Friday, August 26, 2016

New York Heritage Collection Highlight: Schenectady, NY Street Scenes

Our newest collection on New York Heritage is Schenectady Street Scenes which was funded by a grant from the Capital District Library Council. This collection is pretty self-explanatory in that it has photos of the offices, factories, residences, trains, and other buildings all along Schenectady's streets. These photos give a glimpse of Schenectady throughout the years and you can really get a sense of how the city changed over time. This post will highlight just a fraction of the photos in this collection. You can view all of the photos in this collection by following this link to our New York Heritage page. A special thanks goes out to library volunteer Angela Matyi. Angela did a great job scanning the photos and entering all the data into New York Heritage for this collection.

A hunter in the Bowery woods near Summit and Paige ca. 1890. These woods were a favorite spot for hunters, picnickers, walkers, and those who just wanted a nice view of the city.
How could I mention the view of Schenectady from the Bowery woods without actually showing the view? In this photo of Schenectady from Summit Avenue you can see the construction of the United Methodist Church close to the middle and the old Schenectady Armory on the right as well as smoke from the city's various industrial pursuits in the background.

Look close in the first photo and you can make out a familiar building. Finding out when and where this photo was taken is a bit tricky as neither Johnson Street, nor Terrace Place exist anymore and its is a bit more developed than it was in this photo. This area was redeveloped in the 1950s so we think the date of the photo is somewhere between the opening of City Hall in 1931 and the 1950s. We were able to figure out that it was taken close to where the Bechtel Plant currently is. This portion of the 1900 Sanborn map shows the intersection of Johnson and Terrace, as well was some of the buildings that were in the area.

Also in this collection are photos of storm damage around Schenectady. The first photo shows huge chunks of ice from a major ice storm in 1914. The second shows a battered silo on Maxon Road.
The raising of Schenectady's railroads was a great boon for public safety. These two photos show the before and after of the raising of the rails. In the early 1900s, pedestrian deaths and injuries caused by trains were steadily increasing and by 1907 the city decided to do something about it. State Street was one of the most dangerous and as seen in the first photo from the 1900s, very busy. Adding trains to the mix made the street dangerous and often congested. The second photo shows the opening of the rail bridge on State Street. Now pedestrians could freely cross State Street, all they had to worry about were trolleys, horses, and the ever increasing amount of cars on the roads.

Speaking of trolleys (and streets that don't exist anymore), this great photo from around 1915 shows a mix of trolleys, cars, and pedestrians on Villa Road. Villa Road was the portion of  current day Broadway that ran from Weaver Street to the top of Bellevue Hill.
Connected to the last photo is this peaceful scene on Bellevue Hill from the late 1800s. From dirt roads to cars andelectric trolleys, these two photos really shows how Schenectady progressed.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Elizabeth V. Glen, The "Little Woman"

This post was written by library volunteer, Gail Denisoff

Much is known about Henry Glen, the great-great grandson of Alexander Lindsay Glen, the first settler of Scotia.  Henry was born in Schenectady in 1739 and served the public in many capacities.  He was a successful trader, along with his brother John, and a member of the first Committee of Safety for Schenectady.  During the Revolutionary War he served as Deputy Quartermaster, in charge of all supplies for the region.  He was a representative of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Provisional Congress, Commissioner of Indian Affairs and a member of the 3rd, 4th and 6th Congresses of the United States from  1793-1802.  He also served as a judge and a member of the State Assembly in 1810.  Despite a successful career as a trader and many government positions, Henry Glen became impoverished after the Revolutionary War and spent most of the remainder of his life unsuccessfully trying to obtain payments he felt he was owed by the federal government for his war duties. 
Not as much is known about his wife, Elizabeth Visscher.  She was born in Schenectady, the daughter of Johannes Visscher and his wife Catharine Van Slyck, part of the large extended Visscher family of Dutch heritage.  She was baptized on October 9th 1743. 
Elizabeth (sometimes spelled Elesebat) married Henry Glen at the Schenectady Dutch Reformed Church on December 9th, 1762.  Between 1763 and 1785 she gave birth to seven children.  At least one child died in infancy.  Due to his many duties, Henry was away from home during much of their marriage.  According to records, Henry was a slave holder until at least 1802 so Elizabeth most certainly had help tending to the children, house and property.
What we can ascertain of Elizabeth’s life and personality comes from the one letter she wrote to her husband that is part of the collection of Henry Glen letters held in the Grems Doolittle Library. She was obviously well educated, with a quick wit and astute understanding of politics.  In the letter, written on Christmas Day 1800, she gently chides Henry for forgetting about “the little woman”, as she calls herself, and sarcastically gives him some political advice.  In reading her comments it seems that nothing much has changed in the way politics works!  (Spelling and punctuation are as they appear in the original letter)

Last page letter from Elizabeth to Henry, December 25, 1800.
From the Glen Family Letters Collection at the Grems-Doolittle Library.
                                                                  December 25th 1800
I am very happy my good friend.  You have at last concluded to write to me.  I heard amidst the multitude of new acquaintainces the little woman had been forgot but from the melancholy tenor of your letter you are not engaged in so large a circle as I had imagined.  I fear most gallant Judge you are in a bad way.  Polliticks day and night will never agree with you.  For Heaven’s sake then take the first opportunity of laying your case before the House.  I once heard you make or second a motion very ably before the Honorable body.  Try to again, something in the following manner I would recommend.  …as I am so much interested I cannot refrain from intruding my ideas upon this momentous occasion.  Suppose then my good Judge you rise give a stout hem, and begin with , -
Thursday 1801
I must for a few moments claim the attention of his Honorable body, in behalf of one of its most distinguished Members (never mind puffing yourself a little they all do it) who from change of air, diet, and want of proper associates, feels himself enervated to such a degree as to be perfectly inadequate to either public or private business.  I do therefore recommend, as a preservation for the whole body politick, that we immediately adjourn, to meet in Phila on the 15th of Jan’y in the year 1801.  I fix this early removal Gentlemen, as I have but a short time to remain with you; having devoted my best days to my Country’s service I shall soon withdraw myself from the noise and tumult of a publick life and in a peaceful domestic retirement pass the last hours of this scene of mortality.
If you find freedom, you can in your own expressive language tell the Honorable Gentlemen how much ground you have gone over, taking care to conduct them over only the clean paths you have trod, as some of them might perhaps offend the delicacy of the pure body of your address.  A speech so consonant with the general feelings and wishes of the House will doubtless be received with universal applause, and the business will be done with all legislative dispatch that is to say, your motion will be seconded, referd to a general committee, turned over to a special one, reported upon in about a year; the report amended and referrd back to the same committee, who not agreeing on the proposed amendment, are discharged, a new committee is appointed who after a proper time report something quite foreign to the subject which gives rise to new debates.  If you live to be a good old age you may probably hear of its being laid upon the table which may be considered as a tolerable state of forwardness.  In the mean time ask leave of absence and visit your friends in Philadelphia who most ardently desire to see you.
All your friends and acquaintainces are well.  Miss Peters getting better.  We had a large party to supper last night .  we fairly saw the new year introduced wished each other the compliment of the season (as I now do you) and broke up in very good time. 
Dear, dear Judge what shall we all be about the first day of the new Century.  It makes me creep to think about it.  Some of us may not be in in a chilly condition neither. 
I have made this letter so long you will never wish for another as long as you live from the
Little Woman
Because of Henry’s financial situation and many debts, he was forced to sell the house where they lived for many years on the south corner of Union Street and Washington Avenue as well as most of their furnishings in 1802.  They moved to a house on Front Street that was partially owned by Elizabeth, left in her father’s will.  Elizabeth died on May 17th, 1809.  In a letter to Henry dated May 21st 1809, their son, Cornelius, writes of Elizabeth’s death “By the will of the Lord (which must be obeyed) you have been deprived of an affectionate Wife & I of a dear & Loving Mother.  Words can scarcely express my feelings.  I feel down hearted & am very sorry.  Oh what shall I say what can I do.  She is no more.  May She be received into the Society above then to enjoy eternal happiness.  Oh She was near & dear to me a Loving & Affectionate Mother.” 
Henry’s brother, Cornelius, died the following year, leaving him a trust that eased his financial difficulties substantially before his death on January 6th, 1814.                   

Friday, July 29, 2016

Lewi Tonks: Physics with a Side of Social Justice

It’s funny how the answer to a research request can pop up long after a patron requests it.  Back in January a patron contacted me to see if we had any information on GE physicist Dr. Lewi Tonks regarding his work with the Schenectady Human Rights Commission and his creation of a revolving bail fund. I checked our (usually trusty) family files and while we had a file for Tonko, there was nothing listed under Tonks. I scoured our website for any mention of him, nothing turned up. I checked our catalog, books on GE, and newspaper clippings files, still nothing. I found a few news articles online and a bit about his work while at GE, but not much regarding his social justice work in Schenectady.

Yesterday, I decided to open up the 1970 Schenectady Board of Representatives Proceedings. I don’t even really remember what I was looking up, but the first page I opened it to was a report on the Commission on Human Rights. The Commission on Human Rights was created in 1965 to foster mutual respect and understanding among all racial, religious, and nationality groups in the community. One of the Commissions main duties was (and is) to receive complaints of alleged discrimination and to bring these complaints to the State Commission for Human Rights for further examination.

What caught my interest on the page were the words Discrimination in Housing written in bold at the bottom of page 436. The report describes a black woman who brought a case to the Human Rights Commission claiming that she met with an agent of an absentee landlord who showed her a house.  The next day a white woman asked about the house and the agent stated that the neighborhood had an “anti-black attitude” and said “When they move in we are liable to have riots.” This event happened two years after the Fair Housing Act was enacted which prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin and sex. The case made its way to the State Division of Human Rights and the owners of the property were fined $200 (about $1,200 today) and restrictions were placed on the landlord to assure that they would comply with the act in the future. I flipped through a few pages to see who gave this part of the report and it was none other than Lewi Tonks.

Tonks was a physicist who, before working at GE, helped develop a supersonic submarine detection for the U.S. Navy. He joined GE in 1923 where he researched thermionic emission, ferromagnetic, thermodynamics of surface films, and other projects that I had to look up on Wikipedia in order to understand what they are. In 1946 he started working with the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory which was operated by GE for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission at the time. At KAPL, he served as the manager of physics and also worked on the reactor for the nuclear submarine the Sea Wolf. In 1955, Tonks also worked on designing the first fusion device.  So, He was obviously working on some amazing projects in the scientific community, but he was also heavily involved with social issues in Schenectady.

Lewi Tonks hard at work in room 401. He would stay in room 401 until 1938 when he moved up to room 505.
After retiring from GE, he started volunteering for the Commission on Human Rights where he volunteered at least five days a week. In the 1970 report to the County Board of Supervisors, Tonks requests assistance from the Board, specifically in the form of increasing the salary for a potential executive director to assist the sole full-time staff member Anne Donnelly. Donnelly’s main duties were coordinating the activities of the Commission and the various committees of the Commission, writing reports and minutes, attending meetings relevant to the Commission, attending legislative hearings and workshops, among other things. So, she had a bit of a full plate working for the Commission. Tonks takes a bit of a dig at the Board saying “We are paying very careful attention to the caliber of individual whom we would ask to take this responsible role. We are hampered in this search by the low salary level established by the Board of Representatives.” In 1969, the chairman of the Commission on Human Rights compared the budgets and staff of the Schenectady Commission to others cities of similar size in New York. Niagara Falls had a slightly higher population than Schenectady in 1969, but the budget for their Commission on Human Rights was $38,000 compared to Schenectady’s meager $6,520. So the increase of that Tonks called for was a drop in the bucket compared to cities of similar sizes.

"He frightened and angered those who obstruct justice, and he exposed those who still give lip service to justice and peace. And because hope is so necessary to us all, I shall see in every tiny hard-fought victory for human rights and dignity, and off-spring of his spirit and vision. And I shall be grateful to Lewi, and glad." - Friend of Lewi Tonks, Peter Crawford

Dr. Tonks saw the budget increase and hiring of an executive director for the commission in 1971. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack on June 30, 1971. In addition to his work on the Commission on Human Rights, Tonks was also involved with the committee of clergy and laymen concerned about Vietnam. His legacy lived on in the Lewi Tonks Revolving Bail Fund which was created by his family. The bail fund provided bail for people who could not afford it. In the 1971 annual report of the Commission, Anne Donnely stated that Lewi “died knowing that a director was being hired and that the job to be done was actually beginning. I am glad that Lewi Tonks chose to work with me – not only for what I learned from him but because our friendship deepened and added greatly to my life.”

Friday, July 22, 2016

Tracing the History of Your House Can Be Fun…Especially When Your House Is a PokéStop

It’s no secret that the staff at SCHS is hooked on the Pokémon Go craze (see this Daily Gazette article, this piece on Channel 6, and this article on For me, the game touches on a nostalgic nerve as I played Pokémon when I was younger. It then combines that nostalgia with another of my favorite things, history. Many of the pokéstops in the area are places of historical significance and if you have ever walked around the Stockade you would know that many of the buildings have markers stating their historical significance. We’re hoping that by having these landmarks, buildings, and other historic sites as pokéstops, people will start asking questions about the interesting and sometimes weird history of Schenectady. SCHS has been hosting impromptu pokéstop walking tours of the Stockade to try and bring history to the forefront of the game and explain the background behind some of the more prominent pokéstops and gyms in the neighborhood.

When walking around the Stockade on my lunch break I try to take a look many of the historic markers on the houses around the neighborhood. One potential positive of the game is that it could get people to think about their neighborhood in a new light. Judging by the popularity of our tour and similar ones in other historical areas, there are people playing the game who are interested in learning about local history.

One that I just never really seemed to notice was on the corner of Front St. and Washington Ave. which also happens to be the closest pokéstop to 32 Washington (well, besides 32 Washington itself). It wasn’t until our pokéstop tour that I noticed that this house has a marker that states that it was the home of blacksmith Aaron Dickinson. But that’s not all! It also has quite a political history being the home of Schenectady mayor J. Teller Schoolcraft and John Prince, the merchant and Assemblyman of Albany County who Princetown was named after.  

Whether your house is a pokéstop or not, tracing the history of your house can be interesting as you piece together the lives of people who lived in your house before you. It can also give you more of a connection to your neighborhood as you learn more about the people who lived there in the past and what the neighborhood looked like. The changing styles of architecture in your area also tell the story of how your neighborhood changed over the years. You also never know what sort of information you will turn up during your search. You may not find all the answers to the questions you’re looking for, but starting your house history can be very rewarding.

The Schenectady County Historical Society will be hosting a house history workshop on August 13th from 2pm to 4pm to help you get started with your house history research. After the workshop, you’ll be able to use the historical society’s library to use some of the resources that you learned about in the workshop. This workshop is free for members of the historical society and $5.00 for non-members.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Louis Kortmann in the Wild and Wooly Country of Cuba

Most archives and cultural institutions have hidden collections, these are collections or items that, usually due to time restraints and a large backlog, haven't been cataloged or described yet and are hidden by researchers and staff. One of the perks of working in a place like the Grems-Doolittle Library and Archives at SCHS is finding these collections. We recently found a small hidden collection of postcards and photos dealing with Louis W. Kortmann Jr. and his relatives. Kortmann was the president of the Schenectady Trust Company and a rather prominent citizen of Schenectady, judging by the contents of this collection. Kortmann Jr.'s father, Louis Kortmann Sr., served in the Spanish-American War and the postcards are mainly correspondence from Kortmann Sr. to his wife Kate who was staying at the Madison Barracks in Sackets Harbor.

Louis and Kate Kortmann at their home in Madison Barracks at Sackets Harbor, NY.
Courtesy of the Louis W. Kortmann Collection at the Grems-Doolittle Library and Archives.
The correspondence from Kortmann Sr. is particularly interesting because they document his time serving in the Spanish-American War in 1898. Kortmann enlisted as a private in the Ninth infantry unit at Sackets Harbor, NY. The correspondence to Kate begins on April 20, 1898 as he is traveling from Washington D.C. to Cuba, making stops in Lynchburg, Virginia,  and Rocky Ford, Georgia until he reaches Tampa Bay, Florida on April 22, 1898. Kortmann's unit camped out at Port Tampa for a while and in one postcard he describes the camp as having "sand knee deep and good and hot," with the only trouble being that he can't get enough to eat. The orders to ship out to Cuba came on June 13th and Kortmann writes that there are around 850 men on his ship (the USS Santiago) and that it is "quite a task to breathe." The USS Santiago was among the first ships to arrive at Cuba on June 22, despite this, they were actually forgotten during the disembarking process and ended up having to wait three days till the men were able to leave the humid, cramped ship.

There is a gap in the correspondence between June 26th and July 12th, but we can fill some of
The flag of the 9th Regiment. Courtesy of the
New York State Military Museum
the unit's activity and what Kortmann would have been going through thanks to the website The troops had to march about 12 miles to Santiago in intense heat while carrying their blanket rolls and ammo. The Ninth eventually reached San Juan Hill, but found themselves in the valley between the American artillery and the Spanish troops. As the unit tried to make sense of the battle, their colonel was killed and two lieutenant colonels were wounded leaving Lieutenant Colonel Ezra P. Ewers as the senior officer, which he did not even know until after San Juan Hill was captured.

"We are here at last in the City (Santiago de Cuba) and quartered in the Theater...A great many of our men are sick from exhaustion and malarial fever. - Louis Kortmann

Postcard from Louis to Kate stating that Santiago
has surrendered. Courtesy of the Louis W. Kortmann
Collection at the Grems-Doolittle Library and Archives.
Between the intense heat, sickness, and lack of cooking equipment, camp at San Juan was brutal. By the time the Spanish surrendered San Juan, the Ninth had lost one officer and four enlisted men with 27 enlisted men wounded. The Ninth had more to worry about than the Spanish forces as Kortmann writes, "We have plenty of sickness in our camps." By July 22, 132 men out of the regiment's 433 were reported sick and 5 men would die of various illnesses before they reached Camp Wikoff on Long Island. Despite being back in the states, sickness still ran rampant throughout the Ninth. Kortmann writes that "This place (Camp Wikoff) is not a fit place for a camp for sick men. We have to lay on the ground and most of us have only one blanket." In a later postcard he states that the Camp is worse than being in Cuba and that they average six deaths a day.

Doctor William Wallace Walker was stationed at Camp Wikoff and wrote an account of the conditions at the Camp. Walker wrote that “Right here in 100 miles of New York I cannot get medicines for typhoid fever, or chlorinated soda to wash out the bowels in typhoid fever and dysentery, the two principal diseases killing our boys…There is gross mismanagement somewhere and it is costing many lives. Too many politicians and rich men’s sons are appointed to office.” Walker complained of other doctors not visiting sick men till 10 a.m. while he had been working since 5:30 a.m. He was sickened and disturbed by these conditions and requested a transfer back to his regular regiment in San Antonio.

Company E of the 9th Infantry reading newspapers during the Spanish-American war. 1898. Black & white photoprint, 8 x 10 in. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. <>, accessed 30 June 2016.
Telegram from Nelson A. Rockefeller to Louis W. Kortmann.
Rockefeller asks Kortmann to meet to discuss the effectiveness
of state programs. Courtesy of the Louis W. Kortmann
Collection at the Grems-Doolittle Library and Archives.
Kortmann made it back to his wife and ended up playing for the United States Military Academy Band. In 1905, their son Louis W. Kortmann Jr. was born. The Kortmann’s eventually settled in Schenectady and Louis Jr. started his banking career as a teller at the Schenectady Trust Company. Kortmann would work his way up to become president of the bank. This collection doesn’t contain too many personal details about Louis Jr.’s life, but from its contents, we see that he dealt with some very important people. There is an invitation to John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, a letter from Robert F. Kennedy, and a telegram from Nelson A. Rockefeller. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find much more about Kortmann Jr.’s life. The bits and pieces that are there mostly deal with his time as president of the Schenectady Trust Company. This collection gives a glimpse into his life, and I hope to dig up a bit more about him in the future.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Schenectady Sluggers Part 2: Marty Servo, a Tough Little Fighter

Described by Sugar Ray Robinson as “one of the finest fellows I ever fought,” Schenectady’s Marty Servo had quite a boxing career. He was born Mario Severino on November 3rd, 1919 in Schenectady. Servo attended Nott Terrace High School where he ran cross country and boxing as an amateur. His career as an amateur featherweight was an amazing 91-4 and he received both a Golden Gloves and a Diamond Belt Featherweight championship. Servo’s pro career started in August 1938 at Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC where he fought and beat Jerry Hall.

 Lou Ambers (on the right), former world's lightweight champion, sparring with Marty Servo (on the left), well-known pro, as Eristus Sams, former Tuskegee football and track star, referees. All three are boxing instructors at the Manhattan Beach Coast Guard training station. Courtesty of the Library of Congress.
Servo was guided to his pro career through his relative and fellow boxer Lou “Herkimer Hurricane” Ambers from Herkimer, NY. Ambers’ manager was named Al Weill and thought that it would be natural to bring Servo under Weill’s management.  Weill also managed Rocky Marciano and Joey Archibald. Weill was known for Americanizing his boxer’s names he even shortened his own as his full name was Armand but he went by Al. Lou Ambers was Luigi Giuseppe d'Ambrosio, Marty Servo was Mario Severino, Rocky Marciano was Rocco Marchegiano, Joey Archibald was…Joey Archibald.

Servo wasn’t the most powerful puncher, but he was quick and clever. From the start of his professional career till September 9th, 1941, he went undefeated (with 2 draws). Then he met Sugar Ray Robinson. Some of Servo’s most popular fights were against Sugar Ray Robinson who Servo fought twice during his career. The first fight occurred in 1941 and while Sugar Ray had never lost to a welterweight, Servo gave him a run for his money. Robinson managed to defeat Servo in a split decision. The rematch on May 28, 1942 was even closer but Servo lost in a disputed ten round split decision. Many in the crowd thought that Marty should have won this match.

Photo of the rematch between Sugar Ray Robinson and Marty Servo. Courtesy of The Ring.
The rematch against Sugar Ray Robinson was Marty’s last match for a while as World War II would force him to take a three year break from boxing. Servo was in the US Coast Guard from 1942 to 1945 and served under former heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey as a physical training instructor. Servo continued his boxing career after returned from his war service.

“Schenectady has always rooted for me. The newspapers have always treated me fairly, and I want to win for everybody in the worst way." - Marty Servo

He only fought a couple matches before going on to challenge Freddie “Red” Cochrane for the Welterweight World Championship. The match was at Madison Square Garden in front of a crowd of 17,000 people. It was reported that over 2,000 Schenectadians were in attendance.  Servo did not disappoint those that made the trip. In the 4th round Servo hit a bloodied Cochrane with a left hook and Cochrane went down. Although Cochrane did his best to try and get back up from the hook, he couldn’t quite get up. The ref called the match at 2:54 into the 4th round. Despite winning the Welterweight Championship, Marty and his manager actually lost money on the fight. Cochrane was guaranteed $50,000 and two months later, Weill and Servo still owed him.

Speaker of the House Oswald D. Heck shaking hands with Marty Servo
after he won the Welterweight Championship. Courtesy of the Photo
Collection at the Grems-Doolittle Library. This photo, along with other
photos of boxers can be seen on our New York Heritage Collection.

This debt led to the worst decision Weill and Servo made during his professional career, the decision to fight middleweight Rocky Graziano. Graziano was only 8 pounds heavier than Servo, but it was an important 8 pounds. The fight was quick and brutal with Servo being TKO’d less than 2 minutes into the second round. This was Servo’s first time being KO’d in his professional career. Graziano broke Servo’s nose so badly that doctors recommended he never fight again. When asked if he had something to say to his fans, Marty said, “Tell them I just forgot to duck.”

Fans welcoming Marty Servo after his 1946 Welterweight Championship win. Courtesy  of the Photo Collection at the Grems-Doolittle Library. This photo, along with otherphotos of boxers can be seen on our New York Heritage Collection.
Servo went on to fight two more matches, but hung his gloves up after losing to Rocky Castellani. After he retired from boxing, he worked as a bartender, car salesman, and foreman at a steel mill in Colorado. He fell ill in the early 1950s and had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his left lung. Hospital expenses related to his cancer would cause his savings to dwindle over time and he died at the age of 50. Servo’s story shows just how difficult it could be to make it as a pro fighter. One bad decision ended his career. In Servo’s obituary, Ralph Martin, sports editor of the Knickerbocker News wrote “Marty, whose life was a study in hardship, triumph, pain and tragedy, will never be forgotten. Champions live on.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Schenectady Sluggers, Part I: Abe Feldman

Abe Feldman dressed to the nines. Courtesy of
the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection. You can
find this photo, as well as photos of other boxers in
the Sports and Recreation Collection of
New York Heritage.  
As uploading photos to our Sports and Recreation in Schenectady collection on New York Heritage, I noticed that there were quite a few unlabeled photos of boxers, baseball players, and musicians in these collections. The unlabeled photos in this collection led me to post a photo of an unknown boxer to Schenectady County Historical Society’s Facebook page to see if the collective wisdom of our followers on Facebook would be able to identify him. Sure enough, they were able to! We will be posting unlabeled and unidentified photos to an album on our Facebook page periodically for assistance in identifying people, stores, locations, buildings, and pretty much any other info that can be provided. Any information you all can provide would be greatly appreciated. You can find the album at this link.

This leads to our current series of blog posts. While digging up some information on some of the photos of boxers in that collection we noticed some photos of two Schenectady boxers Abe Feldman and Marty Servo. Servo was a champion welterweight who fought two matches against Sugar Ray Robinson. Feldman was a local pug who had quite a career and fought the likes of Jim “Cinderella Man” Braddock, Maxie Rosenbloom, John Henry Lewis, and other boxing greats of the 1930s. This post will focus on the life of Abe Feldman.

Abe Feldman was born in 1912 in Salt Lake City, Utah but moved to Schenectady at the age of six with his parents, sister and three brothers. Both Abe and his brother Jack liked to fight, and would often fight in the streets of Schenectady while people would throw pennies at them. In addition to boxing, Abe played running back for Schenectady High School’s football team. His skill in boxing and football was rewarded with an athletic scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. Abe turned the scholarship down and decided to go pro. According to a 2005 Schenectady Gazette article by Jeff Wilkin, Feldman said that “I probably wouldn’t have learned much at college anyway and look at the fun I’ve had as a professional pug.”

Article from the Albany Times Union about Abe Feldman's discovery. Abe's
Schenectady origins were often downplayed. Courtesy of Fulton History.
Feldman started his pro boxing career as a light-heavyweight in 1932 with his first match against Julius Vigh in Brooklyn. “Honest Abe” as Feldman was sometimes called soundly beat Vigh and his next 15 opponents, going undefeated until his match against Charley Massera in 1933. Feldman would fight Jim Braddock a few months afterwards. This fight was depicted in the 2005 film Cinderella Man. Braddock broke his hand in three places on Feldman’s jaw and the fight was called off. This fight almost ended Braddock’s boxing career as it was the third time he broke it. Later on, Abe mentioned that he knew that Braddock was injured and went easy on him till the ref called the match off.

Abe’s biggest match was against John Henry Lewis in 1935. Lewis was coming off of a loss from Maxie Rosenbloom and he didn’t have much luck against Feldman either. The fight went ten rounds and Feldman won on points. The win made Abe the second ranking light heavyweight which was the highest ranking he would achieve. Unfortunately, he was never given a title shot.  During the fight, Abe injured Lewis’ eye. Lewis was able to hide this injury for four years when it was determined that the vision in his left eye was “almost nil.” Despite being blind in one eye Lewis would go on to defeat Bob Olin later on in 1935 for the World Light Heavyweight Championship.

"Two-Ton" Tony Galento was rarely seen without
his cigar. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Feldman wasn’t afraid of punching above his weight class and often took on heavyweights like “Two Ton” Tony Galento. Galento’s nickname didn’t come from his weight (although he usually weighed around 235-240 lbs.) but from an excuse that he gave to his manager as to why he was late for a match. “I had two tons of ice to deliver on my way here.” Galento was a larger than life figure in boxing who notoriously wrestled an octopus, and boxed a kangaroo and a bear on separate occasions to draw attention. A typical meal for Galento was six chickens, spaghetti and a half gallon of red wine, or beer, or sometimes both. According to Galento all other fighters were bums and what did Galento promise to do to bums? “Moider dem."
 The fight occurred towards the end of Feldman’s career and reporters wrote that Feldman looked like he had been exhumed from the grave. Feldman took quite a beating from Galento, who despite his antics, could actually fight and had a wicked left hook.  Feldman was knocked down 3 times by the second round and after 30 seconds in the third, Galento delivered a wicked body blow that sank Feldman to his knees. The ref called the fight and Galento went on to challenge Joe Louis for the Heavyweight Championship. Later on, Abe would describe Galento as “the hardest puncher I ever faced.”

Feldman decided to end his career shortly after his match with Galento 1939 when he “started to duck a little too late.” His professional record was 35 wins, 14 losses, and 5 draws. He had 14 knockouts and was only KO’d twice. Feldman retired to live at his house on Pennsylvania Avenue in Schenectady with his wife Sadie and son Howard. He joined his brothers Jack, Leo and Dave in the coal business and worked as a coal salesman. Abe Feldman died at the age of 67 on June 20, 1980 and is buried in the Congregation Agudat Achim cemetery. He was honored in Schenectady throughout his life and often spoke at dinners and other sporting events where he was almost as entertaining as he was in the ring.