Amsterdam museum founder Walter Elwood’s own collection of natural wonders was augmented in the late 1930s and 1940s by objects including an elephant’s foot from the estate of world traveler, author and advertising man Robert Frothingham.
Frothingham had married a woman from the Mohawk Valley and they had a summer home near Northville.
Elwood, an educator who died in 1955, had a “fund of knowledge,” said the late Amsterdam school system librarian Evelyn Riccio. She added: “Elwood liked nothing more than to talk about his travels, birds and seashells.”
Today’s museum director, Ann Peconie, and board member Robert Going said that Elwood apparently reached out to Frothingham’s widow after her husband’s death in 1937 to secure items from Frothingham’s collection. One story is that Elwood made the pitch while attending Frothingham’s funeral. Elwood opened his school museum in 1939.
After a 75-year history marked by three relocations, the most recent because of devastation caused by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, the Elwood Museum today is in a former Sanford carpet mill building at 100 Church St. in Amsterdam.
Robert Frothingham, who may have been the nephew of Fonda journalist and minister Washington Frothingham, was born in 1865 in Galesville, Wis. Another ancestor was early American author Washington Irving.
Frothingham married Minnie Yerdon from a prominent Mohawk Valley farm family in 1886 and they had four children. Frothingham became a newspaper telegraph operator and then a reporter for the Brooklyn Eagle and New York Sun in the 1890s. He went into advertising with Life and other magazines. From 1914 until his retirement in 1925, he specialized in poster advertising.
Throughout his life, Frothingham devoted time to traveling, hunting, editing, writing and lecturing. He wrote a biography, “The Pioneer” (1920), and travel books, “Around the World” (1925) and “Trails Through the Golden West” (1932). He wrote travel articles for the New York Herald Tribune. He selected and edited anthologies of verse (“Songs of Men,” “Songs of Adventure,” and “Songs of Challenge”) for publisher Houghton Mifflin.
The Frothinghams maintained a summer home called Topside on the Mountain Road not far from Sacandaga Park, a cottage community that used to exist near Northville. Frothingham died of heart disease at age 72 on Dec. 7, 1937, at his winter home in San Francisco. He had arrived there a week earlier, after closing up Topside.
In October 1946, Elwood and his assistant Amanda Powell conducted elementary students from the Guy Park Avenue School on a tour of newly displayed Frothingham collection items housed at the Elwood museum, then at the Fifth Ward School on Amsterdam’s South Side.
The Recorder marveled at “the foot of Martin Johnson’s famous elephant.” Johnson was a hunter and documentary filmmaker. There was the mounted head of Old Plowshares, a “widely known” moose from the Canadian province of New Brunswick. The new items included a caribou from the Canadian Rockies with a 40-inch antler spread. There were pelts from an Alaskan bear, a Mexican timber wolf and a snow leopard from the Himalayas.
Also newly arrived were Eskimo ivory and bead work, a Navajo rug and a bottle vase and green bowl from Mexico. The Frothingham collection included well over a thousand glass slides. Many of these slides still are housed at the museum, having survived the 2011 flood.
Minnie Yerdon Frothingham died at age 90 in San Francisco in 1955. Her obituary stated she was descended from the Yerdon and Hess families who settled in the Mohawk Valley in the early 1700s. The men of the family fought in George Washington’s Army in the American Revolution. Robert and Minnie Frothingham are buried at Fort Plain Cemetery.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.