Category Archives: photography

Corruption at the Capitol, 1910-style

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Lewis Hine Schdy newsies 1910 halfton
Tne New International Year Book, “A Compendium of the World’s Progress for the Year 1910,” provides a neat little summary of the complicated dealings of Senator Allds, highlighted yesterday when I wondered about the headlines being displayed by Lewis Wickes Hine’s Schenectady Newsies of 1910. The Allds scandal had it all: bribery, bridge and sugar beet interests, thousands stuffed into envelopes, uncovering of additional corruption, and guilty legislators who had the good grace to die before all this came to light. So, from precisely a century ago, the New International Year Book’s summary of the Trial of Senator Allds:

The death of Senator John Raines in 1909 made it necessary to choose a new leader of the Republican majority in the Senate. This leader, according to custom, is made president pro tempore of the body. In January the Republican caucus selected Senator Jotham P. Allds from Chenango county in the middle of the State. A small group of Republican Senators refused to act with the caucus on the ground of personal objection to Mr. Allds. The caucus selection was, however, duly chosen and installed. Shortly afterwards, a highly sensational statement appeared in the New York Evening Post charging Senator Allds with having received bribes, the statement being based upon accusations made by another Senator, Mr. Conger. The latter was connected with bridge companies . . .

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Schenectady newsies, Albany corruption: 1910

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Lewis Hine Schdy newsies 1910.jpg
It’s Schenectady’s turn. Apparently during his documentation of child labor in 1910, Lewis Wickes Hine visited the Electric City, too. Unfortunately, if he recorded the names of the boys he photographed, their names have been lost. These proud newsies, none of whom looks much older than 10, are hawking the Daily Union and the Evening Star. The Daily Union began in 1894; the Evening Star began in 1886. They would merge in 1911, not long after this picture was taken, as the Union-Star. The Union-Star, published evenings in a building on Clinton Street just behind the Schenectady Savings Bank, survived until 1969, when it moved out of town to Albany, merged with the Knickerbocker News and given a short lease on life.

I’m not sure of the location; it could be a lot of places, though I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it’s Jay Street. The upper story is taken up by an optical shop (perhaps an optometrist), offering lens grinding, “eyes tested” and “glasses fitted”. They’re also selling automobile goggles, still a necessity in the open top days. The lower story is a barber shop and shoe shine at which all shines were 5 cents. The news of the day included details on the loss of the French steamliner General Chanzy, which exploded off Minorca February 9, 1910, just over one hundred years ago, with a loss of 200 lives.

The headline on the Daily Union, “General Legislative Investigation,” gives both comfort and despair that nothing ever changes. This likely relates to investigations into the strange case of Senators Allds and Conger, who briefly occupied headlines across the state in early 1910. To judge from articles in the Times, Sen. Jotham P. Allds of Norwich had accepted a bribe from Senator Benn Conger of $1000 to kill a bill some nine years earlier, when he had been an Assemblyman. Apparently this emerged when Conger, notable as the president of the Corona Typewriter Company and holder of stock in a bridge company that would have been affected by the bill, was called upon to give his reasons for refusing to support now-Senator Allds for the position of President pro tempore of the Senate in 1910. Sen. Conger expressed the opinion that “that little business between ‘Jo’ and me was merely a flea bite compared to some of the things they pulled off in Albany in those days.” The New York Times would report that Speaker James W. Wadsworth, Jr., said, “The earnest hope was expressed by all that the Senate should so conduct the pending investigation as to free it from any suspicion of attempting to apply whitewash or of being influenced in the slightest degree by political pressure.” See? They don’t even have to change the copy from a century ago. Allds was found highly guilty and resigned to avoid expulsion. Conger resigned as well, so the politicians of the brave new century either had a little more class or some sense of shame once caught in their misdoings. The 21st century has little use, apparently, for such antiquated notions.
I’ll have more newsies soon, and Alco boys, too.

If you want more on Senator Allds, it’s here.

Photographic evidence

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Allie Mae Burroughs

Image via Wikipedia

The New York State Museum is currently holding two excellent photographic exhibits. The larger of the two is “This Great Nation Will Endure,” Photographs of the Great Depression. Many of these creations of the photographic unit of the Farm Security Administration are familiar, iconic images – Bourke-White’s “At the Time of the Louisville Flood,” several of Dorothea Lange’s controversial photos of Frances Thompson (“Migrant Mother”). But many of them are unfamiliar works by the talented photographers of the FSA, including Ben Shahn, Walker Evans and John Vachon. Well worth the visit, but it’s only open until March 14.

More interesting and varied is “Seeing Ourselves: Masterpieces of American Photography from the George Eastman House Collection.” A few photographs are in both exhibits, but this one features not only the documentary power of Lewis Wickes Hine and Dorothea Lange, but also features images created for commercial, artistic, and personal reasons. There is less that is familiar here, and some genuine surprises – an 1857 daguerrotype of a beautifully dressed African-American girl, and a revelatory photograph from 1983 by Mary Ellen Mark, “Tiny in her Halloween Costume,” that touched me more than any photograph has in ages. This show will be on through May 9, and I’m sure to go back at least once more.

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