Monday, May 18, 2015

Charles Bradley: Chemung County's (and the World's?) Tallest Man

by Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

Awhile ago, faithful CCHS volunteer Kristen (you can read about her awesome work here) told me about something interesting she found while working with our collections.  It was a brief article transcribed from the Star Gazette in 1926 about a man named Charles Bradley.  At that time, Bradley was reported to be the tallest man in Chemung County and the second tallest in the United States.  His height was said to be 7' 4" (although some reports claimed he was upwards of 7' 7").  Given my long-standing interest in all things historical oddities/travelling show/spectacle/performance (which you can read about here, here, here, herehere, or here), I just had to know more.

Charles Bradley was born in Antrim, PA around 1892.  There isn't much information about the family other than they were farmers and that they were all tall.  Really tall.  John Bradley, Charles' father, was somewhere between 6' 9" and 7' 1" tall.  His seven brothers and sisters all measured over 6 feet tall.  One brother, Henry, was reported to be almost as tall as Charles.  Bradley's mother, however, was only 5' 6."

Bradley's height brought him considerable attention and fame.  In 1909, the then 17 year old and 7' 2" Bradley signed a contract to tour with the Barnum and Bailey Circus for a season that began in Champaign, Illinois in May of that year.  This was allegedly not his first offer to join show business.  Barnum and Bailey featured Bradley as the "Tallest Boy in the World" and made him wear a "Little Lord Fauntleroy" costume.  He was exhibited next to the "World's Smallest Woman."       
Headline from 1909 when Bradley signed with Barnum and Bailey.  They incorrectly report his age as 19 here (he was 17).

He was still touring the country in 1911, although he was likely not still working for Barnum and Bailey.  He billed himself as the tallest man in the world, although this was likely untrue.  Bradley always wore his signature Uncle Sam costume, which "accentuated" his height.  He cause quite a stir in New Ulm, Minnesota while on tour, walking down the town's streets in his Uncle Sam outfit.  The local newspaper reported that the hotel even had to give him a special bed that was open at the foot so he would fit.  According to the report, he was in town to advertise a brand of tobacco.

Bradley left show business by the 1920s.  He reportedly got "tired of the life" and decided to try "industrial pursuits" instead.  During this time, he lived in Corning, Elmira, and Elmira Heights.  He did still get special recognition for his height.  For example, he was a member of the Loyal Order of the Moose, and he was considered to be the tallest member of that fraternal organization in the world.  He participated in Moose parades and events, often marching with Marguerite Morgan of Elmira, who at 40" tall, was believed to be the smallest Mooseheart member.
Notice of an appearance in 1927.
I'm not sure what happened to Bradley after the 1920s.  Presumably, he tried to live his life as normally as possible.  I'm not surprised that Bradley left show business.  People have a long, nasty history of exploiting people with physical differences for entertainment.  We don't know much about the circumstances that led to Bradley joining the circus, but an article from 1909 contains some language that makes me wonder how much of this was his idea and how much was his family's.  According to the article, Bradley was to be "turned over to the managers" and would be "sent to join the circus."  The report also stated, "This is the first time Bradley has submitted to becoming an exhibit."  Bradley apparently hadn't been able to do much manual labor on the farm due to his unusually rapid growth.  Perhaps, joining the circus was the way that he could best help support his family.  Whatever, his reasons for joining the circus, he was lucky that he was able to leave when "he got tired of the life."  Not all performers and "exhibits" could.  

Monday, May 11, 2015

Let There Be Light

by Rachel Dworkin, archivist

            Last week we replaced all the light bulbs in our galleries with new LED lights.  It took us a good 4 hours of me up a ladder, but supposedly they last for years and will dramatically cut our electric bill.  Standing under their really bright lights, it got me thinking.

            American inventor Thomas Edison and his British counterpart Joseph Swan both patented competing incandescent light bulbs in 1878.  There had been 22 similar patents in the proceeding decades, but theirs were the first truly commercially viable designs.  Over the next 100 years, there were a number of improvements which increased brightness, longevity and energy efficiency.  Compact fluorescent lights (CFL) were patented by GE in 1973 but weren’t manufactured for commercial use until 1995.  Light-emitting diodes (LED) were first patented in 1962, but they didn’t become commercially viable until the 1990s. 
3 different styles of light bulbs, all patented in 1884
            Elmira’s first electric lights were street lights installed by the United States Electric Lighting Company in 1878.  It used the arc lighting system patented by Charles F. Brush.  The Brush system produced a flickering blue-white light across an open arc.  The arc lights, unfortunately, had a tendency toward mechanical complications and burn-outs and were phased out in favor of the more reliable incandescent lights around 1900. 
Arc street light on Water Street, 1889
         In-door lighting using the new Edison bulb was first installed in several downtown business including Hallock, Cary & Co. dry goods store and the Hotel Rathbun in 1882.  The generator which powered them was located in the basement of A.S. Turner & Sons lumber mill on East Second Street. 

Dining room of the Hotel Rathbun with new electric lights on the ceiling and older gas fixtures on the wall, ca. 1890
            Few homes in the city were electrified prior to the 1890s.  The Elmira Gas & Illuminating Company offered natural gas for lighting in middle and upper-class homes while poorer families made due with candles and various types of oil lamps.  The first homes to be electrified tapped into the trolley system’s pre-existing power lines along Water Street, Maple Avenue and other key thoroughfares.  Electrification of the city continued slowly.  Newer homes could be built with the wiring in the walls, but older homes needed to be retrofitted so poorer neighborhoods lagged behind in terms of the technological changeover.  In the rest of the county, there were areas which didn’t have power well into the 1930s. 
Map showing distribution of power lines in Elmira, ca. 1900

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Ancient Order of Flat Tires

by Erin Doane, curator

The archives here at CCHS are a treasure-trove of information. Every file, every box, is filled with information about Chemung County. For this blog post, I decided to just dive into the vertical files and see what unknown stories I could find. That is how I discovered the Ancient Order of Flat Tires.

The Ancient Order of Flat Tires was organized on August 13, 1937. The AOFT was the brain-child of William H. Snyder. He wanted to establish a club for older men who had lived active lives and were not ready to just fade away. The objectives of the club as stated in the minutes from their first meeting were:
To assemble in one organization men of affairs who have seen three score years or more of service, whose friends and acquaintances are fast passing from this life; who need friendships and companionships in their declining years.
To establish frequent contacts with these men and help making the remaining years of life more cheerful.

Charter Officers of the Ancient Order of Flat Tires left to right:
S. Edward Rose, “Chief Vulcanizer”; Louis C. Andrews, “Collector of
Punctures”; Seymour Lowman, “Keeper of Tires”; William H. Snyder,
"Big Blowout”; and Lewis T. Barnes, 1937
Qualifications for membership were as follows:
Real Men of 60 years of age, or over, who have been active in their younger life, receiving “blow-outs” and “punctures”, which have been vulcanized and repaired; Tires that have worn off the tread down to the fabric, but are still in running order; Tires that have felt the “brakes” of depression, and done much skidding; Tires that we do not want to part with, no matter how badly worn -- the older the Tire the more welcome to membership.
The 26 charter members paid a fee of $1.00. Regular members paid $2.00. By the late 1940s, membership hit a high of over 80 man.

Ancient Order of Flat Tires membership card, 1940
The lightheartedness of the club was set from the very beginning (as evidenced by the paper bag hats in the photo above). Club officers were given the titles Big Blowout (president), Chief Vulcanizer (vice president), Collector-of-Punctures (treasurer), and Keeper-of-Tires (secretary). The Chief Inflator was added later when the club grew large enough to need another vice president. Punctures were local clubs. Puncture No. 1 was in Elmira. Puncture No. 2 was established by William Snyder in 1938 in Miami, where he wintered. In 1949, a meeting was held at the Baron Steuben Hotel in Corning to establish Puncture No. 3 there.

William Snyder, the AOFT’s founder and first
Big Blowout, with the club’s insignia, 1940
The Ancient Order of Flat Tires met about once a month at various locations including Hotel Langwell, the Mark Twain Hotel, Pierce’s Restaurant, the Masonic Temple, the City Club, the Elmira Country Club, various churches, and members’ homes. Each meeting consisted of a dinner (Dutch treat), entertainment of some sort, and a business meeting. Entertainments ranged from a musical performance from Floyd Woodhull to a lecture about the philosophy of growing old to a presentation on the life of Abraham Lincoln. The archives here has a wonderful collection of the club’s meeting minutes. Many meetings also included discussion about accepting new members and expressions of grief for newly deceased members.

Tribute to the Memory of Matthew Darrin Richardson, 1940
By the fall of 1970, the club seemed to be declining. A “call to arms” was issued to its 25 members. “We must have a Council of War meeting to determine our future,” the announcement for the November 22 meeting read. The minutes from that night, however, do not indicate that the club’s future was actually discussed. 

The final meeting minutes in our archival collection are from April 25, 1972. There is no indication in the minutes that that was the last meeting of the Ancient Order of Flat Tires but we have no records of the club after that. At that meeting, Mrs. Hancock served a most delectable roast beef dinner in the Elmira Masonic Club dining room then the 13 members in attendance enjoyed a presentation by Dr. Earle G. Ridall about his cruise to Peru, complete with colored slides. There was no subsequent business meeting and the members gradually dispersed around 9:00pm.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Time Well Spent

by Emily Weise, Elmira College intern

During my time here at the Chemung County Historical Society, I have been lucky enough to experience a subject I truly love, but also to work with people I admire. From day one, my experiences have been nothing short of an adventure. Between Kelli’s obsession with adorable historical dogs, Erin’s love of dressing up (as practically anything) and, Rachel’s vast and really incredible knowledge of every article, photo and book in the archives, there really was not a dull moment.  

My time at the Historical Society has allowed me to experience history in a way I never had before. I say “experience” because there is no other way to describe it. I have spent my whole life reading about history, looking at history in museums and watching history on television; however, this was the first time I was able to touch history, to hold it in my hands.

The feeling is insurmountable. Holding a picture, document, or article of clothing in my hands makes my mind race. I begin thinking about who owned it? How did they come to own it? When did they use it? How did it get here? Who donated it? And why? Corny as this may sound, it really is true; I am a history nerd at heart.

I was able to work extensively with Rachel, the museum’s archivist, to catalogue a box of photographs from World War II. Many of these photos had hand-written inscriptions, yellowed tape, or black album paper stuck to the back. Apart from the interesting subject of the photos, these small details were my favorite things to see because it showed that at one time, these photos were important to someone. Details like those that I described are what made me realize that the work the historical society is doing for the community is invaluable. Not only are they preserving these unique and priceless items, but they are also making them readily available for the people that want to connect with the past.

World War II loan parade at Water and Main streets in Elmira, 1944
I also was able to work with Erin, the museum’s curator on dating antique hand fans. I have been a fashion girl all my life and I think it is safe to say that this experience has changed my views about fashion forever. Today, fashion is all about the most expensive item of clothing you own, or who designed it. Then (about 1850 – 1950) fashion was about art. Granted, art is still a major part of fashion today, but not in the same context that it was then. These fans were truly exquisite. The time it must have taken to paint on the designs or weave the ribbons is unimaginable. They are truly works of art.

Embroidered silk hand fan, c. 1870
My experiences at the Historical Society have really changed my perspectives on history. I have a much wider understanding of the city and county I live in, the people who created it, and the people who live here now. To me, my time at the Historical Society has been time well spent.

Monday, April 20, 2015

CCHS at the Museum Association of New York Conference

by Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

Last Sunday-Tuesday (April 12-14), most of the CCHS staff attended the annual Museum Association of New York (MANY) conference, held in Corning this year.  In those three days, we were featured on three separate panels, received two awards, attended other sessions, and went to special breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and networking receptions.  We also were able to catch-up with old friends in the field, while meeting new colleagues.  All told, it was a great time!  Here's a quick recap of what we learned and did.

This year, CCHS was selected to receive two Awards of Merit, given by MANY to acknowledge "outstanding programs and individuals who have made the state's museum community richer and more relevant. They reward the innovative efforts of staff and volunteers and they provide encouragement for the development of new and remarkable projects."  First, we received the Award of Merit for Innovations in Interpretation for our new History They Didn't Teach You in School series. 

 I also received the Rising Star Award of Merit for my work at CCHS creating new programming and reaching out to new communities.

 The CCHS staff also presented on three panels.  Director Bruce and Curator Erin organized a panel called "Rethinking Outreach by Moving Outside of the Museum."  The panel also featured Pam Davis-Webb, Principal of Diven Elementary, and Louise Richardson, Communications and Marketing Manager at the Chemung County Humane Society and SPCA.  The panel discussed the efforts that our staff has made to work with non-traditional community partners.  The audience at the panel was very interested in the discussion, with some attendees saying they wanted to try to use these ideas at their own museums.
The "Rethinking Outreach" Team: (from left to right) Louise Richardson, Pam Davis-Webb, Bruce Whitmarsh, and Erin Doane
I organized another panel, called "Making Your Mark in Our Digital World: Museums and Creative Social Media Use."  The panel also featured Yvette Sterbenk, Senior Manager of Communications, Corning Museum of Glass; Bridget Sharry, Community Relations Manager, Tanglewood Nature Center and Museum; and Rachel Bournique, Student, Siena College.  We discussed best practices and management techniques for social media and also how to use different platforms creatively.  I brought Mark the Mammoth our museum mascot to discuss how we've used Mark to tap into an international museum community on Twitter (find Mark's Twitter account here:  We got a great response to the panel: it was standing room only and I got lots of feedback from sites that want to create their own museum mascots.  Mark the Mammoth also live-Tweeted the entire conference using the official conference hashtag #MANY2015.
Thanks to our friend Bridget Sharry at Tanglewood Nature Center for live Tweeting this shot of me and Mark the Mammoth at our panel.  
Curator Erin also participated on a panel about deaccessioning.  This is a tricky issue for many museums and Erin's first-hand experience was helpful for museum professionals dealing with deaccessioning items in their collections.
This conference also allowed our staff and museum professionals from around the state to explore the beautiful Corning Museum of Glass (CMOG) and Rockwell Museum, our gracious hosts. 
CMOG hosted a fun opening reception complete with a live glass-blowing demonstration in their new auditorium.
At the end of the three day conference, we all had many new ideas that we want to use at CCHS.  We attended great panels on everything from design tips, to Common Core standards, to promoting regional tourism.  We hope to use these ideas to create even more innovative, creative, and meaningful experience for our visitors and members.  The staff is already making plans for next year's conference in Lake Placid.

On top of that, make sure you congratulate Director Bruce the next time you see him: he was recently elected to the board of MANY!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Convention City

by Rachel Dworkin, archivist
            From Sunday through Tuesday, my co-workers and I will be attending the Museum Association of New York annual conference in Corning.  There we will attend (and present) lectures on various museum-related topics in the hope that it will help us create better programs and exhibits.  We will also eat overpriced food, network (i.e. drink with our fellow professionals), and receive an award for our award-winning History They Didn’t Teach You in School program series. 

            Over the years, Elmira has been host to a number of conventions and conferences.  Clubs like the Loyal Order of the Moose (1922), the Ku Klux Klan (1925), and the Business & Professional Women’s Club (1951) have held their state-wide annual meetings here.  Religious groups like Christian Workers (1884) and the Men & Boys Religion Forward Movement (1912) met here too, while professional organizations like the Pro-Hardware Group (1947) and Ward LaFrance dealers (1968) held trade shows and professional development. 
Souvenir Program for the Loyal Order of Moose New York State Convention, Elmira, June 8-9, 1922  
        What made Elmira such a popular convention spot?  Well, for much of the late-19th and early-20th centuries it was very convenient.  Up until the 1960s, there were three passenger lines which ran trains to the city: the Erie Railroad, the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad.  The Chemung County Airport, now known as the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport, opened in 1944 offering more was to get to the city. 
Advertisement for the Mark Twain Hotel extoling Elmira's virtue as a Convention City, ca. 1950
      There were also a number of really great venues.  The Park Church, with its large meeting hall and parlors, was the site of a number of religious group conventions in the late-1800s and early-1900s.  The New York State Armory on Church Street was a popular site for trade shows.  The Mark Twain Hotel had ball rooms, conference rooms and dining spaces which made it the ideal convention venue.  Since the hotel closed in the 1970s, the Elmira Holiday Inn has filled that niche. 
Hardware convention at the Armory, July 22, 1947

Conference of Ward LaFrance dealers at the Elmira Holiday Inn

Monday, April 6, 2015

Remington Typewriters: "To Save Time is to Lengthen Life"

by Erin Doane, curator

There is a lot of history in old typewriters. CCHS has a collection of nearly a dozen Remington typewriters spanning nearly three-quarters of a century of history. Remington produced the first commercial typewriter in the 1870s. Mark Twain is said to have been the first American novelist to produce a manuscript on a typewriter. That typewriter happened to be a Remington. For over 35 years, the Remington Rand plant produced typewriters and office machines on Elmira’s south side.

Remington Rand employees having lunch at the plant
Christopher Sholes of Milwaukee, Wisconsin began developing the first practical typewriter in 1866. For seven years, he and two friends, Samuel W. Soule and Carlos Glidden, built and tested various designs until they finally had a working model – the Sholes and Glidden Type-Writer. In 1873, Sholes and his financial backer, James Densmore, contracted with E. Remington & Sons to produce the typewriter. In September of that year, the Remington No. 1 became the first ever commercially produced typewriter. The Remington No. 1 was also the first to have the QWERTY keyboard that is still used today rather than an alphabetically arranged keyboard. Sholes developed the new layout to keep the type bars from colliding so one could type faster.

Remington Standard Typewriter No. 6, produced from 1894 to 1914
In 1886, the Standard Typewriter Manufacturing Company bought the typewriter business from Remington. Standard Typewriter also bought the rights to continue using the Remington name, which by that time had developed a solid reputation. In 1902, Standard Typewriter changed its name to Remington Typewriter Company. The company merged with Rand Kardex Bureau in 1927 to form Remington Rand.

Remington Portable Typewriter, produced from 1920-1925
In the 1920s Remington adopted “To Save Time is to
Lengthen Life” as the advertising slogan for its typewriters.
In 1935, the idle Willys Morrow plant on South Main Street in Elmira went up for auction. Elmira Industries, Inc. bought the factory for $350,000 and offered it for free to Remington Rand if the company would relocate there. In 1936, Elmira Precision Tool Co. started making typewriter parts at the factory on contract for Remington Rand and a year later Remington Rand purchased the plant. During World War II, Remington Rand switched from manufacturing typewriters and business machines to wartime production. The top secret Norden bombsight was produced by Remington Rand in Elmira.

Remington Rand Model No. 17 was widely used
in government offices during World War II
Remington Rand had a huge backlog of civilian orders to fill when the war came to an end. In 1945, the Elmira plant produced 2,500 typewriters and 700 adding machines a week to try to catch up on the orders. Each typewriter had 2,893 parts and every one of them (except for the electric motor) were made at the plant. In the 1950s, the plant in Elmira was one of the largest office equipment factories in the world. At its peak, it employed over 6,500 employees. Remington Rand was acquired by Sperry Corporation in 1955. Sperry-Rand Corp. continued to use Remington Rand as a brand name.

Remington Standard Typewriter, c. 1950s.
The plant underwent an extensive redesign and modernization program in 1963 but business was beginning to slow following the post-war boom of the 1950s. The 119-day strike at the plant in 1969 had a considerable impact on Remington Rand and on the local economy as well. Workers lost pay during the strike and the plant fell behind in orders. The company threatened to shut down the plant and lay off the 1,850 workers but eventually both sides came to an agreement and the plant reopened. In 1972, however, the Remington Rand plant in Elmira closed for good. It just could not compete with cheaper machines being manufactured overseas. 

Elmira’s Remington Rand plant, April 1965
Remington Typewriter, c. 1960s