A popular man died 92 years ago today at his home in Fort Plain. Walter Wallace “Pete” O’Connor, 59, was village postmaster and for 30 years worked with his brother George in publication of the Fort Plain Standard newspaper.
O’Connor was editor of the newspaper and wrote a humor column under the byline of The Sifter. According to a competing newspaper, O’Connor’s column “attracted wide attention for its witticisms and general brightness.” The Standard’s name lives on in the Courier Standard Enterprise, a community paper in western Montgomery County.
Born in 1863, “Pete” O’Connor was the son of George and Mary (Sponable) O’Connor. His father was an Irish immigrant who became a shoe merchant. His mother was descended from Revolutionary ancestry. He was a member of Fort Plain’s Universalist Church.
“Pete” O’Connor was educated in the Fort Plain public schools, and then spent four years in the cigar manufacturing business downstate. He returned to Fort Plain about 1890 and joined his brother George, who was a printer, in the purchase and operation of the Fort Plain Standard. The newspaper attracted a good following and the printing shop had many outside customers.
According to a clipping from the Mohawk Valley Register, O’Connor married Cora Gilday of Fort Plain in 1893. Described as a staunch Democrat, he was appointed postmaster in Fort Plain by President Woodrow Wilson in 1915.
For over four years, O’Connor struggled with a malignant tumor or sarcoma in his throat before he died. He sought treatment in New York City and even at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He “ever manifested his joyous spirit,” according to his obituary, and kept working until a few days before his death.
The Recorder, a Republican newspaper, had kind words for Democrat O’Connor when he died, “He was progressive, enterprising, honorable in all his dealings and his warm-heartedness and unfailing joviality won for him success in life and the lasting admiration of all with whom he associated.”
He was buried at Fort Plain cemetery. His brothers and mother are mentioned in his obituary but not his wife. His brother George continued to operate the Fort Plain Standard and a job printing business until his death from pneumonia on February 15, 1932.
Historian Nelson Greene, who wrote “The Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West, 1614-1925” and a companion volume of biographies, also worked for the Standard at one point. Greene was born in Little Falls. His father Horace moved to Fort Plain in 1876 and owned the Mohawk Valley Register newspaper.
Nelson contributed articles on local history to his father’s newspaper. He also studied art in New York City and later was editor of the Fort Plain Standard.
In his 1924 “Old Mohawk Valley Turnpike Book,” Greene refers to the O’Connor brothers. Greene called George O’Connor his “lifelong friend and co-worker” and wrote of “Pete” O’Connor, “Not only did this old friend and schoolmate aid the writer materially, but he gave the backing of an understanding, belief in and support of a most difficult and exacting undertaking.”
Greene toured the country doing advance publicity for aviatrix Amelia Earhart in the 1930s; Earhart was doing public relations for Beech Nut, then located in Canajoharie. Greene died at age 86 in 1955.
Fort Plain had one of Montgomery County’s first newspapers, The Watchtower, that began publication in 1827.
Montgomery County historian Kelly Farquhar said that from 1898 to 1924 the Fort Plain Street Fair was a big event each September. “They had high divers, concerts, rides, baseball games and store vendors would set up booths on the streets. They had thousands of people coming.”