A Hammondsport Odyssey
The temperatures were at their highest points in history, provoking "shocking suffering in the tenement districts." Street-level thermometers in New York City were reading over a hundred. There was no air conditioning, and many housing blocks still didn't have electricity, even assuming that the largely-immigrant urban poor could have afforded fans. Inside their close-packed homes, temperatures were even higher.
In eight days, 808 people died from the heat in that city. Hospital ice plants struggled to keep up, and 150 policemen went down. "Grippe" spread wildly through the horse population, shattering the city's transportation net and piling the streets with corpses and effluvium. A man died from heat in Schenectady and another in Jamestown. Attendance plummeted at the Pan-Am Exposition in Buffalo. In Hammondsport, Jacob Frey collapsed while working on his lawn. D. H. Talmadge, pressed by the heat, went so far as to try out a new concept previously untested in Hammondsport: the horse hat. The Herald surveyed Talmadge's blind dray horse and reported that the hat, "while not handsome, perhaps, is apparently immensely comfortable." Glenn Curtiss wasn't the only forward-looking innovator in town.
Mosquitoes were very common around Hammondsport, following a year of wet weather and high water. The Bath Soldiers' Home was coping with flooding. Ithaca, on the other hand, was coping with a plague of frogs. These were so thick and so numerous that they were invading houses, wrecking gardens, and impeding the street railway. "It is thought that the frogs came down during the heavy rains of Saturday," the Herald reported on July 10. But the paper allowed that they could have come up from the swamps, or that the many pools formed in the very wet season might have permitted tadpoles to breed.
Henry Eckel profited from odd behavior in the animal kingdom, when he excited the community by capturing a swarm of bees atop a maple in Hammondsport's Pulteney Park: these turned out to be a very expensive Italian strain. But glaziers were still sold out after hail storms in late June, some of which dropped stones over 8" in diameter. The American Wine Press recommended breaking up approaching hail storms by firing cannon.
Our new possession of the Philippines passed from military government under General Arthur MacArthur to civil government under William Howard Taft on the Fourth of July—a transition that General MacArthur managed largely to ignore. Anti-imperalist William Jennings Bryan revealed that he had declined a $100,000 campaign contribution from Filipino independence leader Emilio Aguinaldo during the previous year's Presidential election. But if things were looking up for people in the Philippines, they were looking down for people in the "Indian Territory," that huge reservation that now comprises most of the state of Oklahoma. President McKinley opened the remainder of the territory to white settlement by proclamation.
Lackawanna Railroad workers went out on strike, while the Erie switched from soft coal to hard coal on its passenger lines. The Kanona and Prattsburgh's Engine #1 arrived at the B&H yard on Hammondsport waterfront for general repairs. New timetables went into effect July 1; New York City mail, including the morning papers, pulled into Hammondsport Depot at 12:30. A group of 225 retail grocers from New York City stopped over on their way to the Pan-Am riding a Lackawanna special, they arrived in Hammondsport the afternoon of Sunday, July 3, then took the Mary Bell to Grove Spring and visited the Urbana Wine Company. Mary Bell carried 1400 people on the Fourth of July.
Hammondsport business was lively in July. Floyd Jenkins bought the tools and business of retiring barber Albert Beekman. George Cramer of Hornellsville bought the village blacksmith business from F. O. Arland. Lyon the Jeweler, deciding to concentrate on his main line, knocked down his stock of clocks, watches, bicycles, silverware, glass, and stationery for $7000 at auction. Goodrich Dry Good had a sale of ladies' shoes at 98 cents a pair, while Lown's in Penn Yan had a three-day sale of muslin underwear. Cohn's in Bath suggested beating the heat by taking off your woolens and arraying yourself in summer clothes—flannel suits at $5, linen suits at $3, straw hats for $1. If you wanted to make a bit of an impression, one dollar would also fetch you a "Swell White Duck Vest."
July 1 timetables showed five three-hour trips daily from Hammondsport to Penn Yan by steamer. The B&H made six 30-minute runs from Hammondsport to Bath, although either trip could be extended by flag- or whistle-stops. The stagecoach from Pulteney arrived in Hammondsport at 11 am daily, beginning its return trip at half-past noon. The stage would still be running as late as World War I.
A Close-Up Look at Glenn Curtiss's First Motorcycle
Curtiss left no particular record of his trip to the Pan-Am in the week of June 23. He accompanied Frank Smith and Arthur Stanton, presumably in taking advantage of excursion rates on either the Erie or the DL&W. Surely they made at least one overnight, perhaps staying at a boarding house or hotel, or taking a room in one of the many private homes that were cashing in on the spectacular attraction. Perhaps they stayed with Glenn's old cycling buddy Tank Waters, who was practicing nursing in Buffalo, or with some other friend or relative. The Herald sardonically reported that many Buffalo residents were receiving the attention of acquaintances from whom they hadn't heard in years.
We don't know whether the three friends crossed paths with Geronimo, who visited in the same week, or what they may have thought of the Scottish Games. We can only wonder whether they took in one of the many concerts during Saengerfest Days, or whom they might have known among the quarter-million visitors jamming the fair each week. We don't know if any of them were Oddfellows (Curtiss wasn't), and so might have joined their lodge brothers in a special day on June 26. But we can be morally certain that Glenn Curtiss visited the Machinery and Transportation Building. His own mechanical bent would have driven him there, but it was also the showcase for the latest innovations in his various businesses.
William Ayres and Son of Philadelphia presented horse blankets, as did L. C. Chase and Company of Boston. William Hengerer and G. N. Pierce, both of Buffalo, each showed off their latest in bicycles, as did National Cycle of Bay City, Michigan—one of Glenn's suppliers. Buffalo Metal Goods offered bicycle fittings. Emery Tire, Pennsylvania Rubber, Revere Rubber, Fisk Rubber, and Goodyear all had tires, while the brashly-named Twentieth-Century Company provided vehicle lamps.
This showcase of products probably made part of the visit a business trip, but the restless Mr. Curtiss surely looked over the seven makers of horse-drawn vehicles, the four boat builders, and the fifteen companies selling automobiles. And 69th on an alphabetical list of 78 exhibitors, at location A-21, hard by the Pierce bicycles, he would have found "Thomas Motor Company, Buffalo, N. Y. Motor cycles, etc."
The Motor cycle was a Thomas Auto-Bi. Thomas had a 175-pound model with 1.5 hp engine retailing for $200, and a 110-pound 2.25 hp racer at $250. Introduced the previous year, Edwin R. Thomas's brainchild, backed by strong capitalization that allowed swift manufacture and delivery, was running away with the business it had essentially originated.
Almost immediately after Curtiss got home from the Pan-Am, he sent to Thomas for a mail-order engine. What he got for his money disgusted him. The engine was rough-cast, needing milling to finish it. There was no carburetor. There were no instructions. But he grimly set about making things good. Lena's uncle Frank Neff ran the wire-hood factory down at the waterfront, and Glenn delivered the single-cylinder motor to him for finish milling. The carburetor he created from a tomato can, and as for instructions, he just got along without them.
When he finished hooking up the engine to a bicycle frame, he had an audience. Even if he hadn't, a crowd would have been magnetized by the shocking, unprecedented racket of the tiny engine. There's a persistent local story that Glenn Curtiss ran his first motorcycle down the street and into the lake, having forgotten brakes. Other tales say that he ran into a tree instead of the lake, or had to pedal back from outside town because he ran out of gas. All three stories are untrue—even as a boy, Curtiss was famed for meticulous planning. At any rate, Curtiss clearly considered his first motorcycle as a simple experiment, to see whether he could actually do it. Now ready to get serious, he wrote again to Thomas ordering the biggest engine they had.
Curtiss was then 23 years old. He had a 20-year-old wife, a sickly son, and an ailing grandmother who was losing her sight. He carried on his bicycle business, including branch stores in Bath and Corning, and even launched into manufacturing with a firm in Addison. He certainly kept up the harness business, which got the lion's share of his advertising money in the Herald. He collected 60-cent fees for bicycle sidepath tags. He sold sewing machines, seemingly ran an apple press, and presumably continued, or at least rented out, Grandma Curtiss's 7-crew vineyard operation. Since Zimmer's lines were spreading rapidly through town, it's likely that any demand for his acetylene light was dwindling rapidly.
After proving to himself that he could actually make a working motorcycle, Curtiss ordered the biggest engine castings Thomas had (56 pounds, 3 hp, designed for three- and four-wheelers) and created a more practical machine. Once again he had to go through the process of milling at the wire-hood factory. And he soon had a powerful, if still rather crude, vehicle, capable of handling the hills around Keuka Lake. By this time he decided that he could do better than the Thomas company when it came to power plants. He sketched out what he wanted, and took the designs to the Kirkham foundry in Taggert's, half-way between Hammondsport and Bath. In Mr. Kirkham's little operation, some time late in 1901, the first Curtiss engine (soon trademarked "Hercules") came to be. In January 1902, Glenn Curtiss was in the motorcycle business.
End of a Long Hot Summer
July was the hottest month on record up to 1901, and August burned in almost as bad. Even funerals were being scheduled for the early morning or the evening, when "heat is much less trying." Retail store owners in Rochester gave their clerks a half-holiday on Saturdays while the heat lasted. The Hammondsport Herald suggested that this practice be adopted by other businesses, including printing plants.
Influenza was spreading among horses, and rattlesnakes over four feet long were being killed in Addison. The New York State apple crop was estimated as being only about ¼ of the normal harvest, while growers near Naples figured that they wouldn't even get enough plums, cherries, pears, or peaches for home use. The long hot summer took its toll on human relations, as well. Three Negroes, including two women, were lynched for murder in Carrolton, Mississippi. A Negro man was lynched in Smithville, Tennessee. A Negro man was burned for assault near Savannah, Georgia. And 6000 people watched the lynching of a Negro man, accused of murder, near Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The thoughts of children were probably fixed on another topic altogether; as August progressed, school drew nearer. F. D. Stellar of Hammondsport took over the school supplies line from Lyon the Jeweler. The trustees at Pleasant Valley School appointed Leslie C. Baker of Branchport and Jennie Relyea of Hammondsport as teachers, while steel ceilings were placed at Hammondsport High School. One of the features that set HHS apart from other schools was the teacher training class, a one-year post-graduate program that prepared its students for teaching positions. Miss Mary Franklin, an experienced Normal School graduate, had charge of the class.
Entering students had to be at least 17 years of age, and any one of four different credentials would be accepted for admission in those days when there was very little standardization among schools. Candidates were expected to be well versed in arithmetic, composition, geography, orthography, penmanship, physiology, hygiene, American history, and civil government. The school would furnish most of their books, conducting the class in "one of the finest rooms in the new building…well equipped with apparatus and pedagogical books." The training class's connection with the main school also gave students an excellent opportunity for observation and practice teaching in the grades. "Graduates from our training class," the paper assured readers, "find no difficulty in securing good positions and thus far have made a good record as teachers."
Even back in those days, summer meant traveling. The Corning baseball team traveled to Canisteo, where they beat the local team 19-15 before a crowd of 1200 spectators, meantime raising $207.15 for the Canisteo library. Bath & Hammondsport Railroad Pan-Am specials left from the lakeside depot Monday and Wednesday mornings at 5:30. Travelers caught the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western at the DL&W depot in Bath, where they got a four-day round-trip ticket to Buffalo for $2.95. Glenn Curtiss and Art Stanton had already been to the Pan-American Exposition. They spent Sunday, August 11, along with Mrs. Stanton, Mrs. Curtiss, and baby Carlton Curtiss, visiting friends in Rock Stream. There were 1502 inmates at the Soldiers' and Sailors' Home in Bath. Perhaps some of them planned a trip to Cleveland in September for the national encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic.
As August ended, coal was selling for $5.50 a ton at the Hammondsport yard, and half a dollar less in Bath. The Herald glumly reported that there was no telling when price increases would stop for "this indispensable article." Apparently things were cooling off at last.
A Pretty Fair Month
Hammondsport School was closed. On the streets and in the Square, scarcely a sound was heard. Shops stood idle, almost empty, and in some cases were even closed. In vain did the retailers peer wistfully through their plate-glass windows, hoping for a glimpse of potential customers. Hammondsport was empty. Everyone had gone to the Bath Fair.
The fair was at the end of September in those days, and was so popular that school was indeed called off for Thursday and Friday of fair week, when the B&H groaned from carrying all those eager Hammondsporters down the line. Not only did the fair provide entertainment in a world with no TV, no radio, only a few hand-cranked gramophones, and only occasional movies; it was also an important educational showcase for agricultural products and techniques. Steuben County, like many rural counties, was still primarily agricultural in those days. The State Fair in Syracuse ran from the 9th through the 14th; admission cost a quarter. September 11 was Carrie Nation Day at the Yates County Fair in Penn Yan.
There was another fair still going on in Buffalo at the time, of course—The Pan-American Exposition, or, as we would now call it, the world's fair. Mr. and Mrs. C. G. Wheeler visited the Pan-Am from Catawba, as did Rua Gay and Elmer J. Orr of Rheims, not to mention Victor and Julia Masson of Hammondsport and a whole excursion from Steuben County Grange. The fair's publicity director, former Hammondsporter Marc Bennitt, suavely recommended that visitors plan to stay at least two weeks, "to enjoy more fully this rare opportunity for pleasure and study…. No one who can possibly raise the money to visit the Exposition should for a moment think of denying himself this signal advantage."
Admission was 50 cents, including all the grounds, the exhibit buildings, and the Stadium, where visitors could see athletic events, livestock shows, and vehicle parades. Midway concessions ranged from a dime to half a dollar. Fifty cents would get you comfortable lodgings, while accommodations closer to the Pan-Am ran as high as a dollar a night. Marc estimated daily expenses in Buffalo at no more than $2.50 "for those who want the best." One visitor apparently decided to defray his costs by stealing the Mexican Liberty Bell.
Harvest was on the minds of many people. Delaware grapes were selling at $50 a ton, while potatoes got 65 to 75 cents a bushel, and peaches $1.50 a basket. Apple buyers paid $3.12½ to pick their own. Amos Roberts of Addison stated that "he never knew how uncertain things were until he invested in a vineyard."
The baseball season was winding up, although "rowdies" from Penn Yan made an unfortunate presence in a game at Kinglsey Flats. Out on the lake, a tramp named Peter Gunning assaulted William Maxfield, an African-American fireman aboard steamer Halsey. When Gunning pulled a pistol, "Max" knocked him down with the flat of an axe. Gunning was subdued, trussed up, bustled off the boat in Penn Yan, and sent to Monroe County prison for four months. There was also considerable excitement at Sub Rosa landing, where a wharf collapsed and dunked 20 people waiting for a steamer, apparently without serious harm. More sedate excitement prevailed at Keuka College, which had just met its goal of raising $25,000, thereby qualifying for a $50,000 challenge grant from the Ball brothers, canning-jar magnates of Muncie, Indiana.
The plate glass for the new Opera House arrived damaged, which threatened to hold up the opening of the facility, but J. S. Hubbs's new residence was proceeding on schedule. The Bath Fish Hatchery shipped 40,000 trout to Seneca Lake, while the Soldiers' Home started its switch from female nurses to male nurses. Mrs. James Shannon of Mount Washington, whose husband had been killed by lightning in June, received her full $2000 from his life insurance policy with the Knights of the Maccabees Royal Tent #72 in Bath. Scientific American informed its readers that if you wore rubbers in a thunderstorm, and refrained from touching anything, you have nothing to fear. Do you think that would have helped Mr. Shannon?
A Close-Up Look at The Death of the President
William McKinley was a gentle man and a gentleman, diligent rather than brilliant, soft-spoken, well-liked. He had entered the Civil War as a private at 18 and left it as a major at 22, after fighting gallantly at Antietam, Winchester, Kernstown, and a host of other actions under Rutherford B. Hayes. As a captain in one battle he had directly ordered a recalcitrant general to put his division into motion, and the general had obeyed.
After climbing the ranks of Republican politics, McKinley was elected President in 1896, defeating William Jennings Bryan, whose reform proposals, plus support for organized labor and small farmers, terrified the big-money men by then controlling The Party of Lincoln. McKinley conducted a "front-porch" campaign; while Bryan stumped the nation, the Republican candidate treated friendly delegations to set speeches at his home.
In 1898 America fought its "splendid little war" with Spain, taking over Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam, some smaller islands, and (temporarily) Cuba, besides picking up Hawaii on the side. Northern and Southern soldiers fought together, winning an empire in three months by spectacular victories and almost no loss of life. Orators enthused that the wounds of the Civil War had been healed, and McKinley beat Bryan in their 1900 rematch.
The national healing was, of course, a partial reconciliation of whites, made possible only at the expense of black Americans, including those who had fought alongside Teddy Roosevelt at San Juan Hill. Bryan, by the way, had raised his own regiment of volunteers, which was assigned to guard Tampa for the duration of the war. McKinley may have been a gentleman, but he was no fool. Bryan would get no chance to do anything remotely heroic.
McKinley's second inauguration was the last for a Civil War President. Roosevelt, his energetic young VP who had been given the second spot to keep him "on the shelf," had been a small boy when he watched Lincoln's funeral procession.
McKinley loved world's fairs, and eagerly visited the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. On September 5 he made a speech to 50,000 visitors, proclaiming that America's era of isolation was over. On the next day he visited Niagara Falls, attended a luncheon along with his semi-invalid wife, then returned to the fair over the objections of his secretary, George Cortelyou, who worried about his safety. "No one would want to hurt me," scoffed McKinley, who was determined to shake hands with visitors. Cortelyou stationed police who overlooked a bland young man with his right hand wrapped in a bandage. As the ever-courteous McKinley stretched out his left hand, Leon Czolgosz shot him twice with a revolver concealed in the bandages. Stumbling back, the President whispered to Cortelyou, "My wife—be careful how you tell her." His next words, as police and spectators piled on the assailant, were, "Don't let them hurt him."
One of the bullets had gone deep, and doctors, ignoring an x-ray machine displayed at the fair, couldn't find it. But they had high hopes, so Roosevelt and the cabinet, who had raced to McKinley's side, dispersed several days later. On September 13, doctors recognized gangrene. Word was flashed to Roosevelt, vacationing in the Adirondacks (blackflies and all) 12 miles from a telephone. When the driver rushing TR to the train balked at hurrying horses along a narrow mountain road in the dark, Teddy took the reins himself and galloped on. But McKinley died, faintly singing "Nearer, My God to Thee," before Roosevelt arrived to be sworn in as the youngest President America has ever had. Judge Hazel, who administered the oath, would later rule against both Henry Ford and Glenn Curtiss in acrimonious patent disputes.
One of Roosevelt's first acts was to declare Thursday, Sept. 19, a day of mourning. Schools and businesses closed, although Hammondsport Post Office stayed open to 11:00 because the morning mail arrived so late. The Presbyterian Church held a memorial service Sunday night, but St. James Episcopal waited until Thursday, with McKinley's brother Masons attending in a body. Hammondsport's G. A. R. Post passed a resolution honoring its fallen comrade. The loss was traumatic to Americans who had already endured the assassinations of Lincoln (1865) and Garfield (1881). The equivalent for us would be having had Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush killed. Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham, endured the agony of being on hand for all three assassinations.
Czolgosz, an anarchist, had shot McKinley simply because he headed the government. Emma Goldman and other outspoken anarchists were clapped into jail, then truculently released when it became clear that Czolgosz had acted alone. The law moved swiftly back then. Czolgosz's trial opened September 24. He was electrocuted within the month, and quickly forgotten.
Attention turned to the vibrant, not to say hyperactive, new President, who quickly scandalized the nation by inviting Booker T. Washington to lunch at the Executive Mansion. A United States Senator screeched that the South would have to lynch a thousand Negroes to force them back into their place. McKinley's friend and campaign manager, Mark Hanna, steamed, "Now that cowboy is in the White House!" Teddy Roosevelt would set the standard for 20th-century presidents; his activist example would not be lost on Teddy's niece, Miss Eleanor Roosevelt, nor on their distant cousin Franklin, who was in 1901 a student at Harvard.
© 2003, Kirk House