Friday, January 31, 2014

One Final Word (Or Two) About The 1920s

By Kerry Lippincott, Executive Director

After spending the past few months living with 1920s and completing our Speakeasy event, I’m ready to bid a fond adieu to the Roaring Twenties.  But before I do, I want to do two things.  First, I want to thank everyone who made the Speakeasy and the programs leading up to the event possible.    From our program partners (the Smith Center for the Arts, Toeprints, Georgia Carney, and the Geneva Public Library) to our Speakeasy sponsors (Vance Metal, C.S. Burrall & Son, DeVaney-Bennett Funeral Home, Finger Lakes Partners, Geneva Awning and Tent, Geneva Club Beverage, and Phelps Sungas) to Kelly Towers and the staff at the Belhurst, Bill Greco and the Cool Club to my staff and board members who helped put the programs and Speakeasy together, I give you all a heartfelt thank you.  And, of course, thank you to everyone who came to the Speakeasy.    By the photos can tell that everyone had a good time.

Maybe it’s the nature of my profession (or just me) but I’ve assembled quite a collection of information about the 1920s.  It’s not just about having too much information but having information that too good (at least in my opinion) not to share.  So the second thing I want to do is share my collection with you.  Don’t worry I’m not going to share everything that I’ve discovered just some information about Geneva and some pop culture tidbits.   

Here’s are a few highlights about Geneva during the 1920s: 
  • 1920 –   Pultney Street Cemetery moved to Glenwood Cemetery 
  • 1921 – Geneva Kiwanis Club organized and Women’s Club Building constructed
  • 1923 – Construction begins on the new Geneva High School and the Experiment Station placed under the control of Cornell University
  • 1925 – Hobart’s centennial and bus service replaced the local trolley line           
  • 1926 – An airport is constructed at the junction of Routes 5 & 20 and 14A 
  • 1928 – The first Finger Lakes Outboard Motorboat regatta 
  • 1929 – DeSales High School opens, sesquicentennial of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, and Geneva Zonta Club organized

Though the following information may not help you on Jeopardy, they could be used as icebreakers.   
  •  Through Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald are now considered the voices of the era, the reading habits of mainstream America at the time preferred romance, historical fiction, westerns, and crime novels. 
  • The Velveteen Rabbit, Agatha Christie, and Winnie-the-Pooh all made their debut in the 1920s.
  • When it comes to fashion there is just one word – Chanel.  Along with Chanel No. 5, we can thank Chanel for costume jewelry and the must-have item in any woman’s wardrobe - the little black dress. 

  • On May 16, 1929 the first Academy Awards were presented.  Since the winners were announced three months in advance, the actual ceremony lasted about 15 minutes. 
  • The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade debuted in 1924 with Macy’s employees in costume, floats, bands, and live animals from the Central Park Zoo. 
  • Cocktails were invented during Prohibition to mask the unpleasant taste of low grade alcohol.  
  • This is a sampling of the foods that were introduced in the 1920s– Lifesavers, Good Humor Bar, Wonder Bread, Klondike Bar, Mounds, Milky War, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Welch’s Concord Grape Jelly, Caesar and Cobb Salads, Wheaties, Goobers, Peter Pan Peanut Butter, Gerber Baby Food, Twizzlers, 7-Up, Velveeta, and  Rice Krispies. 
  • Kool-Aid was originally sold as fruit syrups packaged in glass bottles.  However, with the bottles often breaking or leaking during transit a powdered form was developed. 
  • Betty Crocker didn’t really exist.  The fictional homemaker made her debut in 1921 to promote Gold Medal Flour.
  • The 1920s were filled with crazy fads.  Among them were mahjong (by 1923 there were between 10 and 15 million players), anything to do with Hawaii (ukuleles began extremely popular) or Egypt, crossword puzzles (the University of Kentucky even offered courses), miniature golf, and endurance contests (my personal favorite was noun and verb rodeos or nonstop talking contests). 
  • Kleenex (the first disposable facial tissue) debuted in 1924. 
  • With the passage of the 19th Amendment on August 26, 1920, women across the United States gained the right to vote. 
  • In addition to the Roaring Twenties, the 1920s has several other nicknames.  These include the Jazz Age, the Age of the Flapper, the Dollar Decade, the New Era, the Lawless Decade, the Dry Decade, and the Age of Ballyhoo.
 If you’re interested in exploring the 1920s, I highly recommend reading: 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Dance in Geneva

By Alice Askins, Education Coordinator at Rose Hill Mansion 

Scheherezade and the Golden Slave from the Ballets Russes production of Scheherezade.
During the 1910s and 20s the dance world was in ferment.  In 1909 the Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev brought a new kind of ballet to Europe and the United States with the Paris debut of the Ballets Russes.  The troupe was noted for the high standard of its dancers, who were classically trained at the great Imperial schools in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Their superior dancing enthralled Paris audiences.

Diaghilev developed a more complicated form of ballet, with showy and exotic elements intended to expand its appeal. He liked to tell his artists, “Astonish me.” He also encouraged exciting artistic collaborations among gifted young choreographers, composers, designers, and dancers.  Works were commissioned from Stravinsky, Debussy, Picasso, Matisse, and Coco Chanel. 

Set for Scheherezade  created by artist Leon Bakst

Many of Diaghilev’s dancers went on to found ballet traditions in the United States and Europe.  George Balanchine, for example, created dances for the New York City Ballet.  Others took the dance experience to smaller cities with smaller troupes.  In 1921, one such company came to Geneva.  The Daily Times reported on May 31, 1921:


The Ballet Russe will be seen for the first time at Geneva, Friday evening, June 10th.  On that occasion the magic of art for a fleeting hour wilI transform the Smith Opera House into the Royal Opera of an earlier Petrograd.  Present and former members of the Pavlowa Ballet will contribute to the Soiree de Danse.   These include such prominent artists as Mlle. Talma, Mlle. Saxova, Mlle. Sheffield, Mlle. Verina, M. Nicholoff and M. Gardner . . . The programme will be given under the auspices of the Hobart Centennial Fund Committee, the proceeds being devoted to the . . . Fund.  The occasion will signalize the initial appearance here of Pavlowa’s associates.   The performance will be invested with the delicate grace of Pavlowa and the elusive charm of Schischinska.   [Pavlova and Kschessinskaya both danced in the Ballets Russes, and Pavlova later toured with her own company.]

The engagement is for a single evening only.  Preceding the box office sale, tickets may be had at the Hotel Seneca and at Foster’s Book Store.

Geneva had something to add to this novel experience.  The Daily Times announced on June 2 that Byron Nester [of the Nester Hotel family] would precede the performance with a talk at the High School about the “Art of Dancing.”  Mlle. Talma of the troupe would “demonstrated the various movements . . . The control of muscles and the ability of the artist in executing the various steps as called by Mr. Nester, taking the part of the ballet master, proved intensely interesting.“  Mr. Nester also traced “The religious and historical significance of dancing, with its interpretation of the thoughts and feelings of the various peoples until the present so-called ballet d'action, expressing a high degree of dramatic art.”

Bryon Nester

The Daily Times reported that the performance itself was “most pleasing,” and gave credit to Nester for the appearance of the troupe in Geneva

The Ballet Russe was new to Geneva and most entrancingly diverting. . .  Advance notices . . . had quite modestly kept Mr. Nester's connection with the whole venture in the background, but no sooner had the first curtain risen than the evidences of his clever handwork came into view and the audience  . . .      realize[d] that it was he who had conceived and carried out the ballet . . .

The scenery and the costumes were designed by Mr. Nester and, as regards the scenery, some of the smaller portions . . . were even executed by his hand.  The scenery . . . made a rich and picturesque setting for the various dances, and the costumlngs [sic] were daringly original, in colors that pleased the eye, harmonized with each other and with the stage settings and . . . were most artistic.  The costumes were made by Mlle. Talma and M. Gardner from the color plate designs furnished by Mr. Nester.  

. . . Each dance was a picture, a poem, a song, a dramatic interlude, a dream, a harmony in poetic motion, graceful rhythm and beautiful colorings.  None but an artist of deep feeling could have carried out so perfect a conception.

Between the divisions of the program there was a demand from the audience for "Nester! Nester!” and Mr. Nester was finally obliged to come before the curtain, where he gracefully thanked the audience for the cordial support given him.

Nester had further plans for dance in his home town.  The Daily Times reported in September 1921 that Nester:

Plans to Build Greek Theater

Geneva Art Lover Designs To Have Open Air Theater Near His Residence

The production of the "Ballet Russe" at the Smith Opera House . . . is part of a plan that Mr. Nester has long entertained for the advancement of dancing art in his home city.  . . . he has been planning for several years to construct an open air theater on the grounds to rear of his residency . . . in South Main street.  The grounds on the lake front of the estate provide the natural slope to make an ideal location for such a theater.  Mr. Nester is contemplating a theater inspired by his own sketches of classical ruins  . . . When this theater is completed, which will   other distinguished artists who will quicken the interests of the people of the city in the best of terpsichorean, chore[o]graphic and dramatic art.   . . .

As far as we know, the outdoor theater was never built.    Perhaps Nester decided against it when he realized that an open air theater could be used only half the year in Geneva.

Unidentified dancers from the Nestor Family files at the Geneva Historical Society.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Radio in the 1920s

By Karen Osburn, Archivist

How many of you have heard of the Acousticon Hour, the Clicquot Club Eskimos, the Goldbergs, the High-Jinkers, Laundryland Lyrics or Sam ‘n’ Henry?  I imagine if I asked how many of you recognized Amos and Andy, Fibber Magee and Molly, the Shadow, the Green Hornet or the Jack Benny Show many more of you would instantly make a connection.   The first group was radio shows that debuted in the 1920s while the second group included shows that aired on the radio later in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.  Of course most of us weren’t born in the 1920s, or were so young that we can’t recall those names, but these shows were the forerunners to the sit-coms, dramas and variety shows that we do remember from the second half of the 20th Century, both on radio and television.

Let’s take a brief look at radio in the 1920s and expand our “horizons” a bit. Radio historians generally agree that broadcasting for the public began in 1920 with a broadcast on station KDKA out of Pittsburg, PA.  However, very few folks heard the broadcast because few radio receivers were privately owned. After word of that original broadcast spread people overwhelmed radio manufacturers standing line for hours to fill out order forms because the manufactures had run out of radio receivers.  Between 1923 and 1930 fully 60% of American families purchased radios and gathered around the new device to listen to nightly entertainment broadcasts.

The more folks purchased radios the more radio stations were needed to satisfy the public.  While KDKA was not the only station in 1920 it remains the standard by which others were judged.  In just two years 600 stations were up and operating nation-wide.

In 1921 KYW, Chicago’s first radio station, was begun by Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing.  KYW specialized in playing exclusively opera six days a week.  They decided to diversify programing when the opera season ended and began offering broadcasts of sports events, lectures, news and weather reports, political commentary and popular and classical music among other things.  A radio station like KYW had the ability to enhance a feeling of community among diverse groups living within the listening area.  Each group had the choice to listen to broadcasts that appealed to their interests and needs.

Confusion arose with radio’s popularity.  The rapid growth of listeners and programs had created an atmosphere with little or no control over the airwaves.  This led to a bit of chaos as time slots for programs often overlapped and interfered with shows.  A listener might be listening to one program only to have a different show interrupt it.

The government hesitated to regulate the airwaves, while stations, listeners, and broadcast companies all wanted the intervention to sort out the mess.  Eventually the Government set up the Federal Radio Commission (1926) later organized with the Radio Act of 1927.  This act became the Communications Act after television became popular.  Eventually, the Federal Government ceased to doubt their right to regulate communications.

Another interesting point is that the listening public, the Government, and the start-up radio corporations viewed broadcasting as a public service and seldom as a vehicle for profit. Manufacturers of radio receivers realized a financial gain, but announcers, deejays, and stations worked on a non-profit basis.  Once advertising was introduced later in the 1920s the public service model changed to one of private gain.

One of the shows that made radio so popular was Amos ‘n’ Andy.  It was so popular that by 1930 NBC ordered its affiliates not to interrupt the broadcast unless it was a matter of national importance.  At the peak of popularity many movie theaters advertised that they would stop their films for the Amos ‘n’ Andy show (15 minutes long at the time). 

Amos ‘n’ Andy was created by Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll and started out at a program called Sam “n” Henry, which debuted on WGN in Chicago and aired from 1926-1928.  It was a ten minute comedy and is often considered the first situation comedy.  The story line revolved around two African-American men from rural Alabama moving to Chicago and overcoming the problems associated with moving to a new area such as food, shelter, and making money.  Correll and Gosden produced 586 episodes and supplied the voices for all the characters.  They left WGN after making their proposal to have Sam ‘n’ Henry recorded on phonograph records and distributed to other radio stations to be played on the air was turned down.

In March 1928 Correll and Gosden brought their new characters, Amos ‘n’ Andy, to the airwaves on rival Chicago station WMAQ.  The plot line and characters closely resembled Sam Smith and Henry Johnson and the show ran as a nightly serial until 1943 (in 1943 it was changed to a 30 minute weekly).  Gosden and Correll portrayed all the male roles and preformed over 170 different voice characterizations in the first decade of the show.  Amos ‘n’ Andy was the first radio show to be distributed by syndication in the United States.

When I wrote this blog I looked in the 1920s city directories of Geneva for a local radio station and didn’t find one, but there were several businesses selling radios in the city so I am sure there were residents here enjoying some of the programs I have mentioned.  Well over ten years ago I heard some old time radio programs broadcast on WHAM out of Rochester and became very interested in the shows and the advertising.  I think it is very enjoyable to play a CD of old time radio shows some nights instead of watching television.  The act of allowing my mind to imagine the scenes being described to me is often more fun than watching television, which does all the “work” for me.  You might want to give it a try some night. You can find these shows available on the internet.

Did you enjoy this 1920s moment?  The Geneva Historical Society is hosting several workshops and programs in December and January about the 1920s all leading up to our Speakeasy Party at Belhurst on Friday, January 17.  For more information about the Speakeasy or related programs, call us at 789-5151 or go to

Friday, January 10, 2014

Geneva in the 1920s

By John Marks, Curator of Collections and Exhibits

We’ve written about Prohibition (or lack thereof) and flappers in the 1920s. What was Geneva like back then if you weren’t looking for a drink or bobbing your hair?

Geneva’s city directories are my favorite resource for such a question. They arranged information alphabetically (people and businesses combined), by street address, and by business category. Businesses could also purchase advertising. You can pick a year at random and learn a fair amount by flipping through the pages.

Here are some observations from the 1922 directory:
·        Two Syracuse detective agencies placed ads. They both boasted connections or representatives in all parts of the world. Was Geneva a hotspot for international intrigue?

·        Eight automobile dealers carried 15 different makes, including Overland, Willys Knight,    Chandler, Paige, and Cleveland.
·        Change is never swift nor absolute; there were still six blacksmiths & horseshoers. Geneva Wagon Company had shifted to making all types of commercial bodies for auto chassis.

 This 1916 Model T estate wagon body was made by Geneva Wagon Company, and can be seen, in season, at Rose Hill Mansion

·        Sweet tooths are not new. There were 19 retail stores under “Confectionery and Fruits,” and three wholesalers. These shops often appear in theater programs as the perfect after-show place to go.
·        There were 63 retail grocers and all but a few were independent. It would be interesting to plot them on a city map to show distribution. Traveling across town for groceries was unthinkable back then.
·        Twelve milliners made hats for “ladies, misses and children.” It shows the economic impact of fashion (when women and girls didn’t leave the house without a hat), and I just like saying “milliner.”
·        Currey & Corwin Funeral Directors advertised “Lady Attendant” as the only feature beyond their telephone number and address. Was this an unusual service in 1922, or just reassurance that they did have a lady attendant? (A quick Internet search shows that many funeral homes still employ and advertise lady attendants.)
·        C.A. King may be my favorite. Located on Castle Street opposite from City Hall, he sold newspapers and magazines, postcards and stationery, all types of tobacco, “iced drinks in season”….and guns, ammunition, and auto tires. Louis Klopfer also sold books and stationery along with “athletic goods” and Victrolas.

King produced and sold local postcards with this trademark.

These are a few lesser-known things about Geneva in the 1920s that caught my attention. In our reading room, we have a complete run of city directories from the 1890s to 1980s. Stop by anytime and take a look for yourself.

Did you enjoy this 1920s moment?  The Geneva Historical Society is hosting several workshops and programs in December and January about the 1920s all leading up to our Speakeasy Party at Belhurst on Friday, January 17.  For more information about the Speakeasy or related programs, call us at 789-5151 or go to