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Cudmore: A woman carpet weaver in Amsterdam

Cudmore: A woman carpet weaver in Amsterdam

Amsterdam native Richard Ratajak’s mother, Josephine Ratajak, was a carpet weaver for Mohawk Carpet Mills at the mill that used to be in Rockton.

Many women worked in the rug mills but most had other production jobs, operating spinning machines that processed yarn, for example, or tying knots to thread looms, a job known as being a creeler. Almost all carpet weavers were men.

“My Mom prided herself,” Ratajak said.  “She said ‘I have fast hands’ and she did some very fine weaving for them, such as making samples that were then sent to the Merchandise Mart in Chicago.”

The Mart was a marketplace where retailers could buy their wares under one roof.

Ratajak’s father, Theodore, was a welder at Schenectady General Electric.

Richard Ratajak grew up on Slater Street on Reid Hill and delivered newspapers to my family and others on Pulaski Street.
I said I hoped my family tipped him. Ratajak didn’t recall but said the weekly charge for daily local newspaper delivery in the 1940s was 24 cents. “People would give you a quarter and then put out their hand for the penny.”

Ratajak, 87, and his wife, Shirley Corino Ratajak, reside at Glen Eddy in Niskayuna.

THE LYCEUM

Amsterdam historian Jerry Snyder’s research shows the Lyceum Theatre downtown opened in 1909 in the Shaffer Building on East Main Street. My recent column on downtown theaters reported, erroneously, that the theater was first called the Shaffer Opera House.

Shaffer’s Lyceum Theatre was built in a business block on East Main Street across from St. Mary’s Church for $22,000, according to a newspaper story on building construction in 1909.

Snyder also found a Recorder article from 1909 describing the new Lyceum Theater in great detail.

The theater was managed by Joseph Galaise of Schenectady. The Lyceum featured vaudeville and movies.

Vaudeville acts changed twice a week and the motion pictures from Pathe-Freres changed daily. Founded by four French brothers, Pathe-Freres was a major movie production company in the early 20th century.

Matinee admission was 5 cents each for women and children and 10 cents for men.

The Galaise Amusement Company prided itself on showing “good, clean, high grade vaudeville.”

The newspaper reported, “Women and children from Amsterdam can attend performances at the Lyceum and feel sure they will hear and see nothing that will offend their sensibilities or shock their morals.”

The theater seated 822 people, according to the report, “The seats are green-veneered opera chairs, wide and comfortable and even a fat man can sit in one of these seats and enjoy the performance.”

The facility was renamed the Strand at some point, which was its name in 1941 when photographer John Collier took an iconic picture of pedestrians walking under its marquee on a rainy day.

In 1949 the Strand was remodeled by the Gloversville-based Schine Theatres and renamed the Mohawk.  According to a 1971 newspaper, the building housing the Mohawk was demolished that year.

Fielding K. O’Kelly of Amsterdam was district manager for the Schine Theaters when that organization had theaters across upstate New York. In 1971 when J, Myer Schine died, O’Kelly recalled that the Schine brothers kept close watch on their theaters with surprise inspections.

One of the theaters in O’Kelly’s district had a way to find out when the Schine brothers were making an inspection trip.
Local police knew the license number of the Schine car and when the car was spotted heading toward the theater, police turned on a red light near the theater to detain the car while a call was placed to the theater manager to alert him.

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 [email protected]

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