Monday, August 31, 2015

Mysterious Happenings at the Museum

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

As the educator here at the museum, I have the fun responsibility of developing new programs.  It can be challenging to come up with new ideas so our all of our visitors get to have ever-changing, interactive historical experiences at the museum.  In the past year, the staff has been talking a lot about how we can make our family programming less totally kid-centric and more fun for the whole family (parent, grandparents, and guardians want to enjoy themselves in programs, too!).  This conversation has led to the creation of several new family programs, most recently, our Museum Detectives series.

Museum Detectives replaced our Museum Mondays summer programming this year.  Museum Mondays had been running for years and were still great programs, but I felt they were staring to lose their luster and I was determined to create something fresh.  The story of how I came up with Museum Detectives illustrates just how random the programming creation process can be.  One day, I was turning the lights off in our education room and I accidentally left our one overhead spotlight on.  I was struck by how the lighting looked straight out of a 1940s Film Noir detective movie.  I started thinking about how to run with that vibe for a museum program. 
Doesn't that look so dramatically film noir?
Then, I remembered these detective puzzles that my parents bought me when I was a kid (they were Highlights’ Top Secret Adventure packs) and how much fun I had solving those clues.  And it all came together from there.
Visitors began in the education room “detective agency” where the head detective (me) gave them their case books and list of suspects. 
Me as the Carmen Sandiego-esque lead detective
The detectives each received their own case book.
I set up 6 stations around the museum, each with their own puzzle that would help eliminate a “suspect.”  The hardest part was coming up with 12 completely different puzzles and games (6 for each program).  At this point, I would like to commend my coworkers for their total willingness to commit to a silly idea- in this case one that involved costumes and characters.  For each of the programs, The Missing Mammoth Mystery and the Chemung County Caper, they dressed up and gave our visitors the information they needed to solve a clue. At the end, the gumshoes would figure out who committed the crimes.
Archivist Rachel as Officer O'DeLaw in the Chemung County Caper

Curator Erin as Cruella DeFurrier in the Missing Mammoth Mystery

Director Bruce as Bruce Baryshnikov in the Missing Mammoth Mystery
 Overall, the programs were a major success.  We’ll be looking to do similarly interactive family programming in the future as well.  And if anyone ever has any ideas of what type of programming they’d like to see at the museum, feel free to tell me about.  You never know where inspiration is going to come from!
A happy gumshoe with his prize for solving the Chemung County Caper.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Stop the Presses! (But Not Really)

by Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

In his book Democracy in America (1835), French writer Alexis De Tocqueville noted that there were more newspapers in America than any other country in the world.  The earliest papers in what would eventually be Chemung County were The Telegraph and The Vedette, both published in the Village of Newtown (now Elmira) by opposing political parties in the 1810s.  These early papers were relatively short, just four pages long, and were printed on paper made from recycled rags.  They were produced on a flat-bed press which could only print one side at a time.   Although the names of the local papers changed, for much of the 1800s, Chemung County’s papers were all printed in basically the same way. 
Issues of The Telegraph (1816) and The Vedette (1819) published in the Village of Newtown

Then came a technological revolution.  In 1843, Richard March Hoe invented the rotary press.  In a flat-bed press, single sheets of paper were mechanically pressed against the engraving plates.  In a rotary press, a continuous roll of paper ran over an imprinting cylinder.  Rather than make a new cylinder for each image, printers used thin metal or papier-mâché moulds called stereotypes wrapped around the cylinder for each new page.  A subsequent improvement to the design of the press by Robert Barclay in 1875, allowed pages to be printed double-sided.  The new press was called a rotary or web offset printer.  Versions of this press are still widely used in the newspaper industry today.

How a rotary offset printer works
Elmira Telegram press, 1902
papier-mâché stereotype from the Elmira Evening Star, 1901
The second major revolution came in the way the type was set.  Since the days of Gutenberg, type had been set by hand.  The sheer amount of time required for typesetting meant that no daily paper in the world was longer than eight pages.  Then, in 1884, the Linotype machine automated the way that type was set.  All the operator had to do was type in the special 90-key keyboard and the type would set itself.  The process was widely adopted by the newspaper publishing industry and was still in use through the 1960s. 
Manual typestters at The Defender, ca. 1900
Typesetters from Star-Gazette on Linotype machines, 1908

Linotype machine, ca. 1900





Monday, August 17, 2015

When Needle, Thread, and Fabric Meet

by Erin Doane, curator

Embroidery is described as the handicraft of decorating fabric or other materials with needle and thread or yarn but it is so much more than that. It is a creative expression and a labor of love for many. The art of embroidery has been around for thousands of years as have the most common stitches - chain stitch, buttonhole or blanket stitch, running stitch, satin stitch, and cross stitch. What most likely began as a way to repair or reinforce clothing has truly become an art form. The complexity and beauty of some embroidered pieces is astonishing yet the craft is still accessible to people of all ages and skill levels.

If you want to see a wonderful collection of works of embroidery, visit the museum for When Needle, Thread, and Fabric Meet: Embroidery by the Chemung Valley Chapter of the Embroiderers’ Guild of America. Over 60 pieces of embroidery by ten members of the chapter are on display now through September 30. There will also be a special reception this Thursday, August 20 from 5:00 to 8:00pm where you can meet and speak with some of the embroiderers. This event is free and open to the public.

When Needle, Thread, and Fabric Meet, on display at the 
Chemung Valley History Museum through September 30, 2015
The museum has a fairly large collection of embroidered pieces ranging from samplers and other decorative wall hangings to embroidered clothing and accessories. From as early as the mid-18th century, creating samplers with the alphabet, flowers and other decorative motifs was part of a girl’s education. By the late 19th century, samplers began changing into decorative, pictorial wall hangings like cross-stitch samplers of today.

Sampler on linen from 1833
Needlepoint sampler on canvas, mid-19th century
Cross-stitch sampler made by Talitha Botsford
Doing needlework on perforated paper was very popular in the 1870s. Bookmarks and wall hangings with mottoes and biblical sayings were commonly made out of the paper. It was a relatively inexpensive material and sometimes was made with pre-printed patterns.

Embroidered perforated paper bookmark, late 19th century
Embroidered perforated paper wall hanging, late 19th century
Embroidery on perforated paper, perhaps made for a box lid, mid-late 19th century
Embroidery is not limited to just purely decorative pieces. Throughout history, and even today, many practical items have been embellished with needle and thread. Household items like bedding and doilies are often embroidered by hand and by machine. Embroidery is also widely seen on clothing and accessories.
Crazy quilt with embroidered decorations, 1900
Embroidered doily, early 20th century
Keepsake pillowcase with embroidered signatures of 
members of Elmira Free Academy class of 1910
Silk fan with painted and embroidered design, 1870
Machine-knit stockings with hand-embroidered design, 1890s
Child’s apron with embroidered flowers, c.1880
Blue chiffon dress with beaded embroidery, 1925
Do you like to embroider? Have you never done it before but want to give it a try? You might want to check out the Chemung Valley Chapter of the Embroiderers’ Guild of America (EGA). The group meets every third Wednesday of the month from September through June at 6:30pm at the Steel Memorial Library in Elmira. The mission of the EGA is to stimulate appreciation for and celebrate the heritage of embroidery by advancing the highest standards of excellence in its practice through education, exhibition, preservation, collection, and research.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Mystery of The Nine Pointed Star

Chris Sherwood, The Elmira Telegram,

In September 2014 our boys and I were walking from the Steele Memorial Library to the car I noticed something on the sidewalk I hadn’t seen before. At first I thought it might be a marker of some kind left by the city DPW, perhaps a benchmark used by surveyors, but on closer inspection I found the object to be a metal medallion secured to the sidewalk. It was a couple inches in diameter, with a nine pointed star on it. Across the star were the words, “ 2010”. 

I filed that one away and figured I would look it up online when I had a moment, curious to see what the website with such a clever and unique marketing plan was all about. What I was to find was a mystery that still has me stumped. 

The website address took me to the website of an artist in the San Francisco Bay area, Kelly Booth. Most of her website shows her portfolio and background information but it also includes a page where she keeps track of medallions that have been found. Kelly says she has no idea what the medallions mean, didn’t even know they existed until people began e-mailing her about them, saying it was something that was already happening when her site went live in 2012. She says that the first medallion was found in 2010 and they have continued to pop up across the country ever since and on her page includes a list of theories of what they might mean. One theory from a teenager in South Carolina says they could have been placed by aliens marking places deemed worthy of saving should they decide to come back and destroy Earth. Another theory is that they are a musical tribute to heavy metal band, Slipknot, who, prior to the death of their bass player Paul Gray in 2010, came up with a nine pointed star symbol, one for each of their nine band members.  Some say the medallions are a way to pay tribute to him. 

Other theories include the medallions being a part of a role playing game, a tribute to a popular classic video game, “Myst”, a geocaching game, or there’s some connection to the Baha’i faith, which uses the nine pointed star to represent the nine great religious traditions of the world. 

In other words, no one knows for sure. 

I contacted the staff at the Steele Library, and no one knew anything about the medallion, which surprised me. So I e-mailed Kelly at her website and asked her if the medallion in Elmira had been reported to her yet. As it turns out, I was the first to contact her about it and ask her some more about the mystery of the medallions. Kelly swore to me it was the truth: She had no idea what they meant, where they came from, or who was behind it all. She told me she found it kind of funny that everyone thought she was behind it. “I wish I did have the time and money to travel all around gluing stars to sidewalks.” But in the end, she said she is just as curious as everyone else about what they mean. 

With all apologies to Kelly, I spent several hours doing some background searching. On her site she openly discusses her personal connection with the nine pointed star symbol, and that when traveling she would leave one behind made of sticks or other natural materials, so I wasn’t completely convinced she didn’t know more than she was letting on. I did a search of the site domain which was originally registered in July 2002, although whether Kelly was the original owner or not was unclear. I found it strange that the domain wasn’t actually used for ten years after it was registered but long story short I couldn’t put a connection to Kelly or any of the dates. And it didn’t make sense that one person would travel the country placing them, even for a well traveled person like Kelly. In the end, there was no rhyme or reason to it, no matter how hard I tried to find it. There appears to be no connection or pattern to the medallions as plotted out on Kelly’s map. The only connection with the medallions was that the one I found was that it was in a group of three with human names:  Elmira NY, Anthony KS, and Elizabeth NJ.

In the end, I was unable to solve “The Mystery of The Nine Pointed Star”. 

In February 2015 I decided to stop by the library to get a book. As was my habit I checked to make sure the medallion was still there and it wasn't. Thinking perhaps I "mis-remembered" its exact location I went to check under a small pile of snow on the sidewalk and noticed a round thing on the pavement next to the curb. Sure enough, it was the medallion, and judging by the scratches on the surface I figured it had been dislodged by a passing snowblower. At the time no one seemed interested in it so I took it home for safekeeping. ( If, as some have joked, the medallions are a portal to the underworld I could be in deep trouble. )

At the I discovered the nine pointed star medallion in Elmira, there were 70 such medallions across the country with two others in New York, one in Olean and one in Tupper Lake. Since then the number has increased to 91.

 What do they mean ? I haven’t a clue. To read more about the medallions and the theories behind them go to


Monday, August 3, 2015

That Time Theodore Roosevelt was Assaulted in Elmira

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

On October 29, 1900, then New York State Governor Theodore Roosevelt was in Elmira on a stop on his Vice Presidential campaign.  Roosevelt was the running mate of incumbent President William McKinley.  Roosevelt was greeted with a “great political demonstration” in the city, with a parade with nearly 1,000 mounted “Rough Riders.”  People crowded the Lyceum and Tivoli Theaters and several outdoor locations to hear him speak.  The news estimated that 20,000 people were in the city for the campaign activities.  However, this outpouring of support is actually the least interesting part of the story.  The real drama came when Roosevelt was assaulted by a mob in the streets. 
McKinley/Roosevelt campaign button
The 1900 Presidential campaign was between Republican incumbent McKinley and Democratic challenger William Jennings Bryan.  Bryan ran on an anti-imperialism and “Free Silver” platform.  Roosevelt campaigned extensively in an effort to paint Bryan as a radical.  As the election neared, the campaign became more heated.
In addition to his large speaking engagements in Elmira, Roosevelt also had smaller meetings with local supporters and political figures, including John B. Stanchfield, an Elmiran campaigning for Roosevelt’s soon-to-be vacant Governor position. 
John B. Stanchfield
Stanchfield ultimately lost his campaign for Governor

On his way to one of those meetings, Roosevelt was riding in a carriage with former Senator Jacob Sloat Fassett.  At several points along the route he was pelted with rotten eggs, vegetables, and other projectiles by Bryan supporters.  A mob of about 100 people also shouted the “vilest epithets” at him and voiced their support for Bryan.  One “ruffian” was said to shove his fist under the Governor’s nose while another threw a heavy cane that knocked his hat.  Allegedly, Roosevelt sat in silence while police did nothing.  Fassett reported that the mob appeared to be all boys under the age of 17.
J. Sloat Fassett
The Roosevelt campaign club from Corning also clashed with Bryan supporters.  Fighting and rioting broke out around the campaign path, especially near Railroad Avenue.  Multiple injuries were reported and Robert Richards of the Corning Escort Club went to the Corning City Hospital for injured back.  There was an uptick of other crime during Roosevelt’s visit: 14 people had their pockets picked and four men robbed the Queen City Gardens at gun point.
The New York Times dubbed the incidents “The Elmira Disturbance.”  The news compared the fighting to that of the showdowns of the Wild West, except that the Elmira fights were more “prolonged, savage, vindictive, and bloody.”
After arriving at his meeting, Roosevelt spoke of the attacks saying, “It was nasty conduct, the conduct of hoodlums.”  In a speech in Corning the next day, he said, “Now is the time to stamp out Bryanism. The affair at Elmira last night cast shame upon the country where the right of free speech should be observed.”
Mayor Frank H. Flood called a special meeting of the Police Commissioners to investigate the mob assault of Roosevelt.  They gathered evidence and witness accounts.  Among the projectiles recovered were “a large turnip, an old shoe, and a club” taken from Roosevelt’s carriage, which were put on display at the Republican Headquarters.  It is unclear whether any charges were ever filed related to the incident.

The “Elmira Disturbance” was just one incident that arose from the heightened pre-election political tension.  Around same time Senator Depew was attacked by Bryan supporters in Cobleskill, NY.  Ultimately, McKinley and Roosevelt won the election (and also carried Chemung County).  However, the Elmira assault was a dark moment in the history of the campaign.  And you thought politics were bad nowadays!