The Sad and Troubled Life of Maggie Scouten


Today we return to looking at the lives of everyday people in Elmira. Today’s subject is Maggie Scouten. Her troubles were well documented in the local news. News reports covered her absconding with a married man, her arrests for intoxication and prostitution, and the frequent assaults and robberies committed against her.

Maggie Scouten first appears in Elmira newspapers in 1904. It is not clear where she came from, but a search on one of her purported husbands leads to a Mary Van Scouten in Lockport, NY in 1900. Due to several other newspaper articles in the next decade on charges of bigamy, representing herself as a widow, and an appearance of a John Van Scouten in Elmira, Mary could very well be Maggie.

12 Jul 1900, Buffalo Commercial.

Newspaper articles grow increasingly snarky towards Maggie as her troubles increase. She is sentenced to jail a few times and sent away at least once. A few short years later, she dies alone and without family.

Was she a prostitute? It is not clear. It would be safe to say that she struggled with alcohol abuse. But how could a woman with no husband support herself? It is entirely possible that she turned to sex work in order to make ends meet.

A timeline of her troubles

June 18, 1904: Maggie Scouten posed as Andrew Horn’s wife in Buffalo. He deserted his actual wife and family in Elmira. When Maggie Scouten came back to Elmira, Annie Horn (Andrew’s daughter) pressed charges alleging she was a ‘disorderly person’ and Maggie was placed in police custody. Andrew Horn was arrested in Buffalo for abandoning his family.

18 June 1904

July 13, 1904: Due to a technicality, Maggie Scouten’s sentence of 100 days in prison for prostitution and vagrancy is overturned. It was determined that she was not properly sentenced, and she was not a vagrant. She had pled not guilty but did not receive a trial.

13 Jul 1904

Sept 3, 1904: The news contains a report that George Moser has stolen $15 from Maggie’s bedroom. He says he was an invited guest and he was asked to enter Maggie Scouten’s residence. Maggie Scouten says he took her bag containing $15. The case was not deemed strong enough and George was released from custody.

03 Sept 1904

Dec 7, 1905: Maggie Scouten appears in court to dispute an arrest and charge of intoxication. The news reports that she has returned after an absence of several months, and last year (1904) was a frequent offender who kept the court recorder busy doling out jail sentences. The report, growing ever snarkier as the writing progresses, says she appears well-attired in a light fawn automobile coat and silk dress, but makes note that she appears without a hat “there has been too much talk about wearing hats lately anyhow and Ms. Scouten appeared very properly wearing a bright red fascinator over her head. That Ms. Scouten is getting stylish is further evidenced by a new handle to her name. From now on it is Maggie Van Scouten if you please, with emphasis on the ‘Van.”’ She says she was in a private house, and makes note that it was empty, and disputes that she was intoxicated.

07 Dec 1905

Dec 8, 1905: Maggie Scouten has her trial for intoxication after pleading not guilty the day before. People of Slabtown served as witnesses. Scouten was found guilty and had no money, so she served thirty days in jail instead of paying $10, as she had spent all her money in securing legal represenatation. She had no money to avoid jail. Slabtown in Elmira was a section of the city between Lake St and Clemens Center Parkway, known for the unique construction of its houses from wide slabs of wood instead of standard 2×4 framing. It was a predominantly African-American community that was razed for the construction of the John Jones Apartments, now known as Libertad. It was first settled in the 1840s and 1850s by people who had escaped slavery in the American South. It became Elmira’s first integrated neighborhood, housing both African Americans and whites of recent European emigration. White Elmirans from other neighborhoods looked down upon the residents of Slabtown.

08 Dec 1905

Dec 11, 1905: A man named John J. Van Scouten from Corning is arrested in Slabtown for intoxication and for saying he intended to poison the police officer with carbolic acid due to the arrest of Maggie. John is taken to jail and doesn’t have enough money for bail. Maggie has secured money for her bail, and has a little extra, and bails out her husband. The news reports that Maggie had announced herself as a widow, but that her husband looked very much alive.

11 Dec 1905

Dec 22, 1905: Two weeks later, Maggie reports that someone has stolen her bed. The journalist writes “Maggie Van Scouten, who is better known to the police than any other section of polite society, has lost her bed. Some one stole Maggie’s bed from her house on Baldwin Street, not while she was occupying it however. The claim of the woman, who appeared at police headquarters today and asked that Detective Gradwell be put on the case, is that her bed was taken from the house lately and sold to a second-hand dealer. She can’t even sleep under the bed now, but has to lay right out in the open in the middle of the room, and Maggie don’t like this just at Christmas time.”

22 Dec 1905

Jan 3, 1906: Just a few days into the new year, she is arrested again for intoxication. “It is Mrs. Van Scouten’s contention that the police arrest her just for the mere joy of it and not because she ever fails to walk the straight and narrow path properly. At her last trial she swore she hadn’t taken a drink since last July and stated that perhaps it was just beginning to take effect.”

03 Jan 1906

Jan 10, 1906: “Mrs. Maggie Van Scouten appeared in police court yesterday afternoon and withdrew her former plea of not guilty and pleading guilty to the charge of intoxication in a public place. [she was] sentenced to pay a fine of $10 or spend twenty days in jail, thus valuing Mrs. Van Scouten’s presence at only 50 cents a day whereas the average offender is worth a dollar.”

10 Jan 1906

May 28, 1907: “Another Bigamy arrest possible: If the conditions prove to be as the police believe them in a case of alleged bigamy in which William Van Scouten, Maggie Van Scouten and Martha Kelly, who pleaded guilty this morning to petit larceny and was sentenced to a year in jail, are the principals, the woman who was placed behind the bars will have a companion whom she has known well for a long time.
The police have obtained information from Maggie Van Scouten and Martha Kelly which leads them to believe that William Van Scouten is a bigamist. They allege that several years ago he married Maggie Van Scouten, a Police Court Character, and that six weeks ago he transferred all his attentions from his wife to Martha Kelly and that the two were married in Horseheads. Martha Kelly has admitted that she and Van Scouten were married but insists that she did not know that Van Scouten was already a husband.”

28 May 1907

Aug 10, 1908: Maggie Scouten was brutally beaten by James Qualey. But since she does not stay in the courtroom, Mr. Qualey is allowed to go free. “James Qualey, aged 30, on Friday was arrested on a warrant charging him with having assaulted Margaret Scouten, of 456 Baldwin Street, in a brutal manner. When first arraigned Qualey protested his innocence and his trial was set down for this afternoon at 2 o’clock.
Before the trial Margaret Scouten was around the court room but when the trial was begun she could not be found. Consequently the acting recorder discharged the prisoner on the ground that there had been no appearance on the part of the complainants.

10 Aug 1908

Her Death

July 16, 1909: Less than a year after the beating, her death is reported. “Mrs Margaret Scouten dies yesterday afternoon at 2:30 o’clock at her home, 654 Baldwin Street. The remains were taken to Hughes & Sullivan’s undertaking rooms and the funeral arrangements have not been completed.” She was buried in an unconsecrated plot in St. Peter and Paul’s Cemetery in Elmira, NY.

16 Jul 1909

July 24, 1909: “The will of Mrs. Margaret Scouten has been admitted to probate in Surrogate’s court and Mrs. Anna Auten has been appointed administratix. Mrs. Scouten was a well known woman, who resided on Baldwin Street in the vicinity of East 4th St several years. She was ill for a short time and was cared for by her friend Anna Auten, to whom her estate consisting of a small life insurance policy for about $260 and a small amount of household goods is awarded for her service. Several other persons had an idea they were to share in the estate but Mrs. Scouten called in Attorney Wilcox two weeks ago and executed her will, the contents of which were kept secret until after Mrs. Scouten’s death last week. Some of the disappointed ones threatened to make trouble but no claims have been filed against the estate as yet.”

24 July 1909

Who was she?

Finally, some searching of the men reported as her husbands has lent a clue. An ancestry search for John Scouten led to a 1900 Census record for a John Scouten and his wife, Margaret, in Harrisburg, PA. Off of that clue, I found a Pennsylvania marriage record from October 1899 for John and Maggie. This gives her maiden name as Stonestreet and lists her parents as deceased. Ages on these documents would place her year of birth around 1860, making her around 48 years of age at her death in Elmira. She self-reported on the census that her parents were born in Ireland and she was born in Virginia. The census also lists that they have one child, though that child doesn’t appear to be living with them at the time of the census. If conceived around the time of their marriage, the child would be a year or less in age. On the marriage license, John lists his parents as Simeon and Deborah, which matches up to the 1870 US Census of the Scouten Family in Corning, NY, with Simeon, Deborah, and son John. Towards the end of his life, John wound up living with his brother, States Scouten, in Corning. John passed away in 1925 and is buried in Hope Cemetery in Corning, NY.

A further dive into Maggie’s origins stays hazy, as the only Margaret Stonestreet I could find who was born around 1860 in Virginia (now West Virginia) appears to be a different person who lived a happier life, enjoying one long marriage and many children in Kanawha, West Virginia.

1900 US Census. Margaret’s Birth is listed as Sept 1860. Year: 1900; Census Place: Harrisburg Ward 6, Dauphin, Pennsylvania; Page: 5; Enumeration District: 0057; FHL microfilm: 1241402 Pennsylvania, U.S., Marriages, 1852-1968 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2016.
Original data:Marriage Records. Pennsylvania Marriages. Various County Register of Wills Offices, Pennsylvania.
The Scouten Family in Corning NY. Year: 1870; Census Place: Corning, Steuben, New York; Roll: M593_1095; Page: 107B; Family History Library Film: 552594

[All newspaper clippings are from the Elmira gazette, unless otherwise noted.]

Elmira’s First Automobile

Today it is hard to imagine a world without cars. But the first car in Elmira was such a big event that its purchase and delivery were covered in the local newspaper. In 1899, Dr. W.H. Fisher purchased the first car in Elmira, an 1899 Winton Phaeton. In 1898, 22 Wintons were sold in the United States. In 1899, Dr. Fisher was one of 100 people to buy the cars. Cars were a luxury item enjoyed by the rich, but were also purchased by doctors in the interests of perhaps making their house calls with a bit more ease.

Below is a picture of Dr. W.H. Fisher in his horseless carriage. The picture is from a 1957 Star Gazette article entitled “Elmira to Binghamton in Ten Hours: When New Cars were Something New.” The article’s author, Frank Tripp, recalls his first car ride in 1903, when it took 10 hours to travel to Binghamton from Elmira in an early automobile on rough roads.

Elmira Star Gazette (Elmira, NY) 20 Oct 1957, page 3B.

News of Elmira’s first automobile spread quickly, as evidenced by the clipping from June 27, 1899 (below), announcing the doctor’s purchase of the Winton Phaeton. There were no car dealerships at the time, though the Winton Company would later invent them, so the car had to be special ordered directly from the manufacturer. The Phaeton looked more like a carriage than a car. It was a two-seater car, about eight and a half feet long,with rear-wheel drive, and an ice-cooled engine in the rear of the carriage.

To start the car, Dr. Fisher would have turned the hand crank in the front of the vehicle. This required some physical effort and could be dangerous. If the engine backfired, the operator could be hit with the crank. After a certain number of turns, the engine would start the necessary process of internal combustion.

While driving, Dr. Fisher would work the two-speed transmission, and steer the car via a tiller connected to the front wheels. The gas tank held three gallons. He would have had to to check the oil often, as oil was dripped onto the transmission, engine, and differential while driving in order to keep the car running.

Driving then was a different experience than it is today. Paved roads were rare. Passengers often had to walk outside the car when the driver attempted a steep hill. The car often got stuck in sand or dirt. People followed railroads and telegraph lines when traveling rurally, and did not have the luxury of road maps.

Elmira Daily Gazette and Free Press (Elmira, NY) 27 June 1899.

Finally, the car arrived in Elmira and made the news again. The July 15, 1899 newspaper announced the arrival and mentioned that it would be “operated by an expert operator.”

Elmira Daily Gazette and Free Press (Elmira, NY) 15 Jul 1899.

A week later,the local paper ran a story that the noise of the automobile had frightened a horse near Bulkhead and ran away. No one was injured but the horse’s cart was damaged. Karl Fisher (Dr. Fisher’s son) wrote in the Elmira Herald in 1915 that when the car arrived, the Erie Freight Depot was unable to handle the crowds of people who had gathered for its arrival. The car’s initial drive through downtown Elmira became a parade, with throngs of people crowding the streets. The County fair that year held a race between Dr. Fisher in his car and a bicyclist. The bicyclist won as the car’s engine died and the vehicle had to be towed home that night by a team of horses.

Elmira Daily Gazette and Free Press (Elmira, NY) 22 Jul 1899.

It seems that the car made a very positive impression, as in that same week, the local paper ran a longer story that two more people were going to buy automobiles. George McElroy, a Market St. bicycle repairman, and maker and inventor of the McElroy coaster brake was announced to be working on two vehicles, one for himself, and the other for LeRoy Baker of the County Clerk’s Office. The delay of steel castings meant that the cars would be completed in 6-10 weeks.

These two new cars were just the beginning. In 1899, the Winton Car Company was the largest automobile company in the United States, boasting the sales of 100 cars that year. In 1919, as evidenced in the article below, there were four thousand cars in Chemung County, or one car for every fifteen residents.

The Winton Motor Carriage Company continued to make cars until 1924. They continued to produce diesel engines and in 1930 The Winton Engine Company was sold to General Motors and became GM’s diesel subsidiary.

Elmira Gazette (Elmira, NY) 10 March 1919.

Dr. William Henry Fisher was born in Spencer, NY in 1854 and studied medicine in NYC and Berlin. He returned to this area to practice medicine the rest of his life. Dr. Fisher sold the car in 1903 to John Rhoades, who used the car for towing. Dr. Fisher had a serious illness soon after, and though he recovered and rebuilt his practice, he passed away in 1910. His obituary describes him as a kindly and lovable man with host of friends. He was survived by his widow and two children, Mrs. Ransom Pratt of Rutherford, New Jersey, and Karl W. Fisher.

Further Resources, References

Winton Engine Company:

Horseless Carriage 1896 Replica:

Columbus Neighborhoods: From the Vault – The Winton Car:

Historic Structures: The Winton Motor Car Company, Cleveland Ohio:

Second Chance Garage – All about car restoration:

Smithsonian – Early Cars: Fact Sheet for Children:


Roads & Bridges – The Open Roads of America: 100 Years in the Making:

The tragedy of William Frear

Today we look back on the lives of ordinary Elmirans. A gripping headline from 100 years ago reveals the tragic death of a teenage boy and the dire consequences to his family.

William Frear was born in 1903 to George and Fannie Frear of Lowman, NY. His sister Julena was four years older. Around 1915, the Frear family moved to the City of Elmira and William began working in William Ells’ motorcycle shop on Lake St. At age 16 he had become the main source of income for his family.

1910 US Census: Frear Family (Seeley Rd, Horseheads NY).

On August 6, 1920, a truly disturbing head line ran in Elmira’s Star Gazette. William Frear had been burned to death, and a police officer was arrested on manslaughter charges.

Elmira Star Gazette (Elmira NY). 06 Aug 1920, page 19.

Police officer Stewart Smith had been sent to the garage to fetch gasoline needed for the department. William Frear accidentally spilled gasoline on his clothing. He was upset, concerned that the gasoline had permeated his clothing and would blister his skin. Officer Smith joked that he should burn the gasoline off and lit a match. Officer Smith maintained that William had approached him as he lit the match. Dougall Espey, another youth working at the shop, said that Officer Smith had put the lit match to William’s saturated pants.

Example of a 1920s Motorcycle that William Frear may have been working on.

William was engulfed in flames. Water was poured on him, which only made the flames worse, and a blanket was finally procured from across the street. Unwrapping the blanket when he got to the hospital, it was found that William’s clothes were still on fire. William remained conscious but passed away the next day. Officer Smith was arrested and held in jail and faced manslaughter charges with up to 15 years in prison if he was found guilty.

Elmira Star Gazette (Elmira NY). 06 Aug 1920, page 19.

The next mention of the incident occurs in December 1920. William Frear’s parents were awarded damages as William was the sole breadwinner. We also learn that Officer Smith was not found guilty of manslaughter and the death had been ruled an accident.

Elmira Star Gazette (Elmira NY). 30 Dec 1920, page 10.

The next mention of Stewart Smith is in July 1922 when it is announced that he is to begin a new career as a prison guard at the Sing Sing Prison Death House.* Three months prior he married Leda Johnson. Smith worked at Sing Sing for two years and then transferred to the Elmira Reformatory and worked there from 1924 until 1959. He passed away on February 12, 1968. He was survived by his wife, daughter, and two grandchildren.

Elmira Star Gazette (Elmira NY). 28 July 1922, page 9.

The year after William Frear’s death, his sister Julena married Glen Rolling Wilson. They would remain married their whole lives and bore two children. William’s mother Fannie passed away in 1951. His father George passed away in 1960. George, Fannie, and William are all buried at Hilltop Cemetery in Breesport, NY. Julena and her husband Glen are buried in Horseheads at Maple Grove Cemetery.

Elmira Star Gazette (Elmira NY). 06 Sept 1960, page 7.

The 14 year old boy who witnessed the death, Dougall Espey, remained in Elmira, married, and had children. His son, Dougall Espey, Jr., would serve in the army and die in action in Korea in 1950. His remains weren’t discovered until 2008 and he finally returned to the States in 2009.

*More information about the history of Sing Sing Prison:

Christmas Crimes in Elmira, 1891

For most people, the holidays are a time for peace. But there are always a few rabble-rousers for Santa’s naughty list. Here are the culprits from Christmas in Elmira, 1891.

Frederick Wilson and Charles McInerney were fined $3 or 7 days in jail for public intoxication. Charles paid. John Ryan was fined $5 or fifteen days in jail for the “usual offense.” What was his usual offense? There’s no way to know for sure. There were four John Ryans living in Elmira in 1891. One John Ryan was found hanged in a tree in 1913 due to despondency over domestic troubles and drink, but I cannot be sure it is the same man.

1891 Elmira City Directory

A man known simply by “VanOrman” came to Elmira from Ithaca and “swapped” horses with John Carpenter. He also visited a saloon and lost his watch and $50. Police found opium on his clothing.

Thomas “Squaker” Dunn was arrested for intoxication and disturbing the peace. While in lockup, he found an axe and laid waste to the walls. He did a lot of damage and cut up a policeman’s coat as well. He was fined $150 or fourth months in prison. Incredibly, this wasn’t the only time Squaker chopped up the prison. He was a well-known person in Elmira due to his many arrests for intoxication, and he was a regular at the jail. He was so regular, that he was given free rein and often cooked for everyone while he was there. On another occasion, he took an axe again and chopped down the back door to the jail and escaped. The police said they expected him back at any time. He was being arrested for intoxication in this area as late as 1915. Squaker is apparently a term used to describe a whistling balloon.

“Josh” Cooney was arrested and charged with disturbing the peace by threatening to shoot two people at Mrs. Johnson’s boarding house at 109 W. Church St. Josh Cooney capped off his night by also threatening the arresting officers. He was held on a sum of $500. Unfortunately, Josh Cooney also had a lifetime marked by heavy intoxication and violence. His name appears often in the local papers. In 1916, arrested for intoxication again, he nearly bit off the arresting officer’s finger.

As we leave this brief glimpse of unhappy lives, we hope everyone stays safe in this season. And we extend our thanks to the police officers in this city and elsewhere who work a very tough job every day.

The tragedy of Elmira’s Lloyd-Smith sons.

100 years ago today, the Elmira Star Gazette ran a story about Elmira native and Princeton University Student Parker Lloyd-Smith who was making a splash playing a female in the Princeton production of “They Never Come Back.” Parker was born in Elmira into a prominent family, both locally and nationally. He was cousins with the Langdon family and lived next door to them on Church St. His father and grandfather had both been prominent lawyers, and his grandfather had served in the US House of Representatives. Seemingly this national attention Parker was garnering was the beginning of another meteoric rise of success of Elmira’s Lloyd-Smith family. I decided to look into this prominent local family and their imagined success, yet I unearthed a series of sad tragedies instead.

Elmira Star Gazette 24 Dec 1920

We begin with Parker’s grandfather, Justice Horace Boardman Smith.

Justice Horace Boardman Smith, part of the powerful and politically Connecticut Boardman family. Born in Vermont, Horace Boardman Smith was admitted to the Bar in 1850 and began his law practice in Elmira, NY. He served as Chemung County Court Judge from 1859-1860. He then was elected to the US House of Representatives and served from 1871-1875 before returning to Elmira to continue his law practice. In 1883, he became a justice of the NYS Supreme Court and held that position until the year of his death in 1888. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.

Horace Boardman Smith 1826-1888

The son of H. Boardman Smith, Walter Lloyd-Smith (b.1856) was born in Elmira NY and graduated from Princeton University in 1877. He entered his father’s law practice in Elmira and passed the bar in 1879. In 1888 as his father, H. Boardman Smith, fell ill, Walter Lloyd-Smith was appointed to his father’s place as a Justice of the NYS Supreme Court and became, at 32 years of age, the youngest person to hold that chair.

Walter Lloyd Smith 1856-1928

In 1893, Walter Lloyd-Smith married a local Elmira woman, Jessie E. Gonzales, daughter of a prominent Bradford County farmer. Walter and Jessie had three children, all born in Elmira: Boardman Lloyd Smith (who died in infancy), Wilton Lloyd Smith, and Parker Lloyd Smith. The family lived at the Northeast corner of W. Church and College Avenue in Elmira, now the site of Mavis Tire. It is next door to Langdon Plaza, once the site of the Langdon Mansion. This would have made the Lloyd-Smiths next door neighbors to their cousins, the Langdon family (and Mark Twain, at times).

The Langdon House in Elmira NY. The Lloyd Smiths lived next door.

In 1899, Walter Lloyd-Smith, was appointed to the appellate court and served in Rochester, Albany, and then NYC until his retirement in 1925. This was the year tragedy began to strike the family, when Walter’s granddaughter and Wilton’s daughter, Josephine, passed away unexpectedly at the age of 4.

Elmira Star Gazette (Elmira, N.Y.) 18 Mar 1925, page 16.

Just three years later, Walter Lloyd-Smith had a seizure while on holiday to Bermuda with his wife and passed away in 1928. His sons Parker and Wilton were able to fly to Bermuda to say goodbye to their father and to comfort their mother.

Elmira Star Gazette. (Elmira, N.Y.) 06 Mar 1928, page 13.

Mrs. Walter Lloyd-Smith, now a widow, moved in with her youngest son Parker in New York City. Parker Lloyd Smith had graduated from Princeton, been a Rhodes scholar, and had worked as a newspaperman in Albany, NY. He returned to the city as associate editor of Time Magazine and the first managing editor and co-founder of Fortune Magazine.

However, Parker suffered from a reported nervous disposition, and shocked the family when, in 1931 at 30 years of age, he threw himself nude off the 23rd floor of the apartment in NYC he shared with his mother. The note he left his mother read, “Mother Charm–the heat is frightful–but this is a farewell–if this is waiting–I shall wait for you. My love and gratitude always. PARKER.” The surprising death made national news.

Elmira Star Gazette, 18 Sep 1931, page 21.

Just under one year later, Elmirans were met with more bad news. Parker and Wilton’s mother, Mrs. Walter Lloyd-Smith (Jessie Gonzales) had died suddenly and unexpectedly of a cerebral hemorrhage on Long Island. She was 67 years old. This death left Wilton Lloyd-Smith as the only remaining family member.

Elmira Star Gazette 3 Sep 1932, Page 7

Wilton Lloyd-Smith attended law school and joined the bar in 1922, practicing law in NYC. He was a Captain in the army in WWI and enjoyed big game hunting. He owned an estate on Long Island and entertained many notable people, even Albert Einstein (see picture below). On a hunt in Alaska, he collected moose antlers that were the largest recorded in the world, and donated two of the moose he shot to the Museum of Natural History in NYC. He had been on one of these hunts in the Alaskan wilderness when a plane was sent to fetch him to tell him of his younger brother’s suicide.

At the New York (Huntington, Long Island) estate of Wilton Lloyd-Smith, Albert Einstein in the back seat of a car with his wife, Elsa, next to him. The other individuals have not been identified.
Hartford Courant,” Hartford CT. 25 Dec 1938, Sunday, page 51.
English: Alaska Moose. Gift of Wilton Lloyd-Smith. At the American Museum of Natural History, New York.
“The Alaska Miner” Fairbanks, Alaska. 25 Oct 1938, page 27.

But in 1940, people woke up to find headlines splashed across newspapers, “Wilton Lloyd-Smith found shot in New York.”

Elmira Star Gazette, 29 Feb 1940.

His wife heard the shot. Wilton Lloyd-Smith had been stricken with a severe case of Malta Fever (also known as Brucellosis or Undulant Fever), while on a hunt in India. This fever, plus a heart attack in 1935, led to discouraging reports on his health, and he took his life into his own hands. Wilton Lloyd-Smith was survived by his wife, Marjorie Fleming Lloyd-Smith, and his four daughters: Marne, Clara Fowler, Virginia Fleming, and Diane. His remains lie at the Fresh Pond Crematory in Middle Village, Queens County, NY.

His wife remarried and she and her new husband, Knight Woolley, lived in Florida. She passed away in Palm Beach in 1985 at the age of 90. The string of tragedies over, Wilton and Marjorie’s daughters lived long lives.

Elmira Star Gazette (Elmira, N.Y.) 1 March 1940, page 11.

A 1920 Holiday Home Menu

After compiling some 1950s Holiday recipes, I continued to look into holiday dishes from the past. The next menu I am sharing with you ran in the Elmira Star Gazette exactly 100 years ago today, on December 22, 1920. Unusual features include roast rabbit, quince honey, and a pigeon pie…

The suggested menu today starts with a breakfast many of us could imagine eating; pancakes, bacon, maple syrup, cream, coffee, and ginger snaps. I love the idea of having cookies with breakfast and I may add that into my meal planning!

Noon dinner is tomato soup, crackers, mashed potatoes, roast rabbit, creamed asparagus, buns, quince honey, apple date and celery salad, pumpkin pie, and coffee.

Supper consists of baked potatoes, raising bread, cottage cheese, baked apples, cream cookies, and tea.

Next up is a recipe for an apple, date, and celery salad. “Pare one large, choice apple, quarter, core and cut into small pieces and squeeze over these the juice of half a lemon. Cut five choice stalks of celery in small pieces. Pour boiling water over half a pound of dates. Stir the water through them, skim to an earthen disk and dry in the oven. When cold, cut each into four or five lengthwise pieces. Mix the apple, celery and dates together and add a generous half cup of mayonnaise dressing and stir again. Garnish with celery leaves if desired.

Cream cookies–One cup of sugar, one cup shortening (half butter and half lard), two eggs, one cup sour cream, one teaspoon of soda dissolved in cream, pinch of salt. Flavor to taste. Mix in order given and add two teaspoons of baking powder and enough flour to make a stiff dough. Bake in a moderate oven.

Pigeon Pie–Six pigeons dressed and split, six or eight tablespoons flour, salt and pepper, pork or bacon fat, bay leaf, one and one-half cup dried celery, one can peas, one cup boiling water, one pint milk (scalded), six tablespoons butter, six tablespoons flour, biscuit dough.

Dredge pigeons with flour, sprinkle with salt and pepper and saute in hot pork fat. Place in a saucepan or casserole. Add bay leaf, celery, boiling water and simmer slowly until tender–about one and one-half hours. Add two and one-half to three teaspoons salt.

Thicken with butter and flour rubbed together, add peas and scalded milk. Pour into a baking dish, cover with short biscuit dough rolled about one-quarter inch thick. Bake in a hot oven until brown.

Squab en casserole [squab is a young pigeon]–Three large squabs, one cup chicken stock, one cup small potato balls, one can asparagus tips or one bunch asparagus, twelve small white onions, three to four tablespoons of melted butter or substitute.

Dress, clean and truss the squabs and place in a large casserole , brush with melted butter and bake in a hot oven ten minutes. Add stock, cover and cook until squabs are tender. Add potato balls and onions boiled and sprinkled with melted butter.

Though this recipe is now outdated, pigeons were a hugely popular food source in the United States until over-hunting and deforestation led to a precipitous decline in pigeon populations. According to a 2018 article published in Popular Science, it was one of the most popular sources of protein for Americans. Today it can only be found in very pricey restaurants or in Asian cuisine.

But in 1920, it would have been usual for an Elmira housewife to pick up a few squabs for Christmas dinner.

Today our historical sponsor is Flanagans, a popular department store in the 1900s located in Elmira’s business district. Check out some of these deals available at Flanagans in Elmira on this date in 1920!

Source: [] Accessed 20201222

1950s Elmira Holiday Recipes


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The holidays are upon us and home chefs and bakers are preparing their menus. For inspiration, I love looking through old cookbooks and finding recipes that people made in the past.

For this blog post, I looked in “Cook’s World Tour around Elmira,” published in 1950 by the Elmira YWCA. This is just one of the many local cookbooks found here in the Local History section of the Steele Memorial Library. I hope you find these recipes as interesting I did.

  1. Let’s begin with a Christmas Panettone, submitted by Mrs. Lester Schaff of Elmira. This is a traditional Italian dessert bread often enjoyed during the Christmas holidays.
“Cook’s World Tour around Elmira.” Elmira YWCA. 1950.

Mrs. Lester Schaff was born Ann Jeanette Aalfs to To Wilhelmina and Nittert Aalfs in Fort Dodge, Iowa in 1908. She married Reverend Lester Schaff in 1933 in Syracuse, NY. He was a Methodist minister, serving in the Elmira and Syracuse areas. Ann Schaff passed away in Syracuse, NY in 2009.

2. For Christmas morning, is there anything better than a delicious coffee cake to begin the day? Here’s a recipe submitted by Mrs. Lawrence Freedman.

“Cook’s World Tour around Elmira.” Elmira YWCA. 1950.

Mrs. Lawrence Freedman was born Gertrude Kohn in 1875 in Pennsylvania to a German father and German- American mother. She married Lawrence Freedman, a German immigrant, and they lived in Elmira where Mr. Freedman owned a grocery. They had two children, Mabel and Raymond W. and lived at 478 Homer St. Her husband died in 1949. Gertrude moved to Ithaca to live with her daughter. She passed away in 1953 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, NY.

3. How about a nice gingerbread cookie for an afternoon snack? Here’s a recipe from Mrs. A.G. Long:

“Cook’s World Tour around Elmira.” Elmira YWCA. 1950.

Mrs. A.G. Long was born Madeleine Pratt in 1891 in Elmira, NY. In 1917, she married Alexander G. Long, a graduate of MIT who worked for 40 years for American LaFrance and retired as its Vice President. They were members of the Park Church and lived at 1234 W. 1st St in Elmira. Mrs. Long was active in the Needlework Guild of Elmira, making clothes for the poor and needy. Mr. Long died in 1956, and Mrs. Long died in 1968. They are buried at Woodlawn Cemetery.

4. Finally, for a very traditional Christmas treat, let’s end with a fruit cake (3 lbs!). This recipe is from the kitchen of Mrs. Arthur L. Lovell.

“Cook’s World Tour around Elmira.” Elmira YWCA. 1950.

Mrs. Arthur Lovell was born Hazel L. Johnson in 1892 in Elmira, NY to Bert and Anna (Feeney) Johnson. She married Arthur L Lovell in 1913. They had no children. Arthur worked at the Eclipse Machine Company in Elmira. Their home was located at 524 W. 2nd St. Arthur Lovell died in 1971 and Hazel passed away in 1975. They are both buried at Woodlawn Cemetery.

Do you still use recipes that were passed down through the generations? We’d love to hear what you make every year. Wishing everyone a very happy holiday Season.

Cover of “Cook’s World Tour Around Elmira,” 1950. Published by Elmira YWCA. Artist unknown.

Claude Swingle: wanted for murder of Police officer. December 3, 1920

On December 3, 1920, The Elmira Star Gazette published a story alleging that Carl Whitmarsh of Elmira had been involved in a robbery which later resulted in the death of Patrolman William F. McDonald in Binghamton, NY.

I decided to learn more about Mr. Whitmarsh, but he remains an enigma as his name does not appear in any genealogy databases or newspapers besides this story.

A quick search on one of the other names, however, uncovered a complex yet fascinating portrait of Claude Swingle: a troubled man from an abusive home, unbalanced and violent, who finally snapped during service in WWI after his buddy was killed. Swingle went on to kill two innocent people (one a police officer), attempted a prison escape and was often a fugitive from justice. Towards the end of his life, he received some unexpected and perhaps undeserved sympathy… Here is the story of Claude Francis Swingle (13 Oct 1899–?)

In 1920, Claude Swingle, John Hobson, Fred Richardson, and Carl Whitmarsh robbed a man of $160 in Binghamton. Carl Whitmarsh was in police custody when Claude Swingle shot the police officer.

After the shooting, Swingle then fled and hid in a manure dump until the next morning and then hid in the woods before he finally turned himself in. Swingle believed his wife was being held by police, and believed he could lie to get free and free his wife, Ida Mae Lane, whom he had married only 4 months before. He pled insanity in the murder of the policeman. His army records showed that he had undergone extensive psychiatric treatment, and many testified that he was insane before his army service. He had often hit or bitten people unprovoked, ridden on the hood of a driving car and jumped off, shot off a gun in Sunday school as a child, and threatened his wife with a knife. While in the army, he bit an officer’s overcoat, and acted irrationally in his company. It seems the combat death of his friend, James Tudor, finally sent him over the edge, and he had to be put into a straitjacket.

Claude Swingle was sentenced to life in prison on the charge of Murder in the 2nd degree. When he was sent to Auburn prison, it only took 8 months before he was named in a foiled escape attempt with 6 other inmates.

Carbondale Daily News (Carbondale PA) 20 Jan 1922 Page 3.

Claude Swingle was paroled 25 years later in 1945. Three years later, he killed again, and sparked a manhunt…

Claude Swingle was in a general store and shot and killed Layton Brooks as Brooks entered the store. There were 4 eyewitnesses and no one could explain what had provoked Swingle.

Despite swearing he would never be taken alive, Swingle turned himself in the next day. It was later revealed that Swingle had molested the 12 year-old sister of Layton Brooks. Layton Brooks had warned Swingle to stay away from her.

Swingle was again sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Layton Brooks, but this was overturned in 1960 due to a technicality. Layton Brooks was killed in Pennsylvania and Officer McDonald had been killed in New York, and the law stated that a double murderer could only be sentenced to life in prison in Pennsylvania if both killings were in Pennsylvania.

In an inexplicable stroke of luck for a double murderer, the Sayre Evening Times ran a sympathetic story about Swingle in 1973 advocating for his release and painting him as a former troubled youth without an education who wouldn’t hurt a fly. According to Swingle, he grew up in Lake Ariel, PA and was sent to a mental institution at age 11 after running away from home. He stayed in the institution for 3 years. Clues to an unhappy home life can be found in a 1912 article detailing his parents’ divorce on the grounds of “cruel and barbarous treatment.”

The Citizen, Honesdale, NY. 10 July 1912

Swingle says he received only 4 years of schooling in total. He ran away again at age 16 to Montana to try to be a cowboy. He returned to PA after a year and in 1916 was sentenced to 1-10 years for stealing food from a barn. This story is true, and the newspaper article reveals that he had been living in a cave.

Carbondale Daily News 09 May 1916

Released after 13 months, he says he went to NY and joined the army, serving in France and being wounded twice. He was honorably discharged in 1919, one year before the slaying of Officer McDonald.

Pennsylvania US WWI Veterans Service and Compensation Files

Between 1919 – 1920 he claims he was working for the light company digging holes but running illegal whiskey on the side. He married a blonde 17 year-old dancer named Ida Mae Lane. He says she visited him once in prison, and though he doesn’t know if she is alive or dead, that she never divorced. him. The burglary that resulted in the death of a policeman he describes as a result of his whiskey trade. The second murder he describes as the result of a brawl, and that he pled guilty only because of an inexperienced lawyer. He fails to mention that he molested Brooks’ 12 year-old sister, or that there were four eye-witnesses (two who were injured in the melee) who witnessed the cold-blooded murder.

Claude Swingle made headlines again in 1974, when there was speculation that he might be released. Though it was a misunderstanding, it is revealed that the minister Rev. Alva Tompkins, who lived near the the Correctional Facility in Dallas, PA, where Swingle was now housed, was advocating for his release. Rev. Tompkins vouched for Swingle’s complete rehabilitation and offered to take personal responsibility for the man, much to the public’s and law enforcement’s incredulity.

It is not clear what happened after this. One mention that Claude Swingle died in a Pittsburgh hospital at age 81 remains unverified. I was not able to locate death records for him. I don’t know if he died a free man or in prison.

Claude’s one-time wife, Ida Mae Lane, gave birth to their stillborn daughter in 1921 while Claude was on trial for murder. She remarried in 1923 to a George Townsen Burnett. They had 6 children. Ida Mae passed away in 1961 at the age of 57.

NYS Death Index 1921: Swingle, F(emale), SB (Still-Born). 30 April, Binghamton. Death Certificate #19930.

100 years ago in Elmira: Peggy Harris, car thief

Elmira Star Gazette 14 Dec 1920 (link to full article at bottom of the page)
Elmira Star Gazette 23 Nov 1920 (link to full article at bottom of the page)

“Tall and very pretty, dressed in a brown suit and velvet hat, “Peggy” who declares she is an Indian princess and that her grandfather was a chief of the Mohawk Indians, presented an attractive picture in court…”I suppose it is a rather rough business for a girl to be arrested for stealing an automobile…”

100 years ago today in Elmira:

The sensational headline: Peggy Harris & Charles Toal arrested for car theft. Several men and Peggy hired a taxi in Rochester, drove to Geneva, then decided to kidnap the driver and drove to Gettysburg, PA. where the driver was found along with one of the kidnappers. Peggy and Charles were finally apprehended in Virginia. The kidnapped chauffeur, Robert Coughlin of Rochester, Peggy and another man held him at gunpoint in the backseat, driving through Elmira at one point on their way south. Peggy was arrested in Virginia after drinking too much hooch and getting alcohol poisoning. Neighbors also couldn’t understand why the couple, living in humble lodgings, were driving such a nice car. When she is brought to court, she says she thought the whole thing was a lark, that she is an Indian Princess and is need of cigarettes in jail.

Example of a 1920 sedan

What drove a young woman to hold a man at gunpoint? I suspected she may have been an alcoholic due to the way she was finally found. Who was she, and did life get any better for her? Why was she with Charles Toal, a married man, and what happened to him? I decided to look further into their lives.

Peggy Harris was actually Minerva Evelyn Harris born on 22 March 1899 to Alonzo B. and Rosetta E. Harris of Starkey, NY. The car heist wasn’t her first trouble in life. Five years before the car heist, the Elmira Star Gazette reports that a Jerry Daniels abducted Miss Harris. He was charged in the abduction and appeared before the Yates County Supreme Court. Another article says the woman he kidnapped was actually 14 year old Myrtle Watkins, but that Minerva Harris had purchased whiskey from Jerry. Was this a typo, or had Mr. Daniels kidnapped both Ms. Watkins and then Minerva Harris within a month of each other?

Elmira Star Gazette 14 June 1915: Jerry kidnapped Minerva Harris (16yoa)
Elmira Star Gazette 28 May 1915: Jerry sold whisky to Minerva Harris (16yoa)

After the ordeal, Ms. Harris married Harry Adelman Chapman (1896- 1952) in Penn Yan, NY on 24 Nov 1916. It was because Harry hadn’t picked her up from the train station that she absconded with Charles Toal,

Peggy Harris married Michael McDermott, an iron worker from Tioga County PA on 26 Oct 1925 but her life didn’t improve for long. 5 years later, she was found dead at a rooming house at 1206 Davis St, Elmira, NY. This house is no longer standing, and today is an empty lot across from Woodlawn Cemetery, on the block south of the John Jones Museum. She is buried at the Hillside cemetery in Dundee, Yates County, NY. I couldn’t find any evidence that she was part of the Mohawk nation, and her family is all listed as “white” in multiple censuses.

Elmira Star Gazette 5 Nov 1930: Death notice for Minerva “Peggy” Harris McDermott
Elmira Star Gazette 7 Nov 1930: Minerva McDermott Obituary

Who was Charles Toal, the married man found in Virginia with Ms. Harris?

Charles Clifford Toal was born in Rochester in 1896. The car theft in 1920 wasn’t his first offense. In 1916, the Elmira Star Gazette reports that Mr. Toal said that he had been invited for drinks after repairing a man’s car, and woke up the next day with no memory of the previous day. He claims that he was doped. But I don’t think anyone bought that story, as the next day he is charged with theft of an automobile.

Elmira Star Gazette 6 July 1916: Charles Toal thinks he was doped
Elmira Star Gazette 7 July 1916: Charles Toal charged with theft

Mr. Toal’s marriage to his first wife, Maude Taylor, did not last long after this escapade, and he married Charlotte Millspaugh of Big Flats, NY in 1923. She passed away after only 3 years of marriage. He married Martha Tebo in 1928, and they had 4 sons. He lived until the ripe old age of 87, passing away in 1983 in Batesville, Arkansas.

Charles Clifford Toal (1896-1983) WWII Vet, car thief, father, grandfather

And what happened to the chauffeur, the victim of their escapade? He lived a much quieter life, staying in his hometown of Rochester, NY. Born in 1890, he passed away in 1964 and was survived by one daughter.

Chemung County NY Locality Guide

Chemung County NY Locality Guide

Location: Chemung County is located in the Southern tier Region of New York State just above the Pennsylvania border. It is often included also in the Finger Lakes region of NY. It sits just south of Watkins Glen and Schuyler County. Chemung County is estimated to be 407.35 square miles. 

The area was first explored and discovered by Europeans in 1615 by French trapper Étienne Brûlé. “And so, on the eighth of September, 1615, Brûlé departed from Lake Simcoe with his Huron guides. He made his way to the site of the present-day city of Buffalo, at the junction of Lakes Erie and Ontario. Then he went on as far as the Susquehanna River “which empties [into the sea] on the Florida side [of the continent] where there is a multitude of powerful and warlike nations.”

The Susquehannock, the Hudenosaunee Confederacy, the Algonquins are all mentioned in literature as having lived in this area. 

This area was named “Chemung” by white settlers who came here after destroying the Native American villages in the area during General Sullivan’s Campaign in the Revolutionary War. It is written that “Chemung” comes from “Shoumounk” meaning “Big Horn” or Tusk in the water” in the Delaware dialect of the Algonquin people. It was rumoured that the Hudenosaunee people had found mammoth tusks by the river. Several tusks have been reported to be found here, but not one of them resides in the area any longer.  

The Chemung River joins  the Susquehanna River and empires into the Chesapeake Bay. 

Chemung County was founded in 1836 from portions of Tioga County NY (founded 1791). Schuyler County was formed out of Chemung County in 1854. 

Demographics: According to US Census Data the population is estimated at 83,456 people in 2019. This is down from 88,847 people in 2010. 

Genealogy resources

Research Centers

Steele Memorial Library (Chemung County Library District) 101 E. Church St Elmira NY 14901

Chemung Valley Historical Society

Elmira NY Family History Center

Online Newspapers

NY Historic Newspapers

Here you will find multiple Elmira and Chemung COunty newspapers from the 1800s available freely online.

Fulton History 

Here you will find the Elmira Morning Paper 1888-1921, the Elmira Star-Gazette 1891-1907, the Corning Newspaper 1847-1905 and 1917-1953, and the Waverly, NY newspaper 1907-1914.

Elmira Star Gazette Archives $

Elmira Star Gazette 1891-present and the Elmira Advertiser from 1950-1978. $$

A subscription to this site gives you the Elmira Papers listed above (Star Gazette 1891-present and the Elmira Advertiser 1950-1978) but also many other papers from across the USA. 

Chemung County NY Newspapers on microfilm

(Path: Library of congress>Chronicling America  []>US Newspaper Directory 1690-current>Newspaper published State: New York, County: Chemung) 

Chemung County Vital Statistics:

NYS Birth & Death Index available on microfiche at Steele Memorial Library, Elmira NY

Free online @ (Deaths 1957-most recent available)

Index to NYS births (outside of NYC) 1880-1942

Index to NYS deaths (Outside of NYC) 1880-1956

Index to NYS marriages (Outside of NYC) 1881-2017

Birth & Death Certificates: Chemung County Vital Statistics office

Marriage Certificates: Elmira City Clerk

Property records online: Chemung County Clerk

Information on Adoption is held at the State level.

Free Online Resources

NY State Archives (includes free for New York State Records)


ChemungCounty Maps at LOC

Record Losses

Though Founded in the 1830s, NYS didn’t mandate records until 1880-1881. Many records were lost in the 1972 Flood in Elmira, NY, the seat of Chemung County

Of further interest:

Lenape Language talking dictionary:

Native American Place names in NY:

Haudenosaunee Confederacy:

Mark Twain summers in Elmira: