Friday, July 26, 2013

Elmira's Canine Celebrity

by Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

Mark Twain, Ernie Davis, John W. Jones, Ross Marvin, Hal Roach, and others like them are famous local figures.  Their names are well-known as we celebrate and remember them in our museums and community organizations.

While we frequently hear stories of these Elmira’s celebrities, one has been largely lost from our historical memory: Colonel, the Elmira Telegram’s famous St. Bernard mascot.

Before you think that I wrote that last sentence sarcastically, understand that Colonel was a big deal during the 1890s.  The Elmira Telegram adorned their publicity materials, reporter’s cards, and other materials with Colonel’s image.  A September 1890 article in The Poultry Monthly stated, “Doubtless, Colonel is the best known dog of his species in this country, and his name has become a household word, especially in the states of New York and Pennsylvania, throughout which the Telegram is almost universally read.”
Reportorial Card featuring Colonel

Colonel was born in Thun, Switzerland in 1886 and was imported to the United States in 1888 (purchasing dogs from Europe was incredibly popular during this era).  He was eventually gifted to the Telegram.  The newspaper featured him and a young boy, Paul Bloch (who later went on to found his own news empire), in a major promotional campaign.  The campaign clearly worked, because Colonel’s popularity grew and he was requested for appearances throughout the area of the paper’s readership.  In 1889, he visited Manhattan, meeting hundreds of adoring fans at the Astor House and was mobbed by thousands more at the train station.  

Promotional material featuring Colonel and Paul Bloch
Colonel made local visits, as well.  He stopped in Hornellsville to visit the town’s ladies and children.  Colonel must have had a calm temperament because a report describes the scene as such: “It was really a beautiful scene to see the children, with their tiny arms around his neck, some clinging to his sides, while others who could get near enough clung to his massive tail.  Many hugs and kisses were bestowed upon him that day.” 

Like any good celebrity, Colonel vacationed during the “hot months.”  He summered at Lake Ridge on Cayuga Lake, but returned in the Fall months to serve as an attraction at the Interstate Fair in Elmira. 

Colonel in front of the Elmira Telegram office
I’m not sure how long Colonel lived or was used by the Telegram, but he did appear on their printed materials until at least 1896.  At that point, Colonel would have been 10 years old, which for a breed of his size living in an era without modern veterinary care was rather remarkable.  Colonel has been largely forgotten, but his story reminds us that animals have long played important (and sometimes surprising) roles in our history and that celebrity can take many forms. 

UPDATE: For more on Colonel's story and his tragic end read Kelli's article "The Mascot" in New York State Archives Magazine 14, no. 4 (Spring 2015).

Monday, July 22, 2013

Cycling Through History

by Malachi Doane, Volunteer

The southern tier has long been a buzzing hub of cycling. Even as far back, and as famously as our dear old Samuel Clemens, people were exploring the area in the saddle on the bounce. And while there are many fine sights and historic avenues to explore around the county on your bicycle I might start you on an exploration of the Lackawanna Trail in Elmira running from the Water Street Park’n’Ride by Kennedy Valve north on the old rail bed up to Eldridge Park.

Largely closed to motor traffic the Lackawanna trail is perfect for all age groups and experience levels of rider. The southern portion hugs the Newtown Creek near Kennedy Valve and the northerly half sails along the east side of Elmira elevated and commanding several fine views as you approach Eldridge Park.

For a longer and more challenging ride why not explore the Revolutionary War Battlefields of Newtown and Lowman  Head east on Water Street until you reach County Route 1/Jerusalem Hill. You will need to cross over the highway and make a little climb up the the new junction with County Route 60 but then it is a rolling trip into the Sullivan Reservation and Historic Newtown Battle Area.

How better to explore this part of local history than in the saddle moving from monument to monument about the countryside. Challenge yourself with a hill climb up to the granite obelisk in the Newtown Reservation or keep to the old military route (CoRt 60) all the way to Lowman and even Chemung returning on the same path or taking the Lowman crossover road and coming back through the South Side on Route 427 and Maple Ave!

 As always, check out your bike, be sure your tires are inflated, grab a helmet and maybe a bottle of water and remember you’re a part of traffic, obey all the rules of the road.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Shirtwaists and the New Woman

by Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

Over the weekend I had the pleasure of seeing the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum’s exhibit Fashioning the New Woman, 1890-1925.  It was an excellent exhibit which both showcased their amazing collection of clothing and talked about the changing role of women in the opening years of the 20th Century.  If you have a spare weekend to visit Washington DC between now and the end of August, I highly recommend checking it out.  Even if you can’t make it, you can still enjoy my send-up of the essential piece of early 20th Century fashion:  the shirtwaist.

                Although the name sounds weird today, at the start of the 20th Century, everyone and their mother knew what one was and probably owned more than quite a few.  The shirtwaist is simply a woman’s blouse cut like a man’s that is to say with a collar and buttons down the front.  The shirtwaists came in all colors and patterns and the more expensive kinds often had embellishments like ruffles or embroidery.  Worn with skirts, they were an indispensable part of every woman’s wardrobe. 


                Because of its simplicity and its resemblance to men’s shirts, the shirtwaist and plain skirt combination became the uniform of female workers throughout the country.  Increasingly throughout the 1890s and into the early 20th Century women were entering the workforce as never before.  Poorer immigrant women were wearing shirtwaists even as they sat sewing them in New York City sweatshops.  Locally, women wore them to work at the Elmira telephone exchange, to the stores where they worked as shop clerks and to classes at Elmira College.  Because of their association with working women, shirtwaists were often heralded as the uniform of the New Women, an active woman of independent means.

Elmira Telephone exchange, 1896


Sheehan, Dean & Co. employees, ca. 1900

Monday, July 8, 2013

What is a Yarn Bomb?

by Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

What does the term “street art” mean to you?  For most, the term conjures thoughts of vandalism and graffiti scrawled across buildings and train cars.  However, the works of many modern street artists might help to challenge these perceptions.  In addition to elaborate spray painted murals, artists are turning to unconventional materials to decorate city streets.   Take yarn bombers for example.  Yarn bombing involves covering common street objects, like lamp posts, trees, or statues with knitted pieces.  Many modern street art forms are non-destructive and some artists are being commissioned by municipalities.  Wheat pasting, LED art, 3D chalk drawings, and graffiti using plant materials are other modern street art forms. 

A yarn-bombed tree

You can learn about all of these and more at our July 13th Salon Saturday event, “Spray Paint and Yarn Bombs: Modern American Street Art.”  There will be a short presentation on these art forms followed by a hands-on yarn bombing demonstration.   Help museum staff and visitors yarn bomb trees, lamp posts, and other objects in front of the historical society.  If any local knitters or crocheters would like to bring pieces to add to the yarn bomb, please feel free to do so!

A dramatic example of 3D sidewalk chalk painting

The street art phenomenon has not been lost on Elmira.  The Elmira Street Painting Festival also takes place on July 13th.  Go to both the Festival and our event to see some amazing local and national street art!  We also have some interesting local graffiti, like this mural under the Clemens Center Parkway overpass in Riverside Park:

The event is from 1-3 on Saturday, July 13th at the Chemung County Historical Society.  We hope to see you there.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Simeon Benjamin is the Name that Began Elmira’s Fame

by Erin Doane, Curator

In 1855 Elmira Female College opened as the nation’s first college that granted baccalaureate degrees to women that were equal to those awarded to men.  The college would not have been built without the drive, determination and funding of Simeon Benjamin. 

Simeon Benjamin
 Benjamin was a successful, wealthy business man when he moved to Elmira in 1835.  He was raised with a deep sense of Christian liberality that led his desire to give women an equal chance at attaining higher education.  When plans fell through to create a female college in Auburn, New York (the idea of educating women was too radical and visionary to come up with funding there), Benjamin used his influence to have the charter changed and the school moved to Elmira. Elmira at the time was known for being very progressive and liberal.  Benjamin invested heavily and encouraged his friends and business associates to do so as well. 

Elmira Female College opened its doors in October 1855.  Cowles Hall, named after the College’s first president, was the college’s first building.  When it opened its doors in October of 1855 there was very little furniture, the furnace was not yet in working order and the building itself wasn’t even competed but it still received over 150 students. 
Cowles Hall
It was very important to Benjamin that energetic young women, no matter what their family background could attend so the cost of attendance was set at $120 a year which included tuition, room, board, fuel and lights.  Unfortunately, that sum was too low to meet the actual costs of running the college. Benjamin advanced and loaned the college money several times to keep it running, especially during the Civil War.  Upon his death in 1868, Benjamin bequeathed $25,000 for a perpetual endowment fund for the college.  It was one of the largest funds held by a college at the time. 

The first graduating class of Elmira Female College received their diplomas in 1859.  In the first fourteen years of its existence the college graduated 130 women with four year degrees comparable to those of men.  Tough times in the 1880s saw as few as three students in a graduating class but the college endured.  Today there are over 1,600 students, both male and female, enrolled at Elmira College.  

Elmira Female College, class of 1859