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April 21, 2014

A historian's mailbag reflects, corrects recent columns

The Daily Star

---- — It seems like an eternity since I last reached into the historian’s “mailbag” to share some correspondence. The “bag” of today can include electronic mail, or just someone stopping to chat with me in the supermarket or places I may be speaking to groups. But I’ll reiterate what my fellow columnist Big Chuck said recently, “Keep those cards and letters coming.”

First, there are some errors to correct and clarifications to be made.

I was incorrect in December when I was explaining part of the history of Oneonta’s foreign exchange student program, saying that only the Oneonta Rotary Club today sponsors the program at Oneonta High School. Suzanne Neary from AFS-USA wrote to tell me that one AFS exchange student from Germany is currently at OHS. AFS-USA is an annual supporter of the program, in addition to Rotary. AFS sponsored the first exchange student here in 1959, and Rotary got involved later.

Town of Otsego Historian Tom Heitz pointed out to me that a column I had written last fall about the Clark Sports Center needed some clarifications. While the Clark family’s Iroquois Mansion on lower Susquehanna Avenue in Cooperstown was razed in 1983 to make way for what was then called the Alfred Corning Clark Gymnasium, it is true the original plans called for the gymnasium to be built on that site.

However, Heitz said the plans changed “when unfavorable subsoil and hydrology problems came to light. The proximity of the deer park was another consideration.” The decision was then made to build today’s Clark Sport Center on the present site across the street.

Now, some reflections from column readers.

Around Christmas time in 2013, I wrote about the annual tradition of a holiday model train layout at the Lucker residence in Bainbridge. I had wondered if the children of Ed and Jean Lucker had passed on the tradition with their families, after leaving Bainbridge.

Now in Virginia, I was pleased to hear from Nancy Lucker Bargher, who said she and her brother’s families have kept all the trains their father had, and that the tradition is alive and well.

Early in 2013, I had written a column about a popular Oneonta acrobatic team in the late 1930s called “The Arabian Knights.” Cindy Eckert, the daughter of one of the acrobats, Lester Eckert, wrote to say she had connected with Jo Ann Kaufman, daughter of another Arabian Knight member, Richard E. Cole, and shared how their fathers were great friends while on the team and at Oneonta High School.

“I had heard that my father had run away from home with the Circus to be an acrobat,” Eckert wrote. “Now I knew why. He really liked being on stage, being an acrobat. And my mother said that he said he liked the sound of applauding, it would bring back ‘that’ feeling. That it never left him.”

Lastly, I heard from Fred Lewis of Oneonta, after he read about the column in February about the Citizens’ Military Training Camps that were popular during summer months of the 1930s. Lewis, now 91, said he attended the final year the CMTC was in existence in 1940 when he was 17, and the experience took him to the Plattsburgh army base. He recalled about 28 other boys from Otsego County went that summer.

“I went from the eighth of July until the eighth of August,” Lewis said recently. “They told us in addition to normal clothes to bring a heavy sweater, which seemed strange at first but even at that time of year, it gets cool there by the lake at night.

“As far as military courtesy and training, I learned more there than I did in three years in the Army. It was quite an experience,” Lewis said.

Fred Lewis soon went on to serve his country with the Army in Europe from December 1942 until December 1945. He was with a railway operating battalion.

This weekend: The Oneonta business beat during the spring of 1914.

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 His website is His columns can be found at