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Long ago: Memorial Day September 12, 2012

Posted by Jenny in history, memoir.
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This is taken from a memoir entitled “When I Was a Girl” by my grandmother, Sybil Crowninshield Kennedy Bennett. The series starts here and alternates every other post.

It had been a long time since the Civil War, forty years or so, the Spanish War had been of short duration, yet there was a real continuing patriotic feeling behind the holidays. Memorial Day came on May 30. At this time the soldiers’ graves were all decorated with bouquets placed by the schoolchildren, marching from the schoolhouse to the cemetery, carrying bouquets of hawthorn, peonies, and any spring flowers, but always garnished, one might say, by ribbon grass, an ornamental striped grass which grew in most gardens.

The Old Soldiers [they were called this rather than Veterans] rode in carriages to and through the cemetery, stopping while they placed a new American flag on each soldier’s grave each year. We knew very well where the soldiers’ graves were in the cemetery, who they were and who were their relatives.

After the flags and bouquets were placed, there was an invocation and a patriotic oration, outdoors by the cemetery gate. People stood or sat on the grass during it listening quietly. The stillness was unbroken by any sounds except a dog barking or cattle lowing. There were no automobiles.

Uncle John Savery, a Civil War major and the husband of my mother’s cousin, Laura Wallace Savery, came out from Auburn to speak more often than any other I can remember. He was a dentist by trade, I use the word advisedly, an orator by avocation, and a major by station, a large wuff-wuff old Englishman, a relative and visitor to our house, but not much loved by my father [who was Irish, which may or may not have anything to do with it], who called him a “conceited old Englishman.”

This day and the Fourth of July, both national holidays for display of patriotism, were really celebrated by people as Americans and patriots.

Long ago: Fourth of July September 3, 2012

Posted by Jenny in history, memoir.
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This is taken from a memoir entitled “When I Was a Girl” by my grandmother, Sybil Crowninshield Kennedy Bennett. The series starts here and alternates every other post.

In the middle of the Fourcorners [where the two main streets of Cato intersected] on the night before the Fourth of July the boys and young men of the town would build a bonfire and shoot off an old cannon a few times. They also took the large circular saw from the sawmill, owned by my Uncle Dave Crowninshield, and put it on a pole through the hole in the center. Several boys carried the heavy thing on their shoulders through the town while others hit it with a big hammer, making a tremendous crashing sound like elephant-sized cymbals. The church bells were also rung at midnight. We girls used to have a slumber party at one of our houses and would get up in the night and go in a group to see and hear these mysteries. It was wonderful scary fun.

Sometimes on the evening of the Fourth there would also be fireworks from the square. This occurred when there was a Fourth of July celebration in our town. The neighboring towns took turns in having the celebration, Meridian, Victory, and Ira. The celebration meant every flag in town was displayed. We had one which my mother made, sewing every one of the forty-five stars on by hand. It was four or five feet wide and eight or nine feet long, and hung on our porch from the starry end.

We children would each have money for celebrating, usually 25 cents. It was a delicate matter, requiring much consideration to decide what part should be spent for firecrackers and what for ice cream or candy. I was lucky, as Mildred and Celia were afraid to shoot off their firecrackers so I had plenty to use. There was no lack of noise. We would sit on the edge of the grass by the dirt road and throw them into the street after lighting them from a burning stick of punk. There was not much traffic early in the morning. Later on, people began to come and the streets were full of buggies and democrat wagons carrying whole families. [A democrat wagon was a light flat farm wagon with two or more seats, pulled by horses.]

The parade, strictly homemade, began at ten a.m. The flag bearer went ahead. Sometimes old Peter Brown came with him, playing on his fife. He had been a fifer in the Civil War. He was accompanied by a snare drummer, who I think was also a Civil War veteran. Then the Cato band. Cato had the best and biggest band around. They practiced every week at the Milk Station, a discreet distance from the sleeping village. Then came floats, delivery or lumber wagons decorated with colored bunting with exhibits from the hardware or drygoods stores. There were buggies in which rode the President of the village (not Mayor), the Speaker of the Day and the Assemblyman. The Eastern Stars and Rebeccas, feminine contingent of the Masons and Oddfellows, as well as some Old Soldiers (we never called them Veterans at that time) also rode in democrats or lumber wagons. Usually bunting was put thru the spokes of the wheels, in and out, and a strip hung along the sides. The horses had rosettes or small flags in their bridles. Decorated bicycles were also in evidence and even a horse or two with riders in costume. I remember being dressed as “Aunt Sam” to accompany “Uncle Sam” and dancing thru the streets with him in the parade.

There might be quite a group of people dressed for example as Eva and Uncle Tom, or Lincoln, or George and Martha Washington, or just made up as funny as possible, as a tramp or Indian or policeman. There was a carriage of girls dressed in white with red, white and blue sashes and carrying bouquets to furnish the love and beauty theme. I even rode in this.

After this thriller which progressed from one end of the town by the depot up the hill, past the stores, and past our house up the other hill at walking speed, the next excitement was the Oration of the Day. A stand would be erected on the Fourcorners or at least one would be pulled out on wheels from wherever it had been stored. Here in the hot sun or wind and even rain, a patriotic and stirring address an hour long would be given, sometimes by Matt Gaffney, a humorous and patriotic Irishman who lived by giving such lectures. At other times by the Assemblyman or a minister. Rain, of course, could spoil it all. The shooting off of so much gunpowder was supposed by some people to cause rain—a bad combination for Fourth of July celebrations.

Later in the day came the Ice Cream Social given by the churches. There was a hot dog stand run by some Lodge members. We called them Coney Islands. The stores were open and shopping went on all day by the out-of-town visitors. Finally, in the evening came the fireworks, the Roman candles, rockets and the set pieces, a flag or a bouquet of flowers, lighting up the summer evening sky, still hardly dark. One terrible time, the box of fireworks was set on fire by a spark. Then men on the high stand had to jump for their lives and the whole grand thing burst into a towering gigantic show. It was all over in a few minutes. I was with my father and we got against a wall with me under his coat, between him and the wall, and we escaped unharmed, as did most of the disappointed spectators. Of course, it could have been a tragedy if some person or building had been set on fire.

Sweeping up after a parade.

Long ago: Small-town train service August 24, 2012

Posted by Jenny in history, memoir, railroads.
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My grandmother, Sybil Kennedy, around the time she met my grandfather

This is taken from a memoir entitled “When I Was a Girl” by my grandmother, Sybil Crowninshield Kennedy Bennett. The series starts here and alternates every other post.

Cato village had at its greatest size nearly six hundred population. [The number was closer to 400 when Grandma was growing up. The figure stood at 532 in 2010.] It was on the Fair Haven branch of the Lehigh Valley railroad. There were six passenger trains a day from Auburn to Fair Haven in the summer and four in the winter. The mail all came on the trains and all packages came by express on the trains as there was no Parcel Post even as late as when I was in college [it was established in 1913].

Going to meet the trains was a free entertainment, which we were not allowed to enjoy unless we knew someone going or coming. We did manage to accompany to the train and to meet quite a few people. After the train came in, people went to the post office, where the mail was distributed and put into boxes. Each family had a box and a number, either a pigeonhole where you had to ask for your mail at the window or a lock box to which you had a key.

It took a half hour or more to distribute the mail. The post office was in a large store and became really crowded with people who were usually talkative and full of jokes. We didn’t get to attend this rite very often, either, but sometimes we could, when there were other errands to the store or we expected mail. The Postmaster’s wife usually helped him and she accommodatingly read the post cards to her edification and would ask someone to “tell Mrs. Jones that her sister would be coming Thursday,” or some such message.

[The train trip was an important feature of an annual picnic.] The Cato churches, all three, organized and held a famous Sunday School picnic at the Picnic Grounds in Fair Haven [on Lake Ontario] every year. It was held on the last Thursday in August. The church people took extra food for those who had none and there were railroad tickets too for the people who couldn’t buy them. The big thing was the special train which came at nine o’clock in the morning. It had previously taken on passengers at Auburn, where it started, and at Weedsport. At Cato it really filled up. There were at least fourteen coaches, crowded to the platforms. There were those who sat down on the red plush seats and rode looking out the windows and those who walked through the train locating and visiting with friends. The Cato band always went and gave a concert, playing at the Cato station and the Fair Haven one and at the picnic. You can’t imagine the enthusiasm and excitement of all this and the disappointment if it rained.

Rail service to Cato village ended in 1953.

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Beach at Fair Haven in the present day