Sunday, May 27, 2018

War Memorial: The 107th New York Volunteers Association Scrapbooks

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

The first Memorial Day was celebrated on May 30, 1868 in honor of the Civil War dead, so it seemed fitting to feature the 107th New York Volunteers Association’s scrapbook today. In the aftermath of the Civil War, veterans formed a number of organizations. The biggest of these was the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) which included veterans of the Union Army, Navy, and Marines with over 490,000 members at its peak. Chemung County was home to three different G.A.R. posts. In addition to being a fraternal organization where members could hang out and talk about their undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the G.A.R. was also one of the nation’s first political action groups. They lobbied Congress to make Memorial Day a national holiday and worked in support of pensions for veterans, voting rights for blacks, and Republicans for office. 

The 107th New York Volunteer Association was formed in 1866 to give veterans of the 107th  an excuse to get together.  Mustered in at Elmira on August 13, 1862, the 107th New York Volunteers was made up primarily of men from Chemung, Steuben, and Schuyler Counties. They fought at Antietam, Gettysburg, and during the Atlanta campaign. The monument which stands in front of the Chemung County Court House on Lake Street is dedicated to them. The Association hosted its first annual reunion a year after the end of the war. In the early years, annual meetings involved picnics and hiking. By the turn of the 20th century, they were mostly having dinners at the Armory on Church Street.

They kept two organizational scrapbooks, one covering from 1862 to 1905, and the other from  1907 to 1930. The first book is more of a ledger of meeting minutes interspersed with newspaper accounts of their annual reunions. The second scrapbook has a bit more in terms of variety. It contains meeting announcements, photographs of members and events, ephemera, and articles related to the Civil War. In some ways, it’s a little sad. By 1907, most of the members were in their 60s. As the decades progressed, more and more obituaries filled the pages. By 1930, most of the original members were dead.     

Monday, May 21, 2018

Oddities and Crime: The Scrapbook of Chief of Police Levi Little

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

I feel a bizarre kinship to Levi D. Little that is based solely on the contents of his scrapbook. In fact, I consider Little’s scrapbook to be one of my favorite items in our entire collection. It’s not so much that the contents are remarkable—it consists of newspaper clippings which are mostly available to read elsewhere. Instead, what I love about the scrapbook is that I feel like it gives a unique insight into his personality, and as it turns out, we like a lot of the same things.
Levi D. Little
Levi Little was born in the Town of Baldwin on May 20, 1850. As a young man, he quickly moved up the ranks of local law enforcement; he was elected constable in 1873 and, in 1874, moved to Elmira, where he became as deputy sheriff. Three years later, he was elected sheriff on the Republican ticket. Less than four years later, he became the Elmira Chief of Police on April 11, 1883, a position he held until his resignation from the force in 1895. Claiming he was tired of the job, politics, and criticism, he worked the rest of his life as a detective for the Northern Central Railroad.

The scrapbook in our collection is from 1889 to 1890. Little mostly saved clippings of local police and crime news. That makes sense, of course. I used his scrapbook in my research for the “Great Female Crime Spree” chapter in my book Curiosities of Elmira because it includes clippings on the criminal dealings of forger Ella White, alleged murder Mary Eilenberger, and sex trafficker Mary Fairman (check out the book to find out more about these wild women). 

But the crime stories are not the main reason I love the Little scrapbook. Occasionally, Little would clip a news story that had nothing to do with his professional life. He seemed to have an interest in what we might call “oddities,” something Levi Little and I have in common.

An article of national news about a man who was allegedly 150 years old, from the Levi Little scrapbook
He clipped a story about John Lawes, a local man who found unwanted fame for weight gain caused by a uncontrollable medical condition. Lawes’ is a deeply sympathetic story (which I also tell in Curiosities of Elmira) and it is unclear if Little knew Lawes personally or was just following his story.

John Lawes, from the Levi Little scrapbook
Little also saved stories that had to do with the happenings of some of the local clubs and organizations with which he was involved, giving us a better sense of how he was a member of the community outside of his official duties.

News of the Elks Lodge, from the Levi Little scrapbook
I appreciate all of these things, but tucked away on a page toward the back of the scrapbook is the clipping I gravitate towards most:

Railroad Jack in 1890, from the Levi Little scrapbook
This article and etching show the famous Railroad Jack, a train-riding mutt from Albany, NY, who is the subject of my next book (check out for more information!)

From my research, I knew Jack was a frequent guest of Elmira and was popular here, but to see him actually show up in a scrapbook (of the Chief of Police, no less!) gives me a better understanding of just how much local people liked the dog. This has become an important piece of evidence in my book project to prove the reaches of Jack’s celebrity.

Levi Little died unexpectedly on March 8, 1901 from complications from surgery for appendicitis. He had never married, a fact that earned him some gentle ribbing in an 1888 Elmira Telegram article about local eligible bachelors. What was Levi Little actually like as a person? Like all people, he was certainly a complicated figure, but I can’t help but to like the glimpses of the “real” him see in his scrapbook.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Mark Twain’s Other Bestselling Book

by Erin Doane, Curator

Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) was known to be an avid scrapbooker. He also had the tendency to mock others who made scrapbooks but that didn’t stop him from making money off the 19th century cut-and-paste trend. In 1873, he patented his own self-pasting scrapbook. I heard somewhere that this blank book was actually his best-selling book of all time but I wasn’t able to confirm that rumor. I was, however, able to find an October 2, 1885 article in the Albany Ledger, a newspaper from Albany, Missouri, that stated that Clemens had made $200,000 that year from his books, $100,000 from lecturing, and an additional $50,000 from his self-sticking scrapbook.

Mark Twain’s Scrapbook
Label inside the front cover

CCHS actually has a Mark Twain brand scrapbook in the archives. The story behind the self-pasting book’s invention was that, while scrapbooking, its inventor would get frustrated with the glue he had to use to stick items down to the page and would let out an occasional expletive. In order to save his family, and the families of other scrapbookers, from such harsh language, he created a book with pages that already had glue on them. The adhesive was like that used on the back of stamps when stamps still had to be licked. One needed only to lightly moisten the gummed lines on the page and press their scraps into place. I can tell you that this was a very effective way to stick items down. Not a single one has come loose from the book in the museum’s collection.

Blank gummed page
While it is interesting to have an original example of Samuel Clemens’ invention in our archives, the real value of the book lies in what was pasted inside. It was used by Louise Hughson Way to save various newspaper clippings, memorabilia, and ephemera from 1889 through 1923. Louise grew up in Big Flats. On November 23, 1898 she married Herbert C. Way of Corning. The couple moved to Elmira where Herbert ran a series of successful businesses. The couple had three children, Emily Augusta, Eckley Stearns, and John Henry. Louise passed away in 1929 and Herbert died in 1941. While the items that Louise saved in her scrapbook are not in chronological order, all together, they can tell us quite a bit about this woman and her life.

Pages from Louise Hughson Way’s scrapbook
Like many scrapbooks of the time, Louise’s is filled with newspaper clippings, event tickets and programs, funny sayings, cartoons, and other items of personal interest. It is a fascinating mix of personal and social history. She included the invitation to her wedding to Herbert C. Way as well as the announcement from the newspaper. The book also contains nearly 2 dozen obituaries for various family members and friends. Each one is a story all on its own. Her brother Frederick Hughson died in 1906 at the age of 35 leaving behind a wife and three children under the age of 6. Mary Jane Little worked as the family’s housekeeper for 16 years before passing away following a surgical operation. Louise and Herbert’s daughter Emily Augusta died at just two days old.

The scrapbook is also filled with dozens of clipping related to happier times. Reading through this collection, we learn that Louise was an active member of Elmira’s social scene. When she was still a student, she and 22 of her female classmates took a trip to her uncle Nicholas Mundy’s farm in Big Flats. The newspaper reported that the Erie train made a special stop at the farm for the visit. An article from after she married describe a party she had thrown as “one of the most brilliant social events of the month.” She socialized with people whose names appear quiet often in stories of Elmira’s past such as Mr. and Mrs. Jervis Langdon, Drs. Theron and Zippie Wales, and Mabel Flood

The memorabilia Louise saved also gives evidence to how involved she was in the community. She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Chemung County Farm Bureau and served on several different organizations’ committees including one in charge of a rummage sale that raised more than $900 for the Elmira ambulance fund and one that organized a May Day fete for 2,000 people. She was also heavily involved in supporting the war effort during World War I. She was a member of the Red Cross and saved a handwritten record of the numbers of soldiers that passed through Elmira on train and what refreshments the canteen service provided to them. When the war ended, she was chairman of the silver committee for the dinner reception that welcomed back the troops. She was responsible for acquiring 1,000 forks, 1,000 knives, 1,170 teaspoons, and 170 tablespoons for the event.

Page of items collected during World War I
The scrapbook also contains several newspaper clipping related to her husband Herbert Way’s career. He and Frank L. Clute were the proprietors of Clute & Way, a successful book and stationery store at 313 E. Water Street. In 1904, the pair went into partnership with George M. Wood to form George M. Wood & Co., packers of leaf tobacco. At that time, tobacco farming was big business in Big Flats. Four years later, Herbert partnered with Charles G. Brand and continued in the tobacco business as Way & Brand. They added one more partner in 1912 when he Gustavus A. Goff joined them to become Goff, Way & Brand, a $200,000 corporation dealing in tobacco. The last career update saved in the scrapbook was from 1921 when Herbert became president of the board of directors of the new Hygeia Ice Cream Company.

Full-page newspaper ad for Hygeia Ice Cream Co., Inc.
While this scrapbook contains a lot of wonderful information about Louise and her family, my favorite pieces are the dozens and dozens of seeming random newspaper articles and magazine clippings that can give us a glimpse into her personality. There are whole pages full of cartoons, funny poems, and stories layered one on top of other to save space. She also included informational clippings about how long animals live, the meanings of flowers and precious stones, how to tell the future from tea leaves, and the real and stage names of famous actors. On top of that, she also collected clippings on local tales of history, like how Spanish Hill got its name, and current events like the coldest day in Elmira’s history which was January 5, 1904 when it got to 30 degrees below zero.

Pages of cartoons and poems
Interestingly enough, Mark Twain even shows up in the scrapbook. Louise saved a clipping from the Elmira Star Gazette, April 7, 1920 in which it was argued that the state should acquire the Crane Farm on East Hill and make it into a state park in honor of Samuel Clemens. In particular, the author believed that the Quarry Farm study where he did so much writing should be preserved. “The state owes it to itself and to the rest of the nation to preserve this spot which Samuel Clemens made historic, to see that it is treasured forever as the place where Twain lived and labored and did some of his best work, work that will live so long as the language is read.”