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October 7, 2018 - 8:00am
posted by David Reilly in batavia, news, nostalgia.

(Above, brothers Dan Reilly and Dave Reilly wearing their football helmets.)

When I nostalgically think back to my childhood in Batavia in the 1950s, several favorite possessions come to mind.

My scruffy eyeless teddy bear got me through many dark and scary nights. No visions of venomous snakes or sounds of branches creaking in the wind outside my window on Thomas Avenue could keep me awake with teddy to protect me.

A cheap baseball mitt that looked like a pancake with stubby fingers stands out, too. It had no pocket at all, but I made do with it for years until I could get a better one.

But the treasure I recall the best is my red football helmet.

Just like Ralphie wishing for a BB gun in “A Christmas Story,” the beloved tale by Jean Shepherd, I pleaded and cajoled to get a football helmet. I was hand-springing happy when I opened the box under our tinsel-laden tree and saw that beautiful scarlet shiny gift.

But, as I put it on, I realized that I couldn't see! It was gigantic. It turned out that although I was 8 years old when I got it, it didn't fit until I was 12. But, in those days, there was no returning it. You just made do.

I did love my helmet though and I was so proud of it. But for the first couple years I had it, I could barely hold my head up with it on.

One time my brother Dan, a couple other little boys and I were playing football in the vacant lot on the northeast corner of Thomas and Washington avenues. A photographer from the Sylvania Company who was taking some local photos for the company newspaper noticed us and took a picture. He got our address and promised to mail us a couple copies.

We were thrilled and couldn't wait to see ourselves. But when the paper came, I couldn't believe it. I looked like a red-capped toadstool! It appeared that there was a gigantic helmet with legs sticking out of it.

But, do you think I would play football without it? No way. I'd cinch the chin strap up to the last hole and stagger off to play with my head bobbing like one of those funny dogs people used to put in the rear window of their cars. I might have been the original bobblehead.

I think back sometimes when it's football season and recall the fun times I had with that helmet.

One of our favorite things to do was play in the mud. We'd wait for a real rainy day, one of those days when the air smells like worms and wet dog fur. We'd round up a bunch of kids and then start nagging our moms to let us go. That didn't take long though because what mom isn't looking for a break from cooped up 8 to 10 year old boys.

We'd head for the State Park (AKA Centennial Park) across the street from the New York State School for the Blind and look for the soggiest part. We didn't play two-hand touch either. I mean the whole reason for playing in the mud was to dive and get knocked into it.

After a couple hours of that, we looked like swamp creatures from a scary movie.

One of the most hilarious parts of the whole experience was seeing the reaction of our mom when we squished into the house afterward: “Oh no! Just look at this! You boys are a sight! Get those muddy clothes off right now and don't you dare get near the carpet.

"You have to get in the bathtub PDQ! What in billy bejabbers (my mom's “cursing”) was I thinking letting you go out in this rain! You'll catch your death of pneumonia!” 

We'd skitter upstairs to the bathroom giggling all the way. Later after we got out of the tub, there was enough dirt ringed around the sides to start a terrarium.

Later when I became a dad, I had to learn the same lesson that my mom had: You're probably going to trade those couple hours or minutes of peace and quiet for a splitting headache later on.

Eventually, I outgrew my red helmet and it was put away in a box in the basement. My dad saved everything (he actually saved a half a can of charcoal lighter for over 15 years) and from to time he'd notice it and ask me if I wanted it. “Nah” I would say.

Well, life moves on and I forgot about that helmet for a long time.

In 1989, my aunt died and my father and mother had an auction to sell off her stuff and put some of their own belongings up for sale also. I showed up to see how it was going and guess what? There on a table was my red helmet and my brother's yellow one, too, for 25 cents apiece. Who would want them?

Nobody. Except me.

So, where is it today? In a box in the basement just like it was for all those years. I just can't seem to throw it away. Whenever I see it, I'm transported back to a muddy park in Batavia in the 1950s, having a blast in the red helmet of my youth.

Photos courtesy of Dave Reilly.

Below, Dave Reilly these days with the football helmets he and his brother played in as children.

September 2, 2018 - 8:00am
posted by David Reilly in hlom, batavia, news, Joseph Ellicott, nostalgia, history.

People like to make discoveries. It makes them feel important, that they've found something unique. Children especially like to have something to show off and I was no different. When I was about 9 or 10 I tried to get something I found put in a museum -- the Holland Land Office Museum.

As it turned out, the thing I found belonged in a dumpster, not a display case.

It all started because of jealousy. A kid I knew had uncovered an arrowhead in his backyard or somewhere. The local museum had it displayed in a case with his name by it and every time I saw it I turned green with envy. Why wasn't it me who unearthed something while digging around as kids do?

I loved that museum. They had antique guns, a drum from the Civil War, an actual hangman's noose from the old jail -- great stuff. But nothing contributed by me, David Reilly. Every time I went there I imagined a card with my name on it next to something that every visitor would remark about.

One day while prowling around the attic of a house where we were renting an apartment, I found an old, dented, beat up bugle. I ran to show it to my mother and asked if it could be a valuable souvenir, possibly from the Civil War. She didn't think so, especially since if it was valuable no one would have left it in the attic. Of course.

Crushed, I trudged back upstairs. But as I went to put the bugle back in the cobwebs, a seed of a scheme entered my mind.

What if my mother was wrong? After all, wasn't our house on Ellicott Avenue? And wasn't Joseph Ellicott the man who was the land agent for the Holland Land Company and the one who made the plans for the city of Batavia, New York? And wasn't my favorite museum down the street named The Holland Land Office where Joseph Ellicott had his office for many years?

That bugle could have been his! Or at least belonged to someone that he knew.

I thought, “Maybe if I take this bugle to the museum they will put it in a case, type up a card with my name on it, and finally I'd be famous, at least in Batavia. Nah, they'd never fall for it. But on the other hand... oh why not give it a try?”

The next day I went to the backyard, rubbed some dirt on the bugle so it looked like it had been dug up, and nervously headed for the museum. I hung around in front playing by the cannons for awhile trying to get up my nerve. Finally, I entered.

“What can I do for you young man?” the elderly woman at the desk asked.

“I found this bugle and it's got dirt on it and it was in my backyard right across the street on Ellicott Avenue and I dug it up and I bet it was lost there by Joseph Ellicott or at least by someone he knew look see how old it is can you put it in the museum?” I spewed out the words like my voice was trying to win the Indianapolis 500.

“Oh,” the woman said thoughtfully. “Ellicott Avenue you say? Well, that's right close by isn't it? What is your name young man?”

“Oh boy!” I rejoiced in my mind. The neatly printed card next to my donated bugle was looking pretty clear to me now.

“David Reilly,” I replied, “and I live at 20 Ellicott Avenue where I dug it up.”

"Well, David,” the woman said, “I'm going to show this to our museum experts and we will check it out very carefully. You come back next week and we'll let you know.”

All week long I couldn't sleep, paced the floor, and thought incessantly about that bugle. Finally, the big day came. I walked to the museum, marched straight to the lady's desk and looked imploringly into her eyes.

“What can I do for you young man?” the woman asked.

My heart dropped to my stomach. She doesn't even remember me? But wait. She's old; at least 90. She's just forgotten.

“I'm David Reilly. I brought in Joseph Ellicott's bugle last week.”

“Bugle? Oh yes, of course. I wouldn't forget a thing like that. We took a very close look at it I can assure you.”

My stomach felt like butterflies were having a gymnastics competition. “Yes! I'm in! I've got it!" I thought. If there was such a thing as a high five back then I was giving myself plenty of them mentally.

“Unfortunately, David, that bugle is no more than 20 years old at most. Are you sure that you dug it up in your yard?”

"Oh boy. What now?" I thought. "I'm done for on the display case. Can I get arrested for lying?"

But I proceeded nonetheless.

“Oh yes ma'am, it was way down there," I told her, then blurted out this realistic tidbit: "I thought it was gold when I first saw it."

My palms were sweating so badly now that they were leaving streaks on the sides of my corduroys.

The lady reached into the drawer of her desk and pulled out the bugle. She handed it to me with some of the dirt still clinging to the sides. She wiped her hand on one of those little old-fashioned hankies.

“Well, young man, I'm sorry that we couldn't use your discovery, but it's always nice to see someone your age so interested in history. If you ever come across anything else be sure to bring it in.”

I took the bugle and managed to utter a quick “Yes, thank you ma'am” before making a hasty exit.

As I slunk back home I could almost hear the guffaws of the museum staff as they mocked my find of the “bugle of Joseph Ellicott.”

Looking back on it, the museum volunteer probably had a little laugh after I gave it to her, then put it in the drawer and never thought about it again until I came back.

As I clumped up the back steps, I chucked the bugle into the garbage can where it clanged forlornly, never to be seen again.

As I went through the kitchen my mom stopped me. “Where've you been Dave?” she asked.

“Oh, just down at the museum,” I replied.

“Again? You must have been there a hundred times. Anything new down there?”

“Nope. Nothin' to toot about anyway,” I told her and headed off to check out that new comic I had stored under my pillow.

PHOTO: Bugle shown is for illustration purposes only; it is not the bugle David found.

April 5, 2010 - 11:25am
posted by Linda Olson in music, nostalgia, YWCA of Genesee County.
Event Date and Time: 
April 12, 2010 - 7:00pm to 9:00pm

Come join us on a journey through the 1940's presented by Helen Batchellor.

This event will be held at 7pm on Monday, April 12th 2010, at the YWCA on 301 North Street, Batavia, NY.

Dessert & coffee will be served. Donations are greatly appreciated.

 Please RSVP by phone, (585)343-5808.

(The YWCA of Genesee County is Celebrating 100 Years of Service)

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