Guy Mannering: Good Dog

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Dudley Olcott was a member of the Olcott family that owned the Ten Broeck mansion, Arbor Hill. Born in 1838, he attended the Albany Academy and took a course in civil engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and then joined the family business (well, one of them) as an assistant cashier at the Mechanics’ and Farmers’ Bank, and then became cashier before ascending to succeed his father Thomas as president of the Mechanics’ and Farmers’ Bank in 1879. During the Civil War he was a captain in the Twenty-fifth New York Volunteers, made a brevet major and then a lieutenant colonel. He was a member of the board of governors of the Albany Hospital, president of the Albany Cemetery Association, and a trustee of the Home for Aged Men, the Albany Orphan Asylum, and the Albany academy for Girls. He was president of the Park Commission of Albany, enlarging and improving Washington Park. He vacationed every year by going salmon fishing on the Ristigouche River in Canada.

Yes, yes, that’s all fascinating. But the reason we’re talking about Dudley Olcott today is because of a dog. In the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, Olcott received an award for showing a Native English Setter Dog. The dogs were shown September 4-8. According to “The Illustrated History of the Centennial Exhibition,” setters were “more largely represented than any other variety of the dog race, and there are many fine, highly-bred animals here. . . Many English setters are exhibited, and some of them not only show the points of good dogs, but have pedigrees of remarkable extent.” In the “Reports on Awards,” Olcott was noted for his American-bred setter dog Guy Mannering, over one and under two years old, which won the Scott special prize for best native English setter at the Centennial Bench Show.

An article in Scribner’s Monthly magazine in November 1876, “Some American Sporting Dogs,” In discussing a variety of breeds, the author specifically described Dudley Olcott’s dog:

As a specimen of the high-bred dog from imported stock, I have chosen “Guy Mannering,” bred by Charles H. Raymond, Esq., of Morris Plains, N.J. This dog is the produce of “Pride of the Border” and “Fairy,” – a pair of celebrated Laveracks, imported by Mr. Raymond from the kennels of the gentleman whose name is given to the strain and who has bred them in purity for more than fifty years.

The setters known as the native English (a misnomer, as native American would be more proper) are generally in color, orange and white, lemon and white, black and white, red and white, liver-colored and white, or all black; although they are to be found of a liver and tan, or in fact of almost any known combinations of the colors mentioned except those of orange and lemon and black.

The writer then went into extreme detail on how such setters are judged in this country, which you can peruse yourself if you care to. Thanks to the Google, we can pretend that we knew that “Guy Mannering (or, The Astrologer)” was a novel by Sir Walter Scott, so the name was less random than it may have seemed. The article only identified the breeder, but the cutline for the illustration of Guy Mannering clearly identified him as Olcott’s dog.

Dudley Olcott's English Setter, Guy Mannering

As you can see, he was a good dog, Brent.

The Incredible Embroidery of Catherine Hewitt Pfordt

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Yesterday we noted that one of the awardees in Philadelphia’s Centennial Exhibition in 1876 was Mrs. C. Hewitt Pfordt of Albany. For embroidery she submitted, she was commended “for great taste in design and workmanship, displaying extraordinary skill.”

A supplement to Scientific American described her submission: “A white silk flag is elegantly worked with the national emblems, by Mrs. C. Hewitt Pfordt, Albany, N.Y.”
That’s all we find in the record of awards about her embroidery work, other than that it hung in Section D of the Women’s Pavilion. It would appear that “C.” stood for “Catherine,” also known as Mrs. Joseph Pfordt. The banner she made was apparently originally created for the St. Jean Baptiste Society. The Albany Daily Evening Times of July 13, 1875, described “A Splendid Embroidered Banner”:

Since the seventh of May last Mrs. Joseph Pfordt has been incessantly at work embroidering a handsome silk banner for the St. Jean Baptiste society, originally intended to be carried by them at the celebration of St. John’s day on the 24th of June, but which, owing to some alterations ordered by the society, could not be finished in time and will be unfurled to the public gaze for the first time on the occasion of the picnic of the St. Jean Baptiste societies of Troy, Cohoes and Albany, at the fair grounds, on the 27th inst. The banner has now reached so near completion that a just and accurate description of it can be given, and having, through the kindness of Mrs. Pfordt been allowed to give it a critical inspection we unhesitatingly say that without doubt it is one of the finest, if not the finest, of embroidered banners in the state. It is seven feet in height and five feet in breadth, the body being composed of heavy white corded silk. Upon the front side is a medallion, one yard by three-quarters of a yard, within which stands a figure of St. John as he is supposed to have appeared in early manhood. In one hand is a staff, from the top of which hangs a scroll containing the words “Ecce Agnus Dei,” while the other is extended gracefully forward as if its owner were proclaiming the coming of Our Lord. In front is a lamb, emblematical of our Savior, and two palm trees, while in the background looms up a range of mountains at a great distance. The design of this medallion, as was also that of the one on the opposite side, was prepared by Mr. E. Prentice Treadwell of this city, and is decidedly complimentary to the taste and skill of that artist. The work of Mrs. Pfordt in reproducing upon the banner Mr. Treadwell’s design was almost equal in difficulty to the preparation of the design itself, since in addition to the necessity of making it life-like and natural the colors had to be selected by the embroiderer, which required the exercise of great care and taste. That Mrs. Pfordt has succeeded in her attempt the results of her labors are a sufficient testimonial. Over the medallion is a scroll bearing the inscription “Society St. Jean Baptist D’Albany, N.Y.,” and underneath it a similar one with “Fondee Le 1er Janvier, 1868.” The upper and lower corners of this side of the banner contain remarkably accurate representations of the famous passion flower and leaves copied from nature.
Upon the opposite side of the banner is a medallion, similar in size to the other, bearing the coat of arms of Canada — a beaver knawing [sic] the roots of a maple tree. Over this is the inscription “Aidons Nous Les Un Les Autres,” and beneath, “L’Union Fait La Force.” On each corner are maple leaves.
The banner, which is worked throughout in silk and chenille, will be trimmed with heavy bullion fringe and braid, while from the bottom points will be suspended heavy bullion tassels. Altogether it is a perfect model of embroidery skill. It was the original intention of the society to send to France to have a banner made, but upon reflection it was determined to encourage home talent, and so the difficult task was awarded to Mrs. Pfordt. That their conclusion was a wise one is evinced by the result, and the work is sufficiently praiseworthy to find a place in Philadelphia at the centennial as an exhibition of Albany talent, taste and skill.

Well, that certainly made it sound like the intent was to present the St. Jean Baptiste Society banner at the Centennial Exhibition, but what little description of what was presented makes it seem like that was not the case. The Chicago Tribune, in its coverage of the Exposition on May 16, 1876, gushed about her work:

There are two remarkable works on exhibition in the Woman’s Pavilion. They both represent in different ways such a vast amount of labor and long-acquiring skill as to produce a feeling of real pain in the mind of the beholder. In the presence of these works, one is overcome rather with awe than with admiration. They are located close together, near the south entrance, on the left. One is a banner nearly 6 feet square. The material is white satin, and upon this ground is wrought the most delicate and ingenious embroidery that I ever saw. There is a fringe around the whole piece, of golden-tinted silk, tastefully and elaborately designed. In the centre is a representation of the Great Seal of the United States, so faithfully worked out as to convey the perfect impression of a fine painting. Of course it is in many colors, yet all rich and harmonious. One side of the banner shows the coat-of-arms, the double eagle, and the shield, with the eternally grand motto, “E Pluribus Unum”; while underneath are twin sprigs of oak, leaved and acorned, forming a graceful half-wreath. The opposite side shows the Pyramid rising out of the desert. Nothing could be more perfect, as a work of art. It was made by C.H. Pfordt, of Albany.

Catherine Pfordt was born about 1840 and was married to Joseph B. Pfordt, a florist (Pfordt’s Florist continued at least through 1922, when it was run by Marcella Pfordt, on Broadway between North Ferry and Thacher) . It appears Catherine died in 1887 and is buried in St. Agnes Cemetery in Menands.

The Centennial Exhibition Awards Capital District Manufactures

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Centennial ExhibitionLast week we mentioned that Edgar Smith’s dry air refrigerator, a product of Albany manufacture, was featured at the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, what was essentially the first world’s fair held in the United States and a celebration of the tremendous progress, particularly industrial and agricultural progress, the young country had made in the course of its first century, and the extremely promising future that events seemed to portend. Thousands of items of manufacture were presented at the Exhibition; of those, hundreds were singled out for awards by an international jury – the awards were given in categories like “Clothing, Furs, India-Rubber Goods, Etc.” and “Agricultural Machines, Implements of Agriculture, etc.” Smith’s refrigerator (“Will keep ice Twenty Days, and fresh meat Two Weeks”) was a long way from the only item featured at the Centennial Exhibition.

The firms below were all recognized with awards – after their names are the things they were awarded for; in some cases, Burr’s “Memorial of the International Exhibition” gave us some idea of what else they had shown.

Albany was represented by:

Newton and Co.: fire brick linings for stoves, ranges, and heaters. They were on Rathbone Street, and here’s their great letterhead from 1863.

Mrs. Treadwell and Co.: seal skins (though the reference to Mrs. Treadwell is confusing; the company was well-known as George C. and then George H. Treadwell).

Graves, Bull and Co: shoe lasts and patterns.

Thomas Feary [sic: Fearey] and Son: shoes. We’ve spoken of Thomas Fearey, makers of the Hatch flexible shoe, before.

Smith Refrigerator Co.: dry air refrigerator, “containing fruits and meats that have been long kept.”

Jason Gould [sic: Goold] and Co.: sleighs. The Goold family was renowned for making the Albany sleigh, the very model of Santa’s sleigh, and after the horseless carriage took over, they got into auto bodies and existed until 1951. they showed sleighs, carriages, and coaches on runners, seven in all worth $8000.

Henry Q. Hawley, gas heating and cooking furnaces and water motors. We couldn’t find anything about Hawley, until we found a “Memorial of the International Exhibition” that said that Hawley was a Philadelphia agent for the actual company,  Henry A. Haskell. The engine was “a motor that costs $40, to run sewing machines, &c., by the supply through the pipes of city water works.” The gas apparatus, ascribed to Hawley, was a furnace for heating and cooking by gas. “Cost, two cents an hour. Burns without flame and does not poison the air.”

P.K. Dederick and Co.: perpetual baling press. Dederick’s company was the Albany Agricultural and Machine Works, a massive factory in Tivoli Hollow. Three sizes of the baling press were shown: hand, horse, and steam. “The largest will press twenty tons of hay per day, requiring to operate six horse power. In a building located east of Agricultural Hall is a large display of farm wagons, portable steam engines. All the machines are well built.”

Wheeler, Millick and Co.: horse hay rake and straw preserving rye thresher. Also given as Wheeler & Melick Co., New York State Agricultural Works. They were established in 1830 (according to the Memorial), employed 125 men and had capital of $186,000. They exhibited “threshing machines, one-dog power, double and single horse powers, a rye thresher that leaves the straw straight for binding, tread and lever powers, a combined thresher and cleaner, thresher and shaker, and forms. The entire display has been sold to the Japanese Government.”

William A. Wood Co.: reaping machine.

Charles Fasoldt: astronomical tower clock. He exhibited “very handsome and accurate astronomical and tower clocks.”

E.D. [Erastus Dow] Palmer: sculpture. To say the least.

Regents of the University of N.Y.: Full set of reports and documents (in the category of Education and Science).

Dudley Olcott: Native English Setter Dog (who received a special award – he was a good dog, Brent).

Mrs. C. Hewitt Pfordt: embroidery. We’ll speak more of her soon.

Troy was represented by:

The Albany and Rensselaer Iron and Steel Company was demonstrating its Bessemer steel and wrought iron rails, bars, forgings, axles, spikes, nails and horseshoes. This was the company of Amasa J. Parker. They also showed “a fine array of rails, twisted to show their quality.”

Henry Burden (though it was typed as Burgden) and Sons were awarded for wrought iron bars and horse and mule shoes, and for its horseshoe machine model. We’ve written about Henry Burden quite a bit.

The Henry J. Seymour Chair Co.: chairs.

E. Waters: Paper cans for kerosene oil, and of course paper boats. The “Memorial” said “The firm has been established about nine years, and employs 15 men. Their exhibit consists of one six-oared coxwain gig, forty-six feet six inches long, twenty-five inches wide, and weighs 195 pounds. Value, $350. One four-oared shell, thirty-eight feet long by sixteen inches wide, weighs 78 pounds. Value, $260. Double shell, thirty-four feet long and fourteen inches wide, weighs 39, and is worth $160. One single shell, twenty-eight feet long by twelve inches beam, weighs 30 pounds. Value, $115. Also, a single scull, twenty-six feet long by eleven and a quarter inches beam, weighs 20-1/4 pounds. One Adirondack gig. All the boats are made of paper and furnished with the latest improvements. In all the races in the United States this year, the winning boats were made by this firm. They also exhibit kerosene oil cans and camp stools made of paper. Also, a water-tight joint, in which the tongue is made of prepared paper, and fits into a groove, where it swells when touched by water.”

Harrison and Kellogg: castings of malleable iron and coach wrenches. They also showed gearing and screw-wrenches.

Ludlow Valve Manufacturing Co.: sliding stop valves and fire hydrants. Ludlow had a lovely letterhead. They showed a large water valve of 36 inches, and a full set of small brass valves.

Empire Portable Forge Co.: portable forge.

Albert L. Betts: wire machine. He was showing ready-made wire fencing.

W. and L.E. Gurley: transits, levels, compasses, etc. Not sure why we’ve never written about Gurley before – they may be the only area business that exhibited at the Centennial Exposition that is still in existence. They showed “Civil Engineers’ and Surveyors’ instruments exhibited in a neat room in the aisle. Value of exhibit $15,000. Hands employed, 114. Capital used, $350,000.”

Swett, Quimby and Perry: graphic parlor stove and Empire heating range.

Fuller, Warren and Co.: stoves, furnaces, ranges, etc. One of the area’s major stove manufacturers, Fuller, Warren lasted until 1951. They also had operations in Chicago, Cleveland and New York at the time of the Exposition. “The building containing this exhibit is located on Fountain avenue, west of Machinery Hall. It has the sides of glass, thus affording light sufficient to minutely examine the concrete. The decorations are chaste and elaborate, and make one of the most attractive edifices on the grounds. In the interior are shown their theaters, ranges, cooking and parlor stoves of every description. Upon many of these the most prominent parts have been nickel plated. Several of the stoves were kept running during the entire exhibition, so that they might be easily understood by visitors. To make and continue this display the firm have been to an enormous expense, though the praise elicited from all, and the favor with which they have been received have partially reimbursed them.”

West Troy, now known as Watervliet, was represented by:

James Roy and Co.: shawls. They showed “Woolen cloths and shawls in profusion, and very elegant.”

J.M. Jones and Co.: street car for two horses. It was described in the Memorial as a “Handsomely finished street car.”

Schenectady, not yet really an industrial town, had only one representative awarded in the exhibition: G. Westinghaus [sic] and Co., showing their horse and steam powered threshing machines. George Westinghouse definitely left his mark on Schenectady and was very well regarded in the agricultural implement world. His son became just a little more famous.

Cohoes was represented by:

William Harrabin: anti-friction top rollers. The Memorial listed him as “Wm. T. Horrobin,” and said he was a maker of top rollers and other appliances for cotton factories, pipe cutting and threading machines, transverse wheel card grinder, miniature knitting machines, and Snow’s standard water-wheel governor. They had been 16 years in business and employed 150 hands, with capital of $200,000.

Star Knitting Co.: underwear. Star was one of about 17 mills running in Cohoes at the time.

Campbell and Clute: upright rotary knitting machine.

Amos Eaton: Pioneering Educator, Ex-Convict

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Amos EatonOne of the founders of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Amos Eaton, probably doesn’t get sufficient credit for developing new instructional methods relating to the practical application of science, using the radical method of learning by doing, having students experiment and deliver lectures. His initial aim in creating the Rensselaer School was to teach the teachers, and Eaton’s reputation as a speaker on natural philosophy (now the sciences) drew students from distant Pennsylvania and Ohio, as well as closer New Yorkers and New Englanders, to the new institute in Troy. The school was a success from the start. In addition to a number of firsts, such as granting the first civil engineering degrees in the nation, Rensselaer may also have been the first college led by someone who had done hard time: Amos Eaton spent nearly five years in prison for forgery.

Eaton was born in Chatham in Columbia in 1776 to a prosperous farm family, and he early on showed an interest in nature and science, performing land surveys at the age of 16. Despite that, after studying natural philosophy at Williams College and dabbling in teaching, he took up the study of law and became a practicing lawyer and land agent, while continuing to develop his knowledge of the sciences, particularly botany.

The “Biographical Record of the Officers and Graduates of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1824-1886,” describes Eaton’s progression delicately:

“He was admitted as an attorney of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, at Albany, October 30, 1802, and soon after established himself as a lawyer and land agent in Catskill, N.Y. Here he remained several years, his position affording him good opportunities for cultivating his growing taste for the natural sciences. In May, 1810, he made in Catskill, it is believed, the first attempt in this country at a popular course of lectures on botany (compiling for the use of his class a small elementary treatise,) for which he was highly complimented by his former teacher, Dr. Hosack, as ‘first in the field,’ saying ‘you have adopted the true system of education, and very properly address yourself to the senses and the memory.’ Here we find Mr. Eaton, at this early day, adopting that mode of instruction which rendered him so pre-eminently successful in inspiring young men with that enthusiasm which assured success.

Owing to a concurrence of circumstances which our limits will not allow us to explain, Mr. Eaton now found his love for the details of his profession diminishing, and his interest in the natural sciences fast growing upon him; and he therefore resolved to abandon the practice of the law, and prepare himself to become an efficient laborer in the congenial pursuits of science.”

So, a thing happened that diminished his love for the details of his profession. That thing was prison. Every web source reports it pretty much the same way: while working as a land agent and surveyor in Catskill in 1811, some form of a land dispute resulted in Eaton being imprisoned for forgery for nearly five years. He was accused by a client of having forged a property release; some articles suggested that it was somehow a political frameup (although there’s little other evidence of any political activity on his part) and that he received less than a fair trial. A review of an Eaton biography in the Knickerbocker News in 1941 says that he served more than four years at Newgate state prison in Greenwich Village, New York City, and that he had received a conditional pardon from Governor Tompkins in 1815 before being fully pardoned by Governor DeWitt Clinton in 1816 (or perhaps 1817). In the conditional pardon, he was exiled from New York State, so he studied botany and mineralogy at Yale College starting in 1815, and then went back to Williams College in 1817 as a lecturer. In 1818, came back to New York, started touring around as a visiting lecturer, and assisted in creating the Troy Lyceum of Natural History.

He then connected with Stephen Van Rensselaer, who engaged him in an agricultural and geological survey of Rensselaer Manor, and that led to a geological survey of the route of the Erie Canal, where he was assisted by a young Joseph Henry. Eventually, Eaton raised the idea of creating a new kind of school to the Patroon, where Eaton would train students in the application of science to the common purposes of life. And the Rensselaer School was born, in 1824.

(There is an article that may explain the DeWitt Clinton and Amos Eaton connection, if you’re a subscriber to the Journal of American History or you have a spare $40 lying around to view it for one day.)

Edgar Smith’s Dry Air Refrigerator

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smith-refrigerator-1876For what seems to be a brief period right around 1876, the Smith Refrigerator Company of No. 7 (later No. 12) James Street in Albany manufactured a dry air refrigerator, essentially a somewhat more sophisticated ice box, that gathered a little bit of attention and a national award, and then (as far as we can tell) disappeared. This ad from 1876 proclaims that Smith’s patented refrigerator was one of the simplest refrigerators made. “Dry, Clean, Light and Cheap. Will keep ice Twenty Days, and fresh meat Two Weeks.”

An 1890 guide by the Baldwin Manufacturing Company gives us an idea of how a dry air refrigerator worked:

“The Cold Air falls to the LOWEST point in Refrigerator through an AIR DUCT, when it enters the Provision Compartment, displacing the LIGHTER AIR, forcing it upward through the Provision Compartment to its highest point, thence escaping through an AIR DUCT into TOP of Ice Room.” (Thus presaging both modern refrigeration and modern attitudes toward capitalization.)

The Smith Refrigerator was awarded twice at the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, in the categories of “Apparatus of Heating, Lighting, etc.” and “Agricultural Machines, Implements of Agriculture, etc.,” and that accomplishment was noted in the Albany papers. On August 11, 1876, the Albany Express featured this article of interest:

“The French Baron Seilliere, who is now at New York with his elegant yacht Surprise, has been looking after that indispensible article of household comfort, a good refrigerator, and after thoroughly canvassing the matter, has ordered of the Smith Refrigerator Co. of this city, through their New York agents, Messrs. Newman & Capron, one of their large size dry air refrigerators of extra finish and style. From the success of this new invention we think the Baron will be Well pleased with his purchase.”

smith-refrigerator-1877The company advertised regularly in 1876 and 1877, and in that latter we find evidence that they have moved beyond the household refrigerator to offer hotel refrigerators, refrigerator rooms, beer coolers, and refrigerator cars. In August 1876, they suffered a fire at a warehouse they used, owned by J.W. Osborn, when an entire block between DeWitt and Lawrence Streets (bounded by the Canal and the railroad) burned; their loss was $500 and tools owned by employees.

But beyond that, we find no further mention of the Smith Refrigerator Company.

The Sale of Hoxsie to Any Armed Persons After Dark Is Prohibited

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Satirical declaration of martial law in Lansingburgh(With special thanks to an alert reader!)

On July 15, 1863, the city of Troy was rocked by a draft riot, generally thought to be the second-worst riot against the Civil War draft (New York City’s riots being the worst). Rioters drove African-American residents out of the city in fear of their lives (and may have killed some), destroyed the offices of the Troy Times, and set fires. Just a week later, however, things had calmed to the point where someone felt comfortable with lampooning the laws put in place to maintain order. It would appear that Lansingburgh, which had not been affected by the riot, had established a night watch, and passed an ordinance to close hotels and restaurants at 11 p.m., which brought a response from someone going by the designation of Major General B.B., Adjutant, S.B. Society, a Republican group. The broadsheet was posted in the village and posted to the New York Express. It purported to be “General Order 38,” a “burlesque” of the local ordinance. The order expressed that the Chief Mogul and Grand High Cockalorem declared martial law because the proprietors of hotels and restaurants in the village were ignoring the order to close, because they “didn’t see it.”

We’re interested especially because of its mention of our namesake, Hoxsie. George Hoxsie was a bottler of several drinks soft and hard, but we can only assume that this is a reference to one of his alcoholic offerings. The Order, printed in the New York Express on August 1, 1863, declares:
1st. All small boys shall be housed at dark, and larger boys soon after.
2d. No citizen will be allowed to carry more than two arms.
3d. Horse cars running after dark shall have their wheels muffled, and not disturb the slumbers of our ever vigilant night watch.
4th. The sale of “Hoxsie” to any armed persons after dark is prohibited.
5th. Milkmen are not allowed to ring their bells and disturb the quiet of our loyal citizens.
6th. Fishmongers are hereby forbid blowing their horns, even if “they don’t sell a fish” in consequence.
7th. Any crowd of two persons or less, will be dispersed by the Military.
8th. Berry-women must get a permit before crying “raspberries,” or cry it at their peril.
9th. All crying babies will be instantly confiscated—in fact any symptom of riot will be squelched.
10th. Dinner bells shall cease to ring the knell of sustenance; and the church bells must be subdued.
11th. Cats on garden walks, and noisy dogs, are respectfully requested to preserve order.
12th. Be it understood that the Major-General commanding, is decidedly in favor of a “draught,” which he will enforce, by the Eternal!
13th. The “S. E. Society,”—in case of any alarm—is to be put into the hands of good and careful nurses, for safe keeping until the danger is over.
The Major-General commanding this division is determined that peace and quiet shall reign supreme in this ancient commonwealth, the “Garden of America.” Burghers are therefore ordered to report any breach of the above orders to the High-cock-a-lo-rum, at his headquarters.
By order of
LANSINGBURGH, July 23d, A. D., 1863.

Was Hoxsie particularly potent after dark? We may never know.

(Thanks to the Lansingburgh Historical Society for its full post on this interesting bit of tomfoolery.)

Pigeon Louis

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Aged Cripple Drinks PoisonFrom a far less sensitive time, the Times-Union ran with this headline in 1903: “Aged Cripple Drinks Poison and Dies.” They were speaking of Louis Slyer, reported as 75, 79 or 80 years old depending on the edition of the paper you read. Slyer was “formerly a well-known resident and property owner of the West End,” who committed suicide in the hallway of a building he had previously owned and lived in for many years on Lexington Avenue. Police speculated that he came to his old home to die; he was living at Cedar Hill in Bethlehem at the time when he took a vaseline jar filled with strychnine back to the old homestead. The details reported were fairly grisly, but the next day, Sept. 24, 1903, the Times-Union provided a little more about Slyer, who was known as Pigeon Louis:

“Pigeon Louis’” Death.

In the death of Louis Slyer, who committed suicide, the West End loses one of its best known characters. For years he has been known as “Pigeon Louis” because of his fondness for pigeons. At one time he had no less than a thousand pigeons, while his ambition was for even a larger number. He was eccentric in many ways, and it is said that he lost his leg in an effort to drive rheumatism out of the limb. Somebody told him to “bake the leg” and he put it in an oven, baking it so badly that it had to be amputated. Despondency is given as the cause of his suicide.

A character, indeed. In 1874, he was fined $3 for assault and battery. In 1876, Slyer got into a fight with his son-in-law Conrad Emsler, who had been separated from his wife for two years. Emsler showed up unbidden at Slyer’s home on Second Street, near Perry, but was sent on his way. He tried to come back in through a window, whereupon Slyer (and daughter) attacked Emsler in the head with an axe. Somehow an axe didn’t give Slyer the upper hand, and he got stabbed eight times for his troubles. “Considerable blood was drawn.” Both survived, and both faced charges. We wouldn’t be surprised to find more, similar stories about him. We’d be delighted to learn more of his pigeon obsession, but, alas, that didn’t make the papers.

Inventor of Gas Meters, and Possibly Soap

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1903-mulhall-meter-articleWe ran across this article from 1903 about the invention of Mr. James J. Mulhall, “the well-known resident of Catherine street.”

“The invention is an improvement on gas meters now in use and Mr. Mulhall’s ideas have been approved by the patent department of the United States government. His meter is much smaller and composed of a greatly reduced number of pieces than those in use, and an evidence of its excellence is the fact that he has already been urged to circulate his invention through all of the foreign countries. Prominent mechanics of Albany who have seen Mr. Mulhall’s new meter heartily approve it and he intends to put it on exhibition in the near future that Albanians generally may inspect it and inquire carefully into its workings.”

So we were interested in Mr. Mulhall. If he was a well-known resident of Catherine Street, we might presume he was well-known for his inventions. And did file a patent for a gas meter in 1903 (patent no. 740,301). A few years later, in 1911, he filed another patent (No. 995,278), for improvements to water and gas meters, “so arranged that no sediment will locate in the meter and affect in anyway the operation of the apparatus.”

1903-mulhall-meter-diagramHow he came to be an inventor of gas (and other) meters, and what else he may have done, is not entirely clear. James was the son of Thomas and Mary Mulhall, born around 1844. Thomas was listed in 1870 as a gas-fitter, and it seems that James must have followed him into the gas business. In 1862, at 18, James was listed as a clerk for the gas company, boarding at 3 Clinton. Thomas’s listing for that same year said “gas regulators,” and that his home was at 89 Broad Street.

In 1867, the Albany Morning Express noted very briefly that there had been a petition to Alderman Sullivan, by James Mulhall, “relative to a new apparatus of which he has the patent, for preventing the freezing of gas.” The petition was referred, and we found no more about it. If James was a jeweler, gas was on his mind already; we haven’t found that particular patent, and we haven’t figured out if he went on inventing or if there was a hiatus between 1867 and 1903.

Oddly, perhaps temporarily, James was listed as a jeweler in the 1870 census. There was also a James Mulhall who ran a soap factory at 7 and 9 Exchange Street. We know of it because it burned in a “stubborn” fire in December 1892. It was in a four-story building belonging to the “Miller and Morris estate.” It was noted that the firm of Bacon & Stickney suffered damage to stock from smoke and was fully insured, as was Mulhall. “The building is the same in which Samuel Spencer, an eccentric old man, was found one morning about three years ago with his throat cut.” (The fire, by the way, was also reported in the American Soap Journal and Perfume Gazette, the kind of trade journal you just don’t find anymore, but which carried scads of historically interesting information.) Was this the same James Mulhall? Think so. Oddly the directory for 1892 lists him at 17 Catherine, but does not list his job. Same in 1893. In fact, in quite a number of years, James is listed as boarding at 17 Catherine, and yet, unlike almost everyone else in the directory, his occupation is not given, which is strange. Was he a soapmaker? An unemployed gas meter inventor? Both? Can’t tell. In 1881, a James Mulhall was appointed as an inspector of meters in New York City. Was he the same James?

In the 1905 New York State census, we find James on Catherine Street, with his profession listed as “inventor.” He was still there in 1910, listed as retired.

Amelia Earhart Flies for Beech-Nut Gum

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Earhart Will Make Series of Tests for Beech-NutHer lecture tour in 1935 wasn’t the only connection between Amelia Earhart and the Capital District, as evidenced by this May 29, 1931 edition of the Gloversville/Johnstown Morning Herald, which proclaimed “Miss Amelia Earhart Will Make Series of Tests for Beech-Nut Packing Company.” The sub-head said that the only woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean would be in Canajoharie on June 14.

“Miss Amelia Earhart, only woman to fly across the Atlantic, received delivery Tuesday of her new auto-gyro, the “Beech-Nut,” which she announced she would fly in a series of tests for the Beech-Nut Packing company. The plane was delivered to Miss Earhart at the Newark airport. It is one of about a dozen that has been manufactured in America and the only one owned by a woman. She is the only woman who has soloed an auto-gyro and recently established a ‘ceiling’ for this type of ship by making a climb of 18,500 feet. . . The ‘Beech-Nut’ is the first of two planes which will be flown under the auspices of the Beech-Nut Packing company. The second, which will be delivered within the next two weeks, will be piloted by Captain Frank T. Coffyn, one of the first six men to fly in 1910 for the Wright brothers.”

The auto-gyro was (and is) an odd hybrid craft that uses an unpowered rotor to develop lift, and an engine-powered propeller to develop thrust; it was invented to create an aircraft that could fly safely at low speeds (sez Wikipedia). The craft that Earhart flew was made by Pitcairn-Cierva of Willow Grove, PA.

It’s worth noting that in 1931, Earhart hadn’t actually piloted a plane across the Atlantic – her trans-Atlantic journey in 1928 had been as part of a three-person crew, and she acknowledged (and was bothered by) the fact that she wasn’t able to pilot the trip because it required instrument flying. Still, she was the first woman to cross the Atlantic, that much was true.

Amelia Earhart with husband G.P. Putnam and the Beech-Nut auto-gyro.

Amelia Earhart with husband G.P. Putnam and the Beech-Nut auto-gyro.

So why was Beech-Nut involved in this odd bit of pioneering aviation? Simple: Advertising for Beech-Nut gum. Earhart embarked on a transcontinental tour in the Pitcairn, from Newark to Oakland and back , sometimes making three or more stops a day. She would be the first flyer to cross the country by auto-gyro. At each one, she was greeted by press, and her picture was taken with the odd little craft, on which the name “Beech-Nut” was painted in large letters. Oddly, perhaps because of logistics, the Morning Herald’s prediction that she would be in Canajoharie on June 14 turned out to be wrong. She was in Tucson, AZ, Lordsberg, NM and El Paso, TX that day, a long way from the pot that washes itself. In fact, she didn’t come to New York state at all on this tour (all the stops are listed here).

However, Earhart’s attempt to be the first to cross the continent in an auto-gyro was beaten by a competing flyer, John Miller, by just a few days. (If you can’t get enough auto-gyro talk, the whole story is here.)



Adam Gander Sells Nothing But Legitimate Merchandise

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Adam GanderA 1935 ad for Adam Gander’s wine and liquor store at 435 Central Avenue. Really only notable for the interesting claims in what we take to be a cocktail glass behind the bottle:

“Adam Sells Nothing But Legitimate Merchandise”

“What Adam Recommends Must Be Good”

Raises the question – did someone intimate that he sold anything other than legitimate merchandise? Perhaps he protested too much. But that would be unfair to Mr. Gander, for in fact we learn from a 1937 State Supreme Court case that Adam Gander was involved in an early scheme called Gifts By Wire, something similar to Florists’ Telegraph Delivery (as it was then known) that allowed delivery of gift items like wine and liquor that would otherwise be barred by state borders and alcohol control laws. Someone in California could call up (or telegraph) a Gifts By Wire provider in New York and have a bottle of wine delivered to their friends in New York. An affidavit in the lawsuit stated “It was quite clear from the outset that the persons who demanded this service from the stores located in the finer residential parts of New York City and other cities, and who wished to send gifts of fine liquors, wines and champagnes to friends and relatives in distant parts of the country, were the highest type of the consuming public.” Adam’s Wines and Liquors was listed as one of the founding high-class retailers involved in Gifts by Wire in 1936. (Of course, the State Liquor Authority, a literal buzz-kill, ruled that the business was illegal.)

There was also an Adam Gander dealing alcohol and holding a concert saloon license in New York City in the 1880s; could be some relation.

Ganders LiquorAn eagle-eyed reader (or one who can work Google) tells us that Gander’s liquor store is still there, at the same location.