“I will be 83 years old next month - Nov. 19, 1933 - and if I am ever going to write the reminiscences of what has been a fairly busy and interesting life, it is time I got started.

            A great many people in Syracuse know me. A great many more know of me. For more than 20 years I probably saw my name in the Syracuse newspapers more often than any living man. My scrapbooks are heavier than any one man can carry. Nobody lived in Syracuse during the last 20 years of the nineteenth century, and the first ten years of the twentieth, without knowing that Frank Matty existed.

            I know as well as anyone else that most people have the wrong impression of me. They could hardly have any other kind. For years I was cartooned and lampooned and denounced by newspaper men - But I am not complaining, about that. I never held a grudge on that account. You can’t accomplish anything in this world, especially in politics, without treading on someone’s toes, and you have to take the brickbats along with the bouquets.

            The point I am getting at is that I am going to have my say about things this time. I am going to tell the truth about a lot of things for the first time it was ever told anywhere - and that goes, even if it is not especially complimentary to me. Nobody can look back over a career like mine without realizing the mistakes that are bound to be made. I made my share of them, and I’m sorry for it now. But I don’t believe in trying to hide such things. I hate a liar worse than anything else in the world.

            They said I held the destiny of Syracuse in the hollow of my hand for more than 10 years - and they were right! But they were wrong about some of the things they said I did with the power I had. And I have always wanted a chance like this to say so.

            If what I say in these memoirs hurts anyone, I am sorry. But I am going to tell the truth, just the same. Long after I’m gone, it may help to keep the record straight.”

Matty’s Memoirs

Revised: May 28, 2013


These memoirs were authored by Frank Matty, as told to James Gordon Fraser. They appeared in thirty installments in the Syracuse Journal in 1933 and ran from Monday, October 30th until the thirtieth installment was published on Monday, December 4, 1933. The memoirs were untitled but I have given them titles in the table below and added a short summary or a quote or two just to convey an idea of the subject matter of each chapter. The original material is contained within quotation marks, while my comments or summaries are contained within […].











Forward from Chapter 1 - October 30, 1933



























Frank Matty - The Early Years.

“My grandfather worked in the salt mills.” -

[I wasn’t aware that his grandfather had come to Syracuse. Work in a salt mill would seem to be pretty harsh for a grandfather.]


“Our wood came from the Black River country and it was good wood.”

[The wood business was a low profit business and Matty admitted that there was no money in it. That was why he changed to the Livery business. Importing wood from the Black River country would seem to add an extra cost and would make it difficult for them to compete with those sourcing their wood locally.]


“I have always thought that men who tell you they belong to one party or another because of its principles are liars.”


Third Ward rich families: Peck, Belden, Gere and Crouse.




 Early Years in the Common Council

“Mr. Matty's reminiscences will cover his early years in the Common Council, while he was laying the foundations for the dominance he came to exercise over its affairs. It was then he conceived the idea of the ‘aldermanic combine’ that later ruled Syracuse with a rod of iron.”


“The man who made a city out of Syracuse, who built it from a village to a real city, was James K. McGuire.”


“The electric trolley did a lot for Syracuse, because it spread the city out and opened up a lot of new territory for home-building.”


[When Matty was first on the Common Council they were in the process of trying to get electric lights to replace the old gas lights.]

“There weren’t many pavements in any part of town. And that was another way the electric trolley helped. We found out that we could make the trolley lines pay for a part of the new pavements, and because of that we got a lot of them through.”


“An alderman was a pretty important fellow, so far as politics is concerned, because he had the power to turn off or turn on the money - and that is what makes power in political affairs. I have always observed that people will do more for the man who can put them on the payroll - or take them off - than they will for any popular hero.”


[From a nearby article: An interesting slant on Prohibition from a grape farmer.]





1880’s - Early Political Career

“I served only two one-year terms, the first time in 1883 and 1884.”

[Mayor Ryan was a cheap skate while Mayor McGuire was a city builder.

Matty tried to get back into politics in 1887 but was defeated at the polls.

The City was growing with the addition of Geddes and Danforth - Wards 9, 10 and 11 were added. Matty became an alderman again in 1888.]


[Kirk created the department of public works in the municipal administration.]

“I recall the Kirk administration mainly because it was then I got the first two electric trolley lines in Syracuse - both in my ward, or part of it.”


“In later years, I handled most of the franchises that were awarded to these trolley systems, and the papers called me the ‘franchise grabber.’ But, as a matter of fact, I was never the actual grabber. I was always getting something for somebody else, who didn’t get out in the open and be counted.”


“Most of the franchises I put through the Common Council were pushed because people to whom I was under obligations wanted them. I had the power and I had the votes, and when it was necessary to deliver, I delivered.”




More Franchise

John Simeon Dunfee - “In all my experience with all kinds of men. I never met one anything like Sim Dunfee. He was the only one of his kind in the world, I guess. There couldn't have been another like him.”


“Finally, he opened a saloon up in Burnet av., near Beech st., and got a lot of business off the canal. He kept on in the horse business, too, and gradually got into politics around the ward. From that, it was an easy step into small city contracts, like sewers and grading, and pretty soon he bobbed up as a contractor on the canal expansion.” Jim Beldin was Sim Dunfee’s mentor and supported his business efforts. “The job that made Sim Dunfee rich was the digging of a tunnel under the Charles River in Boston.”


“It was Sim Dunfee who put me into the saloon business—and he did it against my own judgment. I never had any intention of doing anything but staying with the livery business, with politics as a side line, until the end of my days, and if it hadn't been for Sim Dunfee, I would probably be right there yet. “




Cowie Inadvertently Teaches the Councilmen to Work Together

[Cowie - McLannan fight. Cowie was mayor of Syracuse in 1890 and 1891.]

“William Cowie is the man who was really responsible for what the newspapers used to call ‘the infamous aldermanic combine.’ ”


[Cowie had accused McLannan, the former alderman, of violating the public trust. The charges weren’t true, Cowie’s friends warned him to back off, but he didn’t. The aldermen were forced to band together to protect themselves and to get control over Cowie. After Cowie left office the lesson stuck. Together, the alderman could do whatever they wanted and control the mayor, who ever he was.]




Old Characters: Gambler Hank Behm and Chris Schneider

“When I ran for mayor, the newspapers accused me of running a gambling house and of being a gambler. Neither charge was true. I never was interested enough in the regular gambling paraphernalia to find out how it was run. I couldn't run a gambling room if I wanted to.”

[There is well documented evidence that Matty was a partner in the Syracuse Social Club, that was a gambling room in the Larned Block. In the early 1890s he was indicted for running a gambling room, based on testimony from his 2nd wife, Jennie, who was in the process of divorcing him. It was covered in all the papers but Frank able to get the charges dismissed.]


“Some old-timers will say, when they read this, that I'm trying to put something over, because they will remember Chris Schneider's room over ‘The Alderman Cafe.’ But, if they'll wait until I get to that chapter, they'll find out I am not trying to cover up anything. I am going to tell all about that.”




3rd Ward Ballot Place Battles

“Why, every election these days is a model compared to the ones we had back there in the '80s and '90s. There was more cheating in one polling place then than there is in the whole city today.”


“Nowadays, with voting machines in every district, inspectors representing both parties, laws covering every detail, and the whole thing honestly designed to be fraud-proof, the people are pretty sure that they are going to get what they vote for. We didn't have anything of that sort when I started running for office and mixing into polities. It was a matter of beating the other fellow by any means that came to hand—and nobody was very fussy about the means.”




1897 Caucus Fight

“Now, it is enough to say that Kirk, with McGuire and Col. John Gaynor, went out to beat me in my own ward. The first thing they did was to move the polling place, from the old State salt office over to Halloran's coal office in the Buckley Block, at the corner of W. Genesee and Clinton sts.”


“The next thing was to appoint Harvey B. Cassidy, a pal of Mayor McGuire's, chairman of the board of inspectors, and to pack the board against me.”


“Joe Dunfee, the former prizefighter and nephew of Sim Dunfee, who was with me hook, line and sinker in the fight, came marching down the street with a company of Sim's toughest pick and shovel men from off the canal, and they lined up, ready to vote. My own boys from the ward were circulating around, lining up votes here and there.”


“An alderman, in those days, got $250 a year. I spent over $3,000 in the fight, but it was worth it. It made me a big figure in the Democratic party, who could not be ignored. They found out they needed me, no matter how much they disliked some of the things I did.”




James K. McGuire

“I said in an earlier chapter of these reminiscences that I give James K. McGuire credit for potting Syracuse on the map—for making a city out of a village. And I meant every word of it.”


“But, of course, you want to remember that what I am saying about Jim McGuire now is said in the light of calm reflection, for which I have had plenty of time in later years. I didn't arrive at those conclusions about him all at once. After he got into the city hall, I had to go into the ring with him before the chair was hardly warm. I'll put down what I recall about some of those scraps.”




Getting into the Saloon Business - 1892

“About the time J. K. McGuire was becoming active in politics, I went into the saloon business. That's exactly what it amounted to, and I never made any bones about it. It was a respectable, honest business when I went into it, and, as far as I was concerned, it stayed that way. I ran a place for 16 years and no man ever was robbed or cheated in it.“


“As a matter of fact, I got into the business by accident. Up to the early nineties, I had been a liveryman and horse-dealer. I was satisfied with it, because I liked horses—still do, for that matter. If I have been too enthusiastic about anything in my life, it has been horses—not the wine, women and song that, the copybooks says characterizes politicians.”


“One day in 1892, Sim Dunfee came into my place and said: ‘Frank, how would you like to go into the saloon business?’ “


“On the second floor, Chris Schneider had a gambling room. It was just like every other gambling room of the era, and there were plenty of them. With the difference, perhaps, that people always got a square deal and fair play in Schneider's. From the day I went into ‘The Alderman Cafe,’ until the day I went out, I don't think I was inside the door of the gambling room twice, simply because it didn't interest me. As I said earlier in this story, a poker game or a horse race provided me with all the gamble I ever wanted.”




City Politics

“J. K. McGuire and I had a disagreement before the city had got over being surprised by his election. I expected, of course, to be president of the Common Council, and to have McGuire's support. But I discovered that he had other ideas.”


“By the time he had been in office a few months, he and I, who had been good friends, were sworn political enemies. He had the prestige of the mayor's office

and the ear of the newspaper publishers, but I had the votes, and it wasn't such an uneven thing, at that. He was a clever man at manipulating public opinion, and he managed to, make things look wrong when they weren't, but it didn't make much difference. When it came to voting, I had my say. And those boys in the combination stuck closer than any glue you ever heard of.”




1895 Campaign

“Another tough campaign that stands out in my recollection was that of 1895, when a group of disgruntled Democrats and Republicans led by former Judge George N. Kennedy tried to defeat me with Andrew Martin, a good candidate.”


“Kennedy was a peculiar individual. He was one of those fellows who are always on the wrong side of everything. If there were two ways to do the same thing, he would do it the way that would annoy the most people. I guess it's a gift; I can't account for it in any other way.”


“Kennedy cooked up a scheme to beat me by hiring private detectives and hunting down any voters who might be on the books illegally in the Third ward. I won't deny there were a few, and that they were in the habit of voting for me, but they weren't professional floaters or crooks of any kind. A good many of the boys who were born and brought up in the old Third moved away, technically, when they got older; but they liked to come back and take a hand in the ward's politics. And I was never a hand to be technical about such things.”


“Anyway, the detectives turned up with a long list of names which they said represented people illegally registered. There was quite a to-do about it, and, of course, Carroll Smith and certain other gentlemen in the newspaper business made a lot of fuss. They talked about a ‘nefarious Matty plot’ and a ‘diabolical scheme engineered by Matty’ and all that sort of guff. When we finally got down to sifting the evidence in supreme court, I think not more than a half-dozen names were actually ordered stricken from the list I have.”


“I have always found that the best defense in politics, as in football, is a good offense. Whenever somebody has been after me, I have always tried to start a counter blaze immediately. It keeps them so busy denying that they forget all about asserting. Many a good fight has been won in that way.”




Matty-McGuite Differences Over Patronage Jobs

“One thing that always bothered McGuire when he was having this battle with me was the fact that he could never make any argument from my votes. When I had some legislation to put through that the ‘combine’ wanted, I always arranged to have at least one more vote for it that I needed. Then, I would vote against it, and it would go into the record, later, when McGuire would find fault with the legislation and try to make out that it was bad, he would say:

‘Matty is responsible for putting these things through.’

And when I would say to him:

‘How do you make that out?

Look at the record and you'll find that I voted against it!’ “




McGuire and Matty Shout It Out.

“I wonder what would happen, today, if a Mayor went into the Common Council chamber and yelled at the president of the Common Council:

‘You represent everything in polities that I hate. I am against you and all you

do. You stand for all that is bad in government and in politics. You loot the city treasury and you give away what belongs to the people. Sooner or later, you

will go to jail.’


“McGuire did that to me, when I was elected president of the council over his protest.”





The Kaufman Charges: John S. Kaufman, Onondaga RR Co.

“The Kaufman charges were framed up by friends of Mayor J. K. McGuire to discredit me at a time when I controlled the Common Council against him. They came in the form of a special message from the mayor, unexpectedly brought upstairs to the Common Council meeting one night without any preliminary hint that they were coming. I still have the message, which is dated April 27, 1906, and says:

To the Common Council: A sinister but well-founded rumor is being discussed in public places, to the effect that the application of the Onondaga Lake Railroad Company for a franchise is being, to use a phrase, ‘held up’ because its promoters refuse to pay certain aldermen a sum of money for voting in favor of said franchise. Upon inquiry, I obtained the following interesting and startling statement from several of the directors of the road: ‘That Mr. John S. Kaufman, as one of the promoters, reported at a meeting of the directors of the railroad, called for the express purpose of hearing his report, that Alderman Matty had informed him that it would cost them $7,000 to put the franchise through the Common Council.’ “




Subway Franchise Scheme 1896

[Excellent description of the working of city politics in the early years of the 20th century. The subways were pipes under the street to run utility lines to remove the clutter and danger of all the overhead wires. The franchise allowed a company to build such subways and charge fees of the utility companies for running their wires through them. The Common Council had given a franchise to a local group that had no intention of building the subways but instead wanted to sell the franchise to the telephone company that was going to be the biggest user. The telephone company balked at the price. Matty’s friend Sim Dunfee went in with the telephone company and got his friend Matty, through the Common Council, to award a second franchise. This angered the original franchise owners: Kirk, Gaynor and Hughes.]


“It was a tough spot, though, for me. Kirk and Gaynor and Hughes and McGuire and all the rest of the big Democratic chiefs threatened to beat me for alderman that fall. That was when Sim Dunfee pulled his famous line:

‘Don't worry. Sim is smarter than any of them—you stick to Sim and Sim will see you through!’ “





Syracuse Rapid Transit RR Co.

“I have mentioned in earlier chapters how the street railroads in Syracuse grew up from the old horse-car lines, first as independent enterprises and then combined as the Consolidated Lines and the Syracuse Street Railroad company, finally getting under one management as the Syracuse Rapid Transit Company.“


“All of these old franchises were full of holes. A good lawyer, honestly trying to do it, could have driven my best team of horses through any of them. None of them gave the city anything in return for the perpetual rights given to use the streets, except for dome of the later ones in which I, personally, insisted that the city get at least a little something.”





Clinton Square Clean Up - 1897

“Away back in 1897, Clinton Square was a mess. The canal was running through the center of it, then. On the south side, in front of the Wieting Opera House, was the town flagpole, where the hack drivers stood, and between there and Salina st, was what we would now call comfort station. Either Cowie or Amos. I think, had put it up there, and it was a town joke from the start.”


“Over on the north side of the canal was the hay market, or public market, and the stand for cartmen and woodmen. Both sides of the square were paved with cobblestones, lumpy and as hard to drive across as a battlefield. The old packet dock was a sloppy, dirty place. Altogether, the square was about as attractive as a modern dump.”


“We had been using an old-fashioned swing bridge over the canal, with narrow approaches on each side, and the same at Clinton st. There was a weigh office on the north side and the first hot dog stand I ever saw anywhere had just been opened on the sidewalk there. Some smart lad hung a sign on it one night: ‘McGuire's Fancy Restaurant,‘ and there was some talk about his permitting it to be put up. About that time, Charles M. Warner, who was one of the rich men of the '90's here, and who liked to attract attention, publicly made an offer to give the money to put up a monument in honor of the soldiers and sailors killed in the Civil War if the city would provide a site. He got a lot of busybody people interested, and they pestered us in the Common Council for several weeks. They wanted Clinton Square for the monument, but I thought it ought to go in Hanover Square, west of the present State Tower building, which was then the Bastable.”





McGuire & Re-election - 1897

“McGuire's campaign for re-election in 1897 was the hottest political fight Syracuse has ever seen. So far as that goes, it would still hold the record if I hadn't made the run myself, a little later.” [Such humility!]


“He [McGuire] ran against Donald Dey, the department store man, who was then a hustling, energetic young fellow who was well thought of by practically everybody.”



Labeled XIV



The Marathon Common Council Presidential Voting - 1898

“It was right after McGuire was elected for the second time that I beat Gene Mack for the presidency of the Common Council with eight votes. That is, I had only eight votes—so far as anybody knows up to this day. Not even a grand jury could find out how I did it.”


“There were eight Democrats and 11 Republicans elected along with McGuire. Offhand, it looked an easy job to put Mack in my place. The Republicans thought it would come as a matter of course. Some of the newspaper boys were not quite so certain. I remember that the Herald, the day of the meeting, had a long story warning Senator Hendricks that the Republicans were ‘sitting on a powder keg’ and asserting that ‘Matty had never failed yet to get anything he wants in the Common Council.’ But Hendricks and his crowd thought it was just a pipe dream and, when they woke up, it was too late.”


“The credit for that job, which I have always considered was about the slickest ever put over in local politics, belongs to me and Mel Haven—Melvin Z. Haven, now dead, who was city clerk.”





The Marathon Voting - 1898 - continued

“I told yesterday how I beat Eugene J. Mack for the presidency of the Common Council in l898 by a vote of 10 to 9, although 11 Republican aldermen later swore they didn't vote for me. And also, how the 11 Republicans later tried to organize the council over again, and were unable to get anywhere because I insisted upon presiding at all meetings and because Mayor J. K. McGuire and City Clerk Mel Haven refused to recognize them.”


“You people who are familiar with public affairs of today cannot understand the kind of situation that prevailed, with the city's business at a standstill, the grand jury indicting Mel Haven and the eight Democratic aldermen, and Attorney General Theodore Hancock, the father of Clarence and Stewart Hancock, ordering what was called ‘a quo warranto proceeding’ to oust me. I don't know any way to give you a better idea of it than you can get from a clipping from a local paper, which I saved all these years.”





Common Council Deadlock - 1898

“The deadlock that resulted when we stole the Common Council from the 11 Republican aldermen continued for months. In the meantime, no city business was done. Gene Mack and the other 10 Republicans had regular meetings and went through the motions of doing business, but neither Mayor J. K. McGuire nor City Clerk Mel Haven would co-operate, and they just wasted their time. I went over with Bill Stuart or some others of the eight Democrats and had similar meetings, but because we didn't have a quorum, we couldn't do any business.”


“Various ways were tried to break it. I offered once to resign, if Mack would,

and submit to another secret ballot election under the supervision of the newspapers. I knew I would get the same 10 votes. But Mack refused to take a chance.”





Horse Racing Plus Frank’s ‘I Had a Dream’ Testimony

“All the time I was getting established in the world, in the way of getting a few dollars ahead of my bills, I had been wanting to own some really good horses. But it wasn’t until along in 1896, 1897 and 1898 that I felt I could afford it.”

“When I did, I went into it on quite a big scale for those days. At one time I had more than 20 fast horses in my stable…”


“It saddens me to talk about those good old days, when we drove good horses late into the afternoon and then gathered a bunch of real men in the old Alderman café at night to talk it over and enjoys each other’s boastings. There is something about memories of that kind that puts a lump in your throat. When you realize that nearly all of the men have gone on, and that there is no place in everyday life for the horse anymore, you wonder if it’s really progress.”



Labeled XXI



Praising McGuire

“When he [McGuire] came into the city hall, we had a little patch of good pavement in Hanover Square, around Veteran Park. Salina st. was a lane paved with cobblestones, macadam and even crushed stone. There were no bridges of any account and Clinton sq. was a mess. When he left, we had 19 miles of streets that were splendidly paved. He got a public library and he built up a park system—including Burnet, which he got without any expense whatever. When there was no money to pay for what he knew the city needed, he used to say: ‘Go ahead! Get it anyway! We'll make it up somehow!’ It was that trait in McGuire, that eagerness to do more for the city than its pocketbook would stand, that finally beat him.”





Matty & McGuire

[The Democratic powers attempted to make Matty pay for his part in the franchise battles. They took away his power to influence the selection of ballot inspectors for his 3rd Ward. In a dramatic speech at the Democratic Committee meeting Matty appealed to McGuire’s sense of fair play. McGuire promised there would be honest inspectors in the 3rd Ward.]


And then Frank wandered a bit…

“At one time, I recall, the trolleys were making turns at the Fayette and Genesee

st. intersections with Warren st. without any electric wires overhead. The company had put in the tracks without permission, but the city officials discovered what was going on and stopped the workmen before the wires got in. They used to rush the trolleys up to the corners at high speed and let the momentum take them around to where they could get into contact with the wires again. It was dangerous, of course, although nothing to the speed with which autos spin around corners today. McGuire made them stop It, and they had to push the cars around the corners but I finally got the feud called off, only to find the trolley company building a new noisy curve at Salina and Tallman sts., exactly in front of the house where my mother was living. Was I sore about that?”





The Republicans Take Over the City - 1901

“The defeat of McGuire and his departure from the city hall broke up the alderman’s combine. Anyway, it wouldn't have been possible to do under the White charter what had been possible under the old system. The aldermen weren't left enough power to accomplish anything, even if they stuck together.”


“(Jay B.) Kline's election in 1901 was the beginning of a long, unbroken reign by the Republican organization over the affairs of Syracuse, not to be broken until another former district attorney, John Walrath, came along 20 years later and upset it.”





Matty’s Campaign for Mayor - 1907

Matty assesses his chances of making a successful run for Mayor of Syracuse, from all possible angles.





Matty’s Campaign for Mayor - 1907 - continued

The Democratic Caucus where Matty takes the nomination away from Bill Kirk. [In this case Matty didn’t blow his horn as much as he could have done. The local papers at the time described the caucus as a much more dramatic event where Matty demonstrated all his political skills to make the nomination his.]




Some More Democratic Committee Activities and the following

“The campaigns that came after my fight in 1907 are hardly ancient enough to be forgotten by the present generation. George W. Driscoll, who fought me so hard when I was after the nomination, got the nomination in 1909, and Ed Schoeneck trimmed him by a narrow margin. J. Brewster Gere and Joe Griffin ran that year too, which cut down Schoeneck's vote. Griffin was always hovering on the edge of running for mayor; the Independence League nominated him the year I ran, but he declined when The Journal refused to support him. In 1911, Schoeneck beat Jim Ludington, who was a good man, and then in 1913, Louis Will got in as a Progressive, or Bull Mooser. By that time, I was out on my farm, where I live today, and was interested in Syracuse politics less and less every year. I'll never lose interest, entirely, in politics, so long as I live. But, today, there are a lot of things that seem more important. Contentment is the finest thing you can get out of life, and it's hard to find much of that when you are in politics. It's a hard, thankless life, and you'll notice that most of the smart men get out as soon as they can. But, just the same, if I had it to do over again, I'd be a politician — and a better one.”





Arthur Jenkins and newspaper writers

“I wouldn’t want to write the story of my adventures in life and politics without saying something about newspapers and newspapermen I have known.”


“There have been a lot of them, because nobody can have a public career without paying a lot of attention to the newspapers. It was even more so in the old days than it is now, because the newspapers practically made public opinion before the radio and the movies and other sources of information made the people less dependent upon the printed page for their knowledge of what was going on.”





The PDF documents can be found on the Old Fulton NY Post Card Website.



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