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May 3, 2014

Tank Day attracted thousands in Oneonta in 1919

The Walling Heights area of Oneonta, near today’s Wilber Park, has been my neighborhood since early childhood, except for the 16 years I was on the “out of town” portion of the career.

My imagination certainly got a workout when I recently read how, on April 30, 1919, some army tanks rolled through my neighborhood, converging on what was then a nearly new city park.

The well-attended event was Tank Day in Oneonta, part of a promotion for the Victory Liberty Loan sales going on near the conclusion of World War I.

A battalion of soldiers in charge of Whippet tanks toured through our region, including Edmeston, Richfield Springs, Cherry Valley, Cooperstown and Milford, before arriving in Oneonta late on Tuesday, April 29.

The Oneonta Star reported on April 29 that these tanks were used in France with great success against the German machine guns.

“The Germans boasted (and not vainly) of their deadly machine guns.” It was these tanks that destroyed the enemy’s best weapons.

The Star said on April 30 that the tanks had arrived the evening before and were “placed for the night in the Wilson hotel yards.” The Wilson Hotel was once found on the site of the municipal parking garage, at the corner of Market Street and Chestnut Street Extension.

The day’s festivities began as, “The parade will form at 11:30 o’clock sharp at the corner of Main and Market streets and proceed along Main street to Draper and thence to Wilber park, where there will be a short address by Mayor Ceperley and speeches by Manager O’Brien and Lieut. Conlin, after which the tanks will be put through their courses and will doubtless climb the sharp bluff at the park and do various stunts for the entertainment of the crowds,” according to the Star.

Those hours of 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. were observed as a holiday in the city, as many shops and businesses closed, so as many as possible could witness the parade and events at Wilber Park. Parade honors were given to the Delaware & Hudson Railway employees, who turned out the largest number of people to march in the parade.

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