Theron Akin the Lemon Squeezer of the Mohawk

Daniel T. Weaver

When a man has four ex-wives and scores of political enemies, it is difficult to create an unbiased account of his life. Of Theron Akin (1855-1933), mayor of Amsterdam, New York for two terms (1920-24), his fourth wife said in 1923, “that he sometimes seized a chicken nearly prepared for the table and had hurled it into the garbage pail: that he would on other occasions, when displeased, burn his best silk shirts; and that this winter the Mayor had, to his wife’s knowledge, taken but one bath.”

She made her complaints in person to Amsterdam’s corporation counsel who then called in a reporter. The reporter went on to write, “And everyone can further appreciate the sense of indignation that Mrs. Akin felt recently when, while automobiling, she passed her husband out motoring with a blond lady. This put the cap-sheaf on her unhappy wedded life and caused Mrs. Akin to tell the reporter that the next time the Mayor comes home he will be met with a hammer.” When asked to comment, Mayor Akin said, “Just say that I said she is crazy.”

But Theron Akin’s fourth wife wasn’t the only one to say negative things about him. His political enemies published a pamphlet which, among other things, accused Akin of deliberately rocking his rocking chair onto one of his baby’s legs. A Johnstown Daily Republican editorial, speaking directly to Akin, said, “Oh thou multiple personality, Emmanuel Turncoat, lemon squeezer of the Mohawk, Theron Akin of Akin, toothpulling Vicar of Bray.”

Toothpulling referred to one of Akin’s professions, dentistry. Emmanuel Turncoat and Vicar of Bray are references to Akin running for Congress in 1910 as a Democrat, then announcing after he won that he was a progressive Republican, after which the Democratic Congressional Caucus threw him out of the party. Lemon squeezing refers to Akin’s effective and successful campaign for Congress. He would stand in front of his audience with a dinner pail and state that the Republicans had promised a full dinner pail for everyone. He would then reach into the bucket and dramatically pull out a lemon and say “Here is what they gave you.”

Not all coverage of Akin was negative. One newspaper article described Akin’s “quick wit, rugged, shrewd visage, piercing eyes, dry, humorous voice and popularity.” And Akin could give as good as he got. He characterized Senator Elihu Root as “that refrigerated vulture of the dead.” He also was a pamphleteer. I own nearly a dozen of Akin’s pamphlets in which he used strong language about his political foes. He would have loved Twitter.

Akin was a fighter. He fought to keep railroads from obtaining right-of-ways across his property, Old Fort Johnson. He fought to keep the City of Amsterdam from annexing the Village of Akin. He fought with the villagers of Akin who voted to change the village’s name to Fort Johnson. He fought with motorists who sped through the village. He fought with Walter Kline over $20 he owed Kline. He fought with Constable Adam Betz. And he apparently fought with his four wives: Carrie Wallace Bell, Mary Adelah Sanford, Jennie Shelp Roberts and Jane Bornt.

Akin was so incensed at the Fonda, Johnstown & Gloversville Railroad, he blocked the tracks on the railroad’s opening day with his automobile. When railroad men approached to remove him and the car, he said, “I’ll kill the first man who tries to move the machine.” He then pulled out a three foot length of rubber hose and brought it down on the head of FJ&G superintendent Jimmie Nellis. Nellis was not hurt badly and ordered his men to remove Akin and his vehicle, which they swiftly did. Akin was charged with assault, but a jury found him not guilty.

Akin said that the FJ&G had contractual obligations to provide his house with electricity. When they didn’t, he cut an FJ&G telephone line and proceeded to cut down a telephone pole. On another occasion, he began building a fence along what he said was his property line. The fence took in part of the highway.

Akin was undoubtedly one of Amsterdam’s most charismatic and fascinating politicians. When he died, the Saratogian called him the “Mystery Man of Politics.” Other names given to Akin were the “Lemon Man” and the “Man without a Party.” In 1941, his second wife, who some allege was related to Stephen Sanford, was listed in the Amsterdam city directory as his widow. She resided in his house at 10 Brandt Place, but whether he had remarried her is itself a mystery.

Click here to order my book, Between the Cracks: Forgotten Stories of Amsterdam, NY and the Mohawk Valley.

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