Return to Long Island Genealogy
Return to Long Island Genealogy
In preparing this piece we used but one book - a scrapbook kept by the
late Miss Dorothy Mather and given to Mrs. Myers shortly before Miss Mather's
death. We are sharing our interest in this book with the readers of the
JOURNAL in the hope that we may encourage others who have similar books
to see that they eventually reach the Historical Society.
Among the valuable items in any historical collection are personal papers such as letters, business records of all kinds, legal documents, diaries, and even scrapbooks. We were vividly reminded of this when we examined Miss Mather's book. It gives a lively picture of certain aspects of life in Elmira from the early 1890's until the First World War - that catastrophe which "changed everything."
The first entry in Miss Mather's book is the printed program for the 1891 graduation exercises of the St. Ursula School - an Elmira private school for girls whose headmistress was Julia Chalmers. At the time Miss Chalmers came to Elmira she was already a successful school administrator, and came to Elmira at the invitation of Mrs. J. D. F. Slee.
There were four graduates of St. Ursula in the class of 1891. The respect for the classics held by schools of the period is illustrated by the fact that the graduates' part in the program was a "Conversation in the House of Pericles - 445 B.C." The characters were listed as follows
Chloris, Ward of Pericles - Sabra
Cora, Arcadian shepherdess - Ida Elizabeth Baker
Hipparete, an Athenian - F a n n y Wheadon Darby
Xanthe, a Cytherean-Clara Grannis Reid
In 1893 St. Ursula had a music course of sufficient strength to list Graduate
in Musical Course-Miss Frances Perley Post-Graduate in Musical Course-Miss
Most of these dances were held in private homes. The large Victorian houses, some of which have been torn down, and others made into apartment houses or offices for medical men, were adequate for private dances. There were large halls, parlors and libraries. In mild weather the wide verandas were also used.
A clipping reporting one of these dances says, "The hall and two large parlors had been crashed for dancing." Crashing a room for dancing meant covering the floor with a fabric known as crash.
There is nothing in Miss Mather's book to tell us what happened to excess furniture on dance nights. A friend who remembers weddings in such homes says that sometimes when a large group was expected, furniture would be loaded on moving vans which would then be- parked at a suitable place some distance away.
We were told of a father who went through this twice. To his third daughter he said, "When the time comes, you will be married in a hotel."
That large home dances were no impromptu affairs is shown by a clipping reporting one at Miss Mather's own home -
One of the most brilliant and delightful social events of the season in younger society was the highly enjoyable dancing party given by Miss Dorothy de Forest Mather at her elegant home on West Church Street last evening in honor of her guest, Miss Elsie Bachmann of Utica.
A florist called simply "Durand of Elmira" is given credit for the floral decorations at most of these weddings, although at one such event "the exceptionally handsome floral decorations were by Fleisham of New York and Durand of this city."
Newspapers were more lavish in their use of adjectives then than now. Brides were described as popular, beautiful, charming and universally beloved. Of one it was said, "Her sweet disposition and womanly manner has won her a legion of friends."
Gifts were also mentioned by the press. Sometimes it was a general statement such as "An unusually large number of elegant gifts were received." Sometimes there was a more specific statement such as "Among the many elegant gifts received by the lovely bride was a diamond necklace from her parents."
The spaciousness of the large homes of the period is suggested by one wedding account in which we are told that a mound of pink carnations "six feet in diameter, formed the center piece of the bride's table which was round and laid with seventeen covers."
The newspapers of the day provided their readers with many interesting party details such as "Bonbons, cakes and peppermints were held in shining cut glass and silver." After giving the names of the young women who helped the hostess serve at a large party the paper said, "Colored assistants were also in attendance."
The social importance of bicycles at the turn of the century is suggested by the following item -"A large party of young ladies and gentlemen met at Rev. Dr. Henry's residence at 3 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, and from there went on their wheels to Clark's glen where they enjoyed a picnic supper that was given for Miss Margaret Fassett."
Miss Mather was' equally fortunate in her theater going. She saw Maude Adams in The Little Minister, Peter Pan and Romeo And Juliet; Joseph Jefferson in Rip Van Winkle; William Gilette in Sherlock Holmes; Richard Mansfield in Cyrano De Bergerac; Henry Irving and Ellen Terry in Robespiere; Mrs. Fiske in Becky Sharp.
Miss Mather also saw performances by John Drew, Ethel Barrymore, Maxine Elliot, Margaret Anglin, Ada Rehan and others who are mentioned today in books that recount the past glories of the American stage.
One interesting item in a list of characters is-Baby-A Beecher doll. This was one of the life-like rag dolls made by Mrs. Thomas K. Beecher and sold for the benefit of Christian missions.
What came near being a most serious accident happened shortly before midnight last evening on the Elmira Country Club grounds. The accident happened at the conclusion of the dancing party given by Miss Dorothy de Forest Mather at the Elmira Country Club house.
The young society people boarded carryalls to drive from the club house to the street cars on the West Water St. line. The carryalls were filled and the drive started down the club road toward Water St.
In front was a small conveyance and in the rear a much larger one carrying about eighteen people.
The first conveyance had gone but a short distance when the team of horses drawing the larger one began to act badly. Both horses started to run and alternated their dashes with kicking. In a few moments they had kicked the dash board off, and in a few more blows kicked the driver's seat off. One of the horses struck the driver with his feet and knocked him from his seat into the road. The horses then started to run away in earnest. Driver Claude Dettla displayed great grit. Although knocked into the road he clung to the lines. He was dragged along until his head struck against a rock. He lost hold of the lines and was thrown to one side just escaping being run over by the wheels of the conveyance. He was badly bruised and shaken up, sustaining a cut on his head and an injured side.
The horses continued on a mad run down the hill. The young people were frightened and tried to climb out as best they could. At the rapid rate at which the horses were drawing the conveyance down the road they were unable to land safely and were thrown into the road. Attorney Samuel G. H. Turner was driving a single rig just ahead of the runaway team and was in danger of being run into. He shouted a warning to the bus driver ahead and started on a fast drive to escape the runaways. He succeeded in passing the front bus at the curve of the road at Church St. Meanwhile the front bus driver had been making a drive for his life to escape a rear end collision with the runaways. Near the curve of the road at Church St. the runaway team swerved into the ditch and the bus was overturned wiJJ: a crash and was badly smashed up.
Fortunately the young people had all succeeded in jumping out or they would surely have been badly injured and fatalities might have resulted. As it was some of them were bruised and all more or less shaken up and badly frightened. All the young ladies had their handsome party gowns more or less damaged.
Another story tells of the death of Thomas Delant, a highly respected livery stable owner of the time. After a short biograpical sketch the clipping says
He was the owner of stylish horses and drove a high spirited team to Strathmont where a party was in progress. A number of the leading residents of the city, in permitting their daughters to go unescorted to receptions, were particular as to the drivers of the carriages engaged to bring the young misses to their homes. It was not infrequently that Mr. Delant was requested to personally execute such orders and he always seemed glad to do so.
The clipping goes on to tell us that it was in response to such a request that Mr. Delant picked up three young ladies at Strathmont. It was raining and Mr. Delant held an umbrella over his head., To quote the clipping again
The young ladies state that nothing unusual happened until after the carriage had descended the slope leading to Hoffman St. but that shortly after entering that street the umbrella which Mr. Delant was holding fell, stricking the horses who dashed wildly down the road. The carriage swerved from side to side and was nearly overturned across the roadway when the driver gained control of the frightened animals. It is now believed that he suffered a slight stroke from which he recovered, and believing it only temporary dizziness, drove on.
We are then told that two of the young ladies were taken safely to their home on Church Street. After that the team went down Church Street to Madison Avenue where after careening from one side of the street to the other pulled the carriage up over the curb directly opposite Mr. Delant's own home. The third young lady now alone in the carriage -
opened the carriage door and stepped out on the pavement when she spoke to Mr. Delant, but he could not answer her, and she ran across the street and into his residence where she called members of his family to his assistance. His body was still erect upon the box and the reins in his hands, but when he was taken down he was dead.Col. D. C. Robinson whose daughter was the last young lady in the carriage wrote a tribute to Mr. Delant in the form of a letter to the editor. He wrote of Mr. Delant's many fine qualities and the esteem in which he was held by the entire community.