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Columns

August 18, 2012

‘Mr. Dollar,’ other characters populated 1937 Oneonta

An Oneontan who worked for Guglielmo Marconi thought the inventor was crazy. Shoppers recalled their panic by what they once saw up on the town clock. The search was on for Mr. Dollar and Jack the parrot was a sight to see and hear. These were some of the amusing items going on in Oneonta in August 1937.

• “The recent death of Guglielmo Marconi revived for William J. Williams of 4 King street memories of days when he worked on the equipment for the first wireless and thought the ‘father of radio’ a little crazy,” it was reported in The Oneonta Star of Wednesday, Aug. 4. Marconi had passed on July 20.

Williams was a blacksmith in a shipyard in Hayle-Cornwall, England, when his employers contracted for the job of making the wireless equipment for Marconi.

The men on the job knew nothing about how the equipment was to be used or for what, as they just worked from the blueprints. The rumors soon circulated that the equipment was to be made for a man who wanted to send a message without wires. This was in the mid- to late 1890s.

“We thought he must be a bit ‘cracked,’” Mr. Williams commented in 1937. In 1901 the equipment made at Hayle-Cornwall was used to transmit a message from Newfoundland to England, an experiment.

Williams came to America in 1903 and moved to Oneonta in 1909. He was employed as a janitor at the Citizens National Bank and Trust Co., then found where 189 Main St. is today.

• Walter E. Dunbar had won the contract to renovate and paint the town clock on Main Street, which was then found atop the Westcott Block, now a parking lot between the Ruffino Mall and 242 Main St.

The task brought up memories of the same work done about 15 years earlier by another, unnamed contractor. At that time, shoppers along Main Street were horrified when they saw a painter fall asleep, with the potential to fall four stories below.

“It seems that he had been out the night before imbibing of the cup that cheers,” the Star reported on Aug. 20, “and after going to work on the upper cupola, drowsed away in the hot sun. He had mounted to his perch on a ladder which had been removed to be used by other painters on another portion of the building.”

“The good fortune that protects children and others … smiled on him, as he drowsed off he leaned forward against the shingles, instead of backward. Fearful that if they shouted to awaken him he might come to with a start and plunge to his death, fellow workmen hastily returned the ladder and quietly mounted to his side.”

The 1937 clock renovations were completed without incident.

• The Great Depression was still having its effects in 1937, so merchants in downtown Oneonta created an incentive to get shoppers into their stores. If you spotted Mr. Dollar during Dollar Days on Aug. 20-21, you could win a dollar. There was a little work involved, however.

“He was spotted by 29 persons who complied with the contest rules and received orders for $1, which were paid by the Chamber of Commerce.” You had to be there between 10 and 11 a.m. Friday, as Mr. Dollar would be out window shopping.

To be eligible to win, you needed to clip a Dollar Day advertisement out of the Star and have it with you. Plus you had to use these exact words when you spotted Mr. Dollar: “You are Mr. Dollar, and here is my copy of an Oneonta merchant’s Dollar Day ad.”

“Although strong buying was reported yesterday,” according to the Star of Aug. 21, “stocks of special Dollar Day values remain comprehensive and many opportunities remain for shoppers here today.”

• “Jack, the parrot, rides in style since he has acquired accommodations for motoring,” it was reported on Monday, Aug. 30.

“The bird sits haughtily on a long perch constructed inside an oblong wire cage as he accompanies Mr. and Mrs. Robert Ireland of 5 Walling avenue in their car.” It was built by a friend of the family.

“He sits quietly on his perch surveying the scenery with a superior air. Only when a stranger stops by the car to speak with his master or mistress does he make any disturbance. At those times he scolds in a loud voice at the intruder. His voice is much louder and more irritated in tone if the person happens to be a woman for Jack is known to his friends as ‘a woman hater.’”

On Monday: Local life and times in August 1987.

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. Write to him at The Daily Star, or e-mail 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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