Monday, November 23, 2015

The Fascinating History of Garbage in Chemung County

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

While doing research for our new exhibit “Clean,” to my surprise, I became very invested in learning about the history of garbage and sewage disposal in the county (I’ll save sewage for another time).  These aren’t my usual types of topics, but these histories are full of drama and conflict, and I was hooked.  So even though it might sound boring, stay with me.  I’ll try to make you a trash history convert as well. 

In the 1800s, there was very little municipal garbage removal, so most people threw their unwanted refuse into the streets.  Pigs roamed the streets eating trash and rag pickers and bone collectors gather unwanted scraps from residents.   In 1905, Elmira councilmen began to look for a better solution and sought a site to build an $18,000 garbage incinerator. Local protests stopped the city from doing this and the Bennett Incinerating Co., a private company, took on garbage collection.  Their services, however, were expensive and limited.
A pig in Elmira, 1860s
A more novel solution was offered up in 1918: a piggery.   The Murphy Process Co. of Buffalo proposed a piggery in Elmira to feed trash to pigs, claiming the city could then sell fattened pigs for a profit.  Elmira officials signed the contract but quickly gathered more garbage than the pigs could eat.  As smelly trash piled up on the Southside by the piggery, people protested and company went bankrupt.   The city tried to take over the piggery but it was too expensive.  Instead, they began burying garbage on a farm, City Farm, purchased just outside of the city limits.

A 1926 fire at the City Farm dump sent clouds of smelly smoke over city and reignited calls for a garbage incinerator. Residents of 8th ward complained the garbage dump at City Farm depreciated their property values and supported an incinerator.  The incinerator was built in 1929 and was estimated to cost the city $150,000.  Its two brick-lined furnaces burned trash at a temperature of 1,600-1,900 degrees, processed 10,000 tons of refuse in 1931 at cost of $1.05 per ton, and employed 12 people.
The original garbage incinerator
In November 1968, Elmira terminated operations at its refuse incinerator and an open burning site. The old incinerator layout was not conducive to mechanization and there was too much air pollution with open burns. The city switched to landfills.  The 1969 Chemung County Solid Waste Disposal Study estimated that Chemung County residents would discard 175 million pounds of garbage that year alone.  They also estimated the following trash production figures: 
- Ashland, Baldwin, Catlin, Chemung, Erin, Van Etten, and Veteran- 900 lbs per capita in 1970
-City and Town of Elmira- 1,500 lbs per capita in 1970
- Horseheads- 2,500 lbs (because of industrial waste) per capita in 1970
-Big Flats- 1,200 lbs per capita in 1970
-Projected that County would need 792.3 acres of landfills by 2020

In December 1973, The Chemung County Solid Waste Facility opened to shred and compact refuse to transport to landfill. The landfill was set on 139 acres in Town of Chemung and was given an estimated 20 year lifespan.  That changed on January 22, 1979 when an explosion in the shredders extensively damaged the facility.  It took three years to get the shredders operating again.  In the meantime, the County dumped unshredded trash into the landfill, significantly lessening its lifespan.  In August 1981 the shredders at the Waste Facility went back in action and gas detectors were installed to prevent future issues.  The county then had to look for space to expand the landfill.

In 1991, Chemung County Solid Waste opened a 22,000 square foot recycling center off Lake Road as a part of a $5.5 million commitment to recycling. 75 tons of 27 types of recyclables could be processed each day.  By 1994, Chemung County recycled 29% of its trash, not including bottles (the New York State average was only 16%).  It was estimated that by 2001, the recycling efforts had already removed 85,000 tons of materials that would have been put in the landfill.

Garbage is still a hot button issue for people in the county.  In 2012, Elmira got garbage trucks that have separate compactors for trash and recyclables on one truck.  Recently, Elmira mandated that all trash be put out in only clear bags, causing ire amongst some residents.  Still, Chemung County’s long trash history reminds us that there are no easy solutions to trash removal, particularly as we produce more and more each year.
The new garbage trucks

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Forgotten War

by Rachel Dworkin, archivist
            During our Ghost Walk trivia contest I asked the contestants which war the Hiker Monument in Wisner Park was dedicated to.   The answer is the Spanish-American War of 1898, but none of the contestants were able to guess that without first cycling through every American war.  Some folks like to claim that the Korean War is America’s forgotten war, but after 10 seasons of MASH, I think we can all agree that the Spanish-American War is the one that no one can actually remember. 

Postcard of the Hiker Monument in Wisner Park
            So just what was the Spanish-American War and how did it start?  The Spanish colony of Cuba had been rebelling against Spain on-and-off since the 1860s.  In 1895, the third war for Cuban independence began.  America, by and large, supported the rebels.  Cuba was a major American trading partner and there was a strong desire among hawks to obtain a Caribbean military base.  The Cuba Libre movement, centered around Florida and New York City, helped to provide money and smuggled weapons to the independence movement and while working hard to lobby the cause to the American public.  President McKinley was reluctant to get involved militarily and instead tried to force a peaceful solution to the conflict.  On November 15, 1897, Spain ratified autonomy decrees for Cuba and Puerto Rico, but it did little to quell unrest.   
Elmira Telegram, April 4, 1898
          And then came the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898.  A series of riots had broken out in the city in early January and the ship had been sent to protect American shipping interests.  The ship went down in an explosion which caused the deaths of 266 of the 355 crewmen, the causes of which are still unknown.  Newspapers like Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and William Hearst’s New York Journal claimed the explosion was Spanish plot and helped push the country towards war.  When Congress officially declared war on April 25, 1898, “Remember the Maine” was the rallying cry.
Front page of the Elmira Telegram, May 1, 1898
            On May 1, 1898, the City of Elmira gave a rounding sendoff to the men of the local 30th Separate Company of the New York National Guard as they marched from the Armory to the trains that would take them to Long Island.  The streets were packed with well wishers including a delegation and marching band from Corning.  The policemen assigned to crowd control were forced to use their billy-clubs to clear the soldiers’ path to the train.   The company of 112 men from Elmira and Horseheads were eager to go but they never actually made it to the conflict.       

            Their first stop was Camp Black, Long Island where they were assigned to the First Battalion and re-designated as Company L.  From there they went for training at Camp Alger in Virginia.  The sanitary conditions at Camp Alger were so appalling that an epidemic of typhoid fever broke out among the men, killing several.  Those not afflicted practiced marching, earning themselves the nickname of “The Hikers.”  Meanwhile, the war in Cuba was doing so well the army decided to send the entire First Battalion home on September 12th.  The men of Company L were officially mustered out December 10, 1898.

Company L men at Camp Alger, July 4, 1898
            Hostilities in the Spanish-American War were officially halted on August 12, 1898, although the Battle of Manila ended up taking place the following day.  After months of negotiations, the Treaty of Paris was signed on December 10, 1898 and ratified by Congress on February 6, 1899.  As a result, Cuba became an independent nation and the United States gained the territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.  Thanks to the Camp Alger disaster, they also learned a valuable lesson about sanitation.  Following the war, the Army Medical Corps issued new regulations about sanitation standards which greatly reduced the loss of life due to disease in later wars.   

Company L on the steps of City Hall,  December 10, 1898

Monday, November 9, 2015

People Actually Do That?

by Erin Doane, curator

Someone once asked me what I did as a curator. I gave the short answer that I create exhibits in a history museum. The person looked at me incredulously and said, “I didn’t know people actually did that.” My immediate thought was sarcastic. No, people don’t create exhibits. If you believe in history hard enough, exhibits just appear in museums. My actual reply was that yes, I made exhibits and I really enjoyed doing it.

Just this past Friday, we finished the installation of our newest exhibit Clean, which examines what cleanliness is on physical, social, and spiritual levels and how people work to become clean. I say “we” finished it because this exhibit, like all of them at the museum, was very much a group effort. I head the exhibit team that includes our education coordinator Kelli and archivist Rachel. We work together to create educational, entertaining, interactive exhibits. And I think we do a great job.

Our newest exhibit: Clean
So, how exactly is an exhibit created? The first step is picking a topic. Some exhibits are based on the types of objects that are in the museum’s collection. A couple years ago we did an exhibit on wedding traditions because we have a good collection of wedding-related objects. We also did an exhibit on World War I posters because we have so many wonderful examples in the archives. Other exhibits start with an idea and then we work out what to put on display from there. Clean is a good example of this.  We usually have our exhibit topics selected at least a year from the opening date. (We are always looking for suggestions of what people would like to see so if you have an idea, let us know!)

A view of 'Til Death Do Us Part - a previous exhibit on wedding traditions
Once we pick a topic, we start researching and writing. We split up this task among the three of us on the exhibit team. There are usually around 9 to 12 main text panels exploring different aspects of the topic. Each panel has up to 100 words each. After conducting hours of research, it can be a real challenge to boil all that information down to just 100 words but years of experience have made it a fairly painless process. Once we’ve all done our individual research and writing we get together to review and edit the text. This can be a harrowing process at times but better text is always the end result.

Text panel from Parks and Recreation
Once the main text is written a lot of things start happening all at once. We decide on the general style of the exhibit panels and I work on graphic design. Kelli designs and creates hands-on interactives for the exhibit. Rachel selects photographs and archival documents that will go on display while I select three-dimensional objects. I also work on the floor plan – where all the text panels, display cases, and interactives will go in the gallery. My favorite way to do this is with graph paper. I have scale drawings of all the galleries and little cutouts of display cases and other exhibit furniture. Moving things around on paper is a lot easier than moving them around in real life. I sometimes even dabble in Google SketchUp to get a 3-D view of my layout.

The Howell Gallery in SketchUp
Almost two years ago, we go a large scale printer through a grant from the Community Foundation of Elmira-Corning and the Finger Lakes. I love that printer! We can now produce our own graphics in-house. We can print up to 48” wide on various types of paper including satin photo paper and self-adhesive polypropylene. This has really streamlined the exhibit process. We no longer have to wait on graphics printed by an outside company and if I notice a typo that somehow slipped through our review I can instantly make a reprint. I have actually become quite adept at adhering large graphics onto foam board for display.

An example of a large (32"x60") text panel printed and mounted in-house
After months and months of planning, it’s finally time to install the exhibit. An installation usually takes one very long week to complete. It’s a tiring process to get everything precisely in place and ready for the public but I love doing it (despite the multiple bruises I get along the way). There is something very rewarding about pulling an idea out of the air and making it into a concrete visual experience. Creating exhibits is by far one of my favorite duties as a curator.

Housework-related artifacts in Clean
If anyone is interested in all the other stuff I do on a day-to-day basis as a curator, check out A Curator’s Day on tumblr.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Serious Thoughts on a Ridiculous Photograph

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

I think that the photograph above is one of the most remarkable pieces in our collection.  Yes, I’m serious.  While on the surface this photo is a little crass, allow me to explain just how unique this piece is.  In other words, this is my attempt to write a mature, thoughtful blog post about one of our most immature collection items. 
The photograph is a part of our collection of materials from Charles Whipple, a Horseheads resident.  We have his diaries, photographs, and other assorted documents.  Tucked in amongst these items is the photograph in question.  There are several photographs of these two dogs, showing them around the yard and in the home (and even on the bed).  The photos are dated 1948. 
This collection is a lovely glimpse at mid-century pet keeping.  Candid photos like these give us a better understanding of how our relationships with our pets have changed and stayed the same over time.  Like Whipple, people today take pictures of their animals playing, sleeping, or being otherwise adorable. 
The dogs look well loved.  But still, the first picture is special. 
First, it is remarkable that this photograph was even taken.  Photographic technology had made great strides in portability and affordability by the 1940s, but film was still a valuable resource.  There were families that took few photos of their children in the 1940s, much less their dogs.  So that someone would use a frame on this scene (and also the fact that they had a camera handy when this went down) is noteworthy.  And, not only was the picture taken, it was developed.
Someone cared enough about this photo to date it on the back (many of the other photos in the collection are not dated).  They also kept it.  Maybe it became a family joke. Eventually, the photograph was donated to the museum in 2009 as a part of the much larger Reverend Donald Roe collection (Whipple was Roe’s parishioner and his possessions were left in Roe's care after his death, thus adding another layer of improbability to the survival of this photograph). 
It is impressive that this small, silly photograph exists.  While it is not typically what most people would deem museum-worthy, I think that it is because it's a great reminder that people in the past were very much like us.  And if anything, this photo shows us that poop jokes have always been funny. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Greetings From the War

Greetings From the War
by Rachel Dworkin, archivist

Right after college I worked in a greeting card store.  We liked to claim that we had cards for every occasion, but we really didn’t.  Not only didn’t we have cards for married couples with the same birthday (I know, I checked), we didn’t have cards tailored for servicemen and women either.  If you want cards like that, you have to buy them on-line from specialty manufacturers.

That was not the case during World War II.  Shortly after America’s entry into the war in December 1941, the War Department issued a directive aimed at cutting America’s civilian use of paper by 25%.  In response, the greeting card industry, lead by George Burkhardt of Burkhardt-Warner, formed the Greeting Card Association.  The Association lobbied hard that greeting cards should be exempted on the grounds that they helped to boost soldiers’ morale.  They created programs designed to shill war bonds and stamps, and gave free greeting cards to wounded soldiers so they could contact their families. 
Card sent to Herbert Hall upon joining the army in 1942. 
The end result was that America during World War II was awash with patriotic greeting cards. 

Christmas, 1942
Card companies tailored their birthday, holiday, and other assorted greetings to servicemen and women.  While today less than .5% of Americans serve in the military, nearly 12% of the population served in World War II including over 13,000,000 men and 358,074 women.  Pretty much everyone had a friend or relative in uniform to write to.   Some cards were fairly generic (to a serviceman/woman) while others were targeted towards members of each branch of service.  There were 11 different branches of service including Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, WAAC, WAVES, WASP, SPARS, Women’s Marine Corp, Army Nursing Corp, and Navy Nursing Corp. 
Christmas Card sent to Seaman Francis Palmer, 1944

Birthday card sent to Captain Helen Booth of the WAACs, ca. 1943


Monday, October 19, 2015

The Amusing Instructor

by Erin Doane, curator

Board games have been around since the earliest days of human civilization.  By the late 19th century, families in the United States were seeing an increase in their leisure time and sought new things to do. Companies responded by producing more board games in greater varieties. The Amusing Instructor is a board game invented in 1887 by Joseph H. Beach of Elmira. This educational game includes a game board with a central spinner and two chalk boards and a booklet containing instructions for playing 35 different games that can be adapted to all grades of intelligence.

Joseph H. Beach is first listed in the Elmira City directories in 1878 as a yard keeper at the Elmira Reformatory. By 1880 he was the principal keeper there. It is not certain whether he was still working at the Reformatory when he invented The Amusing Instructor in 1887. By 1889, though, he had gone into real estate as a career. He retired around 1922 and either moved or passed away around 1935. He is no longer listed in the directories at that point.

On the first page of The Amusing Instructor’s instruction booklet, Beach explains why he chose to create this educational game. In his own words he had, “at various times, had occasion to search through store after store for the purpose of selecting suitable games to present to his young friends, and it has occasionally transpired that after having made careful selections, after patient investigation, he has still felt that he was not quite satisfied with his purchase, for the reason that he had been looking for something that he could not find. He desired to procure games that possessed not only the merit to amuse, but also desired, if possible, to procure games that possessed the additional advantage of imparting useful knowledge; and he ofttimes found himself wondering why persons devising new games had not more frequently had in view, in their construction, the idea of the development of the mind.”

The game board Beach created was designed so that people could play games of letters, words and sentences, games of numbers, and geographical games all on the same board. Children could learn the alphabet, orthography, figures, the locations and sizes of lakes, and many other things playing this game. On the game’s cover there is the claim that “The Amusing Instructor is the most desirable game board in existence.” Several of the 14 reasons for this claim are that the games played afford pleasure by harmless amusement; that useful knowledge is rapidly acquired by persons playing the games; that in many of these games there are elements of the greatest uncertainty; and that the board itself is not cheaply made.

The instruction booklet also includes “A Paradise for Puzzlers” containing puzzles, conundrums, tricks, fortune tellers, etc. If one wanted the correct answers to all the puzzles and explanations of how to do the trick, one only had to send five 2-cent postage stamps to him in the mail. Unfortunately for us, neither of our two copies of The Amusing Instructor came with the answer key!

Friday, October 9, 2015

George "Cyclone" Williams: Elmira's Sensational Battler

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

George “Cyclone” Williams was a local African-American boxer during the 1910s and 1920s, who billed himself as "Elmira's Sensational Battler." He earned the nickname “Cyclone” for his speed and tenacity. A lightweight, The Buffalo Courier called him "a slam-bang fighter, who fights every minute." The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle said he "has a bag full of tricks." The Elmira Herald called him "a pocket edition of Jack Dempsey."
Williams' letterhead
During this era, often white boxers wouldn’t fight black boxers.  In a 1912 fight in Buffalo,  no fighters would go against him. A report stated, “Nobody wanted anything of Williams’ game. Some wouldn't make a match because they drew the color line. Hitherto they had been fighting all shades and all kinds. Others developed sore hands, bum arms, boils, and anything else that sounded good.”  Fans showed their support of Williams after he was disqualified from a 1919 fight in Waverly for allegedly hitting below the belt.  Williams had out boxed his opponent the entire match.  A report said of Williams, “Williams has been a conspicuous figure in the boxing game here and throughout this vicinity for many years. During that time he has earned an unusual reputation as a sportsmanlike fighter. His ring tactics and conduct have always gained him the popularity and confidence of the boxing public.”
Cyclone boxed for 20 years. When he retired, he figured that he’d been through 20 years of fighting with fewer injuries than most fighters, so he owed God for protection.  A group of his Elmira friends got money together to send him to Elmira Free Academy, Cook Academy, and then Berkeley Divinity School in New Haven, CT.  He was a pastor in several cities and towns, including Elmira, Corning, and Waverly.
He picked up other jobs to support himself while he was a pastor: he was a theater janitor, owned a valet service, and was a steam bath operator and masseur. He briefly ran a newsstand and shoe shine under the Erie Viaduct, about which he joked he ran a business with a million dollar overhead.
Later in life Cyclone reflected on his boxing career and thought that he’d have been world champion if he was white.  He claimed that politics kept him out of the matches that he should have been in.  He also hated modern boxing because it wasn’t aggressive enough.   He said unlike modern fighters, he always fought until the bell rang.
He died of an apparent heart attack in 1958 at age 70.  In 2011, author Andrea Davis Pinkney, Williams’ great-granddaughter, wrote the children’s book, Bird in a Box, a fictional story of a black boxer, inspired in part by Williams.