Monday, September 29, 2014

Elmira's Clairvoyant Physician and the Spiritualism Movement

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

When I was researching alternative medicine providers for our upcoming medical exhibit, I came across Mrs. R.H. Wilcox, a clairvoyant physician.  Given my fondness for historical eccentric folks, this was a topic I couldn't resist.  Mrs. Wilcox is a great lens through which to examine not only the presence and popularity of clairvoyants and mediums locally, but also within the larger context of the spiritualism movement.

The significant number of clairvoyants in Chemung County in the late 19th and early 20th centuries makes a lot of sense because spiritualism originated in Western New York.  This area, known as the "burned-over district," was the birthplace of several religions during the Second Great Awakening (1790-1840), including Mormonism, the Millerites, and the Oneida Community.  Spiritualism is traced back to the Fox sisters from Wayne County.  Beginning in 1848, the Fox sisters claimed to be able to communicate with spirits through mysterious "rappings."  The sisters traveled around performing séances and became famous.  However, in 1888 they admitted they were frauds.  Still, spiritualism remained popular and many men and women claimed to have supernatural powers.

The earliest clairvoyant I have found mention of from Chemung County was Madame F.M. Du Bois.  Du Bois maintained her practice on Water Street in Elmira and she appears as a clairvoyant in city directories in the late 1860s.  Madame Du Bois even was involved in a dramatic incident that was still part of popular memory decades later: in the late 1860s or early 1870s, she disrupted the marriage ceremony of her alleged lover, Harwood Badger.  Du Bois claimed to be "spiritually united" and married to Badger.  When Du Bois was forcibly removed from the room, she allegedly proclaimed that she would "seek to injure them as long as she lived, and would haunt them if she could after her death."  Some Elmirans believed the curse had its intended effect as the bride and groom were rumored to have an unhappy marriage and legal troubles.

Most of Elmira's other clairvoyants were decidedly less dramatic.  Among these practitioners were Mrs. J.E. Allen, Jane Gibbs, and Mary Stroman.  They advertised in newspaper classifieds. 

Other local spiritualists specialized in clairvoyant medicine.  The basic tenet of clairvoyant medicine appears to have been the ability of the practitioner to diagnose a patient without asking a single question.  Dr. John P. Jennings and Mrs. R.H. Wilcox were both practicing clairvoyant physicians in Elmira during the 1870s and 1880s.  While we know little about Jennings, there is some information available about Wilcox.  In CCHS' archives, we have two of her hand-written diagnosis reports and one of her medicinal recipes (one of the main ingredients was gin).
One of Wilcox's medicinal recipes

A diagnosis report from Wilcox

Wilcox occasionally practiced outside of Elmira and she did special residencies in Watkins Glen or Corning where she would meet patients who would be otherwise unable to visit her in the city.  She was billed as having been "met with unequalled success in her diagnosis of disease, and in the efficacy of her prescriptions—her work is regarded by many as a noble, devoted one, and as proving a great blessing to suffering humanity." 

Despite tales of her successes, some people remained skeptical.  When Wilcox's mail, and the money it contained, was stolen, the Geneva Courier had some fun at her expense: "The Doctor's letters from misguided patients, were abstracted from the Post Office, the money in them confiscated and it was impossible for ordinary mortals to tell what became of them and the Dr. was in the same unfortunate predicament."  A young man, James VanOver, from Elmira, was eventually arrested for the crime when police staged a sting operation at the Post Office.  Wilcox continued to practice until her death in 1883 (and perhaps in the afterlife, as well...).

Monday, September 22, 2014

Occupy Washington with the Bonus Expeditionary Force

by Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

 In 1924, Congress passed, over the president’s veto, the World War Adjustment Compensation Act which promised each veteran $1 for each day of domestic service (up to $500) and $1.25 for each day of overseas service (up to $625).  While veterans due $50 or less were paid out immediately, the rest were issued Certificates of Service set to mature in 20 years (with interest).  Then the economy crashed leading to the Great Depression and veterans asked if they couldn’t just have their money now and forgo the interest.
Notification letter about the War Compensation Adjustment Act
 While the House of Representatives voted in 1932 to give them their money early, the Senate and President Hoover turned them down.  On June 17, 1932, the day the Senate voted down the bill, a group of veterans calling themselves the Bonus Expeditionary Force (a call back to the American Expeditionary Force of World War I) marched on Washington.  The 43,000 marchers, made up of 17,000 World War I veterans and their families, were the largest group ever to converge on the city up to that point.  Among them were Tom Jenkins, an out-of-work salesman and World War I veteran, and his wife, Idalene, of Elmira. 

Tom & Idalene Jenkins, ca. 1918

Tom and Idalene went home soon after, but many others chose to stay.  They established a make-shift camp in Anacostia Flats along the Anacostia River across from the capitol.  Although built from scrap, the camp was highly organized and all perspective residents had to register and prove they were honorably discharged veterans.  They stayed throughout the summer. 

The B.E.F. News

On July 28th, the Washington police attempted to remove them and ended up shooting and killing two protestors.  Later that evening, President Hoover sent the 12th Infantry Regiment lead by General Douglas McArthur and the 3rd Cavalry Regiment lead by General George S. Patton to clear the camp.  The BEF thought the army was marching in support until they were fired upon.  Patton and McArthur cleared the camp with tear gas, bayonets and a cavalry charge.  55 veterans were injured, one pregnant woman miscarried, and an infant was killed. 

Protestors on June 17, 1932

Ultimately, the Bonus March proved disastrous for Hoover’s reelection campaign.  When a second march was organized in 1933, President Roosevelt provided the veterans with a safe camp site in Virginia and sent his wife Eleanor to meet with them.  He signed an executive order allowing veterans jobs in the new Civilian Conservation Corps (exempting them from the usual requirements).  The Adjusted Compensation Payments Act of 1936 finally gave them their bonuses.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Red Cross Canteen in Elmira: Fact and Fiction

by Erin Doane, Curator

During WWI, many women in the region did their part for the war effort by volunteering with the Red Cross.  Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C. on May 21, 1881.  One of the main purposes of the organization was, and still is, to provide support and relief to members of the military and their families.  When the First World War broke out, the Red Cross grew into a major, nationwide organization. Membership grew from 17,000 in 1914 to over 20 million adult and 11 million Junior Red Cross members in 1918.  That year the Elmira Chapter of the Red Cross had 12,302 members from throughout the county.

American Red Cross Identification Card, 1918
Members of the Elmira Chapter were active in many different way to help the troops and their families.  They raised money to offer financial help to military families at home and sent Christmas care packages to soldiers and sailors. During the last year of the war, local members manufactured and shipped 14,928 knitted articles overseas including 8,062 pairs of socks, 4,049 sweaters, and 1,948 pairs of wristlets. They shipped 16,154 hospital garments to the Atlantic Division and manufactured 617,986 surgical dressings. 

Volunteers in front of Canteen Headquarters in Elmira, 1918
The Red Cross Canteen service in Elmira was established in early June of 1918.  Canteen volunteers served sandwiches, coffee, lemonade, cookies, candy, and even ice cream to soldiers passing through the city on troop trains. They also offered medical assistance to any sick soldiers on the trains.  In four months, 126,798 soldiers received hospitality from Canteen workers.  In a letter dated August 6, 1918, Captain Charles Talbot of the 157th Infantry expresses his gratitude by writing, “…we are grateful indeed and never shall forget your city or the sweet ladies of the Elmira Canteen.  Such hospitality makes a soldier love his country more and sends him away with a warm and tender feeling in his breast for the splendid womanhood of our country.”

August 6, 1918 letter from Capt. Talbot to Mrs. Morrow of the Elmira Red Cross

Troops receiving ice cream from Elmira Canteen volunteers, 1918
And now for a bit of melodramatic historical fiction inspired by a Red Cross volunteer’s hat in the museum’s collection.

All the men were dressed in the same dull olive uniforms but somehow he looked different. He stood just a bit taller. His shoulders were just a bit straighter. Emmeline’s eyes kept finding him of their own accord as she served lemonade to the line soldiers. She unconsciously tucked a stray wisp of hair back up under her stiff-brimmed hat and offered a brilliant smile to the next man in line.  All the Red Cross Canteen volunteers had learned to smile even though the pall of death seemed to loom over every soldier they served.

Harrison had never been so nervous in all his life but he refused to show it. He was a soldier now. He could not let his outward show of confidence slip. Each stop along the train route made him more tense. They were going to war and every mile of track that passed brought them closer to the trenches of Europe.  He had been just as excited as every one of his young friends to fight when war was declared but now reality pressed down on him.

He took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders once more. As his eyes scanned over his fellows, they suddenly fell upon the most beautiful pair of blue eyes he had ever seen. His heart skipped a beat and his breath caught.  She stared back at him like a butterfly impaled by his gaze. Her pink, bow-shaped lips parted.

Emmeline felt the color rise in her cheeks but she could not look away. She felt an unlived future flash between them.  She saw their small house, the Christmas wreath cheerfully decorating the door.  She felt their baby soft and warm in her arms.  She heard him whisper her name and reach for her in the night when the war had come back to haunt him.  She blinked the sudden daydream from her eyes and he was standing before her.

The girl's hand trembled slightly as she offered him a cup of lemonade. As he reached to take it from her, his fingers covered hers. Her youthful vibrancy radiated through him like the heat of late summer’s sun.  He wanted nothing more than to take her into his arms and never let her go.

She lifted her head and tilted her chin slightly, ready for the kiss she did not realize she was requesting.  The figures around them, soldiers and volunteers, faded.  Their voices hushed to a faint buzz. There was nothing outside of the young couple as time hung in a frozen, unanswered eternity.

The train blew a sharp blast.  Soldiers sprang into motion at the barked orders from their officers.  Emmeline and Harrison gazed at each other for one more painful, longing-filled moment then he reluctantly let his fingers slip from hers.

They called it the war to end all wars. If only that had been true. 

Elmira Red Cross Canteen volunteer’s hat, 1918

Monday, September 8, 2014

Chemung County at the World's Fairs

by Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

I had initially planned for this post to just discuss Elmirans at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876.  A lot of locals made contributions as presenters or architects and its a good story.  However, as I was researching, I realized how much great stuff we have from other World's Fairs as well.  So I thought, "Ok, so I guess I'll expand out to look at the Columbian and Pan-American exhibitions, too."  And then I found even more great items, so now this blog will cover seven World's Fairs and exhibitions up to New York in 1964 (read: this will have a ton of cool pictures!).
Centennial Exhibition, Philadelphia, May 10-November 10, 1876
The Centennial Exhibition was the first American-hosted World's Fair.  Planned to celebrate the United States' 100th birthday, the fair was a huge production featuring exhibitors from around the world.  Approximately 10 million people attended, or about 20% of the United States' population at that time.  Among those millions were quite a few Elmirans.  John Murdock represented Chemung County on the state Board of Centennial Managers.  Since the exhibition catalogs have been digitized, we can easily see who had a space at the fair to show off their wares.  Many of the city's premier manufacturers and inventors were represented including: Elmira Nobles' Company (carpenters and shipwrights tools); Palmer and Decker (Union back sole leather); Thomas Extract Co. (clarified extract of hemlock bark); S.W. Hall (fencing machine, machine made worm-fence, bracket and wire fences); Henry Clum (aellograph); Reid and Cooper (cooking stove, direct draft six-hole cooking stoves and ranges); Newcomb and Walker (shoes); and La France (rotary pumps and engine, rotary steam fire engine). 
Certificate awarded to Thomas Extract Co. for their extract of Hemlock bark
Elmiran architects Hayes and McIvor even designed the Tea and Coffee Press Extract Building, "a 100ft x 45ft, two story frame building composed of four observatories connected by verandas.  Located opposite the southeast corner of the agricultural building and devoted tot the exhibitions of the process of making coffee, tea, and other extracts by the means of pressure caused by the expansion of the materials used."

It is likely that Chemung County residents also attended the Centennial.  We have several souvenirs in our collections.
Ticket to the Centennial Exhibition
Souvenir coin from Centennial
Page from a souvenir book from the Centennial

Columbian Exposition, Chicago, May-October 1893
The World's Columbian Exposition was planned to honor the 400th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the New World.  The fair was held on 600 acres in Chicago and attracted over 27,000,000 visitors.  It was called the "White City" for all 0f the neoclassical buildings created to house displays from around the world.  Although I can find no records of Chemung Countians exhibiting anything at the exposition, we do know that some attended.
Railroad ticket from Van Etten to Chicago for the World's Fair

Tickets for the Expostion

Souvenir crock from the Exposition

Souvenir coin from the exposition
Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, May 1- November 2, 1891
The Pan-American Exposition attracted 8,000,000 visitors.  The fair used Niagara Falls to generate electricity, which resulted in spectacular night time views of the exposition. 
Fair images from Turner glass plate negative collection at CCHS

However, the Pan-American Exposition is also connected with a tragedy: the assassination of President William McKinley.  McKinley was shot at the fair on September 6, 1891 by anarchist Leon Czolgosz.  The president died days later from his injuries. 
McKinley memorial scarf with image of the exposition (bottom left) from CCHS collection
Since the exposition was practically in our backyard, it is likely that many Chemung County residents attended.  Elmiran A.D. Symonds displayed his sandstone and blue stones in the Mines Building.
Ticket from the exposition
Souvenir paperweight from Pan-American Exposition
Souvenir tumbler from the exposition

Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St. Louis, Mo., 1904
The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, honoring the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase, took place on 1,200 acres and attracted nearly 20,000,000 visitors.  There is little information about Chemung County's participation in this fair, but we do have a ticket in our collection.
Chicago World's Fair, Chicago, 1933
In 1933, Chicago hosted another World's Fair.  The Century of Progress International Exposition honored Chicago's centennial.  The fair attracted over 48,000,000 people to Chicago to see the "Rainbow City" (unlike the White City of the Columbian Expo).  The main focus of the fair was science, so many new inventions were demonstrated at the fair.  The Lehigh Valley Railroad ran special fair promotions that would have helped Chemung County residents get to Chicago.

Iszard's promotional postcard featuring the Dairy Building at the fair
New York World's Fair, New York City, 1939-1940
The first New York World's Fair attracted over 51,000,000 visitors to over 1,200 acres in Flushing Meadows.  This fair was open for two seasons, from April-October in both 1939 and 1940.  Among the Elmirans who attended the fair was the Collins family, who posed for a picture now in our collection.
The Collins Family at the 1939 World's Fair
Souvenir pin from the World's Fair

New York World's Fair, New York City, 1964-1965
Held again in Flushing Meadows, the second New York World's fair was held for two seasons in 1964 and 1965.  Over 51,000,000 people attended the 650 acre event.  This fair is remembered for its emphasis on mid-20th century scientific advancements, like early space exploration.  Did any of our readers attend this Fair and have memories to share?