Monday, August 18, 2014

Costumer Matt Lockwood and His "Museum" of Curiosities

by Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

In my last blog I told the story of Henry Clum, the early meteorologist and "weather prophet."  Well, this week I'm going to continue our examination of Elmira's more eccentric figures by discussing Matt Lockwood, Clum's best friend.  Matt Lockwood stole the aellograph out of Binghamton after Clum's death and then donated it to the museum, but there is so much more to his story than that.  Lockwood was best known as the costumer for the Lyceum Theatre in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Matt Lockwood
Lockwood letterhead from 1897
Matt's parents, John and Electa Lockwood came to Elmira by ox cart from Vermont in 1850.  The Lockwoods had six children, three of whom died as young children (daughter Mary died in infancy, son Hollis drowned in the Chemung River at age 3, and Robert drowned in the Chemung Canal as a small boy).  James Matthew Lockwood, known as Matt, was the eldest child.  His two surviving sisters were Jane and Abbie. 

John Lockwood
Electa Lockwood

Jane Lockwood
Abbie Lockwood
 After the Civil War, young Matt Lockwood and his cousin George Roberts joined the Byron Christy Minstrels, a blackface group.  He later also was affiliated with a local minstrel troupe, the Queen City Minstrels in the 1870s.  While we now recognize how offensive and racist blackface performances are, during the 19th century they were very popular.
Matt Lockwood in blackface during a minstrel performance

Lockwood maintained an affinity for minstrel performances throughout his life and had a large collection of items used by minstrel performers.  Many of these items were donated to the Chemung County Historical Society after Lockwood's death.

Blackface mask used in a minstrel performance, from the Matt Lockwood collection
Large shoe used by George Christy, son of the founder of Christy's Minstrels

Slapsticks used in a minstrel show

After his minstrel days, Lockwood became the costumer and prop manager for the Lyceum Theater.  This is the role for which he was best known.  In this capacity, Lockwood fabricated any props that traveling show groups would need, created costumes, and did set design.  He was also frequently employed by other theater groups in Elmira and surrounding, the Rorick's Glen theater, and Elmira College. 
Interior of the Lyceum Theater
Through all of his work and the personal connections he made with actors (he must have known DeHollis and Valora), Lockwood amassed a large collection of theater objects and ephemera.  His famous costume, prop, and studio rooms were filled from floor to ceiling with theater history.  Among his collection were items like a playbill and cape from Ford's Theater on the night of Abraham Lincoln's assassination.  He also had large collections of firearms, clothing, and handbills. 
Cloak from the Lockwood costume collection
In fact, in the 1890s his expertise and collection of handbills and theater programs once helped the Buffalo police in a criminal investigation.  When a suspect claimed that he was at the theater in Elmira on the night of his alleged crime, Lockwood provided the playbill that proved the show did happen on that night.  The police summoned him to Buffalo, where Lockwood was able to grill the suspect on the details of the plot and stage design.  The suspect provided answers that matched Lockwood's knowledge and was released.
Lockwood's work shop curios at the Lyceum

Lockwood's costume and prop room

Lockwood at work in his studio

Lockwood never married and lived and worked with his sisters for the duration of his life.  He was known for his generosity and had many friends (Henry Clum being one of them).  He served as a volunteer fireman for over 30 years.  At the end of his life, he went mostly blind from cataracts.  Still, his sisters helped him continue his work at the theater.

In 1924, Lockwood fell ill with uremic poisoning and heart trouble.  Even in his final days, he joked with nurses and visitors.  He died on September 11, 1924 at age 76.  Lockwood was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.  The community mourned the loss of their beloved "old costumer."  Dan Quinlan, a friend of Lockwood and well-known local performer, wrote a beautiful tribute that was printed in the Elmira Telegram.  Perhaps my favorite line is, "Matt always believed that a laugh at any time was better than a groan."         


Monday, August 11, 2014

Elmira's Most Wanted

by Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

On March 23, 1915, Elmira Police Chief John J. Finnell and Detective Sergeant Charles F. Gradwell went to Mrs. Mary Collins’ rooming house at 314 Baldwin Street to arrest Edward Westervelt and John Penny.  It did not go well. 

Edward Westervelt and John Penny were convicted felons who had served time together at the New Jersey State Penitentiary for burglary before being paroled in 1914.  They arrived in Elmira in early March, 1915, and quickly set to work robbing a number of homes in the area.  The pair ended up on the polices’ radar when Penny tried to spend a rare Columbian half-dollar acquired from one of the homes at a local restaurant.  On Monday, March 22, Detective Sergeant Gradwell chatted with the pair, but gave them no indication that they were suspects.  It’s safe to say the figured it out anyway because, when Gradwell and Finnell showed up the following afternoon to arrest them, the burglars were armed and ready.    
John Penny
Edward Westervelt

Going up against them were Detective Sergeant Charles Gradwell and Chief John Finnell of the Elmira Police Department.  Gradwell was a 20-year veteran of the police force and a natural detective who had a reputation as a friendly soul who always got his man.  Finnell, meanwhile, was a relative newcomer to the police force.  He had worked for a number of years as a detective for the Pennsylvania Railroad before taking over as police chief in December 1913. 
Detective Sergeant Gradwell
Police Chief Finnell
Gradwell and Finnell showed up at the rooming house shortly after 3pm and were escorted to Westervelt and Penny’s room by the landlady.  Once inside, Gradwell removed his coat, withdrew his handcuffs, and made clear that they would be arresting the two men.  Westervelt attempted to flee out the window and was grabbed by Finnell.  During the ensuing struggle, Finnell broke Westervelt’s leg and he, in turn, shot Finnell in the head at near point-blank range.  Gradwell, attempted to draw his own weapon and return fire, but was shot twice by Westervelt before he could. 

The result was a city-wide manhunt for the two men.  Everyone was looking for them: not only the local police and sheriff’s departments, but also the National Guard and police from neighboring Corning.  Westervelt was caught right away and had to be rescued from a lynch mob.  Penny, on the other hand, still remains at large to this day.  Since the case is still, technically, open, the guns used in the crime are still in the Elmira Police evidence lock-up.  On the other hand, Gradwell’s other possessions, including his personal gun, billy-club and patrol diaries, were recently donated to the museum by his descendants.    

The Gradwell collection

Monday, August 4, 2014

Eugene "Zim" Zimmerman: Cartoonist, Humorist, and One-Time Inventor

by Erin Doane, Curator

One of the most well-know residents of Horseheads was Eugene “Zim” Zimmerman (1862-1935).  Zim was a world-famous cartoonist and humorist.  When he settled down in Horseheads in the late 1880s, not many of his neighbors knew how famous he actually was.  His artistic talent and determination took him from an early life in poverty to international notoriety. 

Eugene "Zim" Zimmerman working in his studio
Eugene Zimmerman was born in Basel, Switzerland on May 25, 1862.  His mother died when he was just two years old and he went to live with his aunt and uncle in Alsace, France. When the Franco-Prussian war broke out in 1870, his father brought him to the United States. From then on he was always working some job or other.  He delivered newspapers, did odd jobs at the bakery at which his father worked, worked as a chore boy on a farm, and cleaned bottles in a beer and wine shop.  Eventually he became an apprentice to a sign painter.  In 1878 the sign painter moved to Elmira and brought the 16-year-old Zim with him.

Drawing by Zim
Zim worked at the sign painting shop at the corner of East Water Street and Railroad Avenue for several years before taking a job as the head of the pictorial staff at a rival company, Empire Sign Co. in Horseheads.  During that time, he experimented with drawing cartoons and caricatures.  He kept a sketchbook of his drawings in watercolor and other media.  He took the sketchbook with him on a visit to New York City in 1883 and it found its way into the hands of Joseph Keppler of Puck magazine.  Keppler was impressed with Zim’s work and hired him.  In 1885 Zim left Puck for a job at the rival publication Judge.  He worked for Judge for almost thirty years. 

Cover of Judge magazine by Zim
Zim married Mary Alice Beard of Horseheads on September 29, 1886.  He made his permanent home in Horseheads then even though it meant traveling to New York City every week for conferences with Judge staff.  He had a studio in his home and also had an office in Hanover Square out of which he operated a correspondence course in cartooning, comic art and caricature.  He was an active member of the Horseheads community.  He served as a Village Trustee for a time, he was a member of the Rotary Club, and a member of the volunteer fire department.  He also organized a band and designed the bandstand in Teal Park.

Postcard by Zim
While Zim was best known for his political cartoons, comic illustrations, and caricatures, he was also an inventor.  In 1902 he applied for a patent for a fire extinguishing apparatus. After a disastrous fire at St. John’s military academy in Manlius, New York, Zim began working on an automatic fire extinguisher.  His son was attending the school at the time and lost all of his personal belongings in the fire that started in an unoccupied room.  Zim’s invention would automatically release a spray of fluid if a fire broke out.

Fire extinguishing apparatus patent, 1902
Eugene Zimmerman died of a heart attack on March 26, 1935.  He was such a respected and beloved member of the community that businesses and public schools were closed during his funeral.  All remember him as a quiet and unassuming man who was kind and generous to all.  His dedication to his work lasted, literally, until his death.  For many years he had written a newspaper column as “Ea Zy Pickin’ the Rustling Reporter.”  He wrote his last column on Monday night and it reached the editorial room Tuesday morning shortly after his death.  With the copy was a note that read: “Use what you can of this.  I’m full of pills of every color and kind and I hope when all repairs are made I’ll be good for another marathon.  Please send me a proof when typed, Zim.”

In 1980, Zim’s daughter, Laura Zimmerman, conveyed his home that was built at 602 Pine Street in 1890 and its contents to the Horseheads Historical Society.  It contained many of Zim’s possessions, a large number of his works, and both personal and professional papers. His last drawing was still resting unfinished on its easel in his studio.  The Zim House is open to the public by appointment.  To schedule a tour, call the Horseheads Historical Society at 607-739-3938.
Zim's home at 602 Pine Street, Horseheads

To learn more of the history of Horseheads, join us on Thursday, August 7 at 7:00 pm at the Chemung Valley History Museum for the ribbon cutting of our new exhibit: The Towns and Villages of Chemung County: Horseheads. This exhibit will be on display through January 2015.