Thursday, July 26, 2012

Emma Goldman in Schenectady

Portrait of Emma Goldman, ca. 1911. Source: Library of Congress.

Emma Goldman was an anarchist, activist, writer, and orator known for her fiery speeches. A frequent orator about topics as widely varied as militarism, birth control, and modern drama, she was branded "the most hated woman in America" after being accused of complicity in the assassination of President McKinley in 1901. Goldman spoke around the country and the world, and she is known to have spoken in Schenectady on at least four occasions.

The first occasion that Goldman spoke in Schenectady was on January 16, 1908. The topic of her speech as "Syndicalism - A New Phase in the Labor Movement." In writing about her speaking tour that year, Goldman wrote: "Schenectady gave the largest American audience and a very enthusiastic one at that." Julius Seltzer, an anarchist who lived in Schenectady from 1907 until 1911, helped to organize the talk. In an oral history interview conducted in 1972, Seltzer remembered organizing the lecture for Goldman: "it was an enormous success, with an overflow crowd." Of Goldman herself, Seltzer remembered that she was "affectionate, always hugging and squeezing me . . . she was a homely woman, but once she mounted the rostrum she became a different woman, beaming with fire, beautiful in her Spanish shawl."

"Schenectady Ripe for the Revolution." This headline appeared in the daily Socialist newspaper New York Call in 1911, as George Lunn's election as the first Socialist mayor for the city of Schenectady seemed to be a real possibility. A few years later, in 1914, the Albany Evening Journal referred to Schenectady as being "a hotbed of Socialism." Image obtained via

Goldman had planned another trip to Schenectady to speak in 1911, but the talk was cancelled. She did not speak in Schenectady again until 1915, when she spoke three times within a period of a few weeks. Her first talk in 1915 was on February 24, 1915 at the Red Men's Hall at Ferry Street and Liberty Street. About 300 people gathered to hear her lecture, entitled "Why the Socialists of Germany Betrayed Their Cause to the Kaiser." An article in the Schenectady Gazette the following day called the talk "an interesting discussion of the present war in Europe," and shared quotations from Goldman's talk. The article commented on Goldman's refusal to have a chairman introduce her: "The speaker was not introduced and occupied the stage alone, saying she had found a chairman as much of a hindrance as a help. By way of personal introduction she said she was not sent by the Republican or Democratic party nor by the Catholic Church."

Headline of story highlighting Goldman's lecture on February 24, 1915, that appeared in the Schenectady Gazette the following day. Image obtained via

Soon after, Goldman spoke again at the Red Men's Hall on March 10, 1915, on the topic of "Some Misconceptions of Free Love." Following her talk, the Schenectady Gazette reported on her lecture under the headline "Emma Goldman Scores Marriage." The reporter did not quote Goldman, but simply paraphrased her talk and delivered it in a matter-of-fact manner: "The speaker took the stand marriage is an economic and social institution and not a religious one. She branded it as legalized immorality. That the marriage ceremony is a  mere farce was another statement. As proof of this she claimed that no intelligent woman would take the marriage vow with the intention of keeping it, as that would be swearing away all her self-respect and independence and giving herself over into chattel slavery."

This letter to the editor and reply appeared in the Schenectady Gazette on March 16, 1915. Goldman was a divisive figure among leftists during this time period. Some groups and individuals aligned themselves with her voice to increase their profile, while others sought to distance themselves from her.  Image obtained via

The last time Goldman spoke in Schenectady was on March 31, 1915. She spoke at the Machinists' Hall at 258 State Street on "The Birth Strike," delineating the disadvantages of a large family for working men and championing the cause of Margaret Sanger, who was facing prosecution under the Comstock Law for distributing a family planning pamphlet. This talk was organized under the auspices of the Schenectady Social Science League; thus far, I have not come across any mentions of the organization other than in connection with this lecture.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Murder of David Reynolds

Headline reporting the murder of David Reynolds. From Evening Star, May 24, 1901.

The library's "Crime and Criminals" clipping file yields a look into the sordid side of life in the history of Schenectady County. The file contains newspaper clippings related to robberies, hangings, kidnappings, organized crime, and murders. One such case is the unsolved murder of David Reynolds, a Scotia farmer.

David Reynolds, or "Uncle Dave" as he was referred to by his neighbors, was a 66-year-old "eccentric" farmer who lived alone at what is now known as the Flint House. Reynolds was known to carry large amounts of money. Neighbors claimed that only a few days before the murder, Reynolds had had at least $200 in cash on his person. Days before the murder, the Evening Star reported, "a neighbor offered to bet $100 that Mr. Reynolds' horse could not draw 3,000 pounds, when the latter pulled a roll of bills out of his pocket and said, 'I'll bet this roll, and it holds more than $100.'"

Rural Scotia, ca. 1880s. This photo was taken from around the area of the Flint House, looking toward the village. David Reynolds purchased the property in 1887. From Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

On the evening of May 23, 1901, George Dutcher, who lived on the farm, was concerned that Reynolds had not been seen since the night before. Looking toward the barn, Dutcher saw that the doors were wide open, which was uncharacteristic for Reynolds. It was getting dark, and Dutcher went to get a lantern and called on neighbors William Vandenburgh and William Cowell to accompany him.

Entering the barn, the trio saw that Reynolds' horse was partially harnessed. Blood was spattered on the cow stanchions, suggesting evidence of a struggle. Reynolds was soon found in the barn, buried under a stack of hay. Most of his clothing had been removed, including his boots, where he was known to have kept his money. He had been struck several times in the head with an axe, which was also found at the scene of the crime. Tracks led from the barn to the Mohawk River then disappeared -- the police assumed the murderer had washed himself off there.

Photograph of Flint House, ca. 1979. Image from Scotia Album, 1904-1979.

By the following day, police had a description for a suspect for the murder -- a man who had approached Adam Lamboy, a farmhand at a nearby farm, inquiring about how to get to Schenectady. He had a bloody spot on the side of his head, and was described as being 5'8", 160 lbs., age 50, wearing a small gray flat-top hat, steel gray coat, and a mustache. On June 6, a one-armed man named Worth Green, described as a "demented tramp," was arrested for Reynolds' murder. Except for the missing arm, he matched the description of the man seen on May 23; however, he was not considered a subject after being questioned.

Soon after, on June 25, police arrested August Weinhill of Amsterdam for Reynolds' murder. On June 19, Weinhill had stolen 42 chickens from a farm in the town of Florida; he wouldn't have been caught, except a letter addressed to him had fallen out of his pocket while on the property. A June 25 Evening Star article plainly claims that "the arrest of Weinhill on the chicken stealing charge, although he is suspected of having had something to do with that thievery, was a subterfuge on the part of Sheriff Wasson, who had good reason for desiring to get Weinhill into his custody. The sheriff had recently come into information which pointed strongly toward Weinhill as being connected with the murder of David Reynolds." The article does not reveal what the information is, but it was likely information that emerged from a later newspaper article; a prisoner in the Albany jail who was confined with Weinhill (who was himself in jail for stealing hogs) gave information to investigators that "Weinhill had seemed quite interested in the deed," referring to Reynolds' murder. 

Adam Lamboy identified Weinhill as the man he saw on May 23. Other details emerged; a man named Wilson on the day before the murder saw two men talking near the Scotia dyke. One man, who Wilson identified as Weinhill, asked "where is the house?" and the other man directed Weinhill to a place that indicated Reynolds' house.

Weinhill was taken into custody and brought before a grand jury, but the grand jury failed to indict him. Afterward, Weinhill returned to Amsterdam, where he lived until he died of heart disease in May 1902. 

A 1931 Schenectady Gazette article about unsolved murders since the turn of the century related the story of Reynolds' murder, adding "an even number of years later [in 1907] on the date of the murder, the barns and outbuilding were burned. The farmhouse was unoccupied at the time. No one ever knew who started the blaze -- but in the midst of the flames, telltale bloodprints disappeared forever."

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Schenectady Goes to the Movies

Take a trip back in time to Hollywood's golden age, as experienced in Schenectady, through a sampling of images from our holdings. 
Entrance to the Art Theater – 1913. The Art Theater was one of the early movie theaters in Schenectady. It was located at 432 State Street, where Proctor’s Theater is now. The first movie shown in Schenectady was The Great Train Robbery, shown at the Crescent Theater in 1905. The first movie theaters were small. Some makeshift movie theaters were even set up in non-theater buildings, such as a fraternal organization hall. Early theaters were sometimes referred to as nickelodeons, because of the five-cent admission charge that was standard. Photo from Larry Hart Collection.

Advertisement for movie in Schenectady Gazette – 1927. Advertisements for movies were common in the newspaper during this period. This ad for the silent film The Fire Brigade appeared in February 1927, just a few months before sound movies, or “talkies,” became popular nationwide. Most movie advertisements in newspapers during this time featured drawings designed by the Hollywood production company; the State Theater put a local spin on this ad by calling the movie “the sensation of Schenectady.”

Entrance to Proctor’s Theater – 1936. The entrance to Proctor’s Theater in 1936 looks much the same as it does today (minus the "newsie" standing outside, of course), as the original look of the building has been preserved and restored. The first Proctor’s Theater in Schenectady was built in 1912 off Liberty Street by the Erie Canal. The present Proctor’s Theater, designed in an Italian Baroque style by architect Thomas Lamb, was opened in 1926. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a local landmark. Photo from Larry Hart Collection.

Actress Ginger Rogers visits Schenectady County – 1946. This photograph shows actress Ginger Rogers visiting Schenectady County to see the family of her then-husband, Jack Briggs, in Quaker Street. The couple visited on November 24, 1946, to celebrate the 60th wedding anniversary of Briggs' grandparents. Briggs, a Schenectady County native, was also an actor. The couple met when working on the set of Tom, Dick and Harry (1940) and married in 1943, divorcing in 1949. Many other famous musicians, actors, and entertainers have visited Schenectady over the years, including famous clown Emmett Kelly, jazz legend Duke Ellington, and then-actor Ronald Reagan, who was a spokesman for G.E. Photo from Larry Hart Collection.

Matinee crowd at Lincoln Theater – 1950. A crowd of moviegoers lined up at the Lincoln Theater on Brandywine Avenue. Visitors to the Lincoln Theater during the 1930s and 1940s often saw Edward Spellacy, known as “the popcorn man.” Spellacy sold hot, fresh-popped popcorn for 5 cents per bag from a cart with a steam-powered dancing metal clown on top. Photo from Larry Hart Collection.  

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Henry Tripp, Early Schenectady Photographer

Undated print from Henry Tripp negative, showing the entrance of the Burr Bridge that once ran between Schenectady and Scotia at the foot of Washington Avenue. From Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

"What William Brady, the well known photographer of Lincoln, was to Civil War history, Henry Tripp was to the record of Schenectady."
- From Schenectady Gazette, April 23, 1959

Henry Tripp, ca. 1870. From Grems-
Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.
Henry Tripp was one of the best-known early photographers in Schenectady, and is especially known for  his exterior views of buildings and street scenes in Schenectady. His work provides a view of what Schenectady looked like from the late 1860s through the early 1890's.

Tripp was born in Schenectady in 1828. He left home to live and work in many different locations, including Ontario and Virginia. During the late 1840s, he was working as a plate photographer in Woodstock, Ontario. In the early 1850's, Henry and his brother Charles established the first oil company formed in North America. The company explored for asphalt beds and oil and salt springs. Lack of capital and high transportation costs forced the business to fold by the late 1850s, and the Tripp brothers sold their land holdings in Canada. Tripp, who moved back and forth between Woodstock, Ontario, and Petersburg, Virginia, moved back to the area sometime during the 1860s.

Photograph of Union Street from railroad crossing facing east. Center Street in foreground. Henry Tripp's horse-drawn portable darkroom is on the right-hand side of the photograph. From Larry Hart Collection.

The first listing for Henry Tripp in the Schenectady city directory appears in the 1868-1869 directory. "Henry Tripp, photographer, appears," the editors of the the "brief mentions" section of the Evening Star newspaper write on April 30, 1869. "His rooms are at No. 81 State Street. His pictures can't be excelled." To take his outdoor photographs, Tripp used a horse-drawn portable darkroom in which he would develop glass plate negatives. Using what was known as a collodion or "wet plate" process, Tripp had to coat, sensitize, expose and develop his glass plate negatives within about ten to fifteen minutes, before the plate dried. 

Print of Tripp negative of First Reformed Church. From Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. This image might be the same image advertised below in the Evening Star in 1868.

Notice from July 6, 1868 Evening Star advertising sale of prints of Tripp's photograph of the First Reformed Church. Image obtained via

Tripp took photographs all over Schenectady and its environs. Historian Larry Hart writes the Tripp "roamed far and wide with his horsedrawn darkroom - across the old covered bridge to Scotia and Glenville, the turnpikes to Amsterdam and Albany and along many of Schenectady's principal streets, including Dock Street along the Erie Canal. They show the old taverns, the cobblestone streets, rutted wagon roads and pose for the three- to six-second exposures." Tripp found ready buyers among area residents, selling photos for around two dollars apiece. He also exhibited his work locally, including an exhibition at the Schenectady County Agricultural Association fair in 1868.

Photograph by Tripp of the Edward Rosa House on Union Street. From Larry Hart Collection.

Tripp disappears from the Schenectady city directory in 1893. By 1900, he was living in Lynn, Massachusetts, where he died in 1908. He was returned to Schenectady for burial in the First Presbyterian Church cemetery.