There’s nothing more satisfying to this historian than solving a mystery of local interest. Some are pretty easy, but then there are those that can go on for years. I mentally tuck some cases away now and then, and when I least expect it, a clue surfaces.
Jo Ann Kaufman of Delhi wrote to me in 2007, asking if I had ever heard of the Arabian Knights acrobatic team that originated in Oneonta. Her father, Richard E. Cole, was on that team and she even sent a photo. I told Jo Ann I hadn’t, but said I’d keep an eye out as I do my research for these columns. I spend many hours each year looking through old newspapers on microfilm, and I never know what I might come across at anytime.
Finally in 2011, I came across a first clue. It came from The Oneonta Star of Wednesday, April 15, 1936. At first they were called “Knights of Arabia,” and they performed in a minstrel show for the Oneonta post of the American Legion the night before.
“Diving, pyramid building and tumbling made up the acrobatic exhibition, which was directed by Harry Denmark of the local Y.M.C.A. staff,” the paper reported.
Several more clues came quickly. About a week later, the Arabian Knights performed for a father-son banquet held in the social hall of the United Presbyterian Church of Oneonta.
As I continued to look through 1936, I found more and more performances, and they were being booked in places outside of Oneonta.
By 1937 the Arabian Knights were competing in contests and performing before large audiences. The Knights won $10 at an amateur contest at the former Capitol Theatre in Binghamton on Monday, March 8. There were 10 acts and there were about 2,500 in the audience.
This continued well into 1938, and the prize money accumulated to the point where they could celebrate their successes.