Thursday, June 30, 2016

Louis Kortmann in the Wild and Wooly Country of Cuba

Most archives and cultural institutions have hidden collections, these are collections or items that, usually due to time restraints and a large backlog, haven't been cataloged or described yet and are hidden by researchers and staff. One of the perks of working in a place like the Grems-Doolittle Library and Archives at SCHS is finding these collections. We recently found a small hidden collection of postcards and photos dealing with Louis W. Kortmann Jr. and his relatives. Kortmann was the president of the Schenectady Trust Company and a rather prominent citizen of Schenectady, judging by the contents of this collection. Kortmann Jr.'s father, Louis Kortmann Sr., served in the Spanish-American War and the postcards are mainly correspondence from Kortmann Sr. to his wife Kate who was staying at the Madison Barracks in Sackets Harbor.

Louis and Kate Kortmann at their home in Madison Barracks at Sackets Harbor, NY.
Courtesy of the Louis W. Kortmann Collection at the Grems-Doolittle Library and Archives.
The correspondence from Kortmann Sr. is particularly interesting because they document his time serving in the Spanish-American War in 1898. Kortmann enlisted as a private in the Ninth infantry unit at Sackets Harbor, NY. The correspondence to Kate begins on April 20, 1898 as he is traveling from Washington D.C. to Cuba, making stops in Lynchburg, Virginia,  and Rocky Ford, Georgia until he reaches Tampa Bay, Florida on April 22, 1898. Kortmann's unit camped out at Port Tampa for a while and in one postcard he describes the camp as having "sand knee deep and good and hot," with the only trouble being that he can't get enough to eat. The orders to ship out to Cuba came on June 13th and Kortmann writes that there are around 850 men on his ship (the USS Santiago) and that it is "quite a task to breathe." The USS Santiago was among the first ships to arrive at Cuba on June 22, despite this, they were actually forgotten during the disembarking process and ended up having to wait three days till the men were able to leave the humid, cramped ship.

There is a gap in the correspondence between June 26th and July 12th, but we can fill some of
The flag of the 9th Regiment. Courtesy of the
New York State Military Museum
the unit's activity and what Kortmann would have been going through thanks to the website The troops had to march about 12 miles to Santiago in intense heat while carrying their blanket rolls and ammo. The Ninth eventually reached San Juan Hill, but found themselves in the valley between the American artillery and the Spanish troops. As the unit tried to make sense of the battle, their colonel was killed and two lieutenant colonels were wounded leaving Lieutenant Colonel Ezra P. Ewers as the senior officer, which he did not even know until after San Juan Hill was captured.

"We are here at last in the City (Santiago de Cuba) and quartered in the Theater...A great many of our men are sick from exhaustion and malarial fever. - Louis Kortmann

Postcard from Louis to Kate stating that Santiago
has surrendered. Courtesy of the Louis W. Kortmann
Collection at the Grems-Doolittle Library and Archives.
Between the intense heat, sickness, and lack of cooking equipment, camp at San Juan was brutal. By the time the Spanish surrendered San Juan, the Ninth had lost one officer and four enlisted men with 27 enlisted men wounded. The Ninth had more to worry about than the Spanish forces as Kortmann writes, "We have plenty of sickness in our camps." By July 22, 132 men out of the regiment's 433 were reported sick and 5 men would die of various illnesses before they reached Camp Wikoff on Long Island. Despite being back in the states, sickness still ran rampant throughout the Ninth. Kortmann writes that "This place (Camp Wikoff) is not a fit place for a camp for sick men. We have to lay on the ground and most of us have only one blanket." In a later postcard he states that the Camp is worse than being in Cuba and that they average six deaths a day.

Doctor William Wallace Walker was stationed at Camp Wikoff and wrote an account of the conditions at the Camp. Walker wrote that “Right here in 100 miles of New York I cannot get medicines for typhoid fever, or chlorinated soda to wash out the bowels in typhoid fever and dysentery, the two principal diseases killing our boys…There is gross mismanagement somewhere and it is costing many lives. Too many politicians and rich men’s sons are appointed to office.” Walker complained of other doctors not visiting sick men till 10 a.m. while he had been working since 5:30 a.m. He was sickened and disturbed by these conditions and requested a transfer back to his regular regiment in San Antonio.

Company E of the 9th Infantry reading newspapers during the Spanish-American war. 1898. Black & white photoprint, 8 x 10 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. <>, accessed 30 June 2016.
Telegram from Nelson A. Rockefeller to Louis W. Kortmann.
Rockefeller asks Kortmann to meet to discuss the effectiveness
of state programs. Courtesy of the Louis W. Kortmann
Collection at the Grems-Doolittle Library and Archives.
Kortmann made it back to his wife and ended up playing for the United States Military Academy Band. In 1905, their son Louis W. Kortmann Jr. was born. The Kortmann’s eventually settled in Schenectady and Louis Jr. started his banking career as a teller at the Schenectady Trust Company. Kortmann would work his way up to become president of the bank. This collection doesn’t contain too many personal details about Louis Jr.’s life, but from its contents, we see that he dealt with some very important people. There is an invitation to John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, a letter from Robert F. Kennedy, and a telegram from Nelson A. Rockefeller. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find much more about Kortmann Jr.’s life. The bits and pieces that are there mostly deal with his time as president of the Schenectady Trust Company. This collection gives a glimpse into his life, and I hope to dig up a bit more about him in the future.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Schenectady Sluggers Part 2: Marty Servo, a Tough Little Fighter

Described by Sugar Ray Robinson as “one of the finest fellows I ever fought,” Schenectady’s Marty Servo had quite a boxing career. He was born Mario Severino on November 3rd, 1919 in Schenectady. Servo attended Nott Terrace High School where he ran cross country and boxing as an amateur. His career as an amateur featherweight was an amazing 91-4 and he received both a Golden Gloves and a Diamond Belt Featherweight championship. Servo’s pro career started in August 1938 at Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC where he fought and beat Jerry Hall.

 Lou Ambers (on the right), former world's lightweight champion, sparring with Marty Servo (on the left), well-known pro, as Eristus Sams, former Tuskegee football and track star, referees. All three are boxing instructors at the Manhattan Beach Coast Guard training station. Courtesty of the Library of Congress.
Servo was guided to his pro career through his relative and fellow boxer Lou “Herkimer Hurricane” Ambers from Herkimer, NY. Ambers’ manager was named Al Weill and thought that it would be natural to bring Servo under Weill’s management.  Weill also managed Rocky Marciano and Joey Archibald. Weill was known for Americanizing his boxer’s names he even shortened his own as his full name was Armand but he went by Al. Lou Ambers was Luigi Giuseppe d'Ambrosio, Marty Servo was Mario Severino, Rocky Marciano was Rocco Marchegiano, Joey Archibald was…Joey Archibald.

Servo wasn’t the most powerful puncher, but he was quick and clever. From the start of his professional career till September 9th, 1941, he went undefeated (with 2 draws). Then he met Sugar Ray Robinson. Some of Servo’s most popular fights were against Sugar Ray Robinson who Servo fought twice during his career. The first fight occurred in 1941 and while Sugar Ray had never lost to a welterweight, Servo gave him a run for his money. Robinson managed to defeat Servo in a split decision. The rematch on May 28, 1942 was even closer but Servo lost in a disputed ten round split decision. Many in the crowd thought that Marty should have won this match.

Photo of the rematch between Sugar Ray Robinson and Marty Servo. Courtesy of The Ring.
The rematch against Sugar Ray Robinson was Marty’s last match for a while as World War II would force him to take a three year break from boxing. Servo was in the US Coast Guard from 1942 to 1945 and served under former heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey as a physical training instructor. Servo continued his boxing career after returned from his war service.

“Schenectady has always rooted for me. The newspapers have always treated me fairly, and I want to win for everybody in the worst way." - Marty Servo

He only fought a couple matches before going on to challenge Freddie “Red” Cochrane for the Welterweight World Championship. The match was at Madison Square Garden in front of a crowd of 17,000 people. It was reported that over 2,000 Schenectadians were in attendance.  Servo did not disappoint those that made the trip. In the 4th round Servo hit a bloodied Cochrane with a left hook and Cochrane went down. Although Cochrane did his best to try and get back up from the hook, he couldn’t quite get up. The ref called the match at 2:54 into the 4th round. Despite winning the Welterweight Championship, Marty and his manager actually lost money on the fight. Cochrane was guaranteed $50,000 and two months later, Weill and Servo still owed him.

Speaker of the House Oswald D. Heck shaking hands with Marty Servo
after he won the Welterweight Championship. Courtesy of the Photo
Collection at the Grems-Doolittle Library. This photo, along with other
photos of boxers can be seen on our New York Heritage Collection.

This debt led to the worst decision Weill and Servo made during his professional career, the decision to fight middleweight Rocky Graziano. Graziano was only 8 pounds heavier than Servo, but it was an important 8 pounds. The fight was quick and brutal with Servo being TKO’d less than 2 minutes into the second round. This was Servo’s first time being KO’d in his professional career. Graziano broke Servo’s nose so badly that doctors recommended he never fight again. When asked if he had something to say to his fans, Marty said, “Tell them I just forgot to duck.”

Fans welcoming Marty Servo after his 1946 Welterweight Championship win. Courtesy  of the Photo Collection at the Grems-Doolittle Library. This photo, along with otherphotos of boxers can be seen on our New York Heritage Collection.
Servo went on to fight two more matches, but hung his gloves up after losing to Rocky Castellani. After he retired from boxing, he worked as a bartender, car salesman, and foreman at a steel mill in Colorado. He fell ill in the early 1950s and had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his left lung. Hospital expenses related to his cancer would cause his savings to dwindle over time and he died at the age of 50. Servo’s story shows just how difficult it could be to make it as a pro fighter. One bad decision ended his career. In Servo’s obituary, Ralph Martin, sports editor of the Knickerbocker News wrote “Marty, whose life was a study in hardship, triumph, pain and tragedy, will never be forgotten. Champions live on.”