SCHENECTADY Sarah Jones has her sights set pretty high. When she grows up, she wants to be like Eleanor Roosevelt.
“Well, that’s what I told my mom when I was younger,” said Jones, a sophomore at Guilderland High School. “She really is one of my heroes. I think she was incredible.”
Jones, the daughter of Walter Jones and Karen Covert-Jones of Guilderland, always thought she was headed in the math-science direction before her mother suggested that an eighth-grade history project might prove interesting.
‘The City That Kept a Secret: How Alco’s M7 Turned the Tide in North Africa’
WHERE: Schenectady County Historical Society, 32 Washington Ave. Schenectady
WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 374-0263, ext. 3, www.schenectadyhistory.net
After that initial leap into the past — which included an essay and websites dedicated to the Yalta Conference during World War II and Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — Jones has continued to immerse herself in history.
Her third website focuses on the American Locomotive Co. and Schenectady’s contribution to the manufacture of munitions during World War II.
On Saturday, at the Schenectady County Historical Society, Jones will present a talk titled “The City That Kept a Secret: How Alco’s M7 Turned the Tide in North Africa.” That’s also the title of her Alco website (http://88496908.weebly.com), which she created after she won a contest about Roosevelt.
“I won the Salute to Freedom Award — there was a winner in each state — and they had us write an essay about how our state contributed to the war effort during World War II,” she said.
“I thought about the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the Watervliet Arsenal, but then I came across a picture in The Gazette that showed tanks parading down Erie Boulevard in Schenectady. My family is not originally from Schenectady, so I didn’t know how involved the city was during World War II, but that photo seemed really interesting.”
In her research, Jones learned how Schenectadians kept it a secret when ALCO began producing M7 Tanks, also called mobile howitzers. Despite the fact that these tanks were being tested on the city streets of Schenectady, they were a complete surprise to the Germans in the fall of 1942, when the British 8th Army used them and posted its first significant victory of the war at the second battle of El Alamein in North Africa.
“No information was leaked to the Germans by ALCO, citizens or the press,” Jones wrote on her website. “The dedicated ALCO workers and the security-conscious Schenectady citizens enabled the coup. The surprise arrival of the M7 was an early turning point in the Allied fight to save Europe.”
Collecting six photographs to accompany her essay was part of the project for Jones, who got plenty of help from Jim Cesare and Dave Gould at the ALCO Historical and Technical Society, Cindy Seacord at the History Center in Schenectady’s City Hall, and ALCO Historic Photos. The photos and accompanying text were all put up on Jones’ website.
Both of her grandfathers participated in World War II, so she has enjoyed researching that era. Learning more about Eleanor Roosevelt, however, really sparked her interest.
“She didn’t go to college, so other than the basic finishing school she went to in England, she didn’t have a lot of education,” said Jones.
“What she did have was an incredible political acumen. She knew what to do, how to talk to people to get things done. It was her leadership that got the Universal Declaration of Human Rights passed in 1948.”
Jones’ next area of research and website will be related to the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, first introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives in 1918 by Republican Congressman Leonidas C. Dyer of Missouri.
“It was passed in the House but filibustered in the Senate,” said Jones. “It’s a hard topic to research, in that there are a lot of sad and disturbing things out there. There’s a lot of bad things in history and a lot of good things, but if we can look back at the past and learn from it, that’s the real value of studying history.”
Jones also plays the trumpet in the Empire State Orchestra’s Youth Jazz Band, sings in the school’s concert choir and competes with the Guilderland High cross-country and indoor track teams.
Her older brother, Paul, attended Oberlin College in Ohio, and her family is host to a foreign exchange student from Germany, also named Sarah.
“My dad is a mechanical engineer, my mom majored in art history, and they have both been very supportive,” said Jones. “They drive me places, they’ve helped me with my website. My dad pretty much has an interest in everything. You ask him anything and he can tell you the answer.”
While Jones says she still enjoys algebra and trigonometry, her favorite course this year is Robert Baker’s world history class at Guilderland.
“Mr. Baker makes things a lot of fun, and right now I think I want to study history and political science in college,” said Jones.
“I’m also thinking law school would be a lot of fun. But whatever I do, I want history to be involved in some way.”