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May 3, 2014

Tank Day attracted thousands in Oneonta in 1919

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The Daily Star

---- — 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.

As the Star reported on Thursday, May 1, “The line of the march to the grounds was lined with people who evidenced keen interest in the tanks and applauded their favorite organization as it passed. Flags and bunting adorned the front of stores and business places and many of the paraders carried flags, the Normal students having several large ones at the head of each designation.

“Arriving at the grounds the paraders entered at Draper street to the plateau, the throng gathering upon the slope of the bluff while the tanks, bands and the speakers passed to the lower level at the head of Walling avenue and took position in the natural amphitheatre formed by the bluff.”

During the events at the park, local citizens contributed $30,500 to the Victory Liberty Loan. The rest of the city had previously been canvassed, and while that figure wasn’t given the Star said, “the quota had been oversubscribed.”

“The day was a delightful one, and while the visit of the tanks to various other places hereabouts precluded many visitors from outside, townsfolk turned out in large numbers, and the prophecy that apathy would be shown now that the war is assumed to be over, proved incorrect, the attendance being estimated at fully 5,000, with thousands of others along Main street to witness the parade though not visiting the grounds.”

From Oneonta the tank tour moved on to Otego and Unadilla in the next few days.

On Monday: An unforgettable fire in Worcester.

Oneonta 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.