Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ettore Mancuso and The Record Italian-American Newspaper

Banner of The Record weekly Italian-American newspaper.

This blog entry highlights The Record, a weekly newspaper published from 1925-1932 in Italian and English by Ettore Mancuso. The newspaper serves as a reflection of the Italian-American community in Schenectady of the time; it also tells us more about the interests, personality, and sense of humor of its editor, Mancuso.

Photograph of Ettore Mancuso in uniform in 1918. From Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.  

Ettore Mancuso was a lawyer who was very active in the Italian-American community in Schenectady as well as in local politics. He was born in Italy in 1896 and came to the United States at the age of 13. He attended Catskill High School, then relocated to Schenectady, graduating from Albany Law School in 1922 and establishing his law practice in Schenectady soon after. Mancuso was a Democratic candidate for alderman for the 11th Ward in 1929, and served the city as secretary to Mayor J. Ward White, as the city's Director of Public Information, and as Corporation Counsel during the 1930s. Through The Record, he was a vociferous Democrat; around 1935 he became an equally vociferous Republican, and remained so until the end of his life, frequently writing letters to the editor of the Schenectady Gazette about local and national politics up to 3 months before his death in 1979. He was involved in a variety of local Italian-American organizations, including the Sons of Italy, the Italian Culture Club, the Italian University Club, the Italian Political Association, and the predominantly Italian-American Brotherly Love Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. A veteran of World War I, he was also involved with the American Legion.

July 18, 1930 article encouraging Schenectadians to buy locally: "The 'Schenectady for Schenectadians' idea is not a new one, and it is not ours; but we are the only ones who have been preaching it consistently and persistently."

The Record's bilingual pages focused on events, personalities, and organizations related to the Italian-American community. Small articles, often with photographs, introduced Italian-American pharmacists, real estate brokers, and shop owners to the community. Local Italian-American graduates of Union College were honored and pictured on the front page of the newspaper, under the headline "Our Graduates." The activities of local ethnic organizations, such as the Sons of Italy and the Italian Political Association, were featured. Occasionally, the newspaper also featured social news, highlighting the wedding of a local couple. The Record also included a variety of advertisements for local businesses in both Italian and English. Mancuso occasionally published an article entitled "Why -- No Matter What Your Business -- You Should Advertise in the 'Record' and Other Foreign Language Weekly Newspapers," to encourage local businesses to place advertisements. "We carry the local news in Italian for our readers," Mancuso writes. "Our readers get genuine pleasure out of reading their news in their native tongue. Even if they can read English, they will get more pleasure out of reading Italian, for the same reason that you would get more pleasure out of reading the New York Herald instead of some French newspaper, if you lived in Paris." Mancuso also asserted that the smaller size of the weeklies encouraged more attention to the advertisements than in the dailies, and that members of the Italian-American community read it more devotedly than the daily newspapers. "He reads it from beginning to end. His family reads it. Often it is passed to others. It gets a reading such as the daily newspaper can never expect to get."

Italian-language advertisements for the Mont Pleasant Furniture House and the Jersey Ice Cream Company from the December 5, 1930 issue of The Record.

Profile of and advertisement for local Italian-American real estate broker Michele Suraci from The Record, August 29, 1930. In addition to advertisements, The Record often included short articles highlighting local Italian-American business people.

In addition to news of the Italian-American community, The Record also featured many articles about local politics, local news, and national politics. Mancuso made no claims of being an unbiased news source, always emphasizing the editorial content of the paper; all articles appeared under the statement on the newspaper's banner, "All the News You SHOULD Know With Comments." During the early 1930s, the topics of local elections/politics, the problems of crime resulting from prohibition, and police corruption surfaced again and again. The Record also contained a column of brief comments on local and national news and happenings under the heading "This is Station B-U-N-K. The only broadcasting station using a permanent wave. 'We tell the universe.'" In the "Station B-U-N-K" column, Mancuso commented about a variety of topics, from federal immigration quotas to the statements of local politicians, sometimes with a serious tone, other times tongue-in-cheek. Mancuso also occasionally used the column to make occasional jabs at other local media outlets for what he saw as shoddy reporting. The most frequent target was the Union-Star newspaper, as in this excerpt from the Record's "Station B-U-N-K" column on July 18, 1930: "The Union-Star has made a startling discovery. Lack of business is due to the piling of money in banks, says our afternoon daily, which 'prives that people have the money, but that they are hoarding it.' Since the Star has found the cause of the trouble, we suggest the remedy. If the ones who own the money prefer to keep it in the banks, why don't the banks loosen up and loan it to those who are anxious to borrow it?"

While many of the "Station B-U-N-K" columns addressed a potpourri of issues, the September 26, 1930 column focused solely on local gambling operations.

The library's Ettore Mancuso Collection includes a number of issues of The Record, as well as several speeches and letters written by Mancuso, a recollection of his World War I experiences, newspaper clippings related to local politics and political figures, and other materials. A complete finding aid for the Ettore Mancuso Collection can be found here

Friday, September 21, 2012

Education Documents in the Grems-Doolittle Library

This blog entry is written by Hannah Hamilton, a Library volunteer.

The education files contain over three hundred items including lists of colonial schoolmasters, receipts for the tuition of students, hand-made textbooks and diplomas from Union College. The documents date from the late 18th to late 20th century. Click here for a complete list of documents in the collection.

Particularly charming are those documents which are written out in longhand (cursive script). The Toll family was one of the prominent families in the Schenectady area for much of the early history of this country. A number of their family documents pertaining to the education of their children have been preserved and are included in the Education documents (part of the Historic Manuscripts Collection) at the Grems-Doolittle Library. Images of some of these documents may be viewed below.

The front page of a small, string-bound notebook written in longhand and discussing global geography. The first page is a description of the geography of Africa (ED 182). Beside it, the front page of another textbook, this one focused on “Arithmetick.” Both are presumably products of the Toll children (ED 184).

A receipt for $13.00 paid to the Schenectady Female Seminary by Reverend John C. Toll for his daughter Jane Sarah Toll. The Education was to take place between December of 1826 to March of 1827 (ED 183). An image of the ladies’ school dating from the 19th century is alongside it (ED 139). The photo is a photocopy of the original.

Can you figure out this tricky little math problem? It reads “POSITION; When first the marriage knot was tied / Betwixt my wife and me / My age did hers as far exceed / As three times three doth three / But after ten and ___ ten years / We man and wife had been / Her age came up as near to mine / As eight is to sixteen / Now ____ skilled in numbers say / What were our ages on the wedding day”.

The student who wrote out the puzzle was clever enough to work out the answer, and wrote below, “Sir forty five years you had been / Your wife no more than just fifteen”. The slip of paper was found at the beginning of a thick, hand-bound book of arithmetic. The opposite side of the paper is a simple explanation of arithmetic series (ED 268).

These files are all particularly interesting due to the strong personality conveyed through the hand-written documents. The modern scholar can sense the amount of attention which students paid to details, and the grueling levels to which they went in order to simply take notes. They also offer a fantastic view of the attitudes which high-society families held towards the education of women. If the handwriting can be labored through, we can gain a better perspective of colonial and ante-bellum education.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Wadsworth S. Kokernak Photograph Collection

Wadsworth (Walter) S. Kokernak at work with copy camera. Kokernak worked as a lithographer for the Maqua Company for 35 years. Photograph from the Wadsworth S. Kokernak Photograph Collection.  

The Wadsworth S. Kokernak Photograph Collection includes a number of photographs created and compiled by Wadsworth (Walter) Kokernak, a photographer and for many years a lithographer for the Maqua Company. Subjects include GE outdoor lighting, photographs of family and friends, and amateur and school sports. A number of the photographs appear to have been taken when Kokernak was a young man, still in high school. The collection's photographs of local school and amateur sports is especially valuable, offering a rare look at local sports during the 1920s. Below are just a few highlights from the collection:

Men playing basketball in unidentified location, ca. 1925. Photograph from Wadsworth S. Kokernak Photograph Collection.

St. Adalbert's basketball team, 1930. Photograph from Wadsworth S. Kokernak Photograph Collection.

Merrimac (possibly Merrimac Juniors) amateur baseball team in Schenectady, ca. 1930. Photograph from Wadsworth S. Kokernak Photograph Collection.

"Hogie's All Stars" - members of Mont Pleasant Royals hockey team, 1925-1926. Photograph from Wadsworth S. Kokernak Photograph Collection.

Kokernak family home at 780-782 Bailey Street in Schenectady, where Wadsworth Kokernak lived for most of his life. Photograph ca. 1920s. Photograph from Wadsworth S. Kokernak Photograph Collection.

Eighth-grade class of St. Adalbert's School in Schenectady, 1922. Kokernak attended St. Adalbert's School for primary and intermediate school before moving on to Mont Pleasant High School. Photograph from Wadsworth S. Kokernak Photograph Collection.  

Wadsworth Kokernak, ca. 1926.
Photograph from Wadsworth S.
Kokernak Photograph Collection.
Wadsworth (Walter) S. Kokernak was born in Schenectady in 1908, to Stanley J. and Antoinette (Edna) Witkowski Kokernak. He had one sister, Frances. Mr. Kokernak attended St. Adalbert’s grammar schools and Mont Pleasant High School, graduating in 1926. He was an avid athlete, playing hockey, football, baseball, and basketball. He was also an excellent swimmer and lifeguard. At age 16, in 1924, Mr. Kokernak began an apprenticeship with the General Electric Company, eventually becoming a commercial photographer.  In 1934 he joined the Maqua Printing Company (owned by General Electric) as a lithographer, where he operated the dark room copy camera until his death in 1969. Mr. Kokernak also served in the U.S. Navy from 1943 – 1945 as a Photographer’s Mate Third Class.  For most of his life, Kokernak resided on 780-782 Bailey Street, in the Bellevue section of Schenectady; from 1951 until the end of his life, he lived at 1909 Bentley Road in Niskayuna. Kokernak married Naomi Adams and had two children, Stephanie and Michael. He was a member of the General Electric Quarter Century Club and Polish National Alliance (PNA), serving as recording secretary and treasurer. He also served as treasurer for the Lithographers Union and coached Little League baseball. Kokernak died in 1969 at the age of 60. He is buried in St. Adalbert’s Cemetery.

A complete finding aid for the collection can be found here.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Klondike Ramp and Klondike Stairs

Photograph of the Klondike Ramp taken in March 1958, just a few months before its demolition in August of that year. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

One of the curiosities in Schenectady's history is the Klondike Ramp, the remnants of which can still be seen when traveling on I-890 near the Broadway exit. The ramp (and its predecessor, the Klondike Stairs) were built to accommodate workers traveling between the hill section east of Pleasant Valley down to Broadway and the GE plant. First, an informal footpath was created, referred to as the "Klondike Path," by 1903, beginning near the intersection of Mumford Street and Strong Street and extending down to Broadway, ending between the buildings of Veeder's flour mill and warehouse. After receiving a petition asking for the construction of a iron or stone stairway be built, the city's Common Council authorized the city engineer to present estimates for the cost of constructing an uncovered set of stairs and railings, and the Klondike Stairs were in use by 1905.

Postcard depicting the original Klondike Stairs, looking up from Broadway, around 1910. From Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.  

Almost immediately after being constructed, the stairs required frequent repairs. The construction of the stairs brought a host of other maintenance issues, including lighting, cleaning, and ice and snow removal. In December 1914, a man named Oscar Klein wrote in to the Schenectady Gazette's "Everybody's Column" decrying the city's neglect of the stairs in winter. "The landings are very bad; neither has the ice been cleaned off, nor has it been covered with sand," he wrote. "Some consideration should be shown to the workingmen who have to walk the path twice a day." Problems increased as the stairs aged. During the 1920s, newspaper articles described the poor and unsafe condition of the stairs, and calls for the replacement of the stairs increased during the latter part of the decade. At the February 18, 1930 meeting of the city's Common Council, Mayor Henry Fagal addressed the condition of the Klondike Stairs in his mayor's message: "the concrete side and retaining walls are crushed in many places and show evidence of sliding and partial overturning. The concrete surfaces have very generally disintegrated and in two or three places the footings have been undermined by surface water wash . . . there are several places where there are not hand-rails whatever."

This image from a 1930 Sanborn map shows the original Klondike Stairs and, on a paste-down, the circular Klondike Ramp. 

In the same address, the Mayor announced plans for the construction of a circular pedestrian ramp, which was completed by early in 1931. The iron and concrete structure was an eight-sided ramp that spiraled upward in seven tiers. Historian Larry Hart compared the look of the structure to a birthday cake -- "metal curved-neck light stanchions on top supported the cake illusion since they looked like candles when lighted at night." The ramp structure was an improvement over the stairs, allowing for easier access for elderly and disabled people and making for much easier maintenance in winter.

However, the spiraling ramp also made for a more time-consuming journey home. Arthur Seymour lived on Duane Avenue and worked at GE during the life of the Klondike Stairs as well as the Klondike Ramp. In 1978, he recalled both to historian Larry Hart: "It was easier to run up the stairs than walk as the treads were only five or six inches apart," Seymour said. "If you were tired and had to walk up, it seemed like you would never get home. I was glad when the circular ramp was built to replace the stairs but found it more tiresome and longer to make it to Strong Street." As more people used trolleys, buses, and cars to travel to work, the ramp was used less and less. By 1948, an article in the Union-Star reported that in watching the ramp during its "rush hour," from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., only 51 people used the ramp, including children riding down the ramp in wagons. The ramp also began to deteriorate as time passed. In January 1958, the ramp was closed to foot traffic due to safety concerned. It was demolished in August of that year. 

Photograph of the closed Klondike Ramp in 1958. Photo from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

Why were the stairs and ramp called "Klondike" or "Klondyke"? Historian Larry Hart posits two possibilities: one is that in winter the ice-cold wind rushing through Pleasant Valley made it "cold enough to be another Klondike." Another is that the name "Klondike" came from the workers who traveled down to work every day at GE, who each morning went to "dig for gold" -- meaning, to work for their weekly paycheck.

While the ramp was usually known as the Klondike Ramp, it was also known by other names or nicknames. Martin Marciniak, who grew up in the Mont Pleasant neighborhood in the 1950s, remembered the Klondike Ramp being referred to by the nickname "Seven Heavens," for its seven tiers. Newspaper articles also frequently referred to the ramp as the "Pleasant Valley Ramp" for its location.