New Article Posted in New York History Blog

Good news! I got an article published by the New York History Blog. If you’re ever in search of interesting stories from the Empire state’s history, or news from historical organizations in the state then look no further.

Port Jervis Union_08291888My article tells the story of an 1888 presidential campaign rally for Benjamin Harrison that went horribly wrong. When local Republicans thought it would be a good idea to accompany their parade and liberty pole raising with a live cannon demonstration. The only problem was that their cannon was way too old to be used and ended exploding and killing three bystanders, including a distant relative of mine named Albert Sergeant.

Though I like writing here on “Another Century” best, it’s nice to get my work out there with a wider audience too. I’m hoping to get a few more short pieces like this one published next year. Enjoy!


Mighty Carl Browne: Hero of Coxey’s Army

In 1894, a young reporter named Ray Stannard Baker was sent on the road to cover an exciting news story. The Panic of 1893 was wreaking havoc on the American economy and unemployment was crippling millions of families all across the country. Desperate Americans were looking to more desperate and radical solutions to the country’s woes. Baker’s editor had gotten a tip that an Ohio businessman named Jacob Coxey planned to raise an army of the unemployed and march on Washington D.C. On the Capitol steps, Coxey planned to propose new legislation to the federal government to “cure the ills of the nation” and put the unemployed to work building roads. It was a call for federal unemployment aid decades before the New Deal or the Great Society. It was a grand march into the heart of D.C. a generation before the 1932 Bonus March and or the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Coxey March_1
Coxey’s Army Marching Through Massillon, Ohio. 1894. Massillon Museum.

Baker took an overnight train from Chicago to Massillon, Ohio. With a hundred dollars expense money in his pocket, he made his way to Coxey’s farm where a few dozen unemployed men and their families were gathering for the march.

Sitting in the dining room reading from a pile of letters and telegrams, Baker found an impressive looking man who looked “too good to be true:”

“He was strongly built with a heavy mustache, and a beard with two spirals. He wore a leather coat fringed around the shoulders and sleeves. A row of buttons down the front were shining silver dollars. Calvary boots, tight-fitting, well polished, came to his knees…He handed me a card with his written signature, at the end of which was a grand flourish and the words, ‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’” (7)

Carl Browne_1
Carl Browne, circa 1894. Massillon Museum.

But to Baker’s surprise, the embellished card did not have Jacob Coxey’s name on it. This colorfully dressed and gregarious man was actually Carl Browne, Coxey’s friend and chief lieutenant. Realizing that this was a case of mistaken identity, the journalist then noticed a small, mild-mannered gentleman who was sitting next to Browne. Coxey was “mild-looking and of medium size, with rounding shoulders, an oily face, a straw-colored mustache, and gold-bowed spectacles. “He did not impress me as a great leader of a revolutionary movement,” (7) Baker wrote dissapointedly.

Coxey was indeed the leader of this growing army. He was a forward thinking supporter of labor rights and earnestly wanted to help the unemployed find relief. The Panic of 1893 had ravaged the US, putting ten percent of Americans out of work. There were few government or charitable support systems in place for workers back then, and going even a day without work meant that you and your family went hungry.

Coxey felt that the best way to help was with support from the federal government. His proposed legislation would have the government spend $500 million on a publics roads construction. Carl Browne shared Coxey’s concern for affected Americans and was instrumental in bringing Coxey’s plan to life. A consummate showman, he convinced Coxey to go on an epic march to Washington D.C. where he could personally present his ideas to Congress. With an army of job seeking men that Browne promised would number in the thousands, Coxey was sure to get the attention of law makers.

Coxey March_2
Browne designed many of the Commonweal’s signs personally. Massillon Museum.

Coxey and his army’s march on D.C. are pretty well known, but I think his charismatic second-in-command deserves more attention. Carl Browne was a complicated man who had a huge impact on the march and can teach us a lot about politics and culture in the late 1800s. Though most reporters at the time focused on Coxey and his activities, Roy Baker became enamored with Browne, who “reminded me immediately of some of the soap-box orators and vendors of Kickapoo Indian remedies I had seen on the lake front in Chicago.” (7) Baker embedded himself in Coxey’s Army got to know Browne intimately during the long journey. Fifty years later in his autobiography, Baker remembered Browne vividly and wrote about him in detail. Continue reading “Mighty Carl Browne: Hero of Coxey’s Army”

History of a Wandering Yankee: Journey to the Santa Cruz Mountains

Continuing their leisurely trip up to Alaska, Frank and Nell take a day-trip up to the Santa Cruz Mountains with some new friends from San Francisco. In his usual fashion, Frank takes time to describe the huge trees and mountains in detail for his New York cousins. Also in this section is a story about Mark Twain visiting similar mountains in Switzerland and finding a clever way to experience mountain climbing without all the bother of actually climbing. Twain would have been well known to the Felters’ New York relatives- he lived nearby in Elmira NY for many years.

Shortly after our Chinese affair we joined a party of excursionists and took a ride Southwest into the Santa Cruz Mountains, passing through the beautiful towns of Santa Clara, and San Jose, from which latter place one can take the stage for Mount Hamilton and Lick Observatory, where the 36 inch telescope, the second or third largest in the world is mounted, over 4200 feet above the sea.

We did not take this side trip but kept on until we reached a magnificent forest grove and picnic ground, among the redwood trees.

Visitors beneath the General Grant Tree in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, 1900. National Park Service.

These are a smaller species of the “Sequoia Grande,” the noted big trees of California, some of which reach a height of 400 feet, and a diameter of 30 feet. The largest tree known, in the Santa Cruz Mountains is 21 feet through and 300 feet high, but we did not go far enough to see it. Sometime we intend to visit the genuine “big trees” and if possible

Mark Twain
Twain writing at his Elmira home, Quarry Farm, in 1880. Bancroft Library.

to climb one or two of them. If we cannot do it any other way we will follow the example of Mark Twain when he was traveling in Switzerland. He wished very much to say that he had climbed a certain icy crag, which was not only very high and difficult to ascent, but was extremely dangerous as well. While debating with his traveling companion, his courier, whether to climb or not to climb, they are accosted by a man with a large telescope, mounted, and aimed at the peak of the mountain. “Here you are sir, have a look through the most powerful glass in Europe, sir:- take you within ten feet of the top sir:- all for two francs” So Mark, who is quick to see his chance, takes a look through the great telescope, and is seemingly carried so close to the icy top that he stretches forth his hand to break off an icicle, and draws it back involuntarily, with his fingers chilled, and the drops of perspiration which had been formed on his face from the heat of his argument with the courier, were frozen solid. Mark then retires a few feet and remarks that ” ’tis the real thing,” warms his chilled veins with a flask of brandy, while the courier takes his trip to the summit, and he is able to get back with a few cold chills down his marrow.

Mark has in the meantime paid the bill and taken a receipt in full for two round trips to the Summit. This he shows as evidence that, accompanied by his courier he reached a point within ten feet of this icy crag.

However let us leave Mark to his own ample resources and finish out lunch in the Santa Cruz forest. We do this, listening to the Band awhile, and then return to our San Francisco home.

Having rested a few days, and attended theatres a few evenings we cross the ferry one morning to Sausalito, and from thence proceed by train to the summit of Mount Tamalpias which is nearly 2600 feet high an almost isolated peak near the Coast, and North of San Francisco. We were about 1-1/2 hours on the cars, changing once, and the better part of the trip was on the crookedest railroad in the world.

There are 277 curves in a little more than eight miles of rail. The view is certainly grand from the summit:- looking down below on the city of San Francisco in front, -on the right we gaze miles out to sea, while to the left the Sierras loom up in their grandeur and magnitude, and we feel that we would like to step over the few hundred miles intervening. The atmosphere of California is so clear oftentimes that a distance of 50 or 100 miles seems but a step. Sometimes however, especially along the coast, the fogs come in from the ocean and envelope everything as in a wet sheet.

The summers of Frisco are very cool, and were it not for the high winds of July and August would be delightful. As it is the winders are much more pleasant, and while the Eastern States are covered with snow the people housed up are trying to keep warm, -the residents of San Francisco can pick flowers from their dooryards and eat Strawberries ad libitum.

This post is part of a longer travelogue written by Frank L. Felter of Los Angeles, a distant relative of mine, as he and his wife Nell journeyed up to and around Alaska in 1900. To read the previous part, click here. To read the next part, click here.

Gus Egolf: Captain of the Antique Industry

Gustavus “Gus” Egolf was a German immigrant who settled in Pennsylvania and eventually became one of the most prominent antique dealers in the United States.

Gus Egolf
Gus Egolf with a “homemade velocipede,” 1896. Photo credit: PA State Archives, MG 171.21

Egolf was born in Baden, Germany in 1849 and moved to Philadelphia at a young age. He attended school sporadically until the age of fourteen, when he became a teamster. Saving as much money as he could for nine years, Egolf eventually was able to launch a contracting business where he employed eight teams who hauled goods all around Philadelphia. By the early 1870s, he was a financially successful businessman and went on an extended holiday to his first home in Baden. Afterwards, he spent several months touring Germany, France, Ireland, and England. Perhaps it was because of the many  treasures that he saw on his European travels, when Egolf returned to Philadelphia he established an antique, china, and furniture business.

Business in the antique trade was good to Egolf and he had to move his store several times larger and larger buildings to make room for all his wares. It was around this time that he also married his wife Eliza Egolf (no relation I think). They would have 10 children together. In 1879 he moved out to nearby Norristown where he occupied a four story building on Main Street. Egolf was also a prominent local historian and was well known nationally for his extensive personal collections of antique coins and china.

Gus Egolf Furniture
Advertisement for Egolf’s furniture and anqitue business from a c. 1900 Directory of Montgomery County, PA.

The captain of the antique industry also caught the attention of one of the most important advocates for Pennsylvania history- Samuel Pennypacker. Pennypacker, best known for serving as the Republican Governor of Pennsylvania from 1903-1907, was an avid collector of antiques and other historical items- especially books. Pennypacker had so many books!

Samuel Pennypacker
Governor Pennypacker in 1906. Capital Preservation Committee.

Pennypacker served as the president of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and personally published several books on the history of the Keystone State. As a prominent politician and lawyer from a venerable Philadelphia family, Pennypacker had the means and energy to amass a huge collection of antique books, maps, and other historical materials that documented the history of the state. And Gus Egolf was Pennypacker’s favorite antique dealer. Here is what Pennypacker remembered about Mr. Egolf in his autobiography:

“My books came to me in all kinds of ways, and from over the earth, and I became known to the dealers and writers not only at home but in Amsterdam, London and Berlin. Some of the incidents which occur in the search for out-of-the-way treasures are both romantic and dramatic. Gus Egolf, short and stout, with a wen on the back of his neck nearly as large as his head, a keen dealer in old furniture and old books, lived and still lives in Norristown, where he has a store. Often I went ‘incog’ in an old suit and broken hat with him to the sales of the German farmers in the country and I have bought as many as a three-bushel bag full of books at a sale. The auctioneer would hold them up at a window, half a dozen at a time, and knock them down for a few pennies. There was little or no opportunity for preliminary inspection and often the purchase proved to be of little value, but every once in a while there turned up a Franklin, an Ephrata or a Sower imprint. In this way I secured nearly all of my Schwenkfelder literature.”

Pennypacker also supported his antique dealer politically. The Governor appointed Egolf (a staunch Republican who “always contributes his share to the success of the party at the polls”) a factory inspector in Philadelphia, a position that Egolf held until he died in 1916.

It doesn’t appear that Egolf’s antique business lasted long after his death, but it was a major force in the antique world at the time. Today, you may find an old clock or a piece of china or furniture with his name on it though, a reminder of the many antiques and fine articles that were made or sent to him from all over the world and sold at his store.

A Hot Reception for the Cold War: Civil Defense in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania was hundreds of miles from the battlefields of the Cold War, but the state was prepared to be on the front line of war at a moment’s notice. With the ever-present threat of nuclear  warfare hovering over the state, officials worked tirelessly to protect the Commonwealth. Beginning in the early 1950s federal, state, and local government created a civil-defense system for Pennsylvania that would prepare citizens for an inevitable nuclear attack.

Following World War II, American relations with the Soviet Union swiftly broke down and seemed to be on the brink of war. At the same time, American and Soviet forces were working the develop new powerful nuclear weapons that would likely target cities and other civilian areas. Once the Soviets successfully tested their own nuclear bomb in 1949, the American home-front became much more vulnerable to attack. Many Americans feared attacks like the ones that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki only a few years earlier. The United States began to train and prepare citizens for civil-defense: to protect themselves and their property in the event of a nuclear attack. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania developed a sophisticated civil-defense system within the state. “There’s still a big difference between taking a punch you’re prepared for,” Commonwealth officials reasoned, “and getting knocked out in the first round because you didn’t see it coming.”

“By every possible criterion, Pennsylvania will be a No. 1 target so long as men possess weapons,” one civil-defense pamphlet read. Civil-defense officials feared that the concentration of resources, vital industry, and transportation systems would make the Commonwealth a likely target for Soviet bombers. If Pennsylvania’s resources and industries were bombed and destroyed, they reasoned, “there would be little point in any farther resistance on the battlefields. The war would be over and the country in the hands of a foreign overlord.” Continue reading “A Hot Reception for the Cold War: Civil Defense in Pennsylvania”

History of a Wandering Yankee: Chinatown

After returning from the Cliff House, Frank and Nell visited San Francisco’s celebrated Chinatown, at that time the largest in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of Asian immigrants traveled to the United States via San Francisco’s Angel Island Immigration Station and other Pacific ports in the 19th century. Many of them came to work in mines or built railroads. Like many other migrants, Asian immigrants faced routine discrimination from their neighbors. Frank makes a few comments about the “savage” customs and activities he observes in that are typical of the era. I wonder what Frank’s New York cousins thought about Chinatown and its people…

[May 1900]

To one unaccustomed to living in a seaport the shipping would be of great interest, as here all kinds of vessels can be seen, loading and unloading, going to, or coming from Chinese, Japanese, Australian, Alaskan and European ports.

The Union Iron Works employ about 2000 men in the building of war vessels for the Government.

Loren Barton, Chinatown Market, San Francisco, ca. 1924. Smithsonian American Art Museum.

I muse not forget to speak of Chinatown, for this is one of the most interesting places to see in all Frisco. It covers an area of about 12 blocks, and the population is variously estimated at from 20- to 40,000. Here the Chinaman lives very nearly the same as in his native cities. All the stores, restaurants and theatres are run by the Chinese. We did not attend the theatre, but were told that the performance is continuous, and that their orchestral discord is nearly always fatal to the visitor, although they themselves seem to enjoy it very much. The Chinese New Year, which occurs in January and February, is the best time to visit Chinatown. We had during this their season of festivities, visited Chinatown in Los Angeles, which is the same as in Frisco, though smaller. On that occasion, early in last February, we were part of a company setting out to see the sights of a Chinese New Year. Their streets were well lighted by the characteristic Chinese lantern, some of them several feet in diameter. From the balconies, which are built in the second story mostly, we saw and heard several bands of Chinese musicians, each endeavoring to make a more discordant noise than his neighbor: some drumming on cocoanut shells:- some striking copper plates, some blowing on a poor apology for a fish horn. While listening to this soulful music we heard a heart-rending shriek and though some one had been driven mad, or had committed suicide, but it was proved to be only a new piece of music coming in on the home stretch, a sort of cocoanut shell with a violin attachment. Continue reading “History of a Wandering Yankee: Chinatown”

History of a Wandering Yankee: Cliff House and Sutro Baths

After Frank and Nell arrive in foggy San Francisco, it doesn’t take long before they begin to explore the city. The Felters were particularly excited about visiting sights along the coastline like the Cliff House, Sutro Baths, and Seal Rocks. I like the description of the water slide (“chute”) and the different ways bathers ride the copper chute down into the pool. As Frank says, “tis a most fascinating sport!” The Cliff House and Sutro Baths were both sadly destroyed by fires in 1907 and 1966.

Cliff House and Seal Rocks
Frank and Nell could have looked out this very same window out onto the Pacific Ocean! Cliff House and Seal Rocks, circa 1905. Photo credit: Library of Congress.

[Spring 1900]

Our trunks come and we unpack and rest ourselves, ready for the morrow’s excursions.

Recollecting that we are almost alone in a great city, we get a City map and guide book, lest we may lose ourselves.

There is a splendid car service in Frisco, and one can get a good idea of the City by patronizing the car lines, on some of which, by their system of transfers, you can ride an hour of two for a nickel.

Frisco has many hills, and the cars, mostly cable, have to climb grades as steep as 26%, which is a rise of 26 feet in every 100 feet of travel.

Cliff House
Cliff House, circa 1902. Photo credit: Library of Congress.

During our stay in Frisco we rode out to the Cliff House many times. This Hotel is built on a projecting rock at the entrance to Golden Gate and can be seen many miles out at sea.

From the balcony which faces the ocean, and which is entirely enclosed in glass, one can get a beautiful view of the Pacific in all kinds of weather and look down into the water as it breaks into foam and spray against the cliff below.

Seal Rocks.jpg
Seal Rocks circa 1898. Photo credit: Library of Congress.

A few hundred feet out are some large rocks which are often covered with thousands of seals and from that fact are called Seal Rocks.

Close to the Cliff House is the entrance to the famous Sutro Baths, and the Museu, the largest salt water baths in the world. There are seats surrounding the tanks which will accommodate 10,000 spectators. The building is 500 feet by 250 feet. The main tank is 300 feet long, and this, with five smaller ones, ’tis said will hold 2,000,000 gallons of water, and will accommodate thousands of bathers.Here one can sit for hours and watch the bathers dive off the high perches, -swim about, -or slide down the chutes. The water is heated to different temperatures in the different tanks, and one can choose any degree of heat desired. Depth of water varies from two feet to eight feet in order to accommodate women and children as well as the strong swimmer. The tanks can be emptied and filled by the action of the tides. Twenty-five cents admits one to the building and pays for a bathing suit. We were particularly interested in the chutes, which consist of a slide commencing 18 or 20 feet above the water, and extending downward in an almost vertical line about twelve feet, and then gradually curving until it reaches the surface of the water  horizontally.

Sutro Baths
Sutro Baths, circa 1898. Photo credit: Library of Congress.

This slide is covered with copper plates, and when in use, a stream of water is constantly flowing over its surface which makes it extremely slippery. The bather mounts the stairs to its top, and looks down. If ’tis his first trial, he puts one foot over, then the other and holds on the sides with both hands, then after waiting four or five minutes, he either tries to get back and give it up, or else takes a long breath and lets go. In less than three seconds he has slid down and gone under water several feet. If the individual happens to be of the female persuasion she invariably screams when she starts and of course goes under water with her mouth wide open. This is more interesting to the spectators than to her, but she comes up all right, and after a while her friends persuade her to try it again, and go down head first. This takes lots of nerve, but is entirely successful, and as she comes down with tremendous speed, is shot out and skims gracefully along the surface of the water half across the tank, -all in a few seconds. Having acquired the nerve and the proper method, ’tis a most fascinating sport, and some parts of the day an almost continuous stream of bathers is shooting down this steep incline: sometimes several going down together holding to each other as in a chain.

Sutro Baths today
The ruins of the Sutro Baths as seen in 2012. Photo credit: Library of Congress.

During afternoon and evening there are concerts, and this immense building is filled sometimes with the sweet strains of a dream ragtime. Here one can find ample accommodation and amusement for several days, as there is a Hotel, a restaurant, theatre, museum, and picture gallery, all enclosed in this class covered structure.

I could write a week of the beauties and sights of San Francisco, and then not do justice to the subject. In many respects Frisco is like all large cities, having its system of Public Parks, its museums, observatories, theatres and churches, fountains, libraries, Art galleries, public buildings, cemeteries, race-tracks, etc., etc.

This post is part of a longer travelogue written by Frank L. Felter of Los Angeles, a distant relative of mine, as he and his wife Nell journeyed up to and around Alaska in 1900. To read the previous part, click here. To read the next part, click here.