattan Opera Company every summer, and its connections to the trolley lines (having been founded to give people an excuse to ride more often). My favorite story about Rorick’s Glen, however, is about the donkeys.

In June 1902, W. Charles Smith brought 12 Angora goats and a few donkeys to Rorick’s Glen. The management intended to have them pull carts carrying visitors over the park’s new walking trails. The animals were outfitted with little yellow and red carts and the paying public were invited to take a ride. There was one problem: no one seemed to have anticipated just how stubborn goats and donkeys are. On what was supposed to be the inaugural run, not a single animal would move. The animals were whipped and still would not budge. Customers watching on suggested a gentler method, and that too failed. Customers were refunded their money and the stables were shut down for business until they could “teach the animals how to walk.” Smith was particularly upset since the man he purchased them from claimed they were “high steppers and willing workers.”

Rorick's trail showing a donkey and a goat hitched to a cart, c. 1902.

A month later, Smith and his assistants were reportedly making progress and the animals were now demonstrating “agility and submission." The animals, now “acting for all the world like park donkeys and goats should act,” took passengers around the paths at the Glen. The animals lived in a small cabin that was converted into a makeshift stable on the side of the hill.

It’s unclear how long these donkeys and goats were employed at Rorick’s. In 1910, however, new donkeys were brought in. Possibly the first donkeys and goats had died, or perhaps they were only ever used for that 1902 season. Either way, on June 1, 1910, Colorado cowboy George “Blinky” James arrived via train in Elmira with a new shipment of donkeys. The donkeys came with fantastical, most likely totally invented, back stories. Hailing from the Ratoon Mountains of the Rockies, the donkeys were reportedly descended from the mules of Cortez’s Spanish Army which conquered the Aztecs. One of the donkeys was also said to have made its original owner’s family rich by discovering a gold mine by kicking dirt. The owner died on that expedition before the discovery and a court supposedly granted 1/3 of the profits to the deceased’s family because the burro was the discoverer.
Some of the Colorado donkeys, 1910
Blinky James left Colorado with 20 donkeys and arrived in Elmira with 21. Somewhere on the train between Chicago and Elmira, a donkey was born. Upon arrival in Elmira, this made for an instant marketing campaign. The Elmira Water, Light & Railroad Company, owners of the donkeys and the Glen, partnered with the Star-Gazette to hold a contest for children to name the new foal. Helen Turnbull  of 514 Lake Street had her submission selected and the donkey was named Roricka. Helen won a free pass to ride the burros until the 4th of July. Helen wrote “I think Roricka (Ro-ree-ka) would be a pretty name.” Other names suggested included: Nobino, Jacko, Cute, Teddy, Comet, Sanco Pansy, Free-n-Equal, and Billy Bunco.

These donkeys, likely due to their training by Blinky and his staff, seemed to adjust better to their tasks than the 1902 donkeys and goats. They did however suffer some effects of the change in climate and elevation from the Rockies to the Southern Tier. Some were off duty for a couple of weeks before recovering or acclimating.

By July 1910, the newspapers were proclaiming that the donkeys were a must-see for everyone.  One article said: “Moonlight burro parties have become all the rage at Rorick’s Glen. The sport is being enjoyed every evening by Elmirans who have tired of the usual forms of entertainment and are looking for something out of the ordinary.”
Burro party, 1910. Blinky James is front and center. From newspaper on Fultonhistory.com
Another proclaimed: “Had the officials of the Elmira Water, Light & Railroad Company dreamed how popular the little burros at Rorick’s Glen were to become, doubtless they would have purchased a greater number….They are kept busy nearly every hour of the day carrying the children about the pretty Glen upon their backs.”

A July 24, 1910 article discussed the donkey-riding experience of prima donna Mrs. Horace Wright, better known by her stage name Rene Dietrich. She exclaimed, “Well, this burro ride has climbing Pike’s peak or a ramble in the Alps crowded right off the map.” Along with Blinky, Mrs. Wright and her husband decided that they wanted to off-road it, after already riding the short and long trails. The group went from Rorick’s across the Rorick’s bridge (the burros were not happy about that and “one burro was partly carried and partly shoved” across). They then went east down Water Street before going back to Fitch’s Bridge. Another donkey had to be carried over the bridge so the others would follow. When they got back to the paths on the hill, Mr. Wright’s burro sat down and was forced up with a fence rail. Mrs. Wright’s burro tried to jump over a barricade, and since “a burro can’t jump any more than a camel,” she was thrown off. The donkey remained halfway over the fence, “prepared to stay there indefinitely” until more “shoving and heaving” got it to move.

Of the trip, Blinky said “Cute little things, them burros. Never run away or go fast. Patient little things, they’re well trained.” “They’re well trained all right, not to exceed any speed limit,” said Mr. Wright, “you’re wise to charge by the hour, and not by the mile.” The Wrights were so enamored  with the donkey riding that they came back every day. Baby Roricka was also rubbing elbows and hooves with the opera company stars; she was brought on stage for “Family Affairs,” a farce at the theater.

The Wrights enjoying their donkey riding
Blinky James' authentic cowboy charm proved very popular with visitors …perhaps even too popular. From September to November 1910, the divorce proceedings of Fred M. Schmidt and Minnie Kinner Schmidt were published in the local newspapers. Mr. Schmidt filed for divorce from his wife alleging that she had abandoned him and had been having extramarital affairs. Mr. Schmidt claimed that Mrs. Schmidt has spent the night at the Lackawanna Hotel with Blinky on September 8.  Then on September 10, she allegedly stayed at the hotel with Arthur Parker, a one-armed burro assistant. She admitted guilt of adultery and was sent to the Albion home for wayward girls. Blinky James denied any involvement in the Schmidt affair.

By the end of November 1910, Blinky James headed back to Padroni, Colorado. Reportedly, “eastern life was not for George James.” It was the end of the season and there was no mention of him leaving because of the adultery scandal. There were reports that he would come back the next season, but it seems that he may have left Elmira for good.

The donkeys wintered at the Maple Avenue Park, but were back in action in 1911, ready to carry “youngsters over the picturesque paths through the glen, from the theater to the top of the Indian Steps.” That June a new ½-mile burro path opened. In the off-season of January 1913 the highly-decorated donkeys marched in the parade for the opening of the F.C. Lewis company.

In April 1913, four new burros added and it was noted that these “long-eared hill climbers” were “as frisky as kittens and as comical as monkies [sic].” While they weren’t yet ready to ride, children would be able to come and see them.

The donkeys were so popular they became fodder for cultural commentary. A joke in the news used the donkeys to take a jab at suffragettes: “Brownie, Rorick’s glen burro, carried a 250-pound suffragette around the long trail. Brownie is now known as the suffering yet burro.”

The donkeys remained popular for the next several years. The E.W.L.&R.R. Co. gave away a baby burro to the person who correctly guessed the number of people coming into the Utilities Company booth at the Elmira Industrial Exposition. It seems like a strange and high-maintenance prize, but suggests the continued popularity of the donkeys.

The last reference I’ve seen to the donkeys was from September 1917 when a donkey escaped from the Glen and was found by Patrolman John Drolesky. While he “was phoning to headquarters, the animal became overly affectionate and proceeded to butt him in the stern.”


Monday, January 9, 2017

The Great Escape



By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

At 3:30 am on the morning of October 7, 1864, a man emerged from a hole on a side street by the northern fence of the Elmira Prison Camp. He was Washington B. Traweek, a nineteen-year-old private from Alabama who had been captured while serving with the Jeff Davis Artillery. There were Union guards on patrol across the street, but they never noticed him as he snuck along the fence before fleeing around a convenient corner.  He was soon followed by nine other men, the last emerging around 4:30 am. It was the single largest escape from the North’s most secure prisoner-of-war camp. 

The escape plot began on August 24th when John F. Maull, John P. Putegnat, and Frank E. Saurine all swore a secret oath to dig together. Traweek joined them almost immediately. The four men started digging the tunnel from Maull and Putegnat’s tent located approximately 68 feet from the camp’s northern stockade wall. The digging was exceptionally slow going so they recruited six additional men, S. Cecrops Malone, Gilmer G. Jackson, William H. Templin, J.P. Scruggs, Glen Shelton, and James W. Crawford, to help out.  Berry Benson of South Carolina joined the team in early September after he spotted Traweek disposing of rocks from the tunnel and asked to be let in.

Berry Benson in his old uniform after the war.


The tunnel took months to dig. Two men would go down into the tunnel where one man would dig with a pocket knife while another would load the dirt into a bag made from a spare shirt. The team up top would unload the dirt into their pockets to be disposed of later around camp and then send the bag back down. Working in the tunnel was deeply unpleasant. In his memoir, Benson said it was “next to death by suffocation to go into it.” The tunnel was so narrow that the digger’s body blocked the flow of air leaving the digger sweltering hot and struggling for oxygen. Diggers came up with racking headaches, dizziness, and vomiting and needed to be relieved every 15 to 20 minutes. 

The bag used to move dirt with insets of John P. Putegnat during and after the war.

In mid-September, Traweek and Putegnat dug a second tunnel from the newly constructed hospital, this time with a spade. They made it to the wall in just two nights but, before they could gather their friends to get them out, the tunnel was discovered. Traweek was thrown in the camp’s jail and the guards conducted a camp-wide search for additional tunnels. Twenty-eight were discovered, but not the team’s tunnel which was concealed by a carefully preserved chunk of turf held in place by a plank just below the surface. 

Traweek was released from the camp jail in late September to rejoin his fellows. By this time, Saurine had been kicked off the team for refusing to dig. It turned out to be a bad decision on his part. All of the tunnel conspirators made it out and away. Maull, Jackson, and Templin made their way south together on foot, as did Traweek and Crawford. Somehow Malone and Putegnat got turned around and ended up in Ithaca. They headed still further north before taking jobs in Auburn and using their earnings to travel to Baltimore by train and boat. Benson and Scuggs both made their own ways home alone while Shelton seemingly dropped off the face of the earth.

The escape was discovered during roll call on the morning of October 7th and threw the camp into an uproar. Guards frantically searched the camp and surrounding area for the tunnel and missing men. Wild rumors circulated among the prisoners. One prison diarist, Wilbur Grambling, wrote that 25 men had escaped, each with a stolen horse. 

Morning roll call at the Elmira Prison Camp

Although many others tried to replicate their feat, theirs was the last successful tunnel escape at the camp. Seven other men managed to make their way to freedom by various other methods. One smuggled himself out in a swill barrel. Another stole a Union sergeant’s overcoat and strolled out the front gate without being challenged. The most brazen escape was by a man named Buttons who faked his own death and jumped out of a coffin on the way to the cemetery.