Wednesday, December 26, 2012

History in Pen and Ink: Prints of Drawings from the H.S. Barney Collection

The H.S. Barney Company, also known as Barney's department store, was an institution in the downtown Schenectady shopping area for nearly 140 years. In addition to conducting business, the store also helped to tell the story of Schenectady's history through a series of attractive and interesting prints. The prints are roughly chronological, and depict different aspects of the city's history from 1833 through 1929.

There is a bit of mystery surrounding the origin of the prints. Some of the prints were reproduced in local newspapers in advertisements for the Barney's department store. The earliest such advertisement we were able to find was in a 1955 advertisement in a special 100-year anniversary edition of the Schenectady Union-Star. There appears to be a total of 10 drawings in the collection, each bearing the notation "From the H.S. Barney Collection of Original Pen Drawings." The first two are not signed, but all appear to have been drawn by the same artist, and the drawings numbered 3 through 10 are signed with the initials "F. B. R." We have been unable to determine who the artist is, exactly when the prints were made, how many were made, or how they were distributed. Anyone who has additional information about these prints is encouraged to contact Librarian Melissa Tacke by phone at 518-374-0263, option 3, or send an email to

Below are images of some of these compelling prints.

This is the first drawing in the series. A 1955 Barney's advertisement in the Union-Star describes this drawing as depicting "H.S. Barney's arrival by mulecart in Schenectady in 1833." In this scene looking east up State Street, viewers can see the Erie Canal, the railroad, and the area that is now Veterans' Park. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Collections.

The local fraternal organization Mystic Order of the True Blues was a short-lived organization, being in existence roughly from 1867 to 1870. Joel Henry Monroe in his book Schenectady Ancient and Modern describes platform of the True Blues as being "to awaken Schenectady by carnivals and burlesque shows and characterizations of certain institutions and incidents." According to newspaper reports of the time, upwards of 30,000 out-of-towners visited Schenectady for the 1870 carnival and parade organized by the True Blues. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Collections.

A street scene in front of the H.S. Barney Company on State Street around the turn of the twentieth century. The H.S. Barney Company, later known as Barney's, was a fixture in downtown Schenectady until the store closed its doors in 1973.  Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Collections.

This drawing seems to have been inspired by Schenectady's 1914 flood, described as the worst flood in the city's history. The Mohawk River's level was raised by 25 feet. The flooding forced hundreds of people from their homes, and many people had to be evacuated from their homes in boats. Notice the rats who have commandeered a plank of wood as a raft. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Collections.

Although Schenectady was no Chicago in the 1920s, the effect of crime during Prohibition was present in the city. This depiction of Prohibition-era crime may have been been influenced by a story on file in the city police department which was also shared by Larry Hart in his book Schenectady's Golden Era, 1880-1930. A bootlegger transporting liquor smuggled from Canada was traveling near Amsterdam on November 7, 1924 when "a high-powered car pulled alongside and another man jumped onto the running board, held a revolver against the driver's heart and ordered him to stop. They took over his cargo, valued at about $3,000, and drove him to the Rotterdam hills and told him to 'start walking.'" The car was later found abandoned near the intersection of State Street and Ferry Street in Schenectady. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Collections.

The last in the series of drawings shows a local connection to the stock market crash in 1929 that led to the Great Depression. Two concerned men are shown inside the office of the Edward B. Smith & Co. stocks and investment securities company at 212 State Street in Schenectady. The two men might be the men listed in the 1929 city directory as proprietor and manager -- Edward Smith and Theodore Lydgate. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Collections.

Friday, December 21, 2012

"The Best Santa Claus in the World": Schenectady's Frank Mauro

Frank Mauro acts the part of Santa Claus at the Carl Company department store in 1951. From Larry Hart Collection. 

When the Carl Company closed its doors in Schenectady, one sentiment written in a memory book made available to the store's customers in the weeks before the store's closing read, "The Carl Company had the best Santa Claus in the world!" This sentiment could likely have referred to Frank Mauro, who acted as Santa for the Carl Company for three decades.

The interior of the Carl Company department store during the holiday shopping season, ca. 1950. From Larry Hart Collection. 

Frank Mauro was born in Italy and moved with his parents, Louis and Antonetta, to the United States in 1910. By 1919, the family had moved to Schenectady. Mauro's first publicity as an artist came in 1921, when he was mentioned in a Schenectady Gazette article about a kite-making contest in Pleasant Valley Park: "Frank Mauro, a young contestant, has been amusing a large crowd with his comic cartoons. Every day a different cartoon appears on the bulletin board and it pays to read them over, as they often are scenes happening in the park." He was then only 15 years old. He began his working life at G.E., where he worked until he established his used car dealership, Mauro Auto Sales, in 1936. He married Rose Furlano that year, and the couple went on to have two children. Mauro would continue to work as an auto dealer until his retirement in 1984.

Mauro's commitment to art and entertainment ran through his entire life, and he often drew in public to entertain others. A 1932 Gazette article described Mauro's efforts in drawing crowds to the Carl Company during a sale of fur coats: "at 11 o'clock a young man in painter's smock stepped into the window, adjusted a big easel and went to work drawing quickly on the big sheet of paper. The crowds soon gathered. He drew and there appeared an amusing fat boy and his little dog. Quickly lettering a message at the top of the paper the artist, Frank F. Mauro, introduced his cartoon boy, Dick Doolittle Dunn and dog. After that the sheets were filled with pictures of Dick in different amusing poses always saying something about the Carl fur sale . . . All the time the artist, Mr. Mauro, was drawing quickly and cleverly so that the succeeding scenes seemed like a moving picture. It amused the crowds greatly and many of the women and girls stopped in to see the bargains in coats which the store was offering." Mauro copyrighted his images of newspaper-boy Dick Doolittle Dunn and his dog Fido that year, and continued to draw them for years. Historian Larry Hart notes that the duo appeared in local publications, but in searching newspapers and other documents in our library, I have not yet come across any of Mauro's work.

This photo of Mauro in his later life appeared with his obituary in the March 13, 1987 Schenectady Gazette. Below his photo and name, it read "Was a Carl Co. Santa." Image obtained via Google News Archives.  

During World War II, Mauro painted shop windows and billboards to promote the sale of war bonds to Schenectadians. In 1942, in preparation for "Tank Week," a week-long drive to sell war stamps and bonds to fund the purchase of an ALCO-made M-3 tank for General MacArthur, the Schenectady Gazette highlighted Mauro's artwork: "Some of the stores in the city began to take on a tank week atmosphere yesterday when Frank Mauro, local artist, started decorating windows with a water color outline of one of the big tanks. Thus far he has been engaged to decorate 35 windows and hopes to do more if time will permit. He is doing this work without charge as his contribution to the campaign." Gazette editorial column writer "Van" wrote that Mauro also made sketches of Dick Doolittle Dunn in support of the war bond effort in Crescent Park over the course of several months. Van also added that in addition to his talents as an artist, Mauro was "an A-1 yarn spinner and is seldom seen without a cigar in his mouth."

Mauro was especially engaged with sharing his love of cartooning with local children. He began teaching cartoon classes for children and regularly giving cartooning demonstrations during the 1930s and headed a local Cartoon Club. During the summer of 1949, he gave free cartooning classes to children nearly every day of the week at 13 of the city's parks and playgrounds, reaching nearly 500 local kids. He often was featured as an entertainer at the Schenectady Hobby Show and Central Park Play Day and other local festivals and holiday celebrations. During the 1950s, he brought cheer to children in Sunnyview Hospital through his sketches and cartoons. Cartooning even followed him to his place of business; a 1950 Schenectady Gazette article noted that between 35 and 40 youngsters gathered every day after school to receive a quick sketch from Mauro or have him look at their drawings. Mauro said he enjoyed having the children visit and that it wasn't a hindrance to conducting business -- if a customer came in, the children would wait.

Monday, December 17, 2012

"I Was Present at Some Warm Work, It's True": Schenectady's William Duane Witnesses France's July Revolution

This painting, Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix (1830) commemorates the July Revolution in France. The  original painting is part of the collections of the Louvre.

In the General Letters in the collections of the Grems-Doolittle Library is a gem of a letter written by William N. Duane to his sister, Maria Bowers (Duane) Jones that gives his eyewitness description of the July Revolution, a three-day revolt in France that overthrew King Charles X  in 1830 and gave rise to what would become known as the July Monarchy. In 1832, Parisians again revolted in an uprising known as the June Rebellion, which has been immortalized in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. The July Monarchy remained unpopular and was ultimately overthrown in 1848. A tip of the hat is due to researcher John Gearing, who recently came across this letter while researching another subject.

Page of letter from William N. Duane to his sister Maria Jones describing events during the July Revolution in France (Gen L 131). 

William N. Duane (1804-1871) was the son of James Chatham Duane and Mary Ann Bowers. Born and raised in Schenectady, he graduated from Union College in the class of 1824. He married Frances Eliza Prince Walton in 1835; the couple had one son. William Duane became a physician and worked from his home on Union Street, where he lived until his death in 1871.

Image of Dr. William N. Duane, ca. 1860.
From Duane surname file. 

From sources in the library, it is not clear why Duane was in France in 1830. The letter offers a number of interesting details recorded by Duane in November 1830, a few months after the July Revolution. He discusses that a rumor was spread that he had died during the uprising, and admits that while he did no fighting, he did help to build barricades and took some gilt paper crowns that had once decorated King Charles X's table from the ransacked palace. He also comments on the role of women in the uprising as combatants and nurses, noting that "no one was more active than they were in forming the barricades." A full transcription of this fascinating letter has been included below. The original spelling, punctuation, and line breaks have been preserved.

To: Mrs. Samuel W. Jones
New York
United States America

From W.N. Duane 16th Nov 1830

Paris November Nov 16
Rue d'arrjon au Marian
Boulevart de Tample

on the twelfth of this month my Dear Maria
I received my first and as yet, my only
letter from Home. its date was September
the fourth and written by our Dear Father on his
arrival from his wonderful jaunt through the Northern
Country. I happened by accident to extend my visit one
morning who was anxious to call on an American
who had been residing fr some years at Paris on am
leaving him he desired an address after looking at
my Card he told me he was certain he had a letter
for that name and some papers which had been
in his possession for six weeks. they were left at his
House. he gave them to an American who promised
to find me if in Paris but after keeping them a
fortnight he returned them with the report that
I was killed during the late glorious string gleanor (?)
of course all further enquiring ceased. three different
families sent during the revolution to my Hotel to
see if the report was true. I was present at some
warm work its true by was merely a spectator as
relates fighting although I did lend a hand
in making the barricades. I has since the late
struggle been a little frightened I must confess
when I reflect upon some of the risks that I ran
I saw many a poor fellow bite the dust on both
sides and heard the whiz of a stray bullet
occasionally but I now no more wish than
many a one of your sex for the streets waere
Herranged with them during the midst of the
warmest engagements and no one was more active
than they were in forming the barricades they brought
out old trunks and barrels and in short every thing
they could lay their hands upon. there were several
killed during the second day in the opposite corner
but on the same side of the street I saw one poor
woman shot. she was exciting the people to
make them stand to their barrier while a body of
the royal guards were coming down a little
street immediately opposite to it. at the first fire
she was among the victims. there was also another
killed by a cannon shot fired from the arch (by the)
palace she was setting in her room nearby a
quarter of a mile from the Palace the ball
entered the window and struck exactly in
the middle. but the most affecting sight that
I saw was the young woman as soon as poor
fellow dropped three or four would sally out
regardless of the fire and carry him in and
dress his wounds and minister to his comfort
and before any door you might see them
making bandages lint ti ti at as number of
the barricades the stood behind to load the
guns as soon as fellow would drop they would
run and get his gun and ammunition and
load and hand to the men. and many a swiss
was shot from the windows by woman
the swiss were the poor fellows who sufferd the most
they were the kings guards and of course detested
by the people and received no quarters. just at the
termination of the last engagement we went up
to the Tuilleries and on our way we heard a sharp
firing in a little street very near our route we were upon
as it was not far to follow the people who were hurrying in wards
when we arrived we found that a body of the royal guards
in [illegible] about 20 had been firing from an hotel all
day upon the people. who had just succeeded in forcing
the doors they rushed in and pushed the guards with
they bayonetts to the windows and the people below
were shooting them ina few moments they killed
the whole and threw their clothes guns et to the people
below, them then sacked the Hotel reds pictures [hole in paper]
tables and in short every thing that was movable
at the [hole in paper] bishops palace they made a bon fire
it was [hole in paper] they burned and destroyed for him
300,000 francs the whole of his library they threw
in the river not an article was touched by the people
but the Kings palace was lawful plunder and
what they could not carry off they broke to pieces
in the duchess deBerry appartments they had a fine
haul. I got three little gilt paper crowns that were made
to ornament his majesties dinner table. but the englishman
that was with me filled his pockets with preserves & liqueur
at Present as you will see by the papers which
I shall send to Father that we are all very quiet at
present. the exaministen are not to be tryed until the
last of January two of them at present are very ill but
from the state of the public feeling at present it will impossible
to save them foreign powers are making [illegible] in their favor
It is said in the papers that Gen Lafayette has recv'ed
the Embassy for America I saw the General yesterday
tell Father he desired particularly when I wrote to
be remembered to him. He gives a soiree this evening
and our minister on Wednesday. Mr. Hamper our
ambassador from Md has resigned his office on account of ill
health and gone to Winter in Italy. I saw M____ [?]ieves on Sat
and from his talk I should judge that is to be suspended or expects him
to resign as he talkes of going to study farming in England I sent
by the Packet of the first some seeds a letter and my miniature
directed to T.H. Fumiss give my respects to all our Friends
the McC____, Mumfords, Waltons, Kanes [illegible] kiss all. the children
give my love Father Mrs Jones and Elvira R_____ and kiss the
little Rec'd for your affectionate Brother William

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Researching an Eighteenth-Century African-American Family in Schenectady

A researcher recently wrote to our library seeking information about the Speck family of Schenectady. We had come across the name before, as it is the surname of one of the earliest known free African-American families in our area. The Speck (or Spack) surname appears in the early records of the First Reformed Church and in colonial-era tax lists. Also, the house at 116 Front Street bears a plaque indicating it as the Symon Speck House. Encouraged by having come across the name before, I began conducting research to connect members of the family with each other.

The earliest reference I found to the family in Schenectady was the 1705 baptism of Abraham, the son of Symon, a slave of Captain Sanders, and Susanna Tomassen. According to the records of the First Reformed Church, the couple had several other children over the years. The Speck surname first surfaced in 1723 with the baptism of another of the couple's children. Researcher Susan Staffa believes that Nicholas Speck, son of Simon, was the caretaker for the cemetery of the First Reformed Church, which was then west of the intersection of Front and Ferry Streets. Speck's grandmother, Catrina Ezabel, a freewoman, had purchased the land from the First Reformed Church around 1725. It is speculated that the house now known as the Symon Speck House was built there and later moved and adjoined to the house at 114 Front Street, where both structures still stand today. Generations of the Speck family stayed in the area and married into the Cesar/Seaser, Thomas/Thomson, and Primus families. Specks remained in Schenectady until about 1820, when the name disappeared from records.

Letter from Nicholas Speck to John Kiler (Cuyler), 1761. From Historic Manuscripts Collection, General Letters, Gen L 80. A transcription follows:
"Sir / I Would Wait on you but am so very ill that I have not been out of my Bed this two Days - but Sr if you would Oblidge me so much as to go to Mr Jno Saunderson & Desire to know of him of a truth Wither he Did not Write a Coppy of my Mothers Masters Will. Where I got the Will of Jacob Scarmerhorn, & Sr I woulld take it as avery Great Favour to Lett me know by the First Oppertunity & in So Doing you will Greatly Oblidge your Humble Servt Nichs Speck. PS Please to go to Josh Yates Esqr & Desire to know of him the Wittness of the New Transport & Whither it was a Gift of the Old Transport, or Wither my Grandmother paid it well for Joesph Yates Esqr was the man that wrote it" 

Connecting people to the Speck name sometimes proved to be a bit of a challenge. When I began the research, I assumed that it would be easy to distinguish enslaved and free African-Americans in the records; I thought that free people would carry surnames and that enslaved people would either not carry a surname in the records, or they would carry the surname of a slaveowner. This was sometimes true, but many times was not. Even when a person was identified as a “free negro,” the person’s surname might be omitted from a record. For example, one baptismal record from the First Reformed Church in Schenectady, which usually records the father's surname and the mother's maiden name, shows the parents of a child as Jupiter (no last name) and Elizabeth Speck. In another record, a baptismal record shows the parents of a child as Jupiter Primis and Elizabeth (no last name).

I first searched through transcribed church records using the surname index, as I normally do. I found some results, but when I consulted the transcribed records I noticed several entries for which no last names were listed. Some indexes for church records do not include entries for people for whom no last name is provided. I found that even in indexes that incorporated people without surnames (either under "no surname" or "Negro"), many such entries were missed. I discovered several entries in baptismal records by scanning through all of the baptisms for a particular time period. As I scanned the pages, I was not only able to find several entries for people who appeared to be part of the Speck family, but other families of Schenectady's African-American community, both enslaved and free, began to come into view. Although this is quite a tedious method of searching for information, I found it very helpful in finding members of the family who might have otherwise been missed. Also of great help were the births recorded by midwife Mary Stevens from 1767 to 1788, which were transcribed and published with the records of St. George's Church.