Thursday, November 20, 2014

World War II in the Geneva Daily Times

John Marks, Curator of Collections and Exhibits

When we did our World War II project in the early 1990s, Kathryn Grover was hired to research, write, and lay out the exhibit and book, Close to the Heart of the War. As part of her contract, we received all her research notes for our archives. I recently pulled out one of the large boxes to look at her source material. Any project, i.e. an exhibit, book, or documentary, reflects the creator’s selection of what to include or leave out; it’s good to look at the research with fresh eyes.

In addition to newspapers and records from our collection, Kathryn used scrapbooks that were kept during World War II. She photocopied them so she could more easily flip through pages and make notes on the copies. Scrapbooks show the creator’s interests and are assembled in a unique way, which gives them historical value. In the case of these albums, the creator(s) kept a chronological collection of Geneva Daily Times articles that only pertained to Geneva and surrounding towns. These could be recreated from microfilm, but one would have to wade through all the national news, advertising, and sports to do it – work already done by the scrapbooker.

Regular columns included “Boys in the Service” and “News of Our Men and Women in Uniform.” (I can’t tell the difference in content, so I’m not sure why there were separate columns.) They were a collection of snippets about servicemen and women, often reported by relatives who had received a letter; news ranged from receiving a Bronze Star to confirmation that someone was still safe.

As I mentioned last time, Hobart and William Smith students researched Geneva and the war for a class project. One of them looked at these photocopies and said something to the effect, “They used up a lot of space talking about nothing, didn’t they?” Seeing things out of context is not limited to the young; it bears pointing out conditions in the early 1940s. Information was censored by the government for security reasons. Mail from the war theaters was very slow and sporadic; one local POW beat a letter home by nine months. Most Times readers knew someone in the war, so one sentence in the paper, for example, that PFC Rollo was safe in England was very welcome news.

When more information was known, there were longer articles on servicemen and women. It seems that the paper focused on success stories, i.e. survival and promotion, with the occasional humorous-with-a-happy-ending tale:

Sadder but equally important were the Killed in Action notices and photos. I hesitate to post examples; seventy years later, people are still alive who remember where they were when they received the news of a loved one’s death in the war.

These photocopied scrapbook pages are available to read during archive hours (Tuesday through Friday, 1:30 – 4:30 pm). Whether you’re looking for mention of a relative or just interested in how the war was reported, they’re a good read.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Dreams Come True: The James M. Cole Circus

By Alice Askins, Education Coordinator at Rose Hill Mansion

While looking for interesting topics from the 1940s, I ran across the James M. Cole Circus of Penn Yan.  This is a little of its story from the 40s, as reported (mostly) in the Geneva Daily Times.

The writers sounded a little envious of Mr. Cole – they always referred to him as a man who had fulfilled his dream.  As the Times put it in 1947,

James M. Cole . . . has the unusual distinction of choosing his life's work at the earliest age on record.  When a little over three years of age . . . his first circus  . . . . made such an impression on his infant mind that  . . . before he was five years old he had formed a fixed determination to travel with a circus.  However, it was not until he had reached sixteen that . . . he joined a travelling show that had visited his hometown.  From water boy to circus owner is a long way and Mr. Cole has seen his dream come true. 

Mr. Cole started his circus in 1938 as an indoor show that played in schools.  In 1940, it started in Penn Yan and traveled through Canandaigua, Waterloo, Watkins Glen, Ithaca, Whitney Point, and Geneva.  The next year it opened in Dundee and went on to
Bath, Hammondsport, Syracuse, Utica, Cortland, Herkimer, Little Falls and several other cities in the Mohawk and Hudson valleys.  After that it went on to schools in New England.

By the summer of 1941, the Cole circus was doing outdoor shows as well as indoor, and the Penn Yan Democrat said that it “has branched out into a canvas show, with a spring and summer schedule.”  In 1943 the show even did a tour through the southern states.

The school shows were often benefits for Senior class projects or other causes, and the Coles continued their good works with the outdoor shows as well.  In May 1947, for example, all tickets bought before circus day in Penn Yan benefitted Rotary Club youth programs.

The Cole circus featured such artists as Miacuha, the Wonder Girl of South America, a wire walker; Millie May, Queen of the Air; Mademoiselle Margurette, an aerialist; the Great Bartoni troupe of bareback riders; the Aerial Smalls, stars of the double trapeze; and Billy Barton, 14-year-old artist of the Cloud Swing.  By 1946, Cole had signed up the Conley troop of bareback riders; Alvarado, the Latin American wirewalker; Capt. Eugene Christey and his jungle cats; and Tama Frank, famed knife thrower

James Cole Jr. with Frieda

Though the circus included a variety of artists, the Coles were best known for their elephant acts.  First came Jumbo, who, the Times explained, belonged to Captain Rudy Mueller and was “the only elephant to appear in a current success on Broadway.”  The show was Billy Rose’s Jumbo, which was later made into a movie.  Based on newspaper account “she can draw herself a drink from a tap, and in fact . . . can do anything she is told to do.”  Jumbo performed with a trained camel named Sanya, a Great Dane named Aster, and a Shetland pony named Prince.  Unfortunately, the paper did not describe the act, only mentioning that it was one of the finest animal acts ever presented.  Jumbo  occasionally appeared in movies, like Elephant Boy with Sabu, and performed on radio where she trumpeted on cue, “sang,” (again, not described,) and did “several other acts calling for unusual animal perception.”

Eventually, the Coles seem to have wanted their very own elephants.  Their first, Frieda, was a veteran of five other circuses and joined the Cole Circus in April 1946.  Not only was Frieda the star of the Cole circus, she was often in the paper.  In October 1946, for example, she led the children through Penn Yan on Halloween. 

“Frieda" . . . will be prima donna of the giant community Halloween celebration and parade planned for the youngsters of the community . . .  [she] will lead the snake dance which is scheduled to form at the Wagner Hotel at 7 p.m. and proceed down Main street . . . With the big elephant will be cows and other animals, and pets of the children taking part. . . .

This sounds like a delightful experience.  Did anyone out there dance with Frieda, cows, and others on Halloween?

Frieda was also a troublemaker.

Frieda Does It Again—
Elephants Take Moonlight Walk in Penn Yan Streets

Penn Yan, May 27 [1947]—Freida [sic] has done it again.  Or at least [she] is being blamed for an escapade which saw two elephants on a middle-of-the-night parade through the Main street here . . .

Frieda has a known penchant for releasing herself and other elephants of the Cole herd from their shackles, and last night she must have done it again.  Frieda and Dorothy, the circus pet, a 290-pound baby elephant strolled down the street about 2:30 a. m., through the business section from the fairgrounds to the post office.

Then, nonchalantly, they turned around, walked west to Maiden Lane where they were met by the village police officers on duty, Charles Pitcher and Robert Alexander. . . .
Jimmy Cole and the elephant trainer, John Pugh, showed up about then, having missed the elephants from the lot.  Quietly, they herded the non-reluctant elephants back to the fairgrounds.

Frieda once released the whole herd from their shackles, even to carefully removing their head-stalls.   . . .
 At one point the Coles had five elephants, but the ones the papers mentioned most often besides Frieda were Elizabeth and Dorothy.  I did not find much on Elizabeth, but Dorothy came directly from Ceylon at nine months old.   Baby Dorothy was also very popular.  She was billed as the smallest elephant in the circus world, and the paper reported that she searched through peoples’ pockets in hopes of finding treats.  By the time he was seven, James Cole Jr. was working the elephants in their act, and for some years he was “the youngest elephant trainer in the country.

Coming up next, the circus and World War II.

James Cole, Jr. with Elizabeth, Frieda, Dorothy

Friday, November 7, 2014

Rationing and Recipes

By Karen Osburn, Archivist

When I was in high school girls took “home economics” classes and boys took “shop” classes.  I remember coming home from the first cooking class in home economics and showing my mom what foods they were going to teach us to prepare.  My mother was not impressed, for that matter I wasn’t either.  I only remember 3 or 4 of the recipes, but one was broiled grapefruit.  My mother said she had learned to make broiled grapefruit in her home making class three decades before mine and her comment was “Why on earth don’t they teach you cook something useful, like a roast or vegetables?”  I tended to agree with her.  By the time I got to this “cooking class” I had been helping her cook and bake for several years and I would have been happier learning to do woodworking in shop class then broiling a grapefruit.  Why would you want to cook a perfectly good grapefruit?  I think it is pretty tasty in its natural, raw state.  In the 1960s the idea still lingered that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach.  In all the years I have cooked I have never had a man ask me to make him a broiled grapefruit just like his mom used to make.  I have been asked for apple pie or pot roast perhaps, but a broiled grapefruit, never!

Flash forward some four decades and I find myself looking for recipes that accommodate the rationing of scarce ingredients, such as butter, eggs, white sugar or milk during the years of the Second World War. The historical society is hosting an event at Club 86 in February revolving around WW II music, food and entertainment which prompted me to research recipes and I found some really interesting ones.  One that sticks in my mind is a British recipe for imitation mashed bananas using parsnips, sugar and banana “essence” (extract?).  I am not sure I can see the point of imitation bananas, except if you don’t care for the taste of parsnips the whole concoction may taste better disguised as bananas.  What surprised me was locating a recipe that I had made in home economics class and liked

I really like chocolate, the darker the better and one of the food items we made was a chocolate cake that you mixed right in the baking pan and put in the oven.  It had vinegar in it and didn’t sound great but sure tasted good and there was much less cleanup without the extra mixing bowl.  There in the midst of my World War II recipe research was the one useful, tasty thing I learned to make in that class.  I had no idea it had come from that era.  I was quite pleased and I’m looking forward to trying it again. 

There were some really interesting recipes from the era of rationing and shortages.  One was a cake that had no eggs, butter or milk in it.  Someday I may try it if I am brave enough.  It sounds a bit like a fruit cake.  See for yourself:
Eggless, Butterless, Milkless Cake
2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 cups hot water
1 tsp cloves
2 Tbsps.  Shortening
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp soda
1 package seedless raisins

Boil together the sugar, water, shortening, salt, raisins and spices for five minutes. Cool.  When cold, add flour and soda dissolved in a teaspoon of hot water.

The recipe makes 2 loaves. I suggest using greased loaf pans and baking about 45 minutes in a 325 degree oven.  The cake has a good texture and will keep moist for some time.

*From Cooking on the Home Front: Favorite Recipes of the World War II Years.

Another British recipe is called Raisin Crisps:

6 oz. self raising flour or plain flour with 2 tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp. dried egg
2 oz. Sugar
2 oz. margarine
2 oz. raisins, chopped
A few drops of almond essence (extract)

Mix the flour, dried egg and sugar.  Rub in the margarine and add the raisins, essence and enough mild to bind into a firm dough.  Roll out thinly and cut into 2-inch rounds.   Cook in the center of a *moderate oven for 20 minutes.

*I would expect a moderate oven to be about 350 degrees.

Finally from Cookes.Com recipe search is a recipe for World War II Syrup Cake:

1 c. Karo Syrup
2 eggs
2 c. Flour
¾ c. Butter or shortening
½ c. Cocoa
3 tsp. baking powder
1/3 tsp. baking soda
1/3 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. all spice
½ tsp. nutmeg

Mix well, bake at 350 degrees in a loaf or Bundt pan until done (a tooth pick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

I am glad we don’t have to use recipes like this anymore.  Perhaps it was enduring some of the lingering war-time ration recipes as a child that made me a bit picky today, but I am not fond of parsnips or raisins even now.  Still there is that quick and easy little chocolate cake.  Give people a few basic ingredients and a way to prepare them and you can be very pleasantly surprised by the result. I think I am going to go make up that cake now and see if it still lives up to expectations.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Throughout the year groups and organizations often use a month to raise awareness of an issue, commemorate an event or group, or celebrate something.  For example,  May is Asthma Awareness Month, National Bike Month, Zombie Awareness Month, National Pet Month, and Jewish American Heritage Month.  November is New York State History Month.  The purpose of this is to celebrate the history of the state and recognize the contributions of state and local historians.   What can you do to celebrate New York State History Month? Keep it local!
                 1816 Farmington Quaker Meetinghouse
                 Clifton Springs Historical Society 
                 Granger Homestead
                 National Memorial Day Museum
                 Ontario County Historical Society
                 Phelps Historical Society
                 Seneca Falls Historical Society 
                 Yates County History Center

Friday, October 24, 2014

World War II Revisted

By John Marks, Curator of Collections and Exhibits

In February 2015 our fundraising dinner and music event will have a 1940s theme. “Wining and dining” events are always popular; as a historical society, we are building more educational programming around our fundraisers. While significant events took place between 1946 and 1949, World War II dominates the popular conception of the 1940s.

In 1995 we opened a major exhibit, Close to the Heart of the War: Geneva and World War II, and published a companion book. We conducted “history harvests” to identify people with stories, artifacts and photos. A researcher recorded many hours of oral history interviews and scoured local newspapers and records. So, why do World War II again? Is there anything left to say?

Of course there is, and here are three reasons:

Younger audiences. The youngest children of WWII vets are probably around 50 years old. Increasing numbers of visitors have no living relatives from that era and don’t feel a direct connection to the war. Museums, and our special collections in particular, can tell stories that engage visitors in ways that facts and statistics cannot.

New Genevans. Older residents, and followers of the historical society, are aware of the huge impact of the war on Geneva. To new arrivals (and the city does attract new residents every year), “Sampson” is a state park and “the ordnance depot” is home to a herd of white deer. The construction and operation of those two facilities brought thousands of new people to Geneva, whether on a 6-hour leave from training camp or to live. For new Genevan interested in history, it’s an important time period to understand.

New angles. There is always new information to discover. In 2008 we acquired a foot locker and other possessions of Robert Linzy, an African American staff sergeant from Geneva. Letters and photos continue to surface that weren’t available in the early 1990s. Of all the information that was generated during the earlier research, only a portion of it was used in the exhibit and book.

Robert Linzy
Geneva Night Out, Friday November 7, will incorporate all three of these elements in one exhibit. Students from the Public History course at Hobart & William Smith will present posters on aspects of Geneva and World War II. Issues closest to their hearts influence their research. Some are interested in the how the war affected the Colleges, others are looking at the social scene and nightlife during that time. Some are influenced by their other classes; one student is interested in the environmental impact of war efforts such as the Ordnance Depot and Sampson Naval Training Station.

All the students are charged with coming up with something new, rather than pasting sections of Close to the Heart of the War on a poster. It means moving past their own generational perspective, learning more about Geneva so they can evaluate the war’s impact, and looking for new material that wasn’t used in the previous projects.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Girl Bands and Geneva

By Alice Askins, Education Coordinator at Rose Hill Mansion

Recently, I got the book Swing Shift by Sherrie Tucker.  The book was published in 2000 and Professor Tucker was a professor at Hobart and William Smith when she wrote it.  Swing Shift is about the all-women bands of the 1930s and 1940s.  I wondered if any of the bands in the book were seen or heard in Geneva.  It turns out some of them were.

The first band I found was Ina Ray Hutton and her Melodears.  At the age of eight, Ina (1916 –1984) began dancing and singing onstage.   By the time she was 18, she had been featured in revues in Chicago and on Broadway, including the Ziegfield Follies.  In 1934, Irving Mills (a manager and jazz publisher) asked Ina to lead an all-girl orchestra called the Melodears.   

Ina and the Melodears were one of the first women bands filmed for Paramount shorts and Hollywood features.  The group visited Geneva several times in the 1930s, including in 1939, and performed at Schine’s Geneva Theater.  The group disbanded in 1939.    During the War years, many male musicians were drafted and “girl bands” came to prominence in popular music.  Ina, though, conducted an all-male band through the 1940s.  She brought them to town in 1948 when they played at Club 86. 

Between 1939 and 1948 Ina Ray was not forgotten in Geneva.  In 1942 She showed up in the Daily Times wearing her rubber bathing suit for the last time before she donated it to the war effort.  “Bombshell to Bomber,” said the Times.  

Ina and the Melodears, of course, were not the only female musicians of the era.  Professor Tucker mentioned that girl bands tended to be either bombshells or domestic angels.  Another girl band was Phil Spitalny’s Hour of Charm orchestra, which ran from 1934 to 1954.  I have not found that Hour of Charm visited Geneva, but they do show up frequently in the radio schedule listings in the local paper.  In 1946, for example, you could hear them on Sunday at 10pm on WHAM.  They were also featured in a short film, too, and were listed in between Cary Grant’s Mr. Lucky and a Donald Duck cartoon in the Schine’s Daily Times ad on July 12, 1943.

Geneva Daily Times, May 22, 1939

For twenty years, Phil Spitalny incorporated a talent search into his orchestra performances and women in this area tried out.  In 1941, the Daily Times reported that three young women had been chosen as “Cornell finalists” in the preliminary Hour of Charm song auditions.  The eventual winner would appear as guest singer on the Hour of Charm broadcast and win $100.  In 1947, the Shortsville Enterprise ran a piece congratulating Miss Ann Stoddard for performing a harp solo with the Hour of Charm.   

The Daily Times mentions several other “all-girl” bands appearing locally during the 1940s.  Joe Bishop and his All Girl Band played at Schine’s for the Halloween Fun Fest in 1940.  Pearl Jaquin’s All-American Girl Band performed at the Romulus Grange Hall in January 1941.  The same group played for the Danc’ Inn the next August.  Count Berni Vici and his All-Girl Band played Schine’s in February 1942.  The Count’s band also traveled with a chorus line.  In 1946, Geneva’s Armory hosted a Dance Parade, featuring Bonnie Downs and her All Girl Band.  Professor Tucker says the Downs Band was made up of Eastman School of Music students.

Many of the girl bands went on USO tours, both in the US and abroad.  I have not found that any of the nationally touring women’s bands played at the Geneva USO, but the Daily Times reported in April 1945 that “Music sweet and smooth was served up by Eastman School of Music students for servicemen at USO yesterday . . . an all-girl orchestra headed by Miss Nancy Gates of Geneva presented a program in the style of Phil Spitalny’s girl orchestra.  . . .”  The program was about a month after Joe Louis visited the Geneva USO.  It appears that the USO went for variety.

Monday, October 13, 2014

World War II in the Eyes of a "Boomer"

By Karen Osburn, Archivist

The Geneva Historical Society is starting to focus more on researching Geneva during the World War II years because we have an event coming up in February highlighting the entertainment, music, and costume of the 1940s.  Since I was born in the early 1950s World War II was very fresh in the memories of my parents and their friends so by process of osmosis I became more familiar with that war than some of the more recent ones during my own life. 

The years after World War II ended were filled with comic books, novels, television programs and newspaper articles about the War. My cousin, who was 10 years older than I, had an enormous collection of comics that I was allowed to read if I was very careful (and sometimes very sneaky) and many of them dealt with combat situations.  I remember sitting on the living room rug and quietly listening to my dad and his friends discuss their experiences in the War.   Since I was present they were never explicit about traumatic events, I can’t recall them ever even mentioning shooting or being shot at much less killing someone, but they did talk about things that happened from which they were able to extract some humor.  I think they forgot at times I was there and when that happened they were a bit harsher with their criticisms of the officers in charge of their units.  If I was really quiet I might even add a few words to my vocabulary that I didn’t dare use, but were interesting to know.

Geneva teachers helping with the harvest

When I mentioned the era was filled with television programs having to do with war, I mean full!  A quick look at Wikipedia found eight military programs dealing with World War II airing in 1962 alone.  That count is probably off because I didn’t recognize some of the titles, but I will mention just a few of the ones that appeared regularly on our family television:

Combat! (1962 – 1967)
12 O’clock High (1964 – 1967)
The Gallant Men (1962 – 1963)
No Time for Sergeants (1964)
Hogan’s Heroes (1965 – 1971)
McKeever and the Colonel (1962 – 1963)
McHale’s Navy (1962 – 1966)
Hennessey (1959 – 1962)
Ensign O’Toole (1962 – 1963
Convoy (1965 – 1966)

As a child, I really enjoyed these shows.  I loved the comedies not knowing at the time that the War experience may have humorous incidents, but as a whole, is not funny.  I also loved the dramas, romanticizing the soldiers.  I grew up in a neighborhood where all of the children my age were boys (except me of course), so we played “soldier” when we weren’t playing cowboys and Indians.  I could lob a dirt clod grenade with the best of them and many a night saw me coming in the house covered with dust and with my fingernails grimy from mining the garden for appropriate size dirt balls to thrown at the boys next door.  I think our “war” came to a screeching halt the day one of them hit me with a dirt covered rock he had mistaken for a clod.  I may even have used one of those “special occasion” words I learned watching TV with my father and his friends.

Angelo Street boys

Now that I am older, and TV programs about almost any war are generally shown on PBS and done by someone like Ken Burns, I perceive war for what it really is, a frightening breakdown of civilized discourse brought on by greed, fear and hatred and acted out with a tremendous loss of life and property.  There is very little romance or comedy involved.

How did the children of Geneva see World War II?  We have pictures of the young men on Angelo Street having “war exercises”.  There are also photos of scrap metal collections done by the children of the city.  One book, Kathryn Grover’s Close to the Heart of the War: Geneva in WWII mentions teenager boys working a midnight to 2pm shift at American Can.  Though I haven’t found reference to their feelings on the subject, rationing must have had an impact on how children ate.  With items like meat and sugar being rationed I suspect there were some interesting substitutes for cookies, hot dogs, sausages and meatloaf.  I was looking through a war time cookbook which had a recipe for preparing parsnips as a substitute for bananas!  There was also a recipe for potato chocolate candy, and a brown butter soup.  The soup had no meat or meat juice in it at all.  I suspect the closest it came to meat was if a bird flew over a house while it was being prepared.

I can’t imagine going to bed every night hoping my father would come home from the war in one piece, or watching my mother be afraid.  I know my own dad often told me he was glad he had daughters so he would not have to see us go off and fight.

Students at St. Francis DeSales with their War Saving Stamp books

Close to the Heart of the War  also includes images of children collecting for metal drives, collecting milkweed pods for life preservers, and participating in the war bond program.  Some younger folks worked in the farm fields in the summers because of lack of labor due to the draft and jobs with high priority during war time.  I worked hard around the house as a child because my folks did not believe in being idle, but I can’t imagine what it would feel like to get out of bed at 11 P.M. and go to work for 12 hours, then come home and try to go to sleep so I could do well in school.  Just the thought of these things makes my entire life feel very privileged.

Looking back on my childhood I realize how we never feared being hungry and cold, while children in Europe were still starving and living without basic necessities of life, like a dry place to spend the night, fresh water, fresh food, or clean clothes.  They didn’t portray that on TV!

Boy Scouts outside City Hall

There are as many different views of Geneva during and after the war as there were people who experienced it here.  I have only touched on a couple, but if you would like to know more Close to the Heart of the War: Genevaduring World War II can be purchased through our website.