Michelle Ann Kratts

Archive for May, 2015|Monthly archive page

Please Sign Our Petition!

In 1940's Era Wartime Scrapbook, Niagara Falls on May 31, 2015 at 7:55 pm

By Michelle Ann Kratts

To Honor Elizabeth Howe

There are a few glorious monuments in front of our City Hall in Niagara Falls. You have seen them. I pause to look at them when I drive by…when I go inside. It is extremely hard to read the words inscribed upon them, as they are very faded with time, but one afternoon I stopped to look more closely and I even took a few pictures. Here is what is inscribed upon one of the monuments:

To the memory of those pioneers and citizens of Niagara Falls who through their patriotism, self-sacrifice and endeavors have contributed in an outstanding degree to the greatness of our beloved city this monument is dedicated. Judge Augustus Porter, General Peter B. Porter, Judge Samuel DeVeaux, Hon. Thomas Welch, Col. Charles B. Gaskill, Hon. W. Caryl Ely, Hon. Peter A. Porter, Alexander Jeffrey Porter, Albert Huntington Hooker, DeLancey Rankine, Frank A. Dudley

It is followed with the names of several local heroes. How exciting to see these excellent men from our history honored in such a way! But I couldn’t help but feel there was something missing. Surely, there must have been at least one woman from our history worthy of having her name among these great men! And it didn’t take me any time at all to know which woman that would be, for I knew instantly: Elizabeth Howe.

You probably have never heard of her, but I promise you, I will never tire of singing her praises. Even as she died in Niagara Falls Memorial Hospital about fifty-two years before I was born (at Niagara Falls Memorial Hospital)—I can say that I know Miss Howe intimately and I can also tell you that there is no one more worthy of praise.

My friend Pete Ames, a fellow genealogist who volunteers tirelessly at Oakwood Cemetery and in the city through various historical research projects, introduced me to this wonderful woman several years ago. Buried in the Stunters’ Section at Oakwood Cemetery near the world famous daredevils of Niagara it might be said she, herself, was not so unlike a daredevil for she surely fought against the greatest of odds during her time at Niagara, too.

Miss Howe’s story in Niagara Falls was short. However, there was not another individual who left such a giant footprint behind in our city. She came here in the Fall of 1919—an Experienced Social Settlement Worker—who had come all the way from Boston after being assigned a very difficult task by the War Council of the YWCA. She had travelled the world over, had worked in many situations, but this job in Niagara Falls was seemingly impossible. She had been sent here to start up an International Institute.

The International Institute was formed out of necessity in Niagara Falls on October 13, 1920. Statistically, Niagara Falls contained the second largest percentage of immigrants in New York State, only overshadowed by New York City. The thousands of pilgrims from foreign lands found themselves in need of many services, especially the women. Most importantly they needed to learn English. The International Institute in Niagara Falls was established to assimilate and Americanize the local foreign born women. In Miss Howe’s own words, “the main purpose in establishing this institution is to make the foreigner feel at home in this country and particularly in this city. Our idea is to also make it easier for them to live here, to understand our ways and to understand us…”

Initially, it was quite difficult for Miss Howe to entice the women to the benefits of her establishment—for many of the men were quite opposed to the idea of it and the women were frightened of disobeying.    Her notes reveal the great battles she fought with the local priests, especially.   It was apparent that they felt that the immigrant women didn’t need to venture out of their homes and into the secular world for assistance.  She felt otherwise!  And she won them over in the end with the generosity of her works.  She made it so easy for them.   Once the first few came (out of curiosity) many thousands more followed.  When they said they could not make it because their children needed them, she opened a nursery and welcomed the children, too.  She hired a staff of brilliant female teachers and each of them were fluent in various languages:  Italian, Armenian, Polish, Syrian. Miss Howe, herself, was fluent in numerous languages.   As well as teaching the English language, there were classes on American principles, customs and methods of living, civics, cooking classes and sewing classes. The women were taught how to file birth records, how to fill in their naturalization papers.    There were children’s story times and book clubs for the mothers. Miss Howe and her workers also assisted the women in every sort of social problem and dilemma you could imagine.  One of the last acts of her life was the procuring of a double stroller for an impoverished mother of twins.  During the month of February, 1921, 735 calls for help were recorded and fulfilled at the International Institute.  It is hard to believe such incredible work went on in this empty lot on East Falls Street.   Miss Howe was so proud of what was unfolding before her very eyes.  She mentioned to a Niagara Gazette reporter, one day in January of 1920, “…is it not wonderful and a great country, too?”

Miss Howe was only fifty three when she died of pneumonia on November 15, 1922.  The incredible burden of her work proved to be too much, even for a woman of her stamina, and it seems that she literally had worked herself to death.  Women of twenty five nations were brought together because of the hard work and deep devotion of one woman.  Day or night she was there for those in dire need and thousands of acts of social service were rendered.  The notes she kept are priceless.  Her story has touched our lives.  Once upon a time there was a little fireball of a woman in Niagara Falls who paved the way so the rest of us may live in a world of opportunity.   She was only here for a few years however her great legacy of love remains.  Even the newspapers of her day remarked about her work of love.

Sadly, like much of the East Side of Niagara Falls, the International Institute (which had been located at 1116 East Falls Street) is gone. The only physical remnant of this space is an open field near Holy Trinity Church. But the spirit of this beautiful woman and all of those people she helped lives on in this city and especially in the descendants of these immigrant people. Our immigrant ancestors who did the back-breaking work of building the Hydraulic Canal, who labored in the factories, who made it possible to bring light and electricity to the world from Niagara Falls, certainly contributed just as much as the factory owners and the power moguls. Miss Howe represented these people and gave her life to this city.

If you are in agreement that Elizabeth Howe deserves to have her name memorialized among the other giants of our city’s past, please sign our online petition which you may access at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/485/906/134/add-elizabeth-howes-name-to-city-hall-monument/ or on paper at the Lewiston Public Library.  Once we have enough names I will present our request to the city and see where it takes us.   I am also working on completing an application nominating Miss Howe to the National Women’s Hall of Fame. I look forward to the day when she will be given her due respect in a most official way—among the greatest people from our city’s history and among the nation’s finest women.

Full Image

The only known picture of Elizabeth Howe (standing toward the back)

Niagara Falls Gazette

A Presidential Visit to Niagara Falls, October 17, 1936

In Hyde Park, Presidential Visits on May 19, 2015 at 5:04 pm

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By Michelle Ann Kratts

On Saturday, October 17, 1936, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, thirty-second President of the United States, and First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, were greeted in Niagara Falls, New York, by at least 40,000 spectators.  The purpose of this Niagara visit was to dedicate the newly constructed Hyde Park Stadium.

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“The President is shown as he stepped out on the platform of his private car at the rear of the special Presidential train just as it drew into the station. He is acknowledging the acclaim of the large crowd. ” –Niagara Falls Gazette

Thousands lined the six-mile route through the city that the President and Mrs. Roosevelt drove through on the way to Hyde Park Stadium.  Squads of soldiers from Fort Niagara, National Guardsmen and city and state police guarded the entire distance.  The route specifically went through the north end to the south end section of the city to Niagara Avenue and then to Hyde Park.

President Roosevelt praised the new stadium and similar public works projects.  He explained the government’s works policy and mentioned the cordial relations existing between the United States and Canada–as exemplified in the twin cities of Niagara Falls, New York and Niagara Falls, Ontario.

“The government’s policy is to think not only of the practical necessities of public works including water works systems, sewage disposal plants and similar projects but to develop that kind of thing which is useful to us and our children in our recreational life,” he declared.

A heavy mist blanketed the stadium.  Just before the President’s arrival torrential rain had fallen in Niagara Falls and it fell again after the President departed.

The last presidential visit before Roosevelt’s ended in national tragedy.  President McKinley spent an entire day in Niagara Falls before leaving for Buffalo where he was killed.  Fortunately, Roosevelt had much better luck.

Many present for this occasion found the great numbers of children who were present at the train station quite remarkable. The children of Niagara Falls formed the front ranks of the crowds.  “One group of little Italian-American youngsters attracted lots of attention.  They had organized an improvised band using tin pans for musical instruments and carrying banners and flags.  They made plenty of noise.”

One very special little girl, Miss Joanne Muhlbauer, daughter of Mr and Mrs. William Muhlbauer of 420 Twenty-third Street, had the distinct honor of shaking hands with the President.  While standing amidst the crowds at the Falls Street railroad station, nestled in her grandfather’s arms, little Joanne was certainly in the right place at the right time. As the President came down the ramp he stopped to smile at the little girl who looked up at him.  He shook her little hand and then disappeared into his car.  Miss Muhlbauer was only eight months old and was said to be “one of the most fortunate ladies in Niagara Falls.”  Her grandmother, Mrs. Swalwell, who was a member of the Democratic city committee from the Fifth Ward, Fifth District, also had the privilege of shaking hands with the President and Mrs. Roosevelt.

“Meets President…The youngest person to shake hands with President Roosevelt when he visited Niagara Falls on Saturday was Miss Joanne Muhlbauer, eight-months old daughter of Mr and Mrs William Muhlbauer, 420 Twenty-third Street, who tiny hand was gripped by the President as he came down the ramp from his car at the New York Central Station.”
Niagara Falls Gazette

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(An interesting footnote to the visit of President Roosevelt includes a brief story concerning the Niagara Falls Gazette photographers.  Apparently there was a ruling that “no candid shots of the President can be made” –however, the Gazette photographers were not aware of this.  According to the article, the “ruling was made several years ago at the President’s request after a nationally-known magazine had used a layout of candid camera shots of him.”  Poor Frank O. Seed, the Gazette photographer who snapped the picture of the President and Miss Muhlbauer!  He was abruptly approached by Secret Service agents who warmed him under “no consideration to have the picture published.”  Some of the other Gazette photographers were told that their cameras had been made “in the wrong country.”  One of Seed’s cameras was made in Germany and he was told to “take it away at once!”)

Awaken!

In Uncategorized on May 17, 2015 at 1:52 pm

Awaken

By Michelle Ann Kratts

You will find your new historian in the strangest places…usually somehow, in some way, reaching back into the past.  One of the best ways to look back is in the cemetery.  The residents are amused by your company and you will actually find this time machine quite an enjoyable experience.  I promise.

ongiara

My friends and I call ourselves Ongiara.  We meet, we reach back, we love Niagara–Ongiara.  This was a sacred place in ancient times.  This still is a sacred place.  Go stand at the edge of the great cataract and you will feel the power.  She is loud and she is beautiful.  You can hear her at Oakwood Cemetery if you are very quiet.

Claudia

It was said that at the very sad funeral of Colonel Peter A. Porter (who had perished on a battlefield in Virginia in 1864) Niagara sang the requiem.  Thousands stood in silence–and Niagara cried and filled that void.

teacup on gravestone

tea

We think about that as we drink our tea in the cemetery.  In the past it was the custom to treat a cemetery as a park.  A place of great beauty, residents and travelers came to Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls and stayed awhile.  A refuge, an oasis, in the middle of the city, it is still a lovely place for a picnic.

cake

iced tea

Or to read a book.

reading at the cemetery

Quite recently a herd of deer found themselves in Oakwood.  They stayed an entire day–resting among the tombstones, munching on flowers and grass.  They knew they were safe here.

deer

The other night a rabbit caught me by surprise from behind a tombstone.  I jumped as it scurried away and then I laughed to think that, yes, even in an old cemetery, Niagara is alive!

“Eternity Be Thou My Refuge”

Thank you to Tim Baxter, Claudia Carnes and Michelle Petrazzoulo for sharing their beautiful pictures for this story.

1940’s Era Wartime Scrapbook, Niagara Falls (Part V)

In 1940's Era Wartime Scrapbook, Deaths, Digital Collections, Marriages, World War II on May 13, 2015 at 3:14 pm

Thanks to Dave Brooks, librarian from Niagara Falls High School, we are able to share this 1940’s Era Wartime Scrapbook.  Browse through these PDF files and take a trip back in time.  Filled with war stories, marriage announcements and interesting tidbits, it is a treasure of our local history.

For easier viewing, right click to rotate clockwise.

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1940’s Era Wartime Scrapbook, Niagara Falls (Part IV)

In 1940's Era Wartime Scrapbook, Digital Collections, Marriages, Niagara Falls, World War II on May 13, 2015 at 2:41 pm

Thanks to Dave Brooks, librarian from Niagara Falls High School, we are able to share this 1940’s Era Wartime Scrapbook.  Browse through these PDF files and take a trip back in time.  Filled with war stories, marriage announcements and interesting tidbits, it is a treasure of our local history.

For easier viewing, right click to rotate clockwise.

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1940’s Era Wartime Scrapbook, Niagara Falls (Part III)

In 1940's Era Wartime Scrapbook, Deaths, Marriages, Niagara Falls, World War II on May 13, 2015 at 2:18 pm

Thanks to Dave Brooks, librarian from Niagara Falls High School, we are able to share this 1940’s Era Wartime Scrapbook.  Browse through these PDF files and take a trip back in time.  Filled with war stories, marriage announcements and interesting tidbits, it is a treasure of our local history.

For easier viewing, right click to rotate clockwise.

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What To Do–If Your Car Hits A Pedestrian

In Uncategorized on May 12, 2015 at 11:07 pm

Details on what you should do if your car hits a pedestrian (September 10, 1937)

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       Click to make larger.

Click to make larger.

The Monday Club

In Women's History on May 12, 2015 at 10:32 pm

By Michelle Ann Kratts

Quite recently I was approached by some leading members of the Monday Club and asked if the Lewiston Public Library would be interested in keeping and preserving their records.  Of course!  I answered.  And I was very excited to see these records.  They are now being housed in the library and I am working on digitizing some of the older pieces as they are incredible artifacts of Niagara history.

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“The Monday Club (Class) on the Island”

The Monday Club (originally called the Monday Class) was founded by a group of Niagara’s most prominent women in 1894 and, incredibly, it is still going strong.  According to the earliest ledger…

It was formed as the outgrowth of a meeting held at Mrs. Rosenmüller’s where she invited a few ladies to hear her sister Miss Mercer read a paper on the “North American Indians” which she had read before a club at Pittsburg.  The club was organized with the intention of making an exhaustive study of American history.  The first meeting of the club was held in January of 1894 with the following members: Mrs. Benham, Mrs. Ely, Mrs. Hardwicke, Mrs. Lamont, Mrs. Hastings, Mrs. Nye, Mrs. Rosenmüller, Mrs. Redpath, Mrs. Rhodes, Miss Pool, Miss Whitney, Miss Thompson, Miss Trott and Miss Oatman.

In a history written in 1979, Gertrude L. Rose wrote that “women’s lib was awake and in full cry in 1894 with the very opinionated members of the Monday Class.  They were a very uninhibited group of women….”

As in other women’s clubs, there were by-laws and “rules and regulations.”  Nothing very complicated.  “The object shall be the study of literature, and the literary and social entertainment of its members.”  The meetings were held every Monday afternoon from October until June at 2:30 in the afternoon.  The number of each class limited to fifteen members and there was a twenty-five cent fee for membership, as well as a fee of $1 for the member who failed to read their paper at the appointed time (unless prevented by illness or absence from the city).  Easy enough!

Each Monday one of the members would present a well-researched topic and discussion would follow.  Some of the topics included William Penn, Witchcraft, Lace-Making, Italy and the Madonnas…to name a few.  Some topics were explicitly forbidden (the subjects of politics and religion).

Interesting topics covered in the early years

Interesting topics covered in the early years

The meetings were held at the women’s homes and topics would be assigned for the seasons.  Normally refreshments were simple…”cake or sandwiches with coffee or tea.”   However there were more elaborate occasions from time to time such as the meeting held at Miss Thompson’s home on March 7, 1900.   On this day a club luncheon was held with the following menu:  grapefruit, Little Neck clams, brown bread, bouillon, chicken croquettes, mushroom sauce, tomato salad, cheese sticks, ice cream-nut kisses, salted almonds and bonbons.

Some of the early members included prominent members of Niagara society such as: Miss Anna Thompson, Miss Helen Poole, Miss Margaret Bentham, Mrs. Alan H.G. Hardwicke, Miss Flora Gaskill and Miss Winny Thompson.   Anna Thompson was the “alert, intelligent maiden lady” who lived for years at 124 3rd Street.  She attended Mt Holyoke College with her sister, Winny Thompson, who later married Horace Taft,  President William Howard Taft’s brother.  Miss Helen Poole was the sister of William Poole, famed Niagara newspaper man.   Miss Bentham was a librarian with the Niagara Falls Public Library.  Mrs. Hardwicke was part of the Ware family with long-reaching ties to Niagara Falls History.  In fact her great grandfather, Jesse Ware, was considered the first permanent white settler of Niagara Falls.  Miss Gaskill was the daughter of Colonel Charles Gaskill, a prominent military man and former president of the village of Niagara Falls. Mrs. Rhodes’ husband was the civil engineer who installed the very first electric arc lamps on Niagara Falls streets and in several business places.  Mrs. Rosenmüller (who held the first meeting) was a most interesting woman, herself, as she ran rooming houses at Niagara-on-the-Lake and eventually rented out apartments to visiting Niagarans in New York City– after separating from her husband. Monday Class members’ husbands were presidents of banks, presidents of railroads, mayors, doctors, giants in the power companies. Hopefully as we research more the stories of the women, themselves, can be shared more fully as they were vibrant and intelligent women and members of society but often hidden behind their husbands’ deeds and achievements.

Throughout the years various changes were made but the club basically remains a women’s club that meets on Mondays to discuss educational topics.

The Monday Club  Photo George E. Curtis

The Monday Club
        Photo George E. Curtis