With the 2012 Summer Olympic Games set to begin in London later this week, excitement will be varied, depending on the sport or a specific athlete.
Sixty years ago, following and supporting the summer games were at a fever pitch, for a different reason. For the U.S., it was to beat "Communist Russians" at all costs. The biggest contest at stake wasn't so much the athletics as it was for bragging rights. Oneonta and our region joined in the national effort to try to make sure the U.S. held on to those rights.
"For just a dime," it was reported in the June 12, 1952, Oneonta Star, "anyone in Otsego and Delaware Counties can join in defeating Communist Russia's propaganda war against the United States." Russia and other Iron Curtain nations planned to enter the Olympics for the first time that summer with government-subsidized athletes, with intent to win and to be able to "shout of Soviet superiority over capitalistic weakness."
The U.S., on the other hand, had no government support and an $850,000 tab to send its athletes to Helsinki, Finland.
As of mid-June, about $490,000 still had to be raised, so a national Olympic Fund was established.
Bob Hope and Bing Crosby put on a 14-hour marathon show on the newly growing medium of television, to raise funds. Local efforts began as well. A dime was suggested per person, but any amount was acceptable.
Oneonta Mayor Roger Hughes urged city residents to donate, saying, "If we can contribute enough to send our athletes to Finland, we will have shown the rest of the world that our way of life works."
The Varsity Club of Sidney Central School was the first in this area to donate to the Olympic Fund. The club raised $5 after W. Edwin Long of the Oneonta High School Athletic Department spoke at the annual dinner.
The topic was the Olympics and deterring any Soviet victory into propaganda.
"It was a fast and wonderful response," Long said of the collection.
The Oneonta Star and WDOS radio were owned by the same company at the time, and coordinated the fund drive. One could send in or bring a dime to "the Olympic Editor of the Star" until June 20. Local schools pooled their dimes and brought them to the newspaper offices. Businesses, such as Bresee's Department Store, made the donations easier, as shoppers could drop their coins into a repository in front of the store. It was reported to be a large plastic airplane turret, placed outside the entrance.
Each day, the Star listed those who sent in donations. Interesting stories emerged from some of the donations. One came from Ora Curtis Cloughen of Gilbertsville, dating back to the 1908 London games. The man she would later marry, Robert Cloughen, was picked as a sprinter for the U.S. Olympic team to go the games. Cloughen almost didn't make it.
"Bob simply did not have the money to make the trip," Mrs. Cloughen said, and "was almost ready to give up, but a few days before sailing date -- it happened! Someone had kicked in with money at the last minute."
Mrs. Cloughen donated $5, as she felt it was so important for the U.S. athletes to get to Helsinki.
While young Bob Cloughen didn't win any Olympic laurels in 1908, he placed a close second to a Canadian in a 200-meter sprint.
The Star-sponsored Olympic Fund raised $219.50, with more than $98 of it coming from that plane turret in front of Bresee's. The Bob Hope-Bing Crosby telethon put the fund well over the top, raising more than $1 million. The 1952 games began Saturday, July 19.
As for the U.S. vs. Soviet Union bragging rights, the U.S. won in total medals, by a 76-71 tally.
The U.S. dominated the Soviets in gold medals, 40-22.
This weekend: Oneonta's Company G got ready to go to war in August 1917.
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 e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.