Monday, January 14, 2019

Impact of the Flood of 1972

by John Liquori, 6th grade English and Social Studies teacher at Horseheads Intermediate School

[Staff Note: CCHS was pleased to work with Mr. Liquori and his students in the creation of the exhibit Flood of ’72 which is currently on display here at the museum. The exhibit was created entirely by a team of 44 6th-grade students at Horseheads Intermediate School. The students researched the historic flood, selected the photographs, and wrote the text labels with the help of Mr. Liquori who brought it all together and designed the exhibit panels. The Chemung County Historical Society is proud of their hard work and dedication to local history. Flood of ’72 is on display now through Saturday, February 16, 2019]

When I ask survivors what they remember most about the flood of 1972, it’s almost always the smell of the mud and water during cleanup following the disaster. However, there was so much of our own community that was impacted and often those stories go untold in the larger picture of the flood history. Even more, there are now new generations of people—children, grandchildren, and even great children of survivors—who have no idea the flood happened. As I worked to facilitate a standards-based project with my 6th graders, this is why I chose this particular topic.

Arguably, nothing in the last century has impacted the Southern Tier, especially Elmira, more than the flood. To those who lived through it, there was life before the flood and life since cleanup. There was Elmira before and Elmira after the catastrophe. The flood still impacts Chemung County even in 2019. It was a cornerstone in local history and important in the story of who we are as local residents. If we are to keep people here for the future to continue to rebuild and restore this area, we need to teach students about our own history and instill an appreciation for what Elmira and surrounding areas were and what it will be in the future.

I am a 6th grade teacher of English and Social Studies at Horseheads Intermediate School. I teach a team of forty-five students. At the Intermediate School, I am fortunate enough to have leadership that supports Project Based Learning. So, this exhibit is the culmination project of this PBL assignment. Students have spent months learning about the flood, researching topics of interest in relation to the flood, and building an informational exhibit that focuses on the impact on different aspects of the local community because of the flood.

Students began reading background literature written by local historians such as Thomas E. Byrne, Rachel Dworkin, and Kirk House. Once students were versed in the general history of the flood, research groups chose topics in which to focus on and build this exhibit. Topics included first responders, military and government, hospitals, and more. Groups chose an authentic historical image based on their chosen topic and wrote a short history outlining that particular story. Students used primary and secondary source material such as newspaper articles, journal articles, documentaries, and personal accounts of survivors to tell their histories. Put together, this is a unique story of the flood that is personal, relevant, and highly informative.

This museum exhibit is 100% student created. These 6th graders have worked very hard to tell a history that is still vivid to many but unknown to many others. We invite you to come learn about the impact of the flood on our local community in 1972. This student-created exhibit will be on display starting mid-January and we will have an exhibit opening reception on January 30th from 5-7 PM at the Chemung County Historical Society where students and I will be there to celebrate their work and interact with the community. Everyone is invited to attend, free of charge. We hope to see you there!

Monday, January 7, 2019

Big Shoes To Fill!

By Susan Zehnder, Education Director

Stepping into the position of Education Director at the Chemung County Historical Society, and into the big shoes left by my predecessor Kelli Huggins (a shout out to all the trails she blazed!), has got me thinking about the different kinds of shoes we wear in life. Shoes, both figuratively and literally tell stories about who we are, who we aspire to be, and maybe what makes us tick.

Here in our collection, we have footwear for practical reasons, like arctic explorer Ross Gilmore Marvin’s fur-trimmed boots.

In 1905, Marvin commissioned these boots, made by Inuit artists in a traditional style. Boots like these, often made from seal fur, were part of a necessary outfit to keep cold and damp at bay. Marvin wore these while traveling with Admiral Peary and exploring the Arctic.  You can currently see these boots on display in our Elmirans Abroad exhibit. 

Inuit people had perfected the art of dressing in extreme conditions, and boots like these might consist of as many as five layers protecting the wearer's feet out on the ice. And, in order to add insulation and absorb sweaty feet, wearers might add feathers or dried grass to pad the inside. Not only did these boots do service for Marvin on the ice, but after one of his trips, he brought them back to Elmira to share their unique look and feel with the Elmira community. He encouraged children to try them on and imagine what being an Arctic explorer might feel like.

Other shoes, also on display in the same gallery, are humorous, alligator-shaped oversized shoes.

These were shoes with an entirely different purpose. They come to the museum from the collection of Matt Lockwood -  check out our August 18, 2014 Blog for more information on him. Briefly, Lockwood was a white Elmirian who performed with and accumulated theatrical objects from minstrel shows.  We don't know who in Elmira actually wore the shoes, we just know they were worn for local minstrel performances. While Marvin’s heavy fur boots helped him walk steadfastly on ice and snow, these humorously shaped shoes helped performers in a different way. Namely, they dictated how the wearer walked and carried himself, requiring him to pay close attention. Neglecting to watch each step might result in his tripping and falling during a performance. This may be great when desired, but disastrous when it is not. And, when performers wore shoes like this during sketches, the audience saw someone who was clumsy and slow, which helped elicit laughs and push negative stereotypes of African Americans, as all minstrel shows did. Here shoes functioned as props for performers as they guided audience laughs and guffaws. For a comedian, if timed right, physical pratfalls came in handy when entertaining no matter what the message was.

Thinking this way, what function did Mrs. Georgianna Archibald Palmer’s elegant blue damask slippers have, and what do they say about her? 

These shoes from our collection seem to suggest a woman of means, because these materials wouldn’t hold up to everyday wear or outside travel, and certainly some leisure time, since what else could you really do in these shoes? 

And while out of expensive cloth, these colorful silk slippers from China could only fit if the woman’s feet had been broken and bound as a status symbol proving to the world she was above household tasks and duties. 

Shoes tell us things. Growing up, my family splurged for one night’s stay in a very fancy hotel in Banff, Canada. Dressing in our finest clothes, but wearing sneakers, we strolled around hoping to impress other guests, only to have our cover blown by the doorman. He said our shoes gave us away. 

The stories shoes tell-what materials they’re made from, who made them, where they come from or who owned them and why, are part of our story. Unpacking these stories is a little of what we do, discovering more about the history of people from our Chemung County community every day. 

Author's shoes

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Come Fly with Me: A History of the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport

by Erin Doane, Curator

In 1927, American Airways leased about 100 acres of farmland in Big Flats to serve as an emergency airfield along its New York-Buffalo route. The airline spent $30,000 preparing two 2,700-foot-long sod runways. Dedication of the airfield took place on September 10 of that year with 4,000 spectators on a specially-built grandstand watching an air carnival with 25 “modern” airplanes. By the early 1930s, the runways were being used twice a day by express and passenger airplanes for ten-minute stopovers during refueling. People came to watch the tri-motor airplanes land and take off again.

American Airways flight at the airport in Big Flats, June 25, 1933
During World War II, the Department of Defense commandeered the airfield for military use. Early in the war, however, the military declared the site surplus and offered it to Chemung County, which purchased 340 acres of land at $125 an acre. With funding from the Civil Aeronautics Authority, the county built three hard-surface runways, several taxi lanes, and guide lights. The county itself paid to clear the land around the runways and to build a parking lot. The Chemung County Airport officially opened on January 1, 1944.

Chemung County Airport, June 8, 1949
Dozens of different airlines have flown into and out of the airport since it was established. In 1945, Pennsylvania Central Airlines flew DC-3s out of Elmira to Washington, Philadelphia, and Buffalo. A year later, Empire Intra-State Airlines and American Airlines came to the airport. In 1947, American Airlines requested that the airport lengthen the runways to accommodate its heavier passenger planes. Mohawk Airlines flew out of Elmira in the 1960s, as did United Airlines. On March 1, 1962, United replaced its DC-3s with new Viscount prop-jet airplanes. This change helped increase passenger traffic through the airport by 27 percent compared to the previous March because the new planes offered faster service and a smoother ride.

Mohawk Airlines planes at the Chemung County Airport, c. 1965
Over the last 70+ years, the airport has undergone numerous changes. In 1959 a new terminal was built and a year later it expanded even further with a new lounge and other amenities for travelers. In 1983, the name of the facility was changed from the Chemung County Airport to the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport.
Aerial view of the airport, c. 1970s or 1980s
The facilities at the airport were renovated and expanded again beginning in 1989. A new 60,000 square foot passenger terminal named for Glenn S. Banfield, the first manager of the airport when the county took over operation in 1944, was opened in 1991. The $6.8 million renovation also included an expanded baggage claim area and a larger departure lounge.

Trophy presented to Glenn S. Banfield
on January 17, 1991 commemorating the
dedication of the Elmira Corning Regional
Airport expansion in his honor
The airport underwent renovations once more in 2000 when the terminal was remodeled with new paint, carpets and flooring, a sprinkler system, and computer connections. And just a couple months ago, on November 11, 2018, Governor Cuomo announced that the latest $61.5 million modernization of the airport was completed.