Hot dog, kids! Another picture page!

Number 31

This is the YWCA building which stood on the north side of Main Street on the east end of the downtown shopping area. Besides enrolling me in accordion lessons to keep me off the streets, my parents forced me to take dancing lessons here--which amounted to one of my very few opportunities to come into close contact with the opposite sex until I got back from W.W.II and married Harriet. The Centerboro chapter of the YWCA started off in 1910 renting rooms on the third floor of the Masonic Building. There young ladies were able to take classes in sewing, Bible study, and gymnastics. Through a generous endowment made by the Underdunk family, the "YW" was able to purchase the residence shown here and continue to attempt to improve the moral fiber, spiritual yearnings, social graces, and physical health of the young women of Centerboro. I can't say they were always 100% successful with the first two attributes, as some of my dance partners were, shall I say, a bit on the frisky side--not that that bothered me one bit!

Here you see a 1866 map of Centerboro. Copies of the first published version were produced without "Centerboro" on them owing to a printer's error. They are quite rare--a handful in number--and highly collectible. Yes, Centerboro is an old community which by 1866 was already quite sizeable...and on the cutting edge of public illumination! I do not speak of the quality of its educational system, though, which up through the 1940s was exemplary. From 1855 to 1885 its streets were lit by gas street lights installed by the Centerboro Gas Light Company which installed electric lights in 1885. You probably don't know this, but Edison believed that the evening darkness contributed to laziness. Thanks in part to his indefatigable efforts to come up with an effective bulb filament, we now have a nation of chronically exhausted and overworked wage slaves who can stay up long after nature's lights go out to awaken stupefied and stumbling about the next morning.

Before becoming the runner-up in the Miss Flying Saucer Contest held during the last weekend of May 1955, Priscilla Belette was already an inveterate contestant. From about 1951 to 1962 when she started getting a little bit too old for that kind of thing, she entered almost all of the Miss This and That contests that cropped up all over Oteseraga County. In this page from a Centerboro Clippers score book you can see her under the X listed as "Pris" Belette, representing the Moose Lodge for Miss Clipper of 1952. Despite her accomplished baton twirling and terpsichorean skills, she lost this particular contest--and, come to think of it, every other one she entered.

 

Stott & Brean was one of the original Main Street dry goods stores and a competitor of the Busy Bee, an establishment well known to readers of the Freddy series. Over the years S & B added ladies' clothing and general household items to its stock. It was demolished by the wrecking balls of urban "renewal" and thereafter reopened in the ghastly Oteseraga Country Mall in which it gradually died a lingering death, its former customers lured away to the shopping malls of Rome, Syracuse, and Albany. I remember the smell of the original store more than the goods it carried. It was a peculiar smell which it might take a persnickety oenophile to adequately describe. Nonetheless I will make an attempt. There was

  • a soupçon of sawdust
  • the faintest hint of floor varnish
  • a spritz of rising dampness
  • a whiff of mouse droppings
  • the merest suggestion of rosewater, and
  • ineffable undertones of frayed and smoldering electrical wiring

The Stott and Brean atmospheric brew was always more tolerable than the stench of cheapness, stale desperation and popcorn one inhales in modern big box chain stores...and the goods were always of much higher quality, too.

This is another shot of the old Oteseraga County Canoe Club landing and club house on one of the many little bays on the southern shore of Oteseraga Lake about two miles west of the Camphor estate. The club was first organized in 1908 and still exists today, though its members do not do much canoeing. They never did. Even back in the old days, the members preferred less strenuous activities such as adultery, playing cards, smoking, and drinking while their wives were busy in their organizations such as the DAR, the WCTU, the YWCA, and the Ladies' Literary Society of Centerboro. I can't say what the Canoe Club members are up to today since I am not now nor have I ever been a member. I hear, though, that they recently purchased the largest plasma screen television available for their current club house which was built in 1983 after the old one (renovated numerous times over the decades) burned to the ground the year before.

What a wonderful old photo of the Jackson Street home of the Centerboro Guardian which evolved into the Sentinel. The Guardian began as a daily morning paper in June of 1878 and later became an evening-only edition. Ownership and location of the enterprise varied over the years, and I quite forget what year it became the Sentinel. It was locally owned until the early 1980s when it was sold to an out-of-town media mogul of some sort and immediately ceased to be a small town paper composed for small town people--more's the pity. The paper still manages to preserve some small town characteristics even though its pages are mostly filled with advertising and syndicated material. For instance, high school sports get extensive coverage, and every Saturday you'll still find three pages full of church service listings and an entire page devoted to locals who fancy themselves "columnists" airing their unstudied and ungrammatical opinions. Once in a while, you'll see a genuine small town headline, too. Last summer I recall one proclaiming "Cows Still a Problem in Sibney Memorial Park." In the "Corrections" column the next day, the editor apologized for the typo. It should have read "Crows Still a Problem in Sibney Memorial Park."

I publish this photo because of its connection to an important Oteseraga County historical event, the infamous Centerboro farmers' riot. It is difficult to make out what is occurring here exactly, so I will elucidate. It's a photo of the three-legged race held in the spring each year in downtown Centerboro. It was always staged on Jackson Street with the starting line at Main and the finish line just beyond the Guardian building. The farmboy teams usually won the big prizes, leaving the townies in the dust. When relationships between the country folk and the town dwellers soured for a couple of years following the riot, the race was canceled and then forgotten.

 

Here's the Masonic Temple at 100 Main Street as it looked in the year of my birth, 1920. The Masons have been a presence in Oteseraga County since the early 1800s and by 1920, they had enough resources to erect this building. They never were the sole tenants of their property, however. Over the years they rented out space to a pair of morticians, a men's clothing story, an attorney or two, and the YWCA among many other individuals and groups. The Masons was yet another group of which I was never a member, my being not much fascinated by secret signs, passwords, rituals, handshakes, and oaths. Also no one ever approached me about joining up. But I wouldn't have anyway. With regard to the Oteseraga Masons, there is some story about one of the members writing a book revealing secrets about the lodge and his subsequent mysterious disappearance, but that happened a long time ago, and I do not know enough about the affair to write enthusiastically or accurately about it. If you're interested, you can check the Sentinel archives.

Another picture of part of the lobby area of the Centerboro Hotel at another time when the concessions desk was not present. (Two more pictures of the lobby may be found here.) It surprises me that Mr. Brooks never cared to mention the hotel's most famous visitor. It is said that when Theodore Roosevelt was briefly governor of New York before becoming Vice-president of the U.S., he stopped at the hotel while on a trip to the Adirondacks so that his son Kermit could relieve himself. Now there is no record of this incident. Then-Governor Roosevelt did not sign the guest register for so brief a stop, no photographs were taken, no autographs signed, and there is not a whisper about it in the Guardian archives. Nonetheless, there is a used linen handkerchief which, it is claimed, Kermit left behind. I suppose that a DNA analysis of this item might reveal the truth, but I much doubt that (1) any surviving Roosevelt family members would approve such an analysis and (2) establishing the authenticity of the hankie as Kermit's would add any luster to the glory that is Centerboro.

The founder of Centerboro lies beneath this dismal monument, his name becoming ever more obscure as year after year it weathers away. Here lies a man who enjoyed some prominence in his lifetime, and yet what does it matter now what his name was, or whether he was happy with his circumstances or disappointed, or if he loved his wife or not, or whether Centerboro was saddened or gratified by his death? Every time I pass by this gloomy obelisk, five lines by Dr. Seuss come to mind:

How did it get so late so soon?
It's night before it's afternoon.
December is here before it's June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?

Well, enough of that!

I'll bet you can't identify this item without a sense of its size, can you? Well, it's about and inch and a half in diameter. Does that help? No, probably not. What we have here is an antique napkin ring featuring a view of Main Street, Centerboro. I cannot date it for you, but believe me, it is quite old. My mother brought these out when she entertained, and I remember being told numerous times to stop spinning the one I was issued on such occasions. This is the only one left of the set, and since I have neither use for it, nor sentimental attachment to it, and because I could use the cash, I will not wait until my next yard sale to dispose of it for a most reasonable price.

Special Clearance Price! $300.00
Too Late Again! Sold!

Wouldn't this have been a spiffy sign for the First Animal Bank? The design suggests so much, but it is quite difficult to pin down a reasonable explanation of its symbolism, isn't it. Try it, if you don't believe me. See what I mean? Herb Garble's father had no such difficulty. This little piggy came from the credit department of Siebring's Motors where Herb's father worked for many years. He took it as a souvenir when the place closed down and he had to scramble to find another job. He said the sign showed exactly how he felt about Siebring's. I guess this would be an example of a personal, not a universal symbol. I won this sign off Herb in a game of poker, and I think that maybe I could be persuaded to part with it for

$250.00
Dang it! Sold!

One of C. Jimson's aunties, a young Elmira (Q.v.). I have mentioned before that Elmira Camphor is terribly misrepresented in the Freddy series. The Great Dismal Swamp would have been the last place on the planet Elmira would have visited, and she visited a lot of places! She was born in Elmira, NY, and was a graduate of Elmira College. However, contrary to what you might reasonably conclude, she was named Elmira (a variation of "Almira") because it derives from an Arabic word meaning "princess," which her doting father and mother thought her to be. Now, as I have pointed out before, Elmira was a splendid dancer, a talented pianist, and a spellbinding conversationalist. She was a world traveler (though not quite so much so as was Madeline "Minx" Bean) and could keep you enthralled for hours with tales of her sojourns in Europe, Asia, and South America. Never one to settle down, she had little time or use for the institution of marriage and passed away a woman who had lived life to the fullest under her own power. Oh, yes. I almost forgot. As a young girl she once met Mark Twain at his Quarry Farm house just outside of Elmira when her parents took her along to dinner there. I asked her once what she remembered of this event, but she could recollect nothing except how fascinated she was by his octagonal study.

Freddy's antagonist in Freddy the Magician is a professional magician whose stage name is Zingo. Just as nearly all the characters in the Freddy series are patched together from his impressions of authentic Oteseraga County residents and visitors, Zingo, too, has his origins in reality. Mr. Brooks did take some liberties in recasting him for a juvenile book, portraying him as somewhat nicer than he really was, although, truth be told, he wasn't such a terribly bad sort. The assortment of props to the left as well as a number of others were left in the Centerboro Hotel room he occupied during his last visit to Centerboro and which he had to vacate quickly through his room's window when the door was kicked in by an irate husband. Luckily for Zingo, he occupied a first-floor room. The props here are pretty much typical for a stage magician--the wands, the false thumb, the bloody hand. The skunk, though, is fairly unusual and was part of a routine called "The Melody Lingers" invented by Zingo himself. How I came by these props is another much less interesting story.

Although the upper crust of Centerboro regarded it as little better than a rough frontier saloon, the Willow Bend Inn (built about 1800 just outside the old Centerboro town limits) with its fine ales (including some tasty home-brewed varieties), substantial stick-to-the-ribs bill of fare, long wooden bar, and closely packed tables was always a gathering place of great conviviality. It was exactly was it was--not a genteel establishment, but not a dive either. Today one might say that it was a good "pick up" joint...and it was in its day. Remember that William and Martha Bean first met there. I guess the hoity-toity sensibilities of Centerboro high society precluded their visiting the Willow Bend except in the case of the occasional incident of slumming, but that was their loss. There were some regulars, though, from the "good" side of the tracks--such as the patrons dressed in their usual jackets and ties who assembled for this photo on the Inn's west side one day around the turn of the last century. The Inn still stands, though no one has thought to grant it historic site status. It is not nearly the splendid roadhouse it once was. Another shot of the Willow Bend may be seen here.

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