Category Archives: Schenectady

An old-time newspaperman

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While perusing old editions of Editor and Publisher, we came across this little reminder that in the old days, there tended to be two kinds of newspapermen: the ones who were lifers at a single publication, and the ones who worked all over the place. Here’s the obituary of one of the latter type who made his career in the tri-cities, John A. Sleicher.

Albany, N.Y., May 5 [1921] – John A. Sleicher died at his home here to-day. He was in his 73rd year. Mr. Sleicher was born in Troy, N.Y. on October 4, 1848, and began his newspaper training on the old Troy Whig, afterward the Record. Later he became city editor of the Troy Whig, then the Press, still later the Times and subsequently a part owner of the Times. He eventually sold his interest in the Times and bought the Schenectady Union.

Having thus had considerable experience on small city daily papers, he became editor and part owner of the Albany Evening Journal. When he came to New York City, it was as editor of the Mail and Express, which position he held until he became supervisor of the City Record. In May, 1905, Mr. Sleicher was made president of the Judge Company, which published Leslie’s Weekly and Judge. He resigned as editor of the Mail and Express to become Supervisor of the City Record under Mayor Strong.

Mr. Sleicher had been ill for some time. When on February 23, last Judge Manton of the federal court appointed a receiver for the Leslie-Judge Company, it was said that the company’s embarrassment was largely due to Mr. Sleicher’s illness.

So here was a journalist who worked for six newspapers in the Capital District, had ownership in three of them, and then went on to run the company that published two of the largest circulation publications of their day. Not many could say that today, though it must be said that it’s amazing that three daily newspapers continue to serve the three cities.

From Crane Street to Burma

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While we’re having a little local video festival this week, take a gander at this scene from “Objective, Burma!” If you’re the impatient type, you can jump ahead to about 1:10, where Lt. Jacobs (played by Nichols, NY native and Cornell graduate William Prince) explains the place he’d rather be than Burma: Cannonball Island, Central Park. “Schenectady, New York. They have a Central Park, too, with this island in the middle. Sorta take your girl there if you’re real friendly.”

Then there’s the mention of the Gazette, and the family grocery store on Crane Street (we’ll forgive the comment that it’s “right by the locomotive works”). And Union College.

And then comes the greatest line in cinematic history:

“And if only more folks back home would realize that Crane Street, Schenectady, runs all the way to Burma, this’d be the last war.”

Sad to say that these days, I think Lt. Jacobs would likely feel safer in Burma than on most of Crane Street.

A friend pointed me to a Daily Gazette article from a few years back that gave credit for the screenplay to Ranald McDougall, who was from the Electric City; the story’s author Alvah Bessie had no such connection, so it must have been a personal addition from McDougall, for whom this is the first screenwriting credit.

Schenectady’s Nonagenarian Industry

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AlcoMarker.pngYou just don’t get to use the term “nonagenarian” often enough. But in 1938, Schenectady’s Chamber of Commerce set aside a special day for celebration of the 90th anniversary of the locomotive industry in “The City That Lights and Hauls the World.”

On the afternoon of December 13, 1938, “before a large assemblage gathered in the finishing shop of the Alco plant, Mr. Lawrence G. Magner, President Schenectady Trust Company and President Schenectady Chamber of Commerce, presented to Mr. William C. Dickerman, President American Locomotive Company, a large, beautiful bronze plaque. . .  A Scotch setting, in honor of the founders, prevailed at the presentation. Miss Lorraine Ellen MacRae, attractively attired in kilts, unveiled the plaque, and Mr. James Copeland, also in Scotch attire, provided bagpipe music.

“In the evening over 500 Schenectadians and guests attended a dinner, the feature of the Celebration, at the Hotel Van Curler. This dinner was sponsored by the Schenectady Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Lawrence G. Magner, President of the Chamber, acted as Toastmaster. Honorable Oswald D. Heck, Speaker New York State Assembly, and Honorable Robert W. Baxter, Mayor of Schenectady, both paid tribute to the courageous Schenectady group of men who founded the locomotive industry in this City. Mrs. Charles A. Harrell, City Manager Schenectady, presented awards to the successful contestants in the model locomotive contest conducted in connection with the anniversary celebration . . . .

“Entertainment features were under the direction of Mr. John R. Sheehan, and included Miss Joyce Wishart, Scotch dancer, accompanied by Piper Robert Dixon; Miss Ruth Filburn, radio vocalist; and a double quartet from the Schubert Club composed of Messrs. Neil O. Sheldon, E.T. Grout, Walter Melber, H.B. Haig, J.A. Chapman, F.M. Alexander, W.K. Boyd, Jr., and E.W. Wiese. Dinner music was furnished by the Rice String Trio.”

I’d love to know if perchance that plaque is still anywhere on the former Alco site, though I’m almost certain that’s too much to hope for.

The origins of Kolf

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Screen Shot 2014-05-08 at 7.21.28 AM.pngClyde D. Wagoner, chairman of the Kermis committee that brought an ancient Dutch celebration to Schenectady as part of its charter sesquicentennial celebration in 1948, wasn’t just an organizer of gay events, but also a revisionist historian who was willing to speak truth to the power. Or at least to claim that golf originated in Holland.

A Schenectady Gazette article (buried on the sports page!) from June 16, 1948, elaborates:

“Golf, or ‘kolf’ as it was originally known, is not a Scotch game, as so many believe, but orginated in Holland. This statement, based on information supplied by the Netherlands government, was made yesterday by Clyde D. Wagoner, chairman of the Dutch Kermis to be held in Schenectady on June 24, 25 and 26.

“‘Kolf is one of the oldest Dutch sports. It originated in the Netherlands in the 14th century,’ according to M.M. Lourens of the Netherlands government information bureau. ‘As far back as 1595 we find regulations for the game in the historical records of the town of Goes in Zeeland.'”

So there, you Scottish braggarts. There are records!

“‘In olden days, kolf courses were laid of tightly packed loam, mixed with lime. The courses were made very level and an old Dutch saying has it “as level as a kolf course”‘ according to Mr. Lourens . . . The old kolf courses were laid mostly under a low building, consisting of a tiled roof supported by pillars and rafters. In the length of the course at a distance of about 50 feet, were put two upstanding poles of seven or eight feet of elongated conical shape. Kolf is played with hard rubber or tightly woven woolen balls. These balls are driven by a stick called a kolf, about six or seven feet in length, having a yellow copper scoop which is also called a kolf. The main object of the play is to hit both poles and be scored accordingly.”

Hoxsie doesn’t know much about golf, but that sounds like EXACTLY the same thing.

Interesting coincidence: Kermis week featured a Dutch golf match, in which all players would appear in Dutch costumes, “even to wooden shoes if they can be gotten.” The article noted that a tradition of present day golf in Holland is for the women to act as caddies and for the men to wear knickerbockers. For the Kermis Kolf event, “as far as possible the players will have members of the fair sex carry their clubs.” But apparently not their wooden shoes.


The Kermis: think of it as cosplaying the Dutch

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So yesterday we started to describe the excitement around the first Kermis to be held in America, which was put on in Schenectady in 1948 as part of its sesquicentennial anniversary noting its chartering as a city. The rest of the article from the Altamont Enterprise is well worth perusing, especially if you wonder about a time when an entire city could be expected to cosplay (at least down to their feet) and men were encouraged to smoke pipes for the week. Fair warning: do not play a drinking game for every time some form of the word “gay” appears in this article.

The Kermis will be held both in and outdoors, the new state armory in Schenectady and a city park directly opposite having been engaged for the event. In the park, there will be a merry-go-round, ferris wheel and a number of other carnival attractions, including the Dutch food booths. In the armory there will be 80 or more exhibit booths and a stage for a nightly show by strictly Dutch performers. Highlighting the exhibits will be a collection of 12 paintings by the old Dutch masters, valued at $200,000 and a Dutch village of 11 typical Dutch buildings and stores, being sent to Schenectady from Holland especially for this Kermis.

Another unique and outstanding attraction of the Kermis will be a Dutch barrel organ, also being sent from the Netherlands for this celebration. This instrument, which somewhat resembles a circus wagon with its ornamental bright red and gold decorations, is reputed to “make more noise than two or three brass bands.” It is moved about by horses and played by means of perforated paper rolls. Operated by persons in Dutch costumes this organ will be moved about neighboring cities a few days before the opening of the Kermis for advertising purposes. There is but one other barrel organ in the country, and this rests among the exhibits of the Dutch museum at Holland, Mich., a gift from the Netherlands in reciprocation for what that city has done in promoting the annual tulip festival.

The entire city will assume a gay Dutch attire for Kermis week. On each street pole will be large Dutch windmills with blades which will turn with the breeze. American and Dutch flags will be in evidence everywhere, the business stores will be gaily decorated and all residents of the city have been asked to appear in Dutch costumes during the three days of the Kermis, except possibly for wooden shoes which it was agreed would be too difficult a job for persons unaccustomed to them. All men, however, have been asked to smoke the long stem church warden clay pipes that week.

Authentic Dutch costumes, sent from Holland, have been on display in Schenectady, so people can make their own attire. Interest aroused in their exhibit indicates the spirit with which the residents are responding to the invitation to dress like the Dutch for the Kermis.

To carry out traditions of this country which generally prevail at all gay festivals, two additions to the Dutch idea of the Kermis are being added to Schenectady’s celebration. There will be a King and Queen of the Kermis, elected by popular vote of the city’s residents, and a fireworks display the last two nights, originating from a floating barge in the Mohawk river, which flows past the Kermis grounds.

According to Clyde D. Wagoner, chairman of the Kermis committee, this three-day celebration promises to be one of the gayest and most unique ever held in Schenectady and an event which should attract 25,000 or more to Schenectady each night for “no one in these parts has ever seen a Kermis before.”

Kermis Week in Schenectady

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kermis_week_in_schenectady.jpgThis postcard from the great Tichnor Collection posted by the Boston Public Library on Flickr raises the interesting question: What’s a Kermis?

Well, the Altamont Enterprise of June 18, 1948 is very glad you asked:

Schenectady, founded by Arent Van Curler and a party of 15 Holland Dutchmen in 1662, is going to be given back to the Dutch for a three-day period the last week in June [1948] when the first Dutch Kermis ever to be held in this country will be staged with all the fanfare and atmosphere which tend to make these festivals among the gayest events of the year in the Netherlands.

Schenectady was not chartered until 1798 and the Kermis will highlight the many events to mark the city’s sesquicentennial being celebrated this year. To whet the appetites of Schenectadians for what to expect at the coming kermis, a real Dutch dinner was held as the inaugural event of the sesquicentennial on March 29. The menu was strictly Dutch, having been provided by the chef of the Niew Amsterdam of the Holland-American line. The main course was Leidsche Hotspot met Klapstuk, which according to the chef was nothing more than “Leiden Hodge Podge” with boiled beef. Actually hodge podge was a mixture of potatoes and carrots. What proved a real treat to the 400 unacquainted with Dutch meals was the Griesmeel pudding met bessen sap, which was served just before the dessert of Dutch cheese and Holland rusk. Not until the meal was over did they learn it was just a Dutch way of preparing cream of wheat pudding with red currant sauce.

The Kermis in Holland originated as a mass said on the anniversary of the founding of a church. In honor of the patron saint it was first known as a Kirmass. Such celebrations, in early years quite religious with church bells ringing throughout the town ot mark its opening, gradually assumed a festive air. First the church allowed feasting, then dancing and some sports, until today it has assumed the air of a gay carnival. They now last a week and scarcely anyone works; all join in seven days of gaiety and fun making. The hot dog stands, as we know them in America, serve “poffertjes,” little round pancake blobs of dough twisted and covered with butter and sugar, and “wafelens,” which are oblong wafers, also buttered and sugared. Both come hot off the griddle. Fish booths offer herring and the more aristocratic smoked eel. This is the merry-go-round, roundabout swings for the children and many other county fair attractions.

Schenectady’s Kermis will officially get under way on June 24 with a mammoth street parade of Dutch floats and hundreds of children and adults all dressed in costumes of the Netherlands. Carrying out the Holland tradition, in the forefront of this parade will be the “Geldersche Achterhoek” or Kermis pole with a stork’s nest on top on which will be mounted a stuffed bird. As this reaches the Kermis grounds, amid the tolling every church bell in the city, it will be erected as a signal for the official opening of festivities. Present at this ceremony will be Dr. Eelco van Kleffens, Netherlands ambassador to this country, and Dr. Willem Cnoop Koopmans, consul general, from New York, both of whom have accepted invitations from Schenectady’s Mayor Owen Begley to come to America’s first Kermis. At the close of the Kermis, the pole will be taken down, carried in solemn funeral procession to its “burial” spot to repose until another year.

Tomorrow: probably more about Kermis!

Entering Scotia

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Entering Scotia NY.jpgAnother view, this time from the topside, of the Western Gateway Bridge and its approach into Scotia. I always loved the concrete lattice details, which on the “new” bridge were replaced by steel guiderails and chain link fence, which I’m sure is lovely to someone (perhaps a junkyard dog), but not to me. (The Troy-Menands bridge still has similar lattice work on its approach on the Troy side.) The light poles were majestic.

When Bridges Were Bridges

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Bridge over Mohawk River at Scotia.jpgNot sure just when this undated postcard of the original Western Gateway Bridge was made, but the bridge itself, a graceful concrete arch structure, opened in December 1925. Previously, Schenectady and Scotia were connected by a trolley bridge between Schonowe Avenue and Washington Avenue.

Four men died in an accident during the Western Gateway’s construction in 1923, and a missing fifth contributed to the persistent rumor that one man was encased in a concrete arch footing. (Larry Hart finally put this rumor to rest.) There was a weeklong celebration of its opening in the summer of 1924, including fireworks on the river that drew 75,000 people.

It was demolished in 1974, having been replaced by a graceless steel span that was given the same name despite being unlovely and not having a dangerous curve. Many of the Belgian pavers that made up its deck found their way into local walkways and gardens.

State Street, Schenectady, Then and Then

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State Street Schenectady trolley tracks.jpg Again from the Boston Public Library collection, a wonderful postcard view looking east up State Street from the railroad overpass. Some genius of car-bonnet dating could probably narrow the age down for us, but the trolleys were still running. On the left was Jay Jewelry, and just across Broadway was Woolworth’s. You can’t really make out much of the next two buildings, but the next tall one on the left is Wallace’s. On the right, the Hotel Hough, home to Rudolph’s Jewelers. The next tall building up from that was Clark Witbeck’s hardware concern. And, of course, Proctor’s, which then had a vertical sign.
State Street Schenectady.jpg In this somewhat later view, sometime in the ’50s, the trolley tracks are gone. On the left you get a better view of The Imperial Shop, and then Jay Jewelry (missing its distinctive sign). The angle here lets you make out the Planter’s Peanuts store over in the Hough. Proctor’s vertical sign is gone.

Schenectady Rug and Carpet

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Schenectady Rug 1.jpg

From the files of the Boston Public Library come these three postcard views of something less than a landmark, the Schenectady Rug and Carpet Store. It was at 789 State Street in Schenectady, about at the corner of Hulett, in a building that is now gone.

Big on slogans, they were. “Home means more with carpet on the floor.” “Trade-in your carpet like you trade-in your car.” “No parking problem.”

Schenectady Rug 3.jpg I’m not sure what the order of the businesses was, but suspect that Schenectady Rug & Carpet was the successor to, or just the new name of, Bailey Rug Co.
Schenectady Rug 2.jpg At the very least, I know that Bailey Rug was in operation in 1939, having found ads in the Schenectady Gazette from that year. And they were open evenings, as this romantic view of the Bailey Rug Company at night suggests.