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.

What's All Over Albany?

All Over Albany is for interested and interesting people in New York's Capital Region. In other words, it's for you. It's kind of like having a smart, savvy friend who can help you find out what's up. Oh, and our friends call us AOA.

Search

Recently on All Over Albany

Today's moment of mural

Took a minute the other day to admire this little mural in the Williams Street alley just off Broadway in downtown Troy. It's just very... (more)

The interurbans

Check out this clickable map of the old "interurban" trolley lines that ran all over New York State back in the 1920s. Here in the... (more)

Dr. Dog at Upstate Concert Hall

Indie rock band Dr. Dog is set to play a show at Upstate Concert Hall February 13. Tickets go on sale this Friday, October 19... (more)

Talking about artificial intelligence at the Rockefeller Institute next month / Automating Inequality with NYS Writers Institute this week

Artificial intelligence makes for good stories because killer robots and all that. But the reality of its promise -- and potential threat -- is probably... (more)

Solid Sound 2019 early-bird tickets

The Solid Sound festival will return to MASS MoCA June 28-30 in the summer of 2019. And early-bird tickets for the fest go on sale... (more)

Recent Comments

Giving out odd candy like Charleston Chews and Mallow Cups to confused trick or treaters and hoping that they try them and learn that they're awesome.

Drawing: Historic Haunted Pub Crawl of Downtown Albany

...has 44 comments, most recently from Michele

Today's moment of mural

...has 1 comment, most recently from ravioliollie

Where to buy Mexican-style chorizo?

...has 11 comments, most recently from Ashley

The Albany Hardware & Iron Co.

...has 3 comments, most recently from Paulsome

Greenhouse, aquaponics, mircrolivestock, composting: here's a chance to check out the Radix Center in Albany

...has 1 comment, most recently from Barbara Nazarewicz