2016-02-24 / In This Place / Columns

In This Place: February 24, 2016

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February Flotsam
by Trish Adams

Here are some items that drifted “downstream” as I was making my way through these late winter days decades ago. Don’t worry, I am not going to rub our noses too much in good snow years; like you, I think this ubermild winter is nothing to dwell on. Just remember, it can really snow in March! Prohibition had not even begun when this tragedy occurred, but it does frankly give us reason to be grateful that modern alcohol, like all “legal” recreational drugs, is at least regulated in terms of its quality. Now if mankind could collectively get its other “side effects” under control.

February 24, 1911

Fatal ending of a family Drunken spree at Horton’s Switch Sunday Those who drank the poison were first stricken blind

Two quarts of wood alcohol caused the death of three persons at Horton’s Switch, a small town 10 miles east of East Branch on the O. & W. railroad, early in the week and two more deaths are hourly expected an a result of the debauch that commenced Sunday afternoon at the home of Thomas Kelly.

James Kelly went to Parksville Saturday and brought home with him two quarts of liquid supposed to be either grain alcohol or whiskey. He had promised his friends at Horton’s a Sunday drinking bout when he returned and took the poison to the home of Thomas Kelly, where Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Kelly, Mr. and Mrs. James Kelly, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Harvey and some others whose names could not be learned were gathered. The entire party indulged in the poison, it having been made into the form of a hot “sling.” They had taken two or three drinks when the entire company were taken violently ill and were also stricken blind, this affliction being a condition prevalent with those who drink wood alcohol.

James Kelly died in great agony at 5 a. m. Sunday. Thomas Kelly died at 3:30 o’clock Tuesday morning and Harvey died at 10:00 o’clock the same morning. The others who participated in the drinking are still ill and there is said to be no hope for Mrs. Harvey and another man whose name could not be learned.

Coroner Johnson of East Branch was called at once and he together with District Attorney Raymond and Sheriff Austin have been on the scene a large part of the time since investigating the deaths.

It is said that as a result of the deliberations of the coroner’s investigation that he has found that the liquid purchased contains 85 per cent of grain alcohol, 15 per cent of wood alcohol and enough peppermint to flavor the mixture.

Those who drank the dope and who are not dead, are still blind and are suffering great agony. It is very possible that all who had a taste of the stuff will be dead by the time that the News reaches its readers. It has been hard to get a story of the affair. A man well known in that section told. a News representative yesterday that there were some ugly rumors afloat that “the poison was not wood alcohol but that it was some kind of poison, somewhat similar, and that the people mentioned above had been purposely poisoned by some of their enemies. The officers investigating the affair have not yet given out any statement and the result of the coroner’s verdict will be awaited with considerable interest.

A special report to the New York Sun from Monticello: As a result of drinking wood alcohol four persons are dead and one woman is dying. The dead are James Kelly, 56 years old; Thomas Kelly, 38; Mrs. Thomas Kelly, 31, and Thomas Harvey, 40. Mrs. Thomas Harvey is reported to be dying. James Kelly and his daughter, Mrs. Harvey, visited Patrick Kelly, a brother of James Kelly, at Colley, Sullivan county, over Sunday and Monday. While returning home on Monday they stopped at Clarksville and, it is alleged, purchased what they supposed was grain alcohol from a druggist.

The alcohol was produced on Tuesday at the home of Thomas Kelly. It was freely indulged in by the four dead persons, but Mrs. Harvey drank very little of it. The entire quintet was suddenly taken violently ill. Not- withstanding that Mrs. Harvey had taken only a small quantity of the poison she was unable to go for assistance.

The Kelly home is in an isolated part of Sullivan county and the nearest neighbors are two miles distant. Late Tuesday afternoon some of the neighbors called and found the four dead members of the Kelly family. Physicians were summoned with all haste to attend Mrs. Harvey. Her condition is very serious and there is little hope expressed that she will survive. The contents of the both were examined and showed that they had consisted of wood alcohol adulterated with water and flavored with peppermint. There was no label on the bottle. The druggist will probably be arrested, but Mrs. Harvey, the only living witness of the purchase, is in such a precarious state that she is unable to give any testimony. A special report to the Kingston Freeman included this: The Kellys are well known in this section having lived for some years on what is known as the old Kelly farm or the Swart & Hitt farm on the Mill Brook stream. They went from there to Horton’s Switch. They were very poor people and illiterate but always bore a good reputation as far as honesty was concerned, their great vice being drink. Here’s a little winter joy, largely focused on Phoenicia which has long since given up its ski slope.

February 21, 1936

Winter Sports Bring Thousands To the Mountains Every Hill a Practice Slope and Skiers are Learning Very Rapidly

Traffic was very heavy last Sunday on all roads leading to Phoenicia, which is fast becoming widely known about the state as the winter sports capital of the Catskills. It is estimated that ful- ly 2500 people came to that place by auto on Sunday and the snow train on the New York Central brought in about 500 more from New York City and its environs. In addition about 150 came into the place on Friday night for the weekend.

A drive through the Catskills on Sunday would convince anyone that the skiing has come into its own as a winter sport. Every slope appears marked by ski tracks and the better ones are dotted by men and women, boys and girls, all more or less proficient in the art.The prospects are very bright for an influx of visitors in another winter that will rival the crowds that come to the Catskills in the summer.

Toboggan Race at Woodstock

The first competitive winter sports event to be held in the Catskills was the toboggan race at Woodstock on Sunday afternoon. Sponsors of the event hoped to get at least five teams in the field but when the time for the race arrived eighteen teams were lined up for the event. The race was won by a team from Woodstock which made the measured half mile run in 23 seconds. Further races are being planned for the coming weekend. There are histories of milk strikes that I will try to cover in a column one day, but here is a different kind of strike, led by the men who do the arduous work of the creameries. Their daring and courage has, one hopes, made working in the creameries more sustainable for upstate workers in later decades.

February 21, 1941

Hamden Men Join Union and Stage Three-Day Strike Creamery Employes Demand ‘Better Working Conditions’ First Strike of Its Kind Ever in Delaware County

A three-day strike “for better working conditions and union recognition” at the Ferndale Farms, Inc., plant at Hamden appeared ended Wednesday, but there were conflicting reports from Erwin Kotcher, president of the company and the representatives of the union as to what, if any, agreement had been reached.

In the strike, the first of its kind in Delaware county, eleven of thirteen employees of the Hamden plant walked out Wednesday morning with the announcement that they would not return to work until their union had been recognized and certain working conditions had been bettered. The union is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor.

Pickets, bearing placards accusing the firm at being unfair to union labor, trudged back and forth before the plant all day Monday, undeterred by the cold and spitting snow. There was no disorder nor attempt to stop the two men and plant manager from going to work. These three put in a hard day. In the receiving room they had to handle the milk that six men ordinarily take in.

The strike was the first in this area where employees organized, demanded union recognition and higher wages, and took steps to force an agreement. It was intimated that the Hamden affair may be just a beginning.

Ralph Newton of Poughkeepsie, president of Hamden local, declared that all of the several Ferndale plants will be similarly affected. That others, too, may follow suit, was suggested that from now on “there will be strikes all up and down the valley.”

On Wednesday, Waldo E. Doughty, district business agent for local International brotherhood of Teamsters, Warehousemen and Helpers, came out of a conference with Erwin Kotcher, Ferndale president, with the announcement that the eleven strikers would return to work Thursday morning, or before if they could be notified in time. He said that Kotcher had agreed to a minimum wage of $24.50 for a six-day, eight-hour-per-day week and that all of the strikers would be taken back, including one man who had been discharged Friday.

Kotcher declared that the working conditions asked by the union had been observed at his Hamden plant since some date “within the past 30 days.”

Ralph Newton, Poughkeepsie, president of the local, said that such claims were “ridiculous.” “Everybody in Hamden knows how many hours those men have been working” he said. “He’s just sticking his neck out.”

Newton and Doughty said that no agreement or contract with Kotcher had been reduced to writing but that Ferndale would in the future hire union men and abide by the $24.50 minimum wage which, the union spokes- man said, was the absolute minimum which they would accept. Kotcher insisted that conditions at the plant would remain unchanged. According to him, the union had demanded nothing that he had not already been giving his employees. Strikers, however, declared that they had been working seven days a week and up to 12 hours per day.

February 24, 1966

Snow Sculpturing Contest Lacked Snow

The Central Catskills association snow sculpturing contest was knocked out for the second successive year by a lack of the basic raw material. There was not enough snow in the area to en courage any entries. When the contest was planned more than a month ago, two week end storms in a row had deposited more than a foot of snow on the central Catskills. However, one warm, wet and windy weekend quickly eliminated this, and there has not been sufficient fall since then. Find your own winter wonderland in our archives at: nyshistoricnewspapers.org/middletown.

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