Monday, November 20, 2017

The Anchorage

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

On May 4, 1890, Lillian became the first ward of the Anchorage. At age 18, she had been arrested for licentious behavior and spent a little under a year confined there. Between its opening in 1890 and its closure in 1920, the Anchorage, also known as the Helen L. Bullock Industrial Training School for Girls, housed hundreds of girls and young women in need of help.

The Anchorage grew out of the work of Elmira Police Matron Esther Wilkins who argued for the need for a place to house the unfortunate young women who often wound up in her custody after being arrested for drunkenness, prostitution, petty theft, or other crimes. In 1888, a group of church women formed the Women’s Council for the Uplifting of Women to raise funds for the establishing of a reform school for troubled women and girls. Their vision was realized in the Anchorage, which was opened in the spring of 1890 with Mrs. Helen L. Bullock as director. Bullock was a temperance reformer and the founder of the local branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement. She had a reputation for leadership and unimpeachable moral character which would make her an example to the girls in her care.
Helen L. Bullock, founder & director

In its early years, the Anchorage was basically a softer alternative to women’s prison for young women in their teens and twenties. Early inmates were brought in, mostly by the police, on charges ranging from public drunkenness to prostitution, licentious behavior to petty theft. Several other girls were dropped off by their families after they became pregnant out of wedlock. By 1893, the Anchorage changed its mission from being an alternative to prison and to become a dumping ground for unwed mothers and unmanageable daughters. 

The Anchorage, 905 College Avenue, Elmira
Girls between the ages of 11 and 25 were brought from over the Twin Tiers. Some of their stories are downright tragic. Many came from broken homes where parents were dead, drunken, or abusive. Over 20 of them had been raped, 10 by family members. Often times the resulting children were adopted or sent to the Southern Tier Orphan’s Home while the mothers moved on with their lives.

According to a 1900 fundraising brochure, the Anchorage had a 90% success rate when it came to rehabilitating these troubled girls. They offered the stable home which many of the girls had been denied, including positive female role models, private bedrooms, and three square meals a day. Girls were instructed in English, botany, music, French, Latin, gardening, and a variety of housework including, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and poultry raising. Most former inmates went on to marry or work as domestic servants, but not everyone was happy to be there. Over a dozen girls ran away, sometimes rather dramatically. In 1907, Agnes jumped out of an upper floor window and broke her leg trying to escape. That same year, Grace more sensibly made a rope out of her bed linens to climb her way to freedom. 
Brochure for the Anchorage, 1900

Monday, November 13, 2017

Commemorative Quilts

by Erin Doane, curator

Quilts keep people warm and beautify their homes. They can also commemorate events. CCHS has a wonderful collection of quilts made to mark various happenings including weddings, wars, and fundraisers. Over this past summer, we had commemorative quilts on display here at the museum. Here is a sampling of those quilts.

The first quilt marks the relocation of this institution. The Chemung County Historical Society moved from 304 William Street to 415 East Water Street in 1982. CCHS members and volunteers made a quilt to commemorate the opening of the museum at its new location in the former Chemung Canal Bank building. The Historical Society’s logo and the date May 15, 1982 are embroidered near the bottom right of the quilt.

Commemorative quilt, 1982
Detail of embroidery on quilt
Other businesses and organizations appear on quilts that were created locally to recognize collaborative efforts to raise funds or to make improvements to the local community.  A heavily-embroidered coverlet highlighting some local businesses was designed by William Brownlow and embroidered by the Friendly Class of the First Methodist Church on Baldwin Street in Elmira. Each of the 13 squares represents a business or group of businesses including Dimon & Bacorn Truckmen, the Second National Bank, and J. Greener Pianos. It is possible that the businesses made financial contributions in order to be included on the coverlet.

Embroidered coverlet, c. 1912
Detail of one embroidered block
Major events in U.S. history have also been commemorated locally in little squares of fabric. During the Civil War (1861-1865), men from throughout Chemung County enlisted or were drafted into local regiments. Elmira served as a military depot and rendezvous point for western New York. Thousands of Union soldiers trained at four camps here before being sent south to fight. For many years after the war, veterans met at regimental reunions. Ribbons from those reunions were often sewn into commemorative quilts. One crazy quilt in the museum’s collection commemorates both national and local events and people involved in the Civil War. The locations of major battles are embroidered above the fans around the edge of the quilt. Names of notable generals are embroidered throughout. At its center is a memorial ribbon for Ulysses S. Grant. Other ribbons on the quilt are from reunions of the local 141st and 161st New York Volunteer Regiments. 

Crazy quilt, post-1888
Detail of quilt showing 161st Regiment reunion ribbon
Many quilts were made to mark the United States Bicentennial in 1976. Genevieve Taylor of Elmira designed a quilt to celebrate the Bicentennial. Members of the community embroidered the 49 individual squares. Designs on the quilt include images from the American Revolution, national figures, and objects common in 1776 such as tin lanterns and spinning wheels. Images from local history are also shown, including John Hendy’s cabin, Mark Twain’s study, and a Westside Railroad trolley.

Bicentennial quilt, 1976
Students from 1st through 6th grade at Hendy Avenue School also created a quilt commemorating the Bicentennial as a school project. The quilt is made from fabric prints of the students’ original crayon drawings. Images commemorating the Bicentennial include the Liberty Bell, Paul Revere, and the Boston Tea Party.

Bicentennial quilt, 1976
One more, very common thing to commemorate with a quilt is friendship. During much of the 19th century, quilts were made by groups of women and given as gifts for weddings and other celebrations. Each women would produce a single square and then all the pieces were sewn together. Many friendship quilts include the signatures of those who made the quilt, dedications to the recipient, and mementos of times spent together. Abbey A. Baldwin of Southport received an autographed friendship quilt in 1851. Each of the 36 squares contains the signature of a friend or family member from Southport, Elmira, Horseheads, Corning, or Ridgebury, Pennsylvania.

Friendship quilt, 1851
Album quilts were another type of friendship quilt popular in the mid-19th century. They feature elaborate applique designs, typically in reds, blues, and greens. This quilt was given as a gift to Mr. and Mrs. W.J. Smith by their friends in Elmira in 1860. Squares were made by 29 individuals including members of the Brace, Likes, and Fuller families. Each square has a unique pattern and is signed by its maker.

Album quilt, 1860
In 1890, the friends of Katherine Sheehan Connelly made a quilt as a gift for her wedding. Each of the 16 squares in the crazy quilt was crafted from silks and velvets that may have come from the young women’s old dresses. The squares are decorated with elaborate embroidery, monograms, and flowers. Two of the squares include silk-screened portraits of young women and others have ribbons from events hosted by the Knights of Tara Hiawatha, a local Irish social club. 

Wedding quilt, 1890
Detail of a silk-screened portrait
Another silk-screened portrait

Monday, November 6, 2017

Death Rays: The Local X-Ray Murder Trial That Made International News

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

Earlier this year, I wrote a longer paper for the Empire State Library Network’s Researching the Empire State contest about a sensational local murder trial. You can read that full piece here, but I wanted to share some of the story on our blog. I first uncovered the Orme/Punzo murder trial when I was doing research on early forensic science for our Crime and Punishment exhibit. I was hooked by the story’s mix of science and scandal and had to know more.

On July 8, 1897, George A.C. Orme walked into the Horseheads home of his estranged wife, Susan Orme, and proceeded to shoot her and her alleged lover, James Punzo. Susan Orme was shot in the face and James Punzo in the back of the head. Both somehow survived the initial assault. Mrs. Orme escaped serious injury, but her ability to speak clearly was hindered by the wound. Punzo was rushed to the Arnot Ogdon Hospital, where he slipped in and out of consciousness as doctors prepped for emergency surgery.

George Orme was arrested and brought to the Chemung County Jail, where he waited while Punzo clung to life in the hospital. He somehow survived the surgery, but the doctors had been unable to locate and remove the bullet. Knowing that they couldn’t leave it in his brain, doctors decided to use the newly-discovered x-ray technology to find where the bullet had lodged. The team of physicians, led in part by Dr. Frank Ward Ross, anesthetized the patient and performed the x-ray, but the image produced was unclear. 

Skull x-ray from our Van Aken photograph collection. While not related to the trial, this image would have dated from around the same time. After x-rays were discovered in November 1895, word of the technology spread quickly. With rather minimal supplies, even amateur photographers could produce the powerful rays.
Punzo was miraculously still alive and talking in the wake of the procedure. But fearing they were running out of time, the physicians made another attempt at an x-ray on July 27. That again failed. They tried one last time, on July 31. The two exposures on July 31 lasted a combined 36 minutes. Those images again failed to show the bullet. After the final x-ray, Punzo’s health quickly declined and he died on August 10 or 11. But that was just the beginning of the scandal.
George Orme’s lawyer argued that it was the x-rays that had killed Punzo, not his client’s bullet. The trial proceeded with conflicting expert testimony; some physicians, like Ross, argued that the technology was completely safe and that it was the bullet and ensuing infection that caused Punzo’s death. Other physicians, like Dr. John Pitkin of Buffalo, claimed that the physicians had outdated technology and had been negligent. The curious public packed the Chemung County Courthouse to witness the testimony and courtroom demonstrations of the x-ray machine.
Illustrations from the trial as printed in the American X-Ray Journal in 1897 (available on Wikimedia Commons)
When the arguments were over, the jury took little time to return a verdict of not guilty. The press and x-ray experts attributed this to the jury’s confusion over the safety of the rays. Since there was doubt, they found Orme innocent.
The Orme case continued to spark international debate about x-rays and their use in legal proceedings. Both Drs. Ross and Pitkin continued to argue for their sides. But no matter the role that the x-rays played in Punzo’s death, the trial did open up dialog about the very real and devastating health effects that prolonged x-ray exposure had on the physicians and scientists who first experimented with the technology.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Playing for the Company Team

by Rachel Dworkin, archivist

Lately a number of Silicon Valley tech companies have made a name for themselves offering gaming opportunities as one of the perks of working for them. When companies have to compete for talented labor, offering fun perks like gyms and athletic opportunities is a relatively cheap way to attract or keep employees. It’s certainly cheaper than better pay or health insurance. Google offers their employees swimming pools, volleyball courts, a gym, and fitness classes. Drobox has ping pong, DDR, and gaming tournaments. All of this may sound wonderfully innovative, but it’s really nothing new.

In the early twentieth century, there were dozens of local manufacturers competing for skilled laborers and machinists. As in modern day Silicon Valley, these local companies offered recreational facilities as a way of attracting and keeping workers. During the 1910s and 20s, the Willys-Morrow Company was Elmira’s largest employer with approximately 1,600 men when demand was low, and 2,500 when it was high.  Their 74-acre plant included a number of little perks like a cafeteria for employees, as well as recreation grounds located near the Miller Street entrance. Recreational facilities included a baseball diamond, basketball court, and bowling alley. All of this helped to make Willys-Morrow a relatively appealing employer.
Willys-Morrow bowling alley, ca. 1920

The company also helped to sponsor employee basketball and bowling teams in local tournaments. From the 1920s through the 1960s, Elmira was home to industrial leagues for baseball, softball, basketball, and bowling. Participating manufacturers including American Bridge Co., American Sales Book Co., Bendix-Eclipse, Hardinge Bros. Inc., Schweizer Aircraft Corp., and Remington Rand among others. Both Bendix and Hardinge also had intra-plant bowling leagues which pitted different divisions and shifts against each other.

Willys-Morrow champion ladies' basketball team, "Willys Knights," 1920
Company sports teams and intra-plant bowling leagues helped to build comradery among co-workers. They were especially important in larger factories where employees rarely had a chance to interact with people from outside their particular division. Locally, the Industrial League hit its peek sometime in the 1950s and slowly declined along with manufacturing. The Silicon Valley Sports League, on the other hand, is on the rise. 

Eclipse News, the Bendix-Eclipse newsletter, featuring articles about company sports teams, 1954

Monday, October 23, 2017

Just Passing Through: Eddie Bald in Elmira

by Erin Doane, Curator

Usually, we tell stories here of people who lived in the county or had some significant influence on the area. Every once in a while, however, we tell about those who just passed through here (for example: That Time Theodore Roosevelt was Assaulted in Elmira). Eddie Bald came to Elmira twice for very different reasons – to race a bicycle and to star in a play so bad that the author sued for injuries to her reputation. 
Eddie Bald was known as the “White Flyer” for his white cycling outfit.
Eddie “Cannon” Bald was born in Buffalo in 1874 and made a name for himself in the 1890s as a professional short distance bicycle racer. He rode and promoted Colombia Bicycles and was considered one of the great racers of the 1890s. He came to Elmira in June 1897 to compete in a State Circuit cycling meet sponsored by the Elmira Athletic Club. The Club hosted Bald and the other cyclists at the Pine Cliff Club in Bohemia on the Chemung River. At the meet, Bald set a new track record for one mile in 2:16 3-5.

Elmira Star-Gazette, June 16, 1897
Eddie Bald returned to Elmira a year and a half later in a completely different capacity as the star of the play A Twig of Laurel. In June 1898, Bald announced that he would be leaving the cycling tour circuit in October of that year to try his hand at acting for the first time. His announcement was printed in newspapers all over the country from the Washington Times and the Pittsburg Press to the Racine Journal-Times in Racine, Wisconsin and the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky. Editors joked that there was much debate about whether to run the story in the sports or arts section of the papers. Most lauded his change of vocation and were interested in seeing “the Adonis of the wheel” take to the stage.

Headline from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 4, 1898
Bald was not at all modest about his prospects for the play and his role in it. In an interview in the Buffalo Enquirer on July 11, 1898, he is quoted as saying: “Everybody is talking about the play and it’s going to be the greatest card in a long time. The title, ‘A Twig of Laurel,’ is a good one. Of course, I will be the drawing card. My name is expected to properly head the list, though there will be better actors, at least at the start. But I have no fear for the finish.”

The play itself was described as a four act “pastoral cycle drama” with a plot that was said to be “pretty, romantic and pleasing.” The third act featured a bicycle race scene in which Bald and other riders would actually race bicycles with the help of patented machinery and a panorama. The play was reportedly written specially for Bald in order to display his dramatic ability but I’m not entirely sure of that. The lawsuit that I mentioned was brought by Mrs. Genevieve Haynes as the author of the play but in the early press it was reported that Rochester newspaperman Warren Forbes wrote the play for Bald. According to Bald himself, the story was heavily re-written upon his request so perhaps the original was by Haynes and the rewrite was done by Forbes.

Buffalo Enquirer, July 11, 1898
A Twig of Laurel premiered in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on October 31, 1898. It played in Canandaigua November 3, Binghamton November 5, Scranton November 8, Elmira November 10, and Syracuse November 11. After that it continued on to Albany and Troy before ending up in Boston on November 28 for a week-long run. The intent was to keep touring until the end of the theatrical season on May 1, 1899 but it didn’t make it past Boston. Poor reviews and low ticket sales forced the production to shut down.

Advertisement for A Twig of Laurel in the Scranton Tribune, November 8, 1898
The Elmira Star-Gazette was fairly kind in its review of the play. It stated that while Bald was lacking in the skills of more experienced actors, his shortcomings could be overlooked because he was new to the stage. “He has had practically no schooling for the stage and is as diffident and shy as a school girl. This handicaps him in his performance,” the review read. “However he reads his lines with precision and made a better impression than might be expected of an actor athlete.” Other regional reviews were much harsher declaring that “in taking the stage [Bald] has placed himself in an embarrassing position to say the least” and predicting (correctly) that “his starring tour is liable to be very brief.”

In December of 1898, the play’s purported author, Genevieve Haynes, filed suit against theatrical managers Luescher & Hefferon, who produced the play. She claimed that her reputation as a playwright had been damaged because of the casting of inferior actors. I wish I knew how the lawsuit was resolved but I could not find anything about it beyond that first report. I do know that Haynes went on to write other plays including Hearts Aflame and Once Upon a Time. Bald had contributed significant amounts of his own funds to finance the production and lost money for his efforts. After his unsuccessful turn on the stage, he returned to bicycle racing and never tried acting again.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Woman Candidate: Chemung County’s First Female Politicians

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator
The other day, our curator Erin Doane commented how she always liked the photograph below, which depicts the 1920-1921 Chemung County Board of Supervisors. 

We chatted about it, wondering who the lone woman in the group was. Since this photo was taken just a couple of years after women got the vote, we wondered if she might be the first elected woman in Chemung County politics. I took on the task of tracking her down and I learned that her name was Marie Carr Fraser. Carr Fraser’s own history is interesting and is outlined below, but she was actually just one of several local women who sought to exercise their new political rights by running for office. 

Minnie Clark was Chemung County’s pioneer female politician. In 1911, years before women won the vote in New York, Clark’s name was submitted on a certificate of nomination for the Socialist ticket for supervisor of Elmira’s tenth ward. The nomination proved a “puzzler” for the election commissioners, so they called in County Attorney Thurston. Thurston told Clark that she would not be able to serve even if she was elected. According to his interpretation of the law, “only an ‘elector’ can be elected to office, and the law says that an ‘elector’ must be a member of the male sex.” With this legal blow, Clark’s name was removed from the nomination.

Headline from Elmira Star-Gazette, 7/30/1918
That wasn’t Clark’s last attempt to get into politics. After the successful New York suffrage campaign, Clark was the first Chemung County woman to enroll in a political party. She registered as a Socialist. By mid-June 1918, there were 1,411 Elmira women registered to vote. She also was credited as the first woman to run for office in the county (this wasn’t taking into account her failed 1911 nomination). In 1918, she ran on the Socialist ticket for Chemung County Sheriff.  She never had any real shot at winning, but at least the process wasn’t a financial drain for her; she claimed she spent only $1 on her campaign.

Marie Carr Fraser was an 1895 graduate of Elmira College and was a well-known soprano and voice teacher who gave countless local performances. She was a widowed mother of a young daughter and was very active in the community.
Marie Carr Fraser
In July 1919, Democrats in Elmira’s seventh ward nominated Marie Carr Fraser as their candidate for the upcoming election to represent the ward on the Chemung County Board of Supervisors. Carr Fraser was a Prohibitionist, and her nomination was seen as a way to siphon voters who felt strongly about that issue. 

Carr Fraser ran against Republican Nelson Powell. Each candidate, regardless of party, sought the Prohibition ticket nomination, showing how significant the “dry” issue was in that election. In the September primaries, Carr Fraser won the Prohibition endorsement over Powell, despite the fact that historically, the city’s Prohibitionists had voted Republican.

Carr Fraser wasn’t the only woman in the supervisor race that year. Jane W. Gillett, on the Prohibitionist ticket, and Mary Painton, on the Democratic ticket, opposed incumbent Dana L. Smith in the ninth ward. When the election results were in, Carr Fraser won, earning the distinction of being the first woman ever elected as a member of the Chemung County Board of Supervisors. Gillett and Painton both lost their bids in the ninth ward. Carr Fraser took her seat on the Board and was soon named to the Committee for County Home Improvements. 

Coming off her two-year term as supervisor, Carr Fraser ran for Chemung County Clerk on the Democratic ticket. Her campaign ads, pictured below, highlighted her role as a mother.

She opposed Asaph B. Hall, the Republican candidate, and Robert Weaver, the Socialist candidate. Hall, a popular young World War I veteran, was a tough opponent (Hall also later served as the president of the Chemung County Historical Society). When the election was over, Carr Fraser lost to Hall. Hall secured 14, 177 votes to her 9,727. Weaver came in a distant third, with 304 votes.
This Asaph Hall campaign ad, 1923, provides some contrast to Carr Fraser's. His is focused far more on his accomplishments while hers are mostly about her role as a mother. This is particularly interesting since by this point, she had held elected office while he never had.
Clark and Carr Fraser weren’t the only early female candidates. Decades before, in 1892, Myra L. Daggett made “a lively canvas for office” for the school commissionership of school district No. 2. Mrs. George Pickering lost the election for that same post in 1920, in part due to rumors that she was a Socialist. She denied any affiliation with that party.  In 1919, May Stewart ran for Alderman in Elmira’s first ward, but lost to Fred West. Celia O. Hoke, won the most votes of any candidate in the 1925 primaries in her reelection campaign for the position of County Superintendent of the Poor. These women were just some of the pioneers who paved the way for more Chemung County women to seek elected office in the ensuing decades.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Just Phoning It In

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

“What hath God wrought” were the first words transmitted across American telegraph lines in 1844. Twenty-two years later, the first words clearly transmitted across American phone lines “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you,” were a little less impressive, but no less momentous. The telephone’s inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, gave his first public demonstration at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia a few months later in June 1876. Two years later, the first American public telephone exchange was set up in New Haven, Connecticut. 

Elmira’s first telephone exchange opened in 1880. Most of the 48 original subscribers were area business including six grocers, four railroads, and one newspaper. According to the first list of subscribers published by the Elmira Bell Telephone Exchange on February 1, 1880, they were installing so many new phones that they would have to publish an updated list with 20 additional subscribers on the 15th

List of original subscribers to the Elmira Bell Telephone Exchange, February 1, 1880

Like most early exchanges, subscribers relied on operators to manually connect them to the people they were calling. Callers would tell the operator who they were trying to reach, either by their exchange-assigned number or by name, and then the operator would literally connect them by plugging the caller’s line directly into the recipient’s on the switchboard. Switchboard operators were all women. In the early days, they received on-the-job training. In 1902, New York Telephone Company opened the first operators’ training school in New York City and later opened up regional schools in the 1920s. 

Lady operators at the Elmira Telephone Exchange, 1896

Rural telephone exchanges operated on a slightly different system. While the Elmira exchange provided power to city phones via a central battery, Southport Telephone Company subscribers had to hand crank their phone’s battery in order to reach the operator. Southport subscribers had what was called a party line which they shared with multiple customers. Callers were instructed to keep their calls to five minutes or less so as not to tie up the line. Because anyone on the party line could listen in, eaves dropping by nosy neighbors was a big problem. In some parts of the country, party lines persisted well into the 1990s.

Handcrank telephone, ca. 1900

On May 21, 1932, the Elmira exchange converted to dial service. Now callers could input the recipient’s number directly via a rotary dial phone rather than get an operator to connect them. In the run-up to the conversion, New York Telephone Company replaced each phone in the city and gave each subscriber a new number. But what if customers didn’t know the number of the person they were trying to reach? Well, that’s what phone books were for.