Move over, Norma Desmond, it’s time for the Local History Division’s closeup! There isn’t much glitz or glamor to be found here at the library, but once in a while we’re fortunate to have the spotlight shine on the variety of materials in our collection. Here in Local History, helping researchers find information that isn’t available anywhere else is our specialty, and it’s always fun to see someone’s reaction when they encounter something in our collections that until that point had eluded them. One researcher found a tiny detail in the minutes of a meeting that took place in 1927 that confirmed a longtime theory of his—a discovery that wouldn’t have happened if the records of that organization hadn’t been preserved or described in a finding aid.
Sometimes, people will even cross oceans in order to find what they need from our collections. People like Eriko Sugimoto.
Eriko works for Mono magazine. “Mono” is a Japanese word that can be loosely translated as “stuff.” And Mono sure has a lot of stuff. Essentially a publication devoted to Western brands, Mono is heavy on the visuals, with pictures of watches, bags, coats, and all manner of clothing and shoes accompanied by logos bedecking each glossy page. Eriko, one of the magazine’s editors, was in charge of putting together a section for an upcoming “Master Book of Authentic American Brand” special issue with an emphasis on Champion Products. She asked what resources we had on the company. After a thorough search of our collections, I contacted her to tell her what I had found, which wasn’t a whole lot, I thought.
“Do you think it’s enough to make it worth a trip to Rochester?” she asked.
That was a tough call. Had she been coming from say, Livingston County, I would have said maybe. But Japan? I didn’t want to encourage a research trip to the other side of the globe if it wasn’t going to be fruitful. So my goal was to get her as much information as I could so that she could decide whether or not to make the trip. Our clipping files provided some background on the history of the company, which began operations in 1919 on St. Paul Boulevard as Knickerbocker Knitting Mills. Not surprisingly, Eriko was particularly interested in any graphics or images that we might have of Champion products through the years. Digging into our pamphlet file collection, I found several advertising pieces which I took pictures of and e-mailed to Eriko. I also found some annual reports in the general collection. It wasn’t much. She thanked me for the information.
A few weeks later, Eriko called and said she’d be coming to Rochester with several colleagues to look at what we had. As is the custom in Japan, she arrived bearing gifts for the staff; a box filled with green tea-flavored KitKat bars, a Japanese specialty.
She was accompanied by Teruhiko Doi, Mono’s Editorial Director, Daisuke Takeuchi, Marketing Services Manager for Hanesbrands Japan, and a photographer. They were some of the most gracious and friendly people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. We spent the afternoon at one of the large wooden tables in the division, sifting through newspaper articles and using old city directories to trace the company’s history. Since Eriko’s English was stronger than that of her companions, she translated various bits of information I pointed out to the two men. (A vigorous game of charades ensued when Eriko left briefly to put money in the meter.)
Two-and-a-half months later, Eriko sent me the result: A glorious spread on the company’s origins in Rochester featuring materials found here in the Local History Division, and a picture of the library to boot. Have a look. (Click on images to enlarge.)
~Cheri Crist, Librarian/Archivist
“Hey Kids, Why Not a Halloween Party?” queried the Democrat & Chronicle on October 31, 1945. Good question! And one of the many approaches Rochester’s leaders took over the years to try and curb rascally Halloween antics by the city’s youth. Don’t want ‘em breaking streetlamps with rocks or setting fire to piles of leaves? Host a community party, and be sure to offer lots of sugary delights because as every wise parent knows, lollipops are “tricks insurance” (“Suckers Ban Kids’ Tricks,” D&C, Oct 29, 1949), and “Doughnuts and Cider Keep Them from Mischief” (Times-Union, Nov 1, 1940). (Personally, I know that my nieces and nephews are much calmer after we’ve plied them with candy!)
An even cleverer tactic, and one that was particular to the spirit of conservation and patriotic milieu of the Second World War, was to malign pranksters as Hitler’s helpers. “If you see anyone breaking a light, stop him…If you can’t stop him, report him to the police because he is working for Hitler and Hirohito, and against Uncle Sam” (“Pranksters: Don’t Help Hitler!” Times-Union, Oct 28, 1943). The concern was wasting unnecessary amounts of tungsten on broken streetlights when it was needed to make Radar equipment and lamps for ships. Soap and wax were also needed for the war effort, so the Rochester War Council asked kids to lay off area windows, too. As the catchy 1942 Halloween slogan went: “Monkey business is sabotage” (“Quiet Halloween Plea Based on Patriotism,” Times-Union, Oct 31, 1942). Indeed!
And here’s another Halloween fun fact from the WWII era that you might not know (I didn’t): the now ubiquitous request (demand? threat?) “Trick or Treat!” wasn’t commonly heard in Rochester until the 1940s. The phrase was apparently still new enough in 1946 to require explanation (as straightforward as it might seem to the modern-day resident): “Treat ‘Em or Be Tricked When Bell Rings Tonight” (D&C Oct 28, 1946). The article helps clueless grownups by situating “Trick or Treat Night” in a longstanding series of ostensibly more familiar Halloween traditions including the infamous “Doorbell Night” when kids perfected their skill at the classic “Ding Dong Ditch” prank, and the lesser known but perhaps more troubling “Gate Night” when “Pop” (and maybe even “Grandpop”) “used to swipe Old Man Smith’s front gate and with the help of other pre-Halloween pranksters hang it on the crossbar of the nearest lamp post.” (It seems George Wilson has got nothing on Old Man Smith in the way of menacing neighborhood punks!)
In an effort to supplant such naughty games with more wholesome fare, Norman Ulp offered some alternatives in the Democrat & Chronicle in 1938 (“Games for Youngsters From 7 to 70”). And since I’m a sucker for a good Halloween pun (see what I did there?), I’ll leave you with these riddles about the “Graveyard Dweller” (Spoiler alert: answers provided):
“If you lived in a graveyard:
1. How would you open the gate?
[With a skeleton key.]
2. How would you gamble?
[Roll the bones.]
3. What kind of jewels would you wear?
4. Where would you keep them?
[In a casket.]
5. How would you get money?
6. What would you eat?
[Pyre cake. Special thanks to Emily Morry for helping me with this one. I totally didn’t get it. Hint: it helps to say it out loud.]
7. What would you drink?
8. What would you feed the cats?
[The remains. Gross!]
9. By what method would you move things about?
[By carrion them.]
10. What would protect you from the sun?
11. How would you know if a lady called?
[You would Spectre.]
12. What would be your disposition?
Admittedly, not all puns are created equal. Regardless, we here in the Local History and Genealogy Division hope you enjoyed today’s installment and wish you
A SAFE AND HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!
“We all play pranks, that’s very true, but don’t make anyone black and blue.”
(“Hey Kids, Why Not a Halloween Party?” D&C, Oct 31, 1945)
~Michelle Finn, Deputy City Historian
UPDATE: Scroll down to see primary source documents about Ira Stout’s incarceration at Eastern State Penitentiary.
One of the best parts of my job is when I happen upon a piece of information about my hometown that I never would have guessed. Buffalo Bill Cody once lived in Rochester? You don’t say! Jumbo the Elephant was stuffed here? I had no idea!
And the most recent revelation: Public hangings. Here. In Rochester.
According to the Union and Advertiser, Octavius Baron was hanged in 1837 for shooting and robbing William Lyman near Franklin and Clinton streets. The following year, Austin Squires went to the gallows for shooting his wife in a drunken rage. Fourteen execution-free years would pass in Rochester before Maurice Antonio was tried and hanged for the murder of a fellow Portuguese in Gates in 1852.
But it was the fourth execution that particularly grabbed my attention. The circumstances leading up to Marion Ira Stout’s trip to the gallows in 1858 are the stuff of which 19th-century scandals were made.
Ira, as he was called, was 22 years old when he was released from Eastern State Penitentiary, where he served four-and-a-half years for robbing a store with his father and setting it ablaze. Upon his arrival in Rochester, Stout—who happened to be in love with his sister Sarah—became enraged when he discovered that she had married. Charles Littles was reported to be a drunken lout and general cad who abused his wife, and Stout resolved to get rid of the man who stood in the way of his incestuous designs.
On December 19, 1857, Stout lured Littles to Falls Field—also known as Genesee Falls Park (present-day High Falls)—with a story that Sarah was rumored to be meeting a man there. Whether coerced by Stout or of her own free will, Sarah was waiting by the edge of the river gorge to bait the trap.
Before Littles knew what was happening, Stout pulled out an iron-headed hammer and smashed his rival’s skull with it. Stout then rolled the body over the precipice and, he assumed, into the river. But instead of a splash, he heard a thud. Littles had landed on a ledge 30 feet below. From there, Stout’s luck only got worse.
Determined to hide the evidence of his crime, Stout made his way down the rocky escarpment to finish the job. In what can only be described as an act of instant karma, Stout lost his footing, tumbled down the narrow path, and landed squarely next to Littles’ body, breaking his left arm in the process. Just before passing out, Stout managed to shove the corpse off the ledge. When he came to, he called to Sarah for help. As she descended, Sarah stumbled and fell headlong beside her brother’s prostrate form, breaking her left wrist.
The unfortunate siblings somehow made it back to the top of the ridge. Having left behind several personal items in the fall, the pair were quickly apprehended and charged in the death of Charles W. Littles. Sarah, convicted of manslaughter, served seven years at Sing Sing Prison, while her brother was sentenced to hang. During his time in jail, Stout received a steady flow of visitors—mainly women—who brought him poison and lancets so that he could be the instrument of his own destruction and avoid the noose.
Despite appealing his sentence and receiving support from Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony—both of whom opposed capital punishment—Stout’s appeal was denied. Marion Ira Stout went to the gallows at the Monroe County Penitentiary on October 22, 1858. According to witnesses, Stout’s execution went no smoother than the crime for which he was sentenced—it took 10 minutes for Stout to strangle to death when the noose failed to break his neck, which would have ensured his swift and merciful death. He is buried in an unmarked grave at Mount Hope Cemetery.
The last execution by hanging in Monroe County took place in 1888, after which New York State assumed responsibility for administering the death penalty.
~Cheri Crist, Librarian
Record of Ira Stout’s arrival to Eastern State Penitentiary in 1853.
Stout’s release from prison in 1857 is documented on this page from the warden’s daily record.
Prior to a recent planned visit to the City of Brotherly Love, I exchanged e-mails with Eastern State Penitentiary Archivist Erica Harman, and Historic Site Researcher Annie Anderson, who (with very little to go on) were able to locate pages from the prison’s daily records documenting Ira Stout’s intake and discharge from ESP. She was kind enough to send scans of those pages. Based on the dates of incarceration and a birth year of 1835, Stout was 18 years old when he and his father looted and burned down a Pennsylvania store.
(click to enlarge)
Based on this entry, it is likely that the crime committed by Stout and his father Orange occurred in Bradford County, in the northern part of Pennsylvania. The term “Quarter Sessions” refers to courts established in some of the states that were held four times a year and dealt mainly with criminal matters.
(click to enlarge)
“Marion Ira Stout. His Life, Crimes, Last Hours, and Execution on the Gallows: Full Particulars.” Union and Advertiser (Rochester, NY), Oct. 22, 1858.
Peck, William F. History of Rochester and Monroe County, New York. (New York: The Pioneer Publishing Co., 1908).
The Family Detectives Club returns for its third season beginning October 5, 2014. Each week from October through May, we will be exploring a different subject of interest to family history researchers and providing tips and websites to use when doing your research. We also provide an informational handout for you to take away with you. (Pictured here is our schedule for the first month.)
Every Sunday from 1:15-1:45 pm, we meet in the Local History & Genealogy Division on the second floor of the Rundel Memorial Building. After each session, you’ll have plenty of time to stay and play with the resources available here, many of them unique to this library. Did you know the Local History & Genealogy Division offers free use of three popular online databases, Ancestry.com, AmericanAncestors.org and FindMyPast.com? (Ancestry.com is also available to use for free at ten town libraries – Brighton, Chili, Fairport, Gates, Greece, Henrietta, Ogden, Parma, Penfield, Pittsford and Webster). Parking is free for library patrons in the Court Street Garage on Sundays – what’s not to like about that?
Be sure to check the library’s website (libraryweb.org) each month under the Local History tab for the current schedule. Some of the topics are inspired by participants, so join us any time and bring your interests and stories to share.
- Barb Koehler