THE TRUE BLUES OF SCHENECTADY

Volunteer and boardmember Frank Taormina digitizied the below selection about an interesting period in Schenectady’s history. He is currently working on a program on the Trueblue Society for interested organizations!

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Originally written by Reverand W.N.P. Dailey and Read Before the Antiquarians at the Schenectady County Historical Society in 1940…

A social order known as the “True Blues” was organized in July 1867, and chartered in March 1869.

The press of Schenectady and Albany and adjacent cities devoted much space detailing the parades, the concert and the bazaar held during these years. Also the “New York Herald” and “Frank Leslie’s News” featured the various events conducted by the mystic order.

No authentic history has been written of the club, but we have found an old scrapbook, kept by William J. Van Horne, now owned by the Schenectady Historical Society, sufficient date upon which to base our story. After the climatic parade held in 1870 a few meetings of the True Blues were held, but the order seems to have been dropped after that date. Many programs of all the events and great broad sheets, two by three feet were issued.

In the Evening Star of August 19, 1867, a month following the organization there is a facetious account of this mystic order, and the story was enlarged in an issue of “Leslie’s Illustrated News”. This article might have been written by Baron Munchausen, (Jack Pearl) for it narrates a tale of the Mohawk Valley 16,000 years before, the scene laid at what is now Duanesburgh and Princetown, which terrain was then covered by a great lake and overlooking hills, on the tops of which were royal palaces occupied by True Blues, and prisons in which were endungeoned the degenerate sons of Malta. But a thousand years before Schenectady was founded , huge mastodons that roamed the land were killed by a poisoned crop of potatoes, and drank the lake up (or down), and amid the miasmatic waste all that was left were a few acres of broom corn which the goddess Ceres (or God), and a few survivors of the True Blues cultivated. However, instead of loading the vessels bound for Europe with brooms, they converted the crop into corn whiskey. The Schenectady True Blues are descendants of these survivors, but the historian leaves out all the narrative down the rest of the nineteenth century.

Trueblue Parade

The reporter tells us that this mystic order of the True Blues includes Schenectady’s eminent divines, the faculty of Union College, and certain youth and other inhabitants of old Dorp, “searching for mental and recreational improvement.”

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The True Blues headquarters was in Fuller’s Hotel, kept by Ed Vrooman, later the A. Brown furniture store – now the Masonic building at State and Dock Streets. The first parade was held on the afternoon of Monday, August 19, 1867, – seventy years ago (1937) and the principal streets of the city from “Frog Alley” to College Hill were covered. In this parade, Romeo made love to Juliet in an upraised balcony, and an obese Falstaff took up a lot of room. Knights of ye olden times, dressed in their periods, and lively dulcienas captivated the crowds. A racial section of the parade contained Mexicans, Hungarians, Spaniards, Irish, Dutch, Turks, Jews, Africans, Orientals, Italians – and a group of Yankees and brigands- all attired in appropriate costume. A Scotch clan cavorted from curb to curb clad in highland dress. Seemingly the True Blues had an international membership, and several of no nation. King Lear was conspicuous and no less Hamlet and Ophelia. The School Board marched in a body and eleven bogus policemen protected(?) women and children. The famous race horse, Dexter, owned in Dorp, proudly prancing was resplendent in brass harness. Mose and Eliza and a hunchback paraded. Continentals and National Guardsmen in uniform, Veterans of the War of 1812 and Zouaves made up a division, and won continued applause by their precise military movements. One huge dray contained a huge dray containing five hen turkeys and a big gobbler. On a catafalque was a “Silver Brick” marked 18 tons which was carried by “Abel Smith and Robert Furman.” A section of the parade devoted to animals, contained a white elephant, just imported from Siam, bears and other beasts, “Hard Times” was in the parade, by whose side marched a big fat boy. The float had the representation of a Post Office, the sign reading – “Male in – It’s a boy,” and the post master, long John Veeder, was caricatured. Brother Jonathan and Sister Prudence were as loving as Shakers in the dark. There were over two hundred persons in costume.

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TRUEBLUE EMBLEM

The White elephant was a burlesque on the “Athens Cut Off,” a million dollar dream of the
Vanderbilts and the Hibbards, beginning at Carman, and ending at the Hudson near Athens where ocean vessels would be loaded with wheat for European markets. The road-bed is still visible but the huge depot in Athens is gone these many years. The elephant was so real looking that not a few were fooled. “Billy” Van Horne was the artistic genius back of the paade. The procession formed on the site of Van Voast and Vedder’s lumber yard on Green Street. John L. Hill was the president of the day, and the Schenectady Brass Band of seventeen pieces led the parade.

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The second carnival and parade of the Mystic Order of the True Blues was held on Thursday afternoon Sept 3, 1868. The “Albany Post” of September 4, 1868, says there were 20,000 visitors in the city. The Albany papers, the “Journal”, “Argus” “Express” and “Post” devoted much space to a description of the same. Music was furnished by Sullivan’s Brass Band of Troy and the Schenectady Cornet Band. Huge Posters, (2 feet by 3 feet) printed by the “Star” at 170 State Street announced the event.
The “New York Herald” featured the event while “Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly” showed a half page picture of the procession, reproduced in the “Union” as the parade, (or part of it” halted before the building occupied by the “Union”, and also the Carley House next door. Four hundred and fifty costumes; Charles Campbell, in Roman Chariot, a brilliant equipage, led the same.

The crowds were immense, and the success of the event was attributed to William J. Van Horne, sometime mayor, as his father was before him. Mrs. M. Pohle of Albany was the costumer. Daybreak was ushered in by peals of the city’s church bells and high noon was announced by the boom of cannons. The Parade, a mile long, was started at 3 p. m. Those who were masked waited till the public dinner at the Carley House and Givens Hotel to remove them. The “Herald” said, “a page would not adequately describe the event.” The editor of the Albany Express said he “had seen fantastic parades in Albany and in New York, but, compared with the True Blues of Schenectady, they were perfect failures.” Never before had anything like it been seen- in numbers, in costumes, in caricature and burlesque, or in style and artistic effects. No description could do it justice.

The Grand Marshall and his aides followed the Roman Chariot, built by Antonius, holding the God of the Day: they were dressed in the costume of the period of Charles II; after them a giraffe, sixteen feet high from Gouriel, “trained by Prince Van Horne, the first Euker of America.” No-olah, the baby elephant, was well behaved, sturdy but fierce looking pioneers were guarded by a burlesque police force, commanded by an artillery officer in Revolutionary uniform, the property of Colonel Campbell. Burlingame’s traveling Chinamen came next, followed by Neptune drawn by bespangled horses led by silver bedecked grooms. It made me think of a Roman myth. Beasts of the field and birds of the air were represented.

Ladies astride dappled equines received the crowd’s cheers. There was a human steam engine – eight feet high with stove pipe hat for smoke, fitted up with furnace and piston rods, and wheel at the side for extra power. We recall that at a certain point in

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The parade, the engine got too hot and had to be removed to save the human from incineration. Another feature we recall, but not mentioned in the press descriptions was great dray containing a hogshead of beer. Seated in front was a saloon keeper who held forth at or near Liberty and Center Streets of large proportions: gaily dressed maidens drew the ale from the hogshead and gave it to the man to drink. At the close of the parade he had to be skidded into his place. The uniformed Haymakers Base Ball Club of Lansingburg and the Schenectady Base Ball Club were in the procession. Carpenters Union, Good Templars, and other local orders were led by Eastman’s Band of twenty-five pieces from Poughkeepsie. King’s Coronet Band of Schenectady headed the second division , but the big show of music was Sullivan’s Troy Band of a hundred pieces, regally uniformed, led by a giant drum major.

An impersonation of Dan Rice of circus lore, was cleverly done. Even the local press was not left out as Editor Stanford of the “Union” was caricatured by “one who tried to ride two horses at one time, -one horse marked “Republican” and the other “Democrat.” One representative was labeled “Manufactured by the Button-Hole Co.,” a steam suggestion, with a hogshead for a boiler, beer kegs for cylinders, air chambers of muslin, etc.

There were two mid-night parades of the True Blues, one of Sept 5-6, 1867, and another of Oct. 12-13, 1868. Both the “Union” and the “Star” of Sept 6, 1867 devoted considerable space to an account of this parade. In a few words the cause of the demonstration was in the organization of the “Schenectady Silver Mining Co.,” a corporation formed of a number of prominent business men of Schenectady who invested not too wisely in a California silver mine which proved worthless. The Schenectady County Historical Society has a few bonds of the company. At midnight of the fifth, the citizens of the town were suddenly awakened by the roar of cannon to witness a grotesque procession winding its way up State Street to Crescent Park. The “Silver Brick” that had been carried in the parade of the previous month was being solemnly borne to its last resting place. It reposed in an open casket on a black catafalque, drawn by John H. Bame’s big team funereally decorated. There was an hour or more of exercises (printed programs) at the grave. All we quote here is the opening verse of one of the chants;

‘O Brick, thou child of ruined hopes,
And must we lay Thee in the dust;
A mountain labored – brot thee forth,
To live a day and then to bust.”

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The second midnight parade was aburlesque on an ill-fated water system, that the City Council wanted Schenectady to adopt but which by an overwhelming vote, they opposed. It was a plan to buy out a private concern that was supplying water to old Dorp. Another scrap book of Mr. Van Horne’s has outlines on the same which can be seen at the Schenectady County Historical Society. The town papers say there were five hundred in this parade and it was two miles long. (it must have been considerably stretched out.) On this moonless night “The flambeaus of the Mystic Order of the True Blues” flooded the old town with a sea of light, revealing the jewels of the brotherhood who were bent on interring the Schenectady water works. Sullivan’s Brass Band of Troy headed the procession, followed by a catafalque containing the Water Plan – drawn by six heroes in white trappings, led by grooms in white. The base of the design represented Veeder’s Hill, on the top of which was a reservoir where every creepy thing was seen moving about within. From this font a stream rose twelve feet high , and on each corner of the float was a hydrant throwing a continual stream of six feet. On the sides, at the feet of the hill, were engines pumping the water from Veeder’s pond. At each hydrant were imps with huge tumblers doling out the water to the thirsty. On the reservoir was painted “Pure Water,” but what the imps offered was of a brown mixture. The whole affair was brilliantly illuminated. Following this came the grave diggers with picks and shovels, and after them six “carpet baggers” with satchels illuminated and labeled “conditional contracts”. The city commissioner’s contracts were conditioned on the people/s vote which was decisively against the plan. At the center of the parade was a float bearing three huge banners, one showing the fire commissioners (impersonated), seated at a table “concocting the plan and concocting sherry cobblers.” On a second banner the scene at the polls was depicted. The third had a painting of an old abandoned pump representing the present condition of the water system. (Doubtless these were the creations of of the local artist, Mr. Delamano.)
Arranged in a triangular form the banners concealed a bell that mournfully tolled the death-knell of the water bill.

King’s cornet band of Schenectady had the post of honor on the left of the parade, following which came the master of ceremonies in priestly robes, then the Chief Fiend seated on a throne drawn by a team of horses bedecked in white, led by grooms attired in white. All of these participants wore hoods. The city and surrounding country had turned out to see the parade. Many houses were illuminated. The burial service was begun by the order singing “An Aqueous Dirge,” the lines of which ran:

“Brothers gently lay the body
In the grave – and drop a tear;
All our hopes now lie in toddy,
Or in drinking lager bier.”

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The body of the bill was now placed in the grave which was surmounted with blue lights. Sullivan’s band accompanied with a dirge. A eulogy was pronounced by the priests, a poem recited by the “Chief Fiend” and then the order sang a quatria(“Aqueous Finale”) the last verse of which ran –

“Now good night, ye mourners few,
Fare thee well “six hundred true”
Till Gabriel blows his judgment trump,
Draw your water through a pump.”

The procession wended its way slowly back to the True Blue headquarters, led by dirge music, the press account closes with a low Dutch comment:

The Union of October 13 says “On account of the scarcity of water no tears were wasted—the crowd dispersed, the city clock struck two – the city sank into its usual midnight silence, the Recording Angel of the Ancient Order of True Blues with his immortal pen wrote in the secret annals of that order the translation of another day. “

In 1869, instead of a parade, though this was considered at a meeting held August 9, 1869, a Grand Carnival and Bazaar was held in the Armory, just completed. This ran from January 27 1869 through February 9th, omitting Sunday. Four page daily programs were published. It was a strange mixture of world events and exhibits. One attraction was a velocipedalist from the True Blue Lodge of Paris. A history of the order was on sale, a copy of which is owned by Mrs. William J. Marlette. Among the booths at the fair was a New England kitchen – also a Dutch one, and an early New York dining room. In the gallery, lit by seven hundred gas jets, were booth attendants garbed in the dress of Italian, Japanese, Mohammadan, Chinese – all the oriental and western world were represented, and every period of American life. No wonder the Bazaar cost $4000.00 to run. Of the surplus the True Blues gave $1000.00 to the Society for the Home of the Friendless in permanent endowment.

There was a “Rebecca at the Well”, and “Oyster Bay,” a “Fish Pond,” “Comanche Lodge,” a Shakespeare Booth and dozen others. The names of those in attendance at the booths represented the important men and women of that day in every walk of life in the City. We sigh as we recall the 3000 curiosities that Ed Vrooman had in the Museum Booth – if they had only been kept. It was the first use of the new armory, built by Michael Nolan who had enough brick left over to erect the brick houses still standing at Albany Street and Veeder Avenue.

Among the museum curios was a large picture of Schenectady, an old lock and key said to have been used to lock the stockade gates of the City (pure fiction) old Revolutionary muskets, a 1702 Bible, a 1766 “N.Y. Gazette” a 1799 Albany “Gazette” containing an account of the death of Washington, a pair of flatirons, 300 years old,

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a small sword found beneath the surface of the of the armory, a whistle made from a pigs tail by a local genius, a 1725 Holland bowl, teapot and plates three centuries old, a bowl and salt dish which did service at Washington’s wedding, owned by Dr. Voorhees of Amsterdam, an Anneke Jans salt cup, old bell dug up where the old court house now stands on Union Street, a warming pan 150 years old, a Sir William Johnson powder horn, walrus tusks, a trunk that came over in the Mayflower (?) a sword worn by General Gates, Nicholas (Clausha) Veeder’s musket, an original portrait of Anneke Jans in her youth, a small operating engine resting on a three seat silver piece studded with diamonds and other jewels, said to have been put together by Wm. J. Van Horne, etc. etc.

In 1870, Sept. 6, a Grand Carnival concert of the True Blues was held at Union Hall, corner State and Jay streets. The music was furnished by the celebrated Dodsworth Band, orchestra and military combined. The program gives the True Blue Officers: President – William J. Van Horne, Vice Presidents: Madison Vedder, John C. Mills, James G. Caw, Ethan A. Maxon, William Newman, John Gilmour, James J. Spier, James Wiseman, James Dimout, Livingston Ellwood, William Martin and
Cornelius Gill. Cor. Secy. T. Low Barhydt, Rec. Secy. A. P. Strong, Treasurer, John Banker, Marshall Edward Ellis. Master of Ceremonies: Walter T. L. Sanders, and John De Remer. Com. On concert: T. W. McCamus, John B. Marsh, B. L. Freeman, B. A. Mynderse, and Willard H. Moore.

Following the concert, the next day, came the final parade of the True Blues, September 7, 1870. It climaxed all previous ones. Special trains ran from Albany, Troy, Saratoga, Ballston, Utica, Syracuse and other places. Thirteen coaches from Albany were jammed with passengers. The “Star” reported 30,000 visitors in Schenectady. The rendezvous was the Fair Grounds from which the parade started. A delay was caused owing to the stampeding of a double yoke of white oxen who were joined to the dray, carrying the Cardiff Giant. They must have thought this hoax was a real dead giant. Horses had to be substituted. The parade took three hours to pass a given point. The bands engaged were Dodsworth’s of New York, Sullivan’s of Troy, Eastman’s of Poughkeepsie and King’s Cornet Band of Schenectady. There was also a True Blue Band grotesquely decorated, but played fair music. An imitation of the Cardiff Giant was created by President Van Horne, who, by the way, later sold the monster, according to a true bill of sale, dated October 3, 1870, to Jerome Myers and Wm. Howes Smith for the sum of one cent. The paper was duly drawn up and witnessed by Robert Payne.

Some of the features of this parade were an old Franklin press worked by comically dressed pressmen and a printer’s devil and two female compositors “sticking type”. The Alaska purchase by Seward (a proven diamond mine) in the form of an ice berg, lambasted the government’s investment. Ed Vrooman had a swaying “Albany-Schenectady R. R. train” (hauled by horses) passengers masked , who kept leaving and boarding their cars while in motion. Neptune was again shown, this year its headquarters being at Neptune Engine Company Number 4. A model of the Neptune float is at the historical society. There was another steam man eight feet high, and the giraffe came out again with its sixteen feet height. A yacht club was in sailor garb; a sprinkling cart hauled by Susan B. Anthony (incognito); heat and cold were shown in costume representing fire and frost; A shaker family was in the parade; the “Voyage of Life” after Cole’s famous paintings, a youth in graceful gondola of gold and silver trimmings was a beautiful sight. Napoleon was on hand, and the prince imperial, and an old carriage said to have been used by Washington on his trip to Fort Schuyler in 1785, owned by Peter R. Fox of Palatine. Other features of the parade were Knights and crusaders in battle array, cavaliers and men and women of various nations. Notwithstanding the crowds and all the varied features of the parade, not a single untoward incident occurred to mar the festivities. A meeting of the True Blues was held October 2, 1871, when King’s Cornet Band furnished the music. And when Jerome Meyers died, February 20, 1878 the order attended the funeral. But here the record closes, while the public record ends with the parade of 1870.

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1 Comment »

  1. Nice job Kate -

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