Monday, September 26, 2016

This Story is Bananas!

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

The mysterious banana photo, c. 1900
For years I have been trying to figure out the historical explanation for this unusual banana photograph in our collection (and by “trying” I mean periodically thinking that I should look into it and then forgetting). I simply couldn’t understand why a single Elmira fruit dealer around the turn of the 20th century would have that many bananas in stock. I mean, how could they possibly sell them all before they spoiled? Was there really that big of a market for bananas here? Well, I think I’ve finally cracked the code.

A fruit dealer with a far more sensible amount of banana merchandise, c. 1895.
Bananas were available in the US after the Civil War, but they were at first expensive and a luxury. They cost a dime each, about $2 today. They were sold peeled and cut so that their shape would not offend prudish Victorians. By the 1870s, large-scale banana importation began, with American ships sailing to the Caribbean and South America for product. As refrigerated shipping increased the quantities of bananas on the market, prices dropped and they became a normal part of many American’s diets. They were billed as a nutritional powerhouse, particularly for poor families.

This 1894 Elmira price listing shows that banana prices were decreasing, but still weren't the cheapest food.
In the 1890s, smaller importers merged to create United Fruit Company, which dominated the market, squashing competition and putting pressure on small fruit retailers. The new banana trust was importing around 12 million bunches of bananas a year by 1900 and their monopoly allowed them to bully small businesses.

In Elmira, fruit dealers felt the pressure. They were charged exorbitant fees for the product and were forced to purchase more bananas than they wanted or could sell. Local merchants were forced to sign a contract to receive 300 bunches every week for the entire year. One anonymous fruit dealer said, “There is absolutely no redress for the merchant. And you must take the kind they ship you. Some of the bunches have to be thrown away because of decay.” This pressure forced some local dealers out of the banana game and ultimately led to a scarcity of bananas in the city by 1903.

Headline from the Elmira Star-Gazette, April 20, 1903.
The P. Laskaris and Brothers “Greek Fruit Dealers” shop in the photograph likely signed one of these unfair banana trust deals. They opened this shop in 1889 and sold fruit, candy, ice cream, and soda. And bananas. Lots and lots of bananas.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Fangirls Gonna Fan

by Rachel Dworkin, archivist

I am, I confess, something of a fangirl. These days there are a lot of ways for fangirls like me to get our geek on. There are entire industries which market toys and apparel to them.  Tabloids and Twitter help fans keep track of their favorite celebrities. Social media offers fans across the world a platform where they can discuss the latest episode of their favorite shows. Fans can cosplay and meet both fellow fans and content creators at conventions. They can share their fanfic, fanvids, and other fan-created stuff on websites like and Archive of Our Own.  Unless they’re stalking Jody Foster and shooting Ronald Reagan, there’s no wrong way to be a fan.
While there have always been fans, it wasn’t until the early 20th century when industries rose to cater to their interest. The first fan magazine, that is to say a magazine geared towards fans of a specific aspect of popular culture, was called Photoplay. When it first appeared in 1911, each issue was basically a condensed tie-in novel for recently released films.  In 1915, they reformatted to include reviews of films, actor interviews, and celebrity gossip. This became the hallmark of later fan magazines for all sorts of fandoms including film, radio, TV, and sports.

Screen Secrets, March 1930
Back during the 1920s and ‘30s, local teen Ruth Collin took full advantage of the fandom industry of her day.  Her first foray into fandom was a scrapbook made between 1926 and 1928, which she filled with advertisements and reviews of every one of the 87 films she watched during that period.  Starting in the late 1920s, she began subscribing to film magazines including The New Movie Magazine, Movie Mirror, Silver Screen, Screen Romances, and The Modern Screen Magazine. She got studios to send her autographed portraits of her favorite stars.

New Movie Magazine, April 1930
Signed photo of Joan Crawford sent by MGM Studio.  The dog did not sign.
In addition to the collection documenting Ruth Collin’s fanish obsession, we also have a collection of baseball scrapbooks from the 1940s and ‘50s, and a bunch of 1990s boy band posters.  Now all we need is a Star Trek fanzine from the 1960s and we’ll be all set.  Seriously though, if you have one of those, we really do need one.

Monday, September 12, 2016

The Beginning of Licensed Toys

by Erin Doane, curator

If you have walked down the toy aisle lately, I’m sure you’ve noticed that it is very difficult to find a toy that is not connected to a television show, cartoon, movie, or video game. The unbranded stuffed animal and generic bouncy ball seem to be things of the past. That was not always the case, however. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that licensed toys began to be mass-produced. During the Great Depression, toy sales dropped dramatically. To boost sales, companies began making toys that tied in to movies and cartoons of the time. Here at the Chemung County Historical Society, we have a small collection of these types of toys.

Shirley Temple doll, 1930s
Shirley Temple started acting in 1932 at the age of three. She quickly became America’s sweetheart during the Great Depression, starring in a string of popular movies. In 1934, the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company approached the young singer/actress’s family about creating a doll in her likeness. The Shirley Temple doll quickly became Ideal’s best-selling product despite being relatively expensive at $3.00 for the smallest doll.

Hopalong Cassidy’s “Dairy Lea” toy gun, 1950s
Author Clarence E. Mulford created Hopalong Cassidy in 1904. The cowboy was the hero of a series of novels and short stories through the 1930s. Hopalong Cassidy first appeared on the silver screen in 1935 with William Boyd in the starring role. In all, 66 movies were made through the 1930s and 1940s about the cowboy’s adventures. Hopalong Cassidy also appeared in television and radio shows. His name and likeness were put on products of all sorts from lunch boxes and cameras to watches and cap guns.  

My Pal Lassie stuffed dog, 1950s
In 1940, the novel Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight was published. Three years later MGM released a feature film version of the story. Ten more Lassie films were made between 1945 and 2005. A dog name Pal played the first Lassie on film and a series of his descendants have played the character through the years. In 1954, Lassie first appeared on television. The Emmy Award winning series was on the air for 19 years. Fans of the show could own their own My Pal Lassie stuffed dog.

Bendix bicycle stick shift, c. 1958
The teenage character Archie Andrews first appeared in 1941 in Pep Comics #22. He became so popular that he got his own series of comics, Archie Comics, in 1942. In the 1950s, Bendix used Archie to sell its bicycle stick shift. The Eclipse Machine Co. in Elmira was a division of the Bendix Corporation. The company produced bicycle brakes and components throughout the 1950s and 1960s including the stick shift that let you “shift your bike like a racecar driver!” Archie is still appearing in comics today and a television series entitled Riverdale about Archie and his high school friends is scheduled to air on the CW network during the 2016-2017 season.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Elmira Vocational School

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

Since my turn to write our weekly blog post has fallen on Labor Day, I thought that this would be a perfect opportunity for me to share some images of the Elmira Vocational School, which are part of one of my favorite photograph collections at the museum. The Elmira Vocational School was public school in the Elmira district. It opened in 1913 to teach boys mechanical, industrial, and construction trades. The school opened in an abandoned building owned by the city at 717-721 Lake Street.  The building needed significant remodeling to make it a working school, but that challenge itself provided an important opportunity for the school. In fact, the students did most of the remodeling as part of their course work. This involved building classrooms and workrooms, doing plumbing and electrical work, and metal work and carpentry.

Above: Students working on concrete forms for new school building annex
Below: Framing done by students on the school building

Students’ time in school was divided equally between traditional book work and their vocational training. The school taught intermediate and high school boys. Intermediate students (those who had completed 6th grade) took a two year course before they had the opportunity to move on to the high school program.
Above and below: students in various workshops and classrooms at the school, learning carpentry, plumbing, metalwork, and drafting.

 The Elmira Vocational School was operating at a time of new emphasis on formalized vocational training.  A few years ahead of its time, the school was already in operation for four years before the 1917 Smith-Hughes Act, or the National Vocational Education Act, gave federal funds to states to support job training in business and industry, agriculture, and home economics.
Getting a lesson about electricity
Learning how to use the lathe.
Ultimately, the school’s success led to it being merged with Southside High School in the mid-1920s. Its methods and faculty served as the foundation for the new vocational program at the high school.  

Monday, August 29, 2016

Behind the Walls

by Rachel Dworkin, archivist

 This Thursday we will be installing our latest exhibit, Behind the Walls: Architectural Plans and Drawings, in the Education Room.  As the name implies, the exhibit will feature a selection of architectural drawings from our collections.  Here at CCHS, we have blueprints and concept drawings for a wide array of public buildings including schools, churches, stores, factories, hospitals, banks, and government buildings. Here is a little taste of what we’ll be showcasing in the exhibit.

 First Baptist Church

Concept drawing for the First Baptist Church, 1892
Elmira’s First Baptist Church was established in 1829. There have been three successive Baptist churches at the Wisner Park site. The third structure was built in 1892.  Designed by local architects Joseph H. Pierce (1855-1932) and Otis Dockstader (1851-1929), it was intended to be both a house of worship and a community center equipped with concert spaces, classrooms, and even a basketball court.

Longitudinal section of the First Baptist Church, 1892 

Chemung County Jail

 The Chemung County Jail was constructed in 1872 by J. & S.M. Clark. It originally served both as a prison and as a residence for the sheriff.  In 1906, the Seneca Engineering Company of Watkins Glen designed a series of improvements to the holding cells. The original jail was demolished in 1941 to make way for its replacement which still stands today.

Improvements to the cell block, 1906

Mark Twain Hotel

The Mark Twain Hotel was built at the tail end of Elmira’s 1920s construction boom. It was designed by New York City architectural firm George B. Post & Son with help from the local firm Considine & Haskell. At the time, the hotel was considered state-of-the-art with fireproof construction and a bathroom for every bedroom.  It also had several conference and dinning rooms as well as shops on the first floor. 

Plan of the first floor of the Mark Twain Hotel, 1929

Monday, August 22, 2016

Paper Dolls in Paper Dresses

by Erin Doane, curator

Paper dolls have been around for hundreds of years but they were first manufactured for sale in the early 1810s. By the end of the 19th century, there were multiple companies around the country and world producing a wide variety of highly-detailed paper dolls. Many companies used color lithography to create dolls and clothing in vivid colors. These two-dimensional playthings were popular with children and adults alike because of their variety and details and because they were less expensive than cloth or porcelain dolls.

Unmarked paper doll and dress, early 20th century
Selchow and Righter was a game manufacturing company founded in the late 19th century that also produced paper dolls. In 1895, they introduced several new lines of dolls including “Tiny Ladies.” These 9-inch tall paper dolls came with three costumes and three hats. They were lithographed in the brightest colors and came already cut out and ready for use.

Lady Alice produced by Selchow and Righter
Lady Alice's outfits
The Dennison Manufacturing Company brought three-dimensionality to paper dolls in the 1880s when they added crepe paper clothing. The museum has a booklet entitled Art & Decoration in Crepe & Tissue Paper published by the Dennison Manufacturing Company in 1896 that showcases their line of crepe and tissue. The booklet contains instructions for using their paper to create all sorts of accessories for the home including lamp shades and table decorations. There is also a section on making paper doll clothing. The booklet provides some basic instructions on making the clothing at home  and also includes a price list for people to purchase fully-made dresses and dolls.

Art & Decoration in Crepe & Tissue Paper booklet, 1896
Dennison's imported tissue paper samples inside booklet
Paper doll clothing made from crepe paper had wonderful depth and texture not found in typical printed paper doll outfits. It was possible to create very detailed outfits with pleats and trim from the brightly-colored paper. Some of the outfits even included petticoats. I’m not sure if the crepe paper clothes in the museum’s collection were handmade or purchased pre-made but they are beautiful little pieces.
Dennison paper doll with jointed arms and legs, 1890s
Two-piece crepe paper dress, 1890s
Green crepe paper dress, 1890s
Dennison paper doll in crepe paper dress, 1890s
Paper dolls were not always simply sold as toys. They were also used for advertising a wide range of products from food and drinks to cars and soap. One example of this is a set of paper doll dresses distributed by Dr. Miles’ Medical Company. The company was founded in 1884 and began filling orders by mail in the 1890s. One of its most famous products was Dr. Miles’ Nervine which corrected “all disordered conditions of the nervous system.” Sometime around the turn of the century, they ran a promotion with paper dolls. If a customer sent one wrapper of any Dr. Miles’ Remedies and five 2 cent stamps, they would receive a beautiful paper doll and three complete outfits. The museum has two sets of these outfits for dolls named Edith and Grace but, unfortunately, does not have the dolls themselves.
Edith's outfits
Grace's outfits
Reverse of one of Grace's outfits

One of the appeals of paper dolls was, and still is, that they could be easily be made at home. All a child needed was paper, a pencil, and a pair of scissors to create her own paper dolls.

Homemade fashion paper doll and outfits, 1914
Homemade doll and clothing made with paper and pencil, c. 1910s

Monday, August 15, 2016

Ted Huntley: An Elmira Olympian

by Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

Last week, we all cheered on Elmira's own Molly Huddle when she broke the American record in the Women's 10,000 Meters at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Congratulations, Molly! Molly's success got me thinking about other Elmirans with ties to the Olympic games, and I discovered Clarence "Ted" Huntley, an alternate for the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium. Like Molly, Ted competed in track and field, but his specialties were pole vault and javelin.

Ted graduated from Elmira Free Academy, where he was a standout athlete. He attended Syracuse University, where he was the president of the track team and was viewed as one of the best pole vaulters. He previously spent two years in the Navy during World War I, and afterwards, trained and competed with other Navy veterans.

During the Olympic trials, Ted qualified as an alternate for the team. He did attend the games in Antwerp, but he didn't get to compete. Still, the 1920 games were important, especially for veterans, because the war had greatly impacted the Olympics. The 1916 games in Berlin were cancelled and some countries, like Germany and Austria, were barred from competing in 1920. Ted returned from Antwerp on October 7, 1920.
Huntley pole vaulting at Syracuse University's stadium
After the Games, he turned down offers to play professional baseball and instead went to work in investment banking, opening his own firm in Elmira in 1926. He worked as a consultant for commercial banks and later, became president of the Central Railroad of Tennessee.

Ted believed that athletics were crucial and he supported local sports teams and endeavors. In a speech at the YWCA in 1930, he said, "Success in any kind of endeavor cannot be obtained without the necessary strength given by a fine physical development; neither can the goal of success be realized unless one is trained in the ideals of fair play, honesty, integrity, and loyalty as taught in athletics." He died in Washington, D.C. in 1961.