Thursday, November 20, 2014

World War II in the Geneva Daily Times

John Marks, Curator of Collections and Exhibits

When we did our World War II project in the early 1990s, Kathryn Grover was hired to research, write, and lay out the exhibit and book, Close to the Heart of the War. As part of her contract, we received all her research notes for our archives. I recently pulled out one of the large boxes to look at her source material. Any project, i.e. an exhibit, book, or documentary, reflects the creator’s selection of what to include or leave out; it’s good to look at the research with fresh eyes.

In addition to newspapers and records from our collection, Kathryn used scrapbooks that were kept during World War II. She photocopied them so she could more easily flip through pages and make notes on the copies. Scrapbooks show the creator’s interests and are assembled in a unique way, which gives them historical value. In the case of these albums, the creator(s) kept a chronological collection of Geneva Daily Times articles that only pertained to Geneva and surrounding towns. These could be recreated from microfilm, but one would have to wade through all the national news, advertising, and sports to do it – work already done by the scrapbooker.

Regular columns included “Boys in the Service” and “News of Our Men and Women in Uniform.” (I can’t tell the difference in content, so I’m not sure why there were separate columns.) They were a collection of snippets about servicemen and women, often reported by relatives who had received a letter; news ranged from receiving a Bronze Star to confirmation that someone was still safe.

As I mentioned last time, Hobart and William Smith students researched Geneva and the war for a class project. One of them looked at these photocopies and said something to the effect, “They used up a lot of space talking about nothing, didn’t they?” Seeing things out of context is not limited to the young; it bears pointing out conditions in the early 1940s. Information was censored by the government for security reasons. Mail from the war theaters was very slow and sporadic; one local POW beat a letter home by nine months. Most Times readers knew someone in the war, so one sentence in the paper, for example, that PFC Rollo was safe in England was very welcome news.

When more information was known, there were longer articles on servicemen and women. It seems that the paper focused on success stories, i.e. survival and promotion, with the occasional humorous-with-a-happy-ending tale:

Sadder but equally important were the Killed in Action notices and photos. I hesitate to post examples; seventy years later, people are still alive who remember where they were when they received the news of a loved one’s death in the war.

These photocopied scrapbook pages are available to read during archive hours (Tuesday through Friday, 1:30 – 4:30 pm). Whether you’re looking for mention of a relative or just interested in how the war was reported, they’re a good read.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Dreams Come True: The James M. Cole Circus

By Alice Askins, Education Coordinator at Rose Hill Mansion

While looking for interesting topics from the 1940s, I ran across the James M. Cole Circus of Penn Yan.  This is a little of its story from the 40s, as reported (mostly) in the Geneva Daily Times.

The writers sounded a little envious of Mr. Cole – they always referred to him as a man who had fulfilled his dream.  As the Times put it in 1947,

James M. Cole . . . has the unusual distinction of choosing his life's work at the earliest age on record.  When a little over three years of age . . . his first circus  . . . . made such an impression on his infant mind that  . . . before he was five years old he had formed a fixed determination to travel with a circus.  However, it was not until he had reached sixteen that . . . he joined a travelling show that had visited his hometown.  From water boy to circus owner is a long way and Mr. Cole has seen his dream come true. 

Mr. Cole started his circus in 1938 as an indoor show that played in schools.  In 1940, it started in Penn Yan and traveled through Canandaigua, Waterloo, Watkins Glen, Ithaca, Whitney Point, and Geneva.  The next year it opened in Dundee and went on to
Bath, Hammondsport, Syracuse, Utica, Cortland, Herkimer, Little Falls and several other cities in the Mohawk and Hudson valleys.  After that it went on to schools in New England.

By the summer of 1941, the Cole circus was doing outdoor shows as well as indoor, and the Penn Yan Democrat said that it “has branched out into a canvas show, with a spring and summer schedule.”  In 1943 the show even did a tour through the southern states.

The school shows were often benefits for Senior class projects or other causes, and the Coles continued their good works with the outdoor shows as well.  In May 1947, for example, all tickets bought before circus day in Penn Yan benefitted Rotary Club youth programs.

The Cole circus featured such artists as Miacuha, the Wonder Girl of South America, a wire walker; Millie May, Queen of the Air; Mademoiselle Margurette, an aerialist; the Great Bartoni troupe of bareback riders; the Aerial Smalls, stars of the double trapeze; and Billy Barton, 14-year-old artist of the Cloud Swing.  By 1946, Cole had signed up the Conley troop of bareback riders; Alvarado, the Latin American wirewalker; Capt. Eugene Christey and his jungle cats; and Tama Frank, famed knife thrower

James Cole Jr. with Frieda

Though the circus included a variety of artists, the Coles were best known for their elephant acts.  First came Jumbo, who, the Times explained, belonged to Captain Rudy Mueller and was “the only elephant to appear in a current success on Broadway.”  The show was Billy Rose’s Jumbo, which was later made into a movie.  Based on newspaper account “she can draw herself a drink from a tap, and in fact . . . can do anything she is told to do.”  Jumbo performed with a trained camel named Sanya, a Great Dane named Aster, and a Shetland pony named Prince.  Unfortunately, the paper did not describe the act, only mentioning that it was one of the finest animal acts ever presented.  Jumbo  occasionally appeared in movies, like Elephant Boy with Sabu, and performed on radio where she trumpeted on cue, “sang,” (again, not described,) and did “several other acts calling for unusual animal perception.”

Eventually, the Coles seem to have wanted their very own elephants.  Their first, Frieda, was a veteran of five other circuses and joined the Cole Circus in April 1946.  Not only was Frieda the star of the Cole circus, she was often in the paper.  In October 1946, for example, she led the children through Penn Yan on Halloween. 

“Frieda" . . . will be prima donna of the giant community Halloween celebration and parade planned for the youngsters of the community . . .  [she] will lead the snake dance which is scheduled to form at the Wagner Hotel at 7 p.m. and proceed down Main street . . . With the big elephant will be cows and other animals, and pets of the children taking part. . . .

This sounds like a delightful experience.  Did anyone out there dance with Frieda, cows, and others on Halloween?

Frieda was also a troublemaker.

Frieda Does It Again—
Elephants Take Moonlight Walk in Penn Yan Streets

Penn Yan, May 27 [1947]—Freida [sic] has done it again.  Or at least [she] is being blamed for an escapade which saw two elephants on a middle-of-the-night parade through the Main street here . . .

Frieda has a known penchant for releasing herself and other elephants of the Cole herd from their shackles, and last night she must have done it again.  Frieda and Dorothy, the circus pet, a 290-pound baby elephant strolled down the street about 2:30 a. m., through the business section from the fairgrounds to the post office.

Then, nonchalantly, they turned around, walked west to Maiden Lane where they were met by the village police officers on duty, Charles Pitcher and Robert Alexander. . . .
Jimmy Cole and the elephant trainer, John Pugh, showed up about then, having missed the elephants from the lot.  Quietly, they herded the non-reluctant elephants back to the fairgrounds.

Frieda once released the whole herd from their shackles, even to carefully removing their head-stalls.   . . .
 At one point the Coles had five elephants, but the ones the papers mentioned most often besides Frieda were Elizabeth and Dorothy.  I did not find much on Elizabeth, but Dorothy came directly from Ceylon at nine months old.   Baby Dorothy was also very popular.  She was billed as the smallest elephant in the circus world, and the paper reported that she searched through peoples’ pockets in hopes of finding treats.  By the time he was seven, James Cole Jr. was working the elephants in their act, and for some years he was “the youngest elephant trainer in the country.

Coming up next, the circus and World War II.

James Cole, Jr. with Elizabeth, Frieda, Dorothy

Friday, November 7, 2014

Rationing and Recipes

By Karen Osburn, Archivist

When I was in high school girls took “home economics” classes and boys took “shop” classes.  I remember coming home from the first cooking class in home economics and showing my mom what foods they were going to teach us to prepare.  My mother was not impressed, for that matter I wasn’t either.  I only remember 3 or 4 of the recipes, but one was broiled grapefruit.  My mother said she had learned to make broiled grapefruit in her home making class three decades before mine and her comment was “Why on earth don’t they teach you cook something useful, like a roast or vegetables?”  I tended to agree with her.  By the time I got to this “cooking class” I had been helping her cook and bake for several years and I would have been happier learning to do woodworking in shop class then broiling a grapefruit.  Why would you want to cook a perfectly good grapefruit?  I think it is pretty tasty in its natural, raw state.  In the 1960s the idea still lingered that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach.  In all the years I have cooked I have never had a man ask me to make him a broiled grapefruit just like his mom used to make.  I have been asked for apple pie or pot roast perhaps, but a broiled grapefruit, never!

Flash forward some four decades and I find myself looking for recipes that accommodate the rationing of scarce ingredients, such as butter, eggs, white sugar or milk during the years of the Second World War. The historical society is hosting an event at Club 86 in February revolving around WW II music, food and entertainment which prompted me to research recipes and I found some really interesting ones.  One that sticks in my mind is a British recipe for imitation mashed bananas using parsnips, sugar and banana “essence” (extract?).  I am not sure I can see the point of imitation bananas, except if you don’t care for the taste of parsnips the whole concoction may taste better disguised as bananas.  What surprised me was locating a recipe that I had made in home economics class and liked

I really like chocolate, the darker the better and one of the food items we made was a chocolate cake that you mixed right in the baking pan and put in the oven.  It had vinegar in it and didn’t sound great but sure tasted good and there was much less cleanup without the extra mixing bowl.  There in the midst of my World War II recipe research was the one useful, tasty thing I learned to make in that class.  I had no idea it had come from that era.  I was quite pleased and I’m looking forward to trying it again. 

There were some really interesting recipes from the era of rationing and shortages.  One was a cake that had no eggs, butter or milk in it.  Someday I may try it if I am brave enough.  It sounds a bit like a fruit cake.  See for yourself:
Eggless, Butterless, Milkless Cake
2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 cups hot water
1 tsp cloves
2 Tbsps.  Shortening
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp soda
1 package seedless raisins

Boil together the sugar, water, shortening, salt, raisins and spices for five minutes. Cool.  When cold, add flour and soda dissolved in a teaspoon of hot water.

The recipe makes 2 loaves. I suggest using greased loaf pans and baking about 45 minutes in a 325 degree oven.  The cake has a good texture and will keep moist for some time.

*From Cooking on the Home Front: Favorite Recipes of the World War II Years.

Another British recipe is called Raisin Crisps:

6 oz. self raising flour or plain flour with 2 tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp. dried egg
2 oz. Sugar
2 oz. margarine
2 oz. raisins, chopped
A few drops of almond essence (extract)

Mix the flour, dried egg and sugar.  Rub in the margarine and add the raisins, essence and enough mild to bind into a firm dough.  Roll out thinly and cut into 2-inch rounds.   Cook in the center of a *moderate oven for 20 minutes.

*I would expect a moderate oven to be about 350 degrees.

Finally from Cookes.Com recipe search is a recipe for World War II Syrup Cake:

1 c. Karo Syrup
2 eggs
2 c. Flour
¾ c. Butter or shortening
½ c. Cocoa
3 tsp. baking powder
1/3 tsp. baking soda
1/3 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. all spice
½ tsp. nutmeg

Mix well, bake at 350 degrees in a loaf or Bundt pan until done (a tooth pick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

I am glad we don’t have to use recipes like this anymore.  Perhaps it was enduring some of the lingering war-time ration recipes as a child that made me a bit picky today, but I am not fond of parsnips or raisins even now.  Still there is that quick and easy little chocolate cake.  Give people a few basic ingredients and a way to prepare them and you can be very pleasantly surprised by the result. I think I am going to go make up that cake now and see if it still lives up to expectations.