Category Archives: Waterford

The Value of the Telephone (and of Miss Worth)

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The Telephone Review 1914Now that we live in a time when it appears that most people feel the need to be engaged in telephone conversations at all moments of the day – while driving a car, while conducting a transaction, while going to the bathroom – it’s perhaps hard for some to imagine that there was a time when the telephone company had to sell people on the utility of telephone service. But so it was.

In 1914, The Telephone Review, the house organ of the New York Telephone Company, provided this article from the Waterford Advertiser, under the heading “The Value of the Telephone,” to drive home the advantage of voice communications by wire, particularly for places whose fire alarms appear to have been burned down.

“The value of the telephone and a live operator was shown on Tuesday evening, May 2, about 11:30 o’clock, in Waterford. The village was quiet, and a fire was discovered in the Waterford Woolen Mills, situated at the head of Ballston Street. Since the burning of the Town Hall, on which was located the fire alarm, the village has been handicapped. An alarm was sounded on the steamer house bell, which, however, can be heard only a short distance. Word was sent to Miss Adelaide Worth, the efficient chief operator in Waterford of the New York Telephone Company. The fire was burning briskly at the time and no apparatus had yet arrived. Miss Worth, realizing the situation, telephoned the Reverend Alfred H. Valiquette, pastor of St. Mary’s Church, asking him to ring the church bell, which he did immediately, and the firemen were soon on the scene and succeeded in saving adjoining property.

Thirty minutes later, while the firemen were at this fire, another fire was discovered in a residence across the street from the Ford Hose House, and as the firemen were all away from the fire headquarters, Miss Worth again appealed to the clergyman, who again sounded the alarm, and a quick response was made, with a damage to the building of only $100. The loss to the Woolen Mill amounted to $10,000. Much credit is due to the operator for her action.”


Finding Ethelda Bleibtrey

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More from the 1952 Knickerbocker News article on Waterford native and Olympic swimming medalist Ethelda Bleibtrey, which we started yesterday:

Although the younger generation may not have heard of Ethelda Bleibtrey, the preceding generation knew of the young lady’s remarkable swimming exploits, though it may have forgotten about her down through the years . . .

It wasn’t difficult locating her. Her father, the late John Edwin Bleibtrey was an undertaker in Waterford, and William Quandt was his brother-in-law. The Quandt Funeral Home in Waterford is the successor firm to Bleibtrey. From the Quandts, the search turned to Mrs. Victor Hess, 62 Second St., Waterford. She and Ethelda have been close friends since childhood and as a matter of fact, Ethelda visits her “adopted sister” regularly.

Mrs. Hess had the address and telephone number of Ethelda and the rest was easy.

“I certainly recall that parade,” she declared in the telephone interview, referring to her triumphal return to her native town after the 1920 Olympics. “They presented me a trunk. It was a good one. I still have it.”

Ethelda made many public appearances in the Capital District, including one at the present Mid-City Swimming Pool. She believes it was at the opening.

From 1919 to 1922, Ethelda Bleibtrey churned the waters in almost every country in the world. She did it at all distances, too. She was in the 50, 100, 200, 300, 400 and 800-yard events, and in the mile and other long-distance events. Helene Madison, the Seattle wizard, in 1932 broke all women’s records, amassing the amazing total of 15 out of 16 championships. Ethelda at one time in her career held 20 championships.

One of her fondest recollections is that of an exhibition dive from the railing of a steamship in mid-Pacific, on a return trip from an exhibition tour in Australia.

After turning professional, Ethelda went on the stage in a swimming show, touring the famous Keith circuit. She appeared in tank shows in every state in the union. Since that time she has managed pools for many private clubs, including the Park Central Hotel in New York; the Montauk Surf and Cabana Club and the McFadden-Dauville near Miami.

Her daughter, Leilah McRoberts, by a previous marriage, now swimming instructor at Camp Lenore, Hinsdale, Mass., partly emulated her mother’s famous career. She became Metropolitan Women’s Swimming Champion in the New York area.

And her instructor?

“Who do you think?” Ethelda Bleibtrey replied.

The daughter, a graduate of New York University, majored in physical education.

“Records are like bubbles, they quickly disappear,” said Ethelda. “But one of my swimming marks remains unbroken to this date – by a fluke.”

She was referring to her 1920 Olympic record of four minutes, 34 seconds, in the 300 meters race. The time for the distance has been bettered many times since and was under the four-minute mark, but the 300 meters event has never been repeated in any Olympiad or international games since 1920. And in the record books it is stated that the best for that event is Ethelda’s mark.

This gracious lady who led the aquacade of feminine water speedsters, has an explanation, but no excuse for the speedup in swimming records since her triumphal days.

“In the early days women were not pushed to the utmost for speed because of the lack of competition,” she said. “Then, too, the distances in international competition were short races. American women had few rivals in other countries, but as the international competition, and the quality of competition increased, so did the speed.”

The starting blocks today, and the excellent pools are additional factors also. Ethelda said her 1920 triumphs at Antwerp were in a moat, and the water for the most part was muddy.

The greatest contribution, in Ethelda’s opinion, to the speed up in swimming competition was the introduction by Lou DeB. Hambley of the American six-beat double trudgeon American crawl.

Ethelda Bleibtrey Schlafke has never returned to another Olympic beyond her first and only. She is abundantly happy in her role of teacher, wife and mother. Her idea of a vacation is a quick trip by automobile up the Hudson Valley to the scenes of her childhood — for a visit with Mrs. Hess; for a look at her Hudson River and, possibly a side trip to Saratoga Lake.

Saratoga Lake? Yes – that’s where she first swam at the age of 6.

More on Ethelda Bleibtrey

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Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 10.56.58 PM.pngThe Knickerbocker News of July 30, 1952, had an article by Julius J. Heller reminding readers of the important career of championship swimmer and Olympic gold medalist Ethelda Bleibtrey, who was born in and grew up in Waterford.

When a slim, 16-year-old [sic: she was 18] girl plunged into the water at Antwerp, Belgium, in the 1920 Olympiad, the resulting splash not only put the name of Waterford on front pages throughout the world – it also marked the beginning of an era of women’s prominence in international sports.

The swimmer was Ethelda Bleibtrey, a Waterford undertaker’s platinum blonde, blue-eyed daughter, who became the first American girl – and one of the first women in the world – to gain international fame as a swimmer.

Ethelda’s Olympic triumph, followed by more victories in the next two years when she toured the world in competition before turning professional, did much to promote athletic competition among the “weaker sex.” Her followers included such feminine stars as Ethel Lackie, Martha Norelius, Helene Madison, Helen Meaney, Helen Wainwright – and the great Gertrude Ederle, who, six years later, conquered the English Channel.

Now 48 [sic: 50], and still championing women’s sports, the former Ethelda Bleibtrey cherishes a vivid recollection of her triumphal reception in her native Waterford 32 years ago, with Mayor Lussier leading the Saratoga County community’s 3,000 exulting citizens in a parade down Broad St.

Today she is Mrs. Albert P. Schlafke, residing in a modest home at 120 Belleterre Ave., E. Lindhurst, L.I., the wife of a compositor on a New York City newspaper. Her husband was an automobile racing driver until injuries forced him out of competition.

Mrs. Ethelda Bleibtrey Schlafke can be found every day between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. at the pool of the Strathmore Vanderbilt Country Club, former Vanderbilt estate, at Manhasset, L.I. There she is the operator of the pool with a special devotion to teaching youngsters, although many adults are her pupils.

In the off-season, and whenever time permits, she is engaged in physio-therapy work among cerebral palsy and polio afflicted at St. Charles Hospital, Port Jefferson.

The platinum of Ethelda’s hair hasn’t turned to the matron gray. It is somewhat on the straw or yellowish side now. But the famous slim Bleibtrey figure is retained. Her energy is boundless; her swimming flawless.

More in this post.

Waterford’s Own Ethelda Bleibtrey

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IMG_1143I couldn’t count how many times I must have biked past this historical marker in the park at the end of the Troy-Waterford bridge without ever noticing it until a few weeks ago. Maybe a construction detour that forced me onto the sidewalk made the difference. In any event, it was the very first time I had heard of Ethelda Bleibtrey.

But I should have, even if she weren’t a local product, because she had something of an amazing and inspirational life. Ethelda was born in Waterford in 1902, the daughter of a mortician. She took her first swim in Saratoga Lake at the age of 6. She contracted polio in 1917, resulting in spinal curvature, and she took up swimming to strengthen her limbs a year later when she went to Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn. She caught the attention of Olympic swimmer and water polo player Louis deBreda Handley, who introduced a new training regimen for female swimmers, at a time when female athletes were still a novelty. It wasn’t long before Ethelda was competing against Australian Fanny Durack, who held 11 world records.  She beat Durack in a quarter-mile race at Coney Island in 1919, and found herself on the 1920 U.S. Olympic team in Antwerp, Belgium, where she won three gold medals.

As a side note, her Encyclopaedia Britannica article says that “In 1919, she was arrested for ‘nude swimming’ — she removed her stockings at a pool where it was forbidden to bare ‘the lower female extremities for public bathing.’ The subsequent public support for Bleibtrey led to the abandonment of stockings as a conventional element in women’s swimwear.” So she had that going on.

Belibtrey & Kahanamoku (LOC) (30941).jpgShe apparently traveled the world – she’s seen here in a picture from the Library of Congress with Duke Kahanamoku – and competed in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere, for another few years, but never appeared in another Olympics. Britannica says she never lost a race as an amateur, and turned professional in 1922. She married, moved to Long Island, taught swimming and worked with children afflicted with cerebral palsy and polio.

She died in 1978 in West Palm Beach, Florida.

More on Ethelda here and here.