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

A quick recap of the week

Here are a few highlights from the past short week on AOA: + Daniel and the Best Dozen made a stop at the Schuyler Bakery.... (more)

Today's moment of winter

The Hudson River at Troy.... (more)

Downtown Albany, before and after

Check out these before-and-after aerial photos of Northeast cities posted by an academic institute at the University of Oklahoma. Albany is among the cities featured... (more)

"[A] federal prosecutor who doesn't give a f..."

Over at Buzzfeed Ben Smith has a quick profile/backgrounder on Preet Bharara, the US Attorney overseeing the investigation and prosecution of Sheldon Silver. It opens... (more)

Stuff to do this weekend

Hot chocolate? Check. Blankets? Check. Netflix? Check. Stuff to do for those of us who want to do more than huddle under blankets with hot... (more)

Recent Comments

[A]nother factor that allows some politicians to slide into corrupt practices is the overriding notion that if they hadn't chosen to become "public servants" that they'd be making mega bucks on the corporate world. Which maybe they would. But it seems to give them license (in their own minds) to exploit any ethical grey area to make up for that loss of income.

timesunionPLUS

...has 8 comments, most recently from Bob

Stuff to do this weekend

...has 3 comments, most recently from grandmastergus

Morning Blend for Jan 23

...has 1 comment, most recently from Sean

Advice for fixing old lath-and-plaster walls?

...has 9 comments, most recently from Shadi Khadivi

A quick scan of the feds' allegations against Sheldon Silver

...has 3 comments, most recently from ace