A Genial and Good-Hearted Man: Dan Deegan, Part 3

May 25th, 2018

By Alice Askins, Education Coordinator at Rose Hill Mansion

While baseball and boxing were sports that Dan Deegan loved all his life, he had many other interests.  He was active in Democratic politics, and often had election returns announced at his restaurant, the Alhambra.  In 1908, the Daily Times reported  “Dan Deegan operated a stereopticon in front of his café on Exchange street, throwing returns upon a canvass suspended from the Nester Building across the street.  . . . a crowd of considerable proportions watched the returns at this point.  . . .” (November 4).

He also celebrated his Irish heritage every St. Patrick’s day, flying the green flag with the Celtic harp over the Alhambra.  Starting in 1920, he displayed the new flag of the Irish Republic (Daily Times March 17.)  That same year, Deegan pledged money to the Irish Bond rally, and canvased the neighborhood for contributions (Daily Times March 29.)

Along with baseball and boxing, Deegan was an avid fisherman and a great fan of harness racing.  The Advertiser reported in May 1897:  “As one result of the adoption of the new racing bill, Dan Deegan has taken a lease of the trotting park . . . [he] is a progressive man . . . there will be no dullness when he is around.  He may and he may not make a few thousand dollars out of it, but it will be satisfactory to him if he makes the two ends meet.” The Gazette reported glowingly on a racing event.  The weather was good, the crowd was large, and there was a lot of drinking, “But this was not the fault of the race managers.  They were all good natured drunks, not one scrap or fight . . . “ (June 18, 1897.)

The following year, Deegan organized a Central New York Trotting Association with Rome and Utica (Daily Gazette, March 18, 1898.)  He also started a Western New York Trotting Association, which was to include Geneva, Rochester, Auburn, Hornellsville, Batavia, and Medina (Daily Gazette, April 22, 1898.)  Again, the races were successful.  Trotting events organized by Deegan went on sporadically in Geneva, Auburn, and Watkins Glen for the next several years.

Another of the Deegan business ventures was theater.  The Times announced in 1907:

On Monday Daniel Deegan will open the Star Theater, devoted to vaudeville and moving pictures . . . The plan of this amusement enterprise is to give the public two vaudeville acts, moving pictures and an illustrated song for ten cents.  Each performance will be 55 minutes long and there will be a five minute interval.  . . . Two performances will be given daily.  One will begin at 2:30 o’clock in the afternoon and the other at 7 o’clock in the evening (September 28.)

Since he owned an interest in a theater in Corning, Deegan could swap performers between the theaters and offer the pubic new acts twice a week.  (Daily Times, June 11, 1908.)  By 1909, the Times reported that Deegan was leasing the Smith Opera House (May 12.)  He brought in vaudeville acts to the Smith and the next year he started showing films.  In 1910, he was also operating Dreamland, “Geneva’s moving picture theater” (Geneva Times May 29, 1970 – “Days of Yore.”)  That fall,

Big-hearted Dan Deegan gave the school boys and girls a treat . . . He opened Dreamland and its moving pictures to them free of charge, and at one time more than three hundred were lined up in front and on both sides of the entrance down the street awaiting their turn.  As soon as the reels were worked off those inside passed out, and five minutes later the seats were all filled again, and so it continued from 4 to 6 o’clock (Geneva Advertiser-Gazette November 24 1910.)

According to Deegan’s obituary, he sold the Star in 1911.  He seems to have continued to lease the Smith for some time.  I have not been able to trace what happened to the Dreamland.

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