110th Anniversary of The NY to Paris Race

Flyer image

In 1908, a car manufactured in Buffalo gained international acclaim by winning the an unprecedented  “New York to Paris Race.”

At the dawn of the 20th century, automobiles were an infant technology with none of the infrastructure we take for granted today: road maps, traffic signals, pavement, gas stations, fast food, parking lots, expressways, or motels. Most people in the world had never seen a car in person.

What, then, could be more fun than the first ’round-the-world automobile race under such punishing conditions? In the summer of 1907, Paris newspaper Le Matin and the New York Times announced “The Great Race: New York to Paris by Automobile.” Four nations entered six cars: Italy, with the Brixia Zust; Germany, with the Protos; France, with the De Dion, the Moto-Bloc, and the Sizaire-Naudin; and the United States, with the Thomas Flyer.

Legend has it that the Thomas Flyer entered the race at the insistence of President Theodore Roosevelt, who hated the prospect of European automobiles crossing the country unchallenged by Americans.  The Thomas Automobile Company of Buffalo pulled one of its production models out of the factory at the last minute and entered the race. Buffalo’s own George Schuster was driver and chief mechanic.

The starting line, on February 12, 1908, was in Times Square. Two hundred and fifty thousand people turned out to watch. The route crossed the country to San Francisco. There, drivers shipped out to Alaska and drove to the Bering Strait, where they ferried across and pushed through Russia to Europe, finishing at the Eiffel Tower. Organizers estimated the trip to take six months and the route to be 20,000 miles long.

Newspapers around the world followed the progress of the race. The Sizaire-Naudin didn’t get past the snowdrifts of the Hudson Valley before dropping out. The Moto-Bloc got lost in the farm fields of Iowa and withdrew. The Protos was caught cheating when the driver boarded it on a train and received a 30-day penalty. Fearing bandits and the brutal weather of Siberia, the De Dion backed out in Russia.

The Protos crossed the finish line first, but factoring in its penalty, did not win the race. The Thomas Flyer arrived in Paris on Friday, July 31, 1908, 170 days after leaving Times Square, the true winner. Buffalo was ecstatic and threw George Schuster a hero’s welcome party in Cazenovia Park that drew 10,000 people.

thomas flyer headline

Buffalo Sunday Morning News, September 6, 1908, p. 7

thomas flyer text

Buffalo Sunday Morning News, September 6, 1908, p. 7


The victory of the Thomas Flyer briefly boosted sales for the Thomas Automobile Company, but mechanical flaws in subsequent models doomed the company and all production ceased in 1913. Its factory at 1200 Niagara Street is now owned by Rich Products and bears a plaque honoring its achievements.  In addition to winning the race, E.R. Thomas was also one of the world’s first commercial manufacturers of motorcycles and taxicabs.

The winning Thomas Flyer was restored to finish-line condition under the supervision of George Schuster, who died in Springville in 1972 at age 99. The car is on exhibit at the National Automobile Museum of Nevada.

This year, the modern incarnation of “The Great Race” starts in Buffalo on June 23rd.

For more on the historic race, see our New York to Paris research guide and digital collection of the 1905 Thomas Flyer catalog and detailed map of the 1908 New York to Paris race route.

Posted in Local History | Tagged ,

The Grosvenor Room welcomes new Arlen and Yellen songs to our sheet music collection!

Twenty-one Harold Arlen and Jack Yellen songs have been added to the Grosvenor Room’s sheet music collection.  The Grosvenor Room now carries about 260 songs (combined) by these Buffalo composers.

Arlen 1

Harold Arlen was born in Buffalo in 1905 and lived here until 1924.  It was here that Harold formed his first band, Hyman Arluck’s Snappy Trio, in 1919. The Snappy Trio expanded into the six-piece Southbound Shufflers and played in clubs and on excursion boats cruising Lake Erie.  He disbanded the Shufflers in 1925 and joined The Yankee Six, which grew to 11 pieces and became The Buffalodians.  They moved to New York City in 1926 where they eventually broke up.

Arlen went on to become one of the major song composers of the 1930’s and 1940’s.  His compositions were overtly influenced by blues and jazz music at the time.  He contributed to 15 Broadway stage shows and 33 feature films between 1930 and 1963.

Among his best-remembered film scores are those for The Wizard of Oz, Cabin in the Sky, and A Star is Born.  He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song nine times, winning for “Over the Rainbow.”  Among his other major hits drawn from films are “That Old Black Magic” and “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive.”  Many of his most popular songs originated in the five nightclub revues he wrote for the Cotton Club from 1930 to 1934 with Ted Koehler, including “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” and “Stormy Weather.”  His other major collaborators were Ira Gershwin and Johnny Mercer.

The nature of his music made it popular with African American performers such as Duke Ellington, Ethel Waters, Cab Calloway, and Lena Horne.  But he also became a particular favorite of Judy Garland, who frequently sang his songs in her films and concerts, and Barbara Streisand, with whom he recorded an album late in his career.

Arlen 2

Arlen Sheet Music Additions:

Hittin’ the Bottle

I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues

I Promise You

Let’s Take the Long Way Home

The Merry Old Land of Oz

One for My Baby


Tell Me with a Love Song

Tess’s Torch Song (I Had a Man)

Yellen 1

Jack Yellen’s family emigrated from Poland to Buffalo in 1897.  They owned a small pawnshop on William Street.  He attended Buffalo’s Old Central High School and then the University of Michigan.  After college, Yellen came back to Buffalo to work as a reporter and sports editor with the Courier Express.  During his time in college and with the Express he collaborated on songs with composer George Cobb.

Around 1916, Yellen moved to New York City to advance his career as a songwriter.  After a brief stint in the war, he met success.  His songs were gaining notoriety in Tin Pan Alley and were starting to be included in The Ziegfeld Follies and in George White’s Scandals.

A pivotal moment in Yellen’s career came when he began his collaboration with Milton Ager in 1920 for the revue What’s in a Name.  This partnership would last throughout the 20’s and yield a wealth of hit songs for radio, theater, and the movies.  His most popular songs include “Ain’t She Sweet,” “Hard Hearted Hannah,” and “Happy Days are Here Again,” which was adopted as the theme song for President Franklin D. Roosevelt by the Democratic Party.

Yellen went on to work with other composers writing songs for both stage and screen.  In 1931, he worked with Buffalo-born composer Harold Arlen on the successful Broadway musical, You Said It.  He continued writing for such stars as Shirley Temple and Sophie Tucker until the 1950’s.

Yellen 2

 Yellen Sheet Music Additions:

According to the Moonlight

Alabama Jubilee

Good Night, My Beautiful

A Gypsy Told Me

I May Be Wrong (But, I Think You’re Wonderful!)

I Was Born Too Late

It’s Home

Listen to That Dixie Band

Oh Baby

Please My Nerves

That Twilight Melody

Welcome Honey to Your Old Plantation Home


Songs from the Arlen and Yellen collections are for reference use only and may be viewed in the Grosvenor Room.

Posted in Genealogy

A Curiosity for Mother’s Day

This charming book was found in the Grosvenor Room’s music stacks.  Published in 1907, it was intended to entertain and build moral character.  The authors, John Alden Carpenter and his wife Rue, were well-known in music circles during the first half of the twentieth century.  Mr. Carpenter composed the music and collaborated with his wife on the lyrics.  Mrs. Carpenter was the sole illustrator.  Multiple editions of the book were published in the pre-WWI era, usually offering new songs.  The humorous songs were frequently played in concerts during their time.  Be sure to read the playing instructions at the beginning of every song for an extra chuckle.  To view the complete book, visit us in the Grosvenor Room.

01 - Cover0203040506070809101112

Posted in Genealogy

B&ECPL history: How it all began

Grosvenor Library c. 1920's

Grosvenor Library, circa 1920’s

The origin of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library system dates back to 1836, when the Young Men’s Association (YMA) established a collection of books of permanent or lasting value for its members.  60 years later, this “members only” institution evolved into the Buffalo Public Library, publicly supported and free to all.

The Grosvenor Library has a parallel history, and in 1871 it became Buffalo’s first public reference library.

The demand for public library service throughout Western New York led to the creation of the Erie County Public Library System in 1947.

In 1953, the Buffalo Public, Grosvenor, and Erie County libraries merged to create the current Buffalo & Erie County Public Library system.

The local history, genealogy, music, and Rare Book collections in the Grosvenor Room were all built on the foundations of these predecessor libraries.  To illustrate our storied and complex history, we created the timeline below.

Buffalo Library history timeline


Posted in Genealogy

Vinyl Divas

This Women’s History Month, surround yourself with the sound of strong, powerful women.  Visit the Grosvenor Room to find your favorite divas on vinyl.



This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted in Music

Pictorial Buffalo

Since book illustrator and artist Mario Zucca created his colorful pictorial “map” of Buffalo in 2016, the library has proudly displayed it in the Central Library’s Grosvenor Room.  Soon afterward, a creative enterprise by Zoom Copy reproduced the map as a mural on the side of a building at Hertel and Colvin.

Buffalo, Mario Zucca

The library’s map librarian thought it might be of interest to our patrons to see some of the other pictorial maps featuring Buffalo and the Niagara Frontier created as far back as the mid-19th Century to the early 1980’s.

Buffalo 1853

Buffalo 1853


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And one of our favorite whimsical pictorials depicts the city in cartoon as Hengerer’s lends a hand to new residents…Enjoy!


What goes on here map of Buffalo activities, 34MP-4, c. 1942, detail


Posted in Local History, Maps

A Piece of Buffalo’s Church Music History Is Discovered

Amidst a book-shifting project, a Grosvenor Room staff member noticed a curious tome. The aged, inscribed volume revealed itself as a hand-drawn music manuscript.

It belonged to Carl Friedrich Baum (1822-1899) who was a music teacher and organist.  Born in Lehrberg, Bavaria in 1822, Baum came to the United States in 1847.  He lived in Chicago and other western cities during his first years in the United States. Baum brought his wife and children to the United States in September 1854 on the ship Hermann Theodor via Bremen.  The reason for the permanent move may have been a job offer for the position of organist at Buffalo’s Trinity Old Lutheran Church.   Baum served in that position for forty years.  According to his obituary, he was also active in local singing societies.

1886 Buf Dir - Copy

1886 Buffalo City Directory

Baum Obituary

Buffalo Volksfreund, August 12, 1899

Trinity Old Lutheran Church played a significant role in the history of American Lutheranism.  Its first minister, Johannes Andreas August Grabau led the church’s early members from Germany to Buffalo in 1839 to avoid religious persecution.  His congregation did not want to go along with Germany’s religious agenda, which was to unify Calvinists and Lutherans.  The group formed Trinity Old Lutheran soon after their arrival.  Dedicated in 1843, its first permanent building stood on the corner of Maple and Goodell Streets.

Church scrapbook v2

Churches in Buffalo and Vicinity Scrapbook, Volume 2, Page 5

Grabau’s strong conviction towards pastoral hierarchy[i] led to a disagreement with the Missouri Synod, and to the establishment the Buffalo Synod.  It also led to a schism within his own congregation.  In 1866, half of the Trinity Old Lutheran’s members left to join First Trinity Lutheran Church, which was located at Michigan Avenue.

It was perhaps Grabau’s authoritarianism that sparked the sentiment written on the bottom of the title page of Baum’s manuscript.  Another factor may have been that in 1842, Grabau compiled a hymnal for use throughout the Buffalo Synod.  He may not have been open to creative interpretation of the work, or straying too far from it.  The following is a rough translation:

“These compositions or vocal texts had found many friends but the latest group did not want to find me when it came to rewarding my ability or giving me encouragement.  Unfortunately the state of affairs in the Evangelical Church of America is not geared towards liturgy and singing but mostly towards decay.  Meanness and mimicry prevail, the pastor’s envy stands in the way.”

Baum Manuscript Title Page

The paragraph’s date is unknown.  It is possible that Baum penned it well after Grabau’s June 1879 death, though the latest date found in the manuscript is August 1880. Baum or another wrote the title page in an Americanized German script versus a strictly German script, which is predominant throughout the rest of the manuscript. Though he did not feel appreciated, the 383-page volume surely indicates that Baum was not deterred.   Baum’s manuscript includes a collection of 172 choral and organ scores.  Example titles:

“Te Deum laudamus” –  Thee, O God, we praise

“Danksaget dem Vater” – Thank you, Father

“Kom heiliger geist” – Come, holy spirit

“Adventslied” – Advent song

IMG_1447 firstIMG_1451 secondIMG_1445 thirdIMG_1453 fourth

After researching Baum, Grosvenor Room staff wondered how the manuscript came to be in the library’s collection.  The first page of the book gave the information that was needed:  the name Mrs. Mary Harlinghausen, a library acquisition number, and the acquisition date.   Harlinghausen sold the manuscript to the Grosvenor Library, a predecessor of the Central Library, for $5.00 ($90.00 current value).

IMG_1454 HarlinghausenGrosvenor Library Accession

Mrs. Harlinghausen, who soon after selling the manuscript married Mr. Edwin Sy, was a local rare book dealer.  The Sy’s shared a love book collecting.  They ran their business first out of their home at 909 Elmwood Ave., and by 1951 they opened a bookstore at 926 Elmwood Ave.  The couple retired from their bookstore in the mid-1960s.


Local Biographies Scrapbook, Series 16, Page 274


Local Biographies Scrapbook, Series 16, Page 275

Special thanks goes to Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks and Nataly Salansky for translating Baum’s manuscript, obituary, and other documents.


[i] Trinity Old Lutheran Church.  The Story of Trinity Old Lutheran Church: 150 Years Under God’s Guidance, 1839-1989. Eggertsville, N.Y.: The Church, [1989]. Unpaginated.   http://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/40a98b_a6b808e583f149a89d77e45dc45bdc0e.pdf  Accessed: Feb. 8, 2018.

Posted in Local History, Music