Is Rochester a "city of conformists," as its critics have charged? Is the voice of Rochester ever a subdued, disciplined chorus with no solo parts?
For the record, let it be cited that four famous crusading rebels have called Rochester home. Amid hissings of derision and howls of disbelief, their voices cried in the wilderness against the status quo. Each voice championed a cause and each in its time echoed over the nation and sometimes beyond the seas. Only death could still the clarion tones.
The causes these dissenters championed were diverse. Their personalities and backgrounds were just as dissimilar. They had in common, eloquence, courage and a flaming zeal for a cause. They were willing to go to jail, to become outcasts for their beliefs. Money, popularity-they did not count. There was only the cause.
One of them was a Negro, born a slave and self-taught, who for years with tongue and pen strove to unshackle his people and who finally saw his cause triumph, at the cost of Civil War. That was Frederick Douglass of Alexander Street and later of South Avenue.
The second was a strong-willed, tireless spinster who spent her adult life fighting for equal rights for her sex. Susan Brownell Anthony of 17 Madison Street died before her cause was fully won but in victory her name became its symbol.
Another was a storm-tossed figure with a lost and a dubious cause. The poverty and oppression of her Russian childhood, her girlhood experiences toiling long hours in a Rochester "sweat shop" for $2.50 a week helped to make Emma Goldman, once of Joseph Avenue, the high priestess of anarchy; "Red Emma," a woman without a country who dedicated her life to the overthrow of the capitalistic system.
The fourth rebel was a scholarly clergyman of gentle mien but with a lion's courage when aroused. Because he dared to voice his convictions in defiance of the canons of his church, he was un- frocked, By virtue of a famous ecclesiatiastical trial, Dr. Algernon Sidney Crapsey of Averill Avenue, who had been an obscure parish rector became "The Last of the Heretics," a national figure.
* * * * *
Frederick Douglass was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in 1817, in slavery on a Maryland plantation, the son of a white father and a Negro mother.
As a boy he was beaten by brutal overseers. When he took part in a plantation escape plot, he was jailed. He finally made a successful break for freedom-in a sailor's uniform. The Underground Railroad befriended him. He taught himself to read and write.
Called upon to tell his life story before an anti-slavery rally in Nantucket, Mass., he spoke with such power and feeling that the abolitionists sent him on a lecture tour through Northern cities, including Rochester. After that tour he was threatened with a return to captivity and fled to England where two Quakeresses bought his freedom.
In 1847 he came to live in Rochester where he had many abolitionist friends. Here he founded his journal, "The North Star." The name of that anti-slavery paper came from the refrain sung by fugitive slaves:
His first issues were printed in the basement of the old African Zion M. E. Church in Sophia (Plymouth) Street. His young son and daughter helped set the type. Later on his office was on the south side of Buffalo (Main Street) near the Four Corners. His first Rochester residence was in Alexander Street. He also lived on Hamilton Street. Then he moved to the outskirts of the city, in South Avenue near the present Highland Park. That house burned down in 1872.
That was an excellent location for the stationmaster of the Underground. Douglass hid many a runaway slave in his home and in his office. There were many other hiding places in and around Rochester, a strategic point on the invisible railroad because across only 50 miles of blue lake lay Canada and freedom.
Through those ante-bellum years, Douglass was writing and lecturing. He was a spearhead of the anti-slavery movement. Old John Brown came to visit him and the two walked the Pinnacle Hills in deep discussion-the dignified Negro with the mane of graying hair and the grizzled white man with the burning eyes. The cooler-headed Douglass sought in vain to dissuade the fanatical Brown from his scheme of seizing the Harper's Ferry arsenal.
When the plot failed and Brown was executed, Douglass was in grave peril and again fled to England. At the outbreak of the Civil War he returned and became an influential advisor to Lincoln and the Union leaders. He was the first to suggest that the government use Negro troops.
After the war he fought to preserve the rights his people had won. He was their spokesman and foremost leader. In the early 1870's he moved to Washington where he held several federal positions. He died in 1882 and is buried in Mount Hope.
In 1899 burly young Theodore Roosevelt, Governor of New York, came to Rochester to dedicate a fine tall monument to Frederick Douglass at the busy St. Paul-Central Avenue intersection. For 40 years it stood there. It is said to be the first such memorial to a Negro in America.
Now the figure of the statesman who was born a slave looks over Highland Park where the Station Master of the Underground once sheltered so many fukitives and every year on Douglass Day his people, free men and women, gather there to honor his memory.
* * * * *
There are many living Rochesterians who remember Susan B. Anthony.
But she was an old lady when they were young, a tall stately old lady in her black dress and white lace collar.
Her face was lined and a little stern. Sometimes her speech was tart. She had known so many battles, so many defeats in half a century of crusading for a cause. And complete victory seemed so far away although her woman suffrage movement had gained ground in state after state.
She was a very famous old lady who had made speeches all over the land, before friendly crowds and jeering crowds, before congressional hearings and national conventions; who had met statesmen and presidents and royalty.
But no matter where her campaigns carried her-and she was active almost up to the day of her death-her footsteps at battle's end always turned back to the roomy brick house at 17 Madison Street where her school-teacher sister, Mary, kept the home fires burning.
In those last days of her life, Rochester was proud of its most famous citizen. Many affectionately called her "Aunt Susan." On her 75th birthday in 1895, 2,000 of her fellow townspeople crowded the Powers ballroom to honor her.
They did not deride her then as they had in 1872 when she led a handful of women to a little shoe shop at West Main and Prospect Streets to cast their ballots in violation of the law. At the trial of the historic test case in Canandaigua Federal Court, the judge who found Susan B. guilty, would not send her to jail as she desired but fined her instead. She never paid the fine.
In her later days when she had become one of the great figures of the time, she was heard with respect, and sometimes with applause -never with the stunned silence that greeted her in 1852 when she arose in a state convention of teachers, two-thirds of whom were women, demanded and won the right to speak when only men had spoken before.
One of Miss Anthony's biographers, Rhoda Childe Dorr, des- cribed the convention incident in these words:
"Straight and slim as a young pine tree in her fine broche shawl and close fitting bonnet, she stood but her knees trembled and to hide the shaking of the hands, she kept them tightly clasped together. But when she spoke it was in a firm clear voice:"
" 'Do you not see that so long as society says that woman has not brains enough to be a lawyer, doctor or minister, but has plenty to be a teacher, every one of you who condescends to teach tacitly admits before all Israel and the sun that he has no more brains than a woman?' "
She was not just the indomitable warrior for suffrage whose name leads all other Rochesterians in the history books. She was a many-sided, warmly human person, too.
First we see her a little girl playing around her Quaker home in the Massachusetts Berkshires where she was born in 1820; then a strong-limbed teacher, able to manage the most unruly boys in her school: called "the smartest woman in Canajoharie" with plenty of beaux. And there's the personable young woman who came to Rochester with her family on a canal packet in 1845 and who hoed corn, picked fruit and scrubbed clothes on her father's farm out Genesee Park Boulevard and Brooks Avenue way. But not for long, because the cause was always calling her to distant battlefields.
Her name is so closely linked to the women's rights movement that many forget that she also crusaded for temperance and for freedom of the slaves; that she helped Clara Barton found in Rochester in 1881 the second Red Cross chapter in America; that she led in the fight for admission of women to the University of Rochester and in 1900 pledged her own life insurance to make up the last $2,000 needed; that she marshalled the forces that brought about the election of the first woman school commissioner in Rochester, Helen Barrett Montgomery.
For fourteen years after her death in March, 1906, her successors invoked her name in the last great battle for suffrage and the 19th Amendment, "The Susan B. Anthony Amendment," became law.
Now her old home in Madison Street, where she wrote her speeches, mailed out her proclamations, planned her campaigns, and whence she went forth to stump the nation for the cause, is a national shrine-for the woman voters of America.
Every voting booth in which women cast their unchallenged ballots also is a monument to Susan B. Anthony of Rochester.
* * * * *
When I was a small boy in a small village startling news came one fall day in 1901 from the Pan-American Exposition in nearby Buffalo. William McKinley had been shot by an anarchist with whom the kindly President was about to shake hands in the crowded Temple of Music.
I recall how excited the grown-ups were over the deed and how one of them said, and there was bitter anger in his voice, "This is the work of that anarchist Emma Goldman. The fellow who killed McKinley is her disciple."
Later on I heard and read much of "Red Emma," the "most dangerous woman in America," for thirty years a veritable symbol of anarchy, who was deported to Russia in 1919 becouse of her subversive activities in the first World War.
So when in 1932 it was announced that the exile, then in Canada, had been granted permission for a 90-day stay in America, and was to visit her old home in Rochester, I visualized a glamorous, cloak and dagger sort of person in the movie-thriller tradition.
Instead I saw a dumpy, gray-haired, seemingly demure, motherly appearing woman, peering myopically through thick lenses. But when she spoke, the pale blue eyes behind the glasses flashed sparks and you knew why they called her "Red Emma."
Addressing Rochester's leading forum, the City Club, she told that generally conservative audience that: "I am no more respectable than I ever was. It is you who have become a little more liberal." And she declared that "your city and the action of the State of Illinois in the Haymarket cases made an anarchist out of me."
Which sends us back along "Red Emma's" life track. She was born in the Russia of the Czars about 1869 and knew poverty and tyranny. She came to Rochester, a girl of 15, accompanied by a sister. Another sister was already living here. The family lived in humble quarters in St. Joseph Street, now Joseph Avenue.
She got work in a clothing factory at $2.50 a week for a 60-hour week, an experience she never forgot. She became associated with a little group of radicals who met in Germania Hall, and became a fiery disciple of the left wing. She was deeply stirred over the brand of justice meted out in the Chicago Haymarket trials. She discovered she was a forceful public speaker.
Emma sought wider horizons. She divorced her Rochester husband, a Jacob Kershner, who had been a boarder at her home, and went to New York in 1889. Up to the time of her exile she called the big city home although she made frequent visits to her Rochester kin.
For 30 years, wherever class war flamed, the name of Emma Goldman was linked to it, rightly or not, In World War I she was imprisoned for obstructing the draft and inciting to riot.
During the postwar wave of feeling against "Reds" she was deported, with some comrades, to Russia. She did not stay there long and called the Soviet experiment "a doleful failure." She ranged from country to country on the Continent, writing and speaking. After marrying a Welsh miner, James Colton, she found a haven in Canada where she died in 1940.
She was an "unreconstructed rebel" against a capitalistic society to the last, this stormy petrel that "Rochester helped make an anarchist.,"
* * * * *
For nearly a quarter of a century, the Rev. Algernon Sidney Crapsey was just another parish rector, a well-liked, faithful and diligent shepherd of his flock at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, but little known beyond the limits of Rochester.
Native of an Ohio farm and a veteran of the Civil War, he had come here, a youth of 26, from an assistant's post in Trinity Church, New York. He was a scholarly, mild-mannered man-but there was latent fire in his eyes.
Around 1904, a new note crept into his sermons. The word spread that the rector of St. Andrew's was preaching unorthodox doctrines. Dr. Crapsey was importuned by his bishop and other church leaders to change the tone of his sermons. He did not do so.
The nub of the controversy was his denial of the miraculous conception of the birth of Jesus Christ. In his autobiography. "The Last of the Heretics," published in 1924, Dr. Crapsey stated his case thus:
"I asserted that Jesus was born, that He lived as we live; that He died as we die; that the story of His immaculate birth was unknown to Him, to His Mother or to the early Christian church. For that I was tried and convicted and deprived of my pastorate. What was heresy in 1906 is now orthodoxy."
His trial before an ecclesiastical court in St. James parish house in Batavia in the spring of 1906 was a national sensation. Distinguished counsel made learned speeches. The chief prosecutor was John Lord O'Brian of Buffalo. Defending Dr. Crapsey were Congressman James Breck Perkins of Rochester and Edward M. Shepherd of New York.
The rector appealed his conviction to a higher court and lost. St. Andrew's was packed when he preached his farewell sermon in December 1906 and cast aside his priestly robes.
He began lecturing before mass meetings in Rochester, "appealing to the enlightened conscience of mankind." He founded here a Brotherhood for Social and Spiritual Work. At first he had a large membership, including men of wealth and influence, but Dr. Crapsey's espousal of what then were radical economic theories alienated his conservative following.
His Brotherhood languished but the unfrocked clergyman, now famous, kept writing and lecturing. He traveled abroad. He went on speaking trips, walking from city to city, a knapsack on his back. Once in Dunkirk he was arrested by a dim-witted "cop" as a vagrant.
The last years of this gentle-mannered old man with the thinning silver hair were spent in writing and study. Like the other "rebels of Rochester," he never yielded his convictions. Algernon Sidney Crapsey, the self-styled "Last of the Heretics," passed away in Rochester the last day of the year 1937.
He may well have been called "The First of the Modernists"
They Were Picturesque
See that car with the rattlesnake crest on one side and a klaxon in the shape of a serpent's head on the other? See the smiling man in it with the two huge St. Bernard dogs, the man with the drooping gray mustache, the snakeskin coat and the wing collar?
That's Rattlesnake Pete.
See that ox-shouldered man riding an open carriage drawn by two prancing white horses, the man in the broad-brimmed hat, the long curly hair, the gray imperial and the regal bearing?
That's Buffalo Bill.
See that blind old man shuffling along Main Street, tapping the walk with his cane, muttering Bible verses, his alms cup outstretched, a placard bearing Scriptural texts suspended from his shoulders?
That's Blind Tom.
See that roughly dressed old man driving a mule hitched to a ramshackle buggy, rattling down Front Street, laden with frogs' legs and water cress; the old man who growls imprecations at passing automobiles?
That's Frogleg George.
* * * * *
But you will never see them or their like again. They are gone with the Rochester of yesteryear.
Every city, as well as every crossroad hamlet, has its "characters," those who in one way or another stand out from their fellows. Some have that quality called "color." Others are merely eccentric. But they are "different," they are exhibitionists and everybody knows them and looks for them. And after they are gone, they become, traditions and are remembered long after more important-and probably more useful-citizens are forgotten.
Rochester has had its "characters," many of them. I think the four with the picturesque monickers are the best remembered. Such colorful and really notable personages as Rattlesnake Pete Gruber and Buffalo Bill Cody hardly belong in the same category as such local eccentrics as Blind Tom Anderson and Frogleg George Priesecker save that they had these things in common-they were different from run of the mill folk and they added piquancy to the Rochester scene.
* * * * *
Rattlesnake Pete was Rochester's most colorful citizen. He also was one of its most famous.
For forty years his museum-grill that housed the strangest collection of curios in America was one of the city's showplaces. Thousands beat a path to 8 Mill Street, visiting notables, wide-eyed rustics, city-bred habitues.
Its genial proprietor whose powerful arms were scarred by a score of snake bites was a master of reptile lore. He knew how and where to catch the serpents; how to treat victims of their fangs; how to extract their venom and oil and market them for medicine; how to use the hide for purses and handbags and the tissue-like outer skin as poultices; how to treat goiter by wrapping the bodies of harmless snakes around a sufferer's neck.
Pete Gruber learned his snake lore from the Indians who lived in the hills near his birthplace, Oil City, Pa. As a youth he caught a couple of rattlers, put them in a screened box in the restaurant his father ran in Oil City. People flocked to see them and his museum was born. Young Pete and a friend built a miniature oil well and gold mine that, along with the snake box, formed the nucleus of his first "Hall of Wonders."
After brief ventures in Pittsburgh and Buffalo, Gruber came to Rochester with his growing museum around 1892. For eight months he operated in West Main Street near the old canal. Then he moved to Mill Street and held forth there until he died in 1932.
His musty curosity shop became filled to the eaves with fantastic exhibits. The hairless cow from India faced the 3,300-pound stuffed Percheron horse. There were tanks filled with snakes, jars of pickled brains, three legged chickens, two headed calves.
Pete owned the meerschaum pipe once smoked by John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln's assassin; the first electric chair used in New York State; the battle flag of Custer's last charge; a shingle from the Johnstown flood; the ax wielded by a wife slayer; the skull of the horse that carried Phil Sheridan "up from Winchester."
There also were the figures of the dying Indian, Cleopatra and the asp, all kinds of small fire-arms and trick electrical devices such as the one that shot out a padded fist at you when you dropped a coin in the slot or the gold piece on the bar that gave you a shock when your greedy hand touched it.
Add to this array, the rich personality of Pete himself and his national renown as an authority on snakes and it was little wonder that when Rochester was mentioned, the question would follow: "Have you ever been in Rattlesnake Pete's place?"
Rochesterians travelling abroad found Peter Gruber's picture on the walls of a hotel in Athens his name a familiar one in such far off places as the Swiss Alps and Shanghai.
Circus people were fond of Pete. But then he liked everybody and everybody liked him. He was always courteous, always a gentleman despite his forbidding nickname. There was never any rumpus in his place. Pete had been a boxer and a swimmer of repute in his youth and roisterers respected his physical strength and the steel-nerved courage of the man who hunted rattlers in the Bristol Hills and who had survived the bites of 29 rattlers and four copper-heads. And there was always at least one, sometimes four, of the giant St. Bernards around their master, In the days of the excursion trains country folk always made a bee line for Rattlesnake Pete's. They talked about its wonders for months.
After Pete's death in his Averill Avenue home at the age of 75, his old showplace, shorn of his colorful personality, became just another place. His collection was sold and scattered.
Only in memory does the snake-bedecked car with the St. Bernards and their shaggy-mustached master ride the streets of Rochester. When Peter Gruber died and his museum was no more, a bright square faded from the patchwork that is the Rochester scene.
* * * * *
Col. William Frederick Cody was a resident of Rochester for only two years. Buffalo Bill, the Iowa-born soldier, hunter, Indian scout, crack marksman, superb horseman, picturesque showman, one of the last of the frontiersmen, really was a world citizen.
His ties with Rochester in his lifetime were strong and sentimental ones. His three children are buried in Mount Hope and during the 1890's and the early days of this century, nearly every year he brought the tinsel splendor of his Wild West shows to the city he had called home when he was on the threshold of his career as a showman.
Buffalo Bill settled his family here in 1874. Two years before he had started on the road with his Western melodrama, "The Scout of the Plains." In 1875 the show played here at the old Grand Opera House, now the Embassy.
Rochester never saw a more colorful troupe-nor probably a a worse show. It was melodrama without plot or sequence. But it had lots of shooting and Wild West atmosphere and young Rochester loved it. It also thrilled at the sight of the actors, such frontier celebrities as Texas Jack and Kit Carson Jr. and the Indians who wore white shirts when offstage but refused to tuck them in their buckskin breeches.
The Codys had three children then, Arta, 9, Kit Carson, 5 and Orra, 3. Mrs. Cody was a tall serious woman who found life with the Colonel never dull but sometimes difficult for Buffalo Bill's feet often strayed down the primrose path and through swinging doors. Like John L. Sullivan, one of his slogans was "drinks for the house!"
The family first took rooms at the Waverly House, (now the Savoy) in those days a fashionable hostelry. Then they moved to a house at 434 Exchange Street, now torn down. They also lived at 10 New York Street and in another dwelling across the street.
A handful of gray-haired Rochesterians may remember the Bill Cody of the 1870's. He was in his prime then, a magnificent physical specimen, straight as a pine tree who walked with cat-like grace, despite his bulk. Add to that carriage, the inevitable big hat, a black broadcloth, long tailed coat, boots that shone like burnished brass and the charm of the showman's manner and you have as dashing a figure as ever clicked heels on Rochester sidewalks.
Young Kit died here of scarlet fever and Cody never got over the loss of his only son. Orra's grave was dug beside Kit's in 1883. In 1904 the Cody's made another sad trip from the. West. Arta had died at the age of 38. The ashes of Johnny Baker, Buffalo Bill's foster son and show partner, also rest in Mount Hope. Buffalo Bill himself sleeps in a tomb hewn out of Lookout Mountain near Denver.
Whenever Cody brought his Wild West shows here, before he gathered with his old cronies at Lafe Heidell's rendezvous in Water Street, he visited the three graves in Mount Hope. It was here that he patched up his long estrangement from his wife. Rochester always had a high place in the heart of the old plainsman.
And there is many a Rochesterian no longer young in whose memory linger pictures of a gallant figure on horseback, waving a stupendous hat, and the glory of his tents that brought them the old West, Indians in full panoply of paint and feathers, gaudy-shifted cowboys on spotted ponies, twirling lariats.
* * * * *
For 40 years the tap tap of Blind Tom's cane was a familiar sound on Main Street. The sightless old man in the heavy canvas suit, peddling his religious tracts, was as much a part of the downtown scene as the Four Corners or the old Arcade.
Everybody knew him. Most everybody spoke to him. Some dropped coins into his extended cup. Some helped pilot him across intersections that were busy, even in the horse-car days. But he never saw a single face that went with the voices that said, "Hello Tom."
Thomas Jefferson Anderson was blind from the day of his birth, in 1847, on the present site of the Milner Hotel in South Avenue. He spent part of his boyhood in a New York City institution where he learned the Braille system and took organ lessons.
Upon the death of his father, he returned to Rochester. Penni- less, he begged in the streets until a friend set him up in a news stand in the old Reynolds Arcade. He augmented his earnings by carrying advertising signs on Main Street.
Blind Tom married a devout woman who persuaded him to become a "sandwich man for the Lord." So the last 15 years of his life, he was in his own words, "a Gospel carrier," selling religious pamphlets. He wrote-or somebody wrote for him-a book called "Blind Tom's Life," which he hawked along with his other wares. After he "got religion," he had a burning desire, never realized, to preach in Rochester.
In 1911 a group of Rochester business men bought a little farm near Camden, N. J., and gave it to Tom as a haven for his declining years. In a few months he was back on Main Street. Somehow he had been swindled out of his farm.
In his late years he spent much of his time sitting on a nail keg in a blacksmith shop on the south side of Spring Street.
One winter morning in 1913, Blind Tom was found dead in his room in an East Side lodging house. Among his effects was $300, mostly in small coins, enough to insure a proper burial for the "Gospel Carrier."
When in 1934, a Rochester poetess, Elizabeth Hollister Frost penned an ode for the city's centennial, she put the shuffling old blind man in distinguished company with this stanza: &&&
* * * * *
Frogleg George-that name calls up memories of an old man, an old mule, and an old buggy-and an older Rochester.
It brings back a picture of an unkempt, grinning old fellow, who carried a market basket over each arm as he vended the frogs' legs, watercress and sassafras he had gathered. The clatter of his old mule's hooves on cobblestones and the rattling of his venerable buggy once were as familiar sounds downtown as the tap of Blind Tom's cane.
He was born John Priesecker but few knew his real name and everybody called him Frogleg George. For years he was a leading supplier of that gourmand's delicacy, frog legs. He snared the frogs in the swamps and ponds west of Rochester. He had a regular sales route but Front Street was his principal stand.
George once lived in the city but neighbors' protests against his numerous swine, geese and other livestock drove him into the hinterland of Gates, nearer the frog lairs he knew better than anyone else in all Monroe County.
The old man whose balding dome was covered by a greasy felt hat in summer and a cap in winter was something of a showman and occasionally would devour a live frog to the edification of Front Street bystanders.
When the frog leg business fell off he relied on the sale of watercress and herbs. Once his popcorn wagon was a familiar sight on Main Street on Saturday nights, Sundays at Lincoln Park and at evening neighborhood fiestas.
Frogleg usually wore a smile but not when the automobile was mentioned. "That invention of the devil," as he called it, was his pet hate.
Twice he was its victim. The first time his lightless equipage tangled with a "devil wagon" one night in 1921 out the Buffalo Road, he was only slightly hurt, but he lost a prize cane he had always carried. The second time, in 1931, an automobile killed his well trained mule, Jenny; smashed his buggy and sent the old frog vendor to a hospital with grievous injuries.
Other woes beset him in his old age. His wife died and a Chili family took the infirm old man into their home during his last years. He was 76 when he died in 1936 without any known relatives, a nondescript figure, but a well-remembered one.
* * * * *
There's another familiar figure, one of different caliber, who has been missing from the Rochester scene these 12 years.
Remember tall, ramrod-straight James B. Rawnsley who never wore a coat or hat, winter or summer? Even on the coldest days you'd see him in front of his physical culture studio in South Clinton, clad in his inevitable sweat shirt. No ear muffs or scares for rugged Jim.
He had been a noted trainer of bicycle racers in the heyday of that sport. The last 30 years of his life he ate no meat, subsisted largely on fruit, vegetables and nuts. Walking races was his specialty. He observed his birthdays by taking five mile hikes. On one of his natal days he dashed up and down the stairs of the 12-story Granite Building, to prove his wind was good.
He lived to be 76, the exact age of Frogleg George who ate whatever was handy and ignored all rules of health and hygiene.
* * * * *
In the days "before the other war," a motley array of eccentrics lent comedy relief to the downtown scene. There was round-faced Tommy Swales, delivery boy extraordinary who would amuse the sporting gentry with his impersonations, notably the one of Pitcher Christy Mathewson's windup. Another was angular "Nutsy" McFarlan, the shadow boxer who imitated John L. Sullivan, Corbett and other fistic greats, but always with the same stance.
Front Street was the forum where held forth "Fish Bob," a fish peddler of English lineage who claimed to have been born in Africa of missionary parents. Bob could quote the Scriptures fluently but when in his cups, he would mingle his Bibical verses with florid invectives in a mad potpourri of words.
There was "Matches Louie," who once peddled matches downtown and later opened a fortune-telling office in the Powers Block. He lived in a shack along the Erie Canal near Broadway with a bodyguard as eccentric as himself. When he died in 1913, he was found to be worth some $30,000.
Remember Johnny Heisel, courier for Barney Feiock, dealer in legal beverages? There's a tale oft repeated by old timers about Johnny. Once he was sent to deliver a live rabbit in a basket to an East Side address. Somehow the bunny sprang out of the basket and as Johnny watched the fleeing animal, he snarled contemptuously: "Run you fool, run. You won't get to the right place. You don't know the address."
Another Main Streeter of yesteryear was Peanut Joe who for many years sold peanuts at Main and Water from a rowboat gaily painted and set up on trestles about breast high. Quotations from Shakespeare larded his philosophical chatter.
Strictly a police character was "Chicken" Murray who chose to spend most of his days as the guest of Superintendent Bill Craig at the County Penitentiary. He grew so fond of the flock of "pen" chickens he tended he could not bear to be separated from them.
These are only a few of the "different" Rochesterians of the long line that began with the picturesque Indian Allen. The Rattlesnake Pete, Buffalo Bill and Jim Rawnsley type towers above the rest. Yet each was in his own way a showman. And showmen are long remembered.
The time has come to talk of many things-of clothing and of shoes; of dental chairs and lenses and a Kodak King.
Look down upon Rochester from some lofty height like the Pinnacle and you see a city almost covered by a great canopy of trees. It is hard to realize that you are gazing at one of the key industrial centers of America. Rather it seems one vast park.
Yet Rochester, even in the beginning, was a mill town. Industry still is the keystone of the city's arch, the foundation upon which the whole house rests. Silence the lathes, presses, forges, drills, the whirling belts, the throbbing engines and you muffle the very heart beat of Rochester.
There are tall industrial oaks in this tree-canopied city. The great plants whose specialized products are known all over the world were not always there.
They did not just grow, like Topsy. Men planted them here beside the Genesee and nurtured them in early critical years. Once the tall oaks were small acorns.
Those men were practical men, yet dreamers, too. They were pioneers. The founders in many cases fashioned with their own hands the children of their own inventive genius. Most of them were craftsmen, masters of their trades. Some had brought Old World skills with them across the seas.
They were not eloquent crusaders, stumping the country for a cause. Yet even as the reformers, they in their own unspectacular way, resisted the status quo. They sought a better way of doing things. They sweated over blueprints, they tinkered with gadgets in tiny shops, in sheds and attics. One of them mixed chemicals in a kitchen sink. Later on they called him the Kodak King. They knew defeats and discouragement. But in the end they evolved many a device that did much to alter a nation's way of life.
Nor were they colorful like the "showmen" of the preceeding chapter. Picturesque characters seldom have to stare into the blackness of sleepless nights, trying to figure out ways of meeting next week's payroll.
Yet I think in the story of their early struggles there are elements of drama, part of the saga of America.
It is noteworthy also that with a very few exceptions the major industries of Rochester were founded in Rochester by Rochester men.
* * * * *
The alliterative combination of flour and flowers has long been associated with the name of the city. It does not tell the whole industrial story by a long shot.
Once Rochester might well have been called "The Shoe City," For 50 years it was one of the leading shoe centers of the nation, regarded as foremost as a producer of women's and children's quality footwear. Shoes are still made in Rochester, quality shoes, but not in the oldtime volume.
The industry began in 1812 when Abner Wakelee, who had made shoes for Washington's army, opened a cobbler's shop in Buffalo Street. He bought his leather from a local tanner and pegged on the soles after whittling out the pegs himself. The stiffness of the square.toed brogans he made were eased by liberal use of bear's oil, abundant in that day.
A pioneer factory was that of Oren Sage, whose cutters, hand stitchers and bottomers sat in a circle in one large workroom. To keep them amused, the proprietor and an assistant took turns reading a newspaper to them. Over a century later, musk floated through war plants for the same purpose.
Jesse W. Hatch of Rochester in 1852 revolutionized the shoe industry by inventing a machine for sewing uppers on shoes, hitherto stitched by hand. The demand for shoes for Union soldiers in the Civil War boosted the number of shops here from 7 to 25.
In 1908 there were 52 shoe manufacturers and wholesalers, Rochester brands were famous. But evil days came. A disastrous strike in 1922, the insistence of Rochester manufacturers on quality in a mass production age and the shift of industry to the Midwest, nearer the source of supply, combined to wither an industrial oak that for long years was among the tallest along the Genesee.
Mention Rochester almost anywhere and men will say, "Oh, yes, I'm wearing a suit made in Rochester." A mighty bastion on the city's industrial ramparts is the men's clothing industry, which employs some 13,000 workers.
Which is a far cry from 1812 and Jehiel Barnard, sitting crosslegged on his stool, fashioning the first suit ever produced in Rochester. It was made for Francis Brown, the miller, out of a piece of fulled cloth Brown had brought from Massachusetts. The bill was 20 shillings.
There were only custom tailors until around 1840 when a woman named Baker opened a little shop in Front Street where she made boys' trousers and sold them at 25 cents a pair. A tailor on the street, Meyer Greentree, wooed and won her and he took over the pants business, later going into the general manufacture of men's clothing. Thus out of a little pants shop sprang the famed Rochester clothing industry.
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Let's go back to the 1870's and a modest home in Center Park. By the light of a kerosene lamp a young man is experimenting with emulsions for photographic plates in the kitchen sink of his widowed mother's house.
By day he was a bank clerk. By night he was a research scientist. He was a spindly youth who looked like a bank clerk. His name was George Eastman and he became the Kodak King.
His interest in photography led to his experimenting. Others had made dry plates which were an improvement over the old wet plates but nobody had devised any way to coat them save by hand. Eastman invented a machine for doing the job.
With that machine he went into business in 1880, on the third floor of a building at 71 State St. He had six people on his payroll. For the time being he kept his job in the bank.
In that humble cradle was born the Eastman Dry Plate Company, which became the Eastman Kodak Company, which became an industrial colossus, one of the great corporations of America, with acres of plants that employ 30,000 workers in Rochester alone.
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When a young woodworker, John Jacob Bausch, in 1853 lost two fingers on a buzz saw, he turned to his other trade, that of grinding lenses, As a result the greatest optical plant in the world today squats on the bank of the Genesee River.
He was 18 then and had learned both his trades in his native Germany whence he came to America at the age of 14. He had been married only seven weeks when his fingers were amputated. He had only $7.50 in the world. But he had some loyal friends. One was Henry Lomb, who with other fellow countrymen, raised $28 to set Bausch up in business. It was a little optical shop in a corner of a shoemaker's place in the old Reynolds Arcade.
Lomb became his partner, they perfected new ways of grinding lenses, the business flourished and that was the beginning of the Bausch & Lomb Optical Company, biggest in its field.
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Back in 1851 two other young men, George Taylor and David Kendall, began making thermometers, in an old building at 11 Hill (now Industrial) St. They were the entire staff, production, office and sales departments. After they had made enough instruments to fill a fair-sized trunk, they would put on their beaver hats and go out into the highways and byways peddling their stock. That was the genesis of the Taylor Instrument Companies.
William Gleason had only 50 men on his payroll when he made his first machine tools in a shop on Brown's Race near the upper falls which powered his plant. He did all the designing himself, as well as directing production. Today the products of the Gleason Works, which is still in the family, are sold all over the world.
A bleak woodshed in Gregory Street was the birthplace of the Todd Company, founded by two brothers, Libanus M. and George W. Todd, in 1899. There the first check protector was devised. It sounded the doom of "the penmen" crooks. The Todd brothers are gone but they lived to see the business that started in a little woodshed become one of Rochester's major industries.
In 1908 when people were saying "the new fangled horseless carriage won't last," young Edward A. Halbleib founded the Rochester Coil Company in a basement at 167 N. Water. His idea was to make electricity serve in place of the hand starting (and arm breaking) cranks, oil lamps, magnetos and rubber bulb horns of the day. He interested other men and they set about perfecting the basic ideas of the present automotive starter, lighting and ignition systems. Thus was born the North East Electric Company, now the Delco Division of that industrial gargantua, General Motors.
Frank Ritter was making furniture with the skill he had learned in the Old World, in a modest shop on the river flats just off St. Paul Street one day in 1887 when a dental supply dealer and an inventor called with some drawings. They asked him to make from that design, a new, scientific and revolutionary dental chair. He did it and the result is the big plant of the Ritter Company, out West Avenue.
In 1884 Caspar Pfaudler, an ingenious mechanic for a firm known as the Consolidated Bunging Apparatus Company, and his associates knitted their brows in deep thought. They sought a sanitary container that could be used for the vacuum fermentation process for making beer Pfaudler had developed. They found the answer-a glass lined tank-but first they tried out a cast iron tank, coated with glass enamel. A crowd of scientists was on hand for the. demonstration. It was a molten failure. Then they evolved a glass lined enameled steel tank and success crowned their efforts.
The huge Stromberg-Carlson Company began with the pooled savings, $500, of two Swedish-born employees of the Chicago Telephone Company, Alfred Stromberg and Androv Carlson, who in 1894, started a phone equipment shop in Chicago. In 1902, the plant, then a thriving business, was purchased by Rochester capital and moved to its present site in Culver Road. Here this firm, now of world-wide fame, had its greatest development although it is not a "native son."
The present Yawman & Erbe office equipment plant covers many acres. The first "plant" that Phillip H. Yawman and Gustave Erbe set up in 1880 was a room 20 by 30 feet on the second floor of an Exchange Street building.
In the late 1890's S. Rae Hickok was working his way through college by making watch fobs for his fellow students. Like George Eastman, he used his mother's kitchen for his first "assembly line." He baked the enamel on the fobs in her oven, Today Hickok products are sold all over the globe.
Probably the oldest manufacturer in the city is the James Cunningham & Son Co. It was 108 years ago that James Cunningham built his first phaeton in a little shop in State Street.
And these are only a few of the small acorns that grew into tall oaks with chimneys and long payrolls beside the Genesee.
Almost from its establishment, the United States Patent Office has been flooded with the brain children of Rochester inventors. Most of the photographic apparatus in use today, much of the optical and other precision instruments came from Rochester.
A Rochester patent attorney, George B. Selden, bore the title of "Father of the Automobile." The story goes that around 1870 a hoof and mouth disease which crippled the horsecar system so that four out of every 100 transit horses were laid up inspired him to provide a mechanical substitute for horses. Anyhow, by 1877 he had built what was hailed as the first and compact internal combustion engine. He is credited with being the first to bring together all the features essential to a practical gas-driven car.
He did not take out his patent until 1895 and thereafter for many years he had a virtual royalty monopoly over the automobile industry. Henry Ford challenged Selden's claims and won out in a lengthy litigation that was a sensation of the 1900's.
Did you know that:
The first voting machine was invented by a Rochesterian, Jacob H. Myers and used here for the first time anywhere in the election of 1895?
The first mail chute was patented by Architect James G. Cutler after he had included it in his plans for the Elwood "skyscraper" at the Four Corners in 1889?
Bishop & Codman, who hitherto had made plowshares, made the first fountain pen here in 1849?
The first gold tooth was the handiwork in 1843 of Dr. J. B. Beers, a dentist with offices in the old Arcade?
That Josephus Requa of Rochester was "the father of the machine gun"? His "Requa Battery," tried out in the waning days of the Civil War, consisted of 25 gun barrels joined together which fired 20-ounce minnie balls, supplied by a cylinder operated by foot power. Tt took five men to operate it but it fired 300 shots per minute and that was real "fire power" back in 1865.
The Street car transfer, the fuzzy pipe cleaner and the custom of placing lighted candles in windows at Christmas time all were originated by the debonair and versatile J. Harry Stedman?
A Rochester physician, Dr. Charles Forbes, devised the individual communion cup and it was used for the first time in Central Presbyterian Church in 1894?
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There's still another field in which Rochester industrialists pioneered.
Back in 1881 when hours of labor were from 7 a. m. to 6 p. m. six days a week, Alfred Wright was making perfume in a factory in State Street. He was a deeply religious man. When his workmen told him they did not attend church services on Sundays because they were too tired, he ordered his factory closed at noon every Saturday.
He was the first manufacturer in America to institute the Saturday half holiday.
Forty-one years later another forward looking industrialist, Malcolm E. Gray of the Rochester Can Company established in his Greenleaf Street plant, for the first, time in American history, the five-day week. Henry Ford studied the plan and adopted it. Malcolm Gray replied to criticism of the innovation at the time: "The five-day week is fundamentally right and is bound to be universal in industry."
He was somewhat of a prophet as well as a trail blazer.
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