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December 1, 2012

South Kortright woman threw a heck of a party in 1940

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The Daily Star

---- — “This little hamlet of South Kortright Saturday night was the scene of a party such as Delaware county had never seen before,” reported The Oneonta Star of Monday, Sept. 23, 1940.

“Undaunted by ever threatening skies which often opened up and unleashed heavy showers of rain, 6,000 men and women and children jammed the grounds of Mrs. Alice T. McLean’s estate and consumed quantities of food which will be talked about in that area as long as any of those who attended it remain alive.”

Something tells me there are still a few around today who recall this grand event. They were pretty young in 1940 and probably got their very first taste of barbecued food. I’d sure enjoy hearing stories about it. This party was documented by photographer Bob Wyer, who did some work for the Star at the time. These and many other photos by Wyer are on display, now through Jan. 31, 2013, at the Delaware County Historical Association museum, on state Route 10, just north of Delhi.

This barbecue was believed to be the first of any appreciable size in this area, and was given by Mrs. McLean as a public relations function for the American Women’s Volunteer Services Inc., a philanthropic organization for which she was the director.

What drew the incredible numbers was the fact that the party was free. No collection was taken, much to the amazement of some skeptics. People came from a radius of nearly 50 miles. They were farmers, bankers, judges, doctors, lawyers, WPA workers and others. As described by the Star it was, “A more heterogeneous group…never assembled.”

Mrs. McLean had put Lawrence L. Walker of Hobart in charge of this big party, which logistically went on without a problem. David Parker of Morris, called an “experienced barbecue man,” oversaw the cooking for the meals served. The Star reported that he took the job reluctantly and after a lot of coaxing because he had never attempted anything of such magnitude.

Parker had begun his enormous task on Thursday. He started with 1,600 pounds of beef, placed in a tremendous baking pan. A big canopy over it kept the steam in, which liquefied and constantly basted the meat. Parker watched over the massive cooker until the party was over, “catching occasional cat naps in the open.”

When Saturday arrived, Parker declared that the meat was ready to serve at 4:45 p.m. He had brought in area butchers to carve the meat, including Joseph Ross of Oneonta, Don Colliton of Laurens and LeRoy Van Housen of Otego. They lopped off huge chunks of meat and sliced them to proper sizes. A corps of 12 professional waitresses made up thick sandwiches. Plates were then served with stuffing, pickles and potato chips. Soft drinks and ice cream were dispensed at other stands on the grounds.

By the end of the evening, in addition to the 1,600 pounds of barbecued beef, guests also consumed one barrel of relish, 6,000 rolls, 120 loaves of bread that went into the stuffing, 200 pounds of potato chips, 12,000 pickles, 250 24-bottle cases of soft drink, and 5,000 half-pint packs of ice cream.

“Nary a crumb nor a drop was left when the last guest departed early Sunday morning,” according to the Star.

Visitors to the McLean grounds enjoyed the sights, including the fine horses and the lake on the upper level. There was plenty more to do than feast on barbecued beef. A concert program and dancing were provided by a seven-piece band, directed by Joe Goldin. A movie show was given a few times. Later in the evening, there was a fireworks show that lasted for about an hour.

To promote the AWVS, Mrs. McLean invited several speakers to address the crowd. Many who attended the day had done some philanthropic work with the AWVS since it had been formed a year earlier, and this party aimed to generate more interest and volunteer work in the cause. The AWVS promoted democracy at a time before the U.S. entered World War II, at the same time some Axis power nations were working to subdue democracy.

In summing it up, The Stamford Mirror-Recorder said, “The courtesy shown by Mrs. McLean will undoubtedly result in increased and sympathetic interest in the cause she represents.”

On Monday: A group emerged in the early 1980s to preserve our local railroad history.

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.