Bicentennial Snapshot No. 46: Epidemics and Pandemics

Today we will talk about how past epidemics and pandemics affected the town of Greece.

COVID-19

Graphic representation of the COVID-19 virus

Here’s a graphic we’ve become familiar with. Since March 2020, we have been living with the COVID-19 virus.

During the pandemic of the last three years, we have had to make numerous adjustments to mitigate the impact of this deadly virus.

Some of the same mitigation supplies and tactics were used in at least one other pandemic which was the Spanish flu in 1918. They included wearing masks, and gloves and people started washing their hands. But there was no officially created hand sanitizer designed per se but they did use 70% or higher alcohol as a cleansing agent to ensure certain tools and supplies were clean and ready to be used.

Mitigation supplies, photo by Bill Sauers
Mask distribution at Greece Town Hall campus, photo by Bill Sauers
Door of town hall, photo by Bill Sauers

In the early days, masks became obligatory. Some people felt it was not necessary for the mask to be used but the stores that were deemed essential services because of the type of industry they were in required patrons to mask up, keep them six feet or two meters apart, constantly sanitize hands, if you touch it take it do not put it back for someone else to take, most Restaurants that allowed you to dine-in had to resort to take-out only because they could not allow anyone in the restaurant unless they worked at the restaurant. Banks were drive-thru or atm-only. Government offices, schools, and most businesses switch to remote work and or eLearning for most of 2020 and part of 2021. Some other businesses were closed altogether because of federal, state, county, or local laws that were issued to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Almost the entire country was shut down except for Flordia which did not close anything down but the companies that did operate in Flordia that had national chains took the preventive measures to close and do what was best for their customers.

Town Board Meetings were not held in person but on Facebook Live.

Even our Tuesday Programs for a bit were put together using Zoom.

Here is a link to the list of the Programs that we did using Zoom Meetings while the pandemic was going on. https://greecehistoricalsociety.org/category/program-achrives/zoom-programs/

And everyone found different ways to meet instead of face to face.

For example Town Board Meeting was Streamed live via Facebook Live
Monroe County Covid Dashboard

Tens of thousands of people were stricken with the disease; our hospitals and other medical facilities were overwhelmed. Too often family members could not be with patients. Sadly, presently more than 1700 in Monroe County have died.

Genesee Fever

Throughout its history, the people of Greece have had to endure other deadly diseases. You may recall seeing this drawing in an earlier Snapshot, but we want to again point out how swampy the shoreline of the Genesee River was, not only at the mouth of the river but along much of its length in the 9 miles upriver to Rochesterville. A perfect breeding ground for mosquitos. An octogenarian wrote in 1868.”This country was sickly, as all new lands are, particularly at the mouth of the river, where two or three sets of inhabitants died off, and indeed the whole country was infected with agues and fevers.”

mosquito biting on skin
Photo by Jimmy Chan on Pexels.com
Hincher's Hut
Hincher’s Hut First Settlers in Charlottesburg E. Spelman 1972
Historical Marker at King’s Landing, photo by Joe Vitello

It wiped out the early settlement of King’s Landing which we told you about in Snapshot 4. The early settlers called it Genesee Fever; it was a relentless cycle of fever and chills that plagued them during the warmer months—the cold and snowy months brought them some relief. People blamed it on a miasma, that is, a “noxious vapor rising from marshes or decomposing matter that infected and poisoned the air.” They did not realize that the mosquitos which thrived in the swampy waters of the river banks was the cause.

One historian says, that about twenty graves were made in 1798, at King’s Landing, for people who had succumbed to the Genesee Fever. One of them was Gideon King, founder of the settlement. After his widow died in 1830, a tombstone was erected on her husband’s grave; it was inscribed with these words: “The Genesee Fever was mortal to most heads of families in 1798, and prevented further settlements till about 1815.” It was half a century before medical professionals diagnosed Genesee Fever as malaria.

Gravestone of Gideon King photo by Dick Halsey from mynygenealogy.com

Cholera Outbreak

A segment of a map of the cholera epidemic route compiled by Ely McClellan United States Assistant Surgeon, 1875, from commons.princeton.edu

Another deadly illness ascribed to miasma was cholera. Greece settlers were affected by two epidemics, one in 1832 and one in 1852. Much like the COVID virus was introduced to this country by travelers, so too was cholera. According to “Letters on Yellow Fever, Cholera and Quarantine; Addressed to the Legislature of the State of New York: With Additions and Notes,” in 1852, cholera originated in India. In the early 1800s, it started to spread out of Asia, eventually making its way to North America in 1832. It arrived on the continent in Quebec and Montreal, brought via emigrant ships. It then made its way to New York State. Cholera officially reached Rochester on July 12, 1832.

Cholera is caused by contaminated water and food. A toxigenic bacterium infected the small intestine triggering an acute, diarrheal illness. Sanitation was extremely poor; sewer systems were non-existent and people did not connect the disease to polluted water, but to miasma.

Cholera handbill, 1832, New York City Board of Health
George Payne property along Canal near Elmgrove Road from GHS

Most of the cholera victims lived close to the Genesee River or the Erie Canal into which raw sewage was dumped. Public wells became contaminated as did private wells as they were very often located close to outdoor privies.

Cholera was also called the Blue Death; the severe dehydration caused by diarrhea turned a victim’s skin blue. “The seemingly vigorous in the morning were carried to their graves before night,” wrote Jenny Marsh Parker in 1884.

A cholera victim exhibiting the bluish pallor characteristic of the disease, by John William Gear, 1832
Port of the Genesee, from Henry O’Reilly, Sketches of Rochester, 1838

In 1832, the cholera epidemic broke out in Rochester and the surrounding towns. In just six short weeks, the epidemic took almost 2,500 lives, or 1% of the population of the area. During the months of July and August business and travel were almost entirely suspended. Giles Holden, head of the Board of Health centered in Charlotte, closed the port and posted guards on Ridge Road to keep infected parties out of Greece.

One reference said that the people who succumbed to cholera in the 1832 epidemic were buried in unmarked graves in the northwest corner of the Charlotte cemetery, in the area surrounding Sam Patch’s grave.

Sam Patch’s Grave in Charlotte Cemetery, photo by Mike Parker
Charlotte Cemetery Historical Marker, photo by Mike Parker

There were a series of deadly outbreaks of cholera in the mid-1850s. 1852, 1854, and 1856. In 1854, one of the victims was Belinda Holden Marshall, married to ship’s captain Steven Marshall and sister of Giles Holden. In September of 1856, twelve immigrants, sick with cholera, were left at Charlotte. Henry Spencer, the poor master, had them taken in a wagon to a building near the pier so they would be isolated from the villagers. Some of them were children who were so delighted with the ride to the lake that they shouted and waved their hands. They all died the next day. They too are buried in the Charlotte Cemetery also in unmarked graves.

But the hardest hit area was Paddy Hill.

Paddy Hill looking north on Mount Read Blvd., the 1920s, from GHS
Democrat & Chronicle, August 18, 1879
Our Mother of Sorrows Cemetery, photo by Joe Vitello

A newspaper article in 1879, said about the 1852-54 epidemic: “The writer of this can go back in memory to the great cholera plague of over a quarter of a century ago which rendered this city desolate and populated its graveyards. The surrounding towns were free from the visitation of this destroyer except for the town of Greece immediately about Mount Reed, predominantly south of Our Mother of Sorrows church. Cholera held fatal revel for many days and swept away to eternity members of the best families in the locality. There was terror everywhere around and the little graveyard that caps the hill witnessed more corpses at a time to the burial than there were mourners able to be present.” In the ensuing years, the residents of Paddy Hill predominantly south of Our Mother of Sorrows church were particularly susceptible to dysentery as well as cholera and had a high rate of fatalities as the headline states.

Medical professionals concluded that well water was being contaminated from run-off from the cemetery.

There are many parallels between the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic and the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, measures to prevent the spread of the flu were the same later recommended for covid.

Red Cross Nurse in a mask with tips to prevent flu, 1918, from National Library of Medicine.
Erie Canal Packet Boat, 1840 era — from: Fort Hunter – “Canal-Town, U.S.A.” / by David H. Veeder. (Fort Hunter, N.Y.: Fort Hunter Canal Society; printed by The Noteworthy Co., Amsterdam, N.Y., c1968) — p. 9
Barnard Crossing from Office of the Town Historian
white airplane flying over white clouds
Photo by Daniel Frese on Pexels.com

Where ships and boats were agents spreading the cholera contagion in the 19th century, trains were the agent in the 20th and would give way to airplanes in the 21st century.

Headline Times-Union, October 15, 1918

Most of the documentation for the Spanish flu in Monroe County is about the city of Rochester, but one can still get a sense of its impact on Greece. There were three deadly waves of the flu between the spring of 1918 and the spring of 1919. Rochester was most seriously affected by the fall of the 1918 wave. In the two months between the middle of September and the middle of November, more than 10,000 people caught the flu, and 1,000 of them died. But health authorities acted quickly to contain the spread; two weeks after the first cases occurred, they closed schools, theatres, churches, sports venues, hotel bars, and other places where people gathered.

Troop transports facilitated the spread and infections at military posts were high. That was the case in Greece. At the time of the Spanish flu, Kodak Park was still a part of the town of Greece. There was an aerial photography school posted there.

Inspection, United States School of Aerial Photography at Kodak Park, 1918, from the Rochester Public Library History and Genealogy Division
Group portrait of officers, United States School of Aerial Photography, 1918, the Rochester Public Library History and Genealogy Division

Fifty-seven men from the school came down with the flu.

So, the old Infant Summer Hospital on Beach Avenue was reopened to care for them.

Infants Summer Hospital from the Rochester Public Library History and Genealogy Division
Times-Union October 15, 1918

The towns around Rochester fared much better than the city; the number of infections was manageable.

Nevertheless, school nurses from the city visited homes in Greece. One nurse, Rose Weber, visited a family of eight in Greece, and every single member of the family was infected; the youngest child was little more than an infant. “No one was dying but every person was in need of care. Miss Weber saw that the family was made as comfortable as possible. A doctor interested himself and toward midnight went to the home with a woman who had consented to care for the family.”

Nurses, 1918. From historicbrighton.org

Thank you for joining us this week; next week we will look at those diseases that greatly impacted children.

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Bicentennial Snapshot No. 44: Rumrunners and Bootleggers

Today we are exploring the wild and lawless days of Prohibition.

Prohibition Poster from nebraskastudies.org

In 1909, a vote to make Greece a “dry” town was narrowly defeated. The agricultural interests of the town clashed with the beach resorts and tourist attractions that catered to a clientele that drank. One newspaper account said, “The grudge of the farmers was that their hired help deserted as soon as they got a month’s pay and bathed in the alcoholic delights of Charlotte and Ontario Beach.” On the other side of the debate were the many town residents of Irish, German, and Italian descent for whom wine and spirits were an everyday part of their culture.

By the time Congress took up the question of national prohibition, 33 of the 48 states were already dry. When Congress sent the eighteenth amendment to the states for ratification, where it needed three-fourths approval, they allowed a generous seven years for its passage, but in just 13 months enough states said yes to the amendment. Drinking liquor was never illegal. People were allowed to drink intoxicating liquor in their own homes or in the home of a friend when they were a bona fide guest. And it was legal to make or consume wine or cider in the home. Buying and selling it was illegal; people were not allowed to carry a hip flask or give or receive a bottle of liquor as a gift.

Headline from The American Issue, Westerville, Ohio, January 25, 1919
Prohibition-era prescription for whiskey, from US Treasury National Archives

Exempted from the law was the use of alcohol in lawful industries, for religious practices such as communion wine, and for scientific and medicinal purposes. Intoxicating liquor could be obtained via a doctor’s prescription; the rate of sales for medicinal alcohol went up 400%.

Mother’s in the kitchen
Washing out the jugs;
Sister’s in the pantry
Bottling the suds;
Father’s in the cellar
Mixing up the hops;
Johnny’s on the front porch
Watching for the cops.

Poem by a New York state Rotary Club member during Prohibition

The poem to the right says it all; ordinary people, probably law-abiding citizens before 1920, were defying the law. And many were living in the town of Greece.

Poem by a New York state Rotary Club member during Prohibition
1924 Map of Greece With Current Street Names over the main roads in the town

Rumrunners were smuggling liquor from Canada by sea and bootleggers carried it over the roads. With eight miles of shoreline and roads leading to downtown Rochester and points west and east, Greece was a hotbed of prohibition defiance.

Some of these prohibition slang were used during the era of prohibition and speakeasies

*got to see someone about a dog –going out to buy bootleg whiskey

*needle beer –filling a syringe with pure alcohol and piercing the cork on a bottle of “near beer”

*whisper sister, ladylegger –female proprietor of a speakeasy

*white lightning –whiskey

*giggle water –alcoholic beverage

*hooch, bathtub gin –illegal moonshine

*cutting –making counterfeit liquor by mixing it with artificial ingredients to simulate the real thing

*set-up –ginger ale or soda served by speakeasies, to which customers added their own liquor from hip flasks

Canadian Ben Kerr, the self-styled “King of the Rum Runners,” was one of the most successful of the rum smugglers. He made regular trips to the beaches from Greece east to Pultneyville; he refused to land on American shores, customers had to row out to his boat, he frequently changed his drop days, and he wouldn’t travel under a full moon, preferring dark, foggy, or hazy nights. There are used copies available on Amazon via Thriftbooks or you can get it on the kindle https://smile.amazon.com/Whisky-Ice-Canadas-Daring-Rumrunner/dp/1550022490 you can preview the book here on the right.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Dundurn Press; Illustrated edition (July 26, 1996)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ July 26, 1996
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 192 pages

As of this post there is 1 new copy and 11 used copies available on Amazon

Preview of The Saga of Ben Kerr

Preview of Berine you’re a Bootlegger

Joan Winghart Wilcox Sullivan wrote about her father, Bernie Winghart, her paternal uncle, Ernie, and her aunt, Mamye (who was a Schaller); they were known as the Bootlegging Trio. As of this post, there are 5 new and 2 used paperback copies available on Amazon and it is also available to read on the Kindle. Check out the preview of the book on the left.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Trafford Publishing (July 15, 2010)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ July 15, 2010
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 88 pages

Andrew Wiedenmann was born on November 15, 1865, to Michael and Anna (Merdler) Wiedenmann who had eleven children together. His father Michael Wiedenmann was a cooper and worked in that trade just like Tom Toal we talked about in a previous snapshot. Anna (Merdler) Wiedenmann survived until May 1909. Three of the Wiedenmann children served in three different parts of the City of Rochester Government, William served on Detective Force; Frederick was an Attorney of the city and a member of the City Council representing the 15th ward for thirty-two years, and Andrew featured in the picture to the right, his other brother George Wiedenmann died in 1905 and was a Profession Baseball Player for the Detriot Ball Club. Anna and Edward died young. His sisters included Katherine, Julia, Minnie, and Anna (Wiedenmann) Kugler.

Andrew Wiedenmann was Collector of the Port of Rochester for much of Prohibition and as such he supervised many of the sorties against rumrunners on both lake and land throughout his district. This area covered 178 miles from the western end of Orleans County east to Oswego County. He was diligent, aggressive, and resourceful in his quest for Prohibition scofflaws.

But before he became the Customs Collector at the Port of Rochester, he attended the Whitney school as a boy later he attended the Rochester Free Academy. From 1886 to 1890 he was a Professional Baseball player for Rochester, Buffalo, Hamilton, Ontario, and Portland, Maine clubs. He went on to hold his first public office as the deputy collector for the Internal Revenue Service for his district from 1897 to 1901, then made a police court investigator for sixteen years, and then in 1917 he was elected sheriff of Monroe County and held that role until December 31, 1920, and in 1924 President Calvin Coolidge appointed Andrew Wiedenmann as the Collector of the Port of Rochester.

Andrew J. Wiedenmann taking the oath of office, Times-Union, April 30, 1928
Lake Ontario shoreline at Braddock Bay from media.defense.gov

His keen eyes and his investigative skills came in handy as well he was the Collector of the port of Rochester when he was the Head Sheriff of Monroe County he knew places where he would watch for people to sneak stuff into town and where to spring traps to collect the crooks. He once walked the beach from Charlotte to Manitou investigating rumors of liquor shipments being off-loaded in obscure spots. On the walk, he came across a group of people hiding under a tarp with contraband alcohol.

As the Customs Collector at the Port of Rochester, Wiedenmann often accompanied the Coast Guard (U.S.C.G.S) in their pursuit of rumrunners in the darkest hours of the night. He would shout: “We are United States Customs Officers. I order you to halt.”

36’ Double-cabin picket boat from U. S. Coast Guard History Program
Ridge Road near the Pine Tree Inn, 1920s, from the Office of the Town Historian

On July 12, 1924, he and his agents chased a truck laden with 1200 bottles of ale 18 miles along Ridge Road. Bullets flew as gunfire was exchanged.

Andrew Wiedenmann caught both Ben Kerr and the Bootlegging Trio. But his biggest challenge was the notorious Staud brothers from the town of Greece. By the way, all three of the books mentioned here today are in the museum’s reference library. You can at least get the first two books on a Kindle by Amazon but the book Booze, Barns, Boats, and Brothers which is about the Staud brothers is only in the museum reference library and can be viewed when the museum is open or by making an appointment to look at the book.

Booze, Barns, Boats and Brothers” by H. Dwight Bliss III
Grand View Heights Beach neighborhood, 1924,

On July 8, 1930, the Democrat & Chronicle wrote this about the Staud brothers: they are “The most dangerous and intrepid gang of rum runners in Western New York.” Local newspapers also characterized the brothers as the “most daring,” “most powerful,” and “notorious” of smugglers. The gang operated out of a home on Grand View Heights Road (today, South Drive).

Look pretty innocent, don’t they? But they were ruthless thugs when they grew up. From right to left, Karl, George, Edward, and Milton, called Midge.

Photo of Staud brothers when they were young and innocent or were they?
George C. Staud from H. Dwight Bliss III

They were the sons of George C. and Ida Staud (the couple also had three daughters); their father was the postmaster of Rochester from 1917-1921 while Andrew Wiedenmann was the Sheriff from 1917-1920. He had plenty of trouble with them as teenagers, but did not live to see their Prohibition notoriety. Their mother had also died, but their stepmother was living. Between Andrew Wiedenmann and his brothers, William who served on Detective Force; and his brother Frederick who served as an attorney for the City of Rochester may have had other run-ins with the Staud Brothers. Before the Staud Brothers went into the bootlegging business during prohibition.

Karl was the eldest, born about 1895. His nickname was “K-the Bishop.” He had a muscle infirmity and walked with a limp. He acted as the gang’s accountant, keeping the books for shipments and payments, and also for Midge’s speakeasies. He also frequently provided bail for George and Eddie. George was born in early 1900. He was described as a “scrapper,” tall and lean. Eddie, born also in 1900, “did most of the dirty work.” “Midge” was born in 1901. He was broad-shouldered and tall at 6’3”. Although the youngest, he was the boss and brains of the gang. The newspaper called him the “‘Little Caesar’ of Rochester’s rum-running hierarchy.” The reference of course being to the Edward G. Robinson movie.

Kidnapper gang from Times-Union July 19, 1930
Midge Staud and Jack Foran in Midge’s first boat, courtesy of Bill Sauers

The brothers quickly established the lakefront from Sodus Point to Oak Orchard as their “domain” and were ruthless in enforcing the boundaries.

Midge Staud had a fleet of large cars, Pierce-Arrows, and Studebakers, which he altered so they could stash up to 500-quart bottles of whiskey “in the seats, in backs of the seats, false floors and even false side panels in the doors.” The Stauds’ uncle, Fred, owned a shoe store and they would hide whiskey bottles in shoeboxes at the rear of the store until they could sell or transport them.

If you want to learn more about Pierce-Arrow cars you can visit the Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum before you go to their museum check out their website to view their current museum hours at https://pierce-arrow.com/.

1928 Pierce-Arrow from eBay
Staud’s poison car, from Times-Union, circa May 1929

The Stauds altered this car so that poisonous mustard gas was emitted from the exhaust pipe. It was registered under a false name or now it is referred to As Known As or AKA or an alias which would allow someone to hide their identity or business from either the government, local authorities, or other gangs that were in the business of rum running, but there was enough evidence that proved that the car was owned by Midge. George was arrested wearing only his underwear trying to escape capture after the car was stopped by agents. This same car was involved in a Christmas Eve raid led by Andrew Wiedenmann.

The Stauds would find a cooperative farmer who would let them hide the liquor in a barn. Some had underground tunnels linking the shore to barn basements. Late at night, the beer, whiskey, ale, and wine would be transported in modified cars to speakeasies all around the area including the many that populated Greece.

Stauds’ barn on Norway Road in Kendal, New York for H. Dwight Bliss III provided by Bill Sauers
Christmas Eve Raid, Times-Union, December 26, 1928

This photo shows 200 cases of assorted liquor which was seized by border patrolmen Monday, December 24. Midge and George Staud along with four other men in their gang were arrested in connection with the raid. The liquor, which was composed of whisky and champagne, was intended for the Rochester holiday trade. Tire tracks in the snow alerted agents to this cache in a farmer’s barn.

 Towne Tavern sometime after 1945 Courtesy of Bill Sauers

George served some jail time on a few occasions, but nothing major. Authorities could never get a conviction against Midge. Later in life, Midge ran the Towne Tavern (Left) on Gibbs Street in Rochester and for many years he, George, and Eddie had an interest in the Grove House in Greece. Their career as rumrunners and bootleggers was mostly forgotten.

Family gathering of the Staud family, inside the Towne Tavern photo courtesy of Bill Sauers
Grove House bar courtesy Bill Sauers

So where was all that booze going? Quite a bit of it was staying right here in Greece. And that’s the subject of our next Snapshot.

Thank you for joining us today. Next week we take a look at Greece speakeasies.

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A History of the Seneca Park Zoo

This first comprehensive history of Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, New York traces the many changes it has experienced over the last 125 years, evolving from a menagerie zoo seeking to amuse visitors to the habitat-conscious conservation leader it is today. Established in 1894, it is one of the oldest cultural attractions in the Rochester area. It’s sure to trigger happy memories as you read about the many animals who have delighted guests over the years: Jimmy, the chimp; polar bears Penny and Nickels and Aurora and Yukon; elephants Sally, Genny C, and Lilac; orangutans Gambar or Kumang and her mates and babies; lions Rex and Rexanne, and more.

Price includes shipping.