Step Back in Time features community news from The Daily Star 25 and 50 years ago.

50 years ago

July 8, 1961

Suppose ... just suppose you were a mail clerk and were handling a small box when all at once you heard a fast clicking sound followed by a whirring, whirring noise.

What would you do? Probably run, not walk, to the nearest exit.

Well, here's what local postal and police officials did when a mystery box with a mystery noise was discovered in the Oneonta post office.

It all began when Chauncey House Jr. was dumping a load of parcel post from a huge canvas sack. He heard a clicking, whirring noise coming from a mail package the size and shape of a shoe box. Gently he isolated the box and placed it on the platform in the rear of the post office.

He called the superintendent of the mails. When Clarence Dunne arrived on the scene, he also heard the noise.

He called the postmaster. When Samuel J. Bertuzzi reached the platform, he also heard the noise.

What seemed incongruous was that the whirring noise would come from a box marked "leather goods."

Bertuzzi asked that the police be called. Sgt. Howard Canfield, Oneonta plainclothesman, quickly arrived on the scene. He also heard the mystery noise.

Not one person in the whole post office uttered the word "bomb."

But it was on everyone's mind, Mr. Bertuzzi said, a noise like this coming from a "leather goods" package is enough to make anyone suspicious.

Canfield quickly grabbled several huge canvas mail sacks and covered the mystery package. He bent down gently, put his ear to the mountain of canvas and said, "You can still hear it."

Now legally the package could have been opened then and there. But there were no volunteers.

As a matter of fact, the package hadn't even been moved since it was placed on the platform.

Anyone knows ... anyone who watches television that is _ that a bomb can be triggered when the package is opened.

Bertuzzi and Canfield got busy on the phones.

It was Canfield's job to check out the Delhi man to whom the package was addressed.

After two phone calls the conversation went something like this:

Canfield: Do you expect a package in the mail today?

Delhi Man: Nope.

Canfield: Well, there's a package in the Oneonta post office for you. Are you sure you don't expect a package?

Delhi Man: No, I don't expect any. Wait a minute, my birthday is near and I always get a gift from my mother-in-law. Maybe it's a birthday gift. What's in it?

Canfield: How do you get along with your mother-in-law?

Delhi Man: Fine ... why do you ask?

In the meantime, Mr. Bertuzzi was checking with the leather goods supplier in Utica, origin of the package.

After checking and rechecking, the store's answer was "We don't know for sure but we think it's a battery-operated starter for a barbecue pit."

This was still not enough explanation of the noisy box that was still whirring.

A check with the Delhi man's in-laws finally cleared up the matter.

"Yes, that's what it is _ the battery-operated barbecue starter."

And everyone began to breathe easier. And the package was sent to Delhi.

And the Delhi man can have his barbecue starter ... providing the battery is not worn out.

So this is the story of a "bomb scare" when not one person mentioned the word "bomb."

25 years ago

July 8, 1986

Carl Miller participated in the Liberty Weekend celebration without ever leaving his home on West Broadway in Oneonta.

When 14 of his 50 racing pigeons were released with thousands of others from Ellis Island in New York City on Saturday, he was with them in spirit as they made their flight back to Oneonta.

As he watched the release of the pigeons on his television set at home, he said he felt a thrill knowing that 14 of those pigeons were his.

"I was happy and elated that I could do my part in celebrating the centennial of the Statue of Liberty," he said.

The Liberty Weekend Committee invited pigeon racers within a radius of 100 to 300 miles to send enough pigeons so they would have 5,000 to release into the sky for the reopening ceremony for the Statue of Liberty. Miller's pigeons were trucked down to New York City and were ferried out to Ellis Island.

But things did not go as Miller had planned. He said he had expected his pigeons to return home between 1 and 2 p.m. that day.

His first pigeon made its appearance at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday night. Seven more showed up on Sunday morning. And when he came home from work on Monday, he found another one resting on the landing outside of his pigeon coop.

As each of his pigeons returns, Miller takes a band of paper off its leg. The band is then put into a timing box, and the turn of a handle registers the time of its arrival.

"I was not impressed at all with their performances and times," he said. "My neighbor down the street, Ed Keeley, fared better. He sent four pigeons down to the city and one returned 3:30 Saturday afternoon. But I don't know if the others returned."

Miller, who along with Keeley, is a member of the Unadilla Valley Club, a pigeon racing group, said a number of factors could have been involved in his pigeons' late returns and no shows.

"The heat probably was a problem for them," he said. "It was extremely humid over the weekend. Secondly, my pigeons had never flown a course similar to the one from New York City. They are used to being trucked out to Ohio and flying back to Oneonta. On Saturday they had to fly northwest to get home.

"The third possibility could be that, because there were so many pigeons, they could have flown to another destination with some of the other pigeons."

Miller's pigeons competed against those belonging to members in the Unadilla Valley Club. He said he should know the race results on Wednesday.

Eight trophies will be furnished by the Liberty Weekend Committee for the 100-200 and 200-300 mile winners, and one trophy for the best overall speed.

Trending Video

Recommended for you