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.

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