Thursday, December 28, 2017

Entering the New Digital Age

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

Like historical music? How about old radio broadcasts or oral histories? CCHS has them all. In fact, we have over 300 audio recordings in a number of formats including wax cylinder, record, reel-to-reel tape, 8-track, and audio cassette.  The problem is, we don’t have the necessary equipment to actually listen to half of it, let alone share it with the world. Now, thanks to several recent technology donations, we can finally play our reel-to-reel and cassette tapes. More importantly, we can digitize them.

Why is it important to digitize our audio recordings? Because they are inherently fragile and each play back risks damaging the original. As anyone who remembers destroying their favorite tape can attest, audio cassettes can unspool, tear, or become demagnetized. Reel-to-reel tapes are especially vulnerable to tearing as they lack the cassette’s protective shell. Digitization also makes it easier to share. Save a tape as an audio file and it can be burned to CDs, stored on a flashdrive, or posted on-line somewhere. Our mission as a museum is to share the history of Chemung County and digitization allows us to do that easily with minimal risk to the original recording.

The great thing about audio digitization is it’s not even that hard!

Step 1 – Acquire the right equipment. This includes not only the playback equipment, but also a computer and the necessary cables. Our cassette player was donated by the late Lee Kiesling while the reel-to-reel tape deck was donated by my parents. They each have different audio outputs and required different cables to connect them to the computer. The cables ranged in price from $6 to $12 and were available on-line and at Staples.
Reel-to-reel tape deck with appropriate wires.
Audio cassette player with appropriate wires
Step 2 – Acquire the right software. We use Audacity. It’s a free, open-source audio recording/editing software available for download for Mac and PC. There are on-line training videos plus a handy help guide. I hardily recommend it, but if you have another program you like, well, you do you.

Step 3 – Que up the tape. Before you record, take some time to listen to the tape. Make sure the volume is just right. Make sure it’s rewound to the right place.

Step 4 – Connect the player to your computer. The cable should go from the audio output of the player to the audio input on the computer.

Step 5 – Start recording. Make sure you have selected the right audio input in the program and then hit record. Always hit record before you hit play on the tape or you’ll miss the first few moments. Yes, I learned that the hard way.

Step 6 – Press play and let the digitization begin. Once you press play, you can just sit back while it records. Be sure to check in occasionally to see if it’s done. Then press stop on both and rewind the tape.

Step 7 – Save and edit your audio file. Save the file before you make any edits. Give it the most detailed descriptive name you can including what the recoding is and when it was made. Then you can edit the file. Hitting record before hitting play leaves a bunch of dead air at the beginning, but you can just cut that out. You can also create multiple tracks, play with sound quality, or add effects. Be sure to save again after every modification you make.

I’ve talked specifically about tapes here, but you can follow these steps with any audio format. Speaking of which, if anyone has a working phonograph, record player, or 8-track, we would love to have it.

Monday, December 25, 2017

A Rambling Man: Rufus Stanley

by Erin Doane, Curator

Rufus Stanley moved to Elmira in June, 1886 to work as the Secretary of the Boys Department of the Y.M.C.A. On his first Saturday here, he borrowed a camera and took a hike up East Hill with a group of boys he was working with at the Y. They explored Water Cure Glen and got pictures of Mark Twain’s summer home. This was the beginning of the Rambling Club and a lifetime of public service for Stanley.

Members of the Rambling Club at Water Cure Glen, 1886
Stanley grew up in rural Michigan and enjoyed the outdoors and working with his hands. When he went on that first hike in Elmira with his young charges, he realized two things: “that these city boys did not know anything of the world about us and that they could not do anything.” He devoted the rest of his life to teaching young people useful skills. The Rambling Club was his first effort. Stanley formed numerous other clubs including the Omega and Achievement Clubs meant to help both boys and girls learn things like gardening, poultry raising, and carpentry.

Rufus Stanley
For twelve years, Stanley led the boys of the Rambling Club on hikes around the region, both winter and summer, rain or shine. They tramped, camped, swam, coasted, tracked rabbits, and climbed trees. They learned how to build fires, find shelter, and not mind the mud. They also toured worksites, railyards, and factories, sailed on Keuka Lake, and went on longer excursions. In 1898 he took ten boys by train to Pittston, Pennsylvania then they hiked back to Elmira visiting historic sites along the way.

Rambling Club picnic at Quarry Farm, 1886
Winter, 1892

At any given time there were about 10 boys in the club. Their ages ranged from 12 to 15 years old. The boys themselves chose who could become members and they also governed their own conduct. There was no official constitution or written laws but they all seemed to understand that common courtesy was expected. No smoking or swearing was allowed but the boys could and did play regular pranks on each other.

Watkins Glen, 1886
Assailing the fish, 1889
Through the Rambling Club, Stanley was able to provide the boys with wholesome outdoor recreation and teach them lifelong skills. Rambling also gave them a chance to be rambunctious without getting into any real trouble. Stanley once wrote, “Every real boy must yell.” Sometimes on hikes, they would stop at some out-of-the-way place and just yell until all their pent-up energy was spent. “It does no harm in the woods, though in town it would be liable to call the police.”
Pennsylvania, 1894
By 1896, ten year after the club had begun, many of the boys were getting older, finishing school, and starting careers. They weren’t able to participate in weekly rambles as they once had. This led to the creation of the Night Walkers. The boys, or rather young men, continued to get together and got for walks in the evenings after work. The Night Walkers continued getting together for ten more years before dissolving in 1906.

Silver coffeepot given to Stanley by members of the Night Walkers in 1898
The Rambling Club officially ended in June 1898. Stanley went on to create new clubs to continue teaching youngsters practical skills while the more than 100 boys who had rambled with him went on with their everyday lives. In 1926, former ramblers were called together for a reunion to arrange plans for a celebration in Elmira to mark 40 years of Stanley’s work. On July 8, 14 club members and their former mentor met on the lawn of Merle Thomson on Hoffman Street in Elmira.

Invitation to Rambling Club Reunion held June 8, 1926
One of the men attending the reunion wrote an account of the event. They gathered in Thompson’s back yard and built a fire near the edge of the woods. Everyone pitched in and got the fire going, got water for coffee, and cut sticks for roasting hotdogs, just like old times. After a nice “dog and doughnut” supper, they got together to have their picture taken.  Then everyone settled down and listened as Stanley spoke to them about the importance of the movement that had started with the Rambling Club and his efforts to keep things going. He declared that should he die that night, the work was so well-organized that it would continue uninterrupted.

Photograph from the 1926 reunion showing Stanley second from left, mostly obscured
Stanley had been at a picnic earlier that day in VanEtten promoting his efforts to educate more children and would be talking at several more upcoming picnics that summer through August. “You can see that I am going to be busy,” he told them then placed his hands on his head as if thinking of something more to say. He sank slowly backwards and fell to the ground. Dr. Anna M. Stuart and Dr. N.H. Soble were called but they could do nothing for him. Rufus Stanley died of a heart seizure at 8:15pm. His boys covered him with a blanket and he lay with his feet to the dead embers of the camp fire, like he was peacefully sleeping, as he had done so many times before on club outings. When his wife, Charlotte Rose Stanley, arrived, she told them, “It was a beautiful way for him to go, and among the members of the old Rambling Club, who loved him, and whom he loved so much.”

Rufus Stanley is buried in Elmira’s Woodlawn Cemetery. A monument honoring his work with the area’s youth is on display at Harris Hill Park.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Eclipse Mania: Chemung County’s Moment in the Path of Totality

By Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

On August 21, 2017, I stood in the parking lot of the museum with my coworkers staring up into the sky. “The Great American Eclipse,” as it was dubbed, was not as impressive in Elmira as it was in other parts of the country, but nonetheless, we all watched with our special glasses and cardboard boxes. It was an event that most people you talked with were excited about and it felt like it brought about a brief moment of unity and positivity into our national conversation. This got me wondering about earlier eclipses and I found records of a far better one that we got to witness this year.   

Beginning at 8am on January 24, 1925, Chemung County was in what we now call the “Path of Totality” of a solar eclipse. In fact, it was almost smack in the middle of the 100-mile-wide path of the shadow that was moving at 2,000 miles per hour. Totality occurred around 9am, blanketing the area in darkness for a minute and 15 seconds.

There was significant excitement leading up to the eclipse. Professor Mary Clegg Suffa of Elmira College gave a lecture about the science behind the phenomena. Other community organizations held similar programs leading up to and following the event. Residents pestered Elmira officials to turn off the streetlamps during the eclipse, a request that was considered, but ultimately denied. Even still, the city’s electrical usage measurably decreased during the eclipse as many factories ceased work temporarily to let employees go outside. 

Articles by experts urged people not to look directly at the eclipse, but to instead view it through a smoked glass. And that glass was in high demand with people hoarding scraps weeks before the eclipse. When the eclipse occurred, people stood on the streets with smoked glass or old photo negatives. Articles also printed instructions for viewing the eclipse through a hole punched in cardboard.

Amateur photographers hoped to capture the eclipse, but professional local photographer Fred Loomis warned that many people would be disappointed when they had their film developed. Even Loomis, with his better equipment was unable to secure the kind of images he was hoping for. 

This photograph from an unidentified photographer is in our collection. So at least some people were able to beat the odds!
While some people were afraid the eclipse was an omen of something terrible, only one oddity was reported as a result. During the eclipse, thousands of seagulls took flight from the Chemung River and headed toward Watkins Glen where they roosted at night. When the eclipse was over, the confused birds turned around.  

The eclipse was heralded as a once in a lifetime event for most local residents, but there was one man who had the fortune of having experienced this once before. Edward Elford, an Elmira Heights man, had seen a total eclipse in 1870 when he was a young boy living in England.

Monday, December 11, 2017

You've Got Mail!

By Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

Notice anything funny about this envelope? 

Letter for William Beers, 1862

Let me give you a clue: there’s no street address (and no zip code, but that’s another story). How then, you might ask, was the letter supposed to be delivered? It wasn’t.

When the first Elmira post office opened in January 1801, there was no home delivery. People from all over Chemung County had to visit the small office located at the foot of Fox street in order to pick up their mail. This was actually a pretty big improvement. The village had been founded in 1790, but, until 1801, residents had to go all the way to the post office in Owego or pay someone to pick up their mail for them. Later, in April of that year, Elijah Buck opened the first post office in the Town of Chemung in his general store to serve the eastern half of the county. 

Since coming in from the hinterlands to check if you had mail could be quite a hassle, the Elmira post office notified recipients by posting an ad in the weekly paper. Even with the notices, letters could sit for weeks before it was picked up. By the 1830s, the volume of mail coming into Elmira was so great that the post master could no longer afford to post notices in the paper. By this point, each of the rural towns had their own post office which was good, considering the only way to know if you had a letter was to go and find out. 

List of letters, The Investigator, December 1, 1821
 This lead to long lines at the post office and, in a roundabout way, the first instance of free home delivery. The story goes that in the winter of 1862, Cleveland postal employee Joseph William Briggs was so moved by the sight of women lining up in the cold rain, desperate for word from their husbands and sons fighting in the Civil War that he began delivering mail to their homes for free. Later that same year, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair composed a report to the president wherein he recommended free urban home delivery by salaried carriers as a way improve user convenience. In 1863, Congress acted to authorize home delivery in cities where income from local postage was more than sufficient to pay all expenses of the service. Thus, the inclusion of home addresses on envelopes was born!

 By 1864, 65 cities had free home delivery. By 1880, that number was up to 104, and, by 1900, 796. Elmira began free home delivery in 1873 or 1874. There were initially four carriers for the entire city: John King, John Y. Carpenter, Uriah Warner, and Judson Cornell. All were Civil War veterans. John Carpenter was missing an arm. The volume of mail proved too much for just four men to handle and two additional carriers, William P. Roosa and John R. Brockway, were added in March 1874.  
Letter for William Beers with street address, 1879

Special thanks to Alan Parsons whose research request inspired this post.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Frances Squire Potter and The Ballingtons

by Erin Doane, Curator

In 1905, Little, Brown, and Company published The Ballingtons by Frances Squire Potter. The novel, a tale of love and relationships that dealt heavily with issues of finance and freedom, was well-received. Professor Zeublin of the University of Chicago’s sociology department once used it as a reference book, considering it the best handling, in fiction, of the economic dependence of women. To me, the book felt a little old fashioned (having been published over 110 years ago), but the quality of Potter’s writing and the insight into her work that I gained from learning about her personal history made it a worthwhile read. [The novel is available for free at]

Minneapolis Journal Oct. 12, 1905,
available through
Frances Boardman Squire was born in Elmira on November 12, 1867. She was the daughter of Civil War surgeon Dr. Truman H. Squire and Grace A. Squire. She was known socially as Fanny Squire when she was growing up. She graduated from Elmira College in 1887 and is credited with writing the school’s alma mater. Four years after graduating, she married Winfield Scott Potter. There are no records of the intimate details of the couple’s private married life but I imagine there were problems. They had four children together and separated in 1899 when the youngest was just two years old.
“He looked on with scarcely concealed irritation at her devotion to their children. He told her that she was getting morbid, allowing them to absorb her duty to him.” The Ballingtons, p. 259

Portrait of Frances Squire Potter as a young woman,
courtesy of Elmira College Archives, Gannett-Tripp
Library, Elmira College, Elmira, N.Y.
In order to support her children, she took a job as a school teacher. In 1900, she joined the staff of the literature department at the University of Minnesota. In 1905, Potter had the opportunity to spend a sabbatical at Cambridge University in England where she studied English literature. She was able to bring her children overseas with her as well as her friend Mary Gray Peck. The two women had collaborated on the play Germelshausen along with Carl Schlenker in 1904. Potter dedicated The Ballingtons to Peck and in the notices of her death that appeared in the Star Gazette, it described Peck as “a member of Mrs. Potter’s family for a number of years.” In 1918, Peck gifted Elmira College a memorial window honoring Frances Squire Potter that was installed at the entrance to Alumnae Hall.

Portrait of Mary Gray Peck, courtesy of
Elmira College Archives, Gannett-Tripp
Library, Elmira College, Elmira, N.Y.
“Their regular correspondence had developed an unexpected strength and depth in their friendship. Their mental companionship had become a confirmed and eager necessity for both.” The Ballingtons, p. 260
It was while Potter was at Cambridge that she began cultivating her reputation as “one of America’s most magnetic and telling woman orators,” according to the Fort Wayne Daily News. She was attending a banquet of the Society of American Women in London when one of the speakers launched a scathing attack on Americans. Potter’s eloquent response helped propel her into a new career as a lecturer. As an extension lecturer at the University of Minnesota, she spoke on a wide range of topics including The Bible as Literature, Charles Darwin, The Italian Renaissance, Moliere and the Open Road, Women and Economics, and Theatres in Shakespeare’s Time.

Portrait of France Squire Potter
In 1909, Potter left her position at the University of Minnesota and devoted herself to women’s suffrage. She returned to New York and joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association, working as the organization’s corresponding secretary. She became an activist for women’s and labor rights as a member of the Women’s Trade Union League, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the Socialist Party. In 1911, she took up the cause of  garment strikers in Chicago. She also continued working as a lecturer as a member of the staff of the University Lecturers’ Association.

Potter believed that one day men and women would meet on the same mental plane. She was quoted in an article in the Los Angeles Times, May 28, 1910 as saying, “I do not see any reason why women should not be judges, jurors, lawyers and policemen as well as school teachers. … There is to be no immediate or startling development in the movement, but it will gradually make its way. As it does so, artificial barriers between men and women will be taken down.”

Evansville Press (Indiana), July 5, 1912,
available through
One of the biggest sources of inequality between men and women, in Potter’s opinion, was economics. Many women were dependent on men – their fathers, brothers, or husbands – for financial support. A woman without financial means had to settle for a husband who could afford to take care of her. She believed that it was, therefore, men who had the power to pick a spouse while a woman had to settle for being picked. If women were financially independent, they would have greater say in who they married. “When more of the matrimonial arrangements are made by the women, the standards will be raised so much higher that divorce will be done away with,” she argued.

Potter explored the issues of financial dependence beautifully in The Ballingtons. She created complex, distinctive characters, both men and women, who were often at odds over money and the power that money provided to control and manipulate others. She masterfully used her skill at writing fiction to delve into the complexities of subject.
“Once or twice she gathered courage to ask Ferdinand for little sums of money, but he usually replied by inquiring what she wished, and then buying it for her himself.” The Ballingtons, p. 155
Frances Squire Potter passed away in her home in Chicago on March 25, 1914 after an extended illness. She was just 47 years old. Her body was brought back to Elmira and rests in Woodlawn Cemetery. That she had touched many people’s lives was evidenced in the numerous telegrams and wreaths that were send by friends, former colleagues, acquaintances, and civil organization in condolence to her family. Her work as an educator, author, lecturer, and activist would be sorely missed. Just days before her death, social activist Jane Addams said of her, “I cannot conceive of the death of a woman that would be a greater loss to the women of this country than the death of Mrs. Potter will be.”

Portrait of Frances Squire Potter, courtesy of
Elmira College Archives, Gannett-Tripp Library,
Elmira College, Elmira, N.Y.
“They stood motionless, listening and waiting for the beating of the heart to stop. Slower and slower came the labored breaths – there was a pause – another breath – and the wait – the wait – until the end of time, the wait.” The Ballingtons, p. 70