Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Schenectady Blue Jays

The 1947 Blue Jays celebrate in the locker room following a 7-game playoff victory over Amsterdam. Front, left to right: Hamil, Barbieri, batboy Ottaviano, manager Riley, Baker, Milians. Back, left to right: Twarkins, McConvery, Genevrino (behind McConvery), Lorenz, Graham (hands against ceiling), O'Connell (in front of Graham), Ridzik, Gregg, Speranza (partly obscured). From Frank Keetz Professional Baseball Collection.  

In anticipation of the talk about the Schenectady Blue Jays by local baseball historian and author Frank Keetz this Saturday, June 30, we'd like to share some photographs of the Blue Jays from the Frank Keetz Professional Baseball Collection. The collection includes photographs, ephemera, newspaper clippings, notes, and other information about Schenectady baseball. In addition to material pertaining to the Blue Jays, the collection also includes photographs and information about the Negro League team the Mohawk Giants and early baseball in Schenectady. If you're interested in local baseball history, Keetz's collection is a treasure. The library also has many of Keetz's books and booklets about local baseball, clipping files, and photograph files about local baseball in our holdings. Visit us, give us a call, or send an email to explore our holdings about baseball history.

Early season Schenectady Pitching Staff, 1948. Left to right: Lasorda, Baryiewski, unknown, Baker, Mayton, Markell, Oberman, Luba, and Olveson. From Frank Keetz Professional Baseball Collection.

Aerial view of McNearney Stadium (renamed Schenectady Stadium in 1952), home of the Schenectady Blue Jays. Jackson Avenue  is at the upper right hand corner of the photograph. The inset shows a view of the stadium as one entered the parking lot. The site of the stadium would later be occupied by the Stadium Golf Course. Photograph from Frank Keetz Professional Baseball Collection.

Announcement of home opener game for the new Schenectady Blue Jays team on May 9, 1946, at Central Park in Schenectady. Image from Tales of Old Schenectady, Volume 2: The Changing Scene by Larry Hart.

Blue Jays players Ped Robbins, Hank Mason, and Ed Bouchee receive watches from Eastern League President Tommy Richardson in honor of each player being selected to the league's midseason All-Star team in 1955. Mason broke the color line to become the first African-American player for the Blue Jays. From Frank Keetz Professional Baseball Collection.

1948 Schenectady Blue Jays players on the town in Quebec City prior to a night game. Left to right: Duke Markell, Ernie Woods, Tommy Lasorda, Archie Luba, Charles Lindquist. Batboy Pete Lucas at rear. From Frank Keetz Professional Baseball Collection.

Fellow players congratulate pitcher Dick Bunker (center) after the final out that clinched the pennant victory in 1956. From the Frank Keetz Professional Baseball Collection.   

Monday, June 18, 2012

"Who Will Drop Next?": Schenectady's 1933 Dance Marathon

Marathon dancer Edward Daughton of Syracuse at a 1933 marathon dance in Schenectady. The photograph was given to Dr. Garrison Lester, who served as the dance's physician. From Larry Hart Collection.

During the 1920s and 1930s, dance marathons were a nationwide fad. In these dance endurance contests, where the participants tried to stay on their feet for a given period of time, individuals, couples, and teams competed for cash prizes. Early marathons began as non-stop dance contests. As the fascination with marathon dancing grew, so too did the duration of the marathons. Rules changed to allow periods for sleeping, eating, and resting; thus, marathons would continue for thousands of hours rather than dozens. Entertainment promoters began to include floor shows, live musical performances, comedy acts, giveaways, and other spectacles to marathons to lure crowds. The coming of the Great Depression also changed the tenor of dance marathons, as more and more contestants traveled to compete in one marathon after another. 

In Schenectady, advertisements for dance marathons appeared in the newspaper as early as 1919. Winners of a 1928 marathon dance, Anna Cervenka and Ray Radcliffe, danced for 288 continuous hours. After winning the contest, the couple appeared at local attractions to demonstrate the latest dance steps. Radcliffe and his wife Beatrice Schanze continued to work in the area as dancers and entertainers through the 1930s and 1940s.

The dance marathon held in Schenectady in 1933 was perhaps the most contentious. The marathon, held at Downey's Dance Castle, 214 Clinton Street, was organized by promoter Meyer E. Davidson of Syracuse. The contest offered prizes of $500.00, $300.00, and $100.00 for first, second, and third place, respectively. In addition to the attraction of the dancing, which drew spectators, the promoter offered theme nights, skits, special dance demonstrations and endurance challenges, birthday parties, door prizes, and even featured an engagement party and wedding ceremony for two of the competing couples. Advertisements for the marathon often included counts of the hours couples had danced, and exhorted Schenectadians to witness the spectacle. An advertisement nearly two months in to the contest read "Biff! Bang! Crash! The most grueling test of this contest take place tonight. Some one must drop out - no human being can possibly stand this severe test of endurance indefinitely . . . Who will drop next?"

"Who will drop next?" Advertisement for the dance marathon that appeared in the Schenectady Gazette on April 8, 1933, the same day that the contest was shut down by the police. Image obtained via http://www.fultonhistory.com/.

From the beginning, there was significant objection in the community to the 1933 dance marathon. A few days after the marathon began, the February 14 Schenectady Gazette reported a meeting of the Schenectady Ministerial Association that called for protest against the contest. A motion approved at the meeting read: "For obvious hygienic, economic, and moral reasons the Schenectady Ministerial Association wishes to protest vigorously against the so-called 'marathon dance' now being conducted in this city."

Marathon dancers Thelma Smith and Tom Ross held their wedding ceremony on March 29, 1933, as an added attraction to the contest. The couple had danced for 1176 hours by that date. An advertisement promoting the spectacle read "Public Wedding - Every one invited to see Tom and Thelma take the fatal leap - Don't miss it." From Larry Hart Collection.

On April 5, the laws and ordinances committee of the city's common council reported that many complaints had been received about the marathon. The committee asked the mayor to immediately revoke the license that had been issued for conducting the contest, claiming that "no benefit results from said marathon except such as comes in the way of profit to the promoters thereof." Rev. H. Victor Frelick, pastor of the State Street Presbyterian Church and chairman of the Law Enforcement League, decried the dance marathon as part and parcel of what he characterized as "vice and corruption" in the city of Schenectady. At a meeting on the evening of April 6, 1933, Frelick reported "In spite of all appeals and regardless of the good name of our city, this disgraceful exhibition [the dance marathon] has been permitted by the mayor and his subordinates until this day."

On the morning of Saturday, April 8, Schenectady's Chief of Police, William Funston, shut down the dance marathon under the orders of the city's Commissioner of Public Safety. The marathon had been going on for 58 days and 12 hours, and 13 contestants were remaining when the marathon was stopped. On April 27, 1933, the Schenectady Gazette reported that New York State Governor Herbert Lehman signed a bill making it a misdemeanor to conduct or participate in a dance contest that continued for more than eight consecutive hours.

Friday, June 8, 2012

City Directories: A Gem for Researchers

Advertisement for A. Dillenbeck & Company grocers from 1885 city directory.

City directories provide a snapshot of a community in a given year. Directories can be a goldmine of information for people conducting genealogical and biographical research, tracing the history of their house, exploring the history of a neighborhood or ethnic community, charting city growth, examining economic changes, or generally seeking to understand local history.

This advertisement for Eddie Bergeron's Garage on State Street from the 1931 city directory features a photograph of the "Miss Schenectady" tow truck. Photographs began being used in directory advertisements around the turn of the century.  

While the content included in city directories has varied over the years, the basic kinds of information that they include is generally the same. The alphabetical section generally includes names of adults, their home and business addresses, and occupations. Occupational information helps researchers in tracing a person's work history, determine whether workers lived close to their jobs, and identify common occupations and employers.

Page from alphabetical section of 1841 city directory. The names of African-American residents are italicized, making it easier to identify members of Schenectady's black community during that time.

City directories also include information about businesses (including advertisements), city government, public buildings, religious institutions, schools, religious and ethnic organizations, and clubs. Directories include lists of extant streets and where streets run from and to. Directories also provide information about the nature of a person's residence - whether the residents of a property owned their home, rented, or boarded.

Advertisement for the Westinghouse Company in 1982 city directory. Directories include many advertisements for local businesses and industries.  
Directories focused primarily on the city itself, although some directories include lists of rural residents. If a directory includes rural areas, the listings are in a separate section near the end of the volume, arranged by town name; the rural directories are a bit simpler, usually only listing the names of residents and occasionally an occupation. In the twentieth century, the city directory usually included the village of Scotia in a separate section at the end of the volume. Suburban directories, which included Glenville, Rotterdam, and Niskayuna, were issued sporadically throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

Beginning in the 1890s, city directories began to include street maps. These maps, issued each year along with a new edition of the directory, show new streets and the growth of the city year by year, and provide a representation of newly-developed areas that might not be represented by other maps, such as Sanborn fire insurance maps.

Schenectady city directories added another useful feature in 1930; in addition to the alphabetical listing of names, a directory arranged by street number is included. This allows researchers to identify neighbors and communities at a glance. The cross-street location information is also helps to determine whether a person listed as living in one address, then at another, moved or if the street name and/or number changed.

Page from the portion of the 1931 city directory arranged by street number.

Before 1940, women's names were included in city directories only if they were single, widowed, or employed. Beginning in 1940, wives were listed parenthetically following their husband's name. This is a boon for researchers seeking the name of a man's wife who didn't work outside the home -- most married women during the period -- but this practice also omitted information about the occupation of employed wives.

Our library has consistent holdings of directories from 1860 through 1968. A complete list of directories in our holdings can be found here. The list of city directories includes information about other localities included in the directory and whether we have a paper copy or microfilm copy. The earliest Schenectady city directory in our holdings dates from 1841, and the most recent is dated 1984. If you are interested in the history of Schenectady from the mid-nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century, directories can be a valuable research tool. Please feel free to call or email the librarian or visit our library to learn more about the information contained in city directories and how to use them.