Focus On History: An eye for a good story


Amsterdam High School 1945 graduate Richard Ellers had a sharp eye for a good story. 

Born in New Haven, Conn., Ellers and his family moved to Amsterdam and rented a flat or apartment on an upper floor of a commercial building on East Main Street.

There was only single pane glass on the windows and Ellers said, “I can still hear the clink-clink-clink of snow chains on cars driving below. Occasionally every third or fourth clink would be counterpointed with a double thunk, which was the sound of the ends of a broken chain slapping the underside of a fender.”

The flat was a few doors west of Coogan’s Grill, operated by local Democratic political leader William Coogan.

There was a side door to Coogan’s in the hall, originally the ladies entrance.  Ellers said, “I knew this door well because, before I was of age, my dad would send me to Coogan’s to buy him a quart of beer. I would enter that side door, pay Mr. Coogan, who would then deliver the quart to me, in a bag, out in the hall.

When Mohawk and Bigelow-Sanford carpet mills in Amsterdam were producing canvas, not carpet, for the armed forces in World War II, high school boys became part of the workforce.

The Board of Education changed the high school day to start and end early, so that male students could take part time jobs in the mills.

The students worked four hour shifts after school. Ellers worked at Bigelow-Sanford Carpet, helping make Army squad tents out of canvas woven in the factory. 

Ellers wrote, “Our job was pulling large sections of canvas for women who sat at huge industrial sewing machines putting sections together.

“We helpers pulled the canvas as the women sewed. You wore your oldest clothes because the dark green sealant/fireproofing on the canvas came off on anything it touched. 

“The sewing women wore really big aprons, plus long cuffs on their forearms. I think that when summer vacation came, they put us on full eight-hour shifts. I cannot remember if the high school girls took jobs, too.”

Ellers paid tribute to a Market Street pool hall proprietor known as Reverend Louie Allen, “We called him Reverend, partly because he was strict about behavior.”  

Ellers said no cussing was allowed at Louie’s, “But he was always ready to shake ‘buck dice’ for money or just for a soda pop and his back room was a haunt of poker players and some crap shooting.”

Allen’s first floor pool hall was on Market Street at an alley that led to the police station. The building was torn down for urban renewal in the 1970s.

Ellers was voted by his 1945 high school classmates as the wittiest and noisiest boy. He witnessed FDR’s Presidential funeral and wrote a first person account for the school paper, The Item.

Ellers skipped his May 1945 high school graduation ceremony to enlist in the United States Navy, serving as a gunner’s mate on minesweepers in the Pacific Theater, reaching the Philippines and Japan before the war ended.

Taking advantage of the G.I. Bill, he studied at Kent State University’s school of journalism, graduating in 1953. He worked as a reporter and photographer for the Warren Ohio Tribune Chronicle from 1954 to 1965 and then for the Cleveland Plain Dealer until his retirement in 1992. His reporting beats included presidential political campaigns, science and nature, industry, and human interest.

Ellers, 93, died in July 2021 at his home in Warren, Ohio. He had married Martha McLaughlin in 1956 who survives, as do two children. 

Categories: Opinion, Opinion

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