That’s Philip Stein.

A Note to My Readers:  Recently a fellow historian and Auburnian, Lydia Rosell and I were communicating about a photo that she had found on eBay several years ago.  Lydia collects some intriguing items relating to Auburn, New York and Auburn Prison and posted on FaceBook that she hadn’t been able to find anything about the murder case involving the man in the photograph…”Philip Stine.”  As any historical researcher knows that is like waving a red cape at a fierce bull and shouting “Toro”.   Thus I was off to see what I could find.  The first thing I did was consider a name variation.  As soon as I made it “Philip Stein”, the story of a troublesome criminal life culminating in the murder of William Jones unfolded.   I also found the tale of intrepid Police Officer Benjamin B. Roseboom and the capture and conviction of Philip Stein.

Winter weather was in full force in central New York and Auburnians had their homes secured against the blustering and chilling December winds and the inevitable snowfall. Sleighs had been readied with newly waxed runners and reins had been inspected and treated with saddle soap. The folks in central New York needed no lesson in being prepared to tackle Mother Nature. They just didn’t count on the likes of career criminal Philip Stein.

Stein hailed from Rochester, New York and though he committed many of his crimes in that general area, he held no prejudice for where or whom he victimized. He was an opportunist. His father, Peter, had been a shoemaker and his Uncle Philip was a grocer in Rochester in 1860 and young Philip and his siblings were surrounded by family in a section of Rochester filled with immigrant tradesmen with a strong work ethic. Philip’s father had died and his mother, Johanna, remarried to another “Prussian” immigrant. Stein’s older siblings were off on their own in 1870 and 14 year old Philip and his 12 year old sister Maggie were part of the newly blended household. His stepfather, Franz, was a grocer and Philip was an apprentice carpenter. All in all, it seemed that the young boy had a clear path to make a good life for himself.
Something went very wrong. At 19 years of age, Philip was an inmate at the Monroe County Penitentiary, married and declaring his trade as butcher in the 1875 New York State Census. His life of crime had clearly begun in earnest. Five years later in the 1880 Federal Census, Philip was a convict at Auburn Prison. Still married and still claiming his occupation as butcher, it seemed more likely that crime had become his true vocation. In New York State prison records, his crime at that time is recorded as receiving stolen goods.

In April of 1881 Philip was released from Auburn Prison and made his way back to his wife and child in Rochester. Within hours, he was in serious trouble again. The young Mrs. Stein had supported herself and their child during his incarceration and according to the authorities, had ‘an unblemished reputation”. Her errant husband begged for forgiveness and asked to let him stay with her. His promise of acquiring gainful employment went unmet and his young wife’s supporters advised her to be rid of him. She stood her ground and told him to leave immediately. Angry and resentful, Philip left. Feeling content that she once again had the peace of her own humble life, the young woman put her child to bed and settled down in her parlor which also served as her bedroom. At 10 PM her reverie was broken with the harsh report of a pistol. Two shots were fired,

“the balls passing through the window, burying themselves in the bedding”.

Alarmed, she dashed to the door in time to see Stein running away. Securing the young one, she ran to the nearby police headquarters and an arrest warrant for Stein was issued.

Newspaper Auburn NY News & Bulletin 1882 Philip StineIn February of 1882, Philip Stein was back in Monroe county jail awaiting transfer to Auburn Prison for the crime of Grand Larceny in the second degree. He was arrested in Rochester, tried and convicted and was due to be returned to Auburn Prison to serve out an eight year sentence. Once again his crime was outrageous and showed a disturbing state of mind. He had entered a barn in Parma, Monroe, New York where he killed twenty sheep, skinned them and sold the pelts for $26.50. Seems that his trade of butcher was indeed accurate. Within no time after being incarcerated, Stein had proved himself again handy with tools by jimmying a lock with a pen knife and escaping into the Monroe County countryside. On February 15th Stein jimmied open a lock to a dungeon cell and acting as the ringleader, along with his fellow convicts drilled a hole through a three foot thick wall. The dungeon cell led to a chicken coop in the jail yard where the convicts found a hand ladder and scaled the wall.

The alarm went out to the Rochester officials who knew Stein on sight after dealing with him for over a decade. Disguising himself by shaving his mustache and wearing civilian clothes, he prowled Rochester to find shelter and perhaps seeking another crime opportunity. As he walked down Front Street, a vigilant sheriff spied him and arrested him on the spot. The sheriff questioned Stein to determine the details of his escape and his evasion, but Stein refused to cooperate. Still mum, Stein was taken to Auburn Prison and placed in a cell with a lock that offered no chance of tinkering. His reputation in central New York was becoming infamous as he was dubbed “The Sheep Killer”.

Stein did not serve the full eight years of his sentence and that sealed the fate of William Jones of Erie, Pennsylvania. State Prison records for Auburn Prison report that Stein’s sentence was commuted for good behavior and he was released on August 15, 1887. This time Stein did not return to the Rochester area and he would surely be under the watchful eye of Auburn police. He went instead to Erie, Pennsylvania.

Philip Stein

Philip Stein, courtesy of Lydia Rosell

William Jones was the proprietor of the St. Cloud hotel in Erie. In November of 1877 he had taken Stein in out of pity and gave him shelter from the bitter cold and provided him a warm meal and board. Stein was allowed to stay for a few days. A desperate man, Stein rewarded Jones’ generosity in a most heinous gesture. On December 1st, as Jones sat alone in the hotel with Stein, Jones drew him a beer and went about his evening routine. Stein crushed the top of Jones’ head with a blunt object described as an ice pick or a mallet or a bung starter. Jones lingered for the month of December and finally died of his injuries on December 31st.

“While Jones lay quivering in his life blood, Stein took a wallet containing $60 from Jones’ pocket and turning out the lights fled to Auburn.”

Once again the Rochester and Auburn police departments were on notice to watch out for Stein. A $250 reward was offered and the citizens were unnerved after learning of the nature of the crime. Stein had graduated from a thief to a murderer. Stein was accustomed to evasion and kept a low profile and yet he returned to Auburn where his face was well-known. He learned that the police were actively pursuing him in Auburn and began to make his way into the countryside. He would not make it out of the city. “an old prison official”, spotted Stein on Dill Street and alerted the Auburn police. The entire force was mobilized, but they could not seem to catch up with Stein. Days later, he was spotted on North Street and Officer Roseboom answered the call. He secured a horse and buggy and pursued Stein as he attempted to flee on Grant Avenue. Brandishing a gun, Roseboom commanded Stein to stop. Knowing he couldn’t outrun a buggy on foot, Stein turned and drew his knife. Staring down the barrel of Roseboom’s gun, Stein threw down the knife and a bottle of sulphuric ether and surrendered. He had been on the run for eleven days.

Philip Stein Arrest Record December 11, 1887

Philip Stein Arrest Record December 11, 1887.  Courtesy of Lydia Rosell

Auburn police officer Benjamin B. Roseboom and police reporter Charlie Rattigan and Erie, Pennsylvania Detective J. P. Sullivan and Captain Grant had their hands full transporting Stein. Despite Stein’s calm demeanor, he was shackled hand and foot as they were acutely aware of his wiliness and his earlier escape. They also had to worry about the enraged citizens of Erie. When the Lake Shore train reached Westfield, Chautauqua, New York on December 17, 1887 a telegram from Erie District Attorney Baker was given to Captain Sullivan. Throngs awaited the arrival of the train and along with a steady snow, shouts and curses filled the air. A plan was formulated to take Stein to another part of the train and disembark away from the mob. They no sooner had stepped down onto the remote platform than a shout went up.

“Hang him to that post!”

Stein was tossed into the waiting carriage arranged by D. A. Baker and the men were off to the Erie jail at a tear. The mob had been in full pursuit and as many as 25 people reached the carriage, but it had a good start and soon the enraged citizens were left behind and the lawmen and the suspect were on their way unencumbered.

Though the circumstantial evidence of his culpability was powerful, Stein maintained his innocence throughout his arrest and trial. Appearing in Erie court in May of 1888, Stein was dressed neatly in black and his previously shaven mustache had been grown back. He was cool and confident and represented by two of the best defense lawyers that money could buy. Stein’s brother-in-law, Phillip Christman, a well-to-do butcher and grocer from Rochester, footed the bill. Christman had married Stein’s sister, Maggie. When pressed by an Erie reporter about Stein’s case, Christman stated that he believed Stein to be too cowardly to commit such a crime and that his forte was stealing. He also stated that Stein had never attempted to hurt anyone. Mr. Christman clearly hadn’t considered the incident when Stein attempted to shoot Mrs. Stein.

Erie District Attorney A. Elverton Sisson

Erie District Attorney A. Elverton Sisson

At the trial no defense was offered, but rather the attorneys battered the court with procedural sparring. Objections flew at every point. They tried to get the jury dismissed on the grounds that it was drawn for the second Monday of the term instead of the first which would have considerably delayed the case. The judge denied the motion and the jury, consisting of eleven farmers and one ‘city’ man, was seated. The prosecution team of District Attorney A. Elverton Sisson and his predecessor, Cassius Leland Baker and Captain J. P. Sullivan worked the arrest and trial so as no fault would bring about a verdict of not guilty. A precise prosecution strategy was in place.

The prosecution swore in between forty and fifty witnesses and their testimonies solidly refuted Stein’s statement at his arrest. Jones’ leather wallet Stein had stolen was produced as evidence. It had been found along the tracks where Stein was spotted fleeing. The circumstantial evidence mounted and confident that they had made their case, the prosecution rested. At the close of the trial, the defense pulled their trump card. Laying claim on a common law case tried fifty years earlier, they demanded to open AND close the argument phase of the trial. The prosecution’s hands were tied and the defense proceeded with their strategy. Observers thought the defense might be able to sway the jury for an acquittal. Baker, however, had a compelling close and was a deft and eloquent speaker. With the advantage of giving the final argument of the case, defense attorney and ex-Congressman Samuel Myron Brainerd held the floor handily.  Brainerd had also served a three year term as District Attorney for Erie county before his stint in Congress.   It was a battle of wits and experience between the three men who served the same office.

Thanking the jury, the judge sent them off to deliberate the case.

After five hours of deliberation, the verdict was pronounced. Guilty of second degree murder punishable by imprisonment for life. Trial attendees and reporters noted that Stein’s escape from a verdict of first degree murder was a direct result of that defense strategy. A defiant Stein demanded a new trial.

Officer Roseboom and Rattigan of Auburn and Chief Detective Hayden of Rochester left that night after staying in Erie for the duration of the trial having been the guests of  the county of Erie.

It appears that Stein’s demand for a new trial went unmet and Stein was imprisoned in Pennsylvania to serve out his life sentence. No trace of him appears in later official records or newspaper accounts. Stein’s infamy came and went as he served his time in Erie, Pennsylvania prison.  Christman returned to Rochester to run his market and raise his family.

Twenty-two years later, a Rochester lawman, Chief Hayden, remembered Philip Stein.

In 1888 Hayden received a telegram from Erie, Pa., which read: “Wanted for assault and attempt to kill, an American, 28 or 30, five feet, ten inches, 165 pounds. Evidently American. Had one weak and watery eye.”
“That’s Philip Stein, “Hayden said to Chief Cleary and Captain McCormick. “The fellow who was convicted awhile ago of stealing sheep from a Parma farmer, and has been out of Auburn only a short time.”

Philip Stein never left the thoughts of Roseboom and Rattigan either.  When 70 year old Roseboom was interviewed in 1915 in his cozy home at 3 Sumner Street in Auburn, New York, the journalist wrote

Pointing out the window toward Lansing Street, he mused: “Right back of that house I took a murderer, a fellow named Stein, way back in 1887.  And he’s sworn revenge on me and Charlie Rattigan, a police reporter at that time, whose testimony down in Pennsylvania sent the man up for a dozen years.  But Charlie and I are here yet.”

Author’s Note:  The mystery remains…Philip Stein was given a life sentence and Roseboom mentions a dozen years.  Since I fail to find Stein after his incarceration…did he die before 1900 in a Pennsylvania prison while in his mid thirties?  Seems unlikely that in light of his crime, Stein would have been released.  But then Officer Roseboom’s light-hearted comment seems to tell us that Philip Stein is safely tucked away.  Dead or alive.  And no threat to Roseboom, Rattigan or the citizenry of Auburn, New York.

Deborah Martin-Plugh
Author, Writer and Genealogical Researcher
© Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Great Grandmother Nature Abhors a Vacuum

A Note to My Readers:  I may not be the “Lone Ranger” here, but I am fortunate to be the custodian of a great many family treasures including my maternal great grandparents’ family bible circa 1867, a myriad of cabinet cards, Victorian trading cards, a key to the city of Auburn, NY presented to my mother, my parents’ marriage ceremony booklet,  a panoramic photo of a 1929 Tyler Kindred of America family reunion and an 1896 fraternal order ribbon badge to name a few.  Most all photos are from my mother’s side of the family which includes a few reproductions of the originals that are in the possession of cousins.  My mother was hugely sentimental and the ‘keeper of memories’ and she passed the torch on to me. 

My father died when I was ten and there was some Martin family time with his kith and kin, but it did not have the bonded blood-to-blood tribal love that imbued every Purdy gathering.  Accompanied with singing and gossiping, cigarettes, cocktails, bosoms sporting expensive perfumes and glorious shades of lipsticks that marked cigarette butts and children’s cheeks,  nothing was done in small doses in my mother’s family.  Especially reminiscing.  Along with the affectionate and dramatic Purdy panache,  I was provided with enough memorabilia, photos and lore to know my mother’s side and to begin to build a worthy maternal family tree.  Not so with my father.  I barely had time to know my father and having no knowledge of my paternal history was something that challenged me from the very beginning.  It also gave me one of my first and ongoing brick wall mysteries.

Lillian W. Jennings Martin (1858 – 1905)

My great grandmother, Lillian Jennings Martin, disappeared off the planet shortly after her daughter Lillian was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1898. I have researched every entity, nook and cranny in and out of the genealogist’s toolbox within the boroughs of NYC and including a Long Island Sanitarium.  In fact, I even searched in nearby New Jersey as she had given birth to a still born child at a hospital there in 1888.  Though I could cull much about her husband Henry from Brooklyn newspapers, there was nothing about Lillian.  According to Evergreens cemetery in Brooklyn, NY where her husband (and my great grandfather, Henry A. Martin) is buried, she had no burial record there.  On March 30, 2015, I found that to be wrong.*

Failing to find her information in the Brooklyn area, I went back to her hometown of Auburn, New York.  Burial records for North Street Cemetery in Auburn, NY are full of gaps of information. The maintenance of the grounds and records have a terrible history, but I do have records of most of the burials in the Jennings family plot as recorded in an old sexton’s log book.  In addition, I have the obituaries of her father, Daniel and sister, Harriet Jennings White that state their burials took place in North Street Cemetery ‘in the Jennings plot’.   Lillian is not listed among them in the book and no stones remain to mark any Jennings Henry marries Lillian Jennings 1884 news and Democratburials due to scores of years of vandalism and lack of care.  Painstakingly searching through Auburn, New York newspaper articles for any Jennings or Martin mention, I had no trouble finding information on her Jennings family members including death notices and obituaries. Why not Lillian?  Her husband’s Martin family lived in Auburn and they never failed to show up in the local newspapers.   Only Lillian’s 1884 marriage to my great grandfather surfaced in an Auburn, NY newspaper article.

Lacking any more avenues to find Lillian, I decided to open up the research to her siblings.  Perhaps there was a clue awaiting me among the Jennings kin.  I began with  Lillian’s sister Emily Russell Jennings Trowbridge and brother William H. Jennings.

Trowbridge & Jennings Art Store in Auburn, New York.

Trowbridge & Jennings Art Store in Auburn, New York.

Lillian’s oldest sister, Emily Russell Jennings Trowbridge, lived in Auburn for decades with her husband and three children.  John Jasper Trowbridge in partnership with his brother-in-law William H. Jennings owned and operated an art and supplies store in Auburn, New York.  Both men were prominent citizens and socially and politically active.  Information on the two siblings was an embarrassment of riches.   When  John moved on to open another store in Binghamton, NY,  Will Jennings continued to run the Auburn, New York store with his sons.  His new venture was social and business news in both Auburn and Binghamton newspapers.   After the turn of the century, the Trowbridges relocated to Orange, New Jersey for a short time as John found a new opportunity to pursue.  Eventually the family came back to Binghamton where John had been offered a lucrative position.  He and Emily spent their remaining years in Binghamton as did their spinster daughters, Grace and Emma.  Son Charles Jasper Trowbridge had fallen in love with socialite Paula Mencken Flugal and the pair were married in West Orange, New Jersey in 1909.  Their wedding was reported in the New York Times.  A salesman like his father, Charles found opportunity in several places…Philadelphia, New York City, Buffalo, New York, Newton, Massachusetts eventually living in Long Beach, California with his wife and near his married daughters, Ruth Jennings Trowbridge (wife of Graham Hurd Stewart) and Louise White Trowbridge (wife of Philip L. Bruce).   I followed Lillian’s nieces and nephew in the hopes that sister Emily’s family would shed some light on her fate.

As I considered it, Emily and her family were living in East Orange about the time Lillian and Henry were living in Brooklyn.  And about the time she disappears from any records of any kind.  Emily would have known about Lillian’s life and death.  Possibly they spent time together as the distance was not great.  Perhaps West Orange might hold some kind of clue.  A long shot to be sure, but as any genealogical researcher can attest, long shots are very often the very weapon that solves a mystery.   New Jersey held no revelation so it was back to Auburn.

The Trowbridges of Binghamton…Emily, and her husband, John Jasper Trowbridge and their spinster daughters, Grace and Emma were all brought back to Auburn, New York to be buried in their family plot in Fort Hill Cemetery.  North Street Cemetery had long been disregarded as suitable and Fort Hill held the ‘new’ pioneer burials with all of the grand monuments.   Would Lillian have been brought ‘home’ to rest with her Jennings family members in North Street Cemetery?  Could she have died in Auburn and not in the Brooklyn area?  Was she buried in Brooklyn or her hometown of Auburn?  Nothing. No death records. No burial records. No obituaries or death notices.  Anywhere.  Just unanswered questions lurking everywhere.    Lillian’s fate remains a mystery despite my best efforts.  I keep at it…blurry eyed, out of ideas, yet still believing that I will find her.    Perhaps that energy and faith lives in the ether.

Emily Comes Home

Dad, his Uncle George and Uncle George's Aunt Harriett Jennings White. Two of my brothers play at their feet.  Four generations!

Dad, his Uncle George and Uncle George’s Aunt Harriett Jennings White. Two of my brothers play at their feet. Four generations!

One of two Jennings photos I have is one of Lillian’s sister, Harriet Jennings White. She lived in Auburn all of her life and died in 1940. My father visited her quite often and I am fortunate to own the original photo of Harriet taken around 1936 with my father, his Uncle George Martin (my grandfather Albert’s brother) and two of my older brothers. The other photo I have is gift from an individual who found it among her great aunt’s belongings. It is of Grace Trowbridge.  Her cabinet card was tucked among her schoolmate’s memorabilia for over a century only to be found by her schoolmate’s granddaughter.  She discovered my blog and reading about Emily and her daughter, Grace, sent Grace’s photo to me to once again be part of family.  Grace’s cabinet card is framed and hung in my gallery among her extended family members.  She is home.

Emily Russell Jennings Trowbridge

Emily Russell Jennings Trowbridge

Recently I was offered another family treasure…a gift…by another historian who found the cabinet card of Emily Russell Jennings…Mrs. John J. Trowbridge in an antique shop near her home.  Vicky is an historian herself and makes a point of rescuing the random orphan image and sets about to find family of the subject.  A thoughtful (and kindred) spirit, she dug in to the Trowbridge research and came upon my blog and sent me an inquiry.  On the back of the cabinet card is gold stamped “Mrs. J. J. Trowbridge.  Binghamton, NY”.  Was I family?   It was the most stunning moment because I had been looking into my Jennings material at that very moment with the hope that a new source had become available and perhaps I might find Lillian.

This was one of those shiver moments.  Scoff if you will, but to have the image of Lillian’s sister Emily cross the grand void and find me at that very moment took my breath away.   I think I am pretty stubborn…tenacious sounds better…and I hate an unsolved mystery and abandoning an ancestor.   What do they say?  “Nature abhors a vacuum.”  So do I.   An incident such as this reinforces my instinct to press on.

Emily’s image is now hung in the gallery in my sitting room where I research and where she has joined her daughter, Grace and her sister, Harriett in the Jennings collection.  Perhaps some day, Lillian will find her way home.  Meanwhile, I adore the image…the very light blue eyes that I sport.  I see family so clearly in her face.

For the few days it took for Emily’s image to arrive in the mail,  I haunted my mailbox.

This is when my neighbors question my sanity as I dance to the mailbox in anticipation.  Call me a silly and sentimental, but make sure you add genealogist.

Then my bit of Terpsichore to check the post will explain everything.

*March 30, 2015 UPDATE:  I found a death record today for Lillian and Henry’s 14 year old son, Howard.  He died in 1907 and was buried in Evergreens Cemetery.  I called them today and they confirmed he was in the family plot.  As was an “L” Martin.  That was Lillian!  She was buried there on July 2, 1905.  No details on where or how she died and it deepens the mystery since Henry declared himself a widower in the 1900 Federal Census and the 1905 New York State Census.  It does make me think that the Lillian W. Martin in Kings Park Psychiatric Hospital is my great grandmother.  It was abandoned and the records moved and I have begun the daunting process of trying to find out just where they ended up.  The good news is I know where she is buried and that is a sense of closure.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

http://www.facebook.com/thegenealogistsinkwell

(c) Copyright 2015.  All Rights Reserved.

I Can’t Knit, Elizabeth Cady Stanton

A Note to My Readers:  It’s Women’s History Month and I am reading material on the Suffrage Movement as it relates to my hometown of Auburn, New York.  Auburnians Emily Howland, Julia C. Ferris, Sara Wadsworth, Lucy Brown Mosher and Eliza Wright Osborne were influential suffragettes and leaders in the movement. A plaque in their honor was installed in the reception room of the National League of Women Voters in Washington, D.C. on April 15th, 1931. Their biographies characterize these women as determined and dedicated as prominent leaders in political, social and educational activities in Cayuga County and New York State.

Dr. Emily Howland from The Emily Howland Papers, Cornell University

Dr. Emily Howland from The Emily Howland Papers, Cornell University

Miss EMILY HOWLAND was born on a farm near Sherwood, Cayuga, New York on November 20, 1827 to Slocum and Hannah Talcott Howland. She was reared as a Quaker,  educated in Sherwood and later at a Society of Friends school in Philadelphia. Miss Howland’s life was dedicated to education, women’s rights and the abolition of slavery. In 1880 she published a monograph entitled “Early History of Friends in Cayuga County” which recounted the Quaker families and characters and the history of Scipio Meeting.  For me it is a delightful read because in 1829 my Quaker family migrated to the west side of Cayuga Lake and became members of the Scipio Meeting.

Emily was a teacher before the Civil War and after the Emancipation Proclamation she nursed and taught in a camp for freed slaves. Fearlessly she continued her work there despite a severe outbreak of smallpox. After the war, as Miss Howland continued her mission for education and health for all, she established schools for the freed slaves in Virginia.

Returning to her roots along Cayuga Lake, Emily turned her energies toward women’s suffrage and became a delegate to state and national conventions and at one time addressed the United States Senate. It was not uncommon to see her giving speeches in the streets of Auburn and Syracuse.

In 1882 Emily also founded a school in Sherwood, New York and in 1927 it was renamed Emily Howland School in her honor. In 1926 she was the first woman in the state to be honored by the New York State Board of Regents with an honorary doctor of letters.

A woman of great intellect and leadership skills, she managed two Cayuga County farms and was a director for the Aurora National Bank. During her lifetime,  she was a member of the board of no less than 30 schools.

Miss Emily Howland died on June 29, 1929 in Sherwood at the age of 101 years and is buried in Howland Cemetery in Ledyard, New York. The inscription on her monument reads:

She wished to have these words upon her stone.

“I strove to realize myself and to serve. Purposes nobly fulfilled.”

Newspaper Auburn NY Citizen 1928 Julia C. Ferris imageMiss JULIA C. FERRIS was also an educator and independent woman. Born at 16 Court Street on July 3, 1844 to Charles Thacher Ferris and Jane Underwood, she studied in Auburn public schools and was a graduate of Albany Normal College at the age of 16. Julia first taught at the Basswood Street School in Aurelius and then on to the No. 1 School in Auburn (Fulton Street School). After the Civil War she taught at a private school which was held over Sutton’s Drug Store on Genesee Street and then went on to be principal at the Genesee Street School. Briefly she was a teacher at a girl’s school in Detroit, but returned to Auburn in 1878 where she taught at Auburn High School. From 1881 to 1887 she was principal of North Street School. In 1888 she went on to head the mathematics department of the Central Grammar School until her retirement in June of 1913. It was estimated that she had taught in excess of 7, 500 pupils

“hammering the puzzling problems of ‘rithmetic into the heads of youth today”.

From 1914 to 1928 she was commissioner of education, a political position that she did not seek. In fact, she was nominated by educators and former students and placed on the ballot. She won over other candidates with a resounding margin and went on to be named as president of the board.

When Julia C. Ferris died in 1928 at the age of 83, Mayor Charles Osborne ordered the flags on all public school buildings to be flown at half-staff until after her funeral. She is buried in the Ferris family plot in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York.   Julia’s sister, Mrs. John G. Hosmer survived her as well as many nieces and nephews.

Sara Wadsworth 1916

Sara Wadsworth 1916

Miss SARA WADSWORTH was the daughter of Auburn scythe manufacturer David Wadsworth and his wife Phebe E. Partelow. She was born in Auburn to wealth and leadership as was her brother David, Jr. who served at one time as Mayor of Auburn. Sara served at separate times as the president and the treasurer of the Cayuga County Woman Suffrage Association and was praised for her dedication giving the better part of her own time and money to the cause. Her home at 210 West Genesee Street (situated at the corner of Genesee and Fort Streets) was the family home that she inherited from her father. One of the loveliest homes in Auburn, it was a constant venue for teas and boarding for suffrage organizers, speakers and dignitaries. In 1937 the old Wadsworth Mansion, as it was known, was dismantled and all of the antiquities and valuables auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Sara was a delegate to conventions and conferences and traveled often in the company of Mrs. Osborne to promote women’s suffrage. Sara’s politics were more of the intellectual and genteel persuasion and she frequently wrote other groups and asked that they refrain from picketing as it detracted from the message. She traveled often and used the ‘boardroom’ approach to ply her message and in confrontation with male politicians was intelligent and stern yet gracious. She impressed them with her intellectual skills and often won them over to at least have a discussion. That said, when pressed and the heat was on, Sara was a presence at the 1916 street rally to demonstrate at the New York State Republican Convention held  in Saratoga, New York. She lectured to other suffragette groups on

“how to raise and spend money”.

In a letter to the Citizen Advertiser, she reports that as treasurer of a fund for The Women’s Union in 1922, she had managed the donation of Mrs. Osborne in the amount of $25,000. Sara was often found in fundraising events for the Women’s Union and though she was pouring tea, she was often in the role of financial management.

Sara died in 1927 at the age of 76 and is buried in the Wadsworth family plot in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York.

Eliza Wright Osborne

Eliza Wright Osborne

Mrs. ELIZA WRIGHT OSBORNE was the wife of David Munson Osborne and the daughter of David Wright and Martha Coffin and the niece of Lucretia Mott. Born on September 3, 1830, Eliza was a powerful force in the Suffrage Movement doing

‘everything for the cause of suffrage that her position as one of Cayuga County’s leading women would, who believed in the cause.”

Like her friend and fellow activist, Sara Wadsworth, she was born to a family of influence. When she married David M. Osborne, a wealthy farm machinery manufacturer, she plunged into the Women’s Suffrage Movement and with her fellow Auburnian suffragettes assumed positions of leadership. She traveled to conferences and conventions and in her own home hosted regular meetings which often included Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. She was described as a “lover of books and a woman of wide reading” as well outspoken and courageous with a devotion to principles yet with a love for flowers and humanity. Her collection of books was reported to be massive.  At the age of 80 and showing no signs of losing her passion for women’s suffrage, she led a delegation to Albany and appeared before legislative committees to promote the cause.

Eliza’s  information is archived in the Library of Congress in the NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911 and in Collections of letters at the Smith College. One such letter written in 1892 from Elizabeth Cady Stanton shows the endearing relationship the two women had and the delight in one another’s wit.

Dear Eliza,
In a recent letter… speaking of the occasion when we last met you say, “why was Mrs. Stanton so solemn?” to which I reply, Ever since an old German Emperor issued an edict, ordering all the women under that flag to knit,…I have felt humiliated whenever I have seen any daughters of our grand republic knitting,…or occupied with any of the ten thousand digital absurdities….
Looking forward to the scintillations of wit,…the mysteries of theosophy, palmistry, mental science, the revelations of the unknown world where angels & devils do congregate, looking forward to the discussions of all these grand themes, in meeting the eldest daughter of David and Martha Wright, the niece of Lucretia Mott, the sister in law of William Lloyd Garrison,…one can readily imagine the disappointment I experienced when such a woman pulled a cotton wash rag from her pocket & forthwith began to knit…: it was impossible for conversation to rise above the wash rag level….
Who can wonder that I was “solemn” that day? I made my agonized protest on the spot, but it fell unheeded &, with a satisfied sneer, Eliza knit on….I not only was “solemn” that day, but I am profoundly solemn whenever I think of that queenly woman & that cotton wash rag. And yet one can buy a whole dozen of these useful appliances…for twenty five cents!! Oh Eliza, I beseech you, knit no more.

Affectionately yours,

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

In 1910 with her health failing, Eliza had to decline her attendance to a rally.  In good humor and still in the game, she writes –

My dear Anne: –

It certainly would be dandy to join your party and go on to Albany.  When I was there last spring I said I never would miss another one, but all the same I have to miss it.  I am not quite graduated from my nurse and not at all able to leave home for which I am exceedingly sorry.  It will be might interesting this year, and what do you think of a man lobbyist?  Funny what a snarl they have got into regard to the different schemes of the different people who have lately come into the work.  Thank you for the clippings.

Hoping and know that you will have a perfectly delightfully time, believe me,

Affectionately & Most regretfully yours,

Eliza W. Osborne

Eliza Wright Osborne died in Auburn on July 18, 1911 at the age of 82 and was cremated and buried in the family plot in Fort Hill cemetery between the graves of her husband and daughter. Eliza and David have generations of  descendants.  She was the only one of these amazing women that did not live to see the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.

Mrs. LUCY M. BROWN MOSHER was born on September 27, 1844 in Clay, Onondaga, New York, to Mr. and Mrs. Seeber and Margaret Brown. The Browns moved to Fleming and then to Union Springs where she met her husband, Charles S. Mosher. The Browns and Moshers arrived in Auburn in 1882 and Lucy immediately became involved in her new community in religious, social and political pursuits. Lucy was best noted for her work during the suffrage campaigns of 1915 and 1917 arousing the interest of the community. She was chairman of the speakers’ bureau and directed speaking tours and mass meetings and her home, too, was the site of teas and social hours for dignitaries who spoke at the Suffrage headquarters.

I have an affinity for Lucy as she, too, was a genealogist and loved her heritage. The Mosher home at 125 East Genesee Street was not only a gathering place for women’s suffrage events such as The Society for Political Education, but it was also a museum to her family heritage. One of her favorite treasures was a

quilt fashioned by her mother with a signed block bearing an autograph of General Lafayette which had been signed by him when he visited Cayuga County in 1825.

Unfortunately the relic was lost in 1916 in a fire at their home. Lucy was a wonderful storyteller. At a Brown family gathering, she told the story of her maternal grandmother’s saga along the Mohawk River as an infant. Her grandmother was ‘stolen by the Indians’ from the family log cabin while she was asleep in the cradle while her distraught mother was threatened by the Mowhawk invader. It was claimed that it was the ‘renegade’ Joseph Brandt who had instigated the murder and scalping of white settlers from New York to Pennsylvania and who was a British ally under Burgoyne. For eight years the child lived with the Indians while her father, friends and neighbors searched for her. When they found her, the Indians wanted money for her return. A large sum of money was offered by the father and the little girl was returned to her family. She was not accustomed to their way of living and was homesick for her Indian family. Eventually she adapted and, as they say, the rest was history.

LUCY M. BROWN MOSHER died in her Genesee Street home on January 27, 1922 and is buried in Fort Hill Cemetery alongside her husband, Charles and their son and only child, Judge Edgar Seeber Mosher. Lucy and Charles have generations of descendants.

Vira Boarman Whitehouse circa 1915

Vira Boarman Whitehouse circa 1915

Author’s Note: The resolve and great character of these women speaks volumes about the journey they had to take among some harsh attitudes regarding equality that existed by both men and women. There was an Anti-Suffrage Movement and other women echoed the sentiments of the men in their opposition to women ‘getting the vote’. Auburn members of the State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage proclaimed “hundreds of thousands of votes of illiterate women would show a criminal disregard for American institutions”.

In an open letter in 1917 to Senator Elon R. Brown, a New York State suffragette leader, Vira Boarman Whitehouse,  challenged the senate leader’s perfidy.

‘Dear Sir – Although your party endorsed the principle of woman suffrage at its national convention and recommended submission of woman suffrage to the voters of New York state at the next election in November, at its state convention, and although you yourself voted in favor of this resubmission amendment, nevertheless, in your speech to the senate on Monday, March 12, you say:
“I am opposed to woman suffrage because it conflicts with my ideals of manhood and womanhood. The present European conflict illustrates my point. Who fights? The men of France or the women of France? Who for Belgium? Women can neither defend themselves nor the state.”

When I began to read about these women, I thought it would be a brief research in order to gain a simple biography for each one and a sense of the history. As I began to unearth more about them, I realized the subject of suffrage history was highly complex and spanned over scores of years of daunting struggle.  In fact, the lives of these most interesting women were so full of character, charm, intelligence and fearless commitment that I became overwhelmed with the scope. Each of these women met the barriers of bigotry and unvarnished prejudice from men in power and indeed from some of their own sex. To be considered as too illiterate as to be criminal in matters of American institutions in light of their great intelligence and capabilities seems unfathomable to me.

As a mother, grandmother, historian and an accomplished businesswoman and leader in my own right, I owe them a gratitude for forging a path for me and the future of our nation.

It is a sisterhood and probably why I cannot knit, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

 

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

(c) Copyright 2015.  All Rights Reserved.

 

The Last Grand Curtain Call

Helen Modjeska

Helen Modjeska

In the fall of 1927 an old theater curtain…a ‘drop’ as they were called, was found in a remote niche on the upper level of the old Burtis Grand Theater on North Street. It was made of canvas…yellowed and crumbling. As fragile as parchment with the hand painted images vague and muted. When examined, dozens of autographs were discovered. Applied with crayon and make-up paint, the signatures revealed were of old performers with names like John Drew, James Hackett, Nat Goodwin, Charles O’Neill, Otis Skinner, DeWolf Hopper, Lincoln Carter and the great “Modjeska”. Polish-born actress Helen Modjeska was an amazing stage presence…sometimes vamp…sometimes the spirit of a rascally boy…or the epitome of royalty.

At the time of the discovery the theater had already been unused for a short period of time. It was at one time a combination theater and skating rink and built in place of the Academy of Music. After major construction, it was opened on November 13, 1889 as the Burtis Opera House. There were indoor circuses.  Touring stock companies performed.  Surrounded by the soaring architecture, politicians and civic leaders delivered elaborate speeches. Vaudeville first came to Auburn to appear within those walls. Wrestling matches and boxing bouts were held at the Burtis as well. The theater was described as a “‘second story’ house…its stage and auditorium being above the first floor with stores beneath”.

During the administration of Mayor Thomas Mott Osborne, the city became concerned about fire and forced the owners to install fire escapes and to remodel the front of the building.  One of the favorite dining places was the Osborne Hotel and  the patrons of the theater could be found enjoying small performances held at the hotel as another venue for Auburnians to enjoy entertainment and club gatherings. The Jefferson, erected by Mayor Osborne, also figured into the entertainment of Auburnians with an active billing roster. A new name to me was Motion World. Just as the Burtis and the Jefferson began to show the occasional moving picture, Motion World also hosted live entertainment. Dog acts seemed to be a particular favorite for Auburnians.

Genoia NY Tribune 1919-1922 Burtis Grand Display AdBy 1913, The Burtis Opera House underwent another name change. It became the Burtis Grand. To illustrate the lively nature of entertainment available in 1912 and 1913, newspapers around the area published the bookings commenting “Three shows at the Jefferson, three shows a day at each the Burtis Auditorium and the Burtis Grand and the usual entertainments should furnish plenty of amusement for Auburnians next week.” At the Burtis Auditorium…’eighteen new reels of pictures and eight acts of vaudeville a week’. The Burtis Grand not to be left behind promised ‘popular priced vaudeville’ with excellent several bills. “All of the smaller houses will offer the usual big entertainments for a little money next week and doubtless draw their usual big patronage.” More sites…the smaller houses start becoming familiar…Turn Hall with a boxing exhibition following by a dance party. The Cornell…The Genesee and The Universal where motion pictures were featured with starts as late as 10:45 PM.

Who says Auburn rolled up the sidewalks and everyone went to bed at sunset??!! If you had a nickel, you had somewhere to go.

039-NYC-1918-09-18-NY Clipper Burtis at Auctionp30Amid the grease paint and roar of the crowd environment came civic events and the occasion of the preacher with a theatrical style who was not intimidated by the spirit of the painted vamps and rascals. In 1918 while the United States was at war and the epidemic of Spanish Influenza was killing millions…including Auburnians, the theaters still flourished. Touring troupes from New York City clamored to be booked in Auburn’s theaters. And the audiences came and filled the seats. Laughing, crying, applauding, they chased away the harsh times that existed outside of the majestically adorned halls. It was also in 1918 that the Burtis Grand went up for auction to settle the estate of Edwin C. Burtis, the son of Cary S. Burtis who originally built the Burtis Opera House.

In 1920 it was a great occasion for the Burtis Grand, now billed as “Auburn’s Foremost Photoplay House”, as it featured Lionel Barrymore’s silent motion picture, “The Copperhead”.  As advertised, the audience came from near and far to sit in the great darkness and weep and cheer as the Civil War drama unfolded on the silver screen.

New seats and decorations had replaced the old fixtures by 1927, but the general grand architecture still existed at the Burtis Grand as it had when

crinoline and bustle adorned the stage and heroes in knee pants and silk stockings strutted their hour upon the stage.

Films continued to flicker inside the building which came to be referred to as the ‘old’ Burtis Grand as its grandeur faded and Auburn’s audiences sought a newer vogue. In 1928 and 1929 local groups such as the Odd Fellows could be found gathering at the Burtis Grand.  Meetings, speeches and exhibitions were still filling the auditorium. The great open interior still provided accommodation for large gatherings and though its beauty was of yesteryear, it was still…grand and appreciated. On Halloween night in 1928 the Republicans held a rally featuring Assistant Secretary of War F. Trubee Davison with music by the Salem Town Commandery Band.

As one old theater buff reported

The shell of a once proud palace of amusement today lies idle, facing the prosaic possibility of someday being converted into an office building. But the glory of its past remains as a shadowy heritage of a bygone day, recalled for its brief moment by the hidden musty scroll of names of stars now gone.
Few living remember the heyday of the theater’s prestige, few remain who played upon its boards in the golden days of the trouper. The glamor has gone from a temple of make-believe whose old-time stars themselves have answered the last curtain call.

Newspaper Auburn NY Citizen 1926 Boxing at the Capitol formerly Burtis grandEventually the Burtis Grand became The Capitol Theater. By the mid 1950’s there was no sign of the old double mansarded building and the ghosts of Modjeska, Eddie Foy, the Burtis Orchestra and the thousands upon thousands of central New Yorkers who strolled what could easily be called Auburn’s theater district were left to drift the much emptier streets in search of one more encore.

Suffice it to say, Auburn’s downtown (I still call it that) was a vibrant center of activity and theater played a significant role in its culture and economy. Mayor Thomas Mott Osborne was known to complain that there weren’t enough restaurants to accommodate conventions and theater go-ers and that would be the downfall of the theater and convention business. I have read a great deal these past few days about the scores of years that marked that period of its history and I have barely scratched the surface. There are a number of people who have made this part of Auburn’s past their grand passion for decades and I envy their amazing deep knowledge. I think I would love to do a walking tour with these wonderful historians and drift among the ghosts of Auburn’s theatrical heyday.

Author’s Note: I have theater in my blood so to speak. My great grandfather, George Downing Curtis and his cousin, E. O. Rogers were born in the little Village of Cayuga and became ‘theatrical’ men. George owned one of the first motion picture houses in Ithaca and Rochester, New York and booked vaudeville acts all over New York State and the Midwest. Edgar O. Rogers was larger than life and took his Uncle Tom’s Cabin Touring Group to perform far and wide.  Ned Wayburn…my 3rd cousin 2x removed produced and choreographed with the famous Ziegfeld Follies. I followed another actor…Nat Blossom…who ran off with one of my great grandmother’s family members.  I myself flirted with the limelight a bit in my youth.

And I love old architecture. It speaks to me and when it disappeared before I could experience it,  I cannot help but feel that empty space.

Deborah Martin-Plugh
Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher
© Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Standing Room Only at the Burtis Opera House

A Note to My Readers:  In the process of researching individuals who provided the nexus of my immediate ancestors in Auburn, New York, I spent some time reading the daily newspapers of their time to get a sense of the events of the day during 1895. It’s always interesting to read about the politics of the day or the great events and very tempting to plug them into that larger perspective. But I decided to slow it down and hang out there…check out the weather, go to a strawberry festival, shop in the old stores that lined Genesee Street and maybe duck into the old Burtis Opera House confident that an unaccompanied female historian would be safe.

Julius_Cahn_s_Official_Theatrical_Guide p 581

Julius Cahn’s Official Theatrical Guide, Volume 14, p 581. 1909

Opened in 1889, the Burtis Opera House was built by Leon H. Lempert & Sons of Rochester, New York and was located at 16 -22 North Street.  The Burtis Opera House was rebuilt from the Corning Hall also known as the Academy of Music. The auditorium was described as a

‘magnificent theater one hundred feet wide, with depth from footlights forty-two feet containing twelve dressing rooms lighted by electricity and all modern and up-to-date facilities”.

Its twin mansard roofs dominated the skyline on North Street.

Robert Bruce Mantell, actor.

Robert Bruce Mantell, actor.

The Burtis became a grand addition to Auburn’s architecture and culture under the management of Auburnian E. S. Newton. The historical society reported the “completion of the Burtis Opera House affords an elegant resort for public entertainments, which ‘fill a long felt want’.” It was dedicated on the 18th of November with the appropriate devotions and addresses by Mayor Wheeler and Congressman Payne. Its first performance was the play of “Montars’ with Robert B. Mantell as its premier performer. It was not his first performance in Auburn and securing him for the opening performer was considered by the trade as they say now…a real ‘get’. A short biography of Mantell describes the Burtis Opera House as “one of the finest and coziest little playhouses in a city of its size in the country”.  Mantell went on to star in silent films and had a long and successful career.

The drama was not confined to the stage.

In 1895 one of Auburn’s finest had just been assigned to the Burtis due to complaints about ne’er-do-wells and updated electric lighting was being installed to further brighten the interior.  An Auburn newspaper had publicly chastised the Burtis’ manager, Mr. E. S. Newman, holding him responsible for the dereliction of the police in not “suppressing the hoodlums who hang around the entrance to the Opera house and calling for police to be regularly assigned to the Burtis”. In December two young thieves Eddie Kaul and Burt McLaughlin, ages six and ten, had stolen personal belongings from the young students attending Mrs. Luce’s dancing academy on Genesee Street. Among the victims was Margaret Downer, the little daughter of William S. Downer, a teller at the Auburn Savings Bank. Mr. Downer was having none of it and put in a complaint at police headquarters. Police were immediately on the trail of the boys who had been observed loitering about the academy and, once identified, the pilferers were traced to the Burtis. The pair were found happily ensconced in the audience and thoroughly enjoying the show having paid for their tickets with the change found in little Margaret’s purse.

Burtis Opera House 1906

Burtis Opera House Auburn Old Souvenir Book (1906)

National trade publications proved the popularity of the opera house among entertainers with the listings and details of their constant bookings.  The New York Dramatic Mirror reported Thomas E. Shea’s Company finished a week’s engagement with seven performances with SRO (Standing Room Only) at nearly every performance. The paid admissions accounted for 7, 684 attendees which broke the record of the house. On the flip side, the New York Philharmonic Club had a single performance.  There with just fourteen souls to exclaim it as an “excellent entertainment”. Auburn had its local talent bookings as well. The above-mentioned Mrs. Luce held her Dance Academy recitals at the Burtis.  In November, the Ladies’ Aid society of the First Universalist Church held four performances of “Ben-Hur” done in pantomime. Interspersed between the vignettes were

drills, marches and quaint Oriental and recherché dances, and the continuous orchestra music, varying with the theme and always subdued, lends an unconscious rhythm to the steps and gestures of the actors. All this, embellished with nearly $20, 000 worth of superb special scenery and rich and striking costumes, and illuminated with magnificent calcium and electrical effects, combines to make it one of the most gorgeous and attractive productions every presented on the American stage.

The Auburn Dramatic Club presented “The Woven Web’ late that fall as a benefit for the ushers of the opera house. On Thanksgiving night, the Burtis was packed and the SRO sign was hung outside its entrance when national sensation Minerva Dorr performed in the comic opera “Niobe”. Ms. Dorr’s reviews called her “charming”, with an “admirable singing ability” and “kept the audience in a continual state of uproar.” A Christmas Day musical event featured the Cornell Musical Club accompanied by several social events…receptions, luncheons…during the day and after the performance a dance was held in honor of the collegians and Cornell graduates from the area and all of Auburn was abuzz with the social festivities.  The auditorium was filled to capacity.

As I read through the schedule of that year…save for two weeks in April when the Burtis ‘went dark’ due to some minor renovation…it was never without a performance…large or small. All of that coupled with political gatherings and the occasional ball and gala with attendees from near and far. Beyond the artistic performances and political rallies and fraternal organization events and conventions, there were illustrated lectures. Another group found the Burtis a successful venue. Peddlers came from near and far selling all manner of merchandise and on occasion – ‘remedies’ – advertising their availability in the local papers. Palmer Cox BrownielandOne particular article in the spring of 1895 about an incoming troupe sparked an image of just what the hurly burly of the train station in Auburn must have been. I realized that Auburn in 1895 was not a sleepy little city, but rather a vibrant, excited and excitable community.

The most remarkable spectacular production yet presented on any stage is Palmer Cox’s Brownies. It is of such a costly and elaborate nature that it can be only shown in the largest theatres throughout the country. It will be seen in all its vast metropolitan entirety at the Burtis Opera house Monday evening, April 22nd. The huge spectacle will be brought to Auburn by special train in fact from its great run of 150 nights at the Fourteenth Street theatre, in New York, where the newspapers and magazines devoted whole pages to the description of its scenes of dazzling splendor. Such grand effects as a thrilling shipwreck, a terribly realistic earthquake and volcano, and the instant destruction of a magnificent palaces are presented in a way that has been hitherto unattempted. The very height of the stage art has been reached in these grand climaxes. The final transformation, “A Night in Brownieland”, showing in marvelous hues the unfolding into glorious life of the moonflower and night-blooming cereus is of such magnificence that worlds fail to describe it. It is well worth coming miles to see. Over 100 of the highest salaried artists are necessary for the gorgeous production. The world famous Brownies are surround by beautiful women. There are large ballets, choruses and wonderful acrobats engage abroad. Among the features are the aerial ballet, danced in mid-air to the most superb calcium effects, and the Oriental ballet, both of which have created furors.

Sounds a bit like Cirque du Soleil and Vegas, doesn’t it?

The glorious Burtis Opera House was demolished in August 1939.

Deborah Martin – Plugh Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

© Copyright 2015. All Rights Reserved.

The Politics of Clean Water

A Note to My Readers:  After some research on epidemiology with an eye on Auburn, New York at the turn of the last century, I decided to zero in on typhoid, cholera, consumption, Spanish Flu and infantile paralysis…with a side bar on malaria and diphtheria. During that period, a number of my family members were afflicted with at least one or more of these scourges and there were fatalities as well. Story after story unfolded in my research and it was unsettling to say the least that any one of these diseases could visit any household…any community and all folks could do was react and pray their efforts would spare their loved ones. Today we take for granted modern healthcare and public sanitation standards and the resulting protection due to prophylactic measures…vaccinations…water filtration, waste and trash disposal systems. We know it works, because it has for over a century. Today there are still those that deny scientific proof even in the face of solid evidence and history.

Last week I had worked on a blog post about civil engineering and Auburn’s history of street numbering, building its various infrastructures for water and sewer and electric. In trade journals spanning from 1909 and 1910, among the dry engineering specs, bids and contracts, I ran into a more prosy and intriguing reference to several plans and discussions about building a water filtration plant for Owasco Lake…Auburn’s main water supply at the time. And the typhoid debate.

It sparked a curiosity as over the Christmas holidays I had read a book entitled “The Epidemic” by award-winning journalist David DeKok which recounted the terrible typhoid epidemic in Ithaca, New York that devastated Ithaca in 1903. Typhoid infected hundreds and killed at least 82 people, including 29 Cornell University students. Almost 1 in 10 residents became ill. DeKok gives a chilling account of corporate greed and political disconnect that was the nexus of the catastrophe. DeKok’s detailed account illustrates clearly that the entire typhoid tragedy could have been avoided had a proper water filtration plant that should have been built.  In fact the dam that was built without the accompanying filtration plant was the root cause due to the human excrement build up at the labor site by infected immigrant workers.  Matters were further complicated with the failure of authorities to report the deplorable and dangerous conditions that they had found.

That was 1903. It was national news and certainly could not have escaped the attention of Auburn, New York. Typhoid regularly appeared, not just along the communities of Cayuga Lake, but Owasco Lake as well.

In 1909 and 1910 New York State led the nation in typhoid deaths. The United States was declared as having the most typhoid deaths of any civilized nation with 1300 deaths reported in the year of 1909. Newspapers were awash with reports of outbreaks and local health authorities testing waters and even milk. Municipalities across the country were building filtration plants to decontaminate the water and protect their populations. Still some communities resisted despite the evidence that others were now relieved of typhoid outbreaks by filtering the water and implementing other sanitation methods. There was no doubt that exposure to human excrement was the issue. Health officials had standardized instructions for individuals and hospitals managing an outbreak and it was up to the private citizen and the local doctors at hand to prevent it or enforce it.  It was up to local governments to decide what was best for their community when it came to infrastructure investment.  Like a water filtration plant.

Governor Hughes was urged by the State Department of Health to enact legislation to relieve “the water supplies of the State from pollution”.

“Many of our streams,” says the report, “have reached the amount of pollution they will care for. That such a condition of affairs exists is a public disgrace. But little relief in the conditions can be obtained under the existing laws.”

Summer resorts were especially unhealthful due to methods of sewage disposal as the report advised. Added to that problem was the fact that summer people from other communities brought typhoid with them. “The conditions of a number of places have been found to be dangerous to the persons visiting them.”

Another factor came into play as well. Just as it happened in Ithaca, newly arrived European immigrant laborers, brought typhoid with them. As New York State’s cities were expanding, large contractors – many of them New York City firms- bid on the municipal projects in great competition and brought in cheap labor to win bids by keeping costs down. Newly arrived immigrants fit the bill. The laborers had been exposed for years and had immunity and so they were carriers. As the children’s book says…”Everybody Poops”. And this was still the era of outhouses and wells. Public and private. Especially along the lakes. Auburn may have installed sewers and there was indoor plumbing, but there were still private and public wells and private…um…privies.

Newspaper Auburn NY Citizen 9 May 1908 Boil the WAter

In 1910 though the evidence and statistics gathered by respected experts of the day overwhelmingly pointed to the conclusion that a water filtration plant was the answer to Auburn’s typhoid outbreaks, some of the officials and elite citizens of Auburn had a curious resistance and furious public debate had begun. I say curious because despite the fact that “BOIL THE WATER” was the order of the day and the naysayers themselves enthusiastically complied, a water filtration system seemed to be an absurd idea to them.

Moravia and Union Springs were particularly hard hit in October of 1910. Whole families were devastated. The Gillespie family of Basin Street in Union Springs lost their fifth member in three weeks with the death of 25 year old Joseph. His mother and three brothers had perished during the late days of September. Brothers Bernard and Thomas died within minutes of one another. Father James lie on his death bed. Mother Bridget Gillespie contracted typhoid while caring for her ill sons and lived only a short time. Only three Gillespie daughters were spared. Frightened by the swiftness of the family’s demise, a petition to the State Board of Health was circulated by Reverend W. H. Casey pleading for assistance for a remedy.

Their neighbors…the Tierneys – Hattie and her brother – also lay critically ill with the fever.

In Moravia townspeople were instructed to boil their water and five springs southeast of the village were found to be the suspected sources. Specific instruction given by Moravia’s Board of Health ranged from the proper supervision of the milk supply to the isolation of patients and disinfection methods. Sears and Ingalls Springs were immediately protected against contamination. The spring near Skinner Mill road was ordered to be abandoned.

Moravia’s citizens had just suffered a series of typhoid outbreaks of note in the previous years. The very same health officials had answered that call for help, including Dr. M. P. Conway, Head of the Water Board. In that year the measures seemed to revolve around containment of the ill and dying and debating about the source.

Got Milk? Got Typhoid?

It was noteworthy that in 1908 the Water Board headed by President M. P. Conway took public issue with the theory of Health Officer Dr. A. H. Brown and which had been endorsed by Dr. Thomas Darlington, Health Commissioner of Greater New York, to the effect that “the typhoid germs came down 14 miles from Moravia to the mains of the this city (Auburn)”. Dr. Conway pronounced the opinion as “rot”. Politics played itself out as Conway and Brown’s divergent and heated opinions found themselves in public discourse at city meetings and in newspaper articles. The Health Department and Dr. Conway had had run- ins before. When Auburn was hit in March of 1907, it was said that source of the contagion was “still shrouded in mystery. The Health department insists that it is the water supply that is at fault and the Water department insinuates that it is the milk supply.” Cayuga County Dairy Company’s milk was tested and though a small trace was found, it was declared ‘good milk’, but that the pasteurizing was not quite adequate. So they tested the water. It was contaminated, but not with sufficiently high enough levels to convince everyone that the lake was the likely source.  As I discovered in further reading, if the samples are not taken at the correct site of contamination, a low count will be the result.  Further field samples taken in a variety of locations did reveal higher counts.

Newspaper Auburn NY Citizen 9 May 1908 Water Board TalksDrs. Brown and Darlington spoke at the First Presbyterian Church in May of 1908 ‘to speak of local conditions and work of sanitation in Auburn.” The main topic presented was “The White Plague”. Consumption. Tuberculosis. Lectures were delivered by physicians and exhibits educated Auburnians on this ever present and real threat. But the doctors weren’t done with the subject of Typhoid. Not when year after year, outbreaks were sickening and killing so many. In an impressive presentation supported by research and facts on the outbreaks, Dr. Brown made it undeniably clear that the contamination was in the water and due to insufficient sanitation. He cited Ithaca’s unfortunate history and declared that

Auburn’s typhoid outbreak was caused by the epidemic in Moravia. During the spring thaw, the ice that was melting and came down the inlet from Moravia was tested and it had the highest bacterial count they had ever witnessed.

The fact that in 1916 a water filtration plant was planned and in 1918 contracted to build for Owasco Lake leads me to believe that the good doctor’s conclusions were most definitely not “rot”. Eventually, the pressing proof had the Water Board allied with Dr. Brown in the ongoing drive to establish a new water filtration plant.

Experts continued to push municipalities at the national, state and local levels to purify municipal water sources. A movement was underway, filtration plants bloomed everywhere and soon the levels of disease fell dramatically. Still Auburn didn’t quite buy in. The new debates revolved not around the source of the disease, but rather what water plant would work best and who was in control of the water plant. A good number of the cities that had built new plants were located on rivers and it was thought that lake water and river water had differing issues.

The Chickens Have Come Home to Roost

More debate over the next few years continued, but as knowledge improved and more filtration systems were installed, the idea of a water plant was becoming acceptable.  The debate topics changed.  It was no longer ‘should we build’.  Instead the issue went to the manner of raising money and just how to convince citizens to approve the water treatment plant. Politics had muddied the waters so to speak.  Questions whirled about the community.  What were the available designs that would work best and what were the cost comparisons for building one? What kind of life would it have and what would the ongoing maintenance needs be? How would rates be controlled?  Everyone had an opinion and everyone had a stake in it. Politicians and respected leaders worried about who had authority over the fundraising. It was thought that the Water Board did not have the legal authority to implement the fundraising and in fact, the Water Board was labeled as reckless. It was recommended that the citizens should vote on whether or not to build the plant.

“The Water Board’s financial chickens are soon coming home to roost,” declared Democratic candidate for Member of Assembly, Thomas M. Osborne.

In his 1910 campaign speech at a large political meeting held at the Court house, Mr. Osborne spoke on many subjects to the crowd which filled the rooms from wall to wall and overflowed into the hallways. When he arrived fresh from a speech at Owasco, the crowd hooped and applauded. Quieting the crowd, he narrated the history of the Water Board, pointing out its financial weaknesses and failures.  He went on to state that its refusal to be a coordinated member of city government left in doubt its ability to manage the bonds and the water rates to any satisfaction.  Osborn called out the President of the Water Board, M. P. Conway.

“Calling attention to the fact that the President of the Water Board had pronounced as “rot” the theory several years ago that typhoid germs could be carried from…  carelessly supervised by the Water department of Moravia, Cascade and other places…”

Osborne went on to allege that the President of the Water Board’s fixation on milk being the source of the typhoid epidemic was because Osborne was interested in the Cayuga County Dairy Company. Wrapping up that portion of his speech, he stated that he was not opposed to the water filtration plant and declared that the plant proposed by the Water Board was not sufficient for the city of Auburn.

Pending the necessary reorganization of the Water Board and its being brought into proper relation to other city departments he urged the defeat of the filtration plant scheme.

After several years of debate and active campaigning, on November 7, 1916, the citizens of Auburn voted in favor of the new water filtration plant.

At the heart of the contention was money and control. Should the monies involve raising taxes? Assessing property owners? The history of the Water Board and its handling of bonds made people nervous. Women property owners were furious because they did not yet have the vote at that time and they wanted a say. Suffragettes were out in force. But something had to be done and when the politics settled down, the public good was the bottom line and a financing strategy was determined.  It was time.

In 1917 as requested by the Water Board, Auburn’s City Alderman passed a resolution for Issuance of $200,000 in bonds which was formally titled the “Water Filtration Bond”. This time, however, the city had a watch dog and the Water Board was required to report its finances on a scheduled basis. By January of 1918, they had nearly $196, 000 in cash in the coffers.

According to Applied Science and Technology Index, Volume 7, published in 1919, under J. Walter Ackerman, Municipal engineer, Auburn had a new, slow sand water filtration plant underway by 1918. The plant was built and on the corner of Swift Street and Pulsifer Drive and was a two-story field house type of structure.Newspaper Auburn NY Citizen 5 Sep 1918 Rotarians have dinner at the WP tanks

Auburn became enamored with its soon-to-be completed plant in  September of 1920.  Auburn’s Rotary Club arranged for a V.I.P dinner to be held at the plant with the dining tables set up in the newly poured concrete tanks with assurance that “Medicos” were going along in case there was a need for First Aid.

A Brief History

The short history of the water plant tells that in 1894 the City of Auburn bought a plant from a private company for $425,000. At the time of purchase the plant included two pumping stations, one at the lake and one at upper dam containing a 6 million gallon capacity Holly pump which was in rough shape, having been frozen and cracked during the winters and one quadruplex pump, old style and one new Gaskell steam and water wheel driven pump. Over ten years new mains were installed replacing old cement pipes. Eventually pumping capacity was increased at the lower station and the old quadruplex was removed and a new R. D. Wood pump was installed. The new pump was driven by two water wheels on one side and a 650 horsepower McIntosh & Seymour steam engine and three 150 horsepower boilers.

As mechanics improved and demand increased, more improvements were made over the years. A 12 million gallon Snow steam pump and two boilers were installed at the lake which gave the old Holley pump more reserve. Next a new screen well was built at the lake with a 36 inch intake pipe which was 1,875 feet long with a concrete screen on the end in water 45 deep (normal lake level).

Between 1917 and 1920 the new sand filtration plant was built adding new gears and repairing the water wheels. Finally the old Holley pump at the lake was removed and three new electric pumps replaced it. The Snow pump was kept, but in reserve and an additional build to house the electric driven pumps and a McIntosh & Seymour diesel engine. The last old water wheel which had been used to drive the Gaskell pump was removed and a modern water wheel generator was installed to furnish current for the upper house and two of the lower house pumps.

Local unemployment was a problem and the new plant construction and refittings provided jobs for two years. A new reservoir was built out Franklin Street Road with a 30 inch pipe leading to the center of the city. As with any construction, plans had to be changed. Timber rotting and falling into the wheel pit, wrecked the water wheel generator. So they drained the water and the old bridge and raceway was inspected. Since they had the water lowered, it was decided to replace the old bridge with a cement bridge and install new Herring cone gears on the R. D. Wood pump, repairing the drive shaft and installing two new boilers and pipings. Two new clutches on the shaft were installed to enable engineers to cut off the steam engine and use water entirely several months in the year or in case any trouble with the water wheels cut them out and they could run with the steam engine only.

The plant once valued in 1894 at $425,000 was worth $2,000,000,000 by 1935. At that time it was reported that rates were among the lowest in the country.

And, of course, Auburn had clean water and plumbing businesses were flourishing.

Researching the epidemics reminded me that these diseases were feared and rightly so. Yet despite the real fear, the politics and power plays, the water filtration plant played a significant role in advancing the public welfare. The speeches and debates were impressive to read and the passion for the subject fairly leaps off the page. Eventually the debates had to end and the people understood that they had to end the battle of wills and fight the true enemy. Typhoid.

Author’s Note:
Generations later, we turn on our taps, fill a glass with water and drink it without a thought. As an historian, I don’t take anything for granted. I spend so many hours examining the past and learning to appreciate modern living standards. And I am old enough to remember polio and measles. My brother had a mild case of it in the 1940’s, as did my father’s sister in 1925. Consumption was like wildfire in more than one family group in my ancestry. Cholera killed a number of infants of family members that lived along Cayuga Lake in the late 1800’s. Spanish flu killed two of my grandmother’s siblings in Auburn in 1918 within 24 hours of one another.

It was this span of time that I visited the past few days to understand how as a community, my ancestors and their neighbors coped and then sought…together…to find a solution to a healthier life. At first I wallowed with the scientists and physicians and learned the talk about E.coli counts and contamination and studied the statistics and conclusions. Then came the politicians and the businessmen who fought for control of local utilities. Private power companies made fortunes during that time and water treatment was becoming the next boom industry. They both had more than the initial profit gains. They had long term cash flow. No Pollyanna stories here. No famous heroes. Just the people. The people who voted for their own well-being. That said, the people still argue over rates and service to this day. Everywhere.

At least typhoid isn’t in the equation.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

http://www.facebook.com/thegenealogistsinkwell

(c) Copyright 2015.  All Rights Reserved.

Numbers Count. A Civil Engineering Mystery

A Note to My Readers:  One of the most interesting resources that I haunt are old city and county directories.  And of course maps!  When I have the opportunity to visit the site of an ancestor’s home or place of business, I am one happy genealogist.  January and February are perfect for this type of research.  I am snowed in.  It is cold.  And I am off to faraway places and times.

Directory of Auburn 1888 David and George Penird Green St cropDoing a bit of Auburn, NY research today identifying where my great great grandfather, David Penird lived in 1888 with his son, George W. Penird on 11 and 13 Green St. while the family business of Coy and Penird was being established.

By 1879 Auburn, New York had become so densely populated that the number of wards was increased from seven to ten. At the recommendation of Special Agent Smith in 1880 the letter carrier system was inaugurated and the Common Council ordered the streets to be renumbered.

Renumbering had been going on for awhile before 1879 and continued on an ad hoc basis for decades afterward.  Must have given the post office fits as the incremental street renumbering went on into the 20th century.

Green Street was extended to Clark Street sometime in the 1880’s and it is that extension that is the site of 11 and 13 Green Streets.  Today I can visit the parking lot where their residence once stood.  So much for nostalgia.

If any of you are collectors…old postcards, letters, etc., you have seen the addresses of Obadiah  Downing Letter 1828yesteryear progress to more precise information.  I have seen a number of addressed envelopes and postcards and own more than one set of correspondence myself from back in the day.   Some of them are downright folksy and casual and relied solely upon the postmaster’s establishment.  Several of my ancestors were U.S. postmasters and handled the U.S. mail in their stores and inns.  The postmaster would regularly publish in local newspapers a list of letters awaiting individuals so they made a trip with purpose and not promise of mail.  However, a good amount of time a stroll down a country road to the postmaster’s office was an idle recreation to chat with friends and neighbors and to check out the latest post on the wall.  A call for homesteaders or a notice for a fugitive. A stagecoach schedule.  Or as in the case of Mr. Lincoln’s call of 1861-  a call to enlistment.

WHY?

And then curiosity kicked in and I had wondered about renumbering.  Imagine one day your address is 123 Main Street and tomorrow the number is 427.  How did THAT happen and why THAT number?  In pursuit of historical trivia, I went on the hunt to learn more about Auburn’s history and information on renumbering its streets.  It was a mighty different place one year to the next from its post revolutionary war settlement to its hey day in the mid and late 19th century and even into the first decades of the 20th century.  My ancestors were part of those centuries and I was game for some history.  The kind of history that I have to dig into obscure places to find and that I have to parse and build a coherent chronicle on my own.

I came across an old national trade publication for engineering firms and contractors which was a compilation of periodical journals detailing engineering bids, contracts and work completed around the country from July to December 1916 – sewers, streets, bridges and the like. Several entries indicated the impressive activity in Auburn, New York.  When I found a second publication for 1910, it was clear that Auburn had been booming and modernizing at a fast pace.

In 1910 new sanitary sewers were installed on Osborne Ave and Belvedere Place…and Arlington Avenue was renumbered.   In fact in 1910, Auburn businessmen were trying to have ALL streets renumbered according to another journal entry.  With all of this ‘renumbering’ going on either in whole or by one street at a time, it is no wonder at times researchers have to be cautious about saying ‘X’ marks the spot.

That historian irk aside, discovering the engineering publications gave me a glimpse into the growth of the cities around the nation and the infrastructure expansion to meet the needs of growing municipalities. Auburn was definitely active in that regard during the late 1870’s and the infrastructure projects are nicely documented in detail in the journals  that recount 1910 and 1916 municipal projects and planning.

A city water filtration plant (for Owasco Lake) was proposed and voted on by the citizens of Auburn. Owasco Lake was listed as its main water supply with a scary chart of statistics for related TYPHOID deaths due to the unfiltered water.

Auburn’s average rate per 100, 000 for 10 years – 22.5 deaths. In 1909 6 Auburnians died of typhoid. Buffalo, New York had 12 deaths; Geneva, New York had just 2 deaths and Syracuse, New York had 14 typhoid deaths.

An interesting aside was that the engineering society noted what municipalities realized a profit from their waterworks plants and Auburn was one of the few cities along with much larger cities Chicago and Boston, Providence and Schenectady listed as profitable. The report credited conservatism and good business management.

Meanwhile extensive improvements were made to the local plant of the Auburn Gas Co. immediately that cost about $100,000.  The Public Service Commission, Second District, ordered Auburn & Syracuse Electric Railroad Co. to lay double track on State Street. New plans were submitted to the County Superintendent of Highways for a state Road to be built from South Street to Fleming Hill. Auburn Board of Supervisors passed a resolution for construction of the Weedsport-Cato Road at a cost of $24, 912. Two county roads were built in 1910 – the Auburn to Owasco highway and the Moravia to Niles highway totaling $10, 907.20.

Auburn Mayor O’ Neill favored a change in speed ordinances of the city permitting street cars to run 8 miles an hour in the congested district and 12 miles outside, but he is opposed to 10 miles in the congested district and 13 miles outside as advocated. Obviously the mayor had a thing about speed.  But his city was expanding and changing and he must have been hanging on to a whirlwind.

Mayor O’ Neill sent a communication to a special meeting of the Board of Alderman recommending a salary for the Aldermen, and upon motion of Alderman Moseley the matter was, by unanimous vote, referred to the Estimate and Control to establish a salary that would fairly compensate them for the services rendered.  Bureaucracy was growing along with the city.

I guess horse dung was still a big issue in the streets of Auburn in 1910 because bids went out to acquire additional hose to ‘flush the streets’.

A large project that was well documented was the construction of ‘fiber conduits’ for Municipal_Journal_and_Engineer 1910 Hoopes Subway_Page_1electrification in the works in 1910 extension of the system on Hoopes Avenue. Evidently the engineering society was all a-twitter over the Novel manhole construction and published a brief article with diagrams with all the pertinent details.

Newspapers were full of notices about infrastructure improvements…telephone, telegraph, electrification, fire hydrants, and CEMENT sidewalks.  But I was on the hunt for street renumbering data.  Not so much the what, when and where and how as the WHY?   Building better roads and sewers and water filtration, sidewalks and street lights answer the why all by themselves.  But I am determined to find some Alderman, Council Member, Mayor, civil engineer statement that tells me why an established street or an entire city would require renumbering.  The only exception I can think of is the development of an empty lot and in its hurly-burly no one thought of numbering that lot for future occupants. Or could it be that larger lots were divided for new houses and renumbering needed to include the new dwellings?  That feels too easy.  And I usually guess wrong.  I will keep looking for some answer from someone much hipper on civil engineering than I am.

Our favorite Auburn Alderman Moseley directed the City Engineer in 1913 to draw up a new map for the renumbering of Logan Street.  The City Engineer expanded the effort to Fulton Street, Westlake and Lake Avenues. In 1916 portions of Beach and Grant Avenues and Perry Street were renumbered.  In 1917 it was Clark Street’s turn.  Going further back, Paul, West and Wood Streets were ordered to be renumbered in 1885.

In 1919 City Engineer Thomas B. Bergan presented a blistering report on the city’s infrastructure condition.  Washington, State and Division Street bridges were in unsafe condition.  The sewer disposal plant was clogged and needed additional sludge beds, the macadam on city streets was failing due to inferior material.  An gas explosion in February of 1918 in the ‘subway’ on State Street had damaged manholes and pavement due to gas build up.  Much of the problem of fundraising had to do with the economic impact of World War I and the need to address the needs of Auburn, New York and its citizens.

And there it is in his report..RENUMBERING.  Front and center in his report with all the unsafe stuff!

An ordinance granting the city engineer authority to renumber the houses of the city in the block system of number was presented to the Common Council in February and defeated by one vote.

My views in reference to the house numbering in the city are well known.  The condition at present is deplorable and an ordinance should be adopted providing for the block system of number as presented by the city engineer.

Endorsed by the city administration and business groups like the Rotary Club, it seemed to be a slam dunk, but I suspect the city coffers needed to prioritize things like bridges and subways.

So what makes street numbering good…or in the words of City Engineer Bergan…deplorable?  One little clue comes from the village of Seneca Falls which in 1912 developed a plan to replace all street signs purchased with a subscription fund and with that to establish an accurate system of house numbers.  The published reason?  To give assistance in locating a building.    Okay, this is going to take more work.   It can’t be that simple.

Deborah Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

http://www.facebook.com/thegenealogistsinkwell

(c) Copyright 2015.  All Rights Reserved.