There was no doubt about the curiosity Oneontans had about the First World War in 1918. That curiosity was evident on Tuesday, Oct. 1, when more than 5,000 people showed for a special appearance of the War Trophies Train as part of a war bond fundraiser in the city.
The Oneonta Star of Monday, Sept. 16, 1918, gave a preview of the train, “containing a large and interesting collection of souvenirs and relics from the battlefields of France and Belgium. It will be accompanied by several of Pershing’s men, who have seen active service at the front and also French, British, Italian and Polish officers will be able to explain all the relics … and tell of experiences at the front.”
The idea of bringing this train to Oneonta and many communities along the D&H Railroad was to stimulate sales of war bonds. The Fourth Liberty Loan campaign had begun in Oneonta in the final days of September. A $600,000 goal had been set for the city, and after only three days the total subscriptions taken in had gone beyond the 50 percent mark.
“The arrival of the train was marked by the blowing of whistles and the ringing of church bells,” the Star reported. “The Oneonta City band and Company G, with a large contingent from Cooperstown in line marched to the station shortly before 7 o’clock and were assembled when the train arrived as scheduled.” The station referred to was the D&H depot, where the Stella Luna Ristorante is today on Market Street.
Laverne P. Butts was the chairman of the Oneonta committee raising the funds for the Liberty Loan. As soon as the lights could be lit on the two railroad flat cars, the city band played one verse of “America.” Butts then welcomed the multiple-car train and the crowds.
“He urged the throng to give until it hurt and urged that the sum placed on the side to the credit of the city be large and creditable.”
At 8 p.m. people began going through the train, and at 11 p.m. when the Star was busy preparing for printing, as the offices and press were then found on Broad Street, it was noted that people were still heading down to the railroad station from Main Street, wanting to see the war relics.
“With the train were two of Pershing’s men sent home to convalesce, two members of the famous French Foreign Legion and two Canadians, all of whom have been wounded,” the Star reported the next morning. “These and the four sailors from Uncle Sam’s navy attracted equal attention with the relics. They spoke to the crowd during the soliciting and went out among the throng. One of the Frenchman sang the Marseillaise and later in the evening they accompanied the speakers on visits to the two theatres, where both spoke to the satisfaction of the patrons, making stirring appeals at both places. The veterans also mingled with the throng on the coaches, explaining the articles and relating interesting experiences.”
As of the printing deadline, the Star said that 172 subscribers had bought more than $70,000 worth of bonds that evening, bringing the city’s total to nearly $424,000. The bond campaign still had about two weeks left to reach its goal.
It had been a busy day for the train entourage. It had departed from Delanson at 7 a.m., and made scheduled stops in Central Bridge, Cobleskill and Worcester and an unscheduled stop in Schenevus, with all communities well represented by onlookers and bond purchasers.
The War Trophies Train left Oneonta on Wednesday morning, set to stop in Sidney and Binghamton, and then switch railroads to the D. L. & W. line, going to Marathon and Homer for stops later in the day.
On Monday: Staying with a railroad theme, the D&H was operated by a Cooperstown-based company for a short time in the late 1980s.
City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.