Reading the paper from 100 years ago, the daily news covers all sorts of news — serious, heart-rendering, and even lovely light-hearted stuff. But here I am writing an article about a story so bizarre by today’s standards that I had to look into why it was written. With a little light research, I uncovered a history of gendered treatment in America that somehow seems like it should have happened much longer than 100 years ago.
Reading through tales of civil unrest, wars among the nations, local deaths, and happy local nuptials (everything I’d expect from an American newspaper in the 1920s), I nearly spit out my coffee when I read this.
“Young Woman Puffs ‘Cig’ Upon Street: Miss in automobile apparently unconscious of crowd which gathers on Lake Street to watch her manipulate cigarette.“
“Elmirans have read of the lady cigarette smoker in Paris, London, and New York City, who is not adverse to handling a ‘pill’ in public. And Elmirans are also aware, probably, of the fact that milady sometimes, in the quietude of her boudoir, enjoys puffing a dainty Milo, or some other perfume scented cigarette even in Elmira.
But a host of the city’s citizens were treated to a sight on Lake Street near Carroll at 1 o’clock this afternoon, that resulted in the sidewalk being blocked so that it was necessary for a pedestrian to use his elbows in order to hurry to his work. And after the cause of the blockade, about 20 young men still stood and stared.
A stylishly dressed young woman, in her early twenties, was the object of all the attention. She sat in a big Cadillac sport model car, waiting for a gentleman friend, who had driven the machine, while he did some shopping in a nearby store. Between the lips of the young woman was poised a regular man-sized cigarette — not a Mil — and from her nostrils issued a screen of smoke. The unconcern with which the young lady puffed at the cigarette was probably what caused the crowd to gather, until the machine started on its way again, the man back at the wheel.”
Surprised? I was! I looked into the history of women smoking in the United States and found out some interesting facts.
In 1908, an edition of the regular column A Little Corner for the Women posted an answer to a woman’s question of it is was OK for women to smoke in public as well as some recipes for cream toast with cheese and salt codfish in cups which I just have to try. The questions reads, “Will you kindly explain just why you say it is indecent for women to smoke in restaurants? If smoking be a vice, is it not vice equally vicious to both sexes?”
The column author answers with a lengthy explanation which you will find in the attached image. I’ll just share some of the highlights here in the text. The author writes in reply, ” Smoking is a vice, and especially for women…Among habitual women smokers there is not one in ten that does not smoke to excess and hurt her health. Whereas among men that smoke, at least nine in ten are able to control themselves…men today are smoking less and less, as they are drinking less and less…when you want to smoke in public restaurants, branding yourself as an immodest woman regardless of the feelings of others, you are indecent.”
Cynthia Crossen wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal in 2008 entitled “Women and smoking share checkered history.” She wrote of a similar story to the Elmira incident, this time in NYC:
“Mrs. William P. Orr was riding in a car on 5th Avenue in New York City in 1904 when she lit up a cigarette. A policeman on a bicycle ordered her to put it out. “You can’t do that on 5th Avenue while I’m patrolling here,” he told her.” Crossen incluldes this quote in her article as well, “A Washington Post editorial in 1914 declared, “A man may take out a woman who smokes for a good time, but he won’t marry her.”
In 1908 the New York Times reported that Kate Mulchahey, 20, was arrested for smoking. She chose to go to jail rather than pay the $5 fine. She took her cigarettes into jail with her.
The cigarette was introduced in the 1880s and became an everyday habit, helped along by the popularity of cigarettes among the soldiers of World War I. But tobacco was seen as a man’s past-time, not a woman’s. In 1908, it was briefly illegal for a woman to smoke in New York. According to an article by Erin Blackmore:
“a woman with a cigarette was regarded as dangerously sexual, immoral and not to be trusted…For most of the 1900s, women weren’t free to move as they pleased outside of their homes. “Without a male escort,” writes historian Emily Remus, “women were refused service in most restaurants, cafés, and hotels, while saloons and private clubs simply closed their doors to female customers.” Women who appeared in public places without a respectable man were often regarded as prostitutes.”
The law, though notable, didn’t last long…
So the next time you see a woman light a cigarette, remember that only 100 years ago, she might have gone to jail for this offense. But, hopefully, everyone has quit smoking for health reasons, right?
Oh, and in case you were also curious about the car, the sport Cadillac may have looked something like this:
Thanks for taking this tour of history with me. I hope you enjoyed the story.
Elliott, Rosemary Elizabeth. “Destructive but Sweet: Cigarette Smoking Among Women 1890-1990.” Http://Theses.gla.ac.uk/1091/1/2001eliotvol.1phd.Pdf, University of Glasgow, Oct. 2001, theses.gla.ac.uk/1091/1/2001eliotvol.1phd.pdf.
Recently we had a question–what years of Elmira newspapers are available online for free? Elmira newspapers are actually quite well represented online, but it can be tricky to find them. I’ve compiled a list below that hopefully makes it easier. When looking for Elmira newspapers online, there are two main sites that provide the papers for free. They are NY Historic Newspapers and Fulton History. Here are their links.
Newspapers.com also offers Elmira newspapers, but at a fee. There are two different fee structures, depending on if you want just the Elmira titles or access to all of their collection. Those links follow here:
Fee-based links to local newspapers online
Newspapers.com (Includes Elmira Star Gazette (1891-2021) and Advertiser (1950-1978) plus 21,400 other newspaper titles): https://www.newspapers.com/
Even if you don’t want to purchase a subscription, the search function still works on the stargazette.newspapers.com link. You can enter your search term and results pop up with citations. You can’t click on the article to read it in full, but if you write down the date and page number of the article, you can come into the Steele Memorial Library to look at the article on microfilm. (I’ll get into detail on the microfilm in just a minute).
Other free newspapers online
If you are looking for free newspapers, not necessarily from Elmira but from all over the United States, be sure to check out the Chronicling America site for free access to many larger papers.
Also, the Chemung County Library District has some further newspaper resources, such as offering African American newspapers through Accessible Archives, and newspapers through our NovelNY databases. Here are those links:
Of course, the Chemung County Library District also carries microfilm for our local papers, We still get microfilm for our most recent issues as well! It is still the most stable format to preserve newspapers. Microfilm is a roll of photographic film with pictures of the newspapers on it. Just for fun, here is a scene in the horror film “Silence of the Lambs” where star Jodie Foster researches on microfilm:
The microfilm can be accessed at the Steele Memorial Library. The Steele Memorial Library has also indexed many years of the local newspapers both in a card catalog located in our genealogy and local history section which covers years up until 1996. Around 1996 is when our card catalog went online, and library workers continued indexing local history articles and obituaries in the online card catalog, the STARCAT. People can come into the Steele Memorial Library to look in our local history index for articles before 1996, and search the STARCAT for articles after 1996. Here is our link on how to search local obituaries in the STARCAT, and this also works for local history articles too:
Finally, here is a table detailing years available online, the newspaper title that covers the year in question, and where that newspaper can be found. Sometimes, a newspaper can be found on both NY Historic Newspapers and Fulton History. This is indicated by a slash mark (/) between the names of the two sites.
Sometimes more than one newspaper covers a single year. These newspaper titles have been provided in a list format in the year they represent, and the list of sites next to them show where the newspapers can be found.
List of Elmira titles and years available online at no cost:
Just like a previous story about Maggie Scouten, another Elmira woman, Ada Stafford, struggled in life. She also was arrested for intoxication and prostitution (i.e. vagrancy) and passed away before her time. Ada was married and had children in town as well. Here we follow her decline through the local newspapers….
July 12, 1892, Elmira NY:In police court last night, Mrs. Ada Stafford and Minnie Fitzgerald, two low characters of this city who reside in the Seventh ward, were given an examination on the charge of intoxication. The Stafford woman was found guilty and was fined $10 or sixty days in the Monroe county penitentiary at Rochester. She paid her fine and was immediately re-arrested on the charge of vagrancy and being a common prostitute. She pleaded not guilty and her examination was set down for July 13th at 2 p.m. The Fitzgerald woman was fined $10 or sixty days in the penitentiary, and in default of the necessary amount, went over the road.
Ada Stafford was sent to the Monroe Penitentiary on South Avenue in Rochester, NY on 20 June 1889 for 60 days on the charge of intoxication. Monroe Penitentiary was active from 1854 until it was demolished in 1971. “Completed in 1854, the Workhouse, with its 92 cells, cooperage, barrel store, and shoe shops, sought to prepare its inmates for a productive re-entry into society. At the time of its demolition in 1971, it was the oldest prison building in the area.”
Six years later, in 1895, Elmirans awoke to this story in the local newspaper– Mrs. Sprague would like the custody of her daughter reinstated in order to get her away from Ada Stafford. The complete article follows below.
Elmira NY, September 21, 1895: “Cases of children with evil and harmful surroundings seem to be multiplying. Another instance was presented before Judge Walter Lloyd Smith this morning, the case being that of Mrs. Ella Sprague, who prays that her child, Goldie Sprague, be ordered restored to her by Ada Stafford and Elbert Sprague. the latter of whom is the husband of Mrs. Sprague, from whom she is separated.
Attorney Frank C. Ogden represented Mrs. Sprague and Charles Latin, the defendants. The habeus corpus proceedings were adjourned for two weeks.
The petition states that Goldie Sprague, aged nine years, is the daughter of Mrs. Ella Sprague, and is imprisoned and restrained in her liberty by Ada Stafford and Elbert Sprague at No. 903 Oak Street in this city; that the child has not been committed by virtue of any court decree; that the pretense of cause for such restraint is in the best belief of the petitioner that the child is held by said Stafford woman to abuse, and spite the petitioner. The petitioner claims and insists that such imprisonment and restraint is illegal and not for the best interests of the child, because: The petitioner is the mother of the child and legally entitled to her custody; that her father is living, but is separated from the petitioner, and takes no interest in the child’s welfare; that her father is addicted to the use of intoxicating liquors and associates with dissolute women, and that he is not a proper person to have the charge or custody of a little girl of tender years; and that the said Stafford woman is of ill repute, having been charged in the police court with being a common prostitute, and having been convicted of disorderly conduct and confined in the Rochester penitentiary for some length of time;
And that said Stafford woman keeps a disreputable and dissolute class of people at her home, and sends the little girl to saloons for beer, and in other ways uses her in such a manner as to be damaging to the welfare of the child; That said Ada Stafford is a woman of ill repute.
The petitioner asks that a writ of habeas corpus issue, directed to Ada Stafford and Elbert Sprague, commanding them to have the child, together with cause of her imprisonment, before Judge Smith September 21. In answering the complaint the defendants cite that Mrs. Sprague ran away from her husband last March and that the father is the legal custodian of the child.
In conversation with a reporter for this paper today Sprague stated that his wife left him after he had had a quarrel with a man who was boarding with them, and the he presumed she and the man, whose name is Languin, went together, as they both returned to the city about the same time. He said he had information that the two are living together now in rooms on West Water Street among the “Four Hundred.” Sprague and Mrs. Stafford are brother and sister. He is a gentlemanly, straightforward looking fellow and the child is a pretty girl, well dressed and seemed to cling to her father. When the case was called this morning and adjournment taken Attorney Ogden asked for an order giving the mother the custody of the child until the habeas corpus proceedings were decided. He asked the privilege of presenting the police court record of Mrs. Stafford, and Attorney Latin said he would also like to present the record of Mrs. Sprague. The Judge decided to leave the child with the father.”
Just 5 years later, in 1905, the paper announced Ada’s death at the age of 39. The child, Goldie Sprague, is not mentioned, but we learn of Ada’s two daughters and a husband.
Elmira, NY – January 12, 1905: Mrs. Ada Stafford, aged thirty-nine years, died at the home, 150 West Fourth Street, yesterday. Beside the husband, who is a Lackawanna conductor, two daughters Elizabeth and Mrs. Harry Rice, four sisters Mrs. Minnie Todd, Mrs. William Laird, Mrs. Celia Lyons and Miss Jennie Wintermute also two brothers Joe Wintermute of Port Morris, N.J., and Frank Wintermute of Ledgewood, N.J. survive. The funeral will be held at the home Sunday afternoon at 2:30 o’clock.
Through extensive searching on ancestry library edition, I believe little Goldie Sprague turned out OK. It was hard to find her because “Goldie” was a nickname, but I eventually located a Golda Sprague, daughter of Elbert (Albert) Sprague who grew up to marry William Fairfield in 1903 and had children of her own.
I’m not sure why Ada Stafford was so troubled. Her family, the Wintermutes of New Jersey, seemed to be a well-turned out lot. But Ada struggled all her life. Ada Stafford was born Euphemia Addie Wintermute in 1867 in New Jersey. She was married to Harry Stafford of Elmira, a conductor on the Lackawanna Railroad, and gave birth to two daughters. Her daughter Elizabeth (or Mary E) married Louis Genung in 1909 in Elmira. Ada’s other daughter, Jennie (Jennet E) married Harry Rice in 1903, also in Elmira.
Ada and Harry Stafford are buried side by side in Elmira’s Woodlawn Cemetery.
100 years ago a portrait of Police Officer Dick Stiles was featured in the Elmira Star Gazette. Here is a brief glimpse into his life and the interesting things a police officer encountered in Elmira in the 1920s.
He would have been about 40 years of age when this photo was taken. He had many adventures while on the police force.
In 1923, Elmirans were alarmed to see burning crosses on the hills surrounding the city. People were scared that the Ku Klux Klan was coming into town. People of color were staying indoors at night. After a few nights of the phenomenon, a railroad employee discovered that fuses used as signals on the railroad ‘had been stolen by a gang of youths.’
The railroad worker called the police. Dick Stiles, along with Sergeant Steve Lynch, kept watch over the hills, and when they saw a fiery cross leap alight near Quarry Farm on East Hill, they were able to solve the mysterious phenomenon.
In 1925, Dick Stiles was on duty when he found a lost toddler named Elsie on Market St. in Elmira. He brought her into the station and tried to find where she belonged.
‘Whats’ your name, girlie?’ Police chauffeur Dick Stiles asked in a fatherly way.
“Elsie,’ the mite answered, without the least bit of fear–she couldn’t have been over four years old.
‘Where do you live, Elsie?’ queried the kindly policeman.
“Home,” was all the answer the tiny girl could think of. The she proudly displayed a penny someone had given her and when asked where she bought her candy, she replied ‘at candy store.’ …Then just when it looked as if Elsie would have to spend the night as the guest of Police Matron Mary Brunner, her parents discovered she was missing at 10 o’clock and notified the police. They breathed a sight of relief when they heard she had been found and was all safe an sound. She was just the cutest little tot that you ever did see.
And she appeared to be perfectly contented ‘playing with the great big policemen’ who all have great big tender hearts even if their work does sometimes make them appear hard hearted.”
Also in 1925, Officer Stiles was involved in freeing a prisoner who had been wrongfully convicted. A young boy had been bitten by a dog while playing, and a dog named Shep was identified as the perpetrator and imprisoned. An investigation the next day proved that Shep was not the dog who had bitten the boy. Officer Stiles was thus able to open the cell door and let Shep out. As the Star Gazette writes,
“Shep, a beautiful, law-abiding friendly dog barked his plea this morning as the morning relief came on duty at police headquarters. ‘I have been imprisoned falsely,’ the dog barked. ‘I want to get out in the great free outdoors.’
Officer Stiles was married to Genevieve Andrews of Millport. They lived in the City of Elmira until his retirement and then moved to a farm in Millport. After her death in 1946, Mr. Stiles moved back to Elmira where he remained until his passing in 1948.
Of course, even 100 years ago being a police officer wasn’t all freeing dogs and finding lost children, but I hope you enjoyed some of these light-hearted stories. Most local police headlines of the day detailed an intense fight for law enforcement to defend Prohibition and keep the illegal bootlegging trade down. Bootlegging was so active that nearly every day there is another headline. I think that will have to be its own story. In the meantime, thanks for going on this journey with me to remember a man from Elmira with some interesting stories.
The Local History Department at the Steele Memorial Library received a letter some months ago wondering if we had ever heard of a silver mine used by Native Americans around Elmira….
It referenced a book entitled, “The Wilderness War,” by Allan W. Eckert. On page 12 it reads,
“Tiyanoga had told Joseph when the boy was only ten years old that in the Iroquois country there was a great and inexhaustible silver mine on a tributary of a tributary of the Susquehanna River. The Indians who controlled it were called Tyadaghtons. They were not League members, but they were a protectorate of the League and provided, as a tribute, all the silver the Iroquois needed. The amount was prodigious. Then a great tragedy came one day and the earth opened up and swallowed the little isolated tribe completely, and they disappeared to the last individual without a trace. At the same time the shifting of the earth sealed the mouth of the mine that produced the silver, and the tools of the Iroquois were never sufficient to open it.” *
*Since there is no recorded instance of an earthquake having occurred in the area, the story of the Tyadaghtons and their silver mine is probably apocryphal, yet the Iroquois evidently did have a good source of silver, which has never been located. Dr. Lyman C. Draper, who investigated this just after the Civil War, kept notes that indicated that the mine was located “near Elmira, NY, on Pine Creek where it is joined by Elk Run.”
“…There are strong evidences, throughout all this region, of some great convulsion of the earth, as recently as within the last two centuries. There are the fissures in our rocks, extensive forests with timber growths off less than two centuries; mounds and indentations of earth, as if whole forests had suddenly been uprooted; immense sections of rock and earth detached from their primitive locations upon hill sides, and the banks of our streams; shall we not say that all this dates from 1663? Some portions of the account would seem exaggerated; but in all matters of fact, the Jesuit Relations are accredited by historians…the extent of this earthquake…was universal throughout the whole of New France…this earthquake extended more than 600 miles in length…”
I looked further into theories on the origin of Iroquois silver work. IN 1902, Harriet Maxwell Converse wrote of a legend that an Iroquois was led to a silver mine in northern New York through his dreams (see page below), But she says that no silver was found in Native American burials, and dates their silver work to colonialism. She writes that coins, medals, and utensils were used to make Iroquois silver ornaments.
Anthropologist M.R. Harrington wrote in 1908 that the Iroquois had long made copper ornaments and also mentions the hypothesis that brooches were made out of the coins of the European settlers. In 1910, Arthur Parker wrote that Iroquois silver brooches were modeled after Scotch jewelry, though Native American fables told of a silver mine in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania.
In the end, we couldn’t answer the question of if there was a silver mine near us, but it led us on a fascinating journey through history nonetheless. I hope you enjoyed it, too.
Born about 1819, a 20 year old man known by the name of Isaac Pulfrus fled his enslaver John Tabb in Martinsburg, Virginia. He worked odd jobs in Pennsylvania and Western NY and came to Elmira in 1846 when he located his brother here living under the name Hiram Washington. Upon finding his brother and coming to Elmira, Isaac promptly changed his name to John Washington, and became a prominent and respected citizen in Elmira.
According to news articles in the Elmira newspapers, John had secured his father’s and mother’s release from slavery before he fled the farm in Martinsburg. Though I wasn’t able to locate a name for the father, I did find that in 1865, the New York State Census reports that a woman named Julia Washington lives with John, his wife Elizabeth, and their daughter Mary. Julia is listed as mother of John. However, her age is listed as 52, giving her a birth year of 1813, making her 7 when her son John was born. Another listing on findagrave.com lists a Julia Washington as buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, passing away on 5 April 1878 and at the age of 87 years of age. If this is correct, that would place her birth year around 1791. However, there isn’t a listing for a Julia Washington in either of the books we have on Woodlawn Cemetery burials for those years in the library. I may have to take a walk soon to find out!
In 1876, at 57 years of age, John Washington of Elmira was named as Elmira’s first African-American policeman. He stood well over 6 feet tall and wore size 17 shoes. He was a leading and well respected citizen of Elmira, an active member of his church, and a member of the local temperance union. Before being a police officer, he worked for John Arnot of Elmira for fifteen years.
John’s younger brother Hiram was married to Esther, a professional nurse. Hiram worked as a general laborer and his employment was also listed as “Teamster.” Hiram Washington was very active in Emancipation Day festivities in Elmira. Emancipation Day festivities included a large parade all through the city, ending with speeches at a local park. Frederick Douglass was a speaker at a few of these events.
Hiram passed away on April 15, 1882 at the age of 60. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.
I found Hiram’s Last Will while searching ancestry. I learned that he and John have other siblings. Mary Brown of Columbus, Ohio was their sister, and Julia Berry of Hamilton, Ontario was their niece and daughter of their now-deceased other brother George Washington.
Hiram’s wife Esther passed away in 1904. Her obituary is below.
John served as a police officer until 1889, when he had to step down due to failing health. he passed away on November 29, 1891 at the age of 72 years and is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery.
100 years ago, the City of Elmira had two public bathhouses in which its citizens could bathe and stay cool in the heat. One was at the Walnut Street bridge, the other was on Newton Creek near the Woolen Mills.
Below, a 1903 map detail illustrates the approximate location of new temporary public bathhouse in Elmira in 1921, near the Campbell Knitting Company off of East Ave.
Perhaps it looked like this canvas tent bathhouse, pictured in Baltimore, MD. Or, like the public bathhouse in New City, with a building constructed around the natural body of water.
Public bathhouses began to be constructed in the United States in the late 1890s to improve health and sanitary conditions among the working classes. In fact, it was a law in New York State that populous cities maintain bathhouses for people. Bathhouses were a public works service maintained by the city.
As Elmirans enjoyed their two bathhouses, citizens of Binghamton, NY were trying to get theirs back. The article below details how Binghamton residents lobbied to restore their bathhouse on the Susquehanna River so people didn’t swim in the river without lifeguards. Progressives of the era wanted to provide clean water and bathing facilities that weren’t necessary provided to the poor or working class people in their houses or apartments.
In 1926, Elmira was in the process of getting bids in order to build a municipal swimming pool in Riverside park on the city’s Southside. The pool opened July 2, 1927. Below is a picture from the Elmira Star Gazette on opening day. The pool was severely damaged on May 28, 1946 in the flood. The pool’s designer, Wesley Bintz, traveled to Elmira to inspect the damage and to see if it could be repaired or rebuilt. Public sentiment advocated for repairing the pool as quickly as possible to protect people from drowning in the river. In fact, a 12 year old boy perished while cooling off in the river while the pool was out of commission. In 1948, it was decided to bring Bintz back and build a replacement pool for Brand Park. The pool was open for city residents to enjoy until it was closed in 2006 due to budget cuts. Now children must travel to West Elmira to swim at the Town Hall, or make it up to Harris Hill or Park Station to cool off if they don’t want to be in the Chemung River.
David Miles Moore, Jr. was one of eight children of David M. and Elizabeth Moore of Pennsylvania. The family later lived in Painted Post in 1850, Ithaca in 1860, and finally in Elmira by 1863. We learn from the US censuses that neither the father nor mother could read, but that the children did attend school. The father worked as a day laborer and was listed as a pauper.
The father, David Miles Sr., may have been in ill health as his son, David Miles Jr., worked as a driver in Elmira before mustering into the 54th MA Infantry in Readville, MA (The first Northeast Regiment of African American Soldiers) as “Miles Moore.” At age 16, he was younger than other men in the service and so he served as the drummer for Company E of the 54th. David Miles Sr. passed away later that year in December of 1863.
Miles served in the 54th during the bloody battle of Fort Wagner and saw hardship, prejudice, and deprivation as a black soldier in the South. He mustered out of the 54th Infantry in 1865.
Here is his Civil War information: (DAVID) MILES MOORE: Musician, age 16, single.; laborer; Elmira, N. Y. Mustered in 29 April 1863; Mustered Out 20 August 1865. Paid $50.
By 1867 he had re-enlisted in the army in the 39th US infantry and worked as a Buffalo soldier in West Texas until 1870, when he mustered out of service in Fort Clark, Texas. Buffalo soldiers were African American Soldiers who served in the army in the western frontiers in the mid to late 1800s.
By 1880, 39 year old David Miles had left the service and was living in New Orleans, Louisiana. He had three children ages 9 months, 4, and 6. His wife, Adele, was listed as 22 years of age and was from New Orleans. By 1900 the family has moved to Saratoga Springs, NY. David Miles passed away four years later on May 30, 1904 and is buried at St. Peters Cemetery in Saratoga Springs, NY. He was approximately 54 years old.
The 54th MA Infantry is immortalized in the 1989 film “Glory” starring Denzel Washington and Matthew Broderick.
The story of the Buffalo Soldiers is told in “Buffalo Soldier” a 1997 film starring Danny Glover. In honor of Juneteenth, the Southeast Steuben County Library, CCLD, and EOP are holding a free outdoor showing of “Buffalo Soldier” in the Steele Memorial Parking Lot on Friday, June 18! Please be sure to join us for this special event, and remember 16 year old Miles Moore who drummed for the 54th MA Infantry in the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, and roamed the Texas Frontier on horseback as a buffalo soldier from Elmira NY.
The Elmira Star Gazette published a Centennial paper on June 26, 1964 for the 100th anniversary of Elmira. One of the articles caught my eye, as it described African American men of Elmira walking to Boston, Massachusetts in order to fight for the Union in the War in the Massachusetts 54th Infantry, the first official regiment to allow African American men to enlist in the North.
The story in the Star Gazette goes on the describe letters written by one of these local men. William R. Lee walked to Boston, enlisted in the 54th, and went down south to fight the Confederates. He fought in the famous battle of Fort Wagner, where half of their regiment lost their lives. Here is his story from letters shared by his descendant, Frederick D. Robinson of Elmira, as it appeared in the Star Gazette in 1964.
The 54th Regiment gained fame when they fought in the battle of Fort Wagner in South Carolina. Here is an account of the battle from Enyclopædia Britannica:
The approach to Fort Wagner was a narrow strip of beach 180 feet (55 m) wide with the Atlantic to the east and a marsh to the west. Once on this beach, the Union troops had to cross a shallow moat surrounding the 750 foot- (685 m) wide fort, which was heavily fortified with mortars and other guns. The assault began at 7:45 PM, with a total of ten regiments engaged. The soldiers of the 54th fought their way on to the fort’s parapet and held out there for over an hour under heavy fire before the attack was called off at around 10:00 PM. The black regiment had taken more than 50 percent casualties, with Colonel Shaw among those killed. The soldiers were hailed for their valor, and the recruitment of African Americans into the Union army sharply increased as a result of the public recognition. Sgt. William H. Carney, for his bravery at Fort Wagner, became the first African American to receive the Medal of Honor, the country’s highest military award.
William R. Lee, a weaver from Elmira, NY, was married to Sarah Dunham of Corning and was father to Estella, Alva Josephine, Mary Ann, and William. A few months after walking to Boston from Elmira to enlist, he died as the result of injuries obtained during the second battle of Fort Wagner. He sustained a bad wound to the hip. He was placed on a hospital steamer, the “Cosmopolitan” and died two days later. He was buried at sea.
George Holmes, 31, a laborer at Elmira also paid the ultimate price at Fort Wagner. He passed away from wounds sustained in the battle on 14 August 1863 at General Hospital No 7 Beaufort, South Carolina. He is buried at Beaufort National Cemetery in Beaufort, South Carolina.
Wesley Armstrong, a 39 year-old blacksmith from Horseheads was wounded in the battle. He lived to return to his home at 707 Benjamin St. to live with his wife Jane and son James.
George Monroe/Mushroe, a 33 year-old laborer from Elmira, was taken as a hostage in the Battle at Fort Wagner.He was held in southern war prisons for the next two years, and gained freedom as part of a prisoner of war swap in North Carolina in March 1865. African American soldiers were treated even more harshly in southern prisons than the white prisoners, who are widely documented as being near death due to starvation and disease in the Southern Prison camps. Confederate President Jefferson Davis called for any Black soldiers who were captured to be either enslaved or executed on the spot. It is truly remarkable that these men survived. Below is a list of African American soldiers held as prisoners in South Carolina. George Monroe’s name is listed as George Mushroom.
Of the 24 Chemung County Men who served in the 54th, 10 were killed, 4 were wounded, and 1 was a POW. That leaves only 9 local men of this Regiment who escaped the war physically unscathed. Though they fought for their country and for freedom, it would be another hundred years before it became officially illegal to discriminate against people due to the color of their skin. Today the struggle to eradicate racism continues.
Look for a Part 2 of this story as I learn more about the Chemung County men who served in the 54th. The list of all their names follows below.
Fonvielle, Chris E. “‘Welcome Brothers!” The 1865 Union Prisoners of War Exchange in North Carolina.” The North Carolina Historical Review, vol. 92, no. 3, 2015, pp. 278–311. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/44113271. Accessed 20 May 2021.
“History of the Fifty-Fourth Regiment of Masachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1863-1865 : Emilio, Luis Fenollosa, b. 1844 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming.” Internet Archive, Boston, The Boston Book Co., 1 Jan. 1891, archive.org/details/historyoffiftyfo00emil?view=theater.
It all began innocently enough….Reverend Dr. Henry W. Stough, a famous evangelist toured around the country giving revival meetings. Fresh off a popular run in Auburn, NY, he came to Elmira where no fewer than seventeen local churches came together to build a place on William and Clinton Streets for the revivals to take place.
Stough packed tabernacles in every city to which he traveled with thousands of Christian believers. From his pulpit, he preached against the evils of liquor and corruption. That was his first mistake. Stough didn’t travel alone. He had with him a small group of devoted believers. Another pastor, Rev. F.F. Cartwright and his daughter, 19 year old Hester Cartwright, the pianist of the group. Also in the party was Professor Duncan L. Spooner, Stough’s choir director whose job it was to merge hundreds of local singers into a choral group for the six-week revivals. Professor Spooner also had an Elmira connection. His father, Reverend Arthur W. Spooner, had been the minister of Lake Street Presbyterian in Elmira for some time previous, and the Spooners had lived adjacent to the church on E. Church St. Duncan had attended Elmira schools. Professor Spooner had since married and become a talented musician and director.
Who could have guessed that this band of church folk would lead the city into a lurid trial and accusations of adultery, ending with the exposure of an organized seedy underbelly of Elmira, ensnaring its most prominent citizens and nearly ending the career of Elmira’s Police Chief?
The legacy of the Revival wasn’t what anyone could have predicted. For six weeks, Stough and his party held huge gatherings of thousands of Elmira citizens and went into smaller arenas in the city to pray and work with Elmirans. Yet on their last day in town, on the morning of February 10, 1913, Duncan L. Spooner and Hester Cartwright were served arrest warrants and charged with adultery. They were taken to jail and then underwent a lengthy trial where many scandalous topics were discussed at length and were splashed across local and national newspaper headlines.
On February 8, a warrant had been issued for their arrest by the Elmira Police. They staked out the hotel on February 10 and served the warrant after Miss Cartwright entered Spooner’s room. Spooner opened the door, and Miss Cartwright was found hiding in the closet. The warrant is for a specific time occurring on February 8, where witnesses claim that Spooner and Miss Cartwright entered into adulterous behavior in the hotel room.
The warrant was issued based upon gossip that first started circulating 10 days prior as hotel employees said they had noticed Miss Cartwright sneaking into Spooner’s room, planning a tryst with Mr. Spooner in the stairwell, and finding her handkerchief behind his bed.
Two detectives from the National Pinkerton Detective Agency arrived at the hotel from a mysterious client and whispered to the proprietress, Mrs. Smith, that they were spying on Spooner and Cartwright. She put them in rooms on either side of Spooner to help their work. One detective testified that he had witnessed Miss Cartwright leaving Spooner’s room at night with her nightgown partially unbuttoned and pink spots on her cheeks. The detective looked through the door she had left ajar and said that it looked like both pillows on the bed had creases in them.
Mrs. Smith, proprietor of the Conongue Hotel said she had also noticed Miss Cartwright frequently visiting Spooner’s room, and Mrs. Smith would find their door locked. Mrs. Smith had also slept on a cot at the end of the hall in the hotel in order to keep an eye on their comings and goings. She used a peephole in Spooner’s door, she said, to spy on the couple. We know so much about Mr.s Smith, because her cross examination in the trial lasted all day.
She had first witnessed the couple’s activity on the night of January 20, 1913. When asked why she didn’t report it to Miss Cartwright’s father, who was also staying at the hotel, Mrs. Smith answered that she feared they would leave her hotel and try to ruin her reputation. She also was afraid they may try to bribe her to keep her silence, but that she would never accept a bribe. She then stated that she considered the Reverend Stough to be a very dangerous man to anyone that opposes him, and he certainly would have gone after her had she reported this relationship to him or his party. She also denied that she had a revengeful spirit against Stough or his party and had done everything she could to make them comfortable. Mrs. Smith also reported that Stough’s men had tried to arrange a hush agreement with another member of the community when rumors began circulating about the alleged affair.
Meanwhile, the Revival had moved to their next scheduled stop in Hornell, NY. Again preaching to a packed house, the Reverend Stough gave his usual sermons against sin and corruption as well as updated the congregation about the trial going on in Elmira where Spooner and Miss Cartwright were detained. Reverend Stough claimed that Elmirans had fabricated these charges in order to shut him up about the illegal gambling in the city.
The arrest and alleged affair between the married Spooner and Miss Cartwright was not the only scandal. The trial itself created a few of its own. The Pinkerton detectives, who had been collecting evidence against Stough’s party were accused of attempting to get a young chambermaid from the Conongue Hotel (where the Stough party had been staying) drunk and acting inappropriately with her. The chambermaid later testified that it was the first beer she ever drank and that the detective was trying to get her to talk about Spooner and Hester Cartwright. Two jurors hearing the case were approached by outside influences. One juror was offered money to find Spooner and Cartwright innocent, and another juror was approached by a reporter for inside knowledge of the case while the trial was going on. Both jurors reported these instances to the judge, declined the offers, and were kept in the jury box.
Meanwhile, Reverend Stough was in residency and preaching in Hornell. In his sermons, which were reprinted in Elmira newspapers, he gave notice to “gangs” of leadership in Hornell and Elmira that he would call everyone out. He spoke of a gang of rotten people who run the city who accused his people of horrible crimes in retaliation for Stough’s preaching against liquor and sin and inspiring the good people of the town to not partake in these vices.
All sorts of horrible accusations were flying with many sordid tales. Local druggist Floyd Creyton of the Gerity Drug Company, testified under oath that Mr. D.L. Spooner had visited his pharmacy in late January of 1913 and purchased one dozen emmenagogue pills, returned the next week to buy one dozen more, and returned again a third time asking for stronger pills. . Emmenagogue pills are herbs that stimulate blood flow in the uterus. They were known through the ages as “herbs for delayed menses,” also known as an euphemism for eliminating an unwanted pregnancy. He came in later and purchased permanganate of potash, a dangerous treatment.
On March 6, Dr. Stough proclaims the innocence of his party in his sermon at Hornell. he remarks that it is becoming national news. The defense calls witness after witness. On March 7 and 8, witnesses come forward and testify that Spooner and Cartwright were nowhere near the Conongue Hotel between 11:15 am and 12:04 pm on Saturday Feb. 8, 1913. The Matron of the Home of the Aged swears that Miss Cartwright was at the Home at the time of the charge. Spooner’s witnesses claim he was downtown, 2 miles away from Hester Cartwright, at that time. The people in Stough’s party testify that Spooner’s room was considered a semi-public room where people often gathered for prayer. It was also the only place they had a piano, which meant Hester would often be in the room practicing, but that other people were always in the room with her. Hester’s father, F.F. Cartwright, had a room near Spooner’s. Hester would often come down to wish her father goodnight. At one time she had asked him for an envelope, which he didn’t have. He sent her to Spooner’s room for an envelope and swears she left his room 3 minutes after arrival.
Dr. Stough vows to remain in the vicinity until the trial is over. Elmira and Hornell pastors urge Corning to invite him to the Crystal City for a revival when he is done in Hornell so that he may remain close to Elmira to support Spooner and Cartwright.
On March 10, continuing on his charges of illegal happenings in Elmira, Dr. Stough preaches that a baker in Elmira who had supported Stough’s work was boycotted by people in charge in Elmira and nearly went out of business. Stough remarks that there are people in Elmira running the city for their own gain and that Elmira’s District Attorney had gone on record to remark on the necessity of houses of prostitution.
Also on March 10, the Reverend F.F. Cartwright, the girl’s father and a member of Stough’s party for the last 20 months, testifies that the members of the party made free use of Spooner’s room, and that his daughter was often there as she was the accompanist. He backs up Spooner’s alibi of being downtown at the time he was charged for the offense. He also testified that as well as being the choir director, Spooner was indeed in charge of counseling young boys against “certain abuses” though he had himself never personally attended one of Spooner’s sessions. He and his daughter often kissed goodnight. One night she had appeared at his door (near Spooner’s) and asked for envelopes. Not having any, he sent her to Spooner’s room and said he heard her leave within 3 minutes.
On March 11, D.L. Spooner testified that he had bought the pills just to make sure they could be purchased without a prescription. This was in preparation for his lecture to the young men. He had destroyed the pills and not shown them to the boys or mentioned them by name. He said that the door of his room was locked because he and Hester were praying for “God’s consecration of the work they had done in Elmira among the young men and women” and they had locked the door because Mrs. Smith was always around the room, snooping and coming in.
On March 12, women are asked to leave the courtroom. Attorney Mosher asks that Miss Hester Cartwright submit to an examination by two physicians hired by the prosecution. The Defense attorneys leap up and yell objections and all order in the court is lost. Hester has already been examined by 4 separate doctors, who all state that the accusations must be false.
On March 13, Dr. Stough reports that on the previous Saturday, 25 “downfallen” girls were driven out of Elmira. He says it’s not OK to drive them from the only places they have and to not offer them shelter. Stough says that many married women visit “houses of assignation” during the day when their husbands are at work.
March 14: The defense asserts the peephole was put in the door of Mr. Spooner’s room after Mrs. Smith’s story. She needed to have a hole in the door to make her story of seeing them in the room plausible.
Complaints against Elmira Police Chief Frank Cassada were filed in February and the hearing began in March. He was charged with conspiracy for spying on D.L Spooner and Hester Cartwright and procuring evidence in order to arrest them on charges of adultery. The motive for this behavior was given as retribution against Reverend Stough who had publicly criticized the police. Cassada is accused of ineffectiveness and neglect in allowing houses of prostitution/fornication and gambling houses to flourish in the city as well as allowing saloons to sell alcohol on Sundays. Charges were also brought up that he had entered a house of prostitution and slapped a man as well.
It turns out that the Pinkerton detectives were hired by J. John Hassett,a manager of a local brewery, and that the detectives and Mrs. Smith gave false evidence in order to procure from the police a warrant for the arrest of Professor Spooner and Miss Cartwright on adultery charges.
Charges against Cassada were dismissed due to lack of evidence.
Hester Cartwright and Duncan L. Spooner were cleared of any wrongdoing. The full story came out in the April 27, 1913 edition of Alabama’s Tuscaloosa News. Remember J. John Hassett, manager of a local brewery? It turns out that the brewery was owned by Mrs. Harriet Rathbone, owner of Briggs Brewery, 58 saloon licenses, Arnot Realty, a large office building, AND who just happened to be the daughter of Congressman John Arnot, who gave Elmira the Arnot Hospital and Art Museum.
Mrs. Rathbone had been the mysterious benefactor of the land that was donated to the Stough Campaign in order to build his tabernacle. After the donation, she tried to get the Reverend Stough to promise not to preach against liquor, but he declined. He encouraged her to get out of the sinful liquor business. The Reverend Stough preached loudly against liquor, prostitution, and gambling, and Mrs. Rathbone and her associates decided to teach him a lesson.
The Stough campaign continued in Corning until June, when the party went to their homes to spend the summer, before they returned in the fall to hold sessions in Sayre, PA. Elmirans often traveled to Hornell to hear Stough preach. Hester went home to Wisconsin for a time in April 1913. Two hundred Elmirans wrote postcards to her there to wish her a happy 20th birthday. She returned to the area after but did not work full time for the Revival. She would turn up from time to time to sing a song, but spent time at the Hornell Sanitarium.
But Hester had a happy ending. In 1919, she went overseas to China, where she married Richard M. Vanderburgh. In 1940, she and her husband were living in Honolulu, Hawaii with their two sons. She lived in Hawaii the rest of her life until her passing at age 92.