The archaeological record that Tubman left behind sheds light on her life and the ways in which she interacted with local and national communities.
Archaeological and historical research at the Harriet Tubman Home, in Auburn and Fleming, New York have uncovered significant details related to Harriet Tubman’s life in Freedom. Among the artifacts recovered from Harriet Tubman’s house were a group of metal buttons with star designs. These buttons were just a few of the tens of thousands of personal items that were part of the daily life of Harriet Tubman, her family, and those who she cared for over more than fifty years of her life in freedom.
This week news related to a renewed effort to move forward with the release of the Harriet Tubman twenty dollar bill once again brings conversations related to the multi-dimensional importance and symbolism of the inclusion of an image of Harriet, a woman and an African American, on U.S. currency. The Tubman $20 bill also has special meaning related to this book. There is a link between the design of the new twenty and the material record recovered at the Harriet Tubman Home. Symbolic representations of the star buttons recovered from archaeological deposits from soils just outside the north door of Tubman’s house were incorporated into the clothing worn by Tubman in the engraving of Tubman on the twenty dollar bill. The Bureau of Engraving requested images of dozens of artifacts from the site and selected these as they were tangible items recovered from Tubman’s house that could be depicted in the engraving and due to the star symbolism. The stars depicted have a well-known correlation to Tubman’s following the North Star to freedom, and the buttons were found in a context of the house where Tubman, her family, and those in her care were living in freedom.
The initial decision to put Tubman on the $20 took place when the archaeological project described in this book was well underway and findings from the site were shedding light on new dimensions of Harriet Tubman’s civic minded pursuit of equality and justice. With the support of congressional legislators, Harriet Tubman Home, Inc. and the AME Zion Church used this new archaeological and historical research on Tubman to work with the National Park Service in an effort that let to recognition of the property as Harriet Tubman National Historic Park, a designation that was achieved in 2017, an effort that is described in the final chapter of the book.
This study integrates a detailed archaeological study with the compilation of an array of primary and secondary source data on Tubman’s life. Tubman’s early life is well known for her efforts to liberate African Americans from slavery. Tubman’s heroic actions conducting African Americans to freedom on the Underground Railroad have been detailed in several books, including Kate Larson’s “Bound for the Promised Land”(2004). In 2020, Tubman’s self-emancipation and her dynamic role as a conductor was vividly portrayed by Cynthia Erivo’s Academy Award nominated performance in the film “Harriet”. However, this study shows that there is even more to Harriet’s story and her on-going contributions to the struggle for freedom, women’s rights, liberty, and social justice. This study remembers Tubman’s commitment to social activism through the life that she lived, in freedom, at her personal home and farm and on behalf of the elderly African Americans that she cared for at the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged that she created in Fleming and Auburn, New York.
In the time since Tubman’s death, in 1913, the properties once owned by Harriet Tubman have continued to be held as a spiritual placeholder of her dreams and ideals. The properties constitute a landscape rich in artifacts, buildings, and meaning that derive from her life and her efforts on behalf of others. This study celebrates the process of healing and restoration associated with the reunification of Tubman’s properties and their recognition in 2017 as a key element of the newly created Harriet Tubman National Historic Park. In the pursuit of understanding Tubman, and the site, the study encountered many aspects of Tubman’s life that had been lost. The process of rediscovery embraced the multivalent patina of newly uncovered evidence of her life, including elements preserved in the site and in an array of newly examined documents. Together, these data inform us and provide depth and texture illuminating Harriet Tubman’s life, the people with whom she engaged, and the cultural landscape of sites once warmed by Harriet Tubman’s humanity.
The archaeological record that Tubman left behind sheds light on her life and the ways in which she interacted with local and national communities. It also projects her strong, individually based, spirituality and her relationship with the AME Zion Church. The AME Zion Church backed Tubman’s struggle. First, by working with her to open the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged; and then, by keeping her dream, and her legacy, alive through the retention and preservation of her properties. However, within decades of the end of Tubman’s life the breadth and importance of her legacy was nearly forgotten by the broader American society. As the 20th century progressed, the Home was closed and the structures deteriorated; but, the AME Zion Church managed to hold the properties together as a sacred trust. Fortunately, through perseverance, and a reawakening to the importance of the many social movements with which Tubman was actively engaged, her properties were preserved and the material record ensconced within these properties have been studied: including buildings, yards, ruins, and even a remnant apple orchard that were all important parts of Tubman’s life. In this setting the past and present have become intertwined. Now, more than a century after her death, the property, which is still owned by the AME Zion Church through its Harriet Tubman Home, Inc. not-for-profit unit, has taken on new symbolic meaning as a place of pilgrimage and national recognition, as a National Historic Landmark (NHL), and most recently as a National Historic Park.
Archaeological studies began after I took my students to the property as part of a regional “freedom trail” and “social movements” field trip for Syracuse University students. As we walked across the property and into the small museum my group and I were greeted by a warm welcome from site manager, Rev. Paul Carter. While feeling embraced by the welcome, I was instantly struck by the gap between my expectations for the site, given my understanding of the significance of Harriet Tubman’s contribution to American and world history, and the less than expected scale and scope of presentation of the property. I realize now that what I was experiencing was the product of changes in the landscape: missing buildings, miss-information on structures and their use by Tubman, and a general loss of interpretive connections to information on Tubman’s life. Though the land had been retained by the AME Zion Church and the Harriet Tubman Home Inc, changes to the landscape during the decades intervening between Tubman’s life and the present had resulted in significant losses in interpretive meaning. These changes were directional in that they were related to intervening social conditions and structures of social inequality, that in spite of good intentions of the AME Zion Church, had resulted in limited resources and opportunities, and that over time, and processes of physical decay, key elements of Tubman’s legacy were muted or muffled and continuities that were inherent in the landscape were obscured. What I observed at the Tubman Home that day was in contrast to many historic sites that I have visited, like Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, or the nearby home of Tubman supporters William and Francis Seward, where every vista, room, or action, from the past are amplified and illuminated.
As I toured the small museum my eyes and thoughts focused in on a picture of Harriet Tubman. In the image, Tubman is sitting among a group of African Americans in front of a building, identified as ‘John Brown Hall’. I had not seen the building in the modern landscape, so I asked Rev. Paul Carter where the building was located. He responded that it had been torn down and was lost in the woods at the back of the property. My thoughts flashed back and forth between a feeling of loss and hope, before focusing positively on hope. I asked him if we could go into the woods to look for it. He responded with a smile, saying “by all means.”
I gathered my students and we all headed into the woods to look for the ruins. Only about fifteen minutes later they began eating their lunches at the site as I went to get Reverend Carter who joined us on the newly rediscovered ruins. We discussed the importance of the site and I agreed, pending the support of the AME Zion Church, to excavate the ruins as soon as I finished another project. I remember thinking to myself as we returned home that day: ‘How could this site, a site associated with such an important woman, be so poorly understood?’; ‘How could key elements of the story of her life be missing from the landscape and all but forgotten?’; and ‘What other ruins lie hidden on the property?’
This study is the product of nearly two decades of work at the Harriet Tubman Home, a project that involved hundreds of Syracuse University students, high school students from the region, and many local volunteers from the Auburn area. We carried out excavations at John Brown Hall, then surveyed the entire property and began excavations in and around Tubman’s brick house, we studied her yard, barn, and numerous other buildings and features on the combined 32 acre property. The book describes the process of rediscovery and uses the material evidence to link together numerous aspects of her life, her spirituality and her continued activism related to women’s rights and the welfare of aging African Americans.
Tubman was a strong woman with deep spiritual beliefs and a willingness to open her home and extend her resources to others. Moreover, she was deeply respected, not only by the African American community in Auburn and across the nation, but also by a broader local and national community of persons engaged in social causes, activism, and civil liberties. The material and spatial record reveals Harriet Tubman’s efforts to provide for those in need, her support of women’s suffrage, and her efforts to create a special place where aging and homeless African Americans could find shelter and freedom from want.
This is not simply a report of archaeological contexts pertaining to Harriet Tubman, but a material demonstration of the qualities of the life she lived in service to others. The tangible artifacts recovered were used in daily life by Tubman, her friends, family, and people who were reliant on her. They remind us that the message is not just to keep on going; but, like Tubman, to keep moving forward with deliberate action and to pursue freedom and dignity on behalf of others. My hope is that in unearthing the archaeological record of her life the new perspectives gained will serve to inspire new generations to action—to solve the social problems of today.
Douglas Armstrong is Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor and Maxwell Professor of Teaching Excellence in the Anthropology Department, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. He is the author of Creole Transformation from Slavery to Freedom: Historical Archaeology of the East End Community, St. John, Virgin Islands. His upcoming book The Archaeology of Harriet Tubman’s Life in Freedom can be pre-ordered at press.syr.edu.
From Douglas Howard, coeditor of Television Finales
So, about a year ago, I was watching that Breaking Bad film on Netflix and Watchmen on HBO, and I was still thinking about the Deadwood movie from the previous spring. Inasmuch as all three of those “shows” amounted to endings and beginnings (and still more endings), the SUP book that I co-edited with David Bianculli on Television Finales was, as a result, still very much on my mind. We seemed so preoccupied with the past, inasmuch as we were returning to it again and again in those movies and on that series. Maybe we were culturally mining those media objects to re-experience the thrill of past moments—like Rey climbing the wreckage of the Death Star in The Rise of Skywalker or Danny Torrance walking back into the Overlook in Doctor Sleep on the big screen. But, in returning to those locations and revisiting some of those characters (and meeting some new ones along the way), we were reinventing that past as a statement about the present and creating new endings that spoke to who or what we had become. (Although “Nostalgia” is literally a drug on Watchmen,exorcising the past may even lead to godhood for Angela Abar at the end of the series, as she literally considers walking on water.) But, of course, that was then, and this is now.
Slumped against my couch and burnt out from another day of e-mails, I stare vacantly at yet another hour of Family Feud and wonder why more people surveyed thought that “lump” was a better rhyme for “bump” than “jump” or how three people could name “chicken alfredo” as a kind of pasta. (Who takes these surveys? Where do they find these people?) Steve Harvey seems particularly happy in these episodes, I think. The families clap and dance together as the music plays, and why shouldn’t they? For them, there is no such thing as COVID, no outbreak spikes and second-wave anxieties, no debates about wearing masks or handwashing protocols, no election recounts, no polarized news for a polarized nation. And they could win a new car if they make it to Friday. While the twenty-thousand-dollar prize for the “fast money” round is a nice payday, it isn’t life-changing money, I grumble from my couch cushion, but the winners scream as if they will be getting lottery payouts. I move for the remote a few times, but I just don’t have the energy to leave this land where someone thinks that “José” starts with an “H” and no one seems to care. I wonder if I am drooling. These are my television habits on a weeknight at home. This is my brain during the pandemic, and this is the past that I now turn to—not reinvented, but reclining.
If I think about what I’ve been watching as of late, it’s not pretty. Oh no. I have burned more hours than I can count watching Beat Bobby Flay or Chopped, watching people scramble to cook under pressure, watching judges savor some slightly underdone pork loin and show no fear if a chef sweats a tad on their bread pudding. A cough during the dessert round is no cause for alarm, and Bobby Flay is more than willing to hug a competitor after an intense thirty minutes of empanadas. On Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, Guy Fieri cruises into town in his cherry-red Camaro with the top down, to that world where patrons sit shoulder to shoulder to eat a world-famous hamburger or sample an obscenely decadent bowl of lobster mac and cheese. Of course, Guy gets to plunge a fork into the beef stew in the kitchen and smirks mischievously while the juice from that steak runs down his cheek. It’s all okay in the near-recent past, in the nightly time machine that shows me sugar-plum visions of pre-COVID glee. The drama here comes by the quart or the pound and often with a side of barbecue sauce. Nostalgia has become my drug of choice, too. I am a watchman. And I am watching.
At times, I feel horribly guilty, especially since there’s so much quality TV out there, older things to binge and newer things to start. But, in the midst of it all, yet another episode of The Office is comfort food, some predictability that goes down like Oysters Rockefeller in the Chopped kitchen or a steaming bowl of chicken soup at one of Guy’s out-of-the-way triple-D joints. (Am I watching too many cooking shows, I wonder, as food metaphors find their way into my vocabulary with alarming frequency? And am I watching too much of The Office? Hard to say. As far as the second one goes, though, my daughter dressed up as Dwight Schrute this year for Halloween.) And why shouldn’t I indulge in yet another half-hour of Impractical Jokers, if only to sit through Sal shouting “Bingo” in a crowded ballroom with none of the numbers on his card? No matter how many times I see it, the serious players are never amused. And no masks come out when Q gets handcuffed to a mime or Joe wears a diaper to square off against a sumo wrestler. Although the bits are frequently cringe-worthy, no one dies of embarrassment; no one dies of anything.
While I wait for civilization to reboot, I continue to tell myself that this experience is unprecedented and that I’m in some kind of cultural hibernation, living on TV predictability in the midst of a world that refuses to be second-guessed. A few years back, I wrote a CSTonline piece about reruns and how they satisfied our psychological craving for order, a necessary “counter” to the “chaos, flux, and unpredictability” of life. Maybe there are times when we need formula and control and security, things that TV often offers too much of. Maybe that’s the point of the exercise (or lack of exercise)—the familiarity, the safety, the predictability. I know that Pam won’t be marrying Roy and Jim won’t be working in Stamford forever. Maybe The Masked Singer is about all the intrigue and mystery that I can handle right now, as so many things remain up in the air. During a recent panel discussion at work, I talked about the need for some mindlessness during the pandemic, some moments of shutdown, a chance for the laptop to cool down and the user to recharge. As Steve Harvey smiles at yet another ridiculous response, I know that he gets it. So, why fight it? Maybe the answer that I’m looking for is somewhere on the board behind those numbers or hidden in a survey question about goldfish or vampires.
Douglas L. Howard is academic chair of the English Department on the Ammerman Campus at Suffolk County Community College. He is the co-editor of Television Finales: From Howdy Doody to Girls published by the Syracuse University Press, co-editor of The Essential Sopranos Reader and editor of Dexter: Investigating Cutting Edge Television.
We welcome this post written by Shikha Upadhyaya, a P.h.D student at the University of Wyoming.
The world witnessed the crowning of the “new face” of America on the night of September 15, 2013. People all over the world went to various social media outlets to express their views about the new Miss America. Although ethnolinguistic diversity is intuitively considered to be at the core of “American Life,” Americans and non-Americans within United States and all over the world were divided in their views on whether America is ready to be represented by an Indian-American face. This is particularly ironic given the fact that ethnolinguistic diversity is an observable reality of American life. Nina Davuluri (Miss America 2014) aptly stressed this fact during her CNN interview, “…the girl next door is evolving, as the diversity of America evolves. She’s not who she was 10 years ago, and she’s not going to be the same person come 10 years down the road.” Diversity has always been an integral and a “normal” aspect of being an American. Hence, it is safe to state that the new face of Miss America basically legitimized the existence and importance of diversity in the United States.
While mainstream media in U.S. was cheering Miss America 2014 for her talent, beauty and her courage to represent ethnolinguistic diversity in America, many fans from India applauded her for becoming the first Indian-American to be Miss America. Soon thereafter the conversation shifted to derogatory racist commentaries based on the color of her skin. While such commentaries within the U.S. were racist in nature, Indian media personalities and past beauty queens were engaging in controversial conversations related to whether Davuluri was “white” enough (from an Indian perspective) to win the contest.
The beauty industry in India establishes and promotes the idea that women need to be white in order to be beautiful. A particular shade of the skin becomes the yardstick for assessing the sociocultural worth of a human being. This is particularly prevalent within Indian beauty pageants. While these pageants claim to provide an important toolkit for young women to be successful in their lives, the process of “grooming” these young women leaves a lasting scar in their personal lives as well as on millions of other aspiring young women in India. These grooming rituals particularly valorize white skin as the ideal skin color, therefrom associating it with higher social and economic status. Successful Bollywood actors and actresses are part of advertisements for skin whitening creams associated with big brand names. In a sociocultural context where movie actors and actresses become “heroes” and “heroines” of an ordinary citizen’s day to day life, endorsements of such products perpetuates this social stigma associated with darker skin. Furthermore, this constantly communicates the fact that you have to be of a particular skin color to be successful in your life. Hence, this gendered assertion pertaining to skin color and success tacitly pressurizes young women to be in continuous dangerous pursuit of the “unnatural” in the construction of the “natural.”
Critics of beauty pageants label it as a public event that objectifies women and distorts socioeconomic realties. While these oppositional arguments cannot be dismissed, it is also difficult to ignore the massive public appeal of these competitive contests. While beauty pageants may not accurately reflect social realities, they surely have the capacity to represent the fantasy wherefrom adverse sociocultural ideologies pertaining to genders are reinforced and legitimized. Hence, it is critical to reflect upon broad sociocultural and economic implications of beauty pageants in the day-to-day lives of common people, irrespective of where one comes from.
For more on this subject, read Susan Dewey’s Making Miss India Miss World.
Nothing fits a warm summer night better than a great old car show. Well the biggest and best old car show in Central New York takes place every day at the wonderful Northeast Classic Car Museum in Norwich (Chenango County).
When you first step in to one of their several large showrooms it is sensory overload. Cars are lined up as far as the eye can see: red, black, white, turquoise, brown, green. They look like Life Savers on wheels. It is positively dazzling!
There are more than 150 cars on display every day at this unknown museum in Norwich. From Model T and Model As, to big-finned classics from the 1950s, to the muscle cars of the 1960s they are all here. Of special note is the largest collection of Franklin Automobiles under one roof. These cars were made up until 1934 in Syracuse. Other local auto manufacturers are represented here as well.
Some of the surest head-turners are the giant, block-long cars of the 1920s and 1930s. There are several Dusenbergs, Packards and Cords here that are as long as boats and have every imaginable accessory to ferry around the rich and famous of the day.
The thing I like best about the Northeast Classic Car Museum is its multi-generational appeal. This is the perfect place for Grandpa to bring his grandson (or granddaughter) to and give them a lesson on yesteryear. Both generations will love it. Granddad will enjoy reminiscing about his first car and the kids will love all the fancy, colorful features that make almost every auto here look as if it sprang from one of today’s superhero movies.
This is a nice museum, a little off the beaten path, but certainly worth a couple of hours on a a warm sunny Saturday! It is also a chapter in my new book Unknown Museums of Upstate New York.
You may remember our Summer Road Trip series with author and radio personality Chuck D’Imperio. Over the course of the summer Chuck took our readers on a tour of the most fascinating monuments, statues, and memorials in Upstate New York, all found in his book Monumental New York! He shared stories about the famous and infamous personalities to ever tread the forests, fields, and city streets of the Empire State.
Fortunately, Chuck is back with a new book and whole new set of summer travel ideas. Unknown Museums of Upstate New York: A Guide to 50 Treasures will be out later this summer but you will get a sneak-peek every few weeks when Chuck drops in on the blog to highlight a museum in this year’s Summer Road Trip series….starting today!
One of my favorite stops along the “museum trail” is the Gomez Mill House in Marlboro (www.gomez.org). The community lies on the border of Ulster and Orange County on the west bank of the Hudson River. The Gomez Mill House is steeped in history. It is the oldest surviving Jewish home in the United States.
Its graceful stonewalls, lush gardens, and old wooden water wheel give it a peaceful and nostalgic air. Inside the walls you will find the stories of five different prominent New York families (and others) who have resided there. It is totally fascinating and clearly one of the best kept secrets in the Hudson Valley. 2014 marks the 300th anniversary of the home and events and celebrations are planned.
Why not mark it down on your “trip catalog” for this summer and get a first look at this incredible landmark? The docents are well versed and the stories they tell are really the stuff that legends are made of.
Original builder Luis Moses Gomez was a Sephardic Jewish merchant and trader who established the first synagogue of Sherarith Israel and in 1728 served as its first president. The congregation, still in existence in New York City, is the oldest one in the United States. The families who followed the Gomez family as residents (Acker, Armstrong, Hunter and Gruening) are equally important and touched every aspect of American culture over the centuries from politics to literature to craftsmanship to military.
I spent an entire afternoon here recently and can’t wait to go back. As you quietly walk from room to room to room you can actually sense the heft of history found in this home. You will love the Gomez Mill House….an unknown museum of upstate New York that I write about in my new book.
Thomas Redfield Proctor came to the city around 1869 and quickly established himself as a hotelier of significance. His Bagg’s Hotel, Butterfield House and Spring House Hotel (Richfield Springs) were among the most popular and posh overnight accommodations in the region. Once he became wealthy, Proctor (and his extended family) was benevolent to their city beyond compare. He financed a parks system in Utica that quickly became the envy of similar sized cities in the U.S. It is in one of those parks that an everlasting tribute to this giant figure in Utica’s history still stands today.
From it’s exquisite aerie high atop the 400-acre Roscoe Conkling Park (named for legendary three-term U.S. Senator from Utica) sits the majestic “Proctor Eagle.” Upon his death on July 4, 1920, his wife, Maria commissioned a heroic image of an American Eagle about to take flight. This eagle sits atop a tall marble base. The direction of the eagle’s flight path reaches out over the city of Utica and on to the sweeping foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. While it is almost akin to detective work to try and discern the impetus behind the creation of some great memorials, the Proctor Eagle leaves no question as to its origin.
It commemorates an actual event.
A plaque affixed to this dynamic eagle monument reads: “This monument is erected to the memory and honor of Thomas Redfield Proctor by his wife. He was an incorruptible citizen and pure patriot. If asked what he wished for in reward for any good public deed he would reply, “I want nothing.” An American Eagle in a cage was once offered to him. He bought it and liberated it on the 4th of July. It paused for a moment and then took flight. He also was given his liberty on the 4th of July, 1920 and went the way the bird did, seeking his native element and the true Father of his country.”
The view from the Proctor Eagle high atop Conkling Park is one of the most beautiful of any monument sites I have researched in the state.
While visiting the Proctor Eagle simply turn around and look over the fence into Forest Hill Cemetery. The first large grave you can see is that of James Schoolcraft Sherman. Sherman was a political contemporary of Conklings, a fellow Utica native and a man who served as 27th vice-president of the United States.
Cooperstown, N.Y. is known as “America’s Most Perfect Village.” It has a storied past (the Baseball Hall of Fame obviously), a spectacular setting (Otsego Lake) and some pretty amazing members in its family tree (author James Fenimore Cooper for starters). So it is no surprise that it also has a wonderful selection of public art.
A visitor will marvel at the clarity and strength depicted in one America’s earliest popular sculptures, “The Indian Hunter” by John Quincy Adams Ward overlooking the lake. Or the magnificent solemnity of the World War I statue standing guard near the famous Otesaga Hotel (many have called this one of the most exact statues of its kind in America.). And then there is the towering and heroic statue of James Fenimore Cooper by sculptor Victor Salvatore posted outside the front door of the Baseball Hall of Fame Library. They are all great, but it is another Salvatore piece that strikes the most sentimental chord amongst the throngs visiting Cooperstown annually.
“The Sandlot Kid” was placed in front of Doubleday Field (dubbed “The Birthplace of Baseball) in 1940. It is a tall pedastled statue of a young lad preparing to hit a baseball in the 1800s. We do not know much more than that, but the statue speaks volumes. The kid has a farmboy’s straw hat pulled down over his eyes. He looks to be about ten years old. He is barefoot, dressed in overly large work clothes and his bat is resting on his right shoulder. Its placement in front of one of baseball’s “unofficial” shrines is picture perfect. Who cannot relate to this familiar scene?
And speaking of “picture perfect.” This statue is without a doubt one of the most photographed ones in the Upstate region. Teams of little leaguers, visitors from other countries, nostalgic grandparents and Hall of Famers alike have lined up to get a photo over the decades with this timeless kid in front of Doubleday Field. The majority of the 300,000 visitors to Cooperstown each year no doubt have a snapshot featuring themselves posing with this popular icon.
Victor Salvatore was a respected sculptor with bronzes showcased in galleries around the world including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He is also the sculptor of the giant Cooper statue near the Hall of Fame.
Salvatore was married to Ellen Ryerson, the daughter of wealthy lawyer Arthur L. Ryerson who perished in the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912. She was the only one of his daughters who did not voyage with thier parents on the doomed ship.
Our next “road trip” will take us to an aerie overlooking one of Upstate’s largest cities. Here we will learn the story of an amazing bird.
The President’s Whiskers
In far western New York, where the Finger Lakes region ends and the Great Lakes begin to make their presence known, one will find the most charming memorial in Upstate. The two central figures are familiar and yet curious. A towering U.S. president and a little girl holding a tiny bouquet of flowers. And that is it, in its entirety. Of course the president was Abraham Lincoln and the story of the president and the little girl is one of the most famous tales to come out of Upstate.
Lincoln was running for the presidency when he received a fan letter from an 11-year old girl, Grace Bedell of Westfield, N.Y. She was imploring him to grow some whiskers on his bare face so “all the ladies would vote for him.” Unbelievably, this seemingly innocuous letter reached the candidate’s desk and he read it and answered the little girl.
He agreed. He grew the whiskers.
After he was elected, Lincoln’s victory train made a stop in Westfield on his way to his inauguration. The tall president-elect came to the rear of the station and hollered to the huge crowd to “bring me the little girl, Grace Bedell.” Grace was there with her family and she shyly approached the soon-to-be president with a small bouquet in her hands. Mr. Lincoln reached down to give her a kiss on her cheek and the little girl reached up and rubbed his new grown whiskers. Lincoln whispered to the young girl, “Gracie, I have been growing them for you!” A roar went up from the crowd, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Much has been written about the meeting of Abraham Lincoln and Grace Bedell that day but sculptor Don Sottile, of Himrod, N.Y., created a timeless, poignant and beautiful life size double statue of this famous event that is the perfect anecdote to this delightful story. Many visitors come to the spot where the memorial is (corner of US Rt. 20 and NYS Rt. 394) during their visit to this region.
Westfield is grape country. The village is surrounded by many large vineyards and the was actually the birthplace of Welch’s Grape Juice (1897). The last remaining original building of the factory, Welch’s Building Factory #1, is still standing in downtown Westfield and is on the National Registry of Historic Places.
In our next visit we will explore the “Home of Baseball” (or is it?) and the famous statue of “The Sandlot Kid.”
If you ask any sports fan to name a miracle that took place in Upstate New York they will quickly tell you of the “Miracle on Ice,” when the U.S.A. team defeated the Russian ice hockey team at the 1980 Winter Olympics. But another miracle, this one a medical miracle, took place a century before this. It occured in Saranac Lake, just a hockey puck shot down the road from Lake Placid. It is the subject of our newest look at an Upstate memorial.
Dr. Edward Livingston Trudeau (1848-1915) came to the pristine Adirondack Mountains in 1873 after both completing his medical degree and contracting tuberculosis all in the same year. At the time it was felt that there was little to do to fight this disease but that surrounding yourself with fresh clean air, plenty of sunshine and a relaxed lifestyle all contributed to lengthening ones life with the disease. In 1894 Trudeau established the first clinic in the U.S. dedicated to the study and treatment of tuberculosis. The Trudeau Laboratory was opened in Saranac Lake and over the years hundreds would make the trek to the mountains seeking “the cure.”
Among the many famous clients who visited Trudeau’s clinic are writer Robert Louis Stevenson (who survived the disease) and baseball Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson (who died of TB in a cure cottage in Saranac Lake on October 7, 1925).
The clinic is still located here. At the rear of the building is a haunting statue. The statue shows the doctor in his final days of life gazing serenely over a pond behind the clinic that bears his name. The creator is one of America’s most famous sculptors, Gutzon Borglum, a friend of Trudeaus. Borglum’s most famous work of course is the presidential tribute carved on Mt. Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Dr. Trudeau’s great-great-grandson, the cartoonist Gary Trudeau (“Doonesbury”), currently serves as an Honorary Trustee of the institute bearing his family name.
In our next post we will take a look at a remarkable statue in Western New York which commemorates the historic meeting between a U.S. president and an 11-year old girl.
By: Sylwia E. Dziedzic, Marketing Intern
For years, literature has been an exploration into the application of philosophical ideas and concepts. To some, reading provides an emotional escape into a virtual escapade. Others read to expand their imagination and use it as an aid for relaxation. But what if your interactivity patterns, such as the length of time spent on a particular page, content written in the margins, and words highlighted on your Kindle, Sony Reader, Nook, or iPad were monitored? Data and analytics have undoubtedly changed the way mobile apps and gaming consoles are constructed for consumers. Therefore, we must ask the question: are editors more likely to test their books digitally before releasing it in print to ensure their content will sell? And of its counterpart: do readers accept the intrusion between their private journey with the author and words on the screen?
Patrick Berry, Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric shared some of his thoughts:
“The increased use of digital books seems inevitable. My 12-year-old daughter is as comfortable with a Kindle as she is with a print book. But, the issue of privacy is an important one.
I’m especially interested in how digital books can help us rethink the boundaries of the book. What if books incorporated video or provided access to web-based content? I just completed a coauthored book-length multimodal project designed to document how people outside and within the United States take up digital literacies and fold them into the fabric of their daily lives. Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times (coauthored with Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia L. Selfe) represents a first attempt at crafting a born-digital book http://ccdigitalpress.org/ebooks-and-projects/transnational“
With roughly 40 million e-readers and 65 million tablets in use in the U.S., according to analysts at Forrester Research, it can be difficult to correctly analyze how many users are aware of the monitoring process. We also still don’t know whether the process will help authors to generate more grasping content. We can only hope that this process won’t permanently change authors’ writing styles and the attachment they feel for their novels. Only time will tell.
The Erie Canal is the magnum opus in the early establishment of the Empire State as the jewel of the U.S.A. Called the “greatest engineering marvel of its time,” the canal was built at a time (1825) when there wasn’t even a single civil engineer in our new nation! So where are the monuments to this sterling achievement? Well they are few and certainly far between. But here in Seneca Falls, N.Y. along the banks of the Seneca-Cayuga canal, an offshoot of the Erie Canal, one will find a most sentimental and solitary salute to the great Canal Diggers (the monuments’ actual title.)
Here on the back side of the main business district one will come upon two statues standing solidly in the water. Each weighs a ton. Both are evocative of the canal workers who came through this region of Upstate New York by the tens of thousands. One essays an Irish digger and the other an Italian. Brian Pfeiffer of Bennington, N.Y., is the sculptor. The statues are located along the Ludovico Sculpture Trail which runs a mile and a half along the old canal. Several statues along the path (which is an abandoned rail bed) pay silent tribute to several hallmarks of the region including feminist Amelia Bloomer, the wine industry, local industries and others.
A small wooden staircase allows the casual visitor to walk down to the water’s edge and eye the statues from only a few feet away. It is not a stretch to imagine that the two silent sentinels are looking up at you from under their crumpled immigrant hats as if to say, “How about this canal, huh? It’s really something isn’t it?”
The next time we visit we will discover a statue which commemorates the “Miracle of the Adirondacks.”
While everyone is intimately familiar with Paul Revere and his famous midnight ride, far fewer know the story of 16-year old Sybil Ludington. She rode throughout the dark countryside of Putnam County (NY) warning of an impending attack by the British. Her ride, on the night of April 26, 1777, covered more than forty miles which was twice that of the more famous Revere ride. Too small to fit in the saddle atop her trusted horse “Star,” Sybil rode sideways through the thick forests and muddy lanes pulling up in the center of small towns like Mahopac and Farmers Mills and Kents Cliffs. There she would scream at the top of her lungs for the townspeople to rouse themselves and come to the aid of her father, the militia leader Colonel Ludington. Her efforts were successful. The story of this brave little girl raced throughout the region and she was lauded for her heroic act. Even General George Washington came to her home to “pat her on the head and say thank you.”
The Sybil Ludington statue is located in Carmel, N.Y. It was created by perhaps the most famous female sculptor of her time, Anna Hyatt Huntington. The statue is more than life size and depicts the little girl sitting sidesaddle on her charging horse. Sybil is wielding a tree branch to prod “Star” onward through the night and the girl’s mouth is wide open as if in mid-scream. The statue is muscular and poetic at the same time. It is a mighty tribute to a little girl who proved herself during a dark time in America’s infancy.
In my next post you will discover a dual statue which pays tribute to “the men who dug Clinton’s Ditch.”
Asa published Syracuse University Press author it will be my pleasure to drop in on this blog every couple of weeks to share with you some of my stories and travels around New York from my latest book Monumental New York! (SUP). This really was a fun book to research and write. My travels took me from one end of New York (lower Hudson Valley) to the other (the High Peaks of the Adirondacks). Plus of course a fascinating journey through the Finger Lakes and on out to Western New York. Really, what a breathtaking state we are blessed to have in New York!
My specialty is monuments! My book takes an extensive look at some of the most interesting monuments, statues and memorials found throughout Upstate New York. They celebrate an astounding pageant of history (both national and state) and are touchstones to some of the most famous and infamous personalities to ever trod the forests, fields and city streets of the Empire State. I hope you enjoy my vignettes, all taken from my new book.
When next we visit we will meet a little girl, her horse named “Star” and an incredible monument created by one of America’s most famous female sculptors.