Monday, November 27, 2017

Elmira’s True Rival City

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator
What town or city would you say is Elmira’s “rival”? You’d probably say Corning, right? Well, if you asked an Elmiran in the 19th and early 20th century, they would probably have said Binghamton without hesitation. And it makes sense when you think about it. For a good chunk of our history, Binghamton has been the nearest, similarly industrial city. Elmira and Binghamton have had the typical political, sports, and school rivalries, but over the years, residents of both cities have found even weirder things to fight about.

Let’s go back to 1888 for an example. The Elmira press lamented that Binghamton, “a rival city in all respects,” held a far better 4th of July celebration. Elmirans fled their city to go to Binghamton, leaving Elmira temporarily a ghost town. Of their own city, the reporter claimed, “Elmira is behind the age. It lacks all those things which give life and growth to a place. This may be an ugly statement but it is a true one.”

In 1893, the Elmira Daily Gazette and Free Press published an article, “Elmira and Bingo,” in response to a Binghamton Herald report comparing the two cities. That Binghamton article charged that Elmira disproportionately benefited from increased prominence after the Civil War and from the Erie Railroad. But despite those early advantages, Binghamton was catching up and fast surpassing Elmira. They cited the following statistics: Binghamton had 132 factories employing 15,000; Elmira had 86 employing 3,000. The reporter stated Binghamton had better architecture and infrastructure. They claimed governmental superiority, writing, “politically, Elmira is rotten.” 

The rivalry exploded on October 26, 1894, when the Elmira Daily Gazette and Free Press ran the headline “RESENT THIS!” “A New York Newspaper attacks Elmira and this valley. A Dastardly Canard.” Two days earlier, the New York Tribune had published the following:

“Elmira, with dirty streets, bad water and signs of stagnation and shabbiness on every hand, presents a melancholy contrast to the prosperity and beauty of its commercial rival, Binghamton, once inferior in wealth and populations, but now outstripping its handicapped competitor with enormous strides. The county, too, with its exhausted tobacco fields and declining population, exhibits the same symptoms of neglect and retrogression. In a county with such a floating and corruptible vote no safe estimates can ever be made of results at the polls.”

The defense printed in the Elmira Daily Gazette and Free Press was scathing: “Fie! For shame upon the scoundrels who would ruin the reputation of our valley! All hail those who will stand up and defend it against the onslaughts of a cowardly enemy!” The reporter went on to challenge many of the accusations levied by the Tribune and defended the city’s sanitation and the county’s fertile agricultural land. However, one must assume, that one of the biggest dents from the article to local civic pride, was the unfavorable comparison to Binghamton.

After that, the rivalry typically played out in smaller scale, such as high school sports or debates. It did sometimes get petty, though. In 1907, an Elmira newspaper printed the following: “The monthly meteorological summary for Binghamton for March shows that our rival city had only five clear days out of 31. Looks rather dark and gloomy for Binghamton, doesn’t it?”

In 1921, a Binghamton critic wrote an article tearing Elmira apart. Interestingly, the Elmira press used this as an opportunity for self-reflection, writing, “The river side of Water street is a disgrace. There is no denying that fact” and praising Binghamton’s municipal garbage disposal.
Program from Binghamton North High School vs. Elmira Southside High School football game, October 22, 1949
Over the years, particularly with the growth of Corning, the Elmira-Binghamton rivalry has cooled. By the mid-twentieth century, it was a matter of discussion, but didn’t seem to rile people like it did in the 1880s and 1890s. In fact, sometimes the rivalry could be downright charming. In 1920, the Elmira Kiwianis went to Binghamton for a meeting and reported, “the only rivalry discoverable anywhere was to see whether host of guest could be more friendly, sociable and heartily agreeable, and the net result of such rivalry is worth while.”

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Anchorage

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

On May 4, 1890, Lillian became the first ward of the Anchorage. At age 18, she had been arrested for licentious behavior and spent a little under a year confined there. Between its opening in 1890 and its closure in 1920, the Anchorage, also known as the Helen L. Bullock Industrial Training School for Girls, housed hundreds of girls and young women in need of help.

The Anchorage grew out of the work of Elmira Police Matron Esther Wilkins who argued for the need for a place to house the unfortunate young women who often wound up in her custody after being arrested for drunkenness, prostitution, petty theft, or other crimes. In 1888, a group of church women formed the Women’s Council for the Uplifting of Women to raise funds for the establishing of a reform school for troubled women and girls. Their vision was realized in the Anchorage, which was opened in the spring of 1890 with Mrs. Helen L. Bullock as director. Bullock was a temperance reformer and the founder of the local branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement. She had a reputation for leadership and unimpeachable moral character which would make her an example to the girls in her care.
Helen L. Bullock, founder & director

In its early years, the Anchorage was basically a softer alternative to women’s prison for young women in their teens and twenties. Early inmates were brought in, mostly by the police, on charges ranging from public drunkenness to prostitution, licentious behavior to petty theft. Several other girls were dropped off by their families after they became pregnant out of wedlock. By 1893, the Anchorage changed its mission from being an alternative to prison and to become a dumping ground for unwed mothers and unmanageable daughters. 

The Anchorage, 905 College Avenue, Elmira
Girls between the ages of 11 and 25 were brought from over the Twin Tiers. Some of their stories are downright tragic. Many came from broken homes where parents were dead, drunken, or abusive. Over 20 of them had been raped, 10 by family members. Often times the resulting children were adopted or sent to the Southern Tier Orphan’s Home while the mothers moved on with their lives.

According to a 1900 fundraising brochure, the Anchorage had a 90% success rate when it came to rehabilitating these troubled girls. They offered the stable home which many of the girls had been denied, including positive female role models, private bedrooms, and three square meals a day. Girls were instructed in English, botany, music, French, Latin, gardening, and a variety of housework including, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and poultry raising. Most former inmates went on to marry or work as domestic servants, but not everyone was happy to be there. Over a dozen girls ran away, sometimes rather dramatically. In 1907, Agnes jumped out of an upper floor window and broke her leg trying to escape. That same year, Grace more sensibly made a rope out of her bed linens to climb her way to freedom. 
Brochure for the Anchorage, 1900

Monday, November 13, 2017

Commemorative Quilts

by Erin Doane, curator

Quilts keep people warm and beautify their homes. They can also commemorate events. CCHS has a wonderful collection of quilts made to mark various happenings including weddings, wars, and fundraisers. Over this past summer, we had commemorative quilts on display here at the museum. Here is a sampling of those quilts.

The first quilt marks the relocation of this institution. The Chemung County Historical Society moved from 304 William Street to 415 East Water Street in 1982. CCHS members and volunteers made a quilt to commemorate the opening of the museum at its new location in the former Chemung Canal Bank building. The Historical Society’s logo and the date May 15, 1982 are embroidered near the bottom right of the quilt.

Commemorative quilt, 1982
Detail of embroidery on quilt
Other businesses and organizations appear on quilts that were created locally to recognize collaborative efforts to raise funds or to make improvements to the local community.  A heavily-embroidered coverlet highlighting some local businesses was designed by William Brownlow and embroidered by the Friendly Class of the First Methodist Church on Baldwin Street in Elmira. Each of the 13 squares represents a business or group of businesses including Dimon & Bacorn Truckmen, the Second National Bank, and J. Greener Pianos. It is possible that the businesses made financial contributions in order to be included on the coverlet.

Embroidered coverlet, c. 1912
Detail of one embroidered block
Major events in U.S. history have also been commemorated locally in little squares of fabric. During the Civil War (1861-1865), men from throughout Chemung County enlisted or were drafted into local regiments. Elmira served as a military depot and rendezvous point for western New York. Thousands of Union soldiers trained at four camps here before being sent south to fight. For many years after the war, veterans met at regimental reunions. Ribbons from those reunions were often sewn into commemorative quilts. One crazy quilt in the museum’s collection commemorates both national and local events and people involved in the Civil War. The locations of major battles are embroidered above the fans around the edge of the quilt. Names of notable generals are embroidered throughout. At its center is a memorial ribbon for Ulysses S. Grant. Other ribbons on the quilt are from reunions of the local 141st and 161st New York Volunteer Regiments. 

Crazy quilt, post-1888
Detail of quilt showing 161st Regiment reunion ribbon
Many quilts were made to mark the United States Bicentennial in 1976. Genevieve Taylor of Elmira designed a quilt to celebrate the Bicentennial. Members of the community embroidered the 49 individual squares. Designs on the quilt include images from the American Revolution, national figures, and objects common in 1776 such as tin lanterns and spinning wheels. Images from local history are also shown, including John Hendy’s cabin, Mark Twain’s study, and a Westside Railroad trolley.

Bicentennial quilt, 1976
Students from 1st through 6th grade at Hendy Avenue School also created a quilt commemorating the Bicentennial as a school project. The quilt is made from fabric prints of the students’ original crayon drawings. Images commemorating the Bicentennial include the Liberty Bell, Paul Revere, and the Boston Tea Party.

Bicentennial quilt, 1976
One more, very common thing to commemorate with a quilt is friendship. During much of the 19th century, quilts were made by groups of women and given as gifts for weddings and other celebrations. Each women would produce a single square and then all the pieces were sewn together. Many friendship quilts include the signatures of those who made the quilt, dedications to the recipient, and mementos of times spent together. Abbey A. Baldwin of Southport received an autographed friendship quilt in 1851. Each of the 36 squares contains the signature of a friend or family member from Southport, Elmira, Horseheads, Corning, or Ridgebury, Pennsylvania.

Friendship quilt, 1851
Album quilts were another type of friendship quilt popular in the mid-19th century. They feature elaborate applique designs, typically in reds, blues, and greens. This quilt was given as a gift to Mr. and Mrs. W.J. Smith by their friends in Elmira in 1860. Squares were made by 29 individuals including members of the Brace, Likes, and Fuller families. Each square has a unique pattern and is signed by its maker.

Album quilt, 1860
In 1890, the friends of Katherine Sheehan Connelly made a quilt as a gift for her wedding. Each of the 16 squares in the crazy quilt was crafted from silks and velvets that may have come from the young women’s old dresses. The squares are decorated with elaborate embroidery, monograms, and flowers. Two of the squares include silk-screened portraits of young women and others have ribbons from events hosted by the Knights of Tara Hiawatha, a local Irish social club. 

Wedding quilt, 1890
Detail of a silk-screened portrait
Another silk-screened portrait

Monday, November 6, 2017

Death Rays: The Local X-Ray Murder Trial That Made International News

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

Earlier this year, I wrote a longer paper for the Empire State Library Network’s Researching the Empire State contest about a sensational local murder trial. I wanted to share some of the story on our blog. I first uncovered the Orme/Punzo murder trial when I was doing research on early forensic science for our Crime and Punishment exhibit. I was hooked by the story’s mix of science and scandal and had to know more.

On July 8, 1897, George A.C. Orme walked into the Horseheads home of his estranged wife, Susan Orme, and proceeded to shoot her and her alleged lover, James Punzo. Susan Orme was shot in the face and James Punzo in the back of the head. Both somehow survived the initial assault. Mrs. Orme escaped serious injury, but her ability to speak clearly was hindered by the wound. Punzo was rushed to the Arnot Ogdon Hospital, where he slipped in and out of consciousness as doctors prepped for emergency surgery.

George Orme was arrested and brought to the Chemung County Jail, where he waited while Punzo clung to life in the hospital. He somehow survived the surgery, but the doctors had been unable to locate and remove the bullet. Knowing that they couldn’t leave it in his brain, doctors decided to use the newly-discovered x-ray technology to find where the bullet had lodged. The team of physicians, led in part by Dr. Frank Ward Ross, anesthetized the patient and performed the x-ray, but the image produced was unclear. 

Skull x-ray from our Van Aken photograph collection. While not related to the trial, this image would have dated from around the same time. After x-rays were discovered in November 1895, word of the technology spread quickly. With rather minimal supplies, even amateur photographers could produce the powerful rays.
Punzo was miraculously still alive and talking in the wake of the procedure. But fearing they were running out of time, the physicians made another attempt at an x-ray on July 27. That again failed. They tried one last time, on July 31. The two exposures on July 31 lasted a combined 36 minutes. Those images again failed to show the bullet. After the final x-ray, Punzo’s health quickly declined and he died on August 10 or 11. But that was just the beginning of the scandal.
George Orme’s lawyer argued that it was the x-rays that had killed Punzo, not his client’s bullet. The trial proceeded with conflicting expert testimony; some physicians, like Ross, argued that the technology was completely safe and that it was the bullet and ensuing infection that caused Punzo’s death. Other physicians, like Dr. John Pitkin of Buffalo, claimed that the physicians had outdated technology and had been negligent. The curious public packed the Chemung County Courthouse to witness the testimony and courtroom demonstrations of the x-ray machine.
Illustrations from the trial as printed in the American X-Ray Journal in 1897 (available on Wikimedia Commons)
When the arguments were over, the jury took little time to return a verdict of not guilty. The press and x-ray experts attributed this to the jury’s confusion over the safety of the rays. Since there was doubt, they found Orme innocent.
The Orme case continued to spark international debate about x-rays and their use in legal proceedings. Both Drs. Ross and Pitkin continued to argue for their sides. But no matter the role that the x-rays played in Punzo’s death, the trial did open up dialog about the very real and devastating health effects that prolonged x-ray exposure had on the physicians and scientists who first experimented with the technology.