The Erie County Society for the Prevention and Cruelty to Animals

“Life is a thing of common use, by Heaven as well as to insects, as to monarch given.” – Quote found in the Erie County SPCA 1893 annual report, originally by Edmund Waller from the Maid’s Tragedy.

May is National Pet Month. To celebrate, delve into the early history of the Erie County SPCA.  The images below are from the organization’s annual reports 1883-1938.  The reports are available in the Grosvenor Room’s Buffalo Collection at the following call number: Buffalo HV4702 .E6. There are some gaps in the collection.

The Erie County SPCA was incorporated in 1888, though the roots of the society date back to 1867 when a Buffalo chapter of the SPCA was formed.  Work to prevent the cruelty to animals was particularly difficult in its fledgling years, especially for women.   Before the society was incorporated, there was a women’s branch of the ASPCA in Buffalo and in that time, it was seen as inappropriate for women to protest.  It was common belief during the Victorian Era that women belonged in the home, and some who acted on behalf of animal rights were harassed and threatened with violence.  Of course, men too were commonly threatened at this time when many were ignorant to the idea of animal rights.

Unsurprisingly, the first court case brought forth by the society was regarding the mistreatment of canal mules.  Mules were used to pull boats along the Erie Canal and often worked for six-hour shifts.  The mules in question were malnourished and driven while injured.  Happily, the verdict was in favor of the SPCA.  In the late 1800s and early 1900s, SPCA agents were appointed to watch over canal animals as well as those in stockyards.  Buffalo at that time was the second largest railroad center in the country; its livestock trade business was extensive because of the ease of animal transport.  Brave volunteers made arrests, ordered animals to be fed, took off painful collars and restraints, and removed animals from abusive or negligent caretakers.

The organization worked for pro-animal legislation and lobbied against animal dissection.  Volunteers educated local police on new animal laws, on proper animal handling, and police officers were made honorary members of the society.  Members talked to school children about respecting animals, essay contests on animal rights topics were sponsored, junior humane societies were formed, and local schools were given books on “kindness to animals.” Of course, the society had many other achievements, such as installing water fountains to encourage the watering of animals, building an animal shelter, and free veterinary clinics.

To read about the modern day programs and achievements of the Erie County SPCA, see the society’s website: https://www.yourspca.org/.

 Dogs on Roof     Dog Catchers

Auto Fleet       Dog in Car

Clinic Visit      Free Water for Horses

Horse Ambulance

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Major League Lefty in Buffalo Yearbook

Warren Spahn, the left-handed baseball pitcher, didn’t actually graduate from South Park High School when a career in sports intervened. The Cy Young Award winner, who played for 21 years in the National League and has the distinction of having been the left-handed pitcher to win the most games in his career (363), is shown here in the South Park Dial yearbook from 1939, just three years before his debut in the Major League.

Warren Spahn, South Park HS, Dial, 1939

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American Historian in Buffalo Yearbook

Richard Hofstadter was an American intellectual and historian twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his works, The Age of Reform (1956) and Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1964). Born in Buffalo in 1916, he attended the Fosdick-Masten Park High School. He died in 1970 of leukemia.

Hofstadter Graduation Photo, 1933

Hofstadter Graduation Photo, 1933

Fosdick-Masten Park HS Debate Club, 1933

Fosdick-Masten Park HS Debate Club, 1933

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From the Library Archives: Central Library Dedication, October 17, 1964

Library-1964-Ded-Photo

This week we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the dedication of our Central Library building. On October 17, 1964, the newly built 5-story Library, the anchor of the Buffalo & Erie County System, was formally opened by civic leaders, authors, educators, and a crowd of spectators.  Dedication events included concerts on the Library ramp by the U.B. Band and U.S. Army Band.

Dedication thing

Dedication Program, October 1964

At 375, 000 square feet, it was the largest public library built in the United States since WWII.  Covering two city blocks, the building is longer, at 437 feet, than the height of City Hall, at 378 feet.  Built to house over 2 million volumes, much of the collection is housed in the Closed Stacks, two floors of storage between public floors, known to staff as “the tiers.”  By 1965, there were 50 miles of shelving in the Library.

The original interior design featured royal blue and vermilion (bright orange-red) furniture, and black walnut wood paneling and fixtures.

Library 1964 CE Readers image

“The Reader’s Library,” Courier Express, October 11, 1964.

Central Library Information booklet, 1964.

Central Library Information booklet, 1964.

The construction of the Central Library was one of the many milestones in the merging of the Buffalo Public Library, the Erie County Library  System, and the Grosvenor Reference Library.  Many of the books that were moved into the Central Library from the Grosvenor and Buffalo Public Libraries form the core of our current Local History and Genealogy Collections.

Central Library postcard, 1964

Central Library postcard, 1964

“More important than any building as a material entity is the spirit and philosophy which animates it. And no one can mistake the beliefs and aspirations that underlie our investments in free public libraries. They bespeak our dedication to freedom to read and the pursuit of truth and enlightenment.” “More Than a Building.” Editorial. Buffalo News, October 17, 1964.

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Images of School Days Past

An East High Classroom, 1934

An East High Classroom, 1934

School No. 21, 1906

School No. 21, 1906

School No. 43, 1908

School No. 43, 1908

School No. 29, 1907

School No. 29, 1907

School No. 31, 1906

School No. 31, 1906

At the lab 1907 - School Scrapbook v3

Technical High School, 1907

School No. 53, 1935

School No. 53, 1935

South Park High, 1934

South Park High, 1934

Fosdick-Masten, 1934

Fosdick-Masten, 1934

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Our Ancestors’ Summers

Our Ancestors’ Summers, Circa 1870-1880:

Preparing to travel:

Preparing for the Trip

A boy’s summer outfit:

Boy's summer outfit

Women’s swimsuits:

Women's bathing attire

Cooling off on a breezy mountain top:

At the beach

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Erie County Penitentiary Records Are Now in Ancestry ———We Found a Familiar Name!

If you are looking for the skeleton in your ancestor’s closet, Ancestry has just added a record set that may help.  Various New York State prison records are now available for research.  To access Erie County records, search for this title in Ancestry’s Card Catalog: New York, Governor’s Registers of Commitments to Prisons, 1842-1908. Erie County Penitentiary commitment registers are included from 1883-1908.  The registers are keyword searchable and  list convict names, crime, name of judge, county where the convict was arrested, date of sentence, date received at the penitentiary and length of incarceration.

Jack London in Erie Co. Penitentiary

Included amongst the Erie County records is author, Jack London.  He is found on line 176 in the June listings, as “John Lundon” [see image above].   London famously wrote about his Erie County Penitentiary experience in The Road, which is a memoir of the time he spent as a Hobo in the 1890s. On June 28, 1894 London was arrested in Niagara Falls, NY for being a “tramp.”  At his “trial,” he was not allowed to speak [not even to enter a plea]; he was not afforded a trial by jury; and he was not allotted a lawyer. London was sentenced to spend 30 days in jail.   Both his trial and prison transfer happened the same day of his arrest.

London survived his sentence with the help of a friend who he met en route to the prison.  His friend was an experienced convict who taught him the ropes and secured him a position as a “hall-man.”  A hall-man was shielded from heavy labor and served the prisoner’s their food.  They were able to obtain extra bread and used it in the prison bartering system.  London also used his letter writing and other skills to acquire money and favors from other prisoners.

To learn more about London’s time in Erie County, read chapters “Pinched” and “The Pen” in The Road: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14658

To learn more about the Erie County Penitentiary, see the following article from Western New York Heritage: http://www.wnyheritagepress.org/photos_week_2012/jack_londen_pen/jack_london_pen.htm

Other recently added New York prison-related records include: New York, Prisoners Received at Newgate State Prison, 1797-1810, New York, Executive Orders for Commutations, Pardons, Restorations and Respites, 1845-1931, New York, Discharges of Convicts, 1882-1915.

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