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  1. by Rachel Dworkin On March 15, 1964, 12-year-old Mary Theresa Simpson went missing after heading home from her cousin’s house. After a few hours of waiting, her father called the police. For the next few days, the police combed the city looking for her. On March 19th, a trio of hikers stumbled across her body in a wooded area just off of Combs Hill Road in Southport. This March, I received multiple research requests about her murder from self-identified true crime enthusiasts. People’s fascination with true crime is nothing new. Beginning in the 1500s, British publishers began printing thousands of pamphlets and broadsides describing the exploits of various criminals. The publications tended to focus on the gory details of especially violent or unusual crimes and often carried strong moralizing crime-doesn’t-pay messages regarding the criminals’ eventual comeuppance. By the 1700s, America had its own criminals and presses with which to write about them. Newspapers provided readers with minute-by-minute accounts of crimes, manhunts, and trials as they unfolded. The 21st century is no less interested in true crime than our ancestors, although today the format is a bit different. TV documentaries about crime and criminals first gained popularity in the 1980s. Hits shows like Unsolved Mysteries and America’s Most Wanted, which presented new, real-life, stories each week, captivated audiences. In 2020, the streaming platform Netflix brought Unsolved Mysteries back. After the success of their documentary series Making a Murderer (2015), Netflix quickly became the king of the true crime docuseries with over 11 shows focusing on different cases. True crime podcasts got their start in 2014 with Serial, the first season of which focused on the murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee in Baltimore in 1999. The podcast was an instant hit. Since its release, it has been downloaded 340 million times, making it the most downloaded podcast in the world. Its popularity spawned literally hundreds of copycats. In US, women make up 73% of consumers of digital true crime media. Studies show that people who listen to true crime are more likely to be afraid of being victimized themselves, although it is unclear if that is a result of consuming true crime or the reason they seek it out. There are numerous complaints against true crime. The genre has been criticized for the way third parties make money off of other people’s trauma, often re-traumatizing them in the process. Some works blend actual facts with fictional elements and rampant speculation in ways that can give audiences distorted views of the case. The true crime genre isn’t all bad. The first season of Serial, for example, helped shine a light on a miscarriage of justice that lead to a man being released from prison. Shows like Unsolved Mysteries and America’s Most Wanted have actually helped to solve crimes. The original run of Unsolved Mysteries helped spark renewed interest that lead to the solving of 260 cold cases. America’s Most Wanted helped lead to the capture of 1,400 wanted fugitives and the recovery of over 60 missing children. In 1964, the local press gave extensive coverage to Mary Theresa Simpson’s murder. The day after her body was discovered, 50 men, including an Elmira Star-Gazette reporter, did a sweep of the area where her body was found. They uncovered her glasses, several buttons off her blouse, and an assortment of trash. Every part of the search was documented by the reporter’s camera. The newspaper coverage included interviews with her family, a timeline events, search photos, a map of the crime scene, and a detailed description of the girl’s body. In the days following her murder, the Star-Gazette and WELM Radio offered a reward of $1,000 for any information leading to her killer’s arrest. The police were hard at work on the case. They established a joint special task force consisting of officers from the Elmira PD, state police, and Chemung County Sheriff’s Department. Together, the task force interviewed over 300 people across multiple states including some as far away as Arizona. Seven suspects agreed to submit to a lie detector test, but no one was ever charged. After six months, the task force was dissolved. After a year, the reward money fund was donated to the Arctic League in Mary’s honor. Eight years later in October 1972, the Star-Gazette re-ran the details of the Simpson murder and offered $5,000 for information leading to an arrest. They created a special system for accepting anonymous tips that could still let people collect the reward. Over the next few months, tips flooded in. The Elmira Police Department briefly re-opened the case, but ultimately, nothing came of it. To this day, Mary Theresa Simpson’s murder remains unsolved. By all accounts, Mary was a shy girl. Her family moved around a lot and she struggled to make friends. She was wary of strangers and once turned down a ride from an uncle because she didn’t know him well. No one except her killer knows how she ended up dead on Combs Hill. Maybe the renewed interest in her case will lead to justice, or at least answers. We can only hope. Rachel Dworkin is the archivist at the Chemung Valley Historical Society. For more information about the museum or to see more of their blog, click here.
  2. by Erin Doane On November 7, 1923, the Elmira chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution held a meeting. At that meeting, the organization’s president Dr. Arthur W. Booth proposed the creation of a historical society to preserve historic objects, documents, and stories. The first official meeting of the Chemung County Historical Society took place two weeks later with 75 people in attendance. The Historical Society’s first home was in two rooms on the upper floor of the Steele Memorial Library on the corner of Lake and Church Streets (now the Chemung County Chamber of Commerce). The rooms quickly filled with donations from the community. Members of the society presented talks about local history and created displays of historic objects in the library for the public to enjoy. The Historical Society received its charter from New York State in 1947. Shortly after, they began searching for a stand-alone building to house the collections and provide more space for displays. In 1953, the Historical Society moved into 425 East Market Street and Frances Brayton was appointed as its first professional curator. It was around this time that Historical Society also began searching for the mammoth tusk that had been found by Judge Caleb Baker along the Chemung River in 1778. (Read all about that tusk and the Historical Society’s search for it here) While they were not able to find the original, they were able to get a similar mammoth tusk from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The Historical Society relocated again in 1965 to 304 William Street. The mammoth tusk and all the other historic objects, documents, and photographs that had been donated over the previous 40+ years were moved into their new home. Many of the objects were used in new exhibits focused on topics we still explore in the museum today - life here in the 1800s, the Civil War, local organizations and schools, and, of course, Mark Twain. Materials that didn’t go on display went into storage. Unfortunately, one of the main storage spaces in the building was the basement, which proved disastrous during the 1972 Flood. (click here to read how the Historical Society reacted to the flooding) The Chemung County Historical Society moved one more time to its current location at 415 E. Water Street. The building was originally home to the Chemung Canal Bank starting in 1833. After the bank moved into new headquarters, the building housed law offices and apartments. It underwent major renovations in the late 1970s and opened to the public as the Chemung County Historical Society in 1982. In 1986, the Historical Society received accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). It was reaccredited most recently in 2021. Less than 5% of museum in the United States are accredited by the AAM. In 1992, further renovations to the building took place. An addition that includes the Howell Gallery, the Frances Brayton Education Room, and the Barn Gallery, as well as a new entranceway, was added to the main building. The Chemung County Historical Society currently operates the Chemung Valley History Museum and the Booth Research Library. Our mission is to deepen our understanding of history and to provide an appreciation of our community’s place in state and national history. We’ve done this over the last 100 years by collecting, preserving, interpreting, and presenting the history of our community and we plan to continue this mission for the next 100 years. And, yes, the mammoth tusk is still on display. Erin Doane is the Head Curator at The Chemung Valley Historical Society. For more information about the museum and to see more of their blog, click here
  3. by Rachel Dworkin When people ask me what I do, I tell them I am an archivist. When they stare at me blankly, I explain that it’s a subspecies of librarian. The job of a librarian is to collect, catalog, and share the information patrons need for their education and entertainment. Keeping these goals in mind, let’s take a look at how well I did this year. 1. Collecting Here at the Chemung County Historical Society, we collect items specifically related to Chemung County history, people, and organizations. In 2023, we accepted archival material from 93 donors. Some of these donations were just one or two items. For example, on recent donation consisted of the 1918 diary of Elmira Free Academy student, J. Lawrence Kolb. There was another earlier in the year that was just a poster for the Auto Thrill Show at the Chemung County Fair, circa 1970. Other donations were a bit larger. George Farr donated his research material for his book Lincoln’s Banner Regiment which contains over 100 items related to the history of the 107th New York Volunteers. A former employee at Sumirail/ABB Traction in the Heights, donated 500+ photographs documenting both companies and their products. In addition to donated items, I also collect items related to things happening around the community. This includes newsletters from the Elmira City School District, the Foodbank of the Southern Tier, the Friends of the Chemung County Library District, and Congregation Kol Ami. I also collect programs from the plays I attend, fliers for various events, and menus from new restaurants. In this way, I’m able to capture a snapshot of what is happening now for future generations. I also conduct oral history interviews. This year, I conducted 8 interviews. The topics included Elmira’s LGBTQ+ community; area Polish, Italian, and Finnish communities; COVID-19; and historic weather events. 2. Cataloging It’s all very well and good to collect things, but an archivist must take what my grad school professors called “intellectual control.” In short, an archivist must figure out what they have, wrestle it into some sort of order, and then make that order apparent to everyone else. This is known as “cataloging.” It can be a pretty time consuming process, especially when a single donation may contain hundreds of items. To be honest, I’ve been a little behind on the cataloging this year. I’ve only cataloged about one-third of our new items. Part of the reason for the delay is that I’ve been working hard on getting our older finding aids up on EmpireADC (see this blog post for detail). A finding aid is an index for an archival collection which provides additional context about the creator(s) of the collection and the circumstances under which the collection was created, as well as the collection’s size and organization.We joined EmpireADC this summer. Since then, I have uploaded 111 old finding aids to the site. Check it out here. 3. Sharing Collecting and cataloging information is all very well and good, but it is pointless if it isn’t shared. The archives here at the Chemung County Historical Society are open to the public 1pm to 5pm, Monday through Friday. Visitors may come in and request to see anything within our collection. We are also open for researchers to call or write in with questions weekdays from 9 am to 5pm. In 2023, we had 84 in-house researchers. This was down from pre-pandemic levels, but up from 2022. We also had 210 write-in research requests. I did not keep track of the number of phone requests, but it was well over 100. Two people requested and received permission to use our photographs in their publications. In addition to assisting researchers, I also find other ways to share information with the public. This blog, for instance is a pretty handy tool. This year, I wrote nine blogs. I hope you liked them. I was also interviewed by the press half-a-dozen times about topics ranging from City Hall to Iszard’s to daylight savings time. Earlier this summer, I teamed up with Maggie Young, the genealogy librarian at the Steele Memorial Library, to create a master list of genealogical resources at both our institutions. Next year, we hope to expand it to other places in Chemung County. You can find it here. We also have several digital collections on the New York Heritage website where researchers can access material for free at any time. Our older collections include the records of the Thatcher Glass Manufacturing Company, the records of the Methodist Committee for Overseas Relief, Chemung County high school yearbooks, and the Black Oral History Project. This year, I received a grant to digitize and upload the records of Elmira midwife, Rose Spadaccino. I also began uploading some of our older oral histories to the site as part of a collection called “Voices of Chemung County.” Looking back, I think I accomplished quite a bit. What do you think? For my next trick, I shall finish cataloging all the items we received in 2023, finish the shelf read, add at least one new finding aid a week to EmpireADC, upload my recent oral history interviews to New York Heritage, and have fun doing it. Rachel Dworkin is the archivist at the Chemung Valley Historical Society. For more information about the museum and to see more of their blog, click here
  4. by Rachel Dworkin Earlier this month, the FDA finalized a regulation allowing Americans to obtain a prescription for milepristone-misoprostol, also known as the abortion pill, at a pharmacy. Back during the 1890s, Elmirans could get abortion pills at their pharmacies too. In 1892, the Elmira Advertiser ran a series of ads for Chickester’s English Diamond Brand Pennyroyal Pills, which promised to provide safe and reliable relief for women, but never flat out said what kind of relief. Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) is an herb native to Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, but is now found across the world. It was first described as an abortifacient and emmenaogue by ancient Greek physicians over 2,000 years ago, but likely was used long before that to both cause miscarriages and promote regular periods. In her 1895 book Talks to My Patients, local physician and women’s health expert Dr. Rachel Gleason recommended against such nostrums and female pills due to the potential dangers. Pennyroyal is, after all, toxic and causes symptoms ranging from vomiting and dizziness to organ failure and death. Modern abortion medication, on the other hand, is safe and over 90% effective when taken in the first 10 weeks. Historically speaking, women have always sought abortions to end unwanted or dangerous pregnancies. Surveys conducted of middle class women in several states in during the 1920s found that 10 to 20 percent had had an abortion at one point. A survey conducted by Margret Sanger of 10,000 working-class women at her birth control clinics during the same period found that 20 percent of all pregnancies had been intentionally aborted. By the 1960s, approximately 1 million abortions were being performed annually in the United States. This is despite the fact that prior to the Roe v Wade ruling in 1973, abortion had been illegal in most states since the 1820s. New York State first made abortion a crime in 1829. Under the law, abortions performed after quickening, i.e. when the mother first felt the baby move or about four months after conception, were felonies. This was in keeping with a larger movement within the country beginning with Connecticut in 1821. New York was the first state to amend their abortion laws to include exceptions to save the life of the woman. All of these early laws were targeted at abortion providers, rather than women who had had an abortion. In 1845, New York became one of just fifteen states to criminalize women who had obtained an abortion, prescribing a sentence of three months to a year, but few women were ever actually prosecuted. In 1872, abortion at all stages of pregnancy became illegal, except in cases where the woman’s health was in danger. In 1970, New York passed a law decriminalizing abortion, three years prior to the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade which decriminalizing the procedure nationwide. Despite the repeal of Roe in 2022, abortion remains legal in New York. Over all, considering the large numbers of people obtaining abortions, few people were ever actually successfully prosecuted for the crime. Most abortions were performed in secret and few women came forward to either admit to their crime or accuse the abortion provider. Most prosecutions occurred only when something had gone seriously wrong. Based on my research of local newspapers, only 6 people in Chemung County were ever successfully convicted of abortion, although several more were charged with it. During the 1910s, there were two high-profile abortion cases tried in local courts. The first case was against Dr. Daniel G. Carey, who was alleged to have provided Miss Mae Cunningham of Columbia Cross Roads, Pennsylvania, with an abortion in late December 1912. According to the prosecution, Cunningham had come to Elmira Heights to stay with her cousin Mrs. Maude Bennett who took her to Carey. The young woman developed complications from the procedure and died in Arnot-Ogden Hospital on January 5, 1913 after explaining exactly what happened to her attending physician. Dr. Carey was charged with manslaughter and abortion. Although the local papers initially assumed it was a slam-dunk case, it was subsequently thrown out by the judge after Miss Cunningham’s ante-mortem testimony was deemed inadmissible. The next case occurred in 1916. Sweethearts Lillian Stiles and Earl Stevens were engaged to be married in June and decided to engage in some pre-marital sex. Stiles got pregnant and decided to obtain an abortion rather than move the wedding up. The couple went together to Dr. Frank Flood, respected local physician and former mayor, who allegedly performed an abortion. She was admitted to Arnot-Ogden Hospital on March 30 and subsequently died on April 6, 1916 due to complications. She and Stevens were married on her deathbed, shortly after she named Flood as the abortionist. Both he and her new husband were arrested after her death and charged with manslaughter and abortion. As with Carey, Flood escaped prison, not because the case was thrown out, but because he died of cancer of the jaw before it could go to court. Stevens plead guilty to his role and was sentenced to state prison. In 1945, Dr. Maurice Miller of Elmira was found guilty of abortion and manslaughter after his patient, Mrs. Florence Lee, died of an infection following her abortion. Dr. Miller claimed that he’d provided the abortion on legitimate, therapeutic grounds as Lee had suffered an incomplete miscarriage and had an infection, but the autopsy refuted that. Miller was sentenced to 24 years in prison, but, in November, the verdict in the manslaughter case against him was reversed after Mrs. Lee’s dying declaration was thrown out. In December, Miller plead guilty to abortion and was stripped of his license to practice medicine and sentenced to four years in prison. In addition to doctors, local women also were known to perform abortions. In 1932, Mrs. Eva Doud of Elmira Heights was convicted of proving 19-year-old Charlotte Mix with an abortion at her home. Unlike in earlier cases, Mix survived and even testified at the trial. In 1943, a married couple, Fitzhugh and Jennie Miller of the Town of Southport were caught up in a sting operation by the State Police after a former patient accused them of providing her abortion. The couple were both found guilty of both abortion and attempted abortion. In 1946, Mrs. Mary Vickery was charged with providing an abortion to Miss Mercedes Strickland, the first woman in Chemung County to be charged for her own abortion, although neither were ever convicted. Unlike the doctors charged with abortion, all of these people’s patients survived. Looking at the history of abortion in Chemung County and, indeed, the country as a whole, it is clear that people who do not wish to be pregnant will seek abortions whether or not they are legal. Studies show that the only effective way to reduce abortions is through increased sex education and access to reliable birth control. This article originally appeared in Jan. 2023 Rachel Dworkin is the archivist at the Chemung County Historical Society. For more information about the museum, or to read more of their blog, list their website here.
  5. by Monica Groth While leading one of our Historic Downtown Walking Tours last month, I learned some fascinating history from our knowledgeable trolley-master Mark Delgrosso. Mark brought to my attention that the four buildings that existed on the corners of the intersection of Lake and Church streets at the end of the nineteenth century bore very interesting nicknames which tell us a little about their histories. No longer standing, the opulent Reynolds Mansion once graced the intersection where the Carnegie (Steele) Library later stood, and where a monument to adventurer Ross Marvin stands today (the southeast corner). This home was occupied by the family of Dr. Edwin Eldridge’s daughter Julia. Julia Eldridge married Lewis Stancliff in 1856. But Lewis died young in 1864, and Julia remarried, this time to Samuel “Tutt” Reynolds. Julia’s father built her the magnificent Victorian Mansion on Lake and Church Streets in 1869 to celebrate this new chapter in her life. The mansion was splendid – boasting mahogany panels, stained-glass windows, and velvet carpeting—and was overflowing with priceless works of art. Passerby gazed with wonder at its outdoor fountain, beech tree, and three entrances; it became known by the nickname “Fascination”. photo of the Reynolds mansion c. 1905 Portrait of Mrs. Julia Stancliff Reynolds c. 1905 The building dedicated in 1862 as the Second Presbyterian Church and later renamed the Lake Street Presbyterian Church earned the nickname “Salvation”. During the turmoil of the Civil War, a disagreement within the First Presbyterian Church believed to have arisen over the question of slavery caused the church to fracture. The followers of outspoken anti-slavery pastor, Rev. David Murdoch D.D., formed what became the Lake Street Presbyterian Church, dedicating the sanctuary on Lake Street on the anniversary of Murdoch’s death. Murdoch was a humorous and compassionate Scotsman renowned for his engaging sermons. Ausburn Towner’s 1892 History of Chemung County describes him as “one of the most remarkable men…ever to make the sun shine brighter”. By 1883, the Lake Street Presbyterian Church congregation had grown to around 500 members. Lake St. Presbyterian Church Plaque commemorating Reverend Murdoch in vestibule The City Club, designed by Rochester-based architects Crandall and Otis as a refined social club for wealthy citizens, moved to its current site on the corner of Lake and E. Church streets on New Year’s Day, 1894. The building housed a reading room, club rooms, billiards room, and a café. A separate ladies dining room existed, and a separate entrance for women was on the Church Street side of the building (women were not accepted as members of the club until 1986). Despite the fact that early members of the club included respected gentlemen such as Charles J. Langdon, George M. Diven, J. Sloat Fassett, and John H. Arnot, the club was known to be a site of drinking and, it was rumored, carousing. The roof-top garden added to the club in 1901 was closed only a decade later because of loud noise and rogue food and bottles being thrown into the street. The City Club thus earned the appellation “Damnation”. The City Club also hosted lectures like this one, featuring a Stereopticon, or magic lantern projector Finally, City Hall, elegantly designed in the Neo-Renaissance style by Joseph Pierce and Hiram Bickford in 1895, was termed “Procrastination”. Pierce and Bickford’s fingerprints are found throughout Elmira’s historic district; the pair designed the Courthouse Complex and Hazlett Building as well as City Hall. The architects’ intended the structure to be a slow-burning building capable of resisting fire long enough to allow for safe evacuation. There was a fire on the upper floors in 1909, but the building lived up to its promise and the minimal damage was quickly repaired. Why would the citizens of Elmira associate city governance with procrastination in 1895? When it comes to government, it’s easy to say that any pace is perceived as too slow, but in the 1890s, city government was also rocked by corruption and scandal. Frank Bundy, who served as Assistant Chamberlain in 1892 and 1893, and then as Chamberlain from 1894 until 1900, “cooked” tax records for years before the City Council had cause to investigate. Chamberlain embezzled $84,495 in city funds (that’s close to $2.5 million today). He served four years in Auburn Penitentiary. ] City Hall today, note the ornate decoration on City Hall’s Lake Street façade These four buildings earned their names sometime at the close of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, when their individual characters appealed to the public imagination. It is a testament to both the creativity and diversity of the city of Elmira during this time that Fascination endured amidst Procrastination, and Salvation stood just across the street from Damnation. Monica Groth is curator at the Chemung County Historical Society. Articles from the museums website are reproduced here with permission. To see more of the museums blog, click here.
  6. by Rachel Dworkin Notice anything funny about this envelope? Letter for William Beers, 1862 Let me give you a clue: there’s no street address (and no zip code, but that’s another story). How then, you might ask, was the letter supposed to be delivered? It wasn’t. When the first Elmira post office opened in January 1801, there was no home delivery. People from all over Chemung County had to visit the small office located at the foot of Fox street in order to pick up their mail. This was actually a pretty big improvement. The village had been founded in 1790, but, until 1801, residents had to go all the way to the post office in Owego or pay someone to pick up their mail for them. Later, in April of that year, Elijah Buck opened the first post office in the Town of Chemung in his general store to serve the eastern half of the county. Since coming in from the hinterlands to check if you had mail could be quite a hassle, the Elmira post office notified recipients by posting an ad in the weekly paper. Even with the notices, letters could sit for weeks before it was picked up. By the 1830s, the volume of mail coming into Elmira was so great that the post master could no longer afford to post notices in the paper. By this point, each of the rural towns had their own post office which was good, considering the only way to know if you had a letter was to go and find out. List of letters, The Investigator, December 1, 1821 This lead to long lines at the post office and, in a roundabout way, the first instance of free home delivery. The story goes that in the winter of 1862, Cleveland postal employee Joseph William Briggs was so moved by the sight of women lining up in the cold rain, desperate for word from their husbands and sons fighting in the Civil War that he began delivering mail to their homes for free. Later that same year, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair composed a report to the president wherein he recommended free urban home delivery by salaried carriers as a way improve user convenience. In 1863, Congress acted to authorize home delivery in cities where income from local postage was more than sufficient to pay all expenses of the service. Thus, the inclusion of home addresses on envelopes was born! By 1864, 65 cities had free home delivery. By 1880, that number was up to 104, and, by 1900, 796. Elmira began free home delivery in 1873 or 1874. There were initially four carriers for the entire city: John King, John Y. Carpenter, Uriah Warner, and Judson Cornell. All were Civil War veterans. John Carpenter was missing an arm. The volume of mail proved too much for just four men to handle and two additional carriers, William P. Roosa and John R. Brockway, were added in March 1874. Letter for William Beers with street address, 1879 Special thanks to Alan Parsons whose research request inspired this post. Rachel Dworkin is the archivist at the Chemung County Historical Society. To see more of the museums blog, click here.
  7. by Susan Zehnder Currently events around the world are being reevaluated as preventative measures against spreading this year's coronavirus. Cities like Boston and Chicago have canceled popular St. Patrick's Day activities to avoid drawing crowds. Locally officials have canceled the thirteenth annual Horseheads St. Patrick's Day parade, and postponed the gathering attempt to break last year's record for the largest human shamrock. Horseheads parade from the past St. Patrick's Day has been celebrated since the beginning of the 17th century and odds are it will be widely celebrated again. Various traditions and customs associated with the holiday have fairly recent roots. Contributing to this, today more people claiming Irish ancestry live outside of Ireland than the Irish population living within its borders. Here in Chemung County the 2010 census reported 9% or just under 8,000 people who claimed Irish ancestry. The United States has always attracted people from around the world, looking for a chance to make a new life for themselves and their families. Here in the 1700s, at least three early white settlers were Irish. They arrived as soldiers accompanying Irish American General John Sullivan on his 1779 military campaign to wipe out the Native populations. Impressed with the fertile valley, Abijah Ward and brothers John and William Fitzsimmons returned to the area to settle and farm. For many immigrants, including the Irish, it wasn't easy to assimilate into American life. As a group, the Irish were viewed with suspicion set apart by their accents, funny religious practices and culture. Being Irish in America during the 1800s really wasn't so lucky. It wasn't particularly lucky for the Irish back in Ireland either. Ireland was in the midst of successive years of potato blight, a time known as the Potato Famine. Conditions were so bad that Ireland's population decreased by one-fourth. Many died, and others fled the country. In 1848 gold was discovered in California. The Gold Rush lured 75,000 people west, including many Irish newly arrived in the United States. Estimates of mining camp populations put the Irish workers at 10 - 20%. The phrase 'Luck of the Irish' comes from this time. It was used sarcastically to describe random luck that didn't require any skills. That luck began to change towards the end of the century when the sheer number of Irish Americans grew. Once shunned, now their sizable and growing population offered an influential political voting block called "The Green Machine." Politicians courted the Irish American vote, and curried favor by appointing many to public offices. Today people continue to celebrate their Irish ancestry, and St. Patrick's Day is the most widely celebrated national holiday around the world. In Ireland, March 17th is observed as a national holiday with citizens getting the day off. Once a purely religious holiday, observations have taken a more secular turn. Many traditions we associate with the holiday started here in the United States. The first St. Patrick's Day parade took place, not in Ireland but in New York City in 1762. It was organized by homesick Irish soldiers fighting for the British. Together soldiers marched and sang through the streets as a sign of comradery. The color green, called "Irish Green" in Ireland, is called "Kelly Green" here. Kelly was first used in 1917 as slang to refer to anyone Irish or Irish American. The closest authentic Irish surname is O'Callagah. Kiss me I'm Irish comes from the good luck one is supposed to gain when he/she kisses the legendary Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle in Cork, Ireland. Elsewhere it's become good luck and a good excuse to kiss anyone of Irish ancestry. Things like Green Beer, Lucky Charms, and Sexy Leprechauns all fall into the category of questionable origins. They are a nod to the change that has happened over the years. Now it's desirable to be Irish, even if it's just for a day. Slainte! Human Shamrock, Eldridge Park 2019 Susan Zehnder is the Education Coordinator at the Chemung County Historical Society. To read more of their blog, click here. This post originally appeared in March 2020
  8. by Susan Zehnder Runners in the Finger Lakes welcome the arrival of autumn—temperatures are cooler, the humidity is less oppressive, and the colors in the hills can be stunning. Although the Wine Glass Marathon (held since 1981) was virtual last year, this year it returned in person, attracting male and female competitors from more than 41 states. Today we take for granted that both women and men can participate in the event, but a look back at the history of long-distance running shows that women have had an uphill battle when it comes to marathons. The story of one local runner can be an inspiration to keep going. In 1984, the women’s marathon was added to Olympic events. It was the same year that Molly Huddle and her twin sister Megan were born in Elmira to mom Kathleen, an artist, and dad Robert, a physician. The Huddles, including siblings Christine and Katie Rose, were an active family and Molly enjoyed both school and sports. Star-Gazette photo of 18 year old Molly running the Elmira-thon in 2002 Huddle attended Notre Dame High School, where in addition to her studies she played on the school’s soccer, basketball, and track teams. During fall of her senior year, she decided to pursue long-distance running. Notre Dame didn’t have a cross country team, so after petitioning the district’s athletic governing board, it was arranged that she could run and her father would coach her. She became Notre Dame’s one-person team, representing the school in meets, and the five-foot four-inch Huddle not only won races but broke league records. Huddle went on to attend Notre Dame University, where she continued to set personal bests and win national recognition. Since then, Huddle has proven herself on the world stage time and again. Her career to date includes 5 world finals, 2 Olympic finals, and 7 personal bests. She was set to compete in this year’s Olympic Games but had to pull out due to hip and ankle injuries. Early in the 20th century, women were prohibited from entering races due to health concerns that sound strange to us today. One thing some said was that running would cause a woman’s uterus to fall out. The first woman on record to run a marathon was Violet Piercy of Great Britain in the fall of 1926. Her time was 3:40:22, a record which stood unbroken until 1963. Almost one hundred years later, the women’s record in 2021 is 2:14:04. Molly Huddle’s own record is 2:26:33, set in London in 2019. The Boston Marathon, one of six exclusive world-class races, began in 1897. When marathons became popular amateur sports in the late 1960s and 70s, women were still prohibited from participating. It seems old myths persisted. The Boston race’s rule book did not even mention gender until the late 1960s, after a 23-year-old woman named Bobbi Gibb attempted to enter the 1967 race but was denied on the basis of her gender. She went on to unofficially run and clocked in at 3:21:40, coming in well ahead of many of the male runners. The following year, Katherine Switzer entered as K. V. Switzer, using her usual signature. This time the officials didn’t notice her application. To run, she wore a baggy sweat suit. When race officials discovered she was a woman, they and other runners physically attacked her, ripping her race number off her jersey. Today almost half the runners qualifying for the Boston Marathon are women. Boston Herald photo of Katherine Switzer running Switzer became an advocate for other women runners. She influenced Avon and Nike to lend corporate support for women runners and women’s races, thus elevating the sport. Things were slowly changing. In 1972, NYC Marathon officials allowed six women to enter the race, but insisted they begin ten minutes before the men. The women decided to strike. When the starter pistol fired, they sat down and held up signs pointing out the inequity of the situation. This deeply embarrassed the race officials, and since then, women have been allowed to compete with men and start at the same time. In 1984 the Olympics added the Women’s Marathon. Molly Huddle first qualified for the 2012 London Olympics. She was now part of an organization very different than a team of one. She has worked hard through injuries and disappointments. Today, in addition to running, she is elevating other women runners through a podcast she’s created called Keeping Track: Women in Sports . In her podcasts, she highlights the stories of women track and field athletes often overlooked in the general media. It’s just the latest part of the impressive career that Molly Huddle has made by putting one foot in front of another, something she clearly loves to do. 2021 from Womensrunning.com Fun fact: According to her Wikipedia page, Huddle is credited in part for the female runner emoji. Susan Zehnder is the Education Coordinator at the Chemung Valley Historical Society. This column was republished with permission. To see more of the museum's blog, click here.
  9. by Rachel Dworkin This year, despite the pandemic, the Arctic League will deliver Christmas to the poor children of Chemung County, just as they have done every year since 1912, come hell or (literal) high water. Interestingly, the Arctic League didn’t start out as a charity. The League began as an amateur baseball league and social club which played nearly year-round and hung out at the Lagonegro cigar shop at 157 Lake Street. The men of the League were best known around town for playing in all types of weather and holding satirical political campaigns for club president. All that changed around the Christmas of 1912. League member Danny Sullivan encountered a homeless young orphan on his way to the Lagonegro cigar shop and decided to bring him along. Sullivan and his friends dubbed the boy Friday (owning to the day of the week) and pooled everything they had on them to treat him to dinner, new clothes, and medical attention. They even ended up helping him find a job and place to stay. The men found helping out so satisfying that they decided to do it again the following year. While the first few Christmases were funded entirely by League members, by 1917 they were receiving $733 from the public at large to put towards presents for the needy. Young Friday, whose real name was Jimmy Loftus, donated religiously to the cause under his pseudonym until his death in 1955. The pandemic isn’t the first challenge the Arctic League has faced. In the wee hours of December 20, 1921, the warehouse where the League’s presents were stored burned, destroying $5,000 worth of toys, clothes, and candy. The morning papers called for aid and, by the time the Lagonegro cigar shop opened at 8am, people were lining up to donate. Within 48 hours, they received $10,608, more than twice what they’d ever raised before. After a mad scramble to buy and pack up toys, the Arctic League was able to successfully deliver Christmas while still having money left over for the following year. In 1941, the League’s fundraising radio broadcast was interrupted by the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Begun in 1932, the annual broadcast featured performances by local musicians interspersed with pleas for money. At 2:30 pm on December 7, 1941, master of ceremonies Frank Tripp was handed the announcement of the attack by WENY station manager Dale L. Taylor, whose brother was stationed at Pearl Harbor. Tripp halted the music to read the news to the listening audience. He read off further updates as they became available throughout the rest of the show. Annual Arctic League broadcast with MC Frank Tripp, c. 1940's World War II presented some unique challenges for the Arctic League. Normally, individual volunteers would pick up packages at the League’s Elmira headquarters and deliver them to homes all over the county. Gas rationing, however, meant that volunteers didn’t have the fuel to get from Elmira to the outlying communities. Instead, Col. Geoffrey Galwey, the commander at the Holding and Reconsignment Point in Horseheads, volunteered his officers for the job. League board members rode with the soldiers to act as native guides and navigators. None of the soldiers were familiar with the Arctic League or their mission, and some were quite skeptical about using military resources to deliver presents. One particular lieutenant protested right up until he saw the reaction of a gold star family when he delivered their package. Arctic League volunteers delivering presents, c. 1950's The flood of 1972 hit the Arctic League hard. Approximately $10,000 in clothes and toys were destroyed when their 114 West Second Street headquarters were inundated by 4 feet of water. Every year, the League ordered a thousand naked dolls which would be dressed in unique outfits made by community members. That year’s dolls had arrived the Wednesday before the storm and were lost to the water. An additional $1,000 worth of equipment was destroyed as well. A collection of clothes survived the flood, but the League chose to distribute them at the relocation centers rather than hold it back until Christmas. Although the building was cleaned out fairly quickly, League gave up their headquarters for a year so the Elmira Health Department could use it as a temporary infirmary. Despite, or perhaps because of the community-wide devastation caused by the flood, the Arctic League exceeded that year’s collecting goal by $1,501.18, bringing that year’s total to $21,009.18. The extra funds certainly came in handy. Families who had never needed help before now found themselves without jobs or homes, let alone funds for Christmas presents. In the end, 200 volunteers delivered parcels containing 2 toys, cookies, and candy to 1,450 children on Christmas morning. An additional 2,000 children received free clothing and shoes at a 2-day distribution event on December 27th and 28th at the Arctic League headquarters. Doll given by Arctic League, December 1972 This year too, there is a greater need in our community as people have lost jobs to the shutdown. Instead of waiting until their usual mid-November for the usual start of their collection campaign, the Arctic League began their annual holiday appeal in early October. That wasn’t the only changes they were forced to make. Normally, every evening in December volunteers form assembly lines to pack parcels. This year, the packing routine had to be modified so volunteers could maintain proper social distance. The annual fundraising broadcast, normally held before a live audience at the Clemens Center, was instead broadcast from an empty WETM news station and featured pre-recorded performances rather than live music. Despite the changes, the Arctic League was able to raise $133,658.28 or 107% of their goal of $125,000. They are still looking for volunteers to deliver packages, but that will be different too this year. Instead of having people line up to collect packages early Christmas morning, volunteers should arrive on Christmas Eve Day, no earlier than 9am. See their website for details: http://www.arcticleague.com This article originally appeared December 21, 2020 Rachel Dworkin is the archivist at the Chemung County Historical Society. To see more from their blog or to learn more about the museum, click here.
  10. by Rachel Dworkin It should come as a surprise to no one that the earliest settlers of Chemung County were Native Americans. They left their mark in place names, arrowheads and pottery shards. The people who settled this region were not a monolithic group. They were different peoples from different parts of the northeast, they came in waves and they did not always get along. Pre-contact, and for quite some time post-contact, the Haudenosaunee, whom we call the Iroquois, were the dominating force in what is now New York State and the Ohio River valley. The Iroquois had a confederacy or league which originally included the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca nations with the Tuscaroras joining in 1722. There were other Iroquois-speaking peoples who were not part of the league. Sometimes they got along, sometimes they didn’t. All of these groups practice corn/beans/squash farming which supported larger populations than hunter-gatherer groups who lived around them. Prior to European contact, the Iroquois League was aggressive in their pursuit of better farmlands and hunting grounds throughout the northeast and mid-Atlantic region. Their main enemies were the various Algonquian-speaking peoples. In fact, the name Iroquois is actually a mispronounced bit of derogatory Algonquian slang meaning “killer people.” By the time settlers were arriving in Jamestown, the Iroquois League had political dominance from the St. Lawrence River south to Virginia and actively controlled lands from the Hudson River valley west into Ohio. So, how did that relate to Chemung County? Some of the earliest Dutch maps of the area indicate that it was settled by an Iroquois-speaking group known as the Andaste. During a trip in 1615, a young Frenchman Etienne Brulé visited the area in hopes of finding allies against the Iroquois who were resisting French efforts to colonize New York. He found 20 or so Andaste settlements along the Chemung and Susquehanna Rivers. The Andaste were, in fact, already fighting against the Seneca and, by the mid-1600s, had completely lost control of the land to the Seneca and their Cayugan allies. The land was set aside for hunting with very few actual settlements. Around the time of the French and Indian War (1755-1760), things began to change as the Chemung Valley became a refuge of sorts for several groups who had been forced off their lands by white settlers. They were primarily Algonquin speakers and included the Mohegans, Shawnees and the Delawares. The name “Chemung” is a Delaware word meaning “place of the big horn” after where they apparently discovered a mammoth tusk. These new settlers were understandably bitter and sided with the French during the war as well as several subsequent uprisings during the 1760s. During this period the Chemung Valley became a major staging ground for attacks against white settlements in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. So, in 1764, the British prevailed upon their Iroquois allies, specifically the Mohawk and Oneida, to deal with the Delawares living in the valley. An army 200 strong pushed through the area, burning settlements to the ground and driving their inhabitants west. For the next decade, the valley would remain largely uninhabited until the Revolutionary War when it would once again be a staging ground for attacks on white settlers, this time by the Iroquois. Rachel Dworkin is the archivist at the Chemung County Historical Society. To learn more about the museum and read more from their blog, click here.
  11. by Erin Doane For 125 years, Rosenbaum’s was the place in Elmira to get the latest specialty fashions for women and children. From the early 20th century until it closed in 1989, the business put the newest styles on display for the shopping public in seasonal fashion shows at the store and other locations throughout the community. Rosenbaum’s fashion show participants, Star-Gazette, October 3, 1933 Rosenbaum’s opened on East Water Street in 1864, just one day before Elmira was chartered as a city. The store began as a wholesale-retail business specializing in custom-made ladies’ hats and millinery trim. Over the years, it expanded to include women’s and children’s clothing and accessories. By 1930, Rosenbaum’s was so popular that it moved to a larger store at 112 West Water Street. It continued expanding throughout the 20thcentury until it had three locations – in downtown Elmira, at the Arnot Mall, and at the Oakdale Mall in Binghamton – and had more than 120 employees on its payroll. The business finally closed for good in 1989. As early as the 1920s, Rosenbaum’s was highlighting its fashions in shows throughout the city. In 1923, the store was a hit at the American Legion Style and Fashion Show at the Armory. The Star-Gazette reported that “a gray afternoon gown of a combination Russianarian and Canton Crepe, shown by Rosenbaum’s and worn by Miss Alma Myers, caused much comment Friday night. The cape of the gown was of poiret twill, lined in turquoise blue canton crepe. Miss Myers wore a broad brimmed, light blue hat with this gown, flower trimmed and underlined with the color of roses.” Inside Rosenbaum’s on West Water Street, mid-20th century After Rosenbaum’s moved in 1930, the company started hosting fashion shows inside the store. Carolyn Modes designs were widely popular at that time throughout the country. By 1938, major Hollywood costume designers including Orry Kelly, Walter Plunket, Edith Head, Howard Greer, and Travis Banton were creating fashions for Carolyn. Rosenbaum’s would bring in members of the Carolyn design staff to conduct fashion shows. Typically, the show was run three times over the course of one day with “living models” displaying the latest clothing of the season. Some of the shows featured outfits that hadn’t even been released to the public yet. One such show on September 28, 1933 brought more than 1,200 people into the store. Another Carolyn Modes fashion show at Rosenbaum’s in 1934 featured both living models and a famous stylist broadcasting new style notes over the Columbia Broadcasting System in a nation-wide hookup and by special arrangement through the local radio station WESG. http://chemungcountyhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com/2016/12/wesg-broadcasting-live-from-mark-twain.html Years later, in 1955, Rosenbaum’s took advantage of another technology to reach a wider audience for their premiere fashions. “Fashion in the News” was a 20-minute long, full color, 16mm sound film showing a complete wardrobe of new fall clothes by Carolyn. The fashions were worn by “New York’s most famous television and fashion models” and the film was narrated by Vyvyan Donner of Movietone News. Rosenbaum’s loaned the film to women’s clubs, church groups, and other organizations for free. Teresa Carozza modeling at Rosenbaum’s fashion show, mid-1950s In 1937, Rosenbaum’s underwent a major expansion and it added the Young Folks Shop to its departments which had a complete line of children’s wear from infant to teenage. This marked a shift to more focus on younger customers. From the late 1940s through the 1960s, the Mademoiselle fashion shows held at the store focused on styles for young women going off to college or starting careers. In 1966, Rosenbaum’s and Eldridge Park sponsored a Miss Southern Tier Queen contest. The winner, 18-year-old Charlotte E. Riedel of Ithaca, was announced during the store’s “Fashion Fit for a Queen” fashion show at the park on August 21. Charlotte received $100 in cash and a $100 gift certificate from Rosenbaum’s. Rosenbaum’s advertisement, Star-Gazette, August 15, 1955 In 1966, Rosenbaum’s started a Charm and Modeling School for teens and pre-teens. For just $1 a week, girls could take part in a 10-week course taught by Miss Marie Bowman, former Niagara Frontier Milk Princess. Her classes guided the students in the areas of figure and posture correction, wardrobe planning, hairstyling and haircare, good grooming, basic makeup, voice cultivation, self-confidence, charm, poise, and personality development. Those who completed the course of study had the opportunity to model in one of Rosenbaum’s fashion shows. Some of the Charm and Modeling School graduates were actually among the 150 young people who modeled Rosenbaum’s clothing in a fashion show sponsored by Parents Without Partners that November. Rosenbaum’s Charm and Modeling School students at Parents Without Partners fashion show, left to right: Nancy Henrich, Elizabeth Dixon, and Marie Zwanka, Star-Gazette, December 4, 1966 Rosenbaum’s continued adverting the newest styles in fashion shows at its stores and at offsite locations as fundraising events for groups like the Elmira Newcomers Club, the YWCA, the Zonta Club, and the Rotary Anns for nearly fifty years. The company showed off its latest seasonal looks one last time on November 30, 1988 at the Christmas Gala Fashion Show at St. Patrick’s Church in Elmira. Rosenbaum’s closed its downtown store just two months later. The store at the Arnot Mall lasted ten more months before closing as well. Erin Doane is the curator at the Chemung County Historical Society. For more information about the museum or to read more from their blog, click HERE
  12. by Erin Doane I had never heard of local Elmira folk artist Alsace S. Blandford until recently which is not surprising. The ex-slave painted during most of his life but few of his works seem to have survived. The museum has three paintings donated by his son in 1966. Our own archives only has a slim folder of information about him. The few sources available provided just a tiny glimpse into his long life. Alsace S. Blandford was born a slave on March 17, 1858 in Maryland. He and his family lived on a plantation of 1,000 acres with more than 120 slaves in Prince George County, Maryland which was just 12 miles from Washington D.C. When the Civil War broke out, Alsace’s father, Thomas Blandford, learned that they could become freedmen if they escaped Maryland. This information set a plan in motion. Thomas was the foreman at the plantation and was responsible for driving produce to Washington for sale. He created a false bottom on the produce wagon under which he hid his wife and six children. Alsace was just three years old at time. Thomas placed a full load of potatoes in the wagon and left the plantation as he always did. Since he was a common sight on the route Thomas was never challenged. This time instead of going to market he took his family to freedom. The story of the potato wagon is common among the few sources I found but after that some accounts differ. A 1938 newspaper article reports that the family stayed in Washington until 1867 when they moved to Sherwood, NY and then to Poplar Ridge, NY a year later. Alsace is said to have remembered the family’s former master coming to visit them in Washington after the war. He asked Thomas to come back to work for him and offered the family 100 acres of land. Thomas declined the offer. Another source states that Thomas drove the wagon to the Northern part of Maryland where they made contact with some Quakers who were members of the Underground Railroad. The family was passed from one station to another to Philadelphia before finally ending up at last in Poplar Ridge, NY. It is known for certain that Alsace Blandford, himself, came to Elmira in 1879 at the age of 22. He married an Elmiran named Helen Abigail Condol and they had six children together. He made his living as a house painter and paperhanger even though he was told when he started that no one would hire an African American for such work. He continued to support himself with that trade well into his 80s. His real love, though, was painting landscapes and rural scenes. He had always enjoyed painting pictures from an early age and his works show great skill even though he was never formally trained as an artist. The walls of his home on Madison Avenue in Elmira were said to have been covered in oil paintings, pastel drawing and watercolors that he had created. Alsace died on April 13, 1948 at the age of 91. Erin Doane is the curator of the Chemung County Historical Society. To read more from the museum's blog, click here.
  13. by Erin Doane On January 17, 1881, an enormous boulder was moved from the towpath on the east side of the former Chemung Canal near Latta Brook, down Lake Street, and over to Woodlawn Cemetery where it was placed on the plot owned by George S. McCann. Nine teams of horses and six yokes of oxen were used to move the immense stone. George wanted the boulder to mark his final resting place because he thought “an object formed by the hand of nature” was far more suitable as a monument for the dead than “a costly and ornate monument made by man.” It would be 19 more years before he joined his marker in the cemetery. George S. McCann was born at the McCann homestead at 2,000 Davis Street on June 24, 1823. He was one of six children. His father John had come to Elmira from Ireland in 1809 and purchased 320 acres of land from Thomas Whitney. After John’s death, the family home went to George and he had a long, successful career as a farmer. In the 1870s, he sold 140 acres to the Commissioners of Prisons that became the site of the Elmira Reformatory. On October 10, 1864, George married Crete Kingsbury. Together they had three children – Hattie, born September 4, 1865; Crete, born September 17, 1867; and James, born June 16, 1869. Less than three years after their son was born, however, tragedy struck. Crete passed away on March 4, 1872 at the age of 32. A notice in the local newspaper described her as “one of those sweet dispositioned women whom no one knows but to love, and her death will be mourned with genuine and heartfelt sorrow by a large circle of relatives, acquaintances and friends.” Funeral services were held at the McCann home and she was interred in Woodlawn Cemetery. As a widower, George turned his attention to the community. Two years after Crete’s passing he got into politics. He was elected to the board of supervisors from the Town of Elmira in 1874, 1875, 1876, 1882, and 1883. He served as chairman of the board in 1882. He was also a member of the Union Lodge No. 95 Free and Accepted Masons, the Odd Fellows, the Independent Order of Good Templars, the Grange, and the Elmira Farmers’ Club. George was known as someone who was always doing something to make others happy. On June 17, 1897, he hosted a reunion for those who had attended school with him back in the 1830s. Thirty-two of his former classmates along with their wives and husbands enjoyed a luncheon feast in a large tent in his front yard and shared stories of the good old days of their youth. In 1899, George’s health began to fail and he became confined to his home. He made a trip to St. Clemens, Michigan to be treated for rheumatism but his condition did not improve. At seven o’clock in the morning on March 2, 1900, he passed away in the same house in which he had been born. The funeral was held at the homestead, as had been Crete’s, and he was laid to rest beside her in the plot marked by the enormous rock he had placed there so many years earlier. Over time, the story of how the boulder was moved to Woodlawn became somewhat exaggerated, as many tales of great deeds are. It was reported that it took 17 teams of horses and four yokes of oxen to move it (which was a good 8 teams of horses more than stated in a document drafted on the day the stone was actually moved, but two fewer yokes of oxen.) The stone itself has been called the “largest common boulder ever found in the Chemung Valley.” The monument also became a bit of a tourist attraction. An article in the Star-Gazette on September 13, 1895 encouraging visitors to enjoy the beauty of Woodlawn Cemetery specifically mentions “the immense boulder that bears the name of George McCann and his wife” as one of the sights to see while there. At some point, a large bronze plaque with the portraits of George and Crete and their death dates was added to the stone. Today, you can still visit the monument, which is located just down the hill from the Clemens family’s plot. Erin Doane is the curator at the Chemung County Historical Society. For more information about the museum and to see more of their blog, click here.
  14. by Rachel Dworkin As an avid diarist, I would be horrified if someone read my diary without my permission. As a historian and archivist, I really love reading other people’s diaries. Luckily, the Chemung County Historical Society has dozens to choose from. They range in date from the 1830s through the 1990s. Their authors are school children, soldiers, farmers, housewives, railroad workers, police officers, secretaries, carpenters, and laborers. Some are rich with detail and some are, well, rather terse. The thing I like best about diaries is the way they open a window into the daily lives of the past. It’s especially important when the writers weren’t ‘important’ enough to make the papers or the history books. Take Lucy Diven (1833-1888), for example. We recently received a collection of 22 of her diaries dating from 1866 to 1888. She was the wife of lawyer and prominent local businessman, George M. Diven. There’s a local school named after him, but, when I looked her up, all I could find were her birth, death, and marriage dates. Thanks to her diaries, we know so much more. Lucy Diven, circa 1870's Lucy Brown Diven was born to Alden and Minerva Brown of Clinton, New York on June 8, 1833. She married George M. Diven of Elmira on June 3, 1863 and the two of them lived in a stately mansion at 957 Lake Street. They had six children: Eugene, Josephine, George, Alexander, Louis, and Clarence. Two of them, Josephine and Clarence, died young and each time Lucy was grief-stricken. The day after baby Clarence died in 1878, Lucy was unable to get out of bed and could not bring herself to face any of the mourners at his funeral. Despite her grief and whatever else was going on in her life, Lucy wrote in her diary nearly every day until the summer before her death when she became too ill to do so. Some of Lucy's diaries Her diaries reveal a busy woman. The Divens employed servants to handle the day-to-day cleaning and cooking, but homemaking was still a full-time job for Lucy. She directed the staff in their work, did all the shopping and fancy baking, and managed the household accounts. Lucy also made all her children’s clothes and most of her own, and did all the family’s mending. Except when her children were ill, it’s rare to find an entry which doesn’t mention one sewing project or another. When her six children were still small, she spent much of her time entertaining them, reading to them, taking them on outings, and caring for them when they were sick. She also had a fairly active social life, frequently paying calls to friends and her in-laws, and hosting them in turn. She liked to read, both for herself and aloud for family and friends. She was a member of a sewing/reading circle where one lady of the group would read aloud while the other ladies worked. Lucy’s writing style tended to be terse and the amount of detail she put into her entries varied based on the space constraints of the diary itself. Her handwriting was tiny and neat, although it got noticeable harder to read as her health declined in the last few years of her life. Here are some examples: Lucy's diary, April 10-15 1866 April 12, 1866 Quicksilver and glue—30 cents Scissor grinder—15 cents Received Libbie’s package containing the drawers and sacques. Wrote to acknowledge it this evening. April 12, 1870 Hemming the coverlet for William’s bed while taking care of Baby. Freddy Palmer commenced playing with the children. Mrs. Palmer in. April 12, 1876 Trimmed a pair of drawers and cut out and partially made a new pair for Alden. Julia called to borrow my hat and veil to wear at Mrs. Lowman’s funeral. April 12, 1880 Wrote mother. Hemmed a night dress. Put the attic in order. Nellie swept it. Commenced finishing up the boys shirtwaists. Played solitaire until Geo. came, then read newspaper stories to him while he played. April 12, 1886 Sprinkled the plants and did some mending. Afternoon went to see Miss Hunt, then to call on Mrs. Evans, Mrs. Thurston, and Mrs. G___. Missed a call from Mrs. D___. Alden and Louis began school again. Geo. went to N. York on evening train. Rachel Dworkin is the archivist at the Chemung County Historical Society. To learn more about the museum and to read more of their blog, click here.
  15. by Erin Doane It was 88 years ago this week that people in Elmira and surrounding towns tasted beer again after years of Prohibition. Nationally, Prohibition began on January 17, 1920 but Elmira had gone dry 15 months earlier on October 1, 1918. Between then and April 7, 1933, not a single drop of alcohol passed the lips of anyone in the county. Okay, that’s not true at all. Throughout the entirety of Prohibition, illegal beer and hard liquor had been available (click here to read about the Briggs Brewery operation) and some low-alcohol beverages were legal to sell and consume (click here to learn about “near beer” and cereal beverages). For law-abiding beer lovers, however, the years had been quite dry. So, many people were excited when President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Cullen-Harrison Act on March 22, 1933 which legalized beer with an alcohol content of 3.2 percent. Previously under the Volstead Act, all beverages with an alcohol content of over 0.5 percent were illegal. On April 7, 1933, 3.2 percent beer became legal to sell and consume in 19 states, including New York, that did not have state prohibition laws that would supersede the federal legislation. As soon as the act was signed, breweries jumped into action to get beer legally to their customers. They had two weeks to ramp up production before thirsty men and women could again partake of their beverages. Distributors, wholesalers, and retailers also began scrambling to get the precious brew. For those in Chemung County, the new beer was coming from the American Brewing Company of Rochester, West End Brewing Company of Utica, and from several other breweries in New York or New Jersey. The Nectar Brewery on Tuttle Avenue in Elmira (previously Mander’s Brewery before Prohibition) did not restart its operation until later in April. Briggs Brewery, by the way, did not ever switch to producing the lower-alcohol beer, preferring to continue illegally producing the full-strength stuff. The rush between President Roosevelt signing the Cullen-Harrison Act into law and its implementation just 15 days later was not just a challenge for breweries and beer distributors. The new federal law went into effect so quickly that state governments and local municipalities did not have time to make their own regulations. Elmira Police Chief Elvin D. Weaver said that local police had no jurisdiction over the sale of beer until a state law was put into effect as there were no city ordinances governing beer traffic. All that was needed to become a legal beer seller was a retail license, which the federal government was reportedly giving out indiscriminately to anyone who paid the $20 licensing fee. Beer would soon be available at bars, hotels, restaurants, pool halls, grocers, gas stations, and even soft drink stands in parks. Intersection of Main and Water Streets, 1930's Some local businesses took polls of their patrons to see if they were interested in buying beer. One unnamed restaurant reported to the Star-Gazette that the vote was 10 to 1 in favor of the sale of beer there. The Mark Twain Hotel manager announced that beer would be offered for sale in the coffee shop and with room services. Other businesses decided to wait and see how the rollout went. There was still considerable opposition to the consumption of alcoholic beverages in Elmira and throughout the entire nation. Frank E. Gannett took a stand against any sort of beer advertisements in his newspapers. Clinton N. Howard of Rochester, one of country’s most militant dry leaders, who had spoken on several occasions in Elmira, sent a message to President Roosevelt that read in part, “with the single exception of the crucifixion of the Son of God by the politicians of Jerusalem, legalization of beer is the crowning infamy of the ages.” Despite uncertainty and opposition, at the stroke of midnight on Friday, April 7, 1933 barrels and bottles of 3.2 beer were loaded into waiting trucks at the breweries and government seals were broken on railroad cars that had already arrived at distribution hubs. The first shipment arrived in Elmira at 8:00 a.m. with more quickly following. Wholesalers purchased the beer at $2 to $2.50 per case (around $40 to $50 today) then turned around and sold it for 20 cents ($4) a bottle or 10 cents ($2) a glass for draft beer. The demand, however, greatly outpaced the supply and by noon many were left disappointed as they moved from one watering hole to the next searching for the highly-desired beverage. Several restaurants had promised beer with lunch but were not able to deliver. By Saturday morning, the supplies had been replenished and plenty of 3.2 beer was available for the rest of the weekend. “First Shipment of Legal Beer Arrives This Morning,” Star-Gazette, April 7, 1933 It is estimated that within the first 24 hours, 1.5 million barrels of beer were sold in New York State. Despite not having passed laws yet regulating the new beer trade, Governor Lehman had signed a dollar-a-barrel beer tax in time to collect some substantial revenue for the state. New York City alone made $200,000 in fees from issuing retail permits. Nationally, the stock market rose in the hopes that legal manufacturing and distribution of beer would stimulate business in general. Locally, the grand rollout of 3.2 beer seemed to have gone smoothly, despite shortages. Elmira police encountered no unusual disturbances that first weekend and reported that it was, in fact, unusually peaceful downtown. By Monday, April 10, “wet hysteria” had died down. In his ‘Round Town column in the Star-Gazette, Matthew Darrin Richardson summed it up by writing, “Beer ought to pretty well recover from its hysteria this week and settle down to regular traffic…By this time Elmirans should have satisfied their curiosity, if not their thirst entirely.” Erin Doane is the Curator at the Chemung County Historical Society. To learn more about the museum and upcoming events, click here.
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