Monday, December 29, 2014

The James M. Cole Circus, Part Two

By Alice Askins, Education Coordinator at Rose Hill Mansion

The Cole Family

 In November 1943, the Geneva Daily Times reported

 Cole, Circus Owner, Inducted Into Army
Penn Yan, Nov. 9—James M. Cole, Penn Yan's 37-year-old circus owner and proprietor, passed his physical examination for induction into the U. S. armed forces in Rochester yesterday leaving Penn Yan with a group of inductees Monday morning.
Cole closed his circus several weeks early this Fall to come home and place his equipment in storage for the duration. He had previously been placed in Class 1A.
Married, Cole has a 3 1-2 year old son.  

You might wonder what the army saw fit to do with Mr. Cole, and in fact it used his experience well.  
Circus Teaches Army Says Penn Yan Soldier In Radio Interview
 Penn Yan, Jan. 17 [1944]—Pvt. James Cole . . . now with a Transportation Corps in New Orleans, Louisiana, recently was featured on a radio program presented by soldiers  . . . over a New Orleans station January 8th[.]  Pvt. Cole told of the highlights of his career as owner and manager of the James M. Cole Circus  . . . He compared his training methods employed by men of the circus with those of the Army . . .  “In both outfits," he said, [“]it is a matter of drill, drill and more drill until each man or animal learns to do a certain job in split second precision."  Pvt. Cole also made mention of the problem of transportation—that of moving an army of entertainers as well as fighters.  He related that the Army studied the methods adopted by the circus in transporting their personnel and equipment.  Some of these methods have since been used, he said.   . . .   
Pvt. Cole's wife, Dorothy, and their 3 1-2-year-old son, Sonny, are . . .  looking forward to the return of Pvt. Cole when the family plans again to take up their circus life where they left off when Uncle Sam sent "Greetings" to "Jimmy" to become a part of the world's biggest "show.”   . . .
 A year after Mr. Cole left for Louisiana, his wife Dorothy and son came to live near him in their house trailer.  The Daily Times reported

Sgt. Jimmy is in the work he likes and understands—transportation, and no job in the Army has proved any more difficult than keeping a motorized circus on schedule in all kinds of weather and over all types of terrain.  Jimmy . . . is helping the Army maintain the fine job they have been doing in moving men and supplies to all fronts to bring Victory to the American forces and their allies.

In December 1945, the Times observed that Mr. Cole had been discharged, and that

. . . he no sooner had returned home than his workers began to filter back, some like himself, wearing the discharged veterans service button.  A lieutenant of Marines, still on duty in Guam awaiting his discharge, wrote to Jimmy this week seeking a job as secretary.  . . .  A discharged sailor of the Merchant Marine called on Jimmy this week to arrange for a candy floss and novelties concession.  "All those three years I was on board ship - even when the torpedoes were flying—all I thought of was that concession. I figured it all out and the minute I was out of service I bought that candy floss machine and now I'm happy," the sailor told Cole.

It is not unusual in post-war adjustments, Cole says, to find veterans eager to take up circus life.  They are restless, want to be on the move and the bustle of the traveling show business offers them the period of readjustment needed before stepping back into civilian life.  After the other World War, numbers of servicemen joined up with circuses to fulfill the urge to move with crowds.
Though German paratroopers did not rain down on the US, people must have seen images like this.

In The Decorative Arts of the Forties and Fifties writer Bevis Hillier studied the imagery of the post-war period in England, and found that circuses appeared frequently.  He believed that the circus stood for, and detoxified, the image of the army.  Mr. Hillier also argued that toy balloons stood for parachutes (something small, harmless, and fun that goes up, replacing something threatening that comes down,) and that mermaids, found frequently in post-war English imagery, replaced the threat of submarines.  I talked to a friend who experienced the post-war period in the US, and she thought this sounded a bit far-fetched.  She is probably right, but it is an interesting thought.  England, with its very different experience of the war, would have coped with it mentally in a different way than we did.  Still, if American soldiers after two world wars found themselves drawn to the circus – a situation where people and equipment move in organized groups for a purpose, but the purpose is fun rather than killing – it suggests that Mr. Hillier might have something there.  It seems reasonable that we would present ourselves with comforting images after stress and fear.

We do have this Times article about bubbles and balloons from October 1945, that ring a similar note:

 Bursting In Air
Don’t be surprised if the next thing is a bubble party.  Or has it arrived, with youngsters blowing bubbles at pedestrians up and down Main street?  Who starts such fads, anyhow? Let there be more, for people need escape from the effects of other and sadder globular bursts in the air.
Speaking of these inoffensive, multi-colored spheres that provide a chuckle even when one bounces on the minister's nose or the teacher’s glasses, is this nation aware of the fact that the children of today have grown up without having had the fun of playing with toy balloons?  Toy balloon manufacturers went to war.  Their products became vital in meteorology and for other requirements of the armed forces.  . . .
It's refreshing to welcome back the legerdemain of bubble-blowing.  . . .   here’s to bigger and better bubbles.
Bowl made in the US during the post-war period.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Geography of Food in the 1940s

By John Marks, Curator of Collections and Exhibits

“Food deserts” are a current topic in government and academic research. The US Department of Agriculture defines the term as “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options. The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.”[i]

One could say this doesn’t apply to Geneva; after all, we have Wegmans AND Tops! We’re a small city and one place isn’t that far from anywhere else. However, if you don’t have a car for whatever reason, you become dependent on friends, taxis, or the CATS bus schedule. Then you know that Hamilton Street is not, in fact, centrally located.
Many readers, regardless of where they grew up, will remember this was not always the case. The historical society is blessed with a fine collection of city directories that show the type and location of businesses around Geneva. Let’s look at what was available, and where, in the 1940s.

In the 1945 city directory, there were 46 grocery stores. Fifteen were part of chains: A&P, IGA, Loblaws, Market Basket (headquarters in Geneva), and Red & White. Based on surnames, many of the independent stores were owned by Italian Americans. The Market Basket and Red & White stores were out in the neighborhoods as well as downtown, often near independent stores.

There were 10 meat markets, not counting the Market Basket headquarters.

There were six bakeries.

There were two local dairies – AJ Tarr and Geneva Milk Company/ White Springs Farm Dairy (located at the same address) – on opposite ends of North Street. While it doesn’t fit the USDA definition of healthy food, there were seven confectioners selling ice cream and/or candy.

I mapped out the approximate locations of these businesses with the following colors: green = grocery stores; red = meat shops; blue = bakeries; and purple = dairies. I used a modern map and cropped the western section of the city that didn’t really develop until after World War II; there were no food stores south of Hamilton Street.

The heaviest concentration was in the downtown area. On Exchange Street, there were several stores in one block, often on the same side of the street. The working class neighborhoods of East North Street (“the Butt End”) and North Genesee Street (Torrey Park) were well-supplied with stores. The area with the fewest stores was the fairly new, at the time, neighborhood west of Maxwell Avenue.

There are several points to keep in mind. Downtown was the center of commercial, and often social, activity; people were accustomed to going downtown on a daily basis. A good portion of the city was within three blocks of downtown (if we include all of Exchange Street) – not a bad walk. There was a public bus, operated by Lont’s Bus & Cab Lines, that covered most of the city. Finally, the dairies and larger meat and grocery stores offered free home delivery.

There was greater access to food stores in the 1940s; obviously, wartime rationing, and poverty were limiting factors. Stores seemed to coexist with each other, particularly the chain and independent markets. It would take more research to determine the best prices – were goods cheaper downtown than in the neighborhoods? – and when small stores began disappearing.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christmas Musings

By Karen Osburn, Archivist

What did you ask for on your Christmas list as a child?  People who know me well won’t be surprised to know that every year I asked Santa, and later my parents when it became apparent that Santa didn’t get the message, for a pony.  I scoured the Christmas “Wish Book” for rocking horses and asking for one of those with the idea that Santa might go for that.  Sadly, Santa, my parents, my grandparents, my cousin, even my aunt and uncle couldn’t be persuaded to bring me an equine breathing or carved of wood.  Oh, everyone had great excuses from “a pony wouldn’t fit in the sleigh” to “we don’t have enough land.” The last phrase being a blatant falsehood since at the time I was asking we had 3 acres and our neighbors had 150 plus there were several horse farms in the area so zoning wasn’t a problem either. 

Phooey!  What did I get instead?  Well, Santa was generous. I have a vague memory of a Christmas morning with the floor under the tree covered with presents.  I must have been about 3 that year; I doubt I would have remembered a Christmas before that.  I was frequently given dolls, I remember a “Betsy Wetsy” though I don’t remember asking for a doll that needed to have its diapers changed.  One year I got quite a large doll, probably close to 24 inches high.  It was impressive, but dolls didn’t hold much interest for me until Barbie became available.  I think it was her clothes that appealed to me.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like my presents, it is just that they didn’t hold my interest and two days after Christmas, the dolls sat in the corner and I was back to playing with stuffed animals.

I just wasn’t a “doll-type” of girl much to my mother’s chagrin.  She always wanted dolls as a child and wanted me to like them, too.  These memories came flooding back to me when I was researching an article on the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas in the 1940s. I encountered an ad for Montgomery Ward after Thanksgiving shopping sale (Black Friday was alive and well in the 1940s).  The girls’ toys mentioned were a tea set, an Army Nurses kit complete with uniform, and a pastry set for “little mothers”.  I might have enjoyed the pastry set, though what being a mother had to do with baking is beyond me.  I would not have been interested in a nurse kit or a tea set.  Where were the cowgirl outfits?  Where were the stuffed dogs, cats, and bears? Where were the Lincoln Logs?  The 1940s advertisements seemed pretty stereotypical of what you would expect to receive if you were a boy or a girl of that time period.  Girls did not play solider or cowboy and boys did not play nurse.  Times have certainly changed!

I did some research on Christmas Catalogs from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s and found a few pages that were pretty representative of what I asked for and what I go instead.  Can you tell which was which?  I even found one page that I vaguely remembered that mentioned you could buy live pets, cocker spaniels and hamsters in this case, through the catalogs!  Of course this wasn’t a great idea then and would never work today, but it was nice to have my childhood memory verified.  I hope looking at some of this advertisements stir some pleasant Christmas memories for you and I hope each of you enjoys this beautiful season celebrating in you r own traditional ways.

Oh, I did finally get to ride an adult size rocking horse at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY.  There is enough “child” in me that I would have bought one if I had money to waste and the space to put it.  I guess there are some things you do not outgrow.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Geneva Teenagers and World War II

By Anne Dealy, Director of Education and Public Information

Collage of pictures of teenagers.
Teenagers as pictured in the 1944 Geneva High School yearbook.

With World War II came the birth of the American teenager. While we tend to associate the flowering of teen culture with the baby boomers, it was actually their immediate predecessors, the so-called “Silent Generation” who were first referred to as teenagers. Then, as always, the older generation thought that the younger generation was at best misguided, at worst they were described as selfish, willful, spoiled and delinquent.

The press frequently reported on concerns about youth behavior. As early as December 1941, syndicated financial columnist Henry Babson wrote in the Geneva Daily Times about problems with new draftees at Fort Devens in Massachusetts. It was clear where he laid the blame:
“The present generation of young people may be just as sound fundamentally as my own generation; but if so, surely they have worse parents! Today’s parents have invented and are giving to their children most dangerous doles in the form of automobiles, radios, taxis, speedboats, movies, roadhouses, dinner dances, and clothes that would have made Croesus and Midas feel like village school teachers working part time.”
The profligate attitude of young people was shown in a series of comic strips published in the same edition of the Times. The teenaged protagonist of Freckles and Friends was out to have a good time with his friends, just like adults

Image of the comic strip Freckles and Friends in which the son wants to take his girl on an expensive date.

Image of the comic strip Freckles and Friends in which a girl's father is horrified by her expensive and skimpy gown.

Image of the comic strip Freckles and Friends in which Freckles fools his father without lying to him.
In 1941 Freckles and his friends just want to have fun...but like adults.

Of course these teens end up learning a lesson with a great deal of humor, but not all treatment of teenagers was so light-hearted. Take for example, the 1943 newsreel series The March of Time episode, “Youth in Crisis.” Boys were portrayed stealing, drinking, smoking marijuana, buying pornography, and setting things on fire. Girls were shown being picked up by servicemen, falling into prostitution and getting treated for venereal disease. Click The March of Time to watch a clip from "Youth in Crisis."

Despite the drama, the concerns were real. According to a Life Magazine article in December 1943, the FBI reported that in just the first 9 months of the year, arrests of children 17 and under had increased 23.6% over all arrests in 1941. Cities all over the country wrestled with the problem of youth behavior, and with a military base nearby Geneva had more problems than many communities.
The war years were challenging ones for young people in Geneva. Many saw their fathers and older brothers leave to fight in the war, while their mothers worked in factories or served as volunteers in war service work. Recreation programs and youth service organizations lost money, staff and volunteers to the war effort. The focus of the adult world was the war and the need to win it, sometimes to the detriment of young people. Men from all over the country were being trained at Sampson Naval Training Base and they overwhelmed the town, filling up theaters, bars and restaurants. Crime rose and Geneva was filled with strangers. Click "Youth in Crisis" read the Life Magazine article.

Sailors lined up along a bar.
Sailors in Dempsey’s bar.

As early as 1943, the Geneva newspaper reported an increase in juvenile delinquency. The problem probably emerged earlier, but the disruptive presence of so many strangers in town for the construction of the Seneca Army Depot and training at Sampson may have pushed the issue to the background in 1941 and 1942. By 1945 the Geneva’s police chief reported that two-thirds of the females arrested for prostitution in the city the previous year were between 15 and 19 years of age, one-third were just 15 or 16. He was shocked by their attitude: “I have found what is, in my opinion, a most distressing and disturbing condition, and that is the utter indifference of these teenage girls toward the serious implications of moral dereliction. …they are, for the most part, quite unashamed and oftentimes argue that they have a right to do as they choose. It is not unusual to find that it is the girl who has solicited the sailor.”

With so many older men dominating the town, many teenage girls were more interested in them than in boys their own age. Fights sometimes broke out between local boys and sailors. Girls who spent time with sailors were called sailor bait, according to Mary Hommel Guilfoose, who learned this when she went out with local boys home on leave from the navy. Sixteen-year-old Ann McCandlish became concerned about recreation for teens after witnessing girls her own age playing slots with sailors at a Seneca Street canteen.

Image of the Play Canteen on Castle St.
Some girls hung out with sailors playing the slots at the Play Canteen.

In June of 1943 the Geneva Social Planning Council “expressed the need for a locally supervised commercial endeavor to cater to some of the recreational needs of youth.” A conference was held the following month to discuss the “Needs of Youth in Wartime,” and recommendations were given to City Council, including the hiring of a policewoman who was also a trained social worker. While the aldermen agreed on the need to do something, they also recognized that the recommendations would cost quite a lot of money and appointed a special committee to consider the issue. The matter does not seem to have been revisited that year.

Women and girls socializing with sailors.

Despite the picture of depraved teens in the media, most delinquency involved fighting and petty crimes committed by bored kids without enough to do. Plenty of entertainment had been provided for the servicemen in the area, but aside from Saturday night dances at the YMCA, Geneva’s teens found little they wanted to do but hang out on the street near favorite restaurants and diners. Mary Guilfoose and her husband Jack described these teen activities in a 1994 oral history from our archives:
Mary: Isenman’s was the place for the teenagers
Jack: It was a soda bar. We used to hang out on the corner right there. And the cop would always come and hustle you on; the cop would come by and he’d say, “Now listen. I’m going to around and when I come back I don’t want you here. We’d wait a while, and come back. That’s what you did.
Ad: Isenman's delicious homemade candies and celebrated ice cream and ices. Fountain Service. 150 Castle St. C.C. Tills H.E. Hadley
Ad for Isenman's in 1944 Geneva High School yearbook.

The issue of the youth center revived in the fall of 1944 when Ann McCandlish wrote to the Times requesting the community’s support for a Youth Canteen. She stated that Geneva High School students had organized a committee to start a canteen, but had been discouraged by a lack of support from adults. A local mother responded to the girl’s letter suggesting that she should use all the free time she had to help her mother with housework, get a job or improve her mind with additional study. Nonetheless, many adults agreed that teens needed a place of their own to socialize. The city’s Social Planning Council approved the canteen and students voted to establish it in Seymour Alley, but perhaps derailed by the coming end of the war, again it did not happen. However, the arguments apparently had an effect as a Youth Bureau was established by the city in 1947, with the Civic center building at Castle and Mains Streets as its base of operations.

Drawing featuring images and text of Geneva High School students war activities.
The Geneva High School Class of 1944 was proud of their activities in support of the war.

Despite all the hand-wringing, only a tiny minority were committing crimes and causing trouble. Many of Geneva’s teenagers participated in the war effort. They served as USO junior hostesses, collected scrap for drives, bought war bonds, worked in civilian defense, and harvested crops for area farms. Some teenage boys went on to military service at the end of the war, during the European reconstruction, or in Korea. Then they grew up to complain about their kids’ immoral behavior at Woodstock.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Christmas Dreaming

By Kerry Lippincott, Executive Director
Seneca Street, ca. 1947
I'm dreaming of a White Christmas 
Just like the ones I used to know 
Where the treetops glisten 
and children listen 
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.

Some of my favorite memories are associated with Christmas - the Festival of Lights at Sonnenberg, seeing The Nutcracker at the Smith Opera House and A Christmas Carol at Geva, picking out a new ornament each year for the tree, having Christmas breakfast with my grandparents, and playing “Sleigh Ride” throughout high school for the holiday band concert.  One of my favorite memories is the year my brother and I left oats for Rudolph (apparently we thought he would share with the other reindeer).  On Christmas morning we discovered that Rudolph had made an absolute mess of the oats.  Not only were oats all over our drive way and front yard but on our roof as well.  I can still remember my brother and I watching from the living room window as Dad and Grandpa “investigated” the situation.  From then on we left Rudolph carrots.

As we prepare for our 1940s themed fundraiser in February I was delighted to discover that many of the things I enjoy about Christmas date to the 1940s.

It’s a Wonderful Life is not the only 1940s holiday movie.  Others include Miracle on 34th Street, The Man Who Came to Dinner, The Shop Around the Corner, Holiday Inn, The Bishop’s Wife, Christmas in Connecticut and Holiday Affair.

The 1940s may have been the era of big bands but the decade also saw the debut of several Christmas classics.  These songs include “White Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “The Christmas Song,” “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” “Let It Snow,” “Sleigh Ride,” “All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth),” and “Meli Kalikimaka.”

When it comes to Christmas trees everyone has their own preference.  For me, it’s a real tree with white lights, ornaments, and no tinsel.  During World War II, however, with the lack of manpower to cut down trees and the shortage of railroad space to ship trees to market there was an actual shortage of Christmas trees.  So, people used smaller, table-top trees, artificial trees (made out of feathers, netting or chenille) and bottlebrush trees.

Here’s a few more tidbits about Christmas in the 1940s

Our Boy's Fund sent Christmas packages to every Genevan serving in the armed forces.
  • To me there is nothing lovelier than white candles in the windows of historic houses. As a symbol that everyone would return home, candles were placed in windows during World War II.
  • Fewer men on the home front meant there fewer men available to play Santa Claus.  As they did in countless ways, women stepped in and served as substitute Santas in department stores throughout the country
  • Scottie dogs became popular images on everything from greeting cards to wrapping paper.    This was due to President Roosevelt’s dog, Fala, who had become the nation’s unofficial mascot.
  • Red, green and coral colored cellophane was used as wrapping paper and to make wreaths. 
  • Many items made their debut in the 1940s.  New items that may have appeared under the tree or in stockings include paperback books, Slinkys, Legos, Little Golden Books, Silly Putty, Scrabble, transistor radios, Candyland and Clue.

This holiday season I hope you will join us for a 1940s Holiday Open House on Friday, December 5 and the 46th Annual Wassail Bowl on Saturday, December 6.  Perhaps you’ll make some of your own Christmas memories.
Exchange Street, ca. 1943