Mudhole to Metropolis
"RAGS TO RICHES" was the title of one of the Horatio Alger success stories so dear to the hearts of a past generation. "Mudhole to Metropolis" epitomizes the Rochester success storyin the days of the city's youth.
When in 1848 Louis Phillipe, King of France, heard that a Parisian firm had received an order for an immense plate glass window from a dry goods store in Rochester, N. Y., the elderly monarch exclaimed:
"Is it possible that mudhole is sending for such a plate of glass?"
As a young man touring "The Great Western Wilderness" on horseback in 1797, the future sovereign had visited the falls of the Genesee.
He remembered the "mudhole" and could not visualize the"metropolis" it had become in a mere 51 years.
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There is plenty of evidence that the Flower City was an un-promising and unprepossessing infant.
When in 1807 the State Legislature was petitioned for funds to- build a bridge across the Genesee at the falls, solons from southernand eastern counties arose to ask:
"Who would cross it? It is a God-forsaken place, inhabitedby muskrats, visited only by straggling trappers, through whichneither men nor beast could gallop without fear of starvation orfever and ague?"
Let's read into the record the testimony of Edwin Scrantom,who after a 10-day journey by wagon from Constableville, N. Y.,with his parents, first saw his new home on May 1, 1812. When hewas an old man he penned these memories of Rochester in 1812:
"It was a wild and desert place. It was more. Not merely wasit a wilderness and . . . cheerless in daytime and doubly dark anddreary in the night, but clustering on either side of the river and run-ning from it for a goodly distance was a thick jungle of all kinds ofdogwood, elder, birch and choke-cherry, brambles and blue beech, into whose tops were matted ivy and wild grape vines and under thistangled canopy, the wild beasts crouched and serpents innumerablecrawled. That was Rochester in 1812,"
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The Scrantom family had expected to find a snug log home onthe lot sold by Nathaniel Rochester to Henry Skinner, the historicFour Corners site now occupied by the Powers Building. The firstdwelling reared west of the river was far from complete that day inMay of 1812.
The Scrantoms found "the logs rolled up for the body of thehouse with an opening left for a door and another for a window, butwithout roof or fireplace or floor."
Some of the men who had been working on the structure werestricken with the fever and ague and the others promptly desertedthe project. The family found shelter in a shanty on the east sideof the Genesee near the saw mill Enos Stone was building at whatlater was the end of the Aqueduct. Enos Stone also had raised adwelling nearby and Isaac Stone had a tavern on what is now South Avenue, near the present Milner Hotel.
It was July 4 before the Four Corners residence was ready foroccupancy. But let Edwin Scrantom continue his "Genesis of Rochester:"
"Mosquitoes . . . annoyed us much and nightly we were obligedto kindle smoldering fires on the outside to prevent their eating usup alive. In the daytime we could hear and see in the neighboringswamp the wild deer as they came to the deer lick near the corner ofBuffalo (West Main) and Sophia (Plymouth) streets, and at nightwe could hear the mournful owl hoot, the sharp barking of the foxand occasionally the howl of the wolf.
"The snow came early that year and more than ever since did winter seem to bring a desolation. There was, however, some stir and some trade in consequence of the war but everything was dear and it took money to buy it-
"I know we got through that winter and if the inquirer askshow, I will only say that we captured one or two deer and that weboys had success that winter in catching rabbits in our box trapsaround the swamp where Corinthian Hall now stands and that ourdessert . . - was from the bushels of butternuts that we gatheredfrom the trees all along the ledge of rocks where now stands theblock occupied by The Democrat and Chronicle. That is a little ofthe small beginnings of Rochester."
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After 11 years, the picture changes. It is livelier, less drearybut, still raw at the edges. List to another pioneer, Jesse W. Hatch,reminisce about the Rochester he first knew in 1823:
"No paved streets-sidewalks made of slabs liable to be removed by heavily loaded trucks, conveying logs through the street.During the rainy season in fall and spring, vehicles of all kindsmight be seen in front of the Arcade, floating up to their hubs in asea of mud-there was a tan bark pile at Front and CorinthianStreets-the streets were filled with teams and wagons, laden withlumber from Allegany County, tan bark from eastern towns, farmproduce from the surrounding country, prairie schooners bound forthe West and with an occasional run-away, frightened by the fifeand drum of the military company on parade.
"There were few dwellings up Lake Avenue from DrivingPark to the Four Corners-the Catholic Church at Platt and Frankstreets had the forest for a background-the business part wasbounded on the north by the Mansion House at State and Market;on the south by the canal; on the east by the river and the west byFitzhugh Street-The Eagle Hotel at the Four Corners (PowersBuilding site) had a watering trough in Eront of it-a few dwellings around Main and St. Paul-on approaching the village via the Buffalo Road in winter, frequently a string of teams loaded with firewood, would force the traveler to fall in line, waiting for a place topass."
And here are some style notes of 1823:
"Ladies parted their hair in the center and used bear's oil toplaster it down-Dudes wore a white beaver hat, its nape beatenwith a rattan and roses blown into the fur, a stock about the neck,its frame made with bristles to keep the head erect; a broadclothcoat, white stockings, low cut shoes with square toes."
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Add to the ensemble of the later 1820s these picturesquetouches:
Stray cattle roaming the village burying ground where the General Hospital now stands-the sound of a bugle blast and the raffleof loose planks on the river bridge as the stage pulls in from Canandaigua to draw up before the wooden building that bears the sign,"A. Reynolds, Tavern and Postoffice"-streets full of busy townsfolk, not to mention canalers, lake boat captains, drovers, Quakers inbroad brimmed hats, idle and often drunken Indians, a visiting dandy or two in white beaver hat and gaudy waistcoat. And sometimes newcomers and westward bound migrants sleeping in theircanvas top wagons for lack of other accommodations.
A Main Street of little frame shops, mostly one story, the shopsof gunsmiths, hatters, cobblers, apothecaries, cabinet makers - potash kettles along the highways - wooden footbridges over themill races-pigstys in abundance - the circus with equestrian actsand the nearby museum with wax figures - the open market at theend of the Main Street bridge, the sandy beach and grass commonalong Front Street extending to Andrews - the first Court Housewith belfry and cupola and high steps-the pioneer churches, St.Luke's and First Presbyterian, towering above the village-and always the roar of the falls and the grinding of the mill wheels, and the slow and silent waters of the Erie Canal-these were moulding a metropolis out of a mudhole.
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Now let's hear from a British tourist, Capt. Basil Hall of the Royal Navy, who visiting Rochester on June 26, 1827, found "everything in this bustling place seemed to be in motion . . . half finished and embryo streets crowded with people, carts, stages, cattle, pigs,far beyond the reach of numbers-lifting up their voices together in keeping with the clatter of hammers, the ringing of axes and the creak of machinery . . . . And within the immediate limits of the town itself, in streets where shops were opened and business actually going on, we had to drive, first on one side and then on theother to avoid the stumps . . . ."
And only 15 years before there had been heard only the hoot ofthe owl and the bark of the fox in the forest.
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The next picture is dated 1840, which was only a little morethan a century ago. Whereupon we put into the record the reminiscences of Frederick Whittelsey the chancellor, who lived in the lovely Greek revival house on Troup Street that now is a shrine of the past.
In 1840, Rochester is a city of 20,000, It has passed its old rival, Buffalo, which numbers but 18,000 people. It is a "very stirringenterprising little city-the center of the flouring interest of thecountry-" There are few houses east of Chestnut Street, west ofFord, south of Troup or north of Jay-no buildings on the southside of the Main Street bridge and only half way built up with onestory shacks on the north side.
Main Street ends at the Liberty Pole (Franklin Street) and beyond Grove Place is open country with no houses, bounded withrail fences-there are woods where now is the Women's Campusof the University-West Main (Buffalo) Street is settled as far as!the cemetery, the site of present General Hospital-near the canalbridge is the United States Hotel, later to be the birthplace of theUniversity and then the terminus of the new Tonawanda Railroadto Batavia-the town pump at the Plymouth Avenue corner-thegreat Bull's Head Tavern where the Chili Road begins-Charlotteis considered an unhealthy place and Irondequoit is a Sahara.
From Water Street runs the horse-drawn railroad along theriver's brink to Carthage-between the Tonawanda Railroad terminal and the Mill Street station of the Auburn Road, hacks "ferry" the passengers across the town-the rails are made of wood with straps of iron affixed to their tops-sometimes the straps come loose and snag traffic-the railroads are single track affairs without signal systems or telegraph-baggage is piled atop the cars-the steam locomotives have but one driver on each side, a tall and narrow smokestack and are without cow catcher, bell or whistle-the engineer sounds a bugle or conch horn to signal his approach.
The Erie Canal is a center of excitement with its gay packetboats arriving and departing. There are many boat yards. The newAqueduct is under way. There are scows on the Genesee and smallboys swim the river. Boys play truant from the high school onthe site of the Unitarian Church, wander off to such fascinatingplaygrounds as the Pinnacle or the river gorge and are soundlythrashed when caught:
The river and the canal provide the only water for fire protec-tion. The volunteer fire companies have colorful uniforms but areimpotent in quenching fires. The police force, called the Watch,consists of half a dozen elderly men with staves and lanterns-whaleoil lamps sputter atop wooden posts at the street corners-housesare heated by wood-burning open fireplaces-ice is an unknownluxury and perishable food is lowered on trays in the cool depths ofdooryard wells.
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The Rochester that had been a mudhole in 1797 had become ametropolis in 1840, quaint and crude as that metropolis may seemto this electronic, atomic age.
The Roar of the Crowd
A DAREDEVIL leaps to his death over a waterfall in the view of thousands.
Two young girls claim the power to converse with the dead. "The Rochester Rappings" are heard in a crowded, hostile halt.They echo around the world and the great Spiritualist Church isborn.
A clown is put in jail and on the wall of his cell he scrawls asong that he later sings in circus tents all over the land.
Those bizarre events took place long ago, between 1829 and1851. During those years Rochester was striding, industrially, commercially, culturally into the front rank of American cities.
But there were thousands in the nation who gave no thought toRochester's substantial development, her picturesque setting or herpre-eminence as the flour milling capital.
They associated the name of Rochester only with Sam Patch'slast leap or the Fox Sisters' mysterious rappings or "The Blue EagleJail" of Dan Rice's ballad.
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SAM PATCH, the, leaper of cataracts, never lived here. But hedied here and the manner of his death brought fame to Rochesterand the falls of the Genesee.
Had his second plunge over the upper falls on Nov. 13, 1829,been successful, this city would have been just another place wherethe Jersey Jumper performed.
But his failure, watched by 7,000 horrified persons, for a quarter of a century brought curious throngs here just to see where SamPatch died. It gave rise to a host of songs, poems, legends, sermonsand editorials. It was a national sensation. Nathaniel Hawthornesoliloquized over the daredevil's fate. William Dean Howells wovethe story into a novel, "The Wedding Journey," in which he calledRochester, "The Enchanted City."
Before he came to Rochester, the 22-year old New Englandborn exhibitionist was famous. Patch bad conquered the Passaic,N. J., falls and other chasms. He had leaped over Niagara Fallsfrom Goat Island and lived. He was an ebullient youth who dressedlike a tramp. He was uncouth but with a keen sense of showman-ship.
Three thousand saw him first jump over the Genesee falls onNov. 6, 1829. First he sent his pet bear whirling into space from therocky parapet, then followed the animal into the foaming rapids.Both Sam and Bruin emerged safely.
Then he advertised another and a higher jump at the sameplace. Flouting superstition, he chose Nov. 13 as the date. Thatday some 7,000 from all over Western New York swarmed aroundthe jumping off place.
As Sam walked out on the 25-foot high platform .that had been.erected above the cataract, some thought he swayed a little. Sam wasknown to have a fondness for the flagon. Intimates said, however,he had quaffed a single glass of brandy to ward off the chill.
He made a characteristic speech, the tenor of which was thatboth Napoleon and Wellington were great generals but that neithercould jump the Genesee falls. "That I can do and I will," Samshouted.
Those were his last words on earth. He leaped out without hisusual grace and precision. A great gasp of horror came from thecrowd as he disappeared from sight.
The river was dragged for his body. It was found the next St.Patrick's Day by a farmer, breaking the river ice at Charlotte towater his horse.
Sam Patch was laid to rest in the old River Street cemeteryalong the river which had taken his life. For years a board markerstood at the grave. It was inscribed: "Here lies Sam Patch. Such isfame." The board rotted away and there was no marker until in1912 three strips of tin were nailed to a spruce tree near the grave.They bear his name and the misleading numerals, 1829 (the date ofhis death) and 1912 (the date the sign was erected).
Now the strips of tin are rusty and the lettering is hard to decipher. The spruce tree is dead. But if it comes down-as it mustone day-there will still be a marker to Sam Patch in the old cemetery. The senior English class at neighboring Charlotte High Schoolhas seen to that.
The boys cut away the grass. One of their number found asuitable boulder on a Greece farm. It now graces the grave and anAmerican flag waves above it and the high school pupils are makinga metal plate which will be inscribed and placed on the boulder.
So Sam Patch is not entirely forgotten in the city he made famous so long ago.
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Two young girls originated modern Spiritualism in nearbyWayne County, the drumlin-shadowed land where also Mormonismwas born.
But it was from the stage of Rochester's old Corinthian Hallthat the whole nation heard of the spirit rappings and the movement received its greatest impetus.
The famous Fox sisters lived in Rochester both before and afterthe first knockings were heard in the little house at Hydesville on theoutskirts of Newark, a house that the countryside considered hauntedbecause it was believed a peddler had been slain there.
They were humble folk, natives of Canada. The father, John,was a blacksmith. Margaret was 14 and Katherine was 12 when therappings were first heard at Hydesville.
On the night of March 31, 1848, Katy first sought to conversewith the invisible one. When the weird rappings came she snappedher fingers a certain number of times, calling out, "Here, Mr. Splitfoot, do as I do." The spirit answered like an echo. After that thetwo girls conversed often with "Mr. Splitfoot." A simple code wasevolved and from the knockings it was determined that the spirit wasthat of Charles B. Rosna, the slain peddler.
The sensational news spread and the roads leading to Hydesville were choked with the curious. The Foxes decided to take flightto Rochester. An older sister, Mrs. Leah Fish, brought Katy backfirst, on a canal packet. Later the rest of the family followed.
In Rochester, the rappings continued, always in the presence ofthe two young girls. The first public manifestations were madethrough the agency of Margaret at Mrs Fish's home in what is nowMadison Park, then called Mechanic's Square. Friends heard ofthe phenomena and soon little groups were meeting in the Fox andFish homes, Mrs. Fox was prevailed upon to accept a small feefrom those seeking communications from beyond the grave.
At Hydesville only the spirit of the slain peddler had been contacted. In Rochester it was found many spirits could be reached.The spirit alphabet was enlarged. More and more Spirit Circles werebeing held and the contagion spread.
Finally it was decided to hold a public demonstration in Corinthian Hall on November 14, 1849. Four hundred persons attended. Katy was in Auburn and Margaret was accompanied to the stage by her sister, Leah, who discovered she had psychic powers, too.
The audience, which numbered many skeptics, named a committee of five to investigate the rappings and to report back to a second meeting the next evening. The committee subjected the girls to numerous tests and reported it Could find neither the cause of theghostly knockings nor any deception on the part of the sisters. Thecrowd demanded another test by another committee and anothermeeting the next night.
The new committee made the same report as the first. Incensed,the audience called for still another investigation by a group thatwould contain some members openly hostile to the movement.
This committee made even more exhaustive tests. A woman's group had the girls disrobe and made them stand on such non conductors of electricity as feathers and glass. Still the result was the same.
When that result was announced, some of the crowd made arush for the girls on the stage. A doughty police justice and hismen fought them back and got the sisters to safety.
That near riot brought nation-wide publicity. New York newspapers evinced great interest. Pamphlets espousing and denouncing the new "ism" were widely printed. Public opinion was fanned to intense heat.
After that the spread of Spiritualism was as irrepressible as theconflict that William H. Seward a few years later predicted in thatsame old hall. Seward's phrase went into the history books.
On their return from Hydesville the Fox family lived in theformer residence of Deacon Alvah Strong in Troup Street betweenEagle and Washington. Later they moved to the house that stillstands at the northwest corner of Troup and Plymouth, opposite theSpiritualist Church.
Deacon Strong's son, Augustus H., who became president of theTheological Seminary, as a youth in 1850, attended one of the seances in his former home. He recalled in his published reminiscences that while many of the visitors went away converts, Miss Mary B. Allen, head of a girls' seminary, was not one of them.
Katy Fox was presiding at this session. Miss Allen asked thespirit of her own grandmother to spell the word "scissors." It cameback, "sissers."
"Oh," said Miss Allen, "that is just the way Katy Fox spelledthat word when she was a pupil in my school."
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In 1850 Margaret and Katy Fox went to New York, where notables, including Horace Greeley, sprang to their defense. Societieswere formed throughout the country. By 1854 there were 40,000followers in New York City alone.
The blacksmith's daughters became celebrities. They traveledto many cities. They led rather spectacular lives. Rochester saw littlemore of them.
In 1888 Margaret returned to the city of "The Rochester Rappings" to make a "confession." She was making the same one allover the country. She explained to her Rochester audience, whichwas orderly and did not attempt to mob her as in '49, that she andKaty as children had found they could snap the joints of their big toes and produce loud and clear sounds like rappings on a wall. She demonstrated to the audience fend the sounds could be heard throughout the hall.
Later on, Katy, and according to some historians, Margaret,repudiated the "confession."
By that time it did not matter. The church that had been bornof the Western New York rappings was on solid foundation. Ithad thousands of members all over the world. The faith that hadbeen conceived by two little girls had brought solace to many atroubled heart.
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Few ballads have been written about Rochester. The juke boxesand the radio blare out "Sioux City Sue," "Atlanta, Ga." and "I Got a Gal in Kalamazoo," but Tin Pan Alley ignores the FlowerCity.
In the middle of the 19th Century a song about Rochester, nota very agreeable ballad, was being sung in many places-always bythe same singer.
His name was Dan Rice and he was the clown prince of hisday. He was a one-man circus, a master of cracker barrel philosophyand wisecracks. He was the Will Rogers of the time. He was afavorite of the quip-loving Lincoln. Once a banner hung acrossNew York's Broadway, boosting "Dan Rice for President."
He wore the motley for 30 years-with Barnum's, Forepaugh's and other shows, including his own. In 1866 he received $27,500, the highest annual salary ever paid a circus clown. He made and lost a fortune and died in penury.
When he came to Rochester in 1850, he, ran into legal difficulties which are best explained by the song he wrote and which he for years afterwards sang wherever his circus tents were pitched. "The Blue Eagle Jail" song goes like this:
The Chamberlain referred to was the sheriff of Monroe County.The clown is credited with being the first to call the jail "the BlueEagle."
Rice wrote the words on the walls of his cell in the old jail andmemorized them, The story goes that when he came back to Rochester after 15 years he found his ballad still discernible on the wall.
The Blue Eagle Jail, with its rock pile in the yard, has beengone from the Rochester scene for 60 years. It was built of thenative rock, in 1836, close by the river, where the old Erie train shedstood. In its 50-year span, it housed many a noted prisoner. A fewescaped by swimming the river.
In 1839 William Lyon Mackenzie, grandfather of MackenzieKing, premier of Canada, was imprisoned there for fomenting insurrection against the Dominion government in the "Patriot War." For18 months he languished in the dank dungeon. From his cell he sawthe funeral procession of his mother pass by. He couldn't attend herfuneral. And his grandson, the prime minister, in recent years hastried in vain to locate her Rochester grave.
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A daredevil, a circus clown, neither of whom was a Rochesterian, and two little girls-what a lot of publicity they gave Rochester in a bygone time.
The Big Parade
THIS is about a parade.
It is a fanciful procession, one that takes 134 years to passa given point. Down the Main Street hill, Rochester's traditionalparade ground, pour the columns, seemingly interminable. The marchers are the thousands who left their loved ones andtheir firesides beside the Genesee to shoulder arms in six Americanwars.
The Big Parade passes a reviewing stand in which there are nogenerals, no admirals, no mayors, no top-hatted dignitaries-only anunseen hand turning the pages of Rochester's war history.
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"Yankee Doodle keep it up. Yankee Doodle Dandy." Thefifes sing, the drums roll and the Big Parade is on.
At its head marches a nondescript detachment of 33 men, ledby three officers, each in swallow tail coat with brass buttons, a longvisored black leather cap with a bucktail for a plume, and nankeenpantaloons tucked into leather boots. The rank and file wear buckskin shirts and leggings, with here and there a jaunty feather or asprig of pine stuck in felt hats. Each carries a long flintlock rifle. They look more like backswoodsmen bound for a coon huntthan a military company. Raw recruits are Stone's Dragoons. Otherthan their colonel, Isaac W. Stone, the east side tavernkeeper, and afew other veterans of the Revolution, none has seen military service.
The 33 represent every able bodied man there was in Rochesterville the night of May 14, 1814, when word came of a British fleetof 13 sail off Charlotte. They are the men who grabbed their flintlocks and marched down to the river's mouth in the mud and therain.
An unsoldierly company, but the only Rochesterians in historyever called upon to defend their home soil against an invader.
The hit and run commodore, Sir James Yeo, was on the prowlalong Lake Ontario's shore, seeking spoils, in the War of 1812. The33 villagers deceived the Redcoats by marching and countermarchingamong the trees to create an illusion of strength. The bluff worked.Yeo did not land his forces which included 400 Indians.
Capt. Francis Brown, the Frankfort miller, is in the Big Parade. It was he who met a British officer under a flag of truce andto a demand that the public stores be surrendered, gave the answer:"Blood knee deep first."
Couriers spread the alarm over the frontier until 600 had assembled to defend Charlotte. After a desultory and harmless exchange of cannon balls, the British fleet sailed away, to vent itsspleen on Pultneyville and Sodus Point.
Along with the valiant 33 is the cannon, an 18 pounder, that had been hauled up from Canandaigua by 17 yoke of oxen for justsuch an exigency. There also is a four pounder that the Dragoonshad mounted on the breastwork they had thrown up at Deep Hollow(Lexington near Lake) and christened Fort Bender. It was to havebeen Rochesterville's last line of defense.
Trailing along with the 33 we see the women of the settlementwho had taken their children and hidden in the woods until thedanger passed.
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In the parade are the Revolutionary War veterans in bull andblue who greeted their hero, Lafayette, when the aging marquiscame to Rochester on the Grand Canal in 1825. Those veterans paraded every Fourth of July until there was none left to march. Alexander Milliner is in line, beating the drum he carried in the War forIndependence as a member of General Washington's Life Guard, thedrum that today is preserved in the chapter house of the Daughtersof the American Revolution in Livingston Park.
In line are the militia men who drilled every Training Day inthe years between wars, the Penfield Rifles, the Washington Guards,the Pioneers, the Union Grays, the Williams Light Infantry, the old54th and the others, in their resplendent dress uniforms.
Swinging along in their tall plumed black shakos and spiketailed jacket.s are the 70 volunteers that Capt. Caleb Wilder recruitedfor the War with Mexico in 1847 and who finally crossed the RioGrande, suffering some casualties along the way.
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"Bring the Good Old Bugle, Boys," "John Brown's Body Liesa Moulderin' in the Grave;" the bands blare out the old tunes asa mighty blue-clad division comes in view.
They are the thousands who answered the call to arms when therepublic was rent by civil war. Above them float the tattered bannersthat waved above the bloody fields of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Antietam and Gettsyburg.
In line are all the brave volunteer regiments recruited here-the old Thirteenth, the 108th, in their blue uniforms and peakedcaps; the Eighth Cavalry and the Third Cavalry, sabers shining in thesunlight; the 140th Zouaves, resplendent in their red fez2es, whiteturbans, bright blue jackets, baggy blue trousers; Reynolds Battery,Mack's Battery, the 15th all-Irish regiment; the sailors who servedunder Farragut and who helped blockade the Cotton Kingdom; allthe other warriors with their battle flags, brave in their swords,sashes, epaulets and whiskers.
There are civilians marching with the Grand Army. MotherHieronymo and her devoted Sisters of Charity who nursed 800 sick and wounded soldiers at St. Mary's Hospital have a place in the BigParade. So has Congressman Alfred Ely in his linen duster, for hewas a prisoner for some five months in Richmond. He had drivenout from Washington in a hired carriage to see the Rebel rout andwas caught in the gray tide pursuing the beaten Yanks. There's the blind man who drew the 1,096 Monroe Countyname from the wheel in America's first conscription. And the women who sewed and baked and held bazaars and stayed at home,waiting and praying and weeping, as women must in all wars.
Through the postwar years the boys in blue kept marching-ontheir Memorial Days, at their encampments-and into politicalpower, General Reynolds, Colonel Pierce, Alfred Masters, JosephBauer on horseback, Henry Lilly, the grand marshals all are departed, all save one. The ranks grow thinner, the marching stepsslower until there's only James A. Hard in his 106th year, left,waving a thin, white hand at the curbstone crowds from an automobile.
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"There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight," "Good Bye, Dolly Gray"-the bands are playing the war tunes of '98 and the cry wells up: "Remember the Maine."
The 138 Guardsmen of the Eighth and First Separate Companies, Third N. Y. Volunteeer Infantry, later transferred to theregular army, swing past, in their heavy blue woolen uniforms, andcampaign hats; with their wobbly canvas pack carriers and blackweb woven belts, just as when they left the old Armory (now Convention Hall) on April 30, 1898, for the War with Spain.
The Rochester boys of the 202d Regiment who saw servicein Cuba and received a royal welcome home, are there. So is theSeventh Battery, Light Artillery, mostly recruited here. So are allthe sailors who served under Dewey and Sampson in the short andone sided conflict.
There are memories of the Yellow Jack and "embalmed beef,"of uniforms of varying shades of blue shoddy; of sleeping on thebare ground and in tents without cots.
Then come the men in khaki, armed with Krag-Jorgenson rifles,who fought down the insurrection in the Philippines in the wakeof the war with Spain. They came to know the hills and junglesof the islands as their grandsons were to know them nearly 50 yearslater.
The parade winds through a graceful white arch at Main Streetand "The Avenue" and General Elwell S. Otis, commander ofAmerican troops in the Philippines, receives a hero's welcome onOtis Day as he returns to his home city and retirement on June 15in 1900.
Claude Bragdon, eminent native son architect, designed thearch. Old timers recall there was difficulty with organized labor overits construction.
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To the strains of "Over There" and "A Long, Long Trail aWinding," the warriors of 1917-18 stride along in the Big Parade.They wear olive drab uniforms with high, uncomfortable coatcollars and spiral leggings that are hard to wrap just right. SamBrowne belts are for officers only. Springfield rifles have replacedthe Krag-Jorgensons of 1898. For the first time tanks rumble alongand crate-like airplanes wing overhead.
There are the home town outfits: The Third Infantry, laterthe 108th, and Troop H of the First Cavalry, both just back fromthe Mexican border. These Guardsmen become part of the 27thDivision and the cavalrymen are bereft of their mounts and becomemachine gun units. The Fifth Marine Regiment is there along withthe 102d Ambulance Company, Base Hospital 19, the Naval Reserves and the Field Signal Battalion.
Keeping step poorly are thousands of youths in mufti, carryingsuitcases, They soon will learn the ways of war. They are thedraftees, for in this first World War America abandoned the volunteer system.
Rochester men are in all the divisions; in every battle fleet;in all the theaters of action-at Belleau Wood, in the Argonne and at St. Mihiel. There are women in the ranks: Army and Navy nurses, yeomanettes, Red Cross volunteers.
Memories awaken of the Liberty Loan drives, of the heatlessand wheatless days, of the knitting women, of the flag raisings,of the spy scares, of the mayor bidding the boys farewell at theArmory; of the mothers' parade at Exposition Park, of the boomingmunition plants; of the crowds that packed Main Street on Armistice Day; the civic homecoming dinners-after the war that was to end all wars.
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"Coming in on a Wing and Prayer," "Bell Bottom Trousers," "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas."
The last division is the greatest. It was in the greatest war.It belongs to only yesterday. It is made up of the more than 40,000who left Monroe County for the war that began at Pearl Harborand ended aboard the Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
Again there are the home town outfits: The Guardsmen ofthe 108th who knew bitter battle in the Pacific and the 209th, mechanized successor to the cavalry troops, who saw fierce action inEurope; General Hospital 19, the Naval and Marine Reserves.
Because this was global war, Rochesterians served in hundredsof units all over the world, on all the seas, in the skies. Their weapons were new and terrible ones.
Marching along are the women warriors, WAVES, WACS, SPARS, lady Marines, war nurses, Red Cross volunteers.
Let's cut the Big Parade short. These boys and girls want noparading-not just now. They want a place to work and a placein which to live.
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We have seen the glitter and the glory of war in the Big Parade, the spine-tingling music, the waving flags, the shiny weapons, the cheers.
There is another side. Ghostly divisions are in the line ofmarch. They are the ones who never came back to the Genesee.There are graves at Shiloh and Santiago; rows of white crosses inFlanders; on Anzio Beach, in Normandy and on Okinawa. Manysleep in the great oceans.
There are the lame, the halt, the blind, those whose marchingdays are done, And the sobs along the curb sometimes muffle thecheers.
The Big Parade is over. Say a prayer that it is over for alltime; that the last division has marched down the Main Street hill;that the Book of War be closed forever.
Of Flour and Flowers
FLOUR-or rather the lack of it-is much in the news this year of 1946.
Had the present desperate need arisen a century ago, the eyesof a hungry world would have turned to Rochester, N. Y., then theFlour City, the milling center of America, and to the GeneseeValley, the breadbox of the nation.
The words, Flour City, are still on Rochester's official seal butthere's not a mill left today within the bounds of the onetime capitalof the industry. The milling era that began with Indian Allen in1789 closed in 1942 when the Van Vechten Company ground its lastbushel of grain.
But long before that, the Flour City scepter had passed westward and the label, Genesee, on a barrel of flour was no longer the proudest in the world markets.
The falls that turned mill wheels and gave the city being nowserve other masters than the millers of the Genesee. But ghostshaunt the raceways of this old mill town as reminders of a departedglory. They are the gray stone mills, built more than a century ago,that still squat on the river banks, although many a year has passedsince they resounded to the roar of the belts and wheels, or heard theclatter of farm wagons before their doors.
Sometime, when you are crossing Platt Street Bridge, glance upat the 110-year-old "ghost" at the Brown's Race intersection. Acrossthe building's top in bold letters that have weathered the years you,read, "The Granite Mills." It's a storage warehouse now. When you're on a bus in State Street, look riverward to the footof Brown Street and you will see on Mill Street another gray old-timer, that was built in 1840 and still bears the sign: "Moseley & Motley Milling Company, Big B Flour." Adjoining it is another Flour City relic, 113 years old. On it the words, "Irving Mills" can barely be deciphered. Both of these structures are used by the Rochester Gas and Electric Corporation which now dominates the streets and raceways where flour was king.
There are other reminders of the old Flour City, among themthe erstwhile Macauley-Fien mill in Graves Street near the tablet thatmarks the site of the pioneer Allen grain grinder, and the massiveold Whitney elevator building at Brown Street and the Subway, nowa warehouse. Once the waters of the Clinton Ditch lapped its sides.
And at the northwest corner of the Platt Street bridge is thedaddy of them all, Half of the old Phoenix Mill that dates back to1818 is still there, utilized by a furrier firm. The other part of thebuilding was cut away in 1892 when the bridge was built.
But most of the mills that made the name of Rochester famous,that sent out thousands of barrels and sacks of such brands as "Prideof Dakota," "Granite" and "Corona" are no more. They have either burned down or been razed.
In 1807, the year that fire leveled the remains of Allen's oldgrist mill, Charles Harford, an Englishman, started a crude tubwheel turning at Platt Street and the river. The Brown brothersbought the mill and when it burned in 1818, erected the PhoenixMill on the site called Frankfort. The year before, the Elys andJosiah Bissell had built the Red Mill along the Allen raceway.
When in 1822 the eastern section of the Erie Canal was completed and the first boat laden with flour left the basin on the east side of the river for Little Falls, Rochester already had five flour mills.
But it was the canal, providing a new transportation outlet, thatreally made the milling industry here. Rochester blossomed into thegreatest flour manufacturing center in the nation and the GeneseeValley became the major producing region.
Most of the mills clustered around what is now called the Upper Fall. The 14-foot cataract, the most southerly of the three waterfalls, the one that powered the Allen mill, was all but obliteratedby the building of the Aqueduct. Some mills were built along theErie Canal and in time machinery made it possible for boats to unload the wheat and receive the sealed barrels of Hour without changing position and without benefit of human hand.
In 1855, day after day, rain beat a devil's tattoo on the roofs ofthe Genesee Valley farmers and their wheat lay in the sodden fieldsuntil it sprouted. Then the weevil and other plagues scourged theValley. But in the end it was the plow that broke the western plainsthat ended the golden reign of Genesee wheat.
In 1860, this was still the Flour City and had 21 mills. But inthe years that followed, Midwestern cities, nearer the great producing areas, kept encroaching on Rochester's supremacy. In 1878 theindustry here had passed its zenith although the city remained animportant milling center into the 20th Century.
The late Maud Motley, historian of the local industry anddaughter of a milling family, called the business of merchant milling"a great chance game." Certainly fortunes were made and lost inthe highly speculative business that once was centered in the gray oldmills along the Genesee.
When World War 1 began, the star of the Flour City was setting. One by one the mills closed their doors, until in the centennial year of 1934, only three were left. Van Vechten's new mill in Smith Street held out until 1942.
Then as written in the Book of Ecclesiastes:
"And the grinders shall cease because they are few."
Even while the chant of the mills was strongest, another industry was taking root in the rich earth on the fringes of Rochester.
That was the nursery and seed business. It stepped neatly into the economic breach as "the grinders became fewer." A change in a couple of letters and the Flour City became the Flower City, not overnight but gradually.
Rochester has always been able to adapt her economy to changing times and save for the infancy of the milling business, has never kept all her industrial eggs in one basket.
Throughout the last half of the 19th Century, east side, west side, all around the town, but particularly on her southern borders, over hundreds of acres sprawled green and growing things-fruit trees, shrubs, shade trees, and bright flower gardens. Gaily colored catalogues advertised Rochester seeds and plants to the far corners of the earth.
Rochester is no longer the nursery capital. Expansion of the city with its demand for building lots and the rise of new production centers have crowded virtually all the nurseries beyond the city's borders. Seed houses in Rochester and environs still do an extensive business but not as in the days when James Vick had eight acres of tulip and peony beds where today are the two streets that bear his name; when upper East Avenue was virtually lined with flowergardens and nurseries.
The pioneer commercial nursery of any consequence was the one Asa Rowe opened in 1833 on 20 acres along what then was Rowe Street in the town of Greece and now is Lexington Avenue and well within the city limits.
The next year William A. Reynolds and M. B. Bateman opened a seed store in the old Reynolds Arcade and maintained a five-acre garden in Sophia Street (North Plymouth).
In 1837 they sold the business to their young German-born manager, George Ellwanger. Three years later he formed a partnership with a young son of Erin, Patrick Barry, and what later became one of the world's largest nurseries was born on eight rolling acres along Mt. Hope Avenue.
The partners toured Europe for rare plantings; they introduced new methods of horticulture and of distribution. Their nursery flourished like a green bay tree until in 1871 it comprised 650 acres.
In the early 1850's a frustrated seeker after gold, G. H. Woodruff, picked up some cones in a grove of giant California redwoods or sequoias. He packed them in a snuff box and shipped them to Ellwanger and Barry, with the request that he share in any proceeds from them. Fifteen years later the firm paid him $1,030, half the profits. The seeds were first planted under glass and the next year 4,000 were set out in the field. Hundreds were shipped abroad, especially to England where the gentry fancied them for their estates. Seven of the giant trees, averaging 52 feet in height and 50 inches in circumference were landmarks in the old nursery tract until they were cut down in 1925, winter killed.
Ellwanger and Barry products went all over the world, even toIndia and Australia. The firm for years supplied most of the westernnurseries. It spawned most of the orchards of California. It soldthe Japanese government the trees and shrubs for the Royal Gardensin Tokyo. One wonders if they survived the hail of Yankee bombs. George Ellwanger helped introduce a cherished custom toRochester. In 1841, with others from the Fatherland, he set up infront of the German Lutheran Church in Grove Street the city'sfirst Christmas tree, brilliantly lighted with candles.
The E and B firm, after cutting up much of its vast acreageinto building lots, donating beautiful Highland Park to the city anderecting a downtown office building, finally closed its books in 1918.
* * * * *
The heyday of the Rochester nurseries was the 70s and 80s.English-born James Vick stands out among the hundreds of nurserymen and seedsmen. He pioneered in the mail order business whichhe built to tremendous proportions.
Vick started growing seeds in a little garden in Union Streetand in 1866 established 35 acres of flower beds in the East-Park Avenue area. Later he moved to 65 acres in Irondequoit near the lake. His floral catalogues went into thousands of homes and helped Rochester win recognition as the Flower City of America. Others in the same field were Hiram Sibley, the elder, and Joseph Harris.
Vick's east side gardens were on the site of the old Union RaceTrack and Park Avenue has sweeping curves today because it followsthe course of the race track.
Incidentally, the official city flower is the Rochester aster, developed by the same James Vick.
In the l870s, nearly all East Avenue from Oxford Street toCulver Road was a maze of trees and flowers, the plantings of manynurseries. Rochester's nurseryland was widely scattered, includingthe Frost Avenue sector, the Genesee-Thurston area, Mount ReadBoulevard near Lexington, the present Kodak Park site, St. Paul andNorton, Monroe Avenue, the site of Riverside Cemetery. And there'sBrowncroft, today an ornamental residential tract on the site of anursery.
* * * * *
Rochester is no longer the nursery capital but that industry leftits imprint upon the town in the form of the well tended shrubs,hedges, trees, flower gardens that surround virtually every home, brownstone mansion and cottage alike. She still is the Flower City.
Her lilac collection is world famous. Every spring thousands, many from other states, view the multi-colored splendor of the slopes of Highland Park. Lilac Sunday, now 38 years old, is an institution.
The azaleas and rhododendrons that follow the lilac show;the gorgeous pansy bed at Highland Park; the poinsettias of Christmas and the lilies of Easter time under the glass roof of Lamberton Conservatory; the dogwood and the cherry blossoms of Durand. Eastman; the roses of Maplewood; the tulips of little Plymouth Square; the magnolias of Oxford Street-all these are Rochester traditions as well as things of beauty.
And is not Rochester the capital of the great orchard belt alongthe lake that is a fragrant blossomland in the springtime?
Yes, this is still the Flower City. Rare is the Rochester yard,in which some flowers do not bloom, even though they be onlyhumble morning glories tied up with strings to a grimy porch.
THERE are Four Horsemen who lurk at the gates of every city, waiting in the shadows, biding their time. Their names areFire and Flood and Storm and Plague.
And when they ride, the cities that men built in their pride andthought unconquerable, are humbled. Sometimes they are prostrate.
The grim riders have spared Rochester as they have sparedfew cities. Still Rochester has known the Horsemen.
* * * * *
A fuse blows out in an elevator and before the ensuing flamesare quelled, they have licked up the commercial heart of the cityas a kitten laps a saucer of milk. It is a three million dollar fire.
An ice jam gives way up river after seven days of rain andswirling waters six feet high cover the principal streets. It is amillion dollar flood.
A twister blitzes out of the western sky and in a few minuteshas scythed a swath of ruin seven miles long and a mile wide. It isa million dollar tornado.
Snowflakes start falling in the silent night. They come downfaster and faster, until morning finds the city blockaded, helpless,paralyzed.
A nomad arrives on a canal boat. With him come tiny, deadlycholera germs. The result is an epidemic that takes a tenth of thepopulation before its course is run.
Thus the Four Horsemen have made their rounds beside the Genesee.
* * * * *
Rochester's first big fire struck the same spot as the last big one,the Main Street bridge.
On January 25, 1834, the year Rochester became a city, fireconsumed every one of the row of wooden business buildings thatthe pioneers had erected on the north side of the span. The loss was$100,000, a staggering sum in that day.
It was 116 years later, on the early morning of November 26,1940, that the fiery Horseman rode the bridge again. Three buildings went up in smoke then with a loss of $300,000.
August 17, 1858, was a gala day. Rochester celebrated thecompletion of the Atlantic Cable with parades, oratory and revelryby night. Just before midnight the livery stables in Minerva Alleycaught fire. Soon the big Minerva Hall in Main Street was ablaze.There was no paid fire department. The befuddled volunteers,routed out of the taverns, were of little help. Dawn saw everybuilding on the south side of Main Street between South and Stonein ruins. That disaster led to the formation of a paid fire department.
Some 60 workmen, most of them boys under 20, were toilingovertime the evening of November 9, 1888, at the Rochester SteamGauge and Lantern Works on the river bank at the foot of Commercial Street. Many of them were on the top floor of the seven-story brick factory.
An explosion, probably of gas, sent tongues of flame leapingup the elevator shaft and the stairways. Workmen on the upperfloors were trapped. Thirty-four of them died that night, many injumping from flame-bordered windows to the river rocks below.Seven others succumbed to injuries within a week. The toll of 41 lives was the heaviest fire has ever taken in Rochester.
Six bodies were so terribly burned their individual identitiescould not be established. There was a mass funeral, a combinedCatholic and Protestant service, for them in the old Washington rink.
Bitter cold was the early morning of January 8, 1901, when thepitiless Horseman galloped through the Hubbell Park OrphanAsylum. A boiler explosion turned the rambling brick building intoan inferno. Twenty-eight children and three members of the stafflost their lives of the 110 who had been sleeping in the orphanage.
There were heroic rescues. Onlookers as well as firemen dashed into the blazing structure at the risk of their lives. There were heartrending scenes. No one who was at the orphanage fire ever forgot the little bodies lying on the snowy lawn.
* * * * *
Sgt. Frank Mehle was leading his morning squad up MainStreet from the central police station at 4 o'clock the near zero morning of February 26, 1904, when they saw flames bursting through theroof of the five-story building of the Rochester Dry Goods Company. During the night, tiny sparks had shot out from electric wiresin an elevator shaft. They ignited the woodwork and the draftswept the flames upward, a seething red geyser. Thus began thegreatest conflagration in Rochester's history.
The flames raced westward to the St. Paul corner, leaped acrossnarrow Division Street. Walls toppled and it seemed the wholedowntown district was doomed. Help was summoned from Buffaloand Syracuse. They came with their apparatus by train. Horses weredispatched to the railroad to haul the equipment to the scene. Thecrowds cheered the visiting firemen as they passed by as visiting firemen have never been cheered at a convention parade.
The fire raged for six hours before it was pronounced under control and for nearly 40 hours before it was declared officially "out." It had burned out one and three quarters acres of the shopping district. The loss was nearly three million dollars. Three thousand persons were thrown out of work temporarily. Four mercantile and office buildings, a stable and three residences were destroyed and the tall Granite Building was severely damaged. The heaviest loser was the Sibley, Lindsay and Curr Company which occupied lower floors of the Granite Building and the adjoining Marble Building.
Although there were big fires afterwards, old-timers in Rochester still date events as before or after "the Sibley fire."
* * * * *
For seven days the rain had descended on the Valley of theGenesee after a long winter of extreme cold and heavy snows. Thelittle tributary streams poured down the hills to swell the river torrent. Ice floes clogged the channel near Avon. On the windy nightof March 16, 1865, the jam broke and the pent up waters wereloosed on the hapless city.
Farm buildings, animals, logs and trees rode along on the sullen, yellow tide. The river overflowed into the Erie and the GeneseeValley Canals and all the waterways were over their banks. Soon thecentral part of the city, particularly Main, Water, Front, Graves,Aqueduct and adjacent streets, were inundated. The water was sixfeet deep at the Four Corners that dreary St. Patrick's Day. Rescuerswent about in rowboats. Boats passed through the entrance of theold Reynolds Arcade and their occupants reached up to take theirmail from the postoffice boxes.
A stranded horse car was yanked off the Main Street bridge andover the falls. Pieces of lumber from mill yards floated through the streets. Timbers thudded against buildings. Business was at a standstill. The city was in darkness that night for the gas plant was submerged.
When the waters receded the second day and Rochester countedthe cost, it ran into a million dollars-but not a life was lost.
The flood of '65 was not the first nor the last but it was the greatest. The Genesee, ordinarily well behaved and tranquil, had a habit of going on spring sprees and turning on the city it had cradled, Every Spring when the thaws and the rains came and the ice jams formed, Rochester would cock an apprehensive eye on the river and prepare to man rowboats and don hip boots-at least in the area immediately west of the Main Street hill.
After the 1865 flood was repeated in miniature in late Marchof 1913, causing damage of half a million dollars, the city tired ofthe Genesee's tantrums and resolved to tame it, The river was deep-ened and retaining walls built and since there have been no seriousfloods in the city proper.
* * * * *
It was stifling hot the afternoon of July 1, 1932. Ominousyellowish cloud banks formed in the sky over Gates and Chili. Therewas a deathlike hush and then Monroe County's only tornado struckwith a roar like the rush of many waters, with the crackle of light.ning and the crash of thunder. At a mile-a-minute clip it raced acrossthe western end of the county and along Lyell Avenue in the city tothe river before its fury was spent.
It unroofed buildings, twisted huge trees as if they had beenmatchsticks. It lifted a 300 foot warehouse in Dewey Avenue fromits foundations. It felled 100 shade trees in Saratoga Avenue aloneand in a parting burst of rage leveled many century old trees in JonesPark. A youth and a girl were drowned when the backlash of the storm upset their boat in Irondequoit Bay. The twister was over asquickly as it had come but it presented a bill for a million dollars.
The "Big Wind" of Dec. 31, 1895 was not officially recorded asa tornado although it reached a velocity of 72 miles an hour. Itflattened tall chimneys, among them that of the Sibley store, then atthe Main and St. Paul corner. It ripped heavy stone ornaments offSt. Michael's Church in North Clinton.
* * * * *
The Storm King rides roughshod over Western New York inthe winter time. Rochesterians are used to blizzards.
Let's recall two of the many. One was the 43-inch three-daysnowfall that began on Feb. 28, 1900 and tied Rochester in a tightwhite knot. It was the worst blockade in the city's history-up tothat time. It paralyzed business. It stalled the electric trolleys andthe railroads. It begot tall tales of drifts so deep that people couldclimb out on them from second story windows.
But those were horse and buggy days and sleighs can negotiatedrifts better than motors can. Besides the city was smaller than whenthe next great blizzard came and people were not so dependent onrubber-tired vehicles to get places.
The storm that began in the early hours of Dec. 12, 1944brought 23 inches in two days and paralyzed Rochester more effectively than any general strike ever could. It closed stores andschools, cut vital war production, stalled buses all over town,marooned hundreds of private autos for the rest of the winter andstirred up a considerable political tempest.
Rochester's civic pride was wounded, too, when the city hadto appeal to the governor to send in the big state plows. Hithertothe "Best Governed City" had been able always to clean its ownhouse.
* * * * *
There remains the most stealthy of the Horsemen, Plague, which is one of the riders of the Apocalypse, too.
In July, 1832, when Rochester was a village of 11,000, the cholera came to town, via canal packet and in the person of a wandering peddler. In the little over two months that it raged, the epidemic took 118 lives.
It struck as swiftly as a rattlesnake and with less warning.People seemingly hale in the morning were dead by nightfall.Doctors were virtually helpless. They possessed neither the knowledge of the disease or the treatment for it. Few were willing torisk their lives nursing the sick. In that dread time one tall figurestands out like a knight in shining armor. That was Col. Ashbel W.Riley. He nursed many of the sufferers, prepared for burial andinterred with his own hands scores of corpses, that others shunned.A cart rumbled through the village streets picking up the dead whowere buried together in a ditch in the old cemetery out West MainStreet.
Back in 1902 there was a pesthouse along the east bank of theriver, south of the Clarissa Street bridge ironically called HopeHospital. That was the year of the smallpox plague when 100persons out of 1,000 affected died between April and October.Hope Hospital consisted of a wooden building, a barn and somecabins. When these quarters were overtaxed, tents were added. Atthe end of the epidemic the pesthouse was burned to the ground.
In the closing days of World War I, that fall of 1918 just whenthe skies were glowing with the promise of early victory, a silent,deadly enemy attacked the home front. It was the Spanish influenza.
It killed 948 Rochesterians, 45 in a single day in mid-October. Besides 504 others died of pneumonia during the epidemic. Emergency hospitals were set up, one in the Main Street armory; doctors and nurses - and undertakers - went without sleep; schools, churches, places of amusement were closed; public meetings were forbidden. People went about with gauze masks on their faces. The "flu" wave was on the wane when the throngs jammed Main Street to celebrate the Armistice.
It was a grim time, not soon forgotten. The Fourth Horsemanis the most terrible because his harvest is human lives.
* * * * *
Men have devised effective ways of fighting and preventing fires. They have dredged the unruly rivers and hemmed them in with retaining walls. They have rigged up powerful weapons to battle snow drifts. Medical science has learned how to cont ml most epidemics.
But no one has found a way to halt that fast riding Horseman, the wind.
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