North Albany during World War II

During World War II cities, towns and villages put up “honor rolls ” for those who were serving.

But sometimes it fell to just regular people. In Charlie and Joe’s Barbershop on Broadway in North Albany there was a home grown “wall of honor”.

North Albany was known as Little Limerick. It was a close knit, tight community of mostly working-class Irish families who settled in the area in the mid to late 1800s to work in the breweries, lumber yards and factories in the area. It was a world unto itself- part of Albany, but it had its own identity

By World War II many families were 6th generation proud Americans, who had succeeded and thrived, and overcome the discrimination, prejudice and abject poverty they first experienced in America.

We don’t know who put up the first photo, but it took off. Everyone came into the barbershop, and brought a photo of their son, daughter, brother, sister, father, uncle, niece or nephew in service to display.

Best “honor roll” ever.

We’ve also included a photo of members of the American Legion Post in North Albany in the 1970s. It includes men whose photos were on the bulletin board.

Thanks to Thomas Duclos, retired Assistant Curator of the New York Military Museum and David Barrows, both from North Albany.

Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor

Albany: From Potato Chips to Pea Soup and a World War

We receive lots of Albany history questions. A recent inquiry was fascinating. A gentleman from an historical group from the village of Elst, Holland asked if we knew anything about the A.A. Walter Co. in Albany. It seems someone in the village found an old 5 lb. can of dehydrated pea soup, from the World War II era, manufactured by A.A. Walter.

Oh boy, do we!

A.A. Walter Company

A.A. Walter was one of the first commercial potato chip manufacturers. Alexander and Alfred Walter were brothers from Fairhaven, Vt. who wanted to cash in on the potato chip craze at the beginning of the 20th century. They perfected what they thought was the best potato chip ever and moved their business to Albany.

In 1902 the brothers opened the Blue Ribbon Potato Chip factory at 4 Liberty St., one the first in the world. The factory had an endless source of potatoes from surrounding farms and a large supply of labor (mostly women) who lived in the South End in the early 1900s. Because Albany was a railroad hub they could ship all over the Northeast. Within several years the company re-located to a larger home at 51 -53 Liberty St.

It was so successful, that in 1925 the company moved yet again to 13 South Lansing St., and opened the first factory in the world devoted exclusively to potato chip manufacture.

Fast forward to World War II. The Walter Co. secured government contracts to produce potato chips for the troops and to stock cafeterias and canteens in manufacturing plants across the country. The factory ran two and sometimes three shifts a day. At one point, it produced 7 million pounds of Blue Ribbon Potato Chips in 9 months. It made dehydrated potatoes and, apparently pea soup, for the troops.*

Why Elst Holland?

That’s a story related to one of the most famous and infamous operations of the War War II. Elst is located just north of Albany’s sister city Nijmegen and south of Arnhem, site of the “bridge too far” over the Rhine. It was called “Operation Market Garden”.

Operation Market Garden ( the 75th anniversary was last month – about the time we received the question)

Operation Market Garden was a British campaign, designed by Field Marshal Montgomery, planned for September 1944, to drop Allied airborne troops in Arnhem (slightly northwest of Elst in Holland), crossing the Rhine and driving into the Ruhr Valley. The plan called for securing a sixty mile long corridor for ground troops to relieve the British paratroopers in Arnhem. American airborne troops were tasked to capture the bridges at Eindhoven, and Nijmegen. The troops then were to rush up this corridor, but spent most of their time defending it from German attacks along the entire length.

The British airborne that dropped into Arnhem thought they were dropping into an area defended by second rate troops, in reality they dropped into first rate German panzers and infantry. There was a battle between British units and Germans near and in the village of Elst, but the Allies had to fall back to Nijmegen. The British were overrun in Arnhem, and the new Allied front line was advanced to Nijmegen. Operation Market Garden was considered a failure even though the front line was advanced sixty miles or so. The route from Nijmegen to Arnhem , which passed by Elst, was called the “Hell Highway”.

It’s not possible to determine if the can of soup arrived in Elst during Operation Market Garden (probably not) or in February 1945 when a huge Allied drive of 500,00 men amassed in the area for a push into Germany, or when the area near Arnhem was liberated several months later. There was a terrible famine in Holland in 1944 and 1945 and the food shortage continued for a number of years after the War**, so it could have arrived as part of American war surplus in those years.

Whenever it arrived, it’s one of those odd artifacts that tells an interesting story about Albany and the world we live in; the stuff of history – local and global.

*In 1950 Alexander Walter’s son closed the factory, sold the company name and established another business, “Walter Foods”. He became the fish and chip king of Albany for just over20 years until the early 1970s.

**A cousin’s husband, living as teenager in Leiden, Holland during the War, told of the extreme famine, and eating tulip bulbs in desperation.

Thanks to Thomas Duclos, retired Associate Curator of the NYS Military Museum for his help. describing Operation Market Garden.

Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor

Albany’s Own Curmudgeon – the Decorated Veteran who Hated War – Sgt. Andy Rooney

He was born in 1919, raised on Partidge St., ( the downtown UAlbany campus is there today),  attended Boy’s Academy , went to Colgate and was drafted in 1942.

When his unit was shipped to England he started submitting articles to the “Stars and Stripes” – the military newspaper. Soon he was assigned to the Army’s press corps. Over the the course of his service he reported on the break-out from St. Lo during the Normandy invasion, covered the liberation of Paris, flew with B-17 bomber crews over Germany, and was one of the first journalists to report the liberation of the concentration camps first hand.

Afte the War Andy and his wife Margaret Howard (a local girl) returned to Albany where he spent 2 years on local radio, and then began his broadcasting career in NYC. He spent over 3 decades on “60 Minutes”. On any Sunday you could love his commentary and be outraged the next. His views were sometimes out of step with times. In 1990 he was suspended for 3 months for perceived racist and homophobic comments. Yet he’d been jailed while in basic training for sitting in the back of a segregated bus with Black patrons in the 1940s.

He spent his summers at the family camp at Rensselaerville in the Hilltowns for many years. When his TV schedule slowed, he spent more time in the area. You could find him often in bookstore in Delaware Plaza (We were the twice a week regulars in the early 2000s.)

Andy died in 2011.

Andy was a self-avowed pacifist. He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal for his heroic and meritorious service in World War II, yet wanted Veteran’s Day to be called, “No More War Day”.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Albany Tulip Fest History 101: How did it start and when?


It sounds pretty straight forward. In summer 1948 the Albany Common Council enacted an ordinance establishing a tulip celebration in the City and the first Tulip Festival was held in May 1949. But the back story is way more than that and its origin lies in the horrors of World War II.

It started after D-Day in 1944 in Normandy. In September, 1944 the Allies launched Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands to try to capture several bridges in the center of Holland near Nijmegen. General James Gavin (82nd Airborne) was in charge of the parachute jump near Nijmegen. The Operation was not as successful as expected. (Cornelius Ryan’s book, “A Bridge Too Far” describes the mission in detail). Albany men were in the thick of it, but fighting alongside their liberators were the people of Nijmegen. There were many Allied and civilian casualties. Nijmegen (the oldest city in Holland) had already endured years of Allied bombings; the fighting that September finished the job. Military action continued in the area for another 2 months.
On the first anniversary of the battle in September 1945 General Gavin returned to Nijmegen. Conditions were dire.

3The city had been pretty much destroyed in battle of the previous year and the people who had been systematically starved during the Nazi occupation were still starving although the War was over. But they were lovingly tending the graves of their saviors, the Allied soldiers killed the year before.

2It was shortly thereafter, in October 1945, Mayor Erastus Corning received the following cablegram, sent by Sgt. Robert Higgins, (Tremont St.) on behalf of General Gavin.

“The 82nd Airborne Division was cited for gallantry by the people of Nijmegen, who expressed desire to be adopted by the people of Albany. Maj. Gen. Gavin, C.O. is in sympathy with this request and has expressed desire to bring this to a satisfactory conclusion. I am a native son of Albany.”

From what we can tell, General Gavin decided the courageous people of Nijmegen needed help and Albany was going to provide it. Why Albany? Was it just random? Nijmegen’s most famous native son was Brant Van Slichtenhorst who had lived in Beverwyck (Albany) in the 1640s when he was director of the holdings of the colony of Rensselaerwyck. (Today Nijmegen’s most famous native son is Eddie Van Halen.) Other explanations have been offered: it was Albany G.I.’s who asked Gavin, it was the legend of Mayor Corning’s brief, but apparently distinguished wartime career. Whatever. Gavin picked Albany and Albany it would be.

There was then a letter from General Gavin to the Mayor, in which he described the bravery of the people of Nijmegen and said there was no people more deserving of assistance from Albany.

We couldn’t say no.4


6So Albany adopted Nijmegen and she became our sister city. We sent the people who had nothing what we had, despite the fact we were still under rationing. We sent clothes and food and everyday items we took for granted, like chess sets, books and hammers and shovels. The first donations were collected and shipped in late 1945 and continued throughout 1946, with HUGE campaign in April, 1947.



5 (2)Delegations from Nijmegen (and General Gavin) visited Albany and the citizens of Albany visited Nijmegen. Every attempt was made to link the people of Nijmegen and Albany. We re-immersed ourselves in our Dutch culture along the way.




7And the people of Nijmegen who had nothing, learning of a tulip famine in the US, sent us what they had: 21,000 tulip bulbs. As the Dutch envoy said, “Although you receive only a tulip bulb for your generous gifts, because my people have no more to give, this flower comes right out of their hearts and its beauty expresses their deep gratitude.”

But the horrendous conditions in Njimegen continued and its people were still going hungry. By early 1947 most food rationing in the U.S. had ended and Albany launched one last major campaign in April. The honorary chair was General Gavin. The people of Albany gave; we literally sent a boatload.




8In the process of helping the people of Nijmegen we re-connected with our Dutch roots and fell under the spell of the tulip. The City established a Tulip Committee. Spring displays citywide rivaled their pre-War glory. In spring 1948 we asked the Queen Wilhelmina of Holland to designate variety of tulip to be Albany’s official flower. She choose the “Orange Wonder”, a Mendel strain of tulip first cultivated in 1934. (It’s now also known as the “The Tulip of Albany”.)



20400339595_5f7a225086_bThe upshot of this “Tulip Mania” was a suggestion by the City Editor of the Knickerbocker News, Charlie Mooney, that Albany establish a Tulip Festival. We were off and running. The first tulip festival was envisioned as merely displays of tulips. By the time the first Tulip Festival was held in 1949 we established the traditions we know have now, more or less. There was the election of a Tulip Queen (and a Tulip King and Tulip Princess and Prince- the latter members of tulip royalty fell by the wayside in the early 1950s), festivities in Washington Park and a re-connection with our Dutch roots.



Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor