Monday, January 22, 2018

Spanish Flu

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

Apparently, this year’s strain of flu is spreading faster than usual. Luckily for me, I’ve always made a point of getting a vaccine since I found out my maternal grandfather’s parents died of Spanish Flu in 1918. They were in good company. Nationwide, over a quarter of the population was infected while approximately 600,000 died. For comparison, the yearly average is somewhere around 20,000. There are no definite numbers due to poor recordkeeping, but somewhere between 20 and 100 million people died of Spanish Flu worldwide making it the second deadliest epidemic after the Black Death.

The Spanish Flu hit Chemung County in October of 1918 and it hit hard.  It started small, oddly enough, with an outbreak of what the City Health Department insisted was polio, despite the fact it didn’t fit the contingent model for the disease. By the start of October, Spanish Flu was killing 200 people a day in Boston, and Elmira officials were desperate to avoid a panic. On October 5th, the paper reported that ten Elmira College students were under quarantine for the flu, but City Health Officer, Dr. Dr. Reeve Howland, continued to insist there was no epidemic in the city. Five days later, there were over 100 people sick with the flu in Horseheads and the town had decided to shut down schools and churches in an ultimately fruitless attempt to contain the spread. The City of Elmira finally conceded to reality and followed suit on October 15th, shutting down schools, churches, theaters, and all public gatherings. 
Dr. Reeve Howland, City Health Officer. He tried.

It was too little, too late. Between the start of October 1918 and the new year, there were 3,549 reported cases of the flu in Elmira. That is to say that somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of the city caught it. Approximately 150 Elmirans died of Spanish flu during the 1918-19 flu season. Over 100 of them died in October alone. The Elmira Herald reported that there were between six and ten deaths per day at the height of the epidemic. 

The city struggled to cope with the sheer number of sick people. Arnot-Ogden and St. Joseph’s both ran out of beds and the Elmira Board of Health created a make-shift overflow hospital at the Hotel Gotham on State Street. Families struggled to survive as parents fell sick. The entire Wilcox family of Pearl Place was stricken except for the eight-year-old daughter who eventually had to call the police to help take her parents to the hospital. The Red Cross established a kitchen at the Federation Building to feed children whose parents were too ill to cook. At the height of the epidemic, they feeding some thirty families. 
Hotel Gotham, 201-203 State Street, served as a make-shift hospital during the epidemic
By the time the war ended on November 11, 1918, the worst of the epidemic was over. Schools, churches, and theaters were re-opened on November 3rd. People were still falling ill (there were 12 new cases on November 12th) but that was way down from 60 new cases a day in October. The emergency hospital at Gotham Hotel was closed on November 15th and, just like that, the city was back to normal. Except, of course, for all the dead people.
Annual report of the Elmira Board of Health, 1918

Friday, January 12, 2018

Edwin Morris: Chemung County’s Last Civil War Veteran

by Erin Doane, Curator

In May 1943, Edwin Morris gave the welcome address at the annual Memorial Sunday service of Baldwin Post 6 G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) at the Centenary Methodist Church in Elmira. His wife Jane urged him to stay home instead of participating in the event. The 96-year-old Morris has suffered a heart attack a year earlier and had never fully recovered. In response to her concern he said, “It’s my duty to my dead comrades to take part in the service. If it causes my death, I will die in the line of duty.” Edwin Morris passed away less than 36 hours later on May 24, 1943 at his home at 356 Walnut Street in Elmira.

Elmira Star-Gazette, May 24, 1943 (from
Edwin Morris was born on January 2, 1847 in Athens Township, Pennsylvania. In November 1863, he enlisted in the Union Army. He was 16 years old at the time and signed up despite his father’s objects. He joined Co. D of the 179th New York Volunteer Infantry. He fought at Petersburg and in all the Army of the Potomac engagements including the Wilderness Campaign, Fredericksburg, Cold Harbor, and Richmond. He was at Appomattox Courthouse when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant. He was reportedly just 20 feet away from the pair when Lee passed his saber to Grant.

After the war, Morris returned to Athens where he worked on his father’s farm for 20 years. He worked in the lumber business in Pine Creek, Pennsylvania for many years after that. In 1902, at the age of 55, he married Jane Currier of Waverly, New York. The two had met in 1901 at a G.A.R. encampment in East Towanda, Pennsylvania where she was caring for wounded soldiers. They moved to Elmira sometime in the early 1900s. Morris was one of the founding members of the Chemung County Historical Society in 1923.

Edwin Morris (second from left) with charter members of the
Chemung County Historical Society at July 4, 1923 pageant
Morris was an active member of the G.A.R. There were several G.A.R. posts in the county including Baldwin Post 6 which was organized on June 11, 1868 and named after local Civil War veteran Col. Lathrop Baldwin. Other posts were named after L. Edgar Fitch, Col. H.C. Hoffman, and Gen. A.S. Diven. Around the turn of the century, the Baldwin post had about 200 members. Morris served as commander of A.S. Diven Post 623 in the late 1920s. That post, as well as the others in the county dissolved after a time until Baldwin was the only one remaining. Morris became commander of the Baldwin Post in 1938. Upon his death in 1943, the post dissolved. Its charter and other materials from the organization are now in CCHS’s collection.

This G.A.R. hat worn by Edwin Morris is
one of many items that came to the Chemung
County Historical Society from his estate.
Morris was not only involved with the G.A.R. locally. He also held statewide offices in the organization. In 1938 and 1939 he served as Junior Vice Department Commander of the New York State Department G.A.R. and in 1940 he was elected Senior Vice Department Commander. Finally, in June 1941, he was elected Commander at the annual encampment at Lake Placid. He had been asked for several years to be the commander of the state organization but had always declined because he wanted others older than he to have the honor of the position before they passed away. He was 94 when he accepted. At the next year’s encampment in Utica, he was one of the first of nearly 1,000 guests to arrive, despite having suffered a heart attack just two months early on Appomattox Day. At that encampment, he was appointed Department Patriotic Instructor.

Ribbon from the 1942 G.A.R. encampment
Morris also participated in Elmira’s annual Memorial Day commemorations as early as the 1920s. He and the other few remaining Civil War veterans were honored during the events throughout the 1930s.  In 1938, he served as honorary marshal of the parade. At that time, only four veterans remained: Morris, Bowman Jack, Edgar Houghton, and Thomas A. Dawes. When Jack passed away in 1940, Morris was left as the last surviving veteran of the Civil War in Chemung County.

Memorial Day, 1935, from the Elmira Sunday Telegram, May 30, 1943
The last time Morris participated in Memorial Day activities was in 1942. His health was failing but organizers wanted to include him in the commemorations. Col. James Riffe, a World War I veteran, suggested that the parade route be changed that year so it would pass Morris’s Walnut Street residence. While the Chemung County Veterans’ Council agreed to the reroute, plans were abandoned when Morris’s health improved enough for him to ride in the parade.

Edwin Morris riding in the Elmira Memorial Day Parade
On June 17, 1943, an article reporting the passing of Edwin Morris appeared in the National Tribune: Washington, D.C. The final paragraph of the article illustrated Morris’s devotion to his country and fellow soldiers:
In December, 1941, when volunteers were being registered [for service in World War II], a card bearing his name was found among a stack of enrollments; it said, “Will gladly cooperate in advisory capacity or shoulder a gun if necessary.”

Monday, January 8, 2018

A Universal Language: Volapük in Elmira

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator
Can you read the following phrase and figure out what it means?
Del binon jönik

No? It’s ok, neither can I nor most people. It’s not from a language that most of us are even familiar with. It’s Volapük (the phrase translates to “The day is beautiful” and come courtesy of www.volapü Volapük is a constructed language created by a German Catholic priest named Johann Martin Schleyer in 1880. Schleyer’s goal was to create a universal language. His creation took off, with people learning the language all around the world. Even right here in Elmira.

Several Elmirans were listed in Volapük journals in the late 1880s and early 1890s, including E.J. Beardsley, T.W. Roberts, Marcia D. Gibbs, Horatio N. Greene, and John Bartholomew. At the 1891 annual meeting of the Academy of Sciences in Elmira, Vice President Isaiah B. Coleman introduced the prospect of a lecture given to the society in Volapük

Dr. Charles Woodward was our local Volapük expert and seemed to be a bit of an all-around lover of linguistics. He attended the North America World Languages Association meeting in Chautauqua in 1891. In 1894, he was trying to get a petition to Congress that would require all public documents to be written with phonetic spellings. He wrote a lengthy letter to a Volapük journal in which he talked about the need for a standardized phonetic alphabet.
A local business also got in on the Volapük trend. The Elmira Portrait Company placed this advertisement in an Australian Volapük journal:

Reprinted in Elmira Gazette, June 12, 1893
From that ad, they got an order from Cairo, Egypt for a large colored portrait in 1893. The company fulfilled the order and displayed it briefly in their window at 159 Baldwin Street before shipping it off.  The advertising was still paying off a few years later.  In June 1893, even more international correspondence came, this time from Switzerland. It was translated by Miss Abbey B. Coulson of 110 Ferris St., Elmira. Below is the original and her translation:


In 1896, the company received an order for a large water color portrait from a tea merchant in China. The request was in Volapük.

By the 20th century, Volapük’s popularity began to fade and was surpassed in part by another constructed language, Esperanto.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Entering the New Digital Age

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

Like historical music? How about old radio broadcasts or oral histories? CCHS has them all. In fact, we have over 300 audio recordings in a number of formats including wax cylinder, record, reel-to-reel tape, 8-track, and audio cassette.  The problem is, we don’t have the necessary equipment to actually listen to half of it, let alone share it with the world. Now, thanks to several recent technology donations, we can finally play our reel-to-reel and cassette tapes. More importantly, we can digitize them.

Why is it important to digitize our audio recordings? Because they are inherently fragile and each play back risks damaging the original. As anyone who remembers destroying their favorite tape can attest, audio cassettes can unspool, tear, or become demagnetized. Reel-to-reel tapes are especially vulnerable to tearing as they lack the cassette’s protective shell. Digitization also makes it easier to share. Save a tape as an audio file and it can be burned to CDs, stored on a flashdrive, or posted on-line somewhere. Our mission as a museum is to share the history of Chemung County and digitization allows us to do that easily with minimal risk to the original recording.

The great thing about audio digitization is it’s not even that hard!

Step 1 – Acquire the right equipment. This includes not only the playback equipment, but also a computer and the necessary cables. Our cassette player was donated by the late Lee Kiesling while the reel-to-reel tape deck was donated by my parents. They each have different audio outputs and required different cables to connect them to the computer. The cables ranged in price from $6 to $12 and were available on-line and at Staples.
Reel-to-reel tape deck with appropriate wires.
Audio cassette player with appropriate wires
Step 2 – Acquire the right software. We use Audacity. It’s a free, open-source audio recording/editing software available for download for Mac and PC. There are on-line training videos plus a handy help guide. I hardily recommend it, but if you have another program you like, well, you do you.

Step 3 – Que up the tape. Before you record, take some time to listen to the tape. Make sure the volume is just right. Make sure it’s rewound to the right place.

Step 4 – Connect the player to your computer. The cable should go from the audio output of the player to the audio input on the computer.

Step 5 – Start recording. Make sure you have selected the right audio input in the program and then hit record. Always hit record before you hit play on the tape or you’ll miss the first few moments. Yes, I learned that the hard way.

Step 6 – Press play and let the digitization begin. Once you press play, you can just sit back while it records. Be sure to check in occasionally to see if it’s done. Then press stop on both and rewind the tape.

Step 7 – Save and edit your audio file. Save the file before you make any edits. Give it the most detailed descriptive name you can including what the recoding is and when it was made. Then you can edit the file. Hitting record before hitting play leaves a bunch of dead air at the beginning, but you can just cut that out. You can also create multiple tracks, play with sound quality, or add effects. Be sure to save again after every modification you make.

I’ve talked specifically about tapes here, but you can follow these steps with any audio format. Speaking of which, if anyone has a working phonograph, record player, or 8-track, we would love to have it.

Monday, December 25, 2017

A Rambling Man: Rufus Stanley

by Erin Doane, Curator

Rufus Stanley moved to Elmira in June, 1886 to work as the Secretary of the Boys Department of the Y.M.C.A. On his first Saturday here, he borrowed a camera and took a hike up East Hill with a group of boys he was working with at the Y. They explored Water Cure Glen and got pictures of Mark Twain’s summer home. This was the beginning of the Rambling Club and a lifetime of public service for Stanley.

Members of the Rambling Club at Water Cure Glen, 1886
Stanley grew up in rural Michigan and enjoyed the outdoors and working with his hands. When he went on that first hike in Elmira with his young charges, he realized two things: “that these city boys did not know anything of the world about us and that they could not do anything.” He devoted the rest of his life to teaching young people useful skills. The Rambling Club was his first effort. Stanley formed numerous other clubs including the Omega and Achievement Clubs meant to help both boys and girls learn things like gardening, poultry raising, and carpentry.

Rufus Stanley
For twelve years, Stanley led the boys of the Rambling Club on hikes around the region, both winter and summer, rain or shine. They tramped, camped, swam, coasted, tracked rabbits, and climbed trees. They learned how to build fires, find shelter, and not mind the mud. They also toured worksites, railyards, and factories, sailed on Keuka Lake, and went on longer excursions. In 1898 he took ten boys by train to Pittston, Pennsylvania then they hiked back to Elmira visiting historic sites along the way.

Rambling Club picnic at Quarry Farm, 1886
Winter, 1892

At any given time there were about 10 boys in the club. Their ages ranged from 12 to 15 years old. The boys themselves chose who could become members and they also governed their own conduct. There was no official constitution or written laws but they all seemed to understand that common courtesy was expected. No smoking or swearing was allowed but the boys could and did play regular pranks on each other.

Watkins Glen, 1886
Assailing the fish, 1889
Through the Rambling Club, Stanley was able to provide the boys with wholesome outdoor recreation and teach them lifelong skills. Rambling also gave them a chance to be rambunctious without getting into any real trouble. Stanley once wrote, “Every real boy must yell.” Sometimes on hikes, they would stop at some out-of-the-way place and just yell until all their pent-up energy was spent. “It does no harm in the woods, though in town it would be liable to call the police.”
Pennsylvania, 1894
By 1896, ten year after the club had begun, many of the boys were getting older, finishing school, and starting careers. They weren’t able to participate in weekly rambles as they once had. This led to the creation of the Night Walkers. The boys, or rather young men, continued to get together and got for walks in the evenings after work. The Night Walkers continued getting together for ten more years before dissolving in 1906.

Silver coffeepot given to Stanley by members of the Night Walkers in 1898
The Rambling Club officially ended in June 1898. Stanley went on to create new clubs to continue teaching youngsters practical skills while the more than 100 boys who had rambled with him went on with their everyday lives. In 1926, former ramblers were called together for a reunion to arrange plans for a celebration in Elmira to mark 40 years of Stanley’s work. On July 8, 14 club members and their former mentor met on the lawn of Merle Thomson on Hoffman Street in Elmira.

Invitation to Rambling Club Reunion held June 8, 1926
One of the men attending the reunion wrote an account of the event. They gathered in Thompson’s back yard and built a fire near the edge of the woods. Everyone pitched in and got the fire going, got water for coffee, and cut sticks for roasting hotdogs, just like old times. After a nice “dog and doughnut” supper, they got together to have their picture taken.  Then everyone settled down and listened as Stanley spoke to them about the importance of the movement that had started with the Rambling Club and his efforts to keep things going. He declared that should he die that night, the work was so well-organized that it would continue uninterrupted.

Photograph from the 1926 reunion showing Stanley second from left, mostly obscured
Stanley had been at a picnic earlier that day in VanEtten promoting his efforts to educate more children and would be talking at several more upcoming picnics that summer through August. “You can see that I am going to be busy,” he told them then placed his hands on his head as if thinking of something more to say. He sank slowly backwards and fell to the ground. Dr. Anna M. Stuart and Dr. N.H. Soble were called but they could do nothing for him. Rufus Stanley died of a heart seizure at 8:15pm. His boys covered him with a blanket and he lay with his feet to the dead embers of the camp fire, like he was peacefully sleeping, as he had done so many times before on club outings. When his wife, Charlotte Rose Stanley, arrived, she told them, “It was a beautiful way for him to go, and among the members of the old Rambling Club, who loved him, and whom he loved so much.”

Rufus Stanley is buried in Elmira’s Woodlawn Cemetery. A monument honoring his work with the area’s youth is on display at Harris Hill Park.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Eclipse Mania: Chemung County’s Moment in the Path of Totality

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

On August 21, 2017, I stood in the parking lot of the museum with my coworkers staring up into the sky. “The Great American Eclipse,” as it was dubbed, was not as impressive in Elmira as it was in other parts of the country, but nonetheless, we all watched with our special glasses and cardboard boxes. It was an event that most people you talked with were excited about and it felt like it brought about a brief moment of unity and positivity into our national conversation. This got me wondering about earlier eclipses and I found records of a far better one that we got to witness this year.   

Beginning at 8am on January 24, 1925, Chemung County was in what we now call the “Path of Totality” of a solar eclipse. In fact, it was almost smack in the middle of the 100-mile-wide path of the shadow that was moving at 2,000 miles per hour. Totality occurred around 9am, blanketing the area in darkness for a minute and 15 seconds.

There was significant excitement leading up to the eclipse. Professor Mary Clegg Suffa of Elmira College gave a lecture about the science behind the phenomena. Other community organizations held similar programs leading up to and following the event. Residents pestered Elmira officials to turn off the streetlamps during the eclipse, a request that was considered, but ultimately denied. Even still, the city’s electrical usage measurably decreased during the eclipse as many factories ceased work temporarily to let employees go outside. 

Articles by experts urged people not to look directly at the eclipse, but to instead view it through a smoked glass. And that glass was in high demand with people hoarding scraps weeks before the eclipse. When the eclipse occurred, people stood on the streets with smoked glass or old photo negatives. Articles also printed instructions for viewing the eclipse through a hole punched in cardboard.

Amateur photographers hoped to capture the eclipse, but professional local photographer Fred Loomis warned that many people would be disappointed when they had their film developed. Even Loomis, with his better equipment was unable to secure the kind of images he was hoping for. 

This photograph from an unidentified photographer is in our collection. So at least some people were able to beat the odds!
While some people were afraid the eclipse was an omen of something terrible, only one oddity was reported as a result. During the eclipse, thousands of seagulls took flight from the Chemung River and headed toward Watkins Glen where they roosted at night. When the eclipse was over, the confused birds turned around.  

The eclipse was heralded as a once in a lifetime event for most local residents, but there was one man who had the fortune of having experienced this once before. Edward Elford, an Elmira Heights man, had seen a total eclipse in 1870 when he was a young boy living in England.

Monday, December 11, 2017

You've Got Mail!

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

Notice anything funny about this envelope? 

Letter for William Beers, 1862

Let me give you a clue: there’s no street address (and no zip code, but that’s another story). How then, you might ask, was the letter supposed to be delivered? It wasn’t.

When the first Elmira post office opened in January 1801, there was no home delivery. People from all over Chemung County had to visit the small office located at the foot of Fox street in order to pick up their mail. This was actually a pretty big improvement. The village had been founded in 1790, but, until 1801, residents had to go all the way to the post office in Owego or pay someone to pick up their mail for them. Later, in April of that year, Elijah Buck opened the first post office in the Town of Chemung in his general store to serve the eastern half of the county. 

Since coming in from the hinterlands to check if you had mail could be quite a hassle, the Elmira post office notified recipients by posting an ad in the weekly paper. Even with the notices, letters could sit for weeks before it was picked up. By the 1830s, the volume of mail coming into Elmira was so great that the post master could no longer afford to post notices in the paper. By this point, each of the rural towns had their own post office which was good, considering the only way to know if you had a letter was to go and find out. 

List of letters, The Investigator, December 1, 1821
 This lead to long lines at the post office and, in a roundabout way, the first instance of free home delivery. The story goes that in the winter of 1862, Cleveland postal employee Joseph William Briggs was so moved by the sight of women lining up in the cold rain, desperate for word from their husbands and sons fighting in the Civil War that he began delivering mail to their homes for free. Later that same year, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair composed a report to the president wherein he recommended free urban home delivery by salaried carriers as a way improve user convenience. In 1863, Congress acted to authorize home delivery in cities where income from local postage was more than sufficient to pay all expenses of the service. Thus, the inclusion of home addresses on envelopes was born!

 By 1864, 65 cities had free home delivery. By 1880, that number was up to 104, and, by 1900, 796. Elmira began free home delivery in 1873 or 1874. There were initially four carriers for the entire city: John King, John Y. Carpenter, Uriah Warner, and Judson Cornell. All were Civil War veterans. John Carpenter was missing an arm. The volume of mail proved too much for just four men to handle and two additional carriers, William P. Roosa and John R. Brockway, were added in March 1874.  
Letter for William Beers with street address, 1879

Special thanks to Alan Parsons whose research request inspired this post.