Monday, December 28, 2015

Nothing But Net

by Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

Basketball was invented on a rainy December day in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith, director of physical education at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts.  After much experimentation and tweaking, the first official game was played at the YMCA in Albany, New York on January 20, 1892.  Over the next decade, the YMCA worked hard to spread their new sport.  The first basketball game in Chemung County was played in the Elmira YMCA gymnasium in 1898 and the city’s first league was established in 1900.  It initially consisted of four teams – the Easters, the Northers, the Southers, and the Westers – but new teams were created as the sport gained in popularity.

YMCA Easters featuring Gene Banker, Ed Deister, Herman Lamb, Ralph Sartor, and some other people, ca. 1900
 In 1917, the Neighborhood House organized the semi-pro NH City League which ran until the 1950s.  The Neighborhood House Currents, the YMCA Blackhawks, and the Eclipse Machines were the powerhouses of the league, but there were nearly a dozen other teams sponsored by local businesses and organizations as well.   Teams played before packed houses at the Elmira Armory.  Chemung County teams also participated in regional leagues.  The YMCA Blackhawks, Neighborhood House Currents, St. Casimir’s Eagles and Horseheads Merchants all joined the New York-Penn League when it was established in 1937.  Some later leagues include the Regional League (early 1940s); the YMCA Blackhawk League (late 1940s- mid 1960s); and the Southern Tier Basketball Association (1950s).  Elmira was even home to a professional team which briefly played for the NY-P Pro League in the 1930s and the American Basketball League in the 1950s.
Eclipse Machines, 1942-3, featuring Coach Jim Deegan, Jack asey, Leon Popelewski, Leo Makovitch, Tom Sabran. Jack Biggs, Bill Cieri, Bill Young, Bud Sink and John Gableman. 
Neighborhood House Currents, 1944 champions, featuring Nelson Collins, Bruce Hurst, Roland & Howard Coleman, Tommy Reid, Jim Snowden, Nap Shepard, and Bill Lewis.
 Beginning in the 1920s, the YMCA and the Neighborhood House hosted post-season tournaments and exhibition games.  These tournaments not only featured the usual local talent, but also attracted college players and teams from around the state.   Most of these tournaments petered out in the 1970s due, in part, to NCAA rule changes about what players could do in the off season and the fact fans could now watch the pros on TV.
Program for exhibition game between EFA Blue Devils (featuring Ernie Davis) and the Syracuse Devils, 1958
Of course, this blog barely scratches the surface in terms of amateur basketball.  All of the local public high schools have teams and, over the years, there have been a number of youth leagues as well.  Then there are the factory teams and women’s leagues.  They are, however, all stories for another day.  
Neighborhood House Youth League champions for all age divisions, 1934-5. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Sun Triangle

by Erin Doane, curator

Today marks the winter solstice: the shortest day and longest night of the year.  There will only be about 9 hours of daylight today but from this point on, days will be getting longer. Yay! People may not know that we have a tool right here in Elmira to help us mark this auspicious day. Anyone who has visited the Elmira Savings Bank at 333 E. Water Street, has probably seen the large, triangular metal sculpture in the plaza outside. For a long time, I assumed it was just a big piece of art and gave it no more thought. It actually was created to mark the solstices and equinoxes.

The Sun Triangle

The Sun Triangle, as it is called, was erected in March 1977 by the Arnot Realty Corporation. It was created as part of Elmira’s city beautification program following the 1972 flood that devastated much of downtown. The triangle was designed by scientist and sculptor Dr. Athelstan Spilhaus of Washington, D.C. and built by metal fabricators in Brooklyn, New York. The skin is made of 1/8 inch stainless steel that has been polished to a mirror finish.

View of the Sun Triangle from Water Street
The triangle stands 34 feet tall and its base is bolted to a 16-ton buried concrete block to keep it standing. Our archives has a wonderful little booklet produced by the Elmira Savings Bank that explains the geometry of the triangle: “The two acute angles of the triangle are 23 ½ degrees, the obtuse angle 133 degrees. 23 ½ degrees is the angle by which the axis of the earth is tilted in relation to the plane of its orbit around the sun. A triangle of the same configuration could be used to indicate the sun’s noon positions anywhere on earth. Only the angle of its base to the earth would have to be changed to make it accurate in its given latitude.”

Diagram from the Elmira Savings Bank’s
booklet about the Sun Triangle.

So, how does it work? The top edge of the triangle points to the sun’s noon position at the spring and fall equinoxes, about March 21 and September 22. The bottom edge points to the sun’s lowest noon position, at the winter solstice, about December 21. And the steepest edge points to the sun’s highest noon position, at the summer solstice, about June 21. Conveniently, there’s a plaque on the ground right next to the Sun Triangle explaining all this.

Plaque near the base of the Sun Triangle

This year, the solstice officially falls on December 21 at 11:49pm (EST). Unfortunately, it looks like it may be too cloudy today to actually see the sun at local noon. It might be worth the short walk from the museum to take a look, though. Happy Winter Solstice!

I wonder if we'll see the sun this solstice