Monday, May 23, 2016

The Communist Summer Camp in Van Etten

by Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

In the summer of 1930, a local scandal erupted when people discovered that there was a Communist summer camp for children operating in the town of Van Etten.  The fervor of the Red Scare had died down since its peak in the early 1920s, but many Americans still feared the threat of Communism. The Van Etten Workers' International Relief Camp housed 100 children ages 7-17 who hailed from New York and surrounding states. The camp was the target of local animosity from the time it opened on July 6. Leaders reported shots fired at camp from a car and the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross nearby. There were rumors that the children were neglected and that the camp used a hen house for a kitchen, but these were all untrue. However, these incidents were just a prelude for the life-threatening drama that would erupt in mid-August.

On Tuesday August 12, 1930, Mabel Husa and Ailene Holmes, the directors of the camp, were charged with desecrating the American flag. The women, both in their early 20s, were charged based on accusations by local American Legion members stemming from an incident at the camp on August 8.

The exact events of August 8 are difficult to ascertain because both sides told different stories. That day, members of the Legion and the Patriotic Order of America arrived at the camp uninvited and tried to present the camp leaders with an American flag and asked that they run it up the pole. Husa and Holmes refused the offer and told the group to leave. Undeterred, the Legion members raised the flag across the street from the camp. Then, a boy from the camp allegedly ran out with the camp flag (which was similar to the Soviet flag) and ran it up a nearby telephone pole so that it was higher than the American flag. After that, the stories diverge. According to the Legion members, Husa allegedly led the children to the flag to boo at it. Mrs. Victoria Koons said the children stuck their tongues out at the flag, expressing her disgust with the following weirdly descriptive statement: "I saw more yards of tongue than I ever saw before." The children were also said to chant anti-American and anti-flag slogans.

Holmes and Husa refuted the Legion's claims. Holmes said she respected the American flag and considered it her flag, but she did think it "represented the rule of the boss class over the workers' class." She also claimed that the children's "boos" were directed at their visitors, not the flag, and that they were chanting "Down with the American Legion" and "Down with the Ku Klux Klan." 

The situation turned dangerous a couple days later when the women's trial was delayed briefly in order for them to secure council. On Thursday, August 14, 1930, a mob of 500 men surrounded the camp with the intention to burn it to the ground. 25 of those men went into the camp to tell them to remove the children but they were told the children would stay. In less than an hour, the crowd outside had grown to 2,000 people. A local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan was meeting nearby on school grounds and headed to lend their support to the mob. Simultaneously, a meeting of Finnish immigrants and descendants was also meeting and they joined in to support the camp leaders (there was a large influx of Finnish immigrants to the region beginning in the early 20th century). Police were able to first split up the supporters and detractors, and eventually, dispersed the entire group by 1:30 am, thereby averting any violence.

The camp closed Saturday and children were sent home. When the trial resumed, 150 people packed the small Van Etten Town Hall. On August 18, the women were found guilty and sentenced to three months in the Monroe County Penitentiary in Rochester and received $50 fines.  Husa and Holmes remained defiant. Talking to reporters, Husa decried the "un-American attitude of the men who call themselves Americans and who in numbers would seek to attack three defenseless women and 70 helpless children to gratify their supposed sense of patriotism...Surely it must require great bravery for our visitors to throw stones with women as their apparent targets...The Reds, whom that crowd seems intent upon destroying, cannot do much worse by way of showing disrespect for law, liberty and the rights of human beings regardless of their religious or political beliefs."

Public sentiment on the case was divided. Many in the press were sympathetic to the women, especially in light on the incident with the mob. One report of their arrival in Rochester is as follows: "Two pleasant young ladies, barely past the high school ages, with blonde bobbed hair and the healthy tan of a summer in the open on their cheeks, arrived in town...They didn't have any horns on their heads nor any bombs secreted on their persons..."

An August 30 editorial in the Ogdensburg Republican-Journal was more scathing: "The whole episode savors of that superheated 'patriotism' that caused so much trouble in this country during and directly after the late war. So far as reported, the camp was being conducted peacefully until the appearance of the mob...What right had the men to interfere in the business of the camp? By what exceptional virtues were they qualified to dictate patriotism to the camp? The action of the mob was much like the Ku Klux Klan...The mob's 'patriotism' was the poorest sort. The country would be much better off without it. Assuredly no medals for bravery need be awarded for mobbing two women and a group of children."
Holmes and Husa upon their release from Rochester.
On August 27, the women were released from the prison on $500 bonds after being granted appeal. They lost the appeal on November 19, 1930. Even though we historically associate these types of incidents with the first Red Scare of the immediate post-World War I years and the second McCarthyism Red Scare of the 1940s and 1950s, the story of the Van Etten camp in 1930 serves as a reminder that fears about the rise of Communism did not disappear in the years between.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Virtual Realty - Old School Edition

by Rachel Dworkin, archivist
In recent years, several companies have unveiled new virtual reality devices designed to give users an immersive experience.  In June 2014, Google released Cardboard, a 3D virtual reality platform for use with special mount for a smartphone.  The mounts are relatively cheap (less than $5) and there are already thousands of apps and videos which users can view.  One app, called Expedition, allows students to use Cardboard to take virtual tours of historic and cultural sites from around the world.  It’s deeply cool, but it is also not as innovative as you might think.

 In 1851, David Brewster presented the Brewster Stereoscope, which he had developed with Professor Elliot and Jules Duboscq, to Queen Victoria at the Great Exhibition.  This kicked off a 3D craze with stereoscopes and stereoviews selling like hotcakes.  The idea behind the technology was simple and, in fact, mimicked the way human eyes naturally work.  Each stereoview featured two near-identical images side by side.  The two lenses in the stereoscope allowed both images to be viewed simultaneously, one by each eye, creating the illusion of depth.  In case you were wondering, that’s also exactly how Google Cardboard works too. 
In 1861, American inventor Oliver Wendell Holmes created, but specifically did not patent, a simplified version of the Brewster Stereoscope.  The original version was rather bulky and had involved multiple lenses which made it rather costly.  The Holmes Stereoscope on the other hand, was a simple wooden frame with just two prismatic lenses and, thus, a whole lot cheaper to make.  The average one sold for $.20 at a time when you could get a good wool coat for $28.

A Holmes Stereoscope, 1895
The simple Holmes Stereoscope quickly became a staple in most American homes, mostly because, without television, people had to make their own fun.  People collected cards of famous historic and cultural sites from all over the world.  We recently received the Hoefer Family stereoview collection.  Rosina & John Jacob Hoefer lived in Elmira, but had 68 images from 6  different countries, as well as views of important historical figures and from around New York State.  With them, they could explore and virtually visit places they could never reach in person.  Sounds familiar, right? 
Stereoviews from the Hoefer collection, front and back, 1908

Monday, May 9, 2016

Going for the Brass Ring: The Eldridge Park Carousel

by Erin Doane, curator

In just a few weeks Eldridge Park will be open for the season and this year marks the 10th anniversary of the restored carousel there. It was opened to the public on May 27, 2006 after years of rebuilding and restoration. The history of the carousel goes back over 100 years and is filled with its share of ups and downs.

Eldridge Park Carousel, mid-1980s
In 1924, Robert A. Long came to Elmira in response to an ad seeking someone to bring a merry-go-round to Eldridge Park. Long was just 23 years old at the time but he had long been involved in building and operating carousels. His father and uncle had a shop in Philadelphia where they assembled amusement park rides. From 1909 through 1916, he helped his father operate a carousel in Elmira during the summer months. Long purchased an old Looff carousel and installed it in Eldridge Park. The machine was built in the late 1890s and had been operated at Young’s Million Dollar Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It measured 50 feet in diameter and had three rows of stationary animals including horses, a sea serpent, giraffes, greyhounds, a billy goat, and a lion.

The carousel’s lion, 1988
In 1942, Long converted the stationary mechanism into a jumping one. He re-carved the legs of some of the horses to become jumpers. This new version of the carousel had 34 stationary animals and 20 jumping horses. The goat, the lion, and the tiger were the only menagerie figures to remain on the machine. Long also installed a mechanism that dispensed metal rings. Carousel riders could reach out and capture the rings as the ride was moving. Most of the rings were made of iron but if you got the brass ring, you won a free ride.

Vinton Bovier Stevens reaching for the brass ring
Iron rings from the Eldridge Park carousel
Long operated the carousel for over 55 years making improvements and repairs along the way including in 1972 when the park was flooded by Hurricane Agnes. He retired in 1980 and passed away three years later. Long’s daughter and her children continued to run the carousel until 1988. The last few years of operation were difficult ones. Visitation was down and the park suffered from a severe problem with vandals. Steel doors were added to the carousel building but that still did not deter vandalism. In its last summer of operation, the carousel was broken into and damaged 14 times. Most of the damage was to the building’s lights, speakers, and columns but the leg of one horse was broken.

Robert A. Long on his carousel, 1966
In 1989, the family removed the carousel from Eldridge Park. They contracted with Guernsey’s Auction Centers in New York City to manage the sale. The original hope was that the ride could be sold in one piece but when the reserve for the auction was not met, the individual horses were sold off. Other than five horses kept by family members as keepsakes, all the other horses and animals were sold. The carousel mechanism itself, however, did not sell and was donated to the city.

Catalog from Guernsey’s Auction Centers, 1989

Page from the catalog showing horses
 from the Eldridge Park carousel, 1989
In 1991, the building that had housed the carousel found new life as part of the Carousel Farm and Craft Market in the park. At that time, the Windmill Farm and Craft Market of Yates County was looking to expand its operations and the city agreed to bring it to Eldridge Park. The Windmill Market provided at least 45 vendors and many other local and regional businesses and individuals also signed on. The Carousel Market opened in June 1991 with around 120 vendors. Some 15,000 people went to the market on its opening day. The market was open every Tuesday from June through September. The attendance for that first season was estimated at about 125,000.

Carousel Farm and Craft Market at Eldridge Park, early 1990s
In its first couple of years, the Carousel Market seemed to be a great success. The 1992 season was extended through October. By 1994, however, annual attendance had begun to drop. Those who still visited the market commented that it looked kind of small as there were only about 80 vendors rather than the 120+ in previous years. The revenues were not covering expenses so the city decided not to open the market for the 1996 season.

Inside the carousel pavilion at the market, early 1990s
The next chapter in the life of the Eldridge Park carousel began in 2002. Bob Lyon was at the park to speak at Elmira’s September 11 anniversary memorial program. The Elmira dentist was trained in forensic dentistry and had been asked to go to New York City after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center to help identify the bodies of the victims. While at Eldridge Park for the memorial, Lyon saw the carousel mechanism and was inspired to restore it to its former glory. The Eldridge Park Carousel Preservation Society was founded and Lyon quickly started to make his dream into a reality.

Watercolor painting of the Eldridge Park
carousel by Talitha Botsford, c. 1980s
Lawrence Pefferly of Cornersville, Tennessee agreed to carve wooden animals for the carousel’s outer row. His wife Jerry painted the animals. Over the course of just three-and-a-half years, the couple created 20 new animals for the carousel. Each one was a replica of one of the original horses or menagerie animals. In 1989, Guernsey’s had photographed and measured each piece of the carousel for its auction so the Pefferlys had detailed examples from which to work. Other carvers were also found to complete the work including John Kolanach, an Elmira native living in Catlin, Oscar Pivaral of San Francisco, Frederick Dilworth of New Holland, Pennsylvania, Dave Albrecht of Minnesota, John McKenzie, and carvers from Bud Ellis Studios in Soddy Daisy, Tennessee.

Photograph of the restored carousel in 2006 from
the Eldridge Park Carousel supplemental magazine
published by the Star-Gazette in spring 2006
On May 27, 2006, the newly restored carousel opened to the public. Close to 20,000 people were at the grand opening gala and the carousel had over 40,000 riders that first season. Today, the Eldridge Park carousel has 56 animals including a horse named “America” that was unveiled on September 11, 2011 to honor those who lost their lives ten years earlier. There are also two dragon benches. The carousel is one of fewer than 20 in the United States that still has brass ring feeders and it is thought to be the fastest carousel in the world moving at 18 miles per hour. Eldridge Park will be opening for the season on Memorial Day weekend