Hoxsie exists...

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He's just very, very busy. Consider this a week off.

1880: When Capitols Kill!

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In the very back pages of the endlessly fascinating "Albany Hand-Book" for 1881 ("A Strangers' Guide and Residents' Manual") is an appendix chronicling local events for 1880.

So let's see what was going on at the Capitol that year, when it was under the supervision of its second architect, Leopold Eidlitz, and had only been under construction for 13 years (with a brief 19 to go):

March 30: Charles Hagar, a laborer at the capitol, fell and was instantly killed.

July 27: Charles Dunn, bricklayer at the capitol, fell, and was killed.

July 28: A fire in the tressel-work of the Capitol caused some excitement, but little damage.

August 5: Thomas Strawbridge, water carrier at the Capitol, fell 90 feet, and was killed.

hiramferguson.pngIt would appear that I have never before taken in the florid advertising stylings of Hiram Ferguson, designer, photographer, and engraver in wood, who worked out of the "Bank Building" at 448 Broadway. This is from the 1881 "Albany Hand-book."

Beware the Street Canary Vendor

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whitesbirdstore.pngWhile we're on the subject of the 1881 "Albany Hand-book," let's note its peculiar entry regarding birds:

"The bird-stores of a city are always interesting places to visit, especially to those who are fond of the feathered songsters. There are usually some curious foreign birds on exhibition, and always good singers to be heard. The Hartz mountain canaries are sold from $2 to $3; parrots from $5 to $50; mocking birds from $5, for young ones, up to $20, and even $50. In buying, it is always best to go to some responsible dealer; the canaries hawked about the streets, and sold under price, are either females which never sing, or inferior stock of some kind. The only bird-store in Albany, is William R. White's, 44 Green st., an old established stand, where customers are honestly dealt with."

Lots of meat in this!

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henry_l_smith.pngI really have no idea what Henry L. Smith & Bro. meant when they said there's "Lots of Meat in this!" They were referring, in 1891, to their sale on boys' skating coats or reefers, knee pants, and short-pants suits. "This will be a week for the boys."

Smith's place had previously been known as The Boston and Albany Clothing Store. "Mr. Smith has spent large sums of money in advertising, but has always been careful fully to redeem every promise made the public," says the 1881 Albany Hand-book.

(A reefer is a short, heavy, close-fitting coat. Short-pants suits are no relation to short pants-suits.)

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 tomorrow.

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.

Tomorrow we'll have a full article on Ethelda from the Knickerbocker News.

Neat and Intelligent Plumbers

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Westcottplumbers.png1900: Horace F. Westcott of 27 Howard St. in Albany. Neat and intelligent plumbers. Up to date! And, apparently, quite dapper.


And I'm reminded of this wonderful image that used to hang in the window of Farrell Bros. Plumbing on Delaware Avenue. The plumber protects the health of the nation!


Discussions about the tangle of aerial concrete that serves as downtown Albany's highway system inevitably center on the blindness of the planners and urban "renewal" advocates who saved our cities by making it much easier to commute to them and much harder to live in them. And so we curse the visionaries of the '60s and '70s.

But perhaps it was inevitable, because there was a plan for an elevated highway in Albany as early as 1936. Granted, it lacked the pure dislocating power of what finally happened in the '60s, but it wouldn't have been a bad start.

The Albany Evening Journal of August 3, 1936 includes a profile and surface plan "of the proposed elevated highway from the Hudson River over North Pearl Street and Hawk Street viaduct to the intersection of Northern Boulevard, Washington and Central Avenues." That's right, over the Hawk Street Viaduct. They were thinking big, Depression or not.

"Designed by Leslie C. Sherman from a plan by Edward T. DeGraff, the elevated highway would connect with a new high level bridge over the Hudson River to Rensselaer, where it would tie in with main highways. The profile indicates a suspension type of bridge, connecting just north of the Union Station with a highway at the same level. This would be built on steel supports westerly above Broadway and North Pearl Street, crossing above Sheridan Avenue and above Hawk Street viaduct. From that point the express highway would run almost on a level with Sheridan Park, passing above Lark Street and ending in a Plaza at Northern Boulevard and Central Avenue. Beneath the elevated highway garages and parking space could be provided. Ramps would lead off the elevated highway to Eagle Street and to Swan Street. The highway would have no intersections or traffic lights, and make possible a running time between Northern Boulevard and Broadway of but a few minutes."

Let's just be clear that "highway" in 1936 didn't mean what it does today. The main highways described on the Rensselaer side would have been Columbia Turnpike and the Farmers' Turnpike. I'd be curious to know how they planned to handle the bridge across the Hudson at a time when river traffic was still a serious concern, but perhaps a drawbridge would have sufficed.

Had this been built and the  viaduct taken down, no doubt we'd have the local mystery of why the elevated was do darned elevated.

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