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Sunday, August 19, 2007

99 Years Ago in Elmira, New York


Compiled by Allen C. Smith from the Elmira Star-Gazette 1908


January 2 Today it is Mayor Sheehan, and Elmira has passed another milestone in her political history and it is former Mayor Brockway. Mr. Brockway has set a standard for emulation by the heads of the city government for decades to come. The Star-Gazette congratulates the former mayor on the excellent work he has done.

January 2 UNCLE TOM'S CABIN AT LYCEUM TONIGHT

January 3 Edwin M. Hart, window decorator for the Barker, Rose & Clinton Company, has been awarded the first prize for displaying the Never-Slip Horseheads so cleverly during December. Elmirans will remember the window display in which the horseshoes were shown at their best when used on the steep, icy incline leading to Santa Claus headquarters.

January 3 OFFER GOOD JOBS IN CIVIL SERVICE - Examination to be held in Elmira this month. Several pay well.
Forest planting assistant: $900 per year
Teacher, Indian service: $50 per month
Computer: range from $1,000 - $1,200 per year
Scientific assistant in seed testing: male $1000 per year, female $840 per year

January 6 All men have their hobbies, but if you want to see those that have the hobby of hobbies, go to the big chicken show that opens tonight at Bundy Hall. A few squirrels and other small wild animals will be shown.

January 6 CHOCOLATE PIE IS HEALTHFUL [headline]

January 11 [front page headline and story] After running away from her parents in Galeton, Pennsylvania, with Luigi Cellalo, an Italian about 30 years old, pretty little Mary Marrone, 15 years old, came to Elmira with her lover on Wednesday. Among her exciting movements has been her secretion by her lover, an offer of $100 reward for her return to her father, stolen, bound and gagged by the Black Hand, taken away from her lover and held for ransom, later recovered, again secreted by her lover from the police who searched for her and finally taken into custody and held at police headquarters until her father's arrival.

January 14 Miss Mary Marrone and her lover, Luigi Cellalo, were placed on an Erie train yesterday afternoon and sent back to Galeton. The police were unable to press a charge against them. Before going, demure and pretty Mary, aged 15, let out a string of abuse coupled with unpleasant sounding Italian swearwords which showed she could be anything but genteel at times.

January 15 More arrests in the sacrilegious snowballing episode at the Grand Central Avenue Free Baptist Church have been made. The four boys mentioned threw snowballs through the open front door of the church into the interior, seriously interfering with the meeting.

January 16 Boys get a public flogging as a penalty for snowballing. Soundly flogged by their parents in the basement of City Hall. Detective Gradwell’s stout and pliable razor strop, a broadband of leather with a handle, was the flog.

January 22 There are 5,000 millionaires in the United States, 2,000 of whom live in New York.

January 23 In the Lyceum Theatre last night a battle scene was presented in which it was necessary to fire off a revolver in a barrel to imitate the sound of a big piece of artillery. Soon everyone in the house began to sneeze. The barrel used had been used to store pepper. The dust floated throughout the theatre.

January 24 Greatest cowboy picture ever produced at “The Grand” - “The Hostage”, Pathe’s latest and most beautifully colored - Thrilling and exciting scenes for Friday and Saturday - Will draw the crowds - Admission 5¢

January 27 Chicken thieves have been active for the past several days in the northern section of the city. Last night thieves visited the hen-coop belonging to Mrs. Cedarholm of 915 Davis Street and took five chickens. Resident have obtained various firearms and other weapons and are ready for the chicken thieves, should they ever be caught at work.

January 28 Two men arrested plead guilty to using crooked dice in a game. Pal squeals when he does not get his share.

January 29 A large white bull-dog created a commotion in the Lyric Moving Picture Theatre on West Water Street last evening. The dog came into the theatre with its owner and during the exhibition of a picture stood in the aisle near the curtain. At a certain portion of the picture, a little boy falls from a high wall into a sluiceway and struggles in the water. The picture is a colored one and the realistic scene was too much for the dog to withstand. With a little whine he ran to the edge of the curtain and jumped squarely at the pictured water and the little boy.

January 30 Saturday the general offices of the Kennedy Valve Manufacturing Company will be moved from Bleekman Street in New York City to the manufacturing plant in Elmira.

February 2 Two 1908 American [brand] cars, a Tourist and a Roadster [models], were received by the Willys-Crew Motor Company yesterday. The Tourist was used by Miss Lillian Russell in her play “Wildfire” at the Lyceum last evening. Made a fine impression.

February 12 The conductors of the local streetcar company who run the Pennsylvania Avenue cars are being persecuted by a gang of boys who reside near the Northern Central shops and who put in some of their time near the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Miller Street. These boys, it is alleged, jump on the cars, pull the trolley off the wire, snowball the conductors and ride for nothing.

February 12 Youths of the city will lose only public playground. Baseball diamond in Riverside Park being planted with trees and shrubbery. Nearby residents object to the noise. Mayor opposes plan.

February 14 If a tall woman, 25 years of age, of dark complexion, and wearing a wart on the side of her nose, a light colored coat and a red skirt, should call at your front door and say that she wanted to tell your fortune, close the door and lock it, fasten all the windows and don’t go out of doors until the police have responded to your telephone call. That is the only way you can protect yourself against being hypnotized and robbed.

February 18 Good skating on Eldridge Lake is being enjoyed by many people this afternoon. The ice has frozen evenly since the thaw and the lake provides good skating.

A Confederate Prisoner Remembered in a Northern Town


By Diane Janowski ©2006

Allen Smith and I are double historians - in our hometown of Elmira, New York and in our adopted hometown of New Roads, Louisiana. We co-authored Image of America: The Chemung Valley - a pictoral history of Chemung County, New York. In New Roads (Pointe Coupée Parish) we are involved in several history projects including the Pointe Coupée at the Millennium photography project.

We often discuss the differences and similarities between the North and the South. In their March 2006 visit to Pointe Coupée Parish, we spent an evening with Pointe Coupée historian Brian Costello and began a conversation about the Civil War. A question came up - Elmira had the infamous Elmira Prison Camp between 1864 and 1865 - did Costello know of any Pointe Coupée soldiers who were sent to Elmira? He believed there was one - named Fortlouis. Interest piqued in us - who was this soldier and what circumstances brought him from New Roads to Elmira. Before leaving Louisiana, we stopped along a sugar cane field on Gremillion Road and collected a bag of Pointe Coupée dirt. I had a purpose.

Back home in Elmira, I began research. Between internet history sites and emails to Costello, I pieced the information together and found Michel Fortlouis.

Number 995 in the death list of 2,950 Confederate prisoners of war at the Elmira Prison Camp, was Corporal Michel Fortlouis. Fortlouis and his two brothers, Leopold and Theophile, enlisted in the Pointe Coupée (Louisiana) Artillery Company B in June 1861. The Pointe Coupée Artillery Company B fought at the siege of Vicksburg, and with its losses was consolidated into Company A, which joined the Army of Tennessee and was active in the Atlanta Campaign. Michel Fortlouis, however, went missing at about the same time as the beginning of the Atlanta Campaign in April/May 1864. Union troops captured Michel Fortlouis in Clinton, Louisiana on August 20, 1864. He was received at Ship Island, Mississippi on October 5, 1864, subsequently received in New York City on November 16, 1864, arrived at the Elmira Prison Camp on November 19, 1864, and died in Barracks No. 3 on November 29, 1864 of pneumonia - just ten days after arriving in Elmira. His marker in Woodlawn Cemetery is erroneously marked “L. Forthewis.” Michel Fortlouis was 27-years old. Both his brothers survived the war.

On Memorial Day 2006, we visited Fortlouis' grave and in our own quiet ceremory gave him the dirt from home, and affixed his marker with his correct information.

New Book! Elmira Prison Camp
The Elmira Prison Camp existed from July 1864 to July 1865 and housed more than twelve thousand Confederate prisoners of war. Nearby, Woodlawn National Cemetery holds the graves of 2,950 Confederate soldiers who died in Elmira. The graves were dug, and meticulous personal information was recorded under the direction of John W. Jones, a former slave from Virginia. Jones played an important role in the Underground Railroad in Elmira in helping Southern slaves pass through the area.

His Mother Called Him “Harry” - Elmira’s Little Rascal

by Diane Janowski
©2006 All rights reserved by author

Harold “Hal” Roach was an Elmira, New York boy, born the son of Charles and Mabel Roach of Columbia Street on January 14, 1892. Although others called him “Hal,” his mother called him “Harry.” Young Hal’s first job was as a newspaper deliverer. One of his customers lived on East Hill at Quarry Farm - Samuel Clemens, affectionately known as Mark Twain..

In several newspaper interviews, Hal said his childhood in Elmira was a happy one. In one interview Hal said, “Elmira was a fine place for a boy to grow up.” He recalled playing in Grove Park as a child. After his death in 1992, Elmira renamed the park pavilion in his honor.      

Hal claimed to have “attended and been kicked out of almost every school in Elmira.” St. Patrick’s, Booth, and Elmira Free Academy schools officially claim him as a former student. He attended EFA for a short period and played football on its team. After his EFA expulsion in 1908 at age 16, Hal’s father “strongly suggested” that Hal leave home in hopes that “travelling would help him grow up.”

Roach went as far from Elmira as he could - Alaska. He mined for gold and when that did not prove advantageous, he delivered mail for two years in “Uncle Sam’s service” (in Alaska) riding a horse for long distances through the wilderness. After nearly losing one foot to frostbite, Hal decided upon a less strenuous job. While on vacation in Los Angeles, he happened to meet some people connected with the motion picture business, and because of his riding skills learned while delivering mail, he secured himself a job as an extra in a movie. As an extra, the director placed him in a gambling den scene. The director did not know the game nor did the other extras, but Hal did. Hal straightened out some details, and the director rewarded him a regular job.

Hal worked hard and finally became the assistant director. Eventually in 1915, he formed a company with Dan Linthicum. Dan supplied the money, while Hal supplied the brains. They took the first letters of their names, R-O-L-I-N, as their company name. The companies who bought their movies went broke and with Rolin’s capital down to zero, Roach decided to risk it all on one last effort. Their next movie had no story, or “rhyme or reason.” Hal called it “Just Nuts” and sent it to the Pathè Movie Company. Pathè bought it and asked for several more. Hal’s company had several good players - Harold Lloyd, Harry Pollard, Bebe Daniels, and others.

Rolin had its own studio, several directors and all the money it needed. Hal worked hard for his success. Elmira’s Regent Theater (red arrow in the photo marks the theater on Elmira's East Water Street) made famous his “Lonesome Luke” comedies locally. In 1919, Roach formed Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, California.

Neither Mr. Roach bought nor wrote any scenario. He thought out comedy situations, outlined his ideas to his company, and put his crew to it. This method proved successful.

Under Roach's creativity, his studio produced the Our Gang/ Little Rascals short film comedy series beginning in 1922 with silent shorts, then sound short films beginning in 1929. the series continued until 1938. Roach's Little Rascals were unlike most other films with children in lead roles, in that they portrayed children as real children - not imitating adults. Roach's children characters often were in positions of poor versus rich. The Little Rascals also included female children and African-American children (although portrayed steriotypically) as lead characters.

In 1937, Mrs. Roach visited Elmira to renew acquaintances with her old friends. She told the Elmira Star-Gazette that since she moved to California in 1916, she had met Joan Crawford, Mary Pickford, Claudette Colbert, and Jean Harlow. Mrs. Roach said that she was proud of her son, and that she and her husband were reluctant to leave Elmira when Hal coaxed them to move to California “where there was real living.” She said that she did not regret moving west although she missed her friends in Elmira. She lived at her son’s studio in Culver City, California until her death.


Sources:
Elmira Advertiser, September 15, 1916.
Elmira Star-Gazette, June 13, 1937.
Elmira Star-Gazette, January 12, 1992.
http://www.answers.com/topic/our-gang






Let Us Entertain You


By Joe Swanke
©2006 All rights reserved by author

Back in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, us hometown folks in Elmira, New York enjoyed the entertainment of our own nightclubs, dance halls, public dances, taverns, and restaurants. Some excellent show business celebrities visited from the big cities of Rochester, Buffalo, Binghamton, and Syracuse, as well as traveling entertainers from throughout the country who would stop by to do a few shows. We had our own entertainers who sang to us, set our feet to moving, and made us laugh.

Clarence “Curley” Johnson of 758 Spaulding Street and his orchestra played at many venues, including the Majestic Ballroom. The Majestic’s advertisement read; ‘The Atmosphere of the Majestic Ballroom is enjoyed by hundreds of dancers. We suggest you pay a visit to the Majestic soon. Admission: Gentlemen 40¢, Ladies 10¢.

Marshall Terry was a coal dealer by day, but by night he was an Elmira show business celebrity. He could really make the crowd dance at the Rock Springs pavilion (not to far from today’s Exit 57). Also, at Rock Springs, you could have heard Earl Hines - “America’s Foremost Jazz Pianist.”

Sometimes Elmirans drove out to Salubria Lake Park near Bath, New York to hear “Howard Tresp and his Californians.” Do not let the name fool you - they were really from Buffalo!

Born and bred in Elmira, the Reilly Brothers’ (James, Michael, Thomas, and William) Orchestra was popular at the Glen Eden restaurant on the Watkins-Montour Highway. The “8 Bandoliers” played jitney dances at the Ritz Ballroom. “The “Harmony Kings” often played at the Shappee School of Dance.

When Ray Dunn, of East Second Street, came home from the United States Army, he made Elmirans laugh at the Melody Garden Restaurant (near the west entrance to Eldridge Park). He billed himself as “Ray Dunn, The Stuttering Comedian.”

Clubs and fraternal organizations had their own musical entertainment. The Masons had their “Masonic Quartette” with Claude Denson as the manager. The Grotto Club had the “Grotto Band” with Frank Hauver as the manager.

The Majestic and Lyceum Theaters had their own orchestras for their productions.

Nothing was too good for the Chateau Artuso at Horseheads Junction (near today’s former Toshiba plant). Owner Joseph Artuso sometimes brought in entertainers from outside our county. “The Sunshine Sisters” came all the way down from Rochester. Artuso also starred “Earl Stebbins and his Musical Saw.”

Whenever they played, local acts were well supported. Acts included “The Cotton Club Pickers” who called themselves “The Hottest Colored Band in the Southern Tier,” and “Louis Steeple and his Cotton Pickers.” Elmira’s own Helen Monroe of East Market Street sang some great songs. “Smith’s Dance Band” always got the crowd on its feet. Don Redman and his Orchestra often played in our area. Don claimed his band was the “most popular colored dance band in the world.” If you lived in Millport, “The Collegians” often played the dances at Alco-Haven.

On Fridays, you could eat a fish fry and listen to music by “Ed, Rose, and Stub,” at the Eastside Restaurant on Sullivan Street. Southsiders might remember the White House Tavern, known as “Elmira’s Little Nite Club.’’ “Uncle Seth & Company” played there often. Andrew’s Restaurant on Grand Central Avenue often featured the musical stylings of “Rip and Babe and their Guitar.”

Back in the 1920s, a well-known dance band for high schoolers was “The Five Melody Boys.” The band was favored at local proms and school dances. They practiced their tunes in a garage on West Clinton Street.

If you wanted to see something different, the Crystal Tea Room in Elmira Heights heldover Charlotte Gilchrist, an “Oriental” dancer, for an extra whole week because “…the crowds just won’t let her go.” The Crystal Tea Room also billed the “Silver Moon Orchestra.”

You could smell the corned beef and cabbage a block from the Collins and Mahany Restaurant on Davis Street, and inside you could hear the music of “Jiggs and Maggie.” “Shufflin’ Sam and his Gloom Busters” were the frequent attraction at the Garden Hotel on the corner of East Water and Fox Streets. 

Ross Hammond of Davis Street was a machinist at the Eclipse plant by day. In the evenings, he would musically entertain the folks at the Collegiate Tavern at the corner of college and Thurston Streets. The Coney Island Restaurant on South Main Street often presented Betty DeVere, singer, and accordionist.

Accordionist Charles “Chuck” Leone was around a long time. He played throughout Chemung County. He also worked by day at the Eclipse plant. When Chuck was not a solo act, he performed with his band “Chuck Leone and his Neapolitans.”

How about a delicious barbecue sandwich while listening to Mann’s Orchestra? They often played at the Brookside Inn on upper Lake Street. “Harry Springer’s Orchestra” often played at the Mayfair Club in the Rathbun Hotel. Harry lived on Fourth Street. The Newtown Inn on West Miller Street hosted the “Taverneers.” The Ideal Restaurant on South Main Street often invited vocalist Betty Kennedy to perform. “Foster Clark and his Musi-casters” liked to play at Jerry’s Grill at the corner of Orchard and East Water Streets. Another entertainer there was the well-known Miss Ida Lamb of Dewitt Avenue. If you liked “cabaret-style” dancing and music, every evening you could go the Comfort’s Inn on West Miller Street. Every Saturday they had an oyster supper.

Clubs also needed entertainment. The International Order of Odd Fellows sometimes hired the “4 Aces Orchestra.” The Eagles’ Club on Lake Street liked to be entertained by the “3 Scamps.”

If you liked “cabaret-style” dancing and music, every evening you could go the Comfort’s Inn on West Miller Street. Every Saturday they had an oyster supper.

So remember, even though we didn't have big time show biz types - we did our part to entertain ourselves in the days before TV.


Portrait of America: Jack Delano's Erin, New York Photos


by Ned Stihm ©2005
Photographs taken near Erin, New York
September 1940 by Jack Delano
Delano's image notes at bottom

I found these photographs at the American Memory site of the Library of Congress. What were they? What did they mean? Who was Jack Delano? He wasn't from Erin.

In September 1940, a man and a women in a beat up car arrived in Erin, New York. Of course, the townspeople were interested in the strangers, but in the spirit of upstate New York - were interested "from a distance." The strangers made some friendly inquiries at the general store, got back in their car and drove off in an easterly direction toward Rumsey Hill Road. The strangers were Jack and Irene Delano representing the United States Farm Security Administration.

Jack Delano graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts earlier that year. After graduating, he applied and was hired by the Farm Security Administration as one of a team of photographers to travel the United States and photograph the Depression's devastating effects on people, and the impact of wartime mobilization.

Roy Stryker was the head of the FSA photographic department. He did not instruct his team of photographers to bring back any particular photographs, but rather wanted them to roam about freely. Roy wanted them to observe Americans at home, at work, and at play, with an emphasis on rural and small-town life, the effects of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, increasing farm mechanization, displaced people migrating West or to big cities, and mobilization for World War II.

Jack was assigned to travel the east coast. He and his wife, Irene, certainly had a knack for meeting people and made friends with strangers easily. Irene, also an artist, made drawings that supplemented the photographs taken by her husband. One morning in September 1940 the Delanos arrived in Erin, New York and looked around. They found the people and places in the photographs here on the Rumsey Hill Road (between Erin and Van Etten). About 1o more photographs of this area exist - please visit the Library of Congress website to see the others.

The FSA was a reorganized version of the 1935 Resettlement Administration that granted low-cost loans and assistance for poor farmers, created camps and settlements for migrant workers, controlled river pollution, and fixed areas of soil erosion. The RA also had an Historical Section whose purpose was to produce photographic records of rural life. In 1937 the RA was renamed the “Farm Security Administration” or FSA. While working for the FSA, Delano delivered a substantial review of eloquent photographic portraits, home interiors, and landscapes in rural areas.

Jack Delano worked for the FSA from 1939 to 1943 then went on to do many other things. He chronicled life in Puerto Rico - loved Puerto Rico so much that he and Irene moved there - worked as a military photographer, a filmmaker, a composer, and an illustrator of children's books designed in collaboration with his wife.

All the FSA photographers contributed 164,000 black-and-white film negatives, 107,000 black-and-white photographic prints, and 1,610 color transparencies into the FSA/ Office of War Information (FSA /OWI) Image Collection. The vast collection depicts Americans at home, at work, and at play, with an emphasis on rural and small-town life, the adverse effects of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and increasing farm mechanization, displaced people migrating West or to industrial cities in search of work, and America's mobilization for World War II. The FSA was renamed four times between 1937 and 1946, and continues today as the Farm Service Agency under the United States Department of Agriculture.

Writer’s note: I had an idea. Is the little girl in these photos alive? Do these families still live there? It's been 65 years. So I checked the telephone book. Sure enough! There were several families today on the same rural road with the same last name. I thought how perfect is this, so I contacted the families. The families did claim to have always lived there but do not/did not know anyone from the photos or their names.

Resources:
http://www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/webapp?area=about&subject=landing&topic=ham-ah
http://www.sites.si.edu/exhibitions/exhibit_main.asp?id=41
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html

Photographs are from the Library of Congress American Memory
Notes are Jack Delano's
Image info from top to bottom

1. Mr. Uhro Miki, [correct spelling Urho Maki] Finnish farmer in the submarginal area of Rumsey Hill, near Erin, New York. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, [reproduction number: fsa 8c28847]

2. Small daughter of Mr. Uhro Miki, [correct spelling Urho Maki] Finnish farmer in the submarginal area of Rumsey Hill, near Erin, New York. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, [reproduction number: fsa 8c28866]

3. Mrs. Morrison farms in the submarginal area of Rumsey Hill, near Erin, New York. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, [reproduction number: fsa 8c28829]

4. Mrs. Ben [Anna] Harris [age 58], feeding her goats outside her house in the submarginal farm area of Rumsey Hill, near Erin, New York. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, [reproduction number: fsa 8c03141]

5. Small daughter of Mr. Uhro Miki, [correct spelling Urho Maki] Finnish farmer in the submarginal area of Rumsey Hill, near Erin, New York. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, [reproduction number: fsa 8c28863]

6. Mrs. Ben [Anna] Harris [age 58] preparing the evening meal. The Harrises come from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. They have goats and sell goats milk. Live in submarginal farm area of Rumsey Hill, near Erin, New York. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, [reproduction number: fsa 8c03113]

7. Mr. Miller, farmer and minister. He is the only Negro farmer in the submarginal area of Rumsey Hill, near Erin, New York. He came about seven years ago after having farmed in Tennessee and New Jersey. His farm is on the very crest of the hill and he is doing a little better than most of his neighbors. His two boys go to high school and his wife works in town. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, [reproduction number: fsa 8c03173]

8. Mr. Ben Harris [age 56]. He comes from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Has goats and sells goats milk. Does hardly any farming. Lives in the submarginal farm area of Rumsey Hill, near Erin, New York. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, [reproduction number: fsa 8c0314]


The Gibson Train Wreck


by Maude Ennick
©2002 All rights reserved by author.

Editor’s note: At 5:21 AM on July 4, 1912, the worst rear-end collision in railroading history, at the time, happened three miles east of Corning, NY at the Gibson train station - near today's Corning Country Club. It involved three trains that had left Elmira. Freight train No. 393, passenger train No. 9, and Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Express train No. 11. Just minutes after leaving Elmira, No. 11 rear-ended stopped train No. 9 and the stopped engine of No. 393 in Gibson, New York. The great accident left thirty-nine people dead and eighty-eight injured. Ms. Ennick's great uncles Frank and Henry Roemmelt were among the survivors.

It was beginning to be a beautiful Fourth of July, 1912. Sightseers and daytrippers had boarded trains all the way down the line as far as Brooklyn and Newark bound for the sites of Buffalo and Niagara Falls. On schedule, Delaware, Lackawanna, & Western freight train No. 393 left Elmira, New York at 3.50 and after experiencing engine difficulties it was pulling into the siding area of the Gibson [New York] Station to address the problem. After about twenty of its cars cleared the tracks, a drawhead broke and left several remaining unpowered freight cars stranded on the main line. The conductor quickly threw the signal to warn No. 9 of upcoming trouble and to prevent it from crashing into train No. 393’s cars still on the main line. Gibson Station’s flagman, Edward Lane, posted the warning signals including a “warning automatic semaphore” one mile east of Gibson, and sent a man down the tracks with a red flag to a point a half mile from Gibson. He also posted a “double danger semaphore signal” at 300 yards from the rear of train No. 393.

No. 9 left Elmira at 4:47AM bound for Buffalo and Niagara Falls with holiday excursionists from Brooklyn, Scranton, Binghamton, and Elmira. The engineer was T. J. Hartnett of Elmira, and the conductor was Howard Staples of Elmira. As Hartnett came into Gibson he saw the warnings, slowed down, and finally came to a full stop. Hartnett found No. 393 in trouble while uncoupling the cars. It was slow work for No. 393 and so Hartnett in No. 9 prepared to help push No. 393’s remaining cars into the siding.

Shortly after 5:00AM, D. L. & W. Express No. 11 left Elmira carrying the United States mail and more Fourth of July excursionists on their way to Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Engineer William Schroeder held the throttle of the 100-ton engine as it came booming through Big Flats. There was a thick early morning mist rising from the Chemung River.

Simultaneously in Gibson, many passengers on No. 9 had gotten off to stretch their legs and walked along the tracks while No. 9 moved No. 393’s cars to the siding. Down the line at the half-mile warning, Flagman Edward Lane already saw the impending tragedy - No. 11 missed all three warnings and plowed into the back of No. 9, pushing into the back of No. 393.

As the day, and days following unfolded; facts and rumors flew. According to reports made by Lackawanna officials, Schroeder was one of their oldest and best-trained engineers. As usual, he was giving “everything he had” to get to Buffalo and Niagara Falls will the mail closely behind No. 9 as he had done repeatedly many times before. Through the straight stretch in Big Flats engineers liked to run 80 and even 90 mph., Schroeder's estimated speed was 65 mph when he passed the first warning and was still at 65 mph when he passed the flagman. He saw No. 9 at 100 yards in front of him. He jammed on the reverse without cutting off the steam. The quick reversal of power was too great, and the train jumped the tracks. The momentum caused the train to be a projectile with only 50 yards to impact. The reversal of power threw Schroeder out of the cab’s window, and he landed on his head and shoulder, and he lay near the tracks as his train shot past him and into the back of No. 9. It ploughed straight through No. 9 demolishing its last three coaches and squeezed together the Pullman cars until “they looked like a closed accordion.” Then it stopped. Schroeder awoke hurt and surveyed the “inferno.” Some passengers and crew were alive and moving. Among the injured passengers from Elmira were Bernard Strauss, Frank and George Roemmelt, Herman Hart, Edna Keigler, and M. H. Taylor.

Mangles bodies lay “in every way.” Schroeder could not speak or move for three hours and then wandered away and walked back to Elmira - a distance of 14-and-a-half miles. Elmira’s undertakers worked all day and night and by 9:00PM, all the bodies were ready for burial. Corning was not in a mood to celebrate the Fourth and quickly cancelled its fireworks display. Rescuers took the living passengers to Corning. The injured passengers were taken to Elmira’s St. Joseph’s Hospital.

William Schroeder lived on the second floor of 1015 Lake Street in Elmira, about 4 blocks from the train yard, and his attending physician reported him to be in a state of “complete mental collapse.” His doctor recommended “complete quiet for many days.”

When word of the wreck reached the railroad authorities in Scranton, Pennsylvania, investigators began quick journeys to Gibson. Superintendent E. M. Rine [in Scranton] stated that Flagman Lane “is held equally responsible with Schroeder for not properly flagging a train.” Schroeder was responsible for “running past signals.” In his report, Rine stated, “Train No. 9 was composed of seven sleeping Pullmans, a buffet car, and two coaches, and was stopped at Gibson - where a freight train blocked the main line. Edward Lane, flagman of train No. 9, went 2,000 feet with flags and fuses to stop the express train due at the station in a few minutes. He set and lighted the fuses - green in color - meaning ‘caution’ and waited for the train. Lane claimed that Schroeder’s train ‘came at a high rate of speed and shot past him without seeing the warnings.' Lackawanna cited Lane as partly to blame because Lackawanna’s Book of Rules states: Torpedoes shall be used in foggy or stormy weather.”

Lane said he heard the train coming and expected it to slacken its speed. Officials said Lane failed in his duty by “not placing torpedoes on the tracks to warn the express train.”

On July 9, the Elmira Star-Gazette reported that the “train had missed its first warning because Fireman Huntley was talking to Schroeder about too much water in the boiler.” They adjusted the boiler, and as Schroeder turned around to talk to Huntley, and the crash came. On July 10, the newspaper reported, “Schroeder’s  wife was not home [on July 3] but he was home with relatives.” In the morning (July 3), he repaired the front doorbell to be sure that the railroad's call person could wake him. He left home for [Elmira’s downtown] at 12 noon, was gone for two hours, and then returned home and was with women relatives until 6:00 PM. Then he went to one of their houses for dinner. He came back with them to his house around 7.00 PM. Then he went to someone’s house on Oak Street and came back before 8:30 PM. Around 9:00PM he went downtown again and visited several saloons. The newspaper reported that Timothy Houlihan saw him at 9:30 PM on Lake Street and believed him to be sober. Charles Sharp, a waiter at the Senate Café, claimed he saw Schroeder first at 12 midnight on July 3/4. He believed Schroeder to have taken “two drinks of gin” before 12. Schroeder ordered a steak but “did not drink alcohol.” After, Schroeder went with Sharp to Falsey’s Café. Sharp had a[n] alcoholic drink and Schroeder had mineral water. They were only there five minutes. Then they went to Kelly’s Saloon where they each had another drink (Schroeder had another mineral water). Schroeder supposedly went home around 12:30, but Charles Klapproth, a saloon owner, saw him downtown [on Lake Street] at 12:30 and reported Schroeder as “sober.” On July 11, the Star-Gazette reported that Schroeder returned home between 12:00 and 1:00 AM a few hours before he took his ill-fated run. The railroad call boy came twice, once at 3:00AM and because Schroeder did not respond, again at 4:10AM. Schroeder responded to the second doorbell ring. Sharp said the next time that [Sharp] saw Schroeder was after the wreck and [Schroeder] told him that “the fireman was to blame.” On July 15, the Star-Gazette reported that Schroeder said that he had two drinks of gin for rheumatism in the whole day before the wreck. Schroeder said he was not on Lake Street at 12:30 as he went to sleep at 12:10.

Schroeder worked 42-and-a-half years for the D. L. & W., and was the engineer of train No. 11 for nine years. He had lived in Elmira for twenty-six years, and before that he lived in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

On July 16, the newspaper reported the “train had similar problems [the boiler problem] earlier but was working [when it left Elmira].” “They [Schroeder and Huntley] were looking at the foaming water in the boiler and trying to fix the two injectors. It worked for two minutes. Schroeder went out on the running board. Between the mechanical problem and his conversation with Huntley, Schroeder missed the three signals. He did see the rear of No. 9 and pulled the reverse lever thinking he was pulling back the throttle.

Schroeder was charged with murder and spent the rest of the summer and fall holed up in his house. The trial was to take place in Bath, New York in November [1912]. The day the trial was to commence it was decided that there was "insufficient evidence" and Schroeder's case was dismissed much to the courtroom's surprise. Schroeder, though not guilty in the eyes of the law, suffered the rest of his life with taunts and jeers.

Today’s major train wrecks in United States are well documented, but in researching incidents of many years ago, the facts are less easily found. The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) began its work studying railroad train wrecks in 1911 and continued into the 1970's when the NTSB assumed their role. There are only 80 reports for 1912, but the statistics in the report on the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad wreck of October 3rd (Volume 2 File 091) show a total of 13,698 accidents that killed 772 people and injured 15,096. The reports give a good insight into the workings of the railroads in the early 1900s and the fight of the ICC for improvements in operations and infrastructure to reduce the transportation industry’s accident rate.


Sources:
http://www.northeast.railfan.net/Index_ICC_reports.html
Brand, John.  Telephone conversion, July 1993.
Elmira Advertiser, July 5, 1912.
Elmira Star-Gazette, July 13 -17, 1912.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Maria Smolka, Young Victim

by Jennifer Ach
©2005 All rights reserved by author


Eleven-year-old Maria Smolka took the trolley to downtown Elmira, New York on Friday, June 13, 1930. In her hand, she carried a basket of candy that she wanted to sell to office people. Maria had bright eyes and a big smile, and everybody like her. After an afternoon of candy selling, she thought about her early evening piano lesson. Maria had an upcoming piano recital and had scheduled extra lessons that week in preparation. She wanted her piece to be perfect.

At the corner of Main and Water Streets, a new building for the Gorton Coy department store was under construction, and a tunnel-like wooden structure was built over the cement sidewalk to protect passersby from injury.

At 4:45PM, during rush hour traffic, the cement sidewalk and the wooden structure collapsed, sending more that 20 people into the excavated pit on the west side of the project.

An hour later, little Maria’s broken body was found beneath a sidewalk block. She had died instantly. Mrs. Effie Corey suffered a fractured skull and died the next day. Injuries to other pedestrians ranged from broken bones to cuts and bruises.

Officer Carroll was on patrol about 20 feet away when he heard the creaking of timbers and saw the enclosure fall into the pit. Lee Hee, a chef at Cipriano’s Restaurant, was halfway through the tunnel when the crash came.

Witnesses speculated that the piling of large bundles of steel rods on top of the enclosure, and the weakened gravel foundation may have precipitated the collapse.

Maria Smolka had lived at 222 Elmwood Avenue and was in the fifth grade at School One in Elmira Heights. She loved to play piano. Her parents had had fifteen children, and Maria was the tenth of their children to die.

The Owego, Elmira, & Bath Stage Coach

A typical stage coach of the time
by Diane Janowski
©2008 All rights reserved by the author


Almost two hundred years ago in Elmira, New York there was an inn at 206-208 Baldwin Street that was a stage coach stop. In 1820, the “Owego, Elmira, and Bath Stage Coach Company” provided transportation services much like today’s bus lines.


In 1819, the Elmira inn was the “hotel stopover” for the Owego, Elmira, and Bath Stage Coach Company. The O W & B was part of a larger system of travel through the northeast. It was a 76-mile piece of a traveler’s puzzle that stretched from the northeast states to New York City to Angelica, New York in the “west” with connections north and south along the way. New York City to Angelica via the O E & B line was 316 miles and took about 5 days.


Getting to Elmira was a rough trip though. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, a west-bound stage coach loaded with passengers and mail left  Owego, New York at 6AM, stopped for lunch in Athens, Pennsylvania and arrived in Elmira at 6PM just in time for dinner. This was the evening stopover. The Elmira inn does not have a recorded name but served meals and gave lodging to those in need. The next morning travelers awoke early, ate a hearty breakfast then got back on the coach at 6AM, stopped for a lunch in Painted Post, New York, and arrived in downtown Bath, New York at 6PM. Not bad for a 36-hour trip and only 76 miles.


Going the other way, east-bound travelers left Bath at 4AM on Tuesdays and Saturdays, arrived in Elmira at 6PM. I can’t explain the extra two hours traveling east. The next morning the stage left Elmira at 4AM and arrived in Owego at 6PM. There’s another extra two hours that I can’t explain - must be a time difference or else they spent more time eating lunch.


The Elmira inn was made of red brick and was a beautiful example of Colonial architecture. At some time in the late nineteenth century an extension to the rear was added to accommodate visiting actors and actresses of the Mozart Theatre around the corner. Apparently, many hotels at the time barred thespians as boarders. In the twentieth century the building was known as the “Mozart Bungalow” - a hotel for actors and actresses who played at the Mozart Theatre around the corner on East Market Street.


The building was razed around 1940. Most recently the site was the New York State Employment building.


____________

Owego Elmira & Bath
Mail Stage (Twice A Week)


This line will commence running twice a week, after the 1st of April next, --Days of starting and arrival as follows:


---Leave Owego on Tuesdays & Saturdays, at 6 am & breakfasting at Athens, arrive at Elmira at 6 pm.
---Leave Elmira on Wednesdays and Sundays, at 4 am and breakfasting at Painted Post, arrive at Bath at 6 pm.


RETURNING
---Leave Bath on Tuesdays & Saturdays, at 4 am and breakfasting at Painted Post, arrive at Elmira at 6 pm.
---Leave Elmira on Wednesdays and Sundays at 4 am and breakfasting at Athens, arrive at Owego at 6 pm.


This line of stages intersects the Newburg and Canandaigua line at Owego--the Southern line, at Tioga Point--and the Geneva line at Bath----at which latter place it also intersects a line leading directly to Angelica, situate about 30 miles from Olean, one of the places of embarkation on the Allegany river, and about 18 miles from Oil Creek, the nearest place of embarkation, and which empties into the Allegany at Olean; at which place boats of any size are always kept ready for travelers, for the purpose of descending the Ohio River.


Persons traveling from New York, or from any of the Eastern States, to the S. W. States, will find this the shortest, cheapest, and most expeditious route.  The distance from New York, via Owego, Painted Post and Bath, to Angelica, is 316 miles, which is performed in about 5 days.


Good teams and careful drivers will be kept on the route, and no pains spared to accommodate passengers.  The Stage horses are good.


S. B. LEONARD - March 30, 1819


A daily stage (Sunday excepted) operated between Cuba and Rushford from about (162.  ?probably 1862) It left Rushford for Cuba at 5:30 a.m. arrived in Cuba for the 8:34 a.m. express west. It left Cuba on arrival of the mail train at 3:24 pm, reached Rushford at 6:45 pm. This stage coach apparently delivered the mail from the Rawson Post Office. Lyndon residents received their mail from the Rawson Post Office. At one time each resident took their turn carrying the mail from Rawson to the Lyndon Post Office. Sometime it was carried on horseback.


Owego Gazette, Owego (NY), January 24, 1826





Wheatless Mondays and Meatless Tuesdays - “Eat less wheat, meat, sugar and fats to save for the army and our allies” or "Christmas was a Meatless Tuesday"


by Peggy Whittier
©2006. All rights reserved by the author

During World War I, the United States supplied its own food, and food to Britain, France and some of the other allies. Bad weather in 1916 and 1917 had an adverse effect on the food supple. President Wilson appointed Herbert Hoover as the head of the new Food Administration. Hoover applied a new concept of voluntary “Wheatless Mondays” and “meatless Tuesdays” While not official many parts of the country observed “Gasless Sundays””Sugarless Mondays”, “Meatless Tuesdays.” “wheatless Wednesdays, Porkless Fridays, and two meal Saturdays.

From the Elmira Herald:

Prisoners Have No Sugar
Prisoners at the Chemung County Jail are not enjoying sugar with their food at present, due to the inavailablity of Sheriff Hoke to purchase sugar at any of the stores in Chemung County… They do not mind it, however, and in fact do better work without it.
October 27, 1917 page 9

Two Meatless and Wheatless Days a Week are Now Urged
Federal Food Administrator Arthur Williams has made a plea for 2 wheatless days each week. The meatless days at the Waldorf-Astoria, he said, have saved 2,000 pounds of beef…New York’s food conservation will begin Sunday aftenoon. Home cards in instruction in economy and conservation will be issued.
October 27, 1917 page 9

Today is First Meatless Day for Hotels; Tomorrow Wheatless
Tuesday, October 30, 1917 will in years to come be remembered by surviving Americans as the first meatless day for this country of the World War…This drastic step has been taken on the advice of the US Food Administration and will continue in effect every Tuesday and Wednesday until further notice.
October 30, 1917 page 5


Sugar Famine in City Becomes Serious; No Relief is Promised
…Today retail stores are unable to meet the wants of their regular customers for even a small supply of sugar…
November 10. 1917 page 1

Thanksgiving Prices at the Mohican Company
Turkeys 35¢ a pound
Oysters 45¢ a quart
Round, Sirloin, Porterhouse 25¢ a pound
November 26, 1917

Our Soldiers Will Eat Turkey on Xmas Day
Every American soldier in France is to get his Christmas turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes and mince pie after all…
December 24, 1917 page 1

Beginning Next Week Wednesday
Stores in the Business Section
Will Close at 5:30 except Saturday
December 29, 1917

Business Men agree to Suggestions of Fuel Administrators
To Close-Up Stores every weekday at That Hour
Will Mean Considerable Saving of Fuel and Lights
December 29, 1917



Victory Menu:
Breakfast
Baked Apples
Cornmeal and farina with top milk
Wheat bread toast
Coffee with hot milk

Dinner
Pot Roast with brown gravy
Browned potatoes
Buttered carrots
Rye bread with butter
Fruit Sponge with sour milk
Cookies

Supper
Cheese sauce on toast
Toast with marmalade
Cocoa
Milk for children
December 29, 1917 page 4
________

Victory Menu
Breakfast
Stewed apricots
Graham toast with butter
Fried mush with sirup

Lunch or supper
Stewed lima beans with milk
Apple and onion salad
Oatmeal, graham, or rye bread
Carmel junket or muffins and jam

Dinner
Spanish hash (rice, tomatoes, left over meat)
Wheat bread and butter
Brown Betty and top milk
Milk for children
December 31, 1917


Sources:
Elmira Herald, Elmira, New York. October 27, October 30, November 10. Novembber 26, December 24, December 29, December 31, 1917.

http://209.85.165.104/search?q=cache:MK93HNejiDgJ:www.archives.gov/education/lessons/sow-seeds/+meatless+tuesdays+1917&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=3&gl=us&client=safari

"Our Own Book"

by Kennedy Hull
©2007 All rights reserved by the author


I found a great old book called “Our Own Book” published by the Elmira (New York) Weekly Gazette & Free Press in 1888. It is falling apart and in decrepit shape, but it has much good stuff in it.


Such as:


Soup for an Invalid - Cut in small pieces 1 lb. of beef or mutton, or a part of both; boil it gently in 2 quarts of water; take off the scum, and when reduced to a pint, strain it. Season it with a little salt, and take a teacupful at a time.


Beef Tongue - Corned or smoked - Soak the tongue twenty-four hours before boiling. It will require from three to four hours [of boiling], according to size. The skin should always be removed as soon as it is taken from the pot. An economical method is to lay the tongue, as soon as the skin is removed, in a jar, coiled up, with the tip outside the root, and a weight upon it. When it is cold, loosen the sides with a knife and t urn it out. The slices being cut horizontally all the round, the fat and lean will go together.


Boiled Bullock’s Head - This as a good dish for a large family. Place the head in salt water for six hours, to cleanse it; then wash and remove the palates, and place them again in salt and water; put the head in a saucepan, with sufficient water to cover; boil for five hours, adding tow carrots, two turnips, and two onions, cut small; when done remove the head from the soup, and remove the bone from the meat; serve soup and meat in tureen; the palates when white, boiled until tender, then pressed until cold, make it a delicious relish for lunch or supper. This is one of a few recipes for substantial dishes, suitable for persons of small means.


Cottage Pie - In the bottom of the pie dish put a good layer of nicely minced mutton or beef, season to taste, add an onion chopped fine, cover with mashed potatoes, and bake in a sharp oven half an hour, or until the potatoes are well browned.


Prairie Chickens - Skin the chickens, which makes them sweeter; cut them open on the back and through the breast. Fry them in batter, with salt and pepper to the taste. Cook them to a nice brown.


Cure for the Itch
Take half a pound hog’s lard, four ounces spirits turpentine, two ounces flour sulphur, and mix them together cold. Apply to the ankles, knees, wrists, and elbows, and rub it in the palms of the hands, if there be any raw spots. Apply a little three nights when going to bed.


A Certain Cure for a Common Cold
Boil a common-sized turnip, put it into a saucer, and pour upon it half a cup of molasses, and let it stand fifteen minutes; then turn off the syrup, at the same time squeezing the turnip so as to express its fluid. The syrup to be drank warm on going to bed.


For a Hectic Cough
Take three yolks of hen’s eggs, three teaspoonfuls of honey, and one of tar; beat well together; add one gill of wine. Take a teaspoonful three times a day before eating.




Bibliography


Our Own Book. Elmira, New York: (Elmira) Weekly Gazette & Free Press, 1888.

Personius Letters (CL 105)


by Kimberly Richards,
former Chemung County Historical Society Archivist

CL 105, officially known as the Personius Brother’s Letters, offers researchers a rare glimpse into the lives of three brothers during the American Civil War.  Not only can researchers learn about the daily life of a soldier in the 50th New York Volunteer Engineers, or their duties while on assignment, but these three brothers also provide their thoughts on war and life at home.  These letters offer researchers a rare look into the personalities of siblings and how they related to their family, and each other, during a time of war.

Out of the 151 letters currently found in the Booth Library Collection (Chemung County Historical Society), Charles contributed the most with 99, Walker comes in second with 35 and Daniel contributed only 17.  All letters that appear in this article retain the original spelling however punctuation has been added to allow for readability.  More letters probably exist, especially when Walker and Charles both refer to letters they mailed home for dates not currently in the collection.  While all three sets have their own distinctive voice, Daniel’s letters probably provides the least information, because there are so few and because he enlisted late into the war.  

Walker V., Charles W., and Daniel V. were born in Tompkins County to William and Julia Personius.  Walker, the oldest, was born in 1836, Charles was born in 1840 and Daniel followed in 1846.  Walker enlisted on August 22, 1861 in Millport, New York, he was 25 years old.  On September 16, 1861, he signed the Muster-In Roll for Company G, 50th Regiment, N. Y .S. V. and became the Company’s captain.[1]  Charles followed his brother a year later and enlisted as a private on August 25, 1862 in Millport, New York at the age of 22.  Daniel enlisted as a private at the age of 18 on January 21, 1864, almost nine months to the day before Walker Mustered-Out on September 20, 1864.  Both Charles and Daniel finished out the war together, and Mustered-Out on June 13, 1865 in Fort Barry, Virginia.

On July 22, 1861 after the Union defeat at the Battle of Bull Run, Congress authorized President Lincoln to accept 500,000 volunteers to serve three years in the army, and all over the north men started filling the ranks.  In New York State, Governor Edwin D. Morgan appointed the former state engineer and surveyor, Charles B. Stuart, to raise and command a regiment of infantry.  This regiment became the 50th New York Volunteers, also known as “Stuart’s Independent Regiment,” and became a part of the Army Corps of Engineers.  The regiment formed in Elmira, New York with Stuart supervising and many of the boys from the area quickly filled the ranks.  Three brothers from Caroline, New York, heeded their country’s call and enlisted with the engineers.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers has had a long and distinguished career, starting in June of 1775, when they formed at the request of the Continental Congress.[2]  Despite the fact that Congress separated the Engineers from the main branch of the Army in 1779, the unit disbanded at the close of the American Revolution (1775-1783).  The engineering corps existed on and off until March of 1802 when President Thomas Jefferson reinstituted the Corps and entrusted the engineers to oversee the newly formed Military Academy at West Point, a post the engineers kept until 1866.  The Corps of Engineers were responsible for military and civilian work projects, including construction of lighthouses, harbors, canals, and roads as well as coastal and defensive fortifications.  West Point was the only engineering school in the country during the first half of the nineteenth-century and in that time, the top students from each class were placed into the Engineering Corps after graduation.  It was after the Civil War (1861-1865) that the academy broadened its focus beyond engineering.[3]

The 50th New York Engineers formed out of a need for combat engineers during the Civil War.  General George B. McClellan “detailed the Fiftieth New York to act as sappers,[4] miners, and pontoniers[5].”[6]  The regiment became responsible for laying pontoon bridges, constructing roads and building fortifications.  In a letter written from Camp Lesley in Washington D. C. to his parents, dated November 29, 1861, Walker described some of the process that went into building fortifications.  He wrote:

My company has been across the East Branch 2 days this week and go tomorrow to build Gabions and Faciens.  Gabions are wove out of whicker like a basket without a bottom.  They are three feet long and 2 across.  They are placed on fortifications and filled with sand.  Facines are bundles of poles 18 feet long 9 inches square and bound with wire every eighteen inches.  These are used in building forts and also used in advance of the army to through in swampy places for the army to cross on.[7]

As a result of their specialized knowledge and training in engineering, and the army’s need for repairing roads, railroads, telegraph lines and laying pontoon bridges across strategic points along southern rivers, the 50th Engineers participated in every major campaign of the Army of the Potomac from the Peninsula to Appomattox.  Among its achievements were field fortifications at Yorktown and Petersburg; pontoon bridges at Fredericksburg and in the Peninsula; Antietam, Gettysburg, and Wilderness-Spotsylvania campaigns; and corduroy roads in Virginia and Maryland.[8]

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, the 2,170 foot pontoon bridge built across the James River approaching Petersburg, Virginia in June of 1864 “was the longest floating bridge erected before World War II.”[9]  In a letter written to his parents on December 19, 1862, Charles explained a little about the process of handling pontoon bridges.  He wrote:

In handling a bridge there is a great deal of order about it.  The company is divided [off] into squad of so many into each squad some are lashers some are chessmen and some balk carriers and siderail carriers and boatmen and so on.  Each has his own part of the work to perform and does no other.[10]

The 50th also came under heavy fire at times and all three brothers noted skirmishes between the engineers and the confederates.  In a letter dated March 26, 1865, Daniel wrote:

Thare has been hard fighting yesterday and thare will bee more.  We did evacuate for Stedan and battery number ten and eleven and the [?] that are in front of Petersburg. . . the rebs found it out and they made a brake and ran through and two divisions of the ninth Corps made another behind them and captured about two thousand of them. . . .[11] 

The brothers also sent home news of causalities.  In a letter dated February 25, 1863 from Harpers Ferry, Charles reported:

It is just six months ago to day since Hiram [Vandermark] and myself enlisted to serve our country and since that time there has been a good many changes in life.  Two of this company have died and one has deserted and gone home and there is now three sick in Gen. Hospital, one at private house and six or seven sick in camp.[12] 

Out of a roster list of 4,555 enlisted men and officers, compiled during the course of the war, the 50th New York Engineers lost nineteen enlisted men to wounds and 206 to disease along with two officers, bringing the total lost during the war to 227.[13]

After reading the three sets of letters, it is difficult to fully grasp Daniel’s thoughts on the war.  His letters in general are rather short, he sometimes mentioned the duties he performed, however he usually states that he has nothing to tell his parents, except that he is well.  Charles and Walker both mentioned that Daniel liked soldiering and noted when he was on guard duty.  Many of the seventeen letters written by Daniel are on the same sheet of paper and researchers can find notes for three or four days together.  This seemed to occur because he either forgot to finish, or mail, a letter because of guard duty, or he would just add to a previously written letter to fill up a sheet of paper.  It is clear that Daniel’s schooling was limited, based on poor spelling, however all three brothers used very limited punctuation and it is not uncommon for one sentence to continue for an entire page or two.  After receiving a letter from Daniel in 1861, Walker wrote his parents that, “I like to receive letters from Daniel though it takes a Philadelphia lawyer to read them on account of the writing and spelling.”[14]

Walker and Charles’s letters described many of their experiences during the war, and included their opinions on various issues from politics to local gossip.  Walker’s letters are more official in tone and provide detailed information on the health of the company, duties carried out by the men under his command, and encounters with the rebels.  Walker considered his letters as a journal and when asked if he was keeping a diary stated, “I do not nor have not since I entered the service.  I thought my letters would be sufficient as I intend to write of every move I made together with the date and all incidents of any importance.  If they are saved they will be a sort of diary of themselves.”[15]  Walker holds true to his statement and spends time chronicling his Company’s movements throughout Maryland and Virginia.  However, Walker’s letters are not all business and he does express his thoughts on his daily duties.  As Captain of Company G, there were parts of his job that Walker enjoyed, such as testing the soldiers on Guard Duty.  Walker related this story about “Grand Rounds” with a Sergeant.  He wrote:

I then went on to No. 23.  He did not chalange proper.  The Sergeant and my self run his beat twice then we talked to him about letting us run his beat.  The Sergeant told him he should not hold his gun in the way he did to the Officer of the day and said let me show you how.  The darn fool gave him the gun.  We had him then.  He first said he did not care for he was a going to have his discharge from the Regt.  I told him he would never be discharge for I should take and handcuff him and tomorrow he would be court martialed and shot.  Then he begun to cry and beg for us to let him off.  …He got [done] crying and I made him sware that he never would let any one run his beat nor let any one take his gun away from him and that he would read the duties of Guards ten times each day.[16] 

There are also jobs he disliked, such as sitting court-martials, while stationed at Headquarters in Washington, D. C.  The same week his wife Ellen was visiting him in Washington he wrote to his parents, “I am still engaged in that plaged Court Martial.  Yesterday there was sent up some 20 cases for trial which will be business for 2 weeks.”[17]  Along with information on his duties, Walker also included thoughts on other topics, such as local politics back home or thoughts on the Federal elections.  He also had strong opinions about the war, which came out in a letter dated September 28, 1862 in a discussion on the upcoming passage of the Emancipation Proclamation.  He wrote:

I suppose now Greely and his Dam patriots are satisfied as the order has been issued Liberating all slaves in disloyal states after the first day of January 1863.  The result of his proclamation is nothing.  It will embitter the feeling between the north and south, it makes it, liberating the slave, the issue and cannot accomplish it.  Only by conquering the disloyal states which would be the result without this Proclamation.  So you see nothing is gained by but we may lose it, by making the feeling stronger between the north and south by making slavery the issue and there by causing a division of feeling [in the] north.  Politics should be left entirely out in the prosecution of this war.  Every man, woman and child [in the] north should be untied in restering the country to its former prosperity and the upholding of the laws, but we cannot expect every person to unite in making the abolition of slavery the issue in this war.[18]

Despite his strong feelings, Walker never complained about his situation and tried to find the positive during his time in the army.

Out of the three brothers, Charles can be described as being a very light-hearted person, with an excellent sense of humor.  In a letter written to his parents on April 17, 1863 from Camp Carroll Maryland, Charles joked,

The Paymaster was expected this afternoon but as usual failed to make his appearance but I think he will be around in the course of a week.  Indeed I would like to see one just to know how they look if nothing more.  I have often heard of them and my curiosity is greatly excited for I think they must be some great guns but perhaps I look through a magnifying glass when viewing them.[19] 

In all of Charles’s letters, he would mention the status of family and friends, serving with the engineers, or on occasion other regiments if they were stationed in the same area.  He always included information on Walker and Daniel, such as this from a letter dated April 26, 1864:

Daniel is no better yet.  In the forepart of the day he feels pretty well but in the afternoon he has quite a hard fever but nights he has not much fever.  The Dr. gives him pills and hot slings[20].  He takes about eight pills and three slings per day so far.  To night when he took the sling it made him sick at the stomach and he threw it up before he got a rod away from the Dr’s office but I am in hope he will be better in a few days.[21]

After reading his letters, from around the same date, it is clear that Daniel did not relay all this information to his parents and he only told them that he had been complaining for a few days, but was feeling better.[22]

Charles’s letters contain a great deal of his thoughts and opinions on just about everything and anything, from his attending the local religious service, the price of commodities in the south compared to Ithaca, continuously pointing out how their father has never written to either of the brothers and, he even goes so far as to ask his mother if his Pa enlisted without telling them.[23]  He also offers thoughts on boyhood friends getting married and even jokes about his bachelor status.  On February 17, 1865 Charles wrote this to his mother, “Still if I was home I should improve the sleighing without doubt and some of those young Ladies up there would have more than one fine ride and you would not be for plaguing me long about being an old bachelor of twenty five.”[24]

Like Walker and Daniel, Charles enjoyed the life of a soldier, and seemed at ease with the fact that his brother was his senior officer. Charles took matters in stride, such as when Walker sent his tent-mates Richard (Personius) and Hiram to Fairmont, Virginia to work on a bridge, without him.  In a letter dated May 11, 1863 from Camp Carroll, Maryland Charles wrote “We have heard from the two boys that went to Fairmont they got there safely and have completed the Bridge.  I would like to have gone with them but the Capt did not see fit to send me so I content myself by remaining behind and will stick tighter to him than a woodtick wherever I can find him.”[25]  However, unlike Walker, Charles had no problem conveying his frustration at times about the war.  In a letter dated April 3, 1864 he wrote his parents about the tough conditions on a march from Alexandria, Virginia to a camp near Rappahannock Station, Virginia.  He wrote:

It is in such times as this that my Patriotism all dies away and one is tempted to curse the Government and every thing connected with it and I imagine the Veterans did not feel very proud of their enlistment stripes just then and it has rained and snowed half the time since we have been here.  I tell you it is tough times among the jerseys.[26]

Like his brother Walker, Charles was passionate about his views and at times could be poetic.  In a letter written in February 25, 1863, from Harpers Ferry, Virginia, Charles articulated his thoughts about the war.  His statement, eloquently written, could be applied to any war.  He wrote:

And so it goes sometimes on excuse and sometimes another and consequently there is nothing gained while there is untold sums expended for our support.  But what is wealth compared to human blood and human life.  Thousands and thousands have left their quiet and peaceful homes and all the many privileges and comforts which they once enjoyed to enter into the service of their country little thinking that it might cost them and alas many have left never more to return.

With the forces which we now have in the field we ought to be able to crush out this mighty rebellion and so end at once this suffering of humanity.  More vigor should be used.  More generals brought into the field that are in favor of terminating the war instead of prolonging it.  More fight and less play is my motto for thereby would be a great many more lives be saved because there is so many dying off of Camp feveres and other diseases which a soldier contracts in the Army from exposure.[27]

Despite his thoughts, Charles carried out his duties to the best of his abilities and on February 16, 1863 he was promoted to Corporal and then to Sergeant on March 4, 1864.

The Personius letters offer researchers a unique opportunity.  Through the three brothers, one can learn about the various duties performed while in the field, as well as explanations on the various techniques used by the engineers.  Researchers can track the movements of Company G as they travel with the Union forces during the war.  These letters also offer a glimpse into the relationships between the three brothers and their family back home.  Through their writings, each brother has his own voice, helping to make the past more realistic.

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[1]A Record of Commissioned Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Privates, of the Regiments which were Organized in the State of New York and Called Into the Service of the United States to Assist in Suppressing the Rebellion Caused by the Secession of Some of the Southern States from the Union, A.D. 1861, as Taken from the Muster-In Rolls on File in the Adjutant General’s Office, S.N.Y., Vol. II, (Albany: Comstock & Cassidy, Printers, 1864), 324-325.

[2]U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website: www.hq.usace.army.mil/history/brief.htm.

[3]U. S. Army Corps of Engineers website and the United States Military Academy at West Point Website: http://www.usma.edu/history.asp.

[4]Sappers - someone who is a military specialist in field fortification work.

[5]Pontoniers - someone who manufacturers a flat-bottomed boat or portable float used in building a floating temporary bridge.

[6]Ed. Dale E. Floyd, “Dear Friends at Home . . .”: The Letters and Diary of Thomas Owen, Fiftieth New York Volunteer Engineer Regiment, during the Civil War, (Washington, D.C.: Historical Division, 1988), xi.

[7]Letter from Walker V. Personius to William Personius, November 29, 1861, Camp Lesley, Washington, D. C.

[8]Floyd, “Dear Friends at Home . . .”, xiii.

[9] U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website.

[10]Letter from Charles W. Personius to William Personius, December 19, 1862, Harpers Ferry, Virginia.

[11]Letter from Daniel V. Personius to William Personius, March 26, 1865, New Poplar Grove Church.

[12]Letter from Charles Personius to William Personius, February 25, 1863, Harpers Ferry, Virginia.

[13]Full roster list was printed from the Civil War Soldier and Sailor System, provided by the National Parks Service at: www.itd.nps.gov/cwss.  A copy of this roster is in the vertical files, as well as the service record for the 50th NYSV Engineers.

[14]Letter from Walker V. Personius to William Personius, December 25, 1861, Camp Lesley, Washington, D.  C.

[15]Letter from Walker V. Personius to William Personius, November 26, 1862, Odd Fellows Hall, Harpers Ferry Virginia.

[16]Letter from Walker V. Personius to William Personius, December 10, 1861, Camp Lesley, Washington, D. C.

[17]Letter from Walker V. Personius to William Personius, February 2, 1862, Camp Lesley, Washington, D. C.

[18] Letter from Walker V. Personius to William Personius, September 28, 1862, Harpers Ferry, Virginia.

[19] Letter from Charles Personius to William Personius, April 17, 1863, Camp Carroll, Maryland.

[20] Sling - an alcoholic drink that is served hot or cold and that usually consists of liquor, sugar, lemon juice, and plain or carbonated water.

[21] Letter from Charles Personius to William Personius, April 26, 1864, Stevensburg, Virginia.

[22] Letter from Daniel Personius to William Personius, April 27, 1864, Stevensburg, Virginia.

[23] Letter from Charles Personius to William Personius, April 20, 1863, Camp Carroll, Maryland.

[24] Letter from Charles Personius to William Personius, February 17, 1865, Poplar Grove Church, Virginia.

[25] Letter from Charles Personius to William Personius, May 11, 1863, Camp Carroll, Maryland.

[26] Letter from Charles Personius to William Personius, April 3, 1864, Rappahannock Station, Virginia.

[27] Letter from Charles Personius to William Personius, February 25, 1863, Harpers Ferry, Virginia.