Monday, January 29, 2018

Bad Meat: Elmira’s Time in "The Jungle"

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator
I set out to write this week’s blog post about the history of vegetarianism in Chemung County, but I was having trouble finding a lot of sources that pointed me toward any specific local vegetarians or vegetarian organizations. Yes, there have been Seventh Day Adventists living here, and presumably adhering to a vegetarian diet. The newspapers ran vegetarian recipes and stories about how it was a healthy or unhealthy way of eating. When beef prices soared or when there was a meatpackers strike, reporters joked that vegetarianism was an attractive option. There was talk of vegetarianism being a patriotic sacrifice during World War I. There were also lots of jokes about vegetarians (some things never change).

But I was struggling to find a more concrete story. That is, until I got to 1906. Now, if you remember your high school history lessons, you’ll realize that this places us smack in the Progressive Era. Not only that, 1906 is also notable for the publication of Upton Sinclair’s famous meat-packing exposé The Jungle. As a result of the utter horrors of poor sanitation he described in the Chicago slaughterhouses, Congress passed the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration was also founded that year. 

An unidentified local meat market, late 19th/early 20th century. Note the sawdust floors. Still, this has nothing on the places in The Jungle
Locally, as well as across the country, The Jungle sparked a panic. People became afraid to eat meat. Now, naturally, this was a far larger problem in cities like Elmira, where through generations of urbanization, people had become further removed from the sources of their food than their rural counterparts. In other towns around the county, where people were more likely to have their own livestock, this would have been less of a crisis. But for Elmirans, the fear of adulterated meat was real. 

Friend & Metzger Meat Market, Elmira, 1903
A June 13, 1906 article in the Elmira Gazette and Free Press  reported that because of the “meat reports,” local butchers were seeing a significant reduction in their sales and grocers weren’t selling as much canned meat, either. The report claimed that many residents were considering turning to partial or full vegetarianism out of disgust and concern for their health. Who knows if any of these people stuck with it after the panic passed, however.

Friend & Metzger Meat Market, Elmira, 1903
The increased scrutiny lead to more inspections of Elmira’s butchers and slaughterhouses. On June 12, local health official Dr. Frank Flood and State Inspector A.P Ten Broeck inspected four local meat purveyors. Three were deemed “satisfactory” and one was shut down. 

Elmira Star-Gazette, June 11, 1906
That was enough to assuage people’s fears, or at least it was for a little while. However, on October 17, 1907, the Elmira Star-Gazette ran a front page headline that certainly made the stomachs of most Elmirans churn.

The slaughterhouse in question stood “at the foot of a hill 100 yards back from the state macadam, a mile from the end of the Franklin street car line.” It was described as “a miserable hovel, a one story, rotted, blood soaked, disease contaminated building, surrounded by a sea of filth, a conglomerate mass of mud and gore.” Yum. Even more horrifying, said slaughterhouse supposedly killed 10 tons of beef, veal, and pork a week for consumption by Elmirans. The article goes on to describe more horrors than I will burden you with here. 

Processing room at Friend & Metzger Meat Market, Elmira, 1902. As you can see, this was not the business described above.
With these scares, the city leaders met to try to prevent further instances of such grossness, which seemed to have mostly resulted in increased inspections. But, people continued to eat meat, in kind of a “Feed me contaminated meat once, shame on you. Feed me contaminated meat twice, oh well, I’m going to keep eating it anyway” kind of situation. Some people did recommend moderation at the least. In a letter to the Elmira Telegram in 1910, Dr. Thomas J. Allen declared that Americans were eating way too much meat, refuting the claim of Dr. Harvey W. Wiley, the first commissioner of the FDA, that a meat-free diet would create a “race of mollycoddles.”

Elmira Star-Gazette, May 25, 1909

Monday, January 22, 2018

Spanish Flu

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

Apparently, this year’s strain of flu is spreading faster than usual. Luckily for me, I’ve always made a point of getting a vaccine since I found out my maternal grandfather’s parents died of Spanish Flu in 1918. They were in good company. Nationwide, over a quarter of the population was infected while approximately 600,000 died. For comparison, the yearly average is somewhere around 20,000. There are no definite numbers due to poor recordkeeping, but somewhere between 20 and 100 million people died of Spanish Flu worldwide making it the second deadliest epidemic after the Black Death.

The Spanish Flu hit Chemung County in October of 1918 and it hit hard.  It started small, oddly enough, with an outbreak of what the City Health Department insisted was polio, despite the fact it didn’t fit the contingent model for the disease. By the start of October, Spanish Flu was killing 200 people a day in Boston, and Elmira officials were desperate to avoid a panic. On October 5th, the paper reported that ten Elmira College students were under quarantine for the flu, but City Health Officer, Dr. Dr. Reeve Howland, continued to insist there was no epidemic in the city. Five days later, there were over 100 people sick with the flu in Horseheads and the town had decided to shut down schools and churches in an ultimately fruitless attempt to contain the spread. The City of Elmira finally conceded to reality and followed suit on October 15th, shutting down schools, churches, theaters, and all public gatherings. 
Dr. Reeve Howland, City Health Officer. He tried.

It was too little, too late. Between the start of October 1918 and the new year, there were 3,549 reported cases of the flu in Elmira. That is to say that somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of the city caught it. Approximately 150 Elmirans died of Spanish flu during the 1918-19 flu season. Over 100 of them died in October alone. The Elmira Herald reported that there were between six and ten deaths per day at the height of the epidemic. 

The city struggled to cope with the sheer number of sick people. Arnot-Ogden and St. Joseph’s both ran out of beds and the Elmira Board of Health created a make-shift overflow hospital at the Hotel Gotham on State Street. Families struggled to survive as parents fell sick. The entire Wilcox family of Pearl Place was stricken except for the eight-year-old daughter who eventually had to call the police to help take her parents to the hospital. The Red Cross established a kitchen at the Federation Building to feed children whose parents were too ill to cook. At the height of the epidemic, they feeding some thirty families. 
Hotel Gotham, 201-203 State Street, served as a make-shift hospital during the epidemic
By the time the war ended on November 11, 1918, the worst of the epidemic was over. Schools, churches, and theaters were re-opened on November 3rd. People were still falling ill (there were 12 new cases on November 12th) but that was way down from 60 new cases a day in October. The emergency hospital at Gotham Hotel was closed on November 15th and, just like that, the city was back to normal. Except, of course, for all the dead people.
Annual report of the Elmira Board of Health, 1918

Friday, January 12, 2018

Edwin Morris: Chemung County’s Last Civil War Veteran

by Erin Doane, Curator

In May 1943, Edwin Morris gave the welcome address at the annual Memorial Sunday service of Baldwin Post 6 G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) at the Centenary Methodist Church in Elmira. His wife Jane urged him to stay home instead of participating in the event. The 96-year-old Morris has suffered a heart attack a year earlier and had never fully recovered. In response to her concern he said, “It’s my duty to my dead comrades to take part in the service. If it causes my death, I will die in the line of duty.” Edwin Morris passed away less than 36 hours later on May 24, 1943 at his home at 356 Walnut Street in Elmira.

Elmira Star-Gazette, May 24, 1943 (from
Edwin Morris was born on January 2, 1847 in Athens Township, Pennsylvania. In November 1863, he enlisted in the Union Army. He was 16 years old at the time and signed up despite his father’s objects. He joined Co. D of the 179th New York Volunteer Infantry. He fought at Petersburg and in all the Army of the Potomac engagements including the Wilderness Campaign, Fredericksburg, Cold Harbor, and Richmond. He was at Appomattox Courthouse when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant. He was reportedly just 20 feet away from the pair when Lee passed his saber to Grant.

After the war, Morris returned to Athens where he worked on his father’s farm for 20 years. He worked in the lumber business in Pine Creek, Pennsylvania for many years after that. In 1902, at the age of 55, he married Jane Currier of Waverly, New York. The two had met in 1901 at a G.A.R. encampment in East Towanda, Pennsylvania where she was caring for wounded soldiers. They moved to Elmira sometime in the early 1900s. Morris was one of the founding members of the Chemung County Historical Society in 1923.

Edwin Morris (second from left) with charter members of the
Chemung County Historical Society at July 4, 1923 pageant
Morris was an active member of the G.A.R. There were several G.A.R. posts in the county including Baldwin Post 6 which was organized on June 11, 1868 and named after local Civil War veteran Col. Lathrop Baldwin. Other posts were named after L. Edgar Fitch, Col. H.C. Hoffman, and Gen. A.S. Diven. Around the turn of the century, the Baldwin post had about 200 members. Morris served as commander of A.S. Diven Post 623 in the late 1920s. That post, as well as the others in the county dissolved after a time until Baldwin was the only one remaining. Morris became commander of the Baldwin Post in 1938. Upon his death in 1943, the post dissolved. Its charter and other materials from the organization are now in CCHS’s collection.

This G.A.R. hat worn by Edwin Morris is
one of many items that came to the Chemung
County Historical Society from his estate.
Morris was not only involved with the G.A.R. locally. He also held statewide offices in the organization. In 1938 and 1939 he served as Junior Vice Department Commander of the New York State Department G.A.R. and in 1940 he was elected Senior Vice Department Commander. Finally, in June 1941, he was elected Commander at the annual encampment at Lake Placid. He had been asked for several years to be the commander of the state organization but had always declined because he wanted others older than he to have the honor of the position before they passed away. He was 94 when he accepted. At the next year’s encampment in Utica, he was one of the first of nearly 1,000 guests to arrive, despite having suffered a heart attack just two months early on Appomattox Day. At that encampment, he was appointed Department Patriotic Instructor.

Ribbon from the 1942 G.A.R. encampment
Morris also participated in Elmira’s annual Memorial Day commemorations as early as the 1920s. He and the other few remaining Civil War veterans were honored during the events throughout the 1930s.  In 1938, he served as honorary marshal of the parade. At that time, only four veterans remained: Morris, Bowman Jack, Edgar Houghton, and Thomas A. Dawes. When Jack passed away in 1940, Morris was left as the last surviving veteran of the Civil War in Chemung County.

Memorial Day, 1935, from the Elmira Sunday Telegram, May 30, 1943
The last time Morris participated in Memorial Day activities was in 1942. His health was failing but organizers wanted to include him in the commemorations. Col. James Riffe, a World War I veteran, suggested that the parade route be changed that year so it would pass Morris’s Walnut Street residence. While the Chemung County Veterans’ Council agreed to the reroute, plans were abandoned when Morris’s health improved enough for him to ride in the parade.

Edwin Morris riding in the Elmira Memorial Day Parade
On June 17, 1943, an article reporting the passing of Edwin Morris appeared in the National Tribune: Washington, D.C. The final paragraph of the article illustrated Morris’s devotion to his country and fellow soldiers:
In December, 1941, when volunteers were being registered [for service in World War II], a card bearing his name was found among a stack of enrollments; it said, “Will gladly cooperate in advisory capacity or shoulder a gun if necessary.”

Monday, January 8, 2018

A Universal Language: Volapük in Elmira

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator
Can you read the following phrase and figure out what it means?
Del binon jönik

No? It’s ok, neither can I nor most people. It’s not from a language that most of us are even familiar with. It’s Volapük (the phrase translates to “The day is beautiful” and come courtesy of www.volapü Volapük is a constructed language created by a German Catholic priest named Johann Martin Schleyer in 1880. Schleyer’s goal was to create a universal language. His creation took off, with people learning the language all around the world. Even right here in Elmira.

Several Elmirans were listed in Volapük journals in the late 1880s and early 1890s, including E.J. Beardsley, T.W. Roberts, Marcia D. Gibbs, Horatio N. Greene, and John Bartholomew. At the 1891 annual meeting of the Academy of Sciences in Elmira, Vice President Isaiah B. Coleman introduced the prospect of a lecture given to the society in Volapük

Dr. Charles Woodward was our local Volapük expert and seemed to be a bit of an all-around lover of linguistics. He attended the North America World Languages Association meeting in Chautauqua in 1891. In 1894, he was trying to get a petition to Congress that would require all public documents to be written with phonetic spellings. He wrote a lengthy letter to a Volapük journal in which he talked about the need for a standardized phonetic alphabet.
A local business also got in on the Volapük trend. The Elmira Portrait Company placed this advertisement in an Australian Volapük journal:

Reprinted in Elmira Gazette, June 12, 1893
From that ad, they got an order from Cairo, Egypt for a large colored portrait in 1893. The company fulfilled the order and displayed it briefly in their window at 159 Baldwin Street before shipping it off.  The advertising was still paying off a few years later.  In June 1893, even more international correspondence came, this time from Switzerland. It was translated by Miss Abbey B. Coulson of 110 Ferris St., Elmira. Below is the original and her translation:


In 1896, the company received an order for a large water color portrait from a tea merchant in China. The request was in Volapük.

By the 20th century, Volapük’s popularity began to fade and was surpassed in part by another constructed language, Esperanto.