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Columns

June 23, 2012

Oneonta became convention central for two weeks in June 1922

One doesn't really think of Oneonta as a business convention destination in the 21st century, but given the many nice surprises we keep hearing about from Foothills Performing Arts and Civic Center, one never knows what may be brought to this city in the future.

Oneonta was indeed a convention center in June 1922. First it was the electricians and then the undertakers in back-to-back weeks.

According to The Oneonta Star of Monday, June 12, "With many delegates and their wives already in the city and scores of others arriving this morning, a record attendance is expected at the sessions of the fifth annual convention of the New York State Association of Electrical Contractors and Dealers which opens in this city today. Elaborate plans have been made by the local committee for the event and many features of interest planned for the instruction and entertainment of the several hundred men and women who will come to Oneonta from all parts of the state.

"This morning the ladies of the party will be taken on an auto trip about the city and will be entertained at luncheon at the Country club. The convention session will start at Municipal hall (today's 242 Main St.) at 1:30 p.m. with the address of welcome by Mayor C.C. Miller, a member of the executive committee of the state association."

There were business meetings during the afternoon, but by 4 p.m. they adjourned to take in a baseball game at Neahwa Park field, followed by a dinner and dance at the Elks lodge, found where 99 Main St. is today.

The Tuesday morning business session was supposed to be pretty high-tech for its time. I can't tell you the number of times I've been present for a modern-day PowerPoint presentation at a meeting when something goes wrong. For the Association of Electrical Contractors and Dealers, they were set to be addressed by a radio broadcast from New Jersey. However, as the Star reported, "Old Man Static and other imps of the air were too much in evidence," and the company that installed the radio saved the day by reading a copy of the address the audience was supposed to hear, from far away.

After other business meetings, the convention wrapped up at noon, and the members then took an automobile trip to Three Mile Point on Otsego Lake for a clambake and afternoon of leisure.

Only days after the electricians left, Oneonta was ready by Tuesday, June 20, for the 43rd annual convention of the New York State Undertakers' Association. More than 200 undertakers and their wives attended. The Oneonta Hotel served as the convention headquarters, with business sessions held at what was then the New York State Armory. Some were open to the public.

"Seventeen exhibits of caskets, vaults and undertakers' supplies will be displayed at the State Armory … by as many companies who have reserved exhibit space from the Chamber of Commerce committee. Included in the exhibit will be the most expensive casket ever displayed in the United States. The citizens of Oneonta are invited to see these exhibits during the convention sessions."

I.J. Bookhout was the chairman of the committee on arrangements and was in charge of the programs. Herbert A. Lewis and Samuel R. Dibble was in charge of entertainment, and Ralph S. Wyckoff took care of decorations.

The nonbusiness agenda was quite similar to the electrician's convention, such as the baseball game, banquet at the Elks' lodge and an open house at the Country Club. During the banquet, attendees were shown a motion picture, "Making California Redwood Caskets." A dance at the Armory followed. An afternoon automobile trip to Cooperstown was also part of the three-day event.

On Monday: A longtime major Norwich employer pulled up stakes in 1992.

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 simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.

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