Erin Doane, curator
newspapers are great sources of information. If you read a newspaper from a
single day you can get a fascinating glimpse into the past that hints at the
large historical picture. Thanks to websites like Old Fulton New York Post
a lot of historic newspapers are available now to the public. I found a full
12-page issue of the Elmira Star-Gazette
from January 2, 1917 on the Fulton site. So, what can we learn about life in
Elmira 100 years ago from the local paper?
The Great War was headline
Front page of January 2, 1917 Elmira Star-Gazette
The typesetting staff must have been having a rough day.
They got the date wrong on the front page.
the United States did not official join the fighting in World War I until April
6, 1917, the war was still major news. The newspaper’s top story was about the
Allied forces’ rejection of a German peace proposal. They considered the rigid
proposal “empty and insincere.” Germany was unwilling to give concessions and
insisted on keeping Belgium
and Alsace-Lorraine under its control. Even after two years of fighting and a total of
over one million dead and wounded on both sides, England, France, and Russia
refused to give the proposal any consideration.
were feeling the effects of the war locally. Prices of rubber footwear and
other products were rising because of war shortages and Elmira lawyer Richard
H. Thurston had just learned that his nephew Charles Thurston Bowring had been
killed while fighting in France.
Lawmakers were trying to make
changes in the New Year
January 1, Republican Charles Seymour Whitman began his second term as governor
of New York. In both houses of the state legislature, Republicans outnumbered
Democrats 2 to 1. In the new term, the legislature would be considering many
new bills. There would be attempts to impose censorship on motion pictures and
efforts to both legalize and prohibit the showing of movies on Sundays. There
were proposals for compulsory military training in public schools and for requiring
state farms to provide produce to state institutions. Legislators would also
take up the question of enfranchisement of women, or giving them the right to
a national level, some bills set to come before Congress could change election
laws. There were proposed limits on campaign contributions. Individuals would
not be able to contribute more than $5,000 to a presidential campaign and
corporations would be prohibited from contributing at all. Also, election
betting and advertising of election odds would be a felony if upcoming bills
The weather was typical
for the season
January 2 was a cloudy day with a temperature around 35 degrees. The ice on the
Chemung River was thick enough to ice skate on between the dam and Rorick’s
Glen and there was enough snow to enjoy coasting, or sledding, in the
surrounding hills. Unfortunately, most kids wouldn’t have a chance to enjoy
free time outdoors. The schools were back open that morning after a 10 day
snow and ice did cause some problems, however. Just a day or so earlier several
youngsters coasting over in Pine Valley ran into a concrete horse block and
suffered severe sprains and bruises. A car and a delivery truck went sliding on
the ice and collided at the corner of Railroad Avenue and West First Street in
Elmira. In another incident, five-year-old Robert Mooney stepped off an ice
wagon and ran across Grand Central Avenue. He slipped on an ice covered
snowbank and was run over by a police auxiliary automobile. The boy wasn’t
seriously hurt; only one of the front wheels ran over him.
There were a ton of things to do for fun in the city
100 years ago there was little danger of not finding anything to do in Elmira.
The paper is filled with entertainment options. The YMCA presented a pet and
hobby show and a gymnastic exhibition and the Business Women’s Club held a
dance at the Federation Building. The Mozart Theater was hosting the play
“Puddin’ Head Wilson” based on Mark Twain’s novel, “Other Man’s Wife” was
playing at the Lyceum Theater, and there was a vaudeville show at the Majestic.
and bowling were particularly popular. There were several small articles about
the results of boxing bouts. Elmira boxer “Cyclone” Williams was defeated by
Harry Boyle in Binghamton in a bout that fans called “one of the classiest that
has been staged in the city for many months.” Bowling scores from various local
teams were also reported. The new bowling alley had just opened at Morrow
Manufacturing Company’s plant and Tool Room #1 team was at the top of the
also attended all sorts of other events from card parties and bridal showers to
dinners and bon fires, many of them held in private homes. This leads me to the
next thing I learned about people back then...
Everyone was up in each
your out-of-town niece visit over the holidays? Did you have a nice dinner with
six of your closest friends? Did you have an emergency appendectomy? Well, if
you did, you very well could have ended up in the paper. This one issue alone
has pages and pages of social announcements. There are listings of births,
engagements, weddings, and funeral, as is typical in our newspapers today, but
there was also more personal information. For example, everyone got to know
that Mrs. O.D. Shoemaker of Van Etten was staying with Mrs. John Bigley while
Mrs. Shoemaker’s daughter was in the hospital here and that Mr. and Mrs.
William B. Howe of Euclid Avenue spent New Year’s with Mrs. Margaret Howe of
Binghamton. Who cares? Well, apparently the readers of the Star-Gazette did.
People are just people no
matter the time period
think ultimately what I learned about life here 100 years ago was that it was
not that different from the way things are now. The newspaper ran
advertisements for groceries, undergarments, records, and miracle cures. It
listed commodity prices and stock market reports. It published editorials,
funny stories, comics, and recipes. The classifieds were filled with employment
opportunities, apartments for rent, and miscellaneous items for sale. People
lost jewelry and found stray dogs. They offered painting and handyman services
and bred ferrets for sale as pets. They read world, national, and regional news
but seemed most interested in what was happening in their own hometown.
and one more thing I learned…