Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Brothers of the Brush and Sisters of the Belle

 Courtesy of The Rotterdam Story Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow from the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection.
The Sesquicentennial of Rotterdam was an 8-day event from July 10th to July 18th, 1970 commemorating the 150th anniversary of the founding of the town of Rotterdam. Each day in the Sesquicentennial had a different theme, with events that  corresponded to that theme. Saturday, July 14 was "Government & Veterans Day" which included tours of Rotterdam Town Hall, a mock town hall meeting, a veterans memorial service, and the 14th Calvary demonstration of Civil War and Revolutionary War guns and cannons. The Sesquicentennial was meant not only to celebrate the anniversary, but as a way to bring the residents of Rotterdam closer together. One way of doing this was by creating chapters of the Brothers of the Brush and Sisters of the Belle.

Photo of the Untouchables chapter of the Brothers of the Brush. Seated: John Papp, Buddy Dunn, Bill Stoddard, Tom Keough. Standing: Dom DeVito, Jack Dunn, Curt Rodd, Bernie Armstrong, Jr., David Martin. Courtesy of The Rotterdam Story Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow from the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection.
Members of the Brothers of the Brush agreed to grow facial hair, and wear the official badge and derby on official "Sequi-celebration days". Participants signed a charter and came up with a name for their Brothers of the Brush chapter. The charter for the Brothers stated that "Members of this organization, being civic-minded boosters of Rotterdam, N.Y. and Rotterdam's Sesquicentennial, hereby agree to wear, as evidence of their loyalty and interest, either full Beards, sideburns, mutton chops, mustaches or other hairy facial appendages, and will wear the official 'Brothers of the Brush' button, the official headgear, and other regalia as directed by the 'Brother of the Brush' from now on henceforth, until July 18, 1970."  Rotterdam historian and photographer John Papp was the chairman of a chapter named the Untouchables. Other chapters included the Bristle Boys, Colonial Clubbers, Stumpjumpers, and Uncle Bill's Hillbillies. Uncle Bill's Hillbillies were known to walk around Rotterdam carrying either a shotgun or a small pig. Members of the Hillbillies were also known to lock their members up in the stocks as shown in the photo below. 
Photo of Uncle Bill's Hillbillies chapter of the Brothers of the Brush. Seated: Mickey Symanski, Tony Famiano, John Green, Matt Malejka, Tony Gallo, Gary Deluke. Standing: Fred Geddes, Andy Senese, Gil Woodside, George Grezeskowiak, Reed Hart, Les Jacobs, Norm Hart (in the stocks), Newell Calkins, Russ Welch, Fred Smulovitch, Jr., Stan Rogowicz (in the stocks), Bob Hart, Lee Archer, Biff Fontaine, Chuck Hebert, Frank Famiano, Pete Starson, Tony Marollo. Pigs and dog are unnamed. Courtesy of The Rotterdam Story Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow from the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection.
A funeral procession was organized for the late Mr. Ray Zor who was "made obsolete by the unwillingness of many Rotterdam men to shave." He was then eulogized by Reverend A.W. Burns on June 4th 1970, saying that "We come here not to praise, but to bury Brother Ray Zor. On Monday mornings he has sliced our cheeks and chins and shed our blood, as though for the remission of our sins of the weekend..." Courtesy of The Rotterdam Story Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow from the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection.
Sisters of the Belle also known as Sesqui-Belles, were required to dress in clothing similar to that of the 1800s on Sesqui-celebration days and had to wear their official membership buttons at all times. Like the "Brothers", Sisters of the Belle formed chapters of about 10 members with names like the Flaming Belles, Tinkerbelles, Bushels and Bonnets, and the Liberty Belles. The belles would also go door to door selling commemorative coins and plates, as well as men's ties and bonnets. Both the Sisters of the Belle and Brothers of the Brush were subjected to fines for not participating. The events of the "Sisters" included a fashion show with prizes for best period costume, most authentic dress, and best hoopskirt design. Other activities included needlework, crafts, and baking. One afternoon, the Sesqui-belle chapters known as the Keekees and the Dingalings met up for a game of softball. While some of the belles were playing, others were dressed in old-fashioned bathing suits and picnicked on the field.

The Tinker Belles Chapter of the Sisters of the Belle. Seated: Karalee Duckwald, Shirley Ennis, Pat Wilsay, Vera Brown, Betty Simpson. Standing: Ethel Morris, Marilyn Nold, Diane Pedersen, Alice Miller, Theresa Morris, Gay Hofmann. Courtesy of The Rotterdam Story Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow from the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection. 

Turtle Belles Chapter of the Sister of the Belle. Seated: Debra Papp, Eileen Papp, Arlene Rose, Jenny Gordon. Second Row: Dorothy Peek, Hedy Hyjek, Ida Chignon, Virginia Hopkins, Cathy Adair, Melvina Borst, Dolores Papp, Gladys Montanaro. Third Row: Mary Dingman, Linda Nuttall, Leoline DeVito, Virginia Charbonneau, Clara Cromer, Pat Guynup, Margaret Miller.Courtesy of The Rotterdam Story Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow from the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection.
The Sesquicentennial was a success and its profits (no doubt helped by the Brothers of the Brush and Sisters of the Belle) were divided among a variety of community organizations.

More photos from the Sesquicentennial. Courtesy of The Rotterdam Story Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow from the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Larry Hart News Negatives Part II

As promised, here are some more images from the Larry Hart news negative collection. Also, a reminder that the Grems-Doolittle Library has been digitizing some of our photo collection and putting the images on the New York Heritage Digital Collections site which you can find here: Our current collection on the site focuses on sports and recreation in Schenectady. More photos are added periodically, so check back every once in a while to see what's new.

This photo from the 1954 Scotia Golden Jubilee parade shows the Scotia Chamber of Commerce Queen and her court. Scotia's Golden Jubilee was a week long event that featured speakers, parades, fireworks, athletic contests and more to commemorate Scotia's fiftieth anniversary.

Two soap box derby racers racing down the track.
Operators at the switchboard at the Telephone Company Building on Clinton Street.
This great night shot of Schenectady shows some of the old standbys of downtown, including Woolworth's and Wallace's.
The 1949 Christmas Parade featured this huge inflatable "train".

Robert Kennedy addressing a crowd in Schenectady's City Hall.
Political rally for Harry Truman at Schenectady's Union Station in 1948.
Kids dancing at a block party on Weaver Street in 1954
Some acrobatics from a trick rider during a parade.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Larry Hart News Negatives Part I

It always feels nice to finish a large project. One such project was the scanning of the Larry Hart News Negatives from our Larry Hart Collection. Volunteers Victoria Bohm and Robert J. Jones digitized almost 5,000 negatives from this collection in order to make them more accessible for researchers. Larry Hart was a photographer and reporter for the Union-Star as well as a reporter for the Schenectady Daily Gazette where he remained a columnist until his official retirement in 1980, although he continued to write freelance. He was mainly a political reporter but, is probably best known for his historical column, “Tales of Old Dorp” which first appeared in the local section of the Daily Gazette on May 14, 1974, and ran through the 1990s.

This collection is a compilation of both black and white and color negatives in a variety of sizes. The subject matter of the negatives varies widely and there are negatives of accidents, fires, building openings, and demolitions (as seen in this previous blog post:  As well as images of sports and recreation, construction, farm life, parades, and street scenes all throughout Schenectady County. The photos below are some of my favorites, and since it was tough to pick out so few, a second blog will be posted next week that features some more of these great scenes of life in Schenectady.

This photo from July, 1948 shows Freihofer's blacksmith making horseshoes for their delivery horses. Freihofer's ended delivery by horse and wagon in 1962

The News Negative Collection features behind the scenes photos of the Daily Gazette. In this photo, a copy reader for the Gazette is working at her desk, wearing what looks to be a hands-free Dictaphone.
Construction worker showing his patriotic spirit.
Think this young fisher by the Mohawk River caught anything? 
This rather adorable photo was taken in the old headquarters of Schenectady's fire department on State and Veeder. It was opened on July 1, 1900 and used as a fire house until the new central station on Erie boulevard was opened. After it closed as a fire station, the Schenectady Police Department used it as the headquarters for its traffic division and it became known as the traffic barn. The building was condemned in 1950 and razed in 1956.

Up to his neck in pumpkins!
The testing of a tank (Possibly an M48?) made by ALCO. This photo was most likely taken at the U.S. Army Reserve Center in Niskayuna where they had a testing ground for new tanks. Comment below, or email Mike at if you know what type of tank this is.

Ever wonder what the inside of the clock tower in City Hall looks like? This photo from the 1950s shows a man repairing the clock mechanism.
This amazing night time shot taken from Broadway highlights Schenectady's industrial side. 
-Mike Maloney

Monday, October 26, 2015

"Fadeaways? Curves? Speed? We Had 'em All": The Illustrious Career of Pitcher Frank Mountain

Special thanks to Julie Mountain for sending us articles and information on Frank Mountain and to library volunteer Diane Leone for compiling this information.

Between the ages 10 and 14, my friends and I would gather for weekly games of Wiffle Ball in the court next to my house. We formed our own league, had our own constantly changing rules, decided what counted as a home run (over the power lines, over my neighbors fence, or if we managed to hit the street light), made some drastic modifications to the bats we used, decided whether a player running the bases would be considered out if he was hit with a thrown ball, and tried a few different types of ball (later experiments with a tennis ball led to unhappy neighbors and bruised hands). Like the residents of Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1791 who banned bat and ball games within 80 yards of the newly built meeting house, I’m sure our neighbors often wished to ban us from playing ball in the court. Similar to our ever changing rules, rule changes in professional baseball during the late-1800s happened quite frequently and Schenectady’s Frank “Curley” Mountain was one of the preeminent players during this evolving period of baseball.

Frank Mountain was born in Fort Edward, NY on May 17, 1860 to David and Elizabeth Mountain. The family moved to Schenectady in 1865. Frank would play sandlot ball while going to class at the Union Classical Institute, and would often head straight for Union College’s field. As a student in high school, he wasn’t technically allowed to play with the college students on campus, but his skill on the field made him a welcome addition. Mountain pitched one game for Union College in 1879 and at least 10 in 1880 before officially enrolling in Union in 1881. As a freshman, Mountain debated with Union Professor Cady Staley about the physical and mathematical possibility of throwing a curveball. It was widely believed that the curveball was an optical illusion and Mountain was set on proving that the ball actually curved. According to Reverend W.N.P Dailey in the St. Johnsville Enterprise, the debate was ended when Mountain “placed his teacher so that unless he moved suddenly in the straight pitch the curved ball at the plate would have hit him.” Staley was amazed by the pitch and would go on to have Frank demonstrate his curve for physics classes. Mountain and fellow student Daniel McElwain would lead Union to win the 1881 championship of the New York State Intercollegiate Baseball Association.
Frank Mountain shown in the front row, second from the right, and the Union Class of 1884. Courtesy of Julie Mountain.
He made his professional debut in 1880 for the Troy Trojans back when Troy had a professional baseball team. It wasn’t until 1883, when he was playing for the Columbus Buckeyes, that he really showed his skill as a pitcher. Pitchers during this era would often play full games, and Frank Mountain was no exception. During the 1883 season, he pitched 59 games for a whopping total of 503 innings pitched. He was also known to pitch double headers, 4 games in a row, and would often play the field when not pitching on his “day off” due to his skill as a hitter and fielder. His best season was in 1884 where he won 24 games, lost 17, and had a 2.45 earned run average which was the fifth best in the American Association. He also pitched a no-hitter against both the Washington Nationals and the Cincinnati Red Stockings during that season. Unfortunately, this brutal pace took a toll on Mountain’s arm and by 1885, he became a coach and trainer (one of the first to coach from the bench) while occasionally playing first base or in the outfield. His last Major League appearance was on August 17, 1886 while playing for the Pittsburgh Alleghenys.

The 1884 Columbus Buckeyes. Pitchers Frank Mountain and Ed Morris are shown in the front row. Mountain and Morris pitched a total of 94 games in the 1884 season. Courtesy of the issue #37 of Old Cardboard (
Mountain moved back to Schenectady, started a family, and worked at General Electric as the Assistant Fire Chief for about 40 years. An unidentified 1921 article titled “Frank Mountain Craves Chance to Pitch Them Over to Babe Ruth” profiled Mountain. In the article, he states that he would like to be back in the game “with his old-time pitcher’s cunning” to face off against Babe Ruth. The article also focuses on some of the changes that have occurred in baseball since his heyday. According to Mountain, the pitcher would never think of taking instructions from the catcher, as he would be able to decide which pitch he threw by sizing up each batter. It is also reported that he discovered the spitball and frequently used a “moist delivery to secure a fairly slow ball that broke with a drop as it crossed the plate.” He also played during a time when baseball gloves were optional. Even if players chose to wear a glove, they were more like a leather work glove and lacked padding or webbing. One of the first instances of adding padding to a glove was in 1885 when Providence Grays shortstop Arthur Irwin attempted to protect two broken fingers by padding his glove.
An example of the type of glove players "subject to sore hands" would wear in the early 1880s. From the 1880 issue of the Spalding Base Ball Guide courtesy of The Smithsonian Library on (
In 1938, Frank Mountain was given a silver pass which gave him lifetime admission to any Major League Baseball game. The pass came as a complete surprise to Mountain who said that receiving the pass was one of the happiest moments of his life. He passed away on November 30th, 1939 and was buried in the Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery. His legacy lives on through great granddaughter  Julie Mountain, who also graduated from Union 103 years after Frank. She feels that his efforts to leverage Union and engineering professors to demonstrate that the curve was real and not an optical illusion is important to show his commitment to learning and education. Julie very kindly sent us her research on Frank Mountain for this post and is working to nominate Frank for the Buck O'Neil award for his early contributions to the game. If anyone has any additional information about him please contact her at

Frank Mountain kept his signature handlebar mustache (a bit difficult to see in this photo) throughout his life. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library.
Vintage baseball leagues have been making a comeback in recent years. The Atlantic Base Ball Club based out of Brooklyn plays home games on the grounds of the Smithtown Historical Society in Long Island, but have been playing at the Annual Ommegang Brewery Festival in Cooperstown, NY. Follow this link to watch a clip of the Atlantics:

The Grems-Doolittle Library has been digitizing some of our photos on sports and recreation in Schenectady through the New York Heritage website. This collection features photos of the Schenectady Blue Jays, the J.C. Baseball Club, and the Schenectady Whirlwinds, with more being added periodically. Check it out at  

                                                                                                                                         -Mike Maloney

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Schenectady's Haunted Past: Victorian Spectres in the Stockade

This post was written by SCHS's Assistant Curator Kaitlin Morton-Bentley

As Halloween draws near, it is the time of year to think about haunted houses and ghost stories. The Stockade neighborhood is over 350 years old and has seen its share of characters come and go. Our Candlelight Walking Tours held every Friday in October explore these stories, some which have been written down decades ago by folklore enthusiasts and some which were told to us firsthand. 
Undated photograph of Green, Front, and Ferry Street.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Photograph Collection
New for this year is our Victorian Candlelight Tour. Victorian culture was passionate about death and mourning. The nation experienced an unprecedented loss of young life during the Civil War, leaving families looking for ways to recognize the passing of their loved ones. Elaborate mourning rituals developed, including dressing in black for months or years and withdrawing from society. A woman in mourning might write on stationary edged in black or wear jewelry made from the woven hair of a deceased loved one. Victorians embraced death and mourning, and it is no surprise that some of our best stories come from that time period, including three stories about ghosts near Green Street.

There is a story about a little boy ghost in a Green Street apartment, perhaps the young son of one of the servants who lived in the Ellis brothers’ mansion. The boy may have lived in a small servants quarters building just behind the mansion and would have run back and forth between the two.  He is dressed in brown pants and jacket with a white shirt and is known to be mischievous by throwing candlesticks and other small objects in the present day apartments. The woman who lives in this apartment has reported several encounters with this boy ghost. At night she felt a hand touching a sore spot on her spine, making the pain go away, but when she woke up there was no one there. She once saw a candle wiggle out of its holder by itself and fly across the room to hit the wall. She believes the young ghost wants attention, so if she talks to him, he does not cause as much mischief. When she loses items she asks the ghost to put them back before she starts searching, and they usually return on their own. This little boy ghost is a benevolent spirit and just wants to have a little fun.
The blurred faces give this photo an eerie, otherworldly quality.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Photograph Collection 
The original burying ground for the Stockade was located about halfway down Green Street. By the 19th century the burial ground was getting crowded, and they decided to build a new and bigger cemetery called Vale Cemetery. All of the people buried in the old cemetery were moved to Vale. Vale was one of the many new Victorian rural cemeteries, built not just to hold graves, but to serve as a place of nature where the living could enjoy picnic lunches and strolls alongside those who had passed on. Vale Cemetery was dedicated in 1857. Just south of Vale Park there used to be a grand mansion, which was known to be haunted. Dishes and trays were snatched from maids’ hands, and forks and spoons were grabbed as guests tried to eat. Dishes rattled in empty rooms, windows mysteriously opened and closed, and doors banged when there was no wind. The mansion was torn down decades ago. Perhaps the ghost was a spirit whose grave had been moved from the Stockade to Vale Cemetery and did not care for its new neighbors?

Ferry at Front Street, 1892. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Photograph Collection
Further down the road, Green Street meets Front Street, another street filled with older houses. In one such house there is a recent story about a young woman who rented an apartment. The landlord told her she probably wouldn’t last long, because the building was haunted. She told the landlord that she did not believe in ghosts. She soon learned why so many tenants had left before. Doors would open and shut by themselves, and at night her blankets were pulled off her by invisible hands. One morning she woke up to all her things strewn about the apartment. There were cold spots in the rooms that wouldn’t warm up no matter how high she turned up the heat. The young woman decided she couldn’t take it anymore and informed the landlord she would be moving out immediately. The last nights she spent there were peaceful. Clearly the spirit who lived there was not in favor of having a roommate.

While there haven't been any reports of hauntings at 26 Front Street (that we know of), this
 photo of residents at 26 Front from the late 19th Century shows an example of Victorian fashion.
 Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Photograph Collection
Come see the sites of these stories and hear even more about the haunted past of the Stockade! Candlelight Walking Tours will be held Friday October 9, 16, 23, and 30 at 7:00pm and 7:30pm. Tickets can be purchased online at For further information contact

Friday, October 2, 2015

Not Quite the Real Story: The Murder of Martino Franchetti

Grave of Martino Franchetti from St. John's Cemetery, Schenectady. The gravestone reads, "Martino Franchetti. Born in Castione (Italy) March 5, 1870. Died by assassination November 2, 1902.
This Blog Post was written by Carol Clemens
As a child, I remember hearing the family story that my great-grandfather, Martino (Martin) Franchetti, was accidentally shot and killed while walking home from work. As it was told, a fight erupted in a saloon on Summit Avenue and a stray bullet struck Martino. No one ever really talked about the tragedy, but it was simply stated that he died when my grandmother was young so she never really knew her father. However, in the course of my genealogy research, I discovered that was not quite the real story! 

My first clue was finding a reference at  to an obituary in the Schenectady Gazette for Martino Franchetti…however there were five other articles listed for dates between early November and the end of December 1902. This seemed a bit unusual. Since my sister lives in Schenectady, I asked her to check the newspaper microfilm at the Schenectady Public Library. Once she did, she immediately called me with the news that all the articles were about Martino Franchetti’s murder and not an accidental shooting.
Using the Schenectady Gazette newspaper articles as a starting point, I was able to piece together a very interesting story that is quite different from the family tale. While there are details that vary from article to article, this seems to be the closest to the real story.

Article from the Schenectady Daily Union, Nov. 3, 1902.
Martino Franchetti immigrated to New York on April 6, 1891. He went to Schenectady where he found work as a laborer. Around 1897, Martino married Amelia Benedetta Lavacchini, another Italian immigrant who arrived in 1891 as a 12 year old with her family from Florence, Italy. As was a common practice at the time, Martino and his wife had taken in Italian boarders. From about Oct. 1901-March 1902 Antonio Tonetta boarded with the family. Antonio fell in love with Amelia, and reportedly threatened her, trying to coax her to run away with him. Amelia told Martino about the threats and he kicked Antonio out of his home. Newspaper reports state that Tonetta threated to “get even”, telling Amelia he would shoot her husband and run away with her.

On November 2, 1902, Martino went to a saloon near his home on Summit Avenue. Tonetta and a friend, Nichola Vittelli, were also there. After a couple glasses of beer, Tonetta and Vittelli left the saloon. They had gone only a short distance when a man later identified as Martino Franchetti, called to Tonetta and walked toward him from the saloon. An argument ensued. Vittelli left the men and went back to the saloon to tell the customers there that he "feared the two men would injure each other." He had just opened the saloon door when he heard a shot. Tonetta had shot Franchetti with a 32 caliber pistol in the back of the head.

The first man to reach Franchetti was Frank Columbo, who was about to enter the Franchetti home where he boarded. Columbo helped carry Franchetti to his home and also identified the shooter as Tonetta. Dr. George McDonald, the surgeon who operated on Franchetti at Ellis Hospital, said that the bullet was fired from a point in the rear from close proximity and that he had little chance of surviving. Franchetti died on Nov. 3 leaving his wife, Amelia, a widow with two young daughters.

The murder weapon, a 32 caliber gun, was found under an apple tree in a vacant lot close to the site of the crime. Meanwhile, Vittelli was jailed as a witness but Tonetta disappeared. Police searched Tonetta’s current room on Strong Street and found a trunk with about $80 in cash, several photos of him, and other personal belongings. To the police, the packed trunk indicated that Tonetta might have been planning to leave town. Local authorities circulated a description of Tonetta to neighboring cities. On November 11th, the Schenectady Gazette ran a headline stating “Tonetta probably Captured.” Tensions grew as days passed and Tonetta was not found. The November 18th Gazette had an article titled “Murderers not Brought to Justice”. The search for Tonetta continued across the state and neighboring areas. 

An inquest was held and Tonetta was indicted, even though he remained at large. Amelia Franchetti testified and was described as being very "composed". She said she had not seen Tonetta for 4 days prior to the killing. The last time she saw him, Tonetta again insulted her, but she did not tell Martino because she was afraid it would lead to trouble. Amelia said she received several letters from Tonetta after Martino evicted him, but she never answered them. She also testified that Tonetta always carried a revolver and that he had several times drawn it on her and threatened to kill her unless she would go away with him.  In conclusion, Mrs. Franchetti said that she did not like Tonetta and never had.

Finally, on December 30th, nearly two months after the crime, Tonetta was captured in a Green Mountain logging camp in Vermont. When captured, Tonetta admitted that he had shot Franchetti, but did not know he had died. Tonetta was transported by train back to Schenectady, attracting crowds along the route. Once in Schenectady, he was questioned by authorities and gave the following account of the evening. According to Tonetta, he and Franchetti did not have words, but rather their friends got into an argument. Tonetta claims that when Franchetti started to enter the controversy, he drew his revolver and tried to hit Franchetti on the head.  Instead, he states the weapon discharged. Tonetta fled, dropping the revolver in the yard where the young boy later found it. Tonetta said he fled along Veeder Avenue and hid in the woods near Veeder’s Mill and eventually made his way to North Adams, MA. Hearing of work in a logging camp, Tonetta went to the Green Mountains and worked there until he was captured.

Commutation of Antonio Tonnetta. From New York, Executive Orders for
Commutations, Pardons, Restorations and Respites, 1845-1931. Courtesy of and
the New York State Archives.
Antonio Tonetta was arraigned before the Supreme Court in March of 1903 on a charge of Murder in the First Degree. When asked what his plea was, Tonetta stated that he had killed Franchetti but he hadn’t meant to do so. Presiding Justice Martin Stover ordered a plea of not guilty be entered.  Stover then ordered extra jurors to be called for the trial which was to begin on March 18th, 1903. That morning as the trial was about to start, Tonetta’s court appointed attorney, Alexander Fenwick, asked for the plea to be changed from not guilty of murder in the first to guilty of murder in the second degree. Tonetta feared if found guilty of murder in the first degree he would face the electric chair, while murder in the second degree would bring a life sentence. District Attorney Walter Briggs accepted the change, and Tonetta asked to be sentenced immediately. Judge Stover sentenced Antonio Tonetta to life at Dannemora Prison in upstate New York.

Using records found on, I was able to find Antonio Tonetta in Dannemora Prison in the 1910 Federal Census. Other on-line sources led me to find references to prisoner records for Dannemora Prison for that time period. Contacting the New York State Archives, I was able to obtain copies of prisoner records affirming that Antonio Tonetta was in fact detained in Danemora for a life sentence. Additional records found on confirmed that Antonio Tonetta was released from Dannemora on March 20, 1917 after serving about 14 years for Franchetti's murder.

Supreme Court Minutes from the case of "The People of the State of New York vs. Antonio Tonetta".
 Courtesy of the Schenectady County Clerk
I also contacted Sharon Sheffer at the Schenectady County Clerk’s office in the summer of 2006, in an attempt to locate any trial records they might have. While nothing was available when I first contacted them, Ms. Sheffer and her staff took a great interest in my quest. In 2007 Ms. Scheffer located a 1903 document in which Mr. Fenwick indicated he had not received any payment for his court appointed defense of Tonetta. Then in February 2009, I was again contacted by the County Clerk’s office. Buried in the back of a vault whose contents were being moved, they found the Schenectady County Supreme Court Minutes Book for 1901-1908, and kindly sent me copies of the pertinent pages.  In September 2009, Ms. Sheffer sent me a copy of the indictment which had been found when old files were being moved.

While it has taken several years to piece together the events regarding the death of Martino Franchetti, it has been a fascinating project for me.  I am grateful to the Schenectady County Clerk’s office and for those who so patiently transcribe and post records on line making it possible for me to fill in this piece of my family’s past.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Taverns and Inns of Schenectady, Part IV: Prohibition and Speakeasies

Sketch of the ALCO Plant. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.
Leading into the 1900s, Schenectady saw an industrial reawakening. General Electric and the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) were growing at a tremendous rates and both industries were a major factor for the rapid increase of Schenectady’s population. Other industries contributed to Schenectady’s growth, and soon, workers from all over the world were moving to Schenectady for work. This increase in population led to a need for more drinking establishments. Houses and hotels, the Vendome and Van Curler were two of the most popular, would pop up around Schenectady in the early 1900s and they offered food, drink, and lodging to people passing through. The need for workers in GE and ALCO was mainly fulfilled by immigrants, including many who were from Italy and Poland. The influx of immigrant workers into Schenectady helped Schenectady become one of the fastest growing and most industrious cities in New York.  Immigrants in Schenectady would often end up residing in the neighborhoods close to their workplace. The East Front Street Neighborhood was where many of this new immigrant group settled. Front Street’s proximity to ALCO and other factories made it a natural spot for workers to live in (see our previous blog post on the East Front Street Neighborhood for more information

The Hotel Vendome had several name changes throughout the 1800s. It was opened in 1850 as The Eagle and between 1865 and 1868, it was renamed The Carley House. The clock tower was added in the early 1890s and it was reopened as the Barhydt House. The final name change occurred in the late 1890s when it became the Hotel Vendome. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.

An example of the punishment a
keeper of a disorderly house would get.
From the February 4, 1905 issue
of the Amsterdam Evening Recorder
Police and public officials did not consider this new immigrant group to be a large part of Schenectady’s criminal element, but the press would often have a field day reporting on crimes that Italians and Poles committed. Like much of the population, a large amount of the arrests of Italians and Poles occurred due to excessive drinking and many of those arrested were considered “intemperate” by the police. Crime occurred mainly within the neighborhoods that the immigrants resided in and both the Fifth Ward of Schenectady and Front Street were notorious for dive bars and houses of ill-repute. The Fifth Ward housed John Verra who was known as the “King of the Red Lights” and Jennie “The Terror” Salerno who, according to Robert Pascucci’s Electric City Immigrants, was a corpulent but muscular woman who ran a saloon with an extremely rough reputation. On Front Street, there was Raffaelo Negro’s “resort of all bad Italians of the neighborhood” and Louis Farone’s disorderly house on Monroe Street. Stories of crime in these saloons and taverns may have been favored by the press, but many immigrants were being arrested for smaller offenses like petit larceny, gambling, and in the case of Italian street musicians, disturbing the peace. Pascucci's book is an excellent resource for finding more about these neighborhoods and can be read online at

Advertisement for The Franklin from the July 25, 1914 issue of the Schenectady Gazette.
A hotel located several blocks from the East Front Street Neighborhood served a different type of worker. The Franklin Hotel at 225 Liberty Street was known to many actors, musicians, and others on the vaudeville and burlesque circuit. The Franklin was as a place where “a thirsty prohibition-era actor could always find something to wash away the dust after three-a-day performances.” The Franklin was owned by the Gartner family from 1913-1950 and saw some of the best vaudeville acts get a drink or have a meal at the hotel. Actors from the old Proctor’s theater on Erie Boulevard would go to the Franklin after late night shows where they would be served a night lunch and play poker throughout the night. During Prohibition, the actors would be served Nate Gartner’s “home brew” and just about anything else they could find. An interview with Nate Gartner from the Daily Gazette recounts the time that a 12 year old Milton Berle visited The Franklin. Nate says that Berle was on a diet to bulk him up a bit and that he was always accompanied by his mother. Other acts that lunched at the Franklin included Jimmy Cagney, the Avon Comedy Four, Stan Laurel, and even Harry Houdini.

While many speakeasies had tight security, they could still be quite dangerous
as seen in this article from the October 23, 1930 issue of The Saratogian.

During prohibition, rum runners and bootleggers would often drive up to Canada to obtain alcohol for local speakeasies. In his book Schenectady’s Golden Era, 1880-1930, Larry Hart recounts the story of Paul Gay who would regularly make the rum run from Schenectady to Canada to supply his own speakeasies. He was caught one time before the prohibition laws were solidified, fined $50 for illegal entry into the U.S., and sent on his way. Speakeasies would often serve wine, liquor. The low-alcohol beer, also known as near beer, served during prohibition was deemed inadequate and a popular saying during the time was that “Whoever called it near beer was a poor judge of distance!” Drinkers of near beer would often spike it with the alcohol that was sold at pharmacies. Bootleggers were often more likely to get highjacked than caught by the police. One bootlegger called the cops to report his vehicle stolen. The Schenectady Police found his heavily modified car on State Street. The bootlegger’s car had a special body and suspension in order to carry heavy loads and an armored plate over the gas tank. These additions didn’t stop the highjackers who drove up beside the bootlegger’s car, jumped on the running boards and pointed a revolver at him, and ordered him to stop.
A prescription for medicinal alcohol from Whelan's Drug Store in Schenectady. During prohibition, prescription liquor was one of the only legal ways to obtain alcohol. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection.

The Schenectady History Museum’s exhibit A Night on the Town in Schenectady 1850-1950: One Hundred Years of Fashion & Frivolity features fashion from the early 1900s and is a great depiction of what it was like to be a socialite during this time. Check it out at our 32 Washington location and stop by the library to learn more about Schenectady’s historic hotels and taverns.