Category Archives: Albany

The Mutual Boat Club of Albany

Published by:

We’ve been talking quite a bit about the early rowing history of Albany, from just before the Civil War and on into the 19th century as rowing grew in popularity. It would help to understand that rowing was once, indeed, very big sporting news. Major races frequently made the front pages of major newspapers, at a time when baseball hadn’t even been organized yet. The Mutual Boat Club of Albany got a fair amount of ink at the time, particularly in a sports newspaper called Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times – The American Gentleman’s Newspaper.” In 1868, the Spirit noted a contest between the Mutual and the Nassau Boat Club of New York on September 3 of that year. It was rowed near the “Pleasant Valley” course on the Hudson, about eight miles north of New York City; the race of three miles was won by the Albany crew. They had previously raced in Albany on August 31, when “the Nassaus touched on a sand-bar, and her bow oar was obliged to get out of their shell and push her off. The Nassaus claim that this had a great deal to [do] with their losing the race.” The Spirit noted that the Mutuals ranked, “deservedly, as one of the best rowing clubs of the country.” That race was just prior to the fourth annual regatta of the Hudson Amateur Rowing Association, which took place on September 5; the Mutuals rowed there again, along with the Beaverwyck Boat Club. “The oarsmanship of the Beaverwycks attracted special attention from the fact of their being a new club, and the latest one to join the association.”

An article from 1870 in the Spirit noted the inauguration of the Albany rowing season on June 6, 1870, by the Mutual Boat Club, on a fine but windy day that made the water “quite lumpy.” The committee in charge consisted of Commodore J.R. Lindsley, J.H. Girvin, and Charles Piepinbrink [sic: Piepenbrinck]. “After the race the Mutuals mutually entertained their hosts of friends at their elegant club-room on Pearl street, where many a race was rowed o’er again.”

On July 27, 1871, there was a three-mile single-scull shell race between William S. Mosely of the Mutual Club and J.H. Girvin, which Girvin won by three seconds, with a time of 24 minutes. It was noted that Mosely was 5 feet, 10-1/2 inches and weighed 150 lbs., rowing a paper shell called the Sylph, 30 feet long and 12 inches wide. Girvin was 5 feet 1 inch, weighed 115 lbs., and rowed a paper shell 28 feet long and 12 inches wide. Those paper boats came from the Waters, Balch Company of Troy.

That same summer, the Mutual and Beaverwyck clubs agreed to row a three-mile double scull race over “the lower course, with a turn,” for a prize of $100. The same article noted that the Beaverwycks had just received a Waters, Balch paper six-oared shell that was 49 feet long and 19-1/2 inches wide. Piepenbrink, captain of the Mutual Boat Club, and J.H. Girvin were also to row a three mile match for $100.

The Albany Morning Express reported a time when the rivalry between the two clubs grew heated, in 1876.

“Rowing men seem to be very much exercised these hot days. Beaverwyck adherents loftily imagine they can clean out all before them as easily as Sitting ‘Bull’ ‘cowed’ Custer’s troops. The Mutuals are doing their utmost to present a god front; the Olympics are talking with their usual boyish enthusiasm, and the Wolvenhooks are in mourning and amazement over the sudden loss of the Wilsons and of Bowers. In a communication which appeared in the Express yesterday morning from a member of the Mutual Boat Club, these words were used, ‘In the recent regatta it seemed apparent to the majority of those who witnessed the four oared race, that had it not been for the washing received by the Mutuals the race would probably have been theirs.’ In reply to this, we are authorized and requested by the Captain of the Beaverwyck Club to say that the Beaverwycks will row the Mutuals over again any pleasant evening within two weeks, and that the Beaverwycks will give the Mutuals a start of half a minute, which enormous advantage the Beaverwycks believe they can overcome before the course is gone over.

‘Several letters have come to hand about rowing clubs and rowing men, but as they are unpleasantly personal we must decline to publish them. One gentleman sends a long communication extolling the Mutuals, but, like a wasp, it has a sting in its tail for concluding his laudatory notice. The writer says: ‘The Beaverwycks, it is currently reported, will give our boys half a minute start in a race. We ought to accept that, for I tell you Mr. Editor, and don’t you forget it, the Mutuals can beat the Beaverwycks every day in the week if they get half a minute start and the Beaverwycks will agree to make the distance to be rowed sufficiently short.’”

The Mutual Boat Club was also in something of a tiff with the Olympic Boat Club, which also wrote to the Express to complain of the Mutual group’s disdain for what they considered junior clubs.

“We learn from a communication addressed to you by one who signs himself ‘J.’ that the ‘Mutual Boat Club is not accustomed nor inclined to win races by means of printer’s ink.’ We were aware before that they were not accustomed to win races by means of printer’s ink, or in fact, by any other means, but to know their inclinations is a source of great pleasure … The fact that we have no handsomely furnished boat house with swimming bath may class us with the junior organizations … A club composed of old and experienced boating gentlemen, as is the M.B.C., should rather encourage a youthful organization like our own, and allow us to row with them, at least every two years.”

In 1879, arguments were still going on between the Olympics and the Mutuals, with the Olympics complaining that the Mutual club hadn’t shown up to arrange races, and calling attention to Captain Piepenbrink’s failure to agree on a referee. We haven’t yet been successful in determining how long the Mutual Boat Club lasted, or where its “elegant” club-room on Pearl Street was.

Sturgeondom’s Pioneer Rowing Club

Published by:

Edgar S. Van Olinda, old time columnist of old times, told us that rowing in Albany began in earnest with a number of clubs around 1857. “Rowing in Albany began with the Pioneer club in 1857, the Knickerbocker club in 1858, along with the Hiawathas and the Excelsiors. That was only the beginning.” He said the first regatta was in 1860.

An 1868 article in the Albany Morning Express supports that contention, quoting an article in the New York Leader that said the Pioneer Club was one of the oldest rowing clubs in the country at the time, having been formed in 1857.

“In 1857 it won the championship of Albany, which it held two years, losing it in a race in which an oar was broken just after turning the stake-boat. Since that time it has not participated in a race as a club, though its members have pulled in every Albany regatta which has taken place. It was literally the ‘pioneer’ club at ‘Sturgeondom;’ and after attending the funeral of all its contemporaries, is still flourishing and prosperous. In 1858 the club built a model floating boathouse. The boats floated into it by a canal, and were stowed on each side; while the dressing room above was ornamented by some 30 pictures, among which was one by George Boughton, representing the ‘Phantom,’ [one of the club’s noted boats] pulled by a skeleton crew on a moonlight [sic] night. In 1861, during a spring freshet, their house broke from its moorings, sailed majestically over the pier, carrying away a pile of staves, and was hopelessly wrecked eight miles down the Hudson. Since then the club have lost two floating houses. [The next time was in 1862] During the war, more than half its members were in the Union army, and one, Major Chas. E. Pruyn, was killed in action.”

The officers of the club included R.V. DeWitt, D.G. Curtiss, Charles W. Lord, W.H. Ten Eyck, R.L. Annesley, and S.W. Rosendale.

Unfortunately, the club went under in July of 1870. “The Pioneer Boat Club, of Albany, once a distinguished and noted rowing organization, has ceased to exist. For several years past, in fact ever since that crack aquatic association, the Mutual Boat Club, of Albany, came into being, the Pioneers have been in the shade, evincing scarcely a spark of life or animation.”

In 1892, the Pioneers held a reunion meeting:

“The surviving resident members of the old Pioneer Boat Club, an association that was organized for exercise and pleasure before the war and continued for several years after, held a meeting Wednesday for the first time in 20 years. Mr. John H. McElroy was elected president, Mr. A.V. DeWitt secretary and General Rufus H. King treasurer. A committee was appointed to make arrangements for a reunion and banquet. After an hour’s pleasant chat, during which many amusing reminiscences were related, the meeting adjourned subject to call of the president. The following gentlemen answered the roll call: R.L. Annesley, G.N. Collier, John D. Capron, D.G. Curtiss, W.W. Crannell, Richard V. DeWitt, John H. Farrell, B.M. Hamilton, William Headlam, Rufus H. King, George Low, A.B. Lathrop, John E. McElroy, John L. Newman, James Newman, S.W. Rosendale, Ed B. Ten Broeck, T.V. Wolcott, S.W. Whitney.”

Oh, and in case you were wondering, “Sturgeondom” was a somewhat commonly used term for Albany that often appeared in the Troy papers in particular.

Peter Kiernan Sr. and Other Oarmen

Published by:

Peter D. Kiernan, Sr.

PETER D. KIERNAN, dean of Albany scullers and only link to an enviable past in local rowing history, as he pushed out from the Albany Yacht club for a pull up the Hudson last Tuesday morning. Note the billiard cue technique with which he delicately manipulates the handles of his locked-in sweeps while he literally sits on top of the world.

Last time we featured a little bit on the old Albany waterfront and the prominence of rowers of various sorts way back when, and touched on the prowess of the Peters Kiernan, Sr. and Jr. After that, we found this Edgar Van Olinda article from 1943 telling us even more about Kiernan Sr. and, perhaps more importantly, the rowing culture history of Albany. It was headlined, “Peter D. Kiernan, Sculler – Last of Famous Local Oarsmen; Awaits Revival.”

If you should happen to be walking down street most any day and see a six-foot ruddy-faced gentleman swinging along with the elasticity of youth, and a kindly greeting for everyone he meets, you can lay a wager that it’s the dean of Albany scullers, Peter D. Kiernan. You don’t get such a pair of shoulders sitting around in an easy chair, your feet encased in the old carpet slippers, listening to your arteries harden. No sir! A physique such as is the heritage of Mr. Kiernan’s means endless hours of light exercise, self-restraint and many discreet absences from the banquet table. Lionel Strongfort would agree with this premise.

Mr. Kiernan is the sole link to the glory that was Albany’s during the latter part of the 19th century; a period of rowing history which redounded to the credit of this old Dutch city. Rowing in Albany began with the Pioneer club in 1857, the Knickerbocker club in 1858, along with the Hiawathas and the Excelsiors. That was only the beginning.

1860 REGATTA

The first regatta for both amateur and professional oarsmen was held October 11 and 12, 1860, when the name of Piepenbrink and Young of Albany appear in the records. In 1865, the Mutual Boat club joined the newly organized Hudson Amateur Rowing association, and then things began to happen. This aggregation of champions rowed all over the courses in the eastern portion of the United States and won most of their races.

In 1876, at the National regatta held in Philadelphia, the Beverwyck four was defeated by the Atlantas, but during the following week, covered itself with glory and gained world-wide reputation by defeating in the final heat of the International regatta, the London Rowing club four, considered the best crew in England.

Soon we begin to hear of the Gorman brothers, Bulger and Graves who began to clock up some enviable time in the four and six-oared gigs and during the ‘80s and ‘90s, when rowing was one of the major sports of the Albany area. Many regattas were held on Saratoga lake where the Albany crews were often in competition with the college crews, in the pre-Poughkeepsie era. So much for the subject which would fill many volumes.

The picture shown today was taken last Tuesday morning as Mr. Kiernan shoved off from the Albany Yacht club dock for a spin up the river. The weather was propitious and the surface of the river as calm as a swimming pool. The shell which Mr. Kiernan is using in the photograph is built of cedar with oiled paper decks and weighs about 40 pounds. When Mr. Kiernan gingerly steps into dead center, with the oars feathering on the water, he is literally sitting on top of the world.

LAST OF FAMOUS

He is the last member of that group of non-competitive scullers which rowed on the river simply for the beneficial exercise which it affords; a group which included such experts as Al Quentel, Charlie McElroy, Al Keeler and Peter McManus. Of these well known Albanians it might be said that each was a gentleman and a sculler.

Mr. Kiernan is a splendid example of what moderate exercise can accomplish when used with discretion. While contemporaries of Mr. Kiernan are chasing the elusive dollar during the day, this Albany athlete hies himself down to the yacht club, pretty nearly as soon as the ice is out of the river and takes a spin two or three days each week up the river until the chill winds of Autumn admonish him that it is time to put his shell up in moth balls for the winter. He feels, that after the war, a new generation of oarmen will take up the sport, and he is all prepared to do his bit to bring this Albany activity back to the waterway where it flourished for so many years.

There are so many names dropped in a Van Olinda article that it would be impossible to run them all down, but at least one is worth noting. Charlie Piepenbrink (or PIepenbrinck) ran a boat livery at the foot of State Street, which Van Olinda also recalled:

We remember old Piepenbrinck and his barges which he rented out at 25c per hour. They were built for comfort and not for speed. They were the poor man’s nearest approach to the more affluent sport of shell ownership, and one could get a pretty fair workout in one of them. “Piep” had a floating dock down I the Basin. We were a canoe paddler, and often passed by such intrepid outrigger experts as Leo K. Fox and Alex McKenzie, employes of the National Commercial bank when the sign on the front of that institution: “Banking Hours from 10 to 2” really meant what it said.

In another article, in 1962, Van Olinda wrote that the Mohican Canoe Club had its rooms on the second floor of Piepenbrinck’s floating boat livery, which was formerly the bathhouse of Garry Benson’s swimming school, anchored at the foot of State Street before the D and H headquarters was erected. “The Mohican Club, before and after the early ‘90s, was extremely popular with the young bloods of the city. A few of the members who come to mind were Gen. Robert Shaw Oliver, Fred Mix, Billy Wackerhagen, Edward Rodman Perry, Bill Wheeler, “Pepper” Van Heusen, Billy Martin, Matt VanAlstyne and Seth Wheeler.” He said that every summer Saturday afternoon one might see dozens of canoes heading downstream for Staat’s Landing, where they had a clubhouse.

By the way, Lionel Strongfort was a very famous German promoter of “physical culture” and vegetarianism who offered a mail order course in fitness.

 

Rowing on the River

Published by:

Rowers are one of the great sights on the Albany waterfront, and they’ve been part of the scene for a long time, including some prominent citizens. In 1953, the old Times-Union columnist Edgar S. Van Olinda gave us a recounting of how things had changed along the waterfront.

The old saying: “All’s quiet along the Potomac” might be a very good description of the Hudson River, since the Day Line and the People’s Line steamers, plying between New York and Albany have disappeared from the local scene.

Time was when the Albany Basin and Steamboat Square were busy places. The Albany Yacht Club Pier, with many of the Saratoga Spring’s summer millionaires’ palatial yachts moored nearby was one of this city’s most delightful breathing spots during the warm months.

Fathers would take their children down to watch the passing aquatic parade, supplemented by the fascinating locomotives which eased across the bridge, gaining momentum for the journey ahead.

One might see Peter Kiernan, Sr., carrying out his cedar shell for a pull up the river as far as Lagoon Island and back. Peter Kiernan, Sr., is now represented by the second generation of scullers, Peter Kiernan, Jr., who, any of these fine days, may be glimpsed following in the wake of his athletic sire or emulating the example of such former oarsmen as Al Quentel, Al Keeler and Peter J. McManus.

At an earlier date, the scions of the wealthy lumbermen of this city gathered at Garry Benson’s floating swimming pool, later taken over by Charlie Piepenbrink for his boat livery. Mr. Benson afterwards opened up his Turkish bath establishment in State Street, which was aptly named: “The Tub.”

On the bosom of the Hudson were countless fleets of canal boats, bound for Buffalo or New York, loaded with lumber from the North Albany District or coal, hay and grain. Or one might catch a glimpse of members of the Mohican Canoe Club, headed for a rendezvous at Staat’s Island, down the river.

Or members of the old Pequod Club in their flat-bottomed boats with a tarpaulin-covered object in the back, suggesting that the oarsmen had had some sort of communication with Messrs. Quinn and Nolan, George Amsdell, George Hawley, Hedrick Hinkle and Dobler and the rest of the boys who knew their hops and malt proportions.

This particular group reached its zenith on Saturday nights and Sundays where the many social clubs along the west bank of the river made merry over the short weekend, those, that is, who did not attend George Parr’s wonderful clam bakes down at the Abbey.

Yes Sir! Those were the good old days. “All’s quiet” on the Hudson today, giving rise to the question: What does the fellow in the control tower of the Parker F. Dunn Memorial Bridge do with himself all day long? Could be he is an expert on the card game, known as solitaire – or one-handed pinochle.

Today we tend to remember Peter Kiernan Jr. for his affiliation with State Bank of Albany, which became Norstar Bancorp. It was under Kiernan’s leadership that Norstar occupied and renovated Albany’s Union Station, which was renamed Peter D. Kiernan Plaza in his honor in 1989. But before going to the State Bank in 1974, he had managed the Rose & Kiernan insurance agency; Peter Kiernan Sr. had joined the Rose Agency in 1901. Both Kiernans, and Junior’s brother James, were noted rowers. A Van Olinda article from 1943 carries the subtitle “Still Rowing,” and says,

“We met the dean of Albany oarsmen, Peter Kiernan [Sr.], walking down State street Friday morning, with his weather eye cocked to the sky and debating as to the chances for a little trip up the river in his cedar outrigger. Since Al Quentel withdrew his competition, the six-foot Albany insurance man has the waterway all to himself, particularly as there are few oil barges coming down through the Barge canal. Pete doesn’t even have to look backwards to see if any Albany-Troy steamboats are headed his way.” Peter Sr. rowed until he was 80. In 1959, the Kiernan brothers were rowing regularly from Van Wies Point.

The mention of Quinn, Nolan and others is an oddly long nod to several of Albany’s prominent brewers, intimating that the Pequod Club was more of a drinking establishment than a rowing club. In the Knick News, Charlie Mooney informs us that the southern end

“…of the city was very thickly populated by Germans. The U.S. Government had built many dikes which impounded the water behind them into miniature lakes. Perhaps the most popular group of socialites was the Pequod Club was one of a number of young men’s social clubs that existed in Albany’s South End shortly after the turn of the century. It was located at 2 Clinton Street, just around the corner from the old First Police Precinct. A part of what is now Division 2 of the Albany Police Department is on that site [in 1967].”

A 1970 bit by Van Olinda tells us that Pequod Club “families rowed down the river in their homemade boats, their craft filled with nourishing food and the inevitable ‘quarter’ of beer propped up in the bow, refreshments to oil up the palates of the Maennerchor or Entracht singing societies for the proper rendition of the endless verses to ‘Ist das nicht ein garten-haus?’ Monday morning, a fleet of brewery craft, called ‘bum boats,’ would cruise down the river and behind the dykes to pick up the empties which had been rolled down to the dock, returning them for refilling against the following Sunday.”

Van Olinda gave us some more details on Peter Kiernan Sr., and the Hudson River rowing culture, which we’ll share tomorrow.

 

Ariaantje Coeymans

Published by:

Ariantje Coeymans Verplanck

Ariaantje Coeymans – “Full-length portrait of Ariantje Coeymans Verplanck standing in an interior. She holds a pink flower in her left hand. Her right arm rests on her waist. She wears high-heeled shoes and a necklace of corn kernels. A balustrade and landscape with palace are at left.”

In 1938, the Albany Institute of History and Art was bequeathed one of its more notable portraits, that of Ariaantje Coeymans, from 1723. When it was acquired, curator R. Loring Dunn wrote about it at length in the Times-Union. It tells us a lot about Ariaantje, and is worth printing here in its entirety:

The Albany Institute of History and Art has recently received, from the bequest of Miss Gertrude Watson, a large, full length portrait of Ariaantje Coeymans, attributed to Pieter Vanderlyn. The portrait is a valuable addition to the permanent collection of the Institute as it has both artistic and historic interest.
Pieter Vanderlyn was one of the earliest portrait painters of the Upper Hudson Valley, working in Kingston, Albany and Schenectady, between 1719 and 1723. His portraits are characterized by a bold and direct brush stroke, which has considerable charm, but not training enough to lend any great variety. The portrait of Ariaantje Coeymans was painted when she was well past middle life and shows her standing and in her out-stretched hand, she is holding a rose. Her elaborate gown is painted in that blueish-green color so typical of Vanderlyn. Through an opening in the background is seen a landscape with trees and sky and a large stone building. This opening is not sufficiently detailed to be called a window, but is so generalized that the position would indicate it as such, the walls having no thickness. The flesh color is good and the drawing of the face accurate enough to be called portrait, but where the artist woefully fails is in his treatment of the hands, which are stiff and much too large. The general effect of the whole is conventional and somewhat primitive. The story of Ariaantje Coeymans is one of the dramas of the Hudson valley. Helen Wilkinson Reynolds in her book entitled, “Dutch Houses in the Hudson Valley Before 1776,” has the following to say regarding the life of Ariaantje. “A few facts, only, constitute her known biography. When her father died (1714) Ariaantje was a woman in middle-life, unmarried, and it is to be supposed that she had lived repressed existence in the house of her aged father, longing for the things of a larger and fuller life; for immediately after she received her share of the estate [of] Barent Pieterse Coeymans she reacted, psychologically, in a marked way; she built a house, noteworthy for size and elegance; had her portrait painted life-size, in oil; and married. Ariaantje Coeymans came into her patrimony in 1716 when she was 45 years old. She built her house between 1716 and 1723, in which later year (when she was 51) her wedding took place under the new roof. She married David Verplanck, 23 years her junior, and the marriage was not happy. Her portrait shows Ariaantje to have been tall and angular, her face one with no claim to beauty, but her great frame arrayed in the most elegant of gowns and in her hand a rose, uplifted. What a revelation of the inner history of a woman’s life two centuries ago is made when the significant items are placed in sequence to each other. They disclose to us a mature and obscure spinster, eager for elegance and beauty and affection, and reaching out for all three but doomed to ultimate disappointment. Ariaantje’s house still stands; her portrait is treasured; but she, herself, died in 1743 in her handsome house, a lonely figure.”

Since Dunn wrote, it appears that someone decided the painter was not Pieter Vanderlyn, but instead Nehemiah Partridge. When that was determined, we cannot determine; perhaps it was the discovery that Vanderlyn’s painting career didn’t begin until about 1730 (contradicting Dunn’s account). The Institute now says this painting dates from 1718 or 1722-24. Ariaantje’s house in Coeymans still stands. Just a few years ago, the skull of a scalping victim was discovered during construction on the house’s basement (and it wasn’t the first time the skull had been found).

Ward Hennessy and his Raines Hotel

Published by:

Our research on Albany movie star Ward Crane a couple of weeks back led to an interesting reference to the business of his uncle, Ward Hennessy, who ran a hotel on the Albany-Schenectady road, just outside the city limits (you know it as Route 5, Central Avenue). What caught our eye wasn’t so much the hotel, but the reference to it being what was known as “Raines Hotel.”

The Raines law was passed by the New York State Legislature March 23, 1896, one of the intermediate temperance efforts in New York State (there were some much earlier, and then there was that big one called Prohibition some years later). It imposed taxes and regulations on alcoholic beverages, and was one of several similar nativist efforts meant to control the morality of working class immigrants in particular. For one thing, it prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sunday, most working men’s only day off, except in hotels. The hotels were allowed to serve on Sunday only to guests, and only as part of a meal or in the bedroom of the hotel. A hotel was defined as a place with 10 rooms for lodging and that served sandwiches with their liquor. Saloons soon began fitting out upstairs rooms as something like lodging applying for hotel licenses, creating the many otherwise inexplicably small, ratty hotels that dotted upstate cities for another century. As the great social reformer Jacob Riis wrote, many saloon – sorry, hotel – owners complied with the requirements by setting out brick sandwiches: literally a brick between two slices of bread. Sometimes there was a real sandwich, but woe betide the customer brazen enough to eat it. In other instances, the hotels did actually take to serving food.

The law, by the way, provided for a local option on the sale of liquor in “country districts and small towns,” but not in the large cities of the state – again, controlling the immigrant, working class. The licensing price was high – in the city of New York, it started at $800, plus a bond worth twice that.

In “Suppression of the Raines Law Hotels,” Rev. John Peters, Chairman of the Committee of Fourteen for the Suppression of the Raines Law Hotels, writes that the law requires that a hotel must have not less than 10 bedrooms, a separate kitchen and dining room, and comply with local hotel regulations.

“This law gives in practice an enormous advantage to the hotel. Being permitted to run on Sunday, the hotel is able, under pretence [sic] of selling liquor with meals, to maintain an open bar with comparatively slight risk of punishment, whereas the mere opening of the ordinary saloon on Sunday is in itself presumptive evidence that the law is being violated, and may lead to prosecution and conviction … One result of the Raines law was that hundreds of saloons, the majority of them originally decent and orderly places, were turned into ‘hotels’ with ten bedrooms, a kitchen and a dining-room. To cover the cost of the ten bedrooms, kitchen and dining-room, the proprietors were obliged to obtain some revenue from these rooms. In almost all cases there was no actual demand for such hotel accommodations; the result was that the great majority of these “hotels” became houses of assignation or prostitution. These are the so-called ‘Raines Law Hotels.'”

So, unintended consequences of moralizing laws: nothing new. In Manhattan and the Bronx, there were 1405 registered hotels, which the committee estimated “not more than 250 could be counted as legitimate hotels.” A crackdown on these hotels in 1906 resulted in 540 of them being closed that year, in New York City alone, which gives us some idea of the scale. “Of course a large number of these places took out ordinary saloon licenses, still continuing the illicit use of their ten rooms under one guise or another; but they no longer held hotel permits.”

Ward Hennessy was listed as a cigar manufacturer at 624 Broadway in 1902, but later was the proprietor of a concert hall at Hudson and Union, “where the dispenser of fine baritone lyrics and melody was our over-fed old friend, Tom O’Neil,” recalled Dave Cowan to the Times-Union’s Edgar Van Olinda in 1943. “Three hundred pounds of entertainment, seated at the piano, playing his own compositions, including ‘Let’s Go Out A-Rowing, Tom.’” Unfortunately, no date for this is mentioned but we find another reference to Hennessy’s “concert saloon” at 44 Hudson Avenue in 1906. (Union is now Dallius Street.)

“Captain Brennan’s raiding squad of the second precinct got busy again last night, and a detail in command of the captain and Sergeant Coogan paid a visit to the concert saloon run by Ward Hennessy at 44 Hudson avenue. The patrol wagon was backed up against the door and all hands were given a free ride to the station house. Hennessy and five girls, who were charged with vagrancy, were taken in … Hennessy was charged with conducting a disorderly house when arraigned in Police Court this morning, and was represented by counsel and admitted to bail in the sum of $1,000. The girls were also bailed for further examination.”

Perhaps that’s what drove Hennessy out of the city – he  ran a Raines hotel outside the city limits, at a place on Albany-Schenectady Road that we can only identify as Stop 33 (oh, for a trolley map!). Van Olinda later reported that “Among the most convenient and popular establishments was Ward Hennessy’s hotel on the Albany-Schenectady road . . . Ward Hennessy was a local politician of more than ordinary ability. It was in his place that many of the state’s lawmakers gathered to discuss impending legislation. Doubtless, many of the laws on the statute book at the present time had their inception in Ward Hennessy’s back room.”

Fire burns former Hennessy's HotelIn 1909 there was a killing in Hennessy’s hotel – shots were fired and a farmhand was beaten with a bottle – and the story was reported widely across the state as trouble of long standing between Colonie farmers and Italians who lived along the Schenectady turnpike. Possibly Hennessy decided to move on after that; he’s listed as the proprietor of the Rosedale Hotel, at Stop 22-1/2. His previous hotel at Stop 33 became Lang’s Hotel, and later still the Colonie Furniture Company, a short-lived venture of real estate dealer and builder Bernard F. Picotte. The building burned in 1944. Hennessy was dead by 1916. For someone who was supposedly politically connected, we’d have very few mentions of him were it not for Van Olinda’s frequent recycling of a story about a hayride that ended at his hotel, and the success of his namesake nephew, Ward Crane.

The Remarkable Hands of Mary Nash

Published by:

Mary Nash

The last (for now) of our little look at famous actors and actresses from Albany. This one, Mary Nash, was said to have been born in Troy in 1884 (the Morning Telegraph begs to differ, as we will see), but grew up and was schooled in Albany. The family appears living on Broadway (the one in Manhattan) in 1905. She had her stage debut in as a dancer in 1904. She appears in the Internet Broadway Database in performances from the end of 1905 through 1932, including a turn in Shaw’s “Major Barbara” and 26 other productions. She appeared in three films in 1915 and 1916, but didn’t really break into movies until 1934, when she was 50. She was in the Shirley Temple films “Heidi” (playing the aptly named Fraulein Rottenmeier) and “The Little Princess,” but those with a love of screwball comedy will remember her best as Tracy Lord’s mother, Margaret Lord, in “The Philadelphia Story.” She was in 26 movies through 1946.

An article in the New York Morning Telegraph in 1903 announced her breaking into show business with the headline: “Managers Daughter Will Be An Actress – Mary Nash, Eighteen Years Old, Child of Keith’s Manager, Is Under Contract for Coming Season.”

Mary Nash, eighteen, daughter of Philip F. Nash, manager of Keith’s Theatre, is under contract for the coming season to play in a Broadway production. She has just been graduated from the Sargent School of Acting. She was born in Montreal, Canada, and received her early education in Albany.

An edition of “The Theater” in 1911 wrote about “Sisters Who Have Won Out on the Stage,” featuring Mary and sister Florence.

Mary Nash holds a unique place on the theatrical stage this season, for as the telephone girl in “The Woman” she has created a new role. She has come into her own without any theatrical traditions. Hard work and cleverness are the basis of her success, and a strong desire to go on the stage ever since she was a little girl living in Albany, where her father, now assistant manager of the Keith circuit, was connected with the business side of the theatrical profession.

Mary Nash spent most of her childhood and girlhood in Albany, and the thoughtful, dark-eyed little girl who would sit in one of the boxes of Proctor’s Theatre on North Pearl Street, week after week, looking with intentness upon what was taking place on the stage, is well remembered by many of the theatre-goers of the capital city.

After studying at the Albany High School and the Academy of the Holy Names, she went to Canada, where she completed her education at the Convent of St. Ann Le Chiene. In 1901 she entered the American Academy of the Dramatic Arts in New York, from which two years later she graduated. During the summer of 1903 she became a member of a stock company, playing the ingénue parts, and then joined the company headed by Ethel Barrymore. She played in “Captain Jinks,” “Alice Sit By The Fire,” and other plays in Miss Barrymore’s repertoire, and also with Mary Mannering and in “The Girl from Kays,” but it was in her creation of the role of Cicely in “The City,” played last season with Tully Marshall, that Miss Nash made her first big hit, followed this season by her success as Wanda Kelly. She is not only a clever actress, but has a fine soprano voice and dances very well.

She was noted as “an Albany girl” in most notices in the local papers. In 1922, The Times-Union headlined a piece “Mary Nash, Albany Girl, Lauded For Her Beautiful Hands.” Well, yes, although it’s a fine line between “lauded” and “compared to extinct reptiles for no apparent reason.”

Albanians who are always interested in their fellow townsmen whether it be for their achievements or for other reasons, will be interested in the following story taken from the New York American o Sunday regarding the wonderfully beautiful hands of Mary Nash, Albany girl and sister of Miss Florence Nash who appeared at Proctor’s Grand a few weeks ago.

Miss Nash is a graduate of the parochial schools of this city and up to the time of going upon the stage resided on Elm street, where her aunt, Miss Margaret Mack, still resides. Her mother Mrs. P.F. Nash resides in New York with her two daughters, Mary and Florence, and frequently visits her sister in this city.

The story concerning Miss Nash who is the star of Captain Applejack follows:

Does Mary Nash, the star of ‘Captain Applejack,’ possess the most beautiful hands extant? An advertisement so states and pictures of her hands are shown as ‘proof’ of the claim.

At any rate she has set many girls to scrutinizing their hands for comparisons with hers. Her hand is rather large, the fingers long and tapering.

When a Washington scientist saw the beautiful fingers illustrated, he smiled a wicked smile and calmly announced that Mary Nash’s hands were evolved by a ferocious, amphibious reptile, a monster that made life a terror for what ever type of reptiles existed 20,000,000 years ago. He added that Mary’s hands, fingers and nails, feet, toes and nails, had nothing whatever on those of our far back ancestor called Dimetrodon, and that he had just finished mounting the first known perfect skeleton of the creature to prove it.

One of the most extraordinary phenomenons of nature was the disappearance of human-like hands and feet during fifteen or more million years. The extinct amphibians, which preceded the arrival of true reptiles, were well equipped with human-like hands and feet. The succeeding reptiles specialized in near flippers for fore limbs, retaining within, fortunately for us, the skeleton of the hands and fingers.

After these great reptiles, mostly dinosaurs, became extinct, the more human-like hand reappeared in mammals, to be finally perfected by man or, if you prefer, by Mary Nash. You have a wide choice here. You can align yourself with the artists who favor Miss Nash’s hand and fingers as the super-beautiful in such things, or with the Washington scientist who insists that the hand and fingers of Dimetrodon, the amphibian of millions of years ago, were just as artistic and even more useful.

True, Dimetrodon got no limelight like Mary, but he got everything to eat that swam, walked or crawled. His story is quite as sensational as anything Rex Ingram has dug out for the screen.

No, we really have no idea what that was all about, but it was too remarkable not to share.

As mentioned, the Nash sisters were a thing – there was also Florence Nash. The Theater tells us this:

Florence Nash

While Mary Nash was a member of the stock company in 1903, her younger sister, Florence Nash, used to accompany her back and forth from New York to Jersey City, where the company was located. The younger girl had never thought seriously of going on the stage, but one day the leading woman was taken ill and her place must be filled, and Florence Nash, with no time for consideration, said she would fill the breach. That was all the training she had in dramatic art, and she was the little girl that created the role of The Lisping Girl in the “Boys of Company B.” She had the second part in “The Darling of the Gods,” with Percy Haswell as the lead; she was in “Miss Hook of Holland” and in “An Every Day Man,” which had a long run in Chicago. Her work has been character parts and comedy.

The Internet Broadway Database has Florence, born in 1888, appearing in 15 plays from 1907-1930. She only had three film roles – in 1914, 1935, and 1939, but in 1939 she was one of “The Women,” Nancy Blake, in George Cukor’s masterpiece. (It also featured Ruth Hussey, who played alongside Mary Nash in “The Philadelphia Story” as Elizabeth Imbrie.)

Mary died in 1976 in Los Angeles, at 91. Florence died much younger in 1950, at the age of 61. An alert reader (and we would have no other kind) tells us that both are buried in St. Agnes Cemetery in Menands, in their mother’s Mack family tomb.

Harry Lash: Vaudeville Performer, Groucho’s Double

Published by:

Mr and Mrs Harry Lash

Continuing our discussions of 1920s star performers who started out in Albany. Today, Harry Lash, vaudeville performer and a double for Groucho Marx.

Harold Lashever was the son of Max and Dora Lashever,  immigrants from Russia whose language was German. Max came here in 1890 and worked in clothing manufacturing, living on West Van Vechten Street. His name was originally Loshevsky; in 1902 he had it legally changed to Lashever. He and Dora were nationalized in 1900. When he was 18, in 1920, Harold was working as a salesman for a news association. He had three younger brothers.

1923, at Proctor’s in Schenectady: “Miss Ruby Raymond, Charles Stewart [sic] and Harry Lash constitute the Ruby Raymond trio. They have woven a series of dances into a story entitled, ‘The Ambitious Urchins.’” Around this time, he was described as “an Albany boy who recently advanced from the ranks of an amateur performer.”

1924, at Proctor’s Grand: “Monday’s bill brings back to Albany Harry Lash, who started his vaudeville career here after winning first prize in the opportunity contest. He is assisted by Charlie Cerussi in an offering called ‘Variety a la Carte.’” They were billed as Cerussi & Lash, “Two Boys with Pep and Personality,” and the Opportunity Contest had been in April 1922. Another article on the appearance said they had appeared in the “Passing Revue” which played in New York for a full season.

At some point, Harry hooked up with Charlie Stuart, his boarding school friend, and they got appearances in vaudeville, performing in something called “Strange People” at the Loew’s State in Brooklyn in 1926

In 1927, featured a picture of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lash, headlined “Harry Lash Truly Glad to Return to Home City and Proctor’s Grand.”

Son of Mr. and Mrs. Max Lashever Springs Surprise on Annual Visit by Bringing Bride With Him.

“And folks, I can’t begin to tell you how much pleasure it gives me to be playing before this audience. There will always be a soft spot in my heart for Albany, for I was born and raised here. In fact I was born in a house on the very site, etc. and even etc.”

Any person who attends the theatre has heard the above eulogy given more than once and has never put any too much faith in it. But if Harry Lash, of the comedy team of Stuart and Lash, should say these lines during his act at Proctor’s Grande this week, they would be the truth and nothing but the truth.

For Harry Lash really is a “local boy,” who is actually glad to play in Albany. The son of Mr. and Mrs. Max Lashever of 744 Myrtle avenue, with whom he is staying while in Albany, Harry has a host of friends who remember him back in the old days at school 14 and at Albany High school, and will remember the interest that he always took in the theatre. In fact, it was his performance in a Y.M.H.A. show six years ago that gave Harry the idea that he should try the stage as a career.

At least once a year, Harry manages to play Albany. This year, however, he brought a surprise with him. Last Tuesday in Providence, R.I., Harry was married to Miss Irma Powers of Denver, Co.., who has graced several Broadway shows.

Mrs. Lash declares that her retirement from the stage is only temporary and that she will soon return to the realm of the footlights.

“Glad to get back to Albany,” says Harry. “You bet I am. This ‘local boy’ stuff has been worn threadbare, I know, but when I assert my feelings toward Albany, you can bet that it isn’t the bunk.”

Stuart and Lash continued on the Loew’s circuit for a number of years, and eventually they ended up on the Keith circuit. The Syracuse Journal in 1931 gave us more detail on Harry Lash than his hometown paper appears to have done, with a story on how “Keith Comedians Owe Success to Schools” –

It has been said that the theatrical profession is one that you can’t learn in school. Denial of this is made by two who should know, Charlie Stuart and Harry Lash, those two very funny men who headline the stage show at Keith’s currently.

School gave Charlie and Harry their start in show business. Strangely it was not attendance at school that did it, but being frequently expelled was responsible.

The pair met at a New York boarding school after each had been shown the doors of every public school in the Bronx and Albany. Comparing notes, Charlie found that too much entertaining and not enough studying brought Harry to the boarding school from Albany, and the records showed that he was there for the same reason.

The frequent expulsions from school didn’t curb the desires of these two young men to entertain their fellow students, and they soon found themselves on the outside of the boarding school looking in. Both decided they had had enough of school, and, being interested in stage careers, began looking around.

Meanwhile they had to eat, so Charlie found himself a job on the old curb market and Harry became an experienced soda fountain operator. Then the stage opportunity came at the old Hamilton theater in New York, where amateur follies were produced. Charlie got a job in the show and recommended Lash for another spot. Thus the team of Stuart and Lash was born.

That was nine years ago. After the Hamilton Follies the pair signed up with an act and during their third week in vaudeville played the Temple here. After a few weeks’ work Charlie and Harry began to find out about some of the hardships of the show business. When they worked everything was great, but when they didn’t – well, they were hungry.

Times have changed now, however. Stuart and Lash can take their place with those at the top of the vaudeville ladder, and those who have been host to them at dinner say it’s plenty easy for them to be funny.

Stuart and Lash could get by in any town on their own merits, but now they are surrounded by one of the outstanding intact shows on Keith time. The boys still spill secrets on each other and Harry dropped a hint to ask Stuart about Miss Loretta Fisher, beautiful and talented dancer in the same show and far, far into the night love-sick Charlie talked and talked about Miss Fisher.

In 1936, Harry was noted in a brief in the Flushing North Shore Daily Journal for having signed for a role in “Where’s Elmer?” an MGM feature. We don’t find that that actually happened, but it’s interesting that Harry was enough of a name to warrant a brief out in Flushing.

In the Chicago Tribune, Sept. 4, 1936, we learn that Harry Lash and his partner Stuart were doing some fill-in work for the Marx Brothers, with Harry taking the role of Groucho. Headlined “Marx Brothers See Doubles Try Out Gags,” the story provided some fascinating insight into the film-making process:

So that the three Marx brothers can see themselves as they look to others while they do their comedy bits, Groucho, Chico, and Harpo have put three vaudeville performers to work representing them. Billie Dooley enacted the Harpo part in rehearsals. Harry Lash of the vaudeville team of Stuart and Lash is Groucho by proxy. Skins Miller represents Chico.

One will find the three brother comedians sand makeup and wardrobe, sitting alongside Director Sam Wood and Writer Al Boasberg while they “look at themselves.”

The scene today was supposed to be a hotel room with Groucho making comedy love to a pretty girl. In rush Harpo and Chico as paper hangers and proceed to hang everything in sight, including Groucho, the girl, and themselves. For two weeks they will be working out their comedy this way and then will be ready to go to work once again.

The movie was “A Day at the Races.” IMDB reports that Harry Lash was an uncredited racetrack spectator.

That wasn’t his first uncredited role – from 1936 to 1940, he played such uncredited roles as “friend of drunk,” “reporter,” “second taxi driver,” and “hot dog concessionaire.” In fact, his only credited role was in 1937’s Headin’ East, playing Spud, “Lohman’s henchman.”

We’re not sure what happened after that; we lose track of Harry. It’s from IMDB that we learn that Harry died May 29, 1949, in Los Angeles.

Albany Dancer Olga Beauman

Published by:

Olga BeaumanIn 1927, Albany seemed to have no shortage of prominent players in the performing arts. Alongside the mentions of Ward Crane and Elizabeth Hines, the Times-Union also featured dancer Olga Beauman. “Struttin’ to Fame,” the T-U wrote, “Perhaps, is Miss Olga Beauman, popular young Albany dancing instructor, who has just joined the footlight folk as a featured dancer in the Brooklyn Strand Theatre. She has turned down a Ziegfeld offer, for the time, so that she may continue her classes in Albany with her theatre work.”

Olga Beauman was born around 1908. Her father James, was from the Irish Free State; mother Emily Beauman was from New Jersey, which is where Olga was born; the family was in Albany as early as 1903, and by 1910,  James was listed as running a dance academy in 1910, and both parents were listed in 1920. James Beauman’s dance academy was in Van Vechten Hall, on State, two doors east of Eagle. James was 26 years older than his wife, and 44 years older than his daughter; he died at age 70 during a heat wave on Memorial Day weekend of 1929, in a store on Hudson Avenue. After that, Emily and Olga continued to teach dance from their home at 399 State Street, Suite 707 (it’s the well-appointed building still on the northeast corner of State and what is now Henry Johnson Boulevard). Their dance school’s recital was performed in the Albany Institute of History and Art. In September of ’29, Olga did dance for Ziegfeld, in “Show Girl.” There were frequent mentions of her dance performances in the late 1920s, including performing as a featured dancer at New York’s Paramount Theatre in 1928, where was appearing “under the direction of Mme. Serova, noted dancing teacher.”

In 1927, Olga was identified with the latest dance craze, the “Black Bottom:”

WATCH YOUR GROCERIES – If you are a “Black Bottom” fan. Students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have calculated that the new fangled dance required more calories than any other. The theory was virtually proved by students at Beauman’s Dancing Academy. Miss Olga Beauman said she could eat a big dish of corned beef and cabbage after she did the “Black Bottom.”

The RPI “study” concluded that an Indian war dance would only require the calories from “a few hot dogs – with mustard and onions,” and that an old-fashioned waltz only required 4 calories, “as against 20 for the ‘Black Bottom.’” Even the Charleston, taught by Miss Frances Wright of the Beauman Academy, was not as strenuous. So said science.

Also in 1927, Olga got her first professional contact, which came with a significant write-up in the Times-Union:

Blue Eyed OlgaPretty Artiste Declares She Feels Just a Bit ‘Fluttery’ at Thought of Leaving Tonight for First Professional Contract.

Golden hair and blue eyes from Albany will dance with nimble limbs before New York city audiences of Mark Strand theatres this winter, when Miss Olga Beauman, eighteen, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. James R. Beauman, of Beauman’s dance studio, fulfills her first professional contract. The contract calls for a week’s appearance once a month.

The call from the realms of Terpsichore came only a few short hours after Miss Beauman had returned from New York city where she has been a student at the Vestoff-Serova Russian School of Dancing. She will leave Albany tonight, blithe with the glory of her impending first professional appearance, for rehearsals at the Vestoff studio.

Her premiere will be at the Brooklyn Strand next Saturday and will consist of toe and jazz dancing.

Miss Beauman recently refused an offer to join the galaxy of Flo Ziegfeld’s brilliant satellites. The offer was through Alvertinia Rasch, well-known dancer, under whom Miss Beauman has also studied, and was rejected because Miss Beauman is “heart and soul a teacher,” and wishes to continue instructing pupils at Beauman’s academy. Her present contract allows her to continue doing so three weeks each the [sic] month.

“It is my first professional contract,” said Miss Beauman, with winsome smile and only a trace of nervous anticipation, “and despite appearances in Town hall, New York city, and in other cities, I feel, well, a little of the fluttering, which poets sing about. It’s the first rung on my calcimine ladder, and I hope to dance my way to the brilliant spotlight at the top.”

In 1931, Olga was still teaching with her mother. At some point, she met a young fellow named Hawley Ades, a graduate of Rutgers who directed the glee club and played piano in the jazz band, and then landed a position as the pianist for the Beauman Dance Academy. Hawley became an arranger for Irving Berlin and, later, Fred Waring; Hawley and Olga were engaged in February 1933.

We found a brief article from 1938 about the birth of their daughter, titled “Three Careers.”

“Hawley W. Ades, music arranger for Fred Waring’s orchestra, and his wife, Olga Bowman’s [sic] Albany’s own dance star, are the parents of a daughter named Audrey Caroline. At the present time opinions differ as to which road to fame the young lady will follow. The father desires a pianistic career, the mother wants to be perpetuated through the art of terpsichore, while the grandmother, Mrs. Mary F. Ades, wants to see an organist in the family.”

Hawley’s obituary says he and Olga retired to Florida in 1975, “where they were involved in a myriad of musical and dance activities.” Thanks to an alert reader with better searching skills than mine, we know that Olga died May 21, 1993. Hawley lived to the ripe old age of 100, spending his last few years in the Capital District, passing on in 2008; both are buried in Albany Rural Cemetery.

 

 

Elizabeth Hines, Ziegfeld Girl

Published by:

While we’re speaking of Albany-born stars (well, we were), we found a brief mention of Elizabeth Hines in a 1927 Times-Union.

ON BRIGHT BROADWAY – Miss Elizabeth Hines, Albany girl, has long been one of the sparks. She represents her native city in musical comedy, appearing as star in Ziegfeld and George White productions.

Elizabeth Hines 1921 Tatler

Elizabeth Hines in the Tatler, June, 1921

In fact, while we find her connected with George M. Cohan and a number of Ziegfeld productions – particularly “Showboat,” the delay of which led her to sue Ziegfeld in 1927 – we find very little on her life or her Albany connection. In 1928, the Times-Union noted that the “Albany printer’s daughter who rose to stardom on Broadway” had been awarded $12,000 over that cancellation; she had sought $100,000. “Naturally, even $12,000 is acceptable to Miss Hines and Ziegfeld is so happy over the comparative smallness of the award that he is to give his eight-year-old daughter a new roadster.” He sounds like a delight.

The Internet Broadway Database says that Hines was born in 1895, and credits her first Broadway production as “Molly O’,” in 1916. She received a lot of notice for her performances in “The O’Brien Girl” (1921), “Little Nellie Kelly” (1922-23), and “Marjorie” in 1924.

She may not have lived in Albany very long. In the 1910 census, when she would have been just 15, it appears that the family was living in Manhattan. Father Thomas Hines was an “operator” (probably of a press) at a newspaper, and brother Walter, then 18, was listed as a theater actor. We would almost doubt the connection, but the same Thomas Hines, and wife Annie Palmer Hines, are interred at Albany Rural Cemetery, so there’s some kind of connection there.

In 1928, the Times-Union ran a picture of Hines on the front page with the brief cutline: “Smoking by Women – Is one of the 23 roads to hell, in opinion of Rev. G.C. Shell of Watertown. Elizabeth Hines is an Albany girl stage star, who recently wed a New York banker. She poses in smoking attitude.” The recent nuptials referred to here were apparently supposed to have been a secret; the Albany Evening Journal reported them Nov. 17, 1927: “Elizabeth Hines, musical comedy star, protege of George M. Cohan, has just been revealed as a secret bride. Since August 18 she has been Mrs. Frank Rigg Warton. Her husband is engaged in banking, and since she is happiest when sticking to her work she intends to return to the stage.” She was apparently well enough known that she was name-checked in a syndicated column by O.O. McIntyre, “New York Day by Day,” in 1927, without any further explanation:

New York – Thoughts while strolling: Those men who stand in Fifth avenue doorways checking off busses. Elizabeth Hines. Flappers talking the Moran and Mack lingo. What’s become of ginger snaps? A drug store with a balcony restaurant.

What does that mean? No telling.