Leslies jan 30 1886 930.jpg

When The Albany Bob was a tremendous craze

Leslies bobsledding albany jan 30 1886

From an 1886 article in Leslie's Illustrated Weekly. (larger version)

Something to toss out when someone brings up Olympic bobsledding over the next few weeks (because that will happen, obviously): bobsled racing started in Albany.

So says historian and bobsled expert Christopher Lindsay, who's scheduled to give a talk at the Fort Orange Club February 8 about the first bobsled races. Lindsay, a former deputy executive director of the U.S. Bobsled & Skeleton Federation, says bobsleds were first used in the lumber business to haul trees. Eventually someone figured out they could be used to transport people -- and quickly -- down hills.

The image above is from an 1886 article in Leslie's Illustrated Weekly. It depicts a bobsled running down the Madison Avenue hill in Albany. Explained Lindsay to us this week: "Imagine a large block of wood and steel going down Madison Avenue with no control. There was a whole undercurrent of broken arms and broken legs." Lindsay said the sleds were eventually outlawed by the city after an alderman's sled accidentally struck and killed a child.

For a long time Switzerland was thought to be the birthplace of bobsled racing. And as it happens, even today the history section of the Wikipedia article about bobsledding includes much about St. Moritz, Switzerland and nothing about Albany, New York. But back in the 1990s then-city historian Virginia Bowers and Christopher Lindsay turned up newspaper clippings indicating that bobsledding in Albany pre-dated the sport in Switzerland -- and that a man from Albany, Steven Whitney, had helped establish the sport in the European country. [Gazette 1997]

A few years back Carl Johnson over at My Non-Urban Life pulled together a collection of accounts from bobsledding's heyday in Albany during the latter part of the 19th century. Among those accounts, a New York Times article from 1889 about Albany's 'Bob' Carnival:

In Albany the bob sled has probably reached its greatest development. Built on a series of hills the city is naturally adapted for coasting, but before last Winter the sport was not openly permitted by the authorities. When the Common Council last Winter the granted the use at night of half a dozen streets "bobbing" became a tremendous craze.

The article includes descriptions of the sleds and the festivities surrounding them. It sounds like people had a lot of fun.

Christopher Lindsay's talk at the Fort Orange Club February 8, a Saturday, is at 2 pm. Admission is $10. The event is sponsored by the Friends of the New York State Library.

Thank you to the New York State Library for digging up the image.

Comments

Someone bring this back.

So, the Albany Bob is not a haircut?

Talk about deja vu all over again . . . I saw this pop up in my Twitter feed, and thought, "Waitaminnit, didn't AOA already cover the bobsledding craze?" No, apparently that was me. More and more, when I'm googling for answers to some local history question, I'm getting pointed to my own page and something I didn't remember I wrote.

You know, we could wait years for a conceptual historical site to be rediscovered in the middle of an industrial district that no one would want to visit.
-OR-
We could get some snow and start an annual bobsledding event on Madison Avenue, the home of bobsledding, pretty much immediately.

Why is the man in the photo using a fan?

I'm sure State Street would have been a great hill to race down! I walked that hill many times in heavy snow...

Say Something!

We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.

The Scoop

Ever wish you had a smart, savvy friend with the inside line on what's happening around the Capital Region? You know, the kind of stuff that makes your life just a little bit better? Yeah, we do, too. That's why we created All Over Albany. Find out more.

Recently on All Over Albany

Places for art classes?

Alison emails: I'm looking for a pointed pen (modern) calligraphy class. There are a few in New York City I was looking at, but would... (more)

Morning Blend

It's budget time again in the Capital Region. Albany's proposed budget, presented to the Common Council on Wednesday by Mayor Kathy Sheehan, calls for a... (more)

TOP2014: RD1: I Love vs. DeFazio's

The 2014 Tournament of Pizza, sponsored by Keeler Mini -- the Tournament of Pizza to end all Tournaments of Pizza -- heads for Troy and... (more)

The Hawk Street Viaduct

Historical photo of the day: The Hawk Street Viaduct in Albany, which once spanned Sheridan Hollow, connecting Arbor Hill to area near the State Capitol.... (more)

A good endocrinologist?

Becky emails: I'm hoping some readers can help me out here. I see a doctor at the Endocrine Group on Washington Ave in Albany (I... (more)

Recent Comments

Arbor Hill is gorgeous. Clinton Ave rivals State as Albany's most beautiful avenue. Here's hoping the overdue appreciation and revitalization continues!

A good endocrinologist?

...has 6 comments, most recently from Melissa

TOP2014: RD1: Mario's vs. Marino's

...has 3 comments, most recently from A

TOP2014: RD1: I Love vs. DeFazio's

...has 1 comment, most recently from SJ Troy

Arbor Hill named one of the country's great neighborhoods

...has 9 comments, most recently from Daleyplanit

The Hawk Street Viaduct

...has 1 comment, most recently from Chuck Miller