KnickerbockerPressManiac.pngIn his Nov. 4, 1950 column in the Knickerbocker News, Charles L. Mooney recounted days of long ago - Oct. 21, 1928, to be exact, and in doing so gave us a peek into the working of political campaigns, railroads, police work and the press, back in the days when the Knick Press was Albany's only morning newspaper.  Prompted by an assassination attempt on President Truman, Mooney gave the following account of an exciting night in the newsroom that sounds like it came directly from "The Front Page":

It happened the night of Oct. 21, 1928, while we were covering police headquarters for the old Knickerbocker Press, and we got in on the ground floor of the story quite by chance, for it took place somewhat off our normal beat.

Occasionally in those days we used to hop down for a bowl of chili con carne at the rathskeller the Bernstein brothers operated in a basement in Broadway near Quackenbush St.

We had finished a snack and were headed along Broadway when we recalled the Al Smith special train, bringing home the Governor, who was campaigning that year for the presidency, was due in shortly.

There was a vast crowd on hand to greet the Happy Warrior, who had just campaigned over much of the nation . . . The train's arrival was still a half-hour off, we recall, when Joe Boyle [captain of the New York Central Railroad Police] was called away to a telephone. To say he was excited upon his return would be putting it mildly. For there was big news in the making.

The Smith special had been speeding through the Mohawk Valley when an attendant in a tower at Hoffmans spotted a fellow riding the head end.

The tower man flashed the word ahead and Captain Boyle detailed the late Patrolman William Keith to meet the special when it slowed down at Van Woert St. crossing and take the fellow off.

In those days it wasn't unusual for a fellow to hop the front end, even on passenger trains, and the fellows who ordinarily did were hoboes who probably couldn't dig up the fare anyhow.

Back on the platform we naturally couldn't know it at the time, but when Patrolman Keith swung aboard, the free rider, a big, powerful fellow, grappled with him.

Keith grappled right back with the 6-foot, 3-inch giant and as the train nosed into the straightaway toward Union Station they were fighting a terrific hand-to-hand battle.

Just as the special slowed for the station Patrolman Keith brought his man under control, and it was only a matter of seconds before Boyle, Dunn and the whole entourage had the fellow in tow and hustling down the stairs to Captain Boyle's office for questioning.

Meanwhile, from a parlor car farther back on the train stepped Al Smith, Mrs. Smith, their son-in-law, John Adams Warner, at that time superintendent of the New York State Police, and others of his campaign party.

From still another car stepped a corps of legislative correspondents who had made the swing with the Happy Warrior . . .

We followed the police detail to railroad police headquarters, totally unaware of the magnitude of the story.

For it took only a few minutes' questioning to disclose the man on the front end was a dangerous lunatic who had escaped three weeks earlier from a state hospital at Westboro, Mass.

The fellow had beaten his way to Central New York, he said, and had ridden the train in from the west to Utica. When the train stopped for a few hours to permit Mr. and Mrs. Smith to attend Mass he hid in the railroad yards, then hopped the train again as it pulled out for Albany.

He hadn't realized it was such an important train, he told the authorities. His only thought had been to get away somewhere, although he wasn't certain where he'd like to have gone.

We chuckle sometimes when we recall that story. In the first place, there wasn't the competitive speed that obtains today. In the second place, The Knickerbocker Press was the only morning newspaper, and we had the story alone. In the third place, New York Central officials clamped a publicity embargo on the story, but we already had it in the bag.

We recall we were still a few hours from deadline, so after informing the late Tom (Duke) Ford, our city editor, of the details, we didn't hurry about getting into the office.

The Duke told a couple of legislative correspondents a little bit about the story and the wires were burning between New York City and Albany by the time we hit the editorial room.

We talked with some legislative correspondents that night that we had never met, and still haven't met.

It couldn't happen today, of course, for competition is much keener, but it is interesting to reflect that hardly more than 20 years ago there was that vast difference in news coverage.

We'd like to see some reporter walk around today for a couple of hours, in his pocket a story that produced this big, black headline in The Knickerbocker Press that night:

"Police Battle Maniac on Smith's Special"

 By the way, our guess is that the Knick went to evening publication when it merged with the Evening News and became the Knickerbocker News in 1937.

The Albany Country Club

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TotalWarMappedToSaveCountryClub.pngThe Albany Country Club used to actually be in Albany, for many years, until it was chased out for the purpose of higher education.

A  Knickerbocker News, November 4, 1950, article noting that the Albany Country Club was celebrating its 60th anniversary says that the Club received its corporate seal in 1890 as the Albany Hunt and Country Club, which was originally located in a tavern on the Sand Plains along "the old Schenectady Post Rd." That was essentially on the property that is now SUNY Albany. The club's website provides a history that says the Country Club and the Country Hunt Club were different things that joined together, and that to reach the "tumbled down tavern" one had to go from Manning Boulevard to a continuation of Washington Avenue, "and then by a trail to the grounds."

The Knick News article says that "At that time hunting was the main function, and hounds were kept in a wired-off yard. The early calendar included a fox hunt on Thanksgiving and teas each Saturday afternoon, at which members took turns providing the food." In 1895, a farm called Wellhurst, directly south of the original location, was purchased, and newfangled activities like ice skating, hockey, tennis and even golf took precedence. "Golf was ridiculed at first and the few who took up the game were called 'British cranks.'"

But by 1960 the State University was looking for a place to create a new Albany campus, and it settled on the Albany Country Club property, which it quickly moved to acquire by eminent domain. A 1960 column by sportswriter Ben Danforth bemoaned the state's action in this case, saying it was counter to the State's advocacy of bigger and better recreation areas. "To take one of these clubs off the map would leave several hundred people without summer facilities and many of the community's leading professional and business men without a place to golf. That might bring about a serious situation."

Right after the State announced its intention to purchase the club property, the club's board said they weren't willing to sell at any price, and called the offer of $7,000 per acre "ridiculously low."

An April 1962 article in the Knick News tells that Robert Trent Jones ("currently engaged in redesigning the Maryland course that was the favorite of former President Eisenhower") was called as a witness in the $5.3 million suit in the Court of Claims; the club had rejected the state's offer of $2.1 million for the property. Jones regarded the site as outstanding for golf, and that it offered isolation while being near downtown. "Players felt as if they were in the Adirondacks," he testified. Another witness for the club, 1950 RPI architecture graduate Jerome L. Smith Jr., testified that only 50 to 60 acres of the property, fronting on Washington and Western Avenues and Fuller Road, were excess land that could be put to commercial use.  He increased his estimate to 97 acres while on the stand, but the judge in the case said that anticipated profits from the sale or lease of surplus acreage could not be used as the basis of damages against the state. (Later, "highest and best use" would apply.) The club's demand was eventually reduced to just over $4 million. That court action was still under way when the State University ordered the club to vacate the premises by Jan. 12, 1962, and the club, acceding to inevitability, found a site in Guilderland where it resides today. For a time the club was housed in "the old Klopfer place," while their new clubhouse and course were constructed off Wormer Road. In the meantime, tremendous work went into leveling the undulating site for the new college campus into the uniform tabletop it is today.


A volume called "Chester County and Its People," by W.W. Thomson in 1898, relates that during the War of the Rebellion,

"At Phoenixville David Reeves, president of the Phoenix Iron Works, gave notice that any of his employes [sic] enlisted in the army they should have the houses they lived in, owned by the company, free of rent during their absence in the service of their Government. In a few hours a subscription of $4,000 was raised for the support of the families of such as should enlist." Many of those who did enlist likely joined up with the company raised at West Chester called the Reserve Guards, "composed of men under forty years of age and armed with Sharp's rifles," or another company called the Union Guards or the Anderson Light Artillery.  "The Phoenixville Iron Works during the month of April or early in May, 1861, made a number of wrought-iron cannon for the government, six and twelve pounders, for Philadelphia, and turned out several thousand solid 12-pound balls and shells. It was thus in all parts of the county, everyone talking about and preparing for war. The Phoenixville field piece was known as the Griffen gun, the patentee being John Griffen, superintendent of the works at that time."

The Griffen gun, of course, is well-known in these parts and an example still sits in Reeves Park. The Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area has a number of images of the gun and its manufacture on this page.

An undated but contemporary biography of Griffen says that he was a burgess and was instrumental in the construction of Phoenixville schools. "He designed and superintended their erection, and had the schools properly graded.  He was unanimously re-elected as a school director, being the first person in the borough to receive that honor."


From Albany to China - Stewart Dean

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map1793.jpgHowell's Bi-Centennial History of Albany tells us that in the mid-1700s, there were a number of sloops and schooners trading between Albany, New York and Boston, and sometimes beyond, but that none had ventured to foreign ports. In 1770, Captain Abraham Bloodgood made the first voyage from Albany to the West Indies carrying a cargo of local products mixed with the shame of slavery: "an assorted cargo, consisting of flour, herrings, horses, one negro man, and a great variety of the products of this county. In exchange for which were brought back eighty-one pounds of cotton - a much rarer commodity than now - some cash, and much rum." Howell also says that Lansingburgh (then much larger than Troy) and Hudson were in regular communication with the West Indies, while the Albany Gazette in 1790 "marveled that the citizens of Albany should remain inactive spectators while their neighbors on the north and south were 'participating in all the blessings of this valuable trade.'"

Some years later, Stewart Dean, already a patriot pirate, laid claim to being Albany's greatest explorer with an 18-month trip to China, in 1785. (Stefan Bielinski at the NYS Museum has put together the definitive webpage on Dean.) Born and apprenticed in Maryland, Dean was sailing out of Albany by 1771, and married into the Bradt family in 1773. He bought a lot on the waterfront and built a home on Dock Street; it was renamed Dean Street in his honor but is now a forgotten stub paralleling Broadway between State and Exchange. He served as a privateer for the American cause in the Revolution; there was much booty.

After the Revolution and the death of his wife, Stewart Dean was inspired to sail to China aboard a ship built in Albany, the Experiment. Len Tantillo, who has painted his idea of the Experiment, says that it was a typical work boat, just under 60 feet long and registered at 85-1/2 tons. It first sailed in 1784 to Madeira.

In 1785, The Empress of China became the first American ship to trade with China, returning to New York on May 11 and clearing a substantial profit for its investors that drew the attention of others, who were finding ordinary trade conditions most unprofitable. Dean, who was partnered with Albany's Teunis Van Vechten, was backed by a group of New York investors who agreed "to fit out the Sloop Experiment Stewart Dean Master for Canton in China...the expences of Vessel & Cargo not to exceed the sum of £10,000 N.Y. Currency."  With money raised, the ship was fitted out for a longer sea voyage, with a longer topmast and extended jib-boom, with rigging that "gave the Experiment a very comprehensive suit of sails for light weather." The sloop also carried two ten-pound carriage guns, small arms, blunderbusses, pistols, gunpowder and ammunition.

The Experiment left from the East River on December 18, 1785, with Dean in command, John Whetten as first mate, Isaac Seaman as second mate, and a crew of five men and two boys, and a William Stewart who sailed as supercargo. They sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, across the Indian Ocean, and through the Java and China seas, arriving in Canton on June 13, 1786.

What do you sell to China, when only one ship has ever done trade there before? The Empress of China had taken 30 tons of Appalachian ginseng (30 TONS of ginseng), 50 tons of cordage, 30 tons of lead, and planking, cloth, wines and spirits. Of the $270,000 it sold for, $240,000 of that was the ginseng.  Naturally the backers of the Experiment focused on ginseng, but couldn't come up with anything like that quantity, and didn't fetch that kind of money. The much smaller Experiment also carried alcohol, but didn't clear much profit on that, either. Their furs and tobacco were sold at a loss. In all the goods cost the backers $4143, and sold for $7549. That would be great, except there were expenses of $4679, cutting into what Dean had available to buy other trade goods in China.   They brought back substantial amounts of tea, 26 chests of china tea cups and saucers, 5 chests of breakfast china, and 80 bales of nankeens (yellowish-buff pants).

After this only modestly successful journey, the Experiment returned to running up and down the Hudson. Dean remarried in 1787 (to Margaret Whetten), and continued in the cargo and passenger businesses. He died in New York City on August 4, 1836, aged 89.

(The pages of the Peabody Essex Museum provided much of the detail on the journey of the Experiment.)

EIVanDorenSewingMachineMotor.pngThis ad from the Troy Daily Times in 1917 touts the patented factory sewing machine motor of E.I. Van Doren of River Street. "Saves one-third of current because motor stops and starts automatically every time sewing machine does." Imagine!

In an article on the same page (not an uncommon practice in those days for a newspaper to feature its advertisers in editorial content), Mr. E.I. Van Doren spoke more about the improvements his patented motors brought:

"'Electric motors for power transmission in factories and industrial enterprises generally are proving a great saving over the belts and shafting which has been the method in use for ages,' said Mr. E.I.Van Doren, electrical expert, with office and warerooms at 332 River Street, to-day.

"'With the old system the average factory has a friction loss of from sixty to seventy-five per cent, and do not realize it, from the fact that shafting will get out of line, belts will stretch  and slip constantly, and no amount of mone spent on efficiency experts and high-priced help will avoid it under those conditions; it is impossible to increase the output, and instead of a reduction of cost price there is an ever increasing one . . .

"'All this is eliminated by having the direct electric drive. It calls for very little expense to install a motor for individual drive, or several motors for group driving, depending upon the local conditions and decision of the engineer.

"'The manufacturers, however, foreseeing the change that is coming are preparing to fill the requirements. We have sold the 'Lincoln Motor,' Peerless Single Phase Motors, The Fidelity, Individual Factory Sewing Machine Motor, no transmitter required."

 Just the next year, an article in Electrical World announced that:

"E.I. Van Doren, who for several years past has been at 332 River Street, Troy, N.Y., with a line of electric motors and supplies, announces the opening of his new ground-floor store, 'The Edison Shop,' on or about Nov. 9 at 81 Fourth Street, where the will offer a new and varied line of electrical motors, 'Mazda' lamps, heating devices, etc."



Careers, 1911

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We now live in a place that still uses an ancient occupation tax, and as a result its list of occupations includes a number of jobs that don't exist any more, such as  IBM Key Punch, Paste-Up Artist, Teletypist and Photolithographer. It also lists a number of jobs that technically may still exist but certainly cause one to question how many people are included under the title, such as Roller Skate Instructor, Tire Builder, and Paper Boy. (Did we mention that the titles remain wildly sexist?) And then there are some that are just confusing, such as Tool Out Man and Night Counselor.

But that's all down here in Chester County, PA. In looking through the 1911 directory for Troy, NY, it's easy to find numerous jobs that simply don't exist anymore. In the course of just a couple of pages of the directory, we find these jobs that no one aspires to in the 21st century:

  • Shirtironer
  • Collar worker
  • Collar cutter
  • Collar turner
  • Last maker [shoemaking]
  • Stitcher
  • Carriagetrimmer
  • Horseshoer
  • Coremaker
  • Buttonhole maker
  • Oilcloth printer
  • Stamper
  • Grinder
  • Paster
  • Starcher
  • Brushmaker
  • Buffer

Kids today aren't likely to have to discuss any of those careers with their guidance counselors.

Wagar's Confectionery

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WagarsConfectionery1909.pngThumbing (digitally -- although thumbs are digits, too, one supposes) through the 1909 Troy City Directory, we ran across this ad for Wagar's Confectionery, which sounded vaguely familiar despite its way-backness. Turns out there's a reason.

At this time, the name of D. Lester Sharp was attached to Wagar's Confectionery, "Manufacturer of Absolutely Pure Confectionery and Ice Cream," both wholesale and retail, and they were located at 99-101 Congress St. (Today we know the building as Manory's Restaurant.) But D. Lester was neither the first nor last word in the Wagar's story, and thankfully, in 1926 the company took out a verbose and only mildly hyperbolic full-page ad in the Troy Times in order to make "The Most Important Announcement Ever Made By An Ice Cream Manufacturer."

Wagar'sicecreamTroyNYTimes1-21-1926.png"We find the public wants a richer ice cream, an ice cream containing more butterfat. Wagar's promise in their new high quality ice cream to satisfy the most discriminating in this respect. The cost of the extra amount of heavy cream we are going to use this year in our product would allow a person to live most comfortable on the interest of it." Forgive our failure to follow their excessive capitalization; they didn't know it was rude.

Proudly proclaiming their intent to make a higher quality ice cream -- nay, a "SCIENTIFICALLY DEVELOPED FOOD" -- the ad also gave us some of the company history.

"Mr. W.S. Wagar came to Troy forty years ago with a fifteen quart freezer, the same freezer he had assisted his father with so many times in making ice cream for Sunday School picnics, etc., at West Sand Lake. It was here he conceived the idea that by coming to Troy and making the same kind of ice cream he could succeed. By hard work and long hours after coming to Troy he was able to make 100 quarts of ice cream a day, with this old freezer.

"Thirty-two years of his life he devoted to his own retail stores, his success in this business is to [sic] well known to go into details. Eight years ago in a very limited way he entered the wholesale field, making ice cream for fifteen other confectionery stores. At this time he was able to freeze ice cream at the rate of 800 quarts a day. And from this modest start eight years ago his business has grown until today in one of the most modern factories in the World Wagar's are able to freeze ice cream at the rate of 12,000 quarts a day, and with reserve capacity for almost double this amount. Such growth as we have enjoyed during the past eight years is, you will admit, phenomenal. We believe it because we have always been more concerned about the QUALITY of our cream than the extra profit we might derive from an inferior product."

That we have an ad right in front of us saying Wagar's was wholesaling in 1909 we shall choose to ignore; for all we know that was wishful thinking. While Wagar's had several locations, one well-known location was in the Ilium Building at the corner of Fourth and Fulton streets, long-time home of the Night Owl News. The location of their modern sunlit factory, which was under the ownership of Winfield S. and Mrs. Mary E. Wagar in 1926, was 553-557 Federal Street. (Remarkably, no old buildings stand in that old section of Troy, straight off the Green Island Bridge.)

But even that didn't seem like all there was to the Wagar's story; the name sounded too familiar. It turns out, there was another outfit by the name of Wagar's Confectionery that started up in Lake George in 1978 and lasted until 2004, founded by Malcolm Laustrup, Sr., the grandson of Winfield Wagar. (An appreciation of Mr. Laustrup appears here.)

Schneider's Blood Purifier

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SchneidersBloodPurifier.pngYou're a resident of the Collar City in 1909, and you feel like your blood is just a little . . . impure. Perhaps a dose of Schneider's Blood Purifier would be just the thing! Made up of sarsaparilla, cherry, dandelion, burdock, mandrake, prickly ash, "&c.," three tablespoons a day probably couldn't do much damage. (And, if it was like most patent medicines of the day, it was likely that the "&c." was primarily alcohol.)

Don't know too much about Frederick Schneider. 86 Third Street still stands, most recently (though not all that recently) home to Heritage Stationery, and immediately next door to the former First Baptist Church, and just down from Barker Park. It's clear he was active in the National Wholesale Druggists' Association, where he attended at least one annual meeting and served on the Committee on Paints, Oils, and Glass, and, in 1903-4, the Committee on Adulterations (representing Schneider & Macy Drug Co.).

FrederickSchneider.pngAn article in the April 21, 1904 edition of The Pharmaceutical Era contained this image of Schneider on the occasion of his 40th year in business. Have to agree, he doesn't look in his 60s here, so maybe that Blood Purifier worked after all.

Sejo Ice Cream

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Sejo Ice Cream.pngThe Al-Tro park program from 1909 included this ad for Sejo Ice Cream, which made us curious because we'd never heard of it. Perhaps we never heard of it because it was sold only at the ice cream cone stands at Altro Park (it was styled both with and without hyphens; and if you don't know about Al-Tro, it was a fabulous amusement park in its day, on the river in Menands, reachable by steamboat from both Albany and Troy).

So fancy it had its own march and two-step, perhaps it's not surprising Al-Tro also had its own ice cream. Unfortunately, we can't find much about Sejo, and don't even know what the name means. It was located on Front Street at the foot of Fulton in Troy (though those don't intersect anymore, making pinpointing it difficult), and was partially destroyed by fire May 13, 1910; the Ice Cream Trade Journal noted that "the stock of tubs is a total loss." After that, it went into receivership, owing the Union National Bank a sum of money. There was a court case revolving around the insurance claim that is like a rash on Google, but it tells us little more about Sejo. An entry in the 1909 Troy directory tells us its up-to-date plant was a model of cleanliness, and that they had the same number on both phone systems, but that's about it. Its directory listing doesn't say anything about being exclusive to Altro Park, however.


Uncle Sam


UncleSam_Full.pngJust in time for Independence Day, Gettysburg Flag Works sent us a note highlighting their recent blog entry with a brief history of ol' Sam Wilson, who put the "Sam" in "Uncle Sam."  The full entry is here.

Gettysburg Flag Works is located in East Greenbush, not too far from the encampment where, during the War of 1812, it is believed that the provisions stamped for the "U.S." crossed up with the nickname "Uncle Sam," and the appellation for our national symbol was born. Although one of the cantonment buildings still stands as a private residence, East Greenbush doesn't say much about its role in history; Troy, on the other hand, is all about Uncle Sam Wilson, and the graphic at left includes a number of Uncle Sam-related sites in the Collar City.

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