By JIM KEVLIN • Special To AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA — A quarter-century after Otsego County’s department store closed, the Magic of Christmas is still the Magic of Bresee’s.
Four of Bresee’s automatic elves plus two does – one ironing, the other mending Santa’s cap – are on display behind the Oneonta History Center’s plate-glass windows through Monday, Dec. 9, and “it’s been great,” said Bob Brzozowski, Greater Oneonta Historical Society executive director.
“You see people stopping, or doing a double-take,” said Brzozowski.
Bresee’s magic is wrapped up in community and family, said Marc Bresee, who worked in the store during its final days.
Bresee’s was open late one night a week – Thursday, he said – and the Christmas display was installed only a week or two before The Big Day, so Yuletide Thursdays would be particularly brisk, he said, with 700 meals served.
After supper, everybody – young and old alike – would trek upstairs to visit Santa Claus, surrounded by his mechanical entourage.
The department store, which opened in 1899, closed in 1994, although Marc Bresee continued to sell furniture in part of the building. The building changed hands in 2003, and on Dec. 11 of that year the contents, including the Santa paraphernalia, were auctioned off at Lettis’ Auction on the city’s east end.
It was the first auction after Kevin Herrick bought the business, and since it was such a significant – even historic – local event, auctioneer Jim Lettis, a former Oneonta mayor, wielded the gavel with the new owner’s concurrence.
Most notable, Herrick remembers, were the mechanical horse – feed it with a nickel, and get a ride; same thing with mechanical Rudolph. The giant Crayola crayon – sold! – and giant dice.
Of the total, 14-some mechanical elves and figurines were sold to a couple in the Town of Davenport, and in 2010 they donated their collection to St. James Manor, Executive Director Kathy Clarkson recalled the other day, as she helped a crew of five put up the History Center installation.
Later, Marc’s wife Elaine donated additional elves that had been in their garage. “I thought I would put them on the porch at Christmas,” the husband said. “But we never did.”
Another member of the crew was John Pontius, who happens to be both a St. James board member and GOHS incoming president, (succeeding Corinne Bresee Smith, Marc’s daughter.)
“It came to my mind lots of people would like to see them,” Pontius said, adding he had been introduced to the Bresee’s Christmas legacy when he and wife Andrea moved their family here from Waterloo in the early 1980s. Clarkson was raised in the Town of Davenport, and Bresee’s was part of her family’s holiday routine.
While the figures were being installed, who showed up but Kelly Rogers, a one-time intern at St. James, now with Catholic Charities, who had darned the elves costumes when she was there. She and Clarkson examined the figurines, which are wood frames enhanced with papier mache limbs.
The limbs are powered by electric gear motors, Model F, manufactured by Bevel, and are tough to find, said St. James Building & Grounds Superintendent Tom Hornbeck, who said they date from the 1930s or ’40s, when the Bresee’s display was put together.
To keep the little motors from overheating, Brzozowski said, they are only being run about 10 minutes per hour. “We want to make sure they will be around for other people to enjoy in years to come,” he said.
The conversation during the installation turned to where all the pieces might have ended up.
The History Center has the mechanical Santa, which was installed at 183 Main St. over the weekend, as well as the mailbox where kids would post their letters to the North Pole. They were brought out over the weekend to join the St. James’ group.
Carla Balnis has a mechanical skating rink.
For years, the popular Rudolph was in the hands of Greg Noonan, Cherry Valley, who said he sold it to a local Rudolph enthusiast who is building it a new saddle, and has added a cape.
Marc Bresee reflected that the department store installation, in these days of sophisticated video games, may not be as appealing to the young as the young at heart.
“It’s the older generation that remember them from the windows at Bresee’s,” he said.
See them while you can. The History Center display will be in place during the city’s Santa Parade at 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, followed by the community tree-lighting at 5:30 p.m. in Mueller Plaza.
The following Monday, the does and elves will be returned to St. James for residents there to enjoy through the rest of the season, and replaced by winners of the city’s annual gingerbread contest.
Hand-sewn quilts, sterling silver tea sets, maps, furniture and more were all up on the auction block at the 13th annual GOHS Auction held at the Quality Inn Friday evening. Above, Marcella Drago, left, and daughter-in-law Kathy Drago look over a Bible from 1847 that was part of the silent auction. At right, Grace Smith and Claire Smith show off some Hitchcock chairs to the crowd after the main auction got under way. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Fr. Kenneth Hunter welcomes viewers to the opening night of the Philo Vance film series at GOHS with a showing of “The Green Murder Case” from 1921. The film features William Powell (of ‘The Thin Man’ fame) during a turning point in his career, as Philo Vance. The film was also the first detective movie to feature audio dialogue as pictures moved away from the silent film era. Paul Jensen, right, a retired professor, was on hand to give a little background on Powell’s career before the start of the film. After reading an article in a Hometown Oneonta article about the local house owned by S.S. Van Dine, the creator of Philo Vance, Fr. Hunter felt inspired to create the film series to introduce more locals to this famous local author. The next film will be Tuesday, Oct 22, followed by third Oct 29.(Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Salvation Army Plans To Raze It,
But GOHS May Object To Plans
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Hidden behind a row of overgrown trees on River Street is a literary legacy.
As S.S. Van Dine, Willard Huntington Wright (1888-1939), wrote 12 novels starring dandy detective Philo Vance – and Bob Brzozowski, Greater Oneonta Historical Society executive director, believes that they were written here.
“We know his novel ‘The Man of Promise’ (196) was partially written in the cupola of 31 River Street,” said Brzozowski. “It’s set in Greenwood, which is based on Oneonta. H.L. Mencken called it ‘the Great American Novel’. We believe he wrote some of the Vance novels here as well.”
The heritage will remain, but the house, neglected for year, is about to succumb to the ravages of time.
The Salvation Army, whose local operation is growing, bought the property in March, first to build a parking lot, then expanding its building.
“We need more room,” said Maj. Sharon Harford, the veteran commander who is retiring at the end of May. “We want to expand our food pantry, and the city is looking to us to create a warming station for the homeless when the temperature drops.”
‘I’d Buy That
For A Dollar!’
Historical Advertising Focus
Of Newest GOHS Exhibit
Tom Heitz, local historian and volunteer at the Greater Oneonta Historical Society shows off some of the scores of historical advertisements on display at GOHS’s newest exhibit Oneonta Commercial Advertising: From the 1850’s to the New Millennium. The exhibit pulled from a collection of nearly 700 ads from the archives of the Oneonta Herald and other local papers from The Fenimore Art Museum microfilm collection. “We all sat down and went through them to pick out what we thought were the best ones.” said Heitz. The exhibit is presented in chronological order so trends in advertising can be seen through the decades. A reception will be held 2-4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2 at GOHS. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Wayne Wright, the Greater Oneonta Historical Society’s, shows off a two-lens stereoscopic camera that is featured in three panels from the “Oneonta Photographers, 1850-1900” he staged for GOHS during the fall now being installed in the City Hall lobby. The show features work from William Mereness, Perry Young and Howard N. Smith, who took some of the earliest images of Oneonta. At right, Wright shows Mayor Gary Herzig a stereoscope of the D&H rail yards. Stereoscopes, photographs, cameras and other ephemera will be on display through the end of March. (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
GOHS Honors Liz Morley
With The Hofbauer Award
HAPPENIN’ OTSEGO for WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 3
SHAKESPEARE – 7 p.m. Hartwick Theater Arts Department presents production of “Antigone” by American Shakespeare Center. Reservations required. Slade Theater, Yager Hall, Hartwick College, Oneonta. 607-431-4227 or visit www.hartwick.edu/news/hartwick-presents-american-shakespeare-centers-antigone/
FOOD FOR THOUGHT – 12:30 p.m. Lecture “Seen and Unseen: Photographs by Imogen Cunningham” with Kevin Gray, Manager of Arts Education & photographer. Cost, $30/non-member. Study Center, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown. 607-547-1400 or visit www.fenimoreartmuseum.org
HAPPENIN’ OTSEGO for FRIDAY, JUNE 29
CONCERT – 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. Return to swing music with the Small Town Big Band. Bring lawn chairs, blankets & a picnic and enjoy. Free, open to the public. South Lawn, Hyde Hall, 267 Glimmerglass State Park Rd., Cooperstown, NY. Call 607-547-5098 or visit hydehall.org/event/small-town-big-band-in-concert/
BENEFIT DINNER – 5 – 7 p.m. Enjoy fish fry dinner with coleslaw, french fries, cake, refreshments for $10. Proceeds benefit the Greater Oneonta Historical Society’s Building Fund Challenge. Oneonta Vets Club, 279 Chestnut St., Oneonta. Call 607-432-0960 or visit www.OneontaHistory.org