Tag Archives: Sports History

Water Sports History: Auquaplaning in New York


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1 1914 Mag CoverWater-skiing was invented in Minnesota in 1922, coinciding generally with the surging popularity of motorboats; Wakeboarding, around 1980. But eight years before the birth of water-skiing, a sport strongly reminiscent of wakeboarding took the nation’s watery playgrounds by storm.

With hundreds of lakes and thousands of summer visitors wealthy enough to own motorboats, the Adirondack region did much to popularize the new sport.

Aquaplaning is sometimes cited as beginning around 1920, but it was a common component of boat shows in the US a decade earlier. In 1909 and 1910, participants attempted to ride a toboggan or an ironing-board-shaped plank, usually about five feet long and two feet wide, towed behind a boat. The boards often resembled the average house door. Continue reading

Old Time Bicycling: Velocipede Mania Sweeps NY


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3a34202rRecent news about the new bike sharing program in New York City and an upcoming bicycle tour of the Champlain Canalway Trail illustrate the ongoing love affair New Yorkers have with two-wheel transportation.

Statewide interest in bicycling exploded in New York State 144 years ago when newspapers began to warn readers about an impending “fearful outbreak” of “velocipede mania.” According to the January 10, 1869 issue of the New York Times, the first sight of a velocipede created “wonder and amazement among all classes” which made them “anxious to mount the fiery steed.” Continue reading

1930s Film: The Bowery, Social Sensibility and Change


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2099rCuriosity about Hollywood’s take on Steve Brodie’s claim that he jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge on July 23, 1886 drew viewers to FX Movie Channel’s recent broadcast of the seldom-shown 1933 movie The Bowery.

Produced by Darryl Zanuck and directed by Raoul Walsh, the movie also promised to show how the bare-knuckle boxer, John L. Sullivan, and the saloon-smashing reformer, Carrie Nation, fit into Brodie’s life. Continue reading

Bloomer Girls: Women Baseball Pioneers


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1868 Peterboro Women's Baseball Game, Courtesy National Baseball Hall of Fame LibraryAt least twenty-six newspaper articles published around the nation in 1868 reported the existence of women’s baseball clubs. Thanks to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and an anonymous reporter, the baseball club in Peterboro was the best documented of the women’s teams in the 1860s. During a three week visit in August 1868 at the Peterboro home of her cousin, abolitionist Gerrit Smith, Stanton wrote three letters for her women’s rights publication The Revolution. Continue reading

Schenectady Baseball History: The Mohawk Giants


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MohawkGiantsTalk-007When you discuss Negro baseball, most people think of names like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Cool Papa Bell.  These were some of the biggest stars in the professional Negro leagues.  However, this was not the only place where you could see Negro teams play.  Throughout the country there were independent teams, like the Mohawk Colored Giants.

The Giants got their start in 1913 under the organization of Bill Wernecke.  Although this was seasonal work for these ball players, they were full time paid players.  By offering full time jobs, Wernecke was able to lure players into Schenectady from all over the country.  The Giants would play their home games at the nicest ball field in Schenectady, Island Park.
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Lost Ski Areas of the Southern Adirondacks


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The Adirondack region has long been a favorite of skiers, as its mountains and snow cover provided a perfect landscape for downhill ski areas to develop during the Great Depression, when New Yorkers looked for an affordable escape to beat the winter blues. Over the decades, ski areas expanded with new lifts, lodges and trails. Despite the popularity of the sport, many ski areas have disappeared, yet countless people still hold fond memories of them.

Ski historian Jeremy Davis, the founder of the New England Lost Ski Areas Project (NELSAP), has released a new book on the subject. Lost Ski Areas of the Southern Adirondacks (History Press, 2012). A lost ski area is “a ski area that once offered lift-served, organized skiing, but is now abandoned and closed for good. For NELSAP’s purposes it had to have a lift – it could be a simple rope tow or multiple chairlifts, but it had to have a lift. The size of the area or number of lifts isn’t important,” Davis told Adirondack Almanack‘s Jeff Farbaniec in an interview last year. Continue reading

Lake Placid Olympics 1932 Rink Renovation Underway


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Renovation to the facade of the Lake Placid Olympic Center’s 1932 rink is underway. The contractors, J.T. Erectors, are restoring the structure to its original appearance in the 1930’s. Some of the work includes the installation of windows that have been enclosed by brink since prior to the 1980 Olympic Winter Games.

The revitalization project is being financed through the remaining funds from a grant through Empire State Development, which funded the construction of the newly completed Conference Center at Lake Placid.

 When complete the 1932 facility, along with its conventional use for skating and hockey and akin to the 1980 Herb Brooks Arena, will join the conference center to provide nearly 100,000 square feet of convention space. The fresh look will complement the conference center, which opened for business May 2011.

Part Two: The Homing Pigeon in NY History


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Homing pigeons have long been used for racing and for their unique ability to navigate, an asset once capitalized upon by the military. As noted in last week’s entry here, “Their use during World Wars I and II is legendary, and many were decorated with medals. In 1918, pigeon racing was temporarily banned in the United States to ensure that all birds were available for the use of the military.”
Domestically, homing pigeons were an accepted form of communications, and thus enjoyed legal protection. The public shared the responsibility of nurturing any pigeon found in distress, and if need be, contacting the owner via information from the bird’s leg band.
For more than a century, the pigeons were regularly encountered in the North Country. “Homers” were often used for races from 100 to 500 miles, and they didn’t always alight where the owner intended, usually due to stormy weather.
Many of the birds that landed in the Adirondack region came from Montreal, where their use for racing and message carrying was common. In 1912, one such Canadian visitor settled inside the walls of Clinton Prison at Dannemora. The warden dutifully cared for the bird and attempted to contact its owner.
In 1898, little Miss Gertrude Hough of Lowville received a letter by US Mail from the Los Angeles post office. It had arrived in LA attached to a pigeon that had been released by Gertrude’s father from Catalina Island, more than 20 miles offshore.
And in 1936, a homing pigeon landed on the window sill of a Malone home, where it was treated to the proper care. Well beyond the norm, the bird’s journey had begun in Montana.
Invariably, efficient systems like bank accounts, credit cards, the internet, and homing pigeons are usurped for other purposes. In recent years, pigeons have been used by ingenious crooks to smuggle drugs from Colombia and diamonds from African mines.
In both cases, the North Country was light-years ahead of them. In 1881, an elaborate case of diamond smuggling from Canada into St. Lawrence County was uncovered. A Rensselaer Falls farmer brought to customs authorities a dead “carrier pigeon” with part of a turkey feather, filled with diamonds, attached to the bird’s leg.
During the investigation, two more diamond-carrying birds were shot. It was discovered that baskets of birds were being mailed to locations in Canada, and other flocks were located south of the border, awaiting duty. Shipments of pigeons had originated at DeKalb Junction, Heuvelton, Rensselaer Falls, and Richville, and the value of diamonds successfully smuggled was estimated at $800,000 (equal to about $17 million today).

During Prohibition, both booze and drug smuggling were rampant. In 1930, US officials were tipped off that a number of homing pigeons were routinely being shipped north into Quebec. Upon release, they crossed back into northern New York.

Authorities at Ogdensburg were put on the case when it was found that each pigeon bore a payload of about one ounce of cocaine. At times, it was literally a fly-by-night operation—some of the birds had been trained to fly under cover of darkness.
Homing pigeons also played a role in regional historical events. In 1920, a military balloon launched from Rockaway Point in New York City sailed across the Adirondacks. Last sighted above Wells in Hamilton County, it then vanished. Extended high-profile searches turned up nothing, and three men aboard the balloon were lost.
Such missions routinely carried homing pigeons for air-to-ground communication. It was believed that an injured pigeon found on a Parishville (St. Lawrence County) farm had been launched from the balloon, and that its message had been lost during the accident that had broken the bird’s leg. This led to the belief that the balloon had gone down over Lake Ontario.
One of the most famous kidnapping cases in American history occurred in 1932 when the Lindbergh baby disappeared. When the body was found, nearly every newspaper in the land covered the story the next day with multiple articles.
Among the first stories was one emanating from Lowville, New York, where a homing pigeon had landed at the home of Arthur Jones. The bird’s leg had a non-traditional attachmenta piece of twine holding a paper tag bearing the inscription, “William Allen, New Jersey.” It was William Allen of New Jersey who found the Lindbergh child’s corpse.
Lead investigator Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf (Stormin’ Norman’s father) followed up on the information and then issued a statement: “Reports from Lowville show that no registry tag was found on the carrier pigeon. This practically precludes the possibility of further tracing the pigeon unless the owner of the same voluntarily reports its absence.”
In June, 1936, before more than two dozen reporters and celebrities, former World Heavyweight Champion Jack Dempsey and his wife released a homing pigeon from the tower of the Empire State Building at 11:20 am. Less than five hours later, it arrived at Scaroon Manor on Schroon Lake, bearing the first honeymoon reservation of the season.
It wasn’t for Dempsey’s honeymoonit was just a publicity stunt to keep his name active in the media, and certainly raised the manor’s profile as well.
Photos: TopHoming pigeon with message in tube. BottomUS Naval Station pigeon houses (1925).

Lawrence Gooley has authored eleven books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 22 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

NY Sports History Lecture: The Schenectady Blue Jays


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Local baseball historian Frank Keetz will present a lecture entitled “The Schenectady Blue Jays, 1946-1957” on Saturday, June 30, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. at the Schenectady County Historical Society, 32 Washington Avenue, Schenectady.

The Schenectady Blue Jays baseball team, an affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, originated in 1946. The team played their home games at McNearney Stadium in Schenectady until disbanding in 1957. Frank Keetz, local baseball historian and author, will trace the history of the team and its impact in the area.

Keetz has written several publications about sports in the Schenectady area, including They, Too, Were ‘Boys of Summer:’ A Case Study of the Schenectady Blue Jays in the Eastern League 1951-1957, Class ‘C’ Baseball: A Case Study of the Schenectady Blue Jays in the Canadian-American League 1946-1950, and The Mohawk Colored Giants of Schenectady.

The cost of admission is $5.00, or free for Schenectady County Historical Society members. For more information contact Melissa Tacke, Librarian/Archivist at the Schenectady County Historical Society, at 518-374-0263 or by email at librarian@schist.org. The Schenectady County Historical Society is wheelchair accessible, with off-street parking behind the building and overflow parking next door at the YWCA.

Photo: Tommy Lasorda, member of the 1948 Schenectady Blue Jays team (courtesy ‘Cats Corner)