Monday, November 19, 2012

Fictional stories in a real place

The eleven short stories in the newly published collection, Asteronga New York, are undeniably inspired by growing up in Little Falls during the late 1950s and 1960s.  But anyone looking for actual models for Uncle Artie, Juliana, Marjorie, Ronnie Van Vranken, Gracie McGee or any of the other characters will be disappointed. No one should search their memories to recall an apparition of the Virgin Mary or a Hungarian boy who rose from the dead. All the people and events in this book are as imaginary as the narrator who tells us about them.

Available in paperback for $9.95.

Asteronga, New York may also be purchased  on Kindle for $2.99.

Excerpts from two of the stories 
in the collection: 

 from: " An Appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary"

     I woke up cold, wet and stiff just as the sky was starting to turn gray. Feeling miserable, I stood under my cousins’ carport and watched the drizzle for a while, getting my strategy together. I could just walk into the Selective Service office, I figured, and tell them who I was. Then I’d act crazy. But what would I say? What could I do to convince them I was unfit for Viet Nam? The old guys on the Board must have heard the same act every day. Thousands of guys my age and younger were being called up and about half a million were over there already.  The death count was up to about forty or fifty names a week. Thinking about it now, I realize that half the names on the Wall in Washington were already listed somewhere by then.

     The rain continued to come down, getting heavier, and the sky was solid gray. I noticed the Valley Bus stopping in front of the closed ice cream store, so without thinking about it any more, I hopped over the backyard fence and ran to the bus. A half hour later, I looked out the window of the bus as we passed the Hotel Snyder and rolled to a stop directly in front of St. Mary’s.

     As the bus pulled away toward St. Johnsville, I looked up at the familiar steeple and decided to just go into the church for a minute. I felt like seeing the stained glass window where the children come to visit Jesus. Once I was inside, all the old feelings of my praying days with little Christina came back to me.

     She and her family had packed up and moved out to California years before but the church was unchanged and completely empty. The same smell of dust and wood polish and a lingering fragrance of incense from Benedictions of long ago. I slumped into a back pew, genuflecting before I knew what I was doing. I had been thinking that I was an atheist but once I was back in St. Mary’s, the old feelings of devotion rolled up out of me. I began to pray without any words, just with emotion, letting my feelings pour out.  I discovered that my eyes were full of tears.

     Later that day, after stopping in to say hello to my parents, I grabbed a pile of camping gear from the attic and headed up to the woods near Indian Cave. Now that I was back home, my first idea was to build a hermitage and settle down to some serious praying.

     Now, you may be thinking that I had smoked some funny stuff down in New York City that me right over the edge into religious mania, but I hadn’t really smoked that much grass and I never took any LSD or anything like that. I just had an impulse to do some serious praying on my own. This was not a new idea for me, as I explained earlier. I was always inclined toward the monastic lifestyle, in a sense.

     I settled down that night in the cave, just rolled up in my sleeping bag and snoring away. Going to the cave probably was something like going back to the womb. First of all, it was narrow and dark, hardly a cave at all, more like a cleft in the rocks. The rocks in the hillside are way too hard to allow for a regular limestone cave full of dripping stalactites and extending for miles underground like the one Tom Sawyer and his pals got lost in, but as a kid, Indian Cave had pretty much defined caves for me.

     My brother had introduced me to the cave when I was only four or five. We played various games in it, mostly some variation on Cowboys and Indians. I remember once Joe and I went up on the hillside in the winter and dug down through the snow to find the entrance of the cave and then we huddled together inside it, looking out at the freezing cold world outside.

      In the morning, I was a little stiff after two nights sleeping outdoors so I built a small fire of twigs to warm up and tried a few prayers. All that came to mind was the Hail Mary and Our Father routine and somehow that didn’t seem to suit my surroundings. I did some Zen meditation like Jack Kerouac used to write about, trying to focus my mind but the tweety-tweet singing of the birds kept distracting me from the Empty Mind thing. I gave up on the spiritual exercises and went down to Reese’s Mom & Pop store on East Madison and bought a six pack of Utica Club. By mid morning I had finished the beer and gone back to my sleeping bag for a nice nap.

     When I woke up around noon, my mind was clear, or at least I thought it was. I decided that I would get my gear together and walk up through the Adirondacks to Canada. Cramming what I could into a backpack, I rolled up the sleeping bag and tied it on top of the pack. Looking around at my campsite, I said a few more prayers and strode off in what I assumed was a northerly direction. The only problem was that I didn't have a compass so after I had walked about five miles, I realized that I had been heading due east.

     I was getting tired, after all that beer and walking and no food, so I sat down on a log and watched the cars skimming past on Route 5, a road that pretty much directly followed an east-west line up the Mohawk Valley from Albany to Syracuse.

     As I sobered up, the idea of walking the 200 or so miles to the Canadian border grew less appealing. I thought maybe I would head up a county road from Neary's Bar & Grill, which was visible through the trees, to the old pond where I could do some swimming and maybe find a girl. I was so horny that I felt certain I'd meet a very willing girl down at the rocks. Horniness often induces a state of certainty like that.

     About an hour or so later, I made it to the trail that led down from Clay Hill Road to the flat rocks below the dam. Only one car, a beat-up ’57 Ford, was parked near the top of the trail. Scrambling downhill, I fell once, felt like an idiot, and dusted myself off before going on. I heard some laughing and splashing sounds so I knew I was getting closer to the flat rocks.

     When I was in high school, I used to go down to the rocks with Mark Halsdap, who’d drive his brother’s El Camino. He'd invite as many of us as could fit to jump into the back and we'd head off to the pond.

     Usually, somebody would have ID for beer and we’d arrive semi-drunk and acting like idiots. Mostly, it was a bunch of guys. We kept hearing stories of girls who would join in the skinny dipping off the rocks below the dam, but to tell you the truth there were almost never any girls there. The place was too wild and unsupervised for most of them, except maybe Gracie Simchak.

     That's why I was so surprised when a girl in a two piece bathing suit came running full speed out of the trees. “Whoa!” I yelled, “Watch out!” Bam! She crashed right into me, and practically knocked me over.

     “Hey, aren’t you Ellen, Linda’s sister? What’s up with you?”

     I thought maybe she was terrified but I’m not that good at reading people.

     Just then two guys came running like maniacs, followed by another girl. She was holding the top of a two piece as and her eyes were wild.. I couldn’t help noticing that she had very nice tits.

     “Hey, hold on!” I yelled. “What’s going on?”

from:  "Burying Uncle Artie"

     “What killed him the end, anyhow?” asks Paul.
     “Wife called. Said he was running off, again, you know, like I give a shit or could do anything about it. He was always running off on a drunk. What’s she calling me for? I never even met her. Some tramp he picked up at A.A., probably.”
      This was a pretty long speech for James, but he wasn’t done.
     “So she calls me again ten minutes later. She says Artie went out to the car. I said, so? Then she says he started the ignition and let it warm up, like he always did. He was careful that way. But he never gets to put it into Drive. She sees him slumped over the wheel, with the transmission still in Park. She opens the door and he falls out. He’s dead, she says. His heart must’ve gone.”
      “All this in what, ten minutes?” I ask.
     “Yeah,” says James. “She calls me when he’s running out on her, then she calls me and says he only made it to the car and dropped dead, and she’s got no money, she goes on, she doesn’t have any cash, she can’t pay for a funeral, can she send me the body C.O.D. and can we bury him up here.”
     “So what’d you say?” I ask.
     “I says yeah, ship the body to Shepardson’s and we can bury him here.”
     “Is she coming?”
     “His wife,” I say. “Is she coming to the funeral?”
     “She didn’t say. She only said she’d send Artie home so I told her okay.”
     “Where are you gonna put him?” asks Paul.
     “Up in Old St. Mary’s. Next to Ma and Pa and Iggie. We got a lot of plots up there. My old man had foresight. He bought a dozen plots back in the twenties. Room for all of us, he used to say. One big happy family. That’s what he’d say.”
     “I don’t think they’re allowing people to get buried up there any more.”
     “What do you mean?”
     “It’s on such a steep hill,” explains Paul. “They built that place back in horse and buggy days. A hearse can’t get up those dirt roads they got. Some of the gravestones are even falling down the hill so nobody knows who’s buried exactly where.”
     “What are you saying? They’re not burying anybody up there?”
     “That’s what I’m saying. The monsignor says everybody’s got to go to the New Cemetery out on Route Five where it’s nice and flat.”
     “The fuckin bastard. The cheap fuckin bastard.” James is glowering into his beer. “No fuckin way. No fuckin way.”
     “What do you mean, Uncle James?”
     “No fuckin way am I gonna buy a new plot to put Artie in. He belongs with Ma and Pa and Iggie.”
     “Don’t worry about it,” I offer.  “I’ll talk to the priest.”
     I leave James at the bar. I knew he’d be there the rest of the day. I drove over to the rectory at St. Mary’s and rang the bell. An old lady answers. The housekeeper. “ I’d like to see the pastor,” I tell her, so she lets me in and has me sit in the parlor for about fifteen minutes before this big beefy guy in black pants and a white T-shirt comes in.
     “Hiya, father,” I say. “I want to talk to you about a funeral.”
     “Monsignor,” he corrects me, not offering to shake hands. He knew who I was, I guess, even though he’d only been here a couple years.  He probably noticed how I never dropped by the church.
     “The funeral director will handle all the details, son.” He never even asks who died. Maybe he already knows.
     “Yeah, we’re using Shepardson but I wanted to ask you something.” He waits for me to continue. “I wanted to ask you about Old St. M’s. We got a family plot up there…”
      He raises his hand, cutting me off. “Interments are no longer permitted in Old St. Mary’s.”
     “I don’t know, father,” I say. “I got to talk to my mother and my uncle.”
     “Monsignor,” he reminds me.
     “Yeah, well so long for now, Monsignor.” How much would this cost, I wonder, and who’ll pay for it?
     I find James back at the bar and lay out the situation to him. “No fuckin way” is his response, so I drive back to Dolgeville, where my mother was living that year.
     “James is a stubborn old bastard,” she agrees. “But I see his point. Why should Artie be all by himself when Ma and Pa are up in Old St. M’s? It’d be like burying him on a golf course.”
     “Yeah, but the priest says they don’t allow what he calls interments up there anymore.”
    “James is pretty used to getting his own way, that’s all I’m saying,” my mother concludes. “I’d never cross him.”
     Artie’s body arrived the next day. Tom Shepardson said we could come down and have a gander. My mother wanted to, so we did. I let her look him over as long as she wanted, but I took just a quick glance. He looked like he’d been dead for a year as far as I was concerned. Then Tom took us on the grand tour of casketville and Mom picked out something middle priced, not cardboard but not mahogany neither.
     “And will you want to wake him for two nights?” Tom inquires.
     “One should do it,” says my mother. “Not that many people around here know him anymore.”
     After that, we reported to James at the bar. “Sounds okay,” he says to the idea of a one-night wake and a 9:30 funeral on Wednesday. He would be picking up all the bills. Since he never spent any money, he had plenty. One time he was driving along Route 5 with a bunch of uncashed checks stuck up in the visor. He got hot and rolled down the window and the checks all blew out. He didn’t even stop to go back and try and find them. He had that much money piled up.
     “How about the cemetery?” he asks. I could see he was ready for a fight.
     “Tom says they don’t bury people in old St. M’s any more.” My mother was assessing James’ reaction, trying to hide a smile. “You heard about that, right?”
     “No fuckin way.”
     My mother turned to me and held out both her hands, palms up. “What can you do? My brother James is incorrigible.” She was delighted with him and eager, I could tell, to see what would come of  James’ impending battle with the priest.
     “Artie woulda loved this,” she mouths to me.
     The wake went pretty much as might be expected.  His wife never showed. A few old drunks came, a few more old pals of Artie who were now in A.A., and the two sides went at it pretty good, accusing each other of being lushes and hypocrites respectively.  One old guy comes in, wearing his American Legion cap, and did a little patriotic service.  “We are going,” he confided in a loud whisper to my mother. “We are going, Mary, one by one.”
     “Better than two by two” is her reply. 
     I look around, trying not to laugh, and I notice that James is nowhere in sight. He was always restless and the idea of him sitting around next to his brother’s embalmed body probably didn’t appeal to him. Maybe he’s gone back to the bar, I thought. Then, to my surprise, he reappears at the door to what the Shepardsons call the reception room. He was standing there, fidgeting. He didn’t have a suit jacket or tie or anything. Didn’t own any, I’m sure. He was in his flannel shirt and overalls, as usual. I eased my way past my mom and the American Legion guy, who were still chatting, and went over to James.
     “Kid,” he says to me. “I got a couple of bum arms here.”
     “Yeah,” I say. “I know.”
     “Otherwise, I wouldn’t put you in a spot like this.” He looks right and left to see if anyone was near. “Let’s talk out on the porch.”
     Once we were outside, James tells me his plan.
     “Here’s what we do. We’re going up to Old St. M’s.”
     “I got a shovel and a pickaxe in the truck. And a Coleman lantern. “
     “Are we gonna dig somebody up?” I couldn’t figure this out at all.
     “We’re going to dig a grave for Artie, right where he belongs.”

Comments from readers are welcome at

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Return to the village of Alfred Dolge

Dolge portrait from his obituary, 1922

Thinking about a new historical novel based on the life of Alfred Dolge, I recently returned to the village he founded, Dolgeville. In my earlier postings on this site, The Enlightened Capitalism of Alfred Dolge and The Downfall of Alfred Dolge I explored  his  history , but  was  left with many questions.  In publishing here some of my more recent thoughts on this remarkable visionary, I am looking forward to hearing from Dolgeville natives and others who share my fascination with his late 19th century mix of capitalism and socialism.  

When I first posted a piece on the 1912 Little Falls strike eighteen months ago,  I heard from many people whose insights and comments guided the subsequent writing of my short novel of the strike, The Red Nurse. The panel discussion on the strike in which I participated on August 9 at the old Stone Mill was another great opportunity to learn from others who share an interest in that long ago struggle.
The Dolgeville-Manheim Historical Society

 I arrived in Dolgeville on a beautiful August morning and met with Bob Maxwell, president of the Dolgeville-ManheimHistorical Society, who graciously opened the society’s museum and archives to me. The museum is housed in an 1890 Firehouse on Main Street, built during the heyday of Dolge’s reign over the village. The first floor features a number of exhibits on village history, including artifacts from the Dolge family.  There is also a display of footwear manufactured by the Daniel Green Shoe Company, which continued for many decades an industry pioneered by Dolge.
Clock from the Dolge home
Zimmerman autoharp manufactured in Dolgeville

The second floor contains a trove of materials that would require several doctoral students to do it justice. Cabinets packed with Dolge era files contain handwritten notes by Dolge, his school notebooks from Germany, family photographs and far more. There was a scrapbook kept by his son Rudolf, a phrenological study of Rudolf, the notes he made for his defense in the court cases that followed the bankruptcy, and a note he sent many years later from Venezuela to explain his role in the crisis of 1898. There were also piles of ledgers from the factories and books from the industrialist’s private library. I also found Dolge’s own notes for his defense in the court case of 1899.
Map drawn by young Alfred as a student in Germany

Alfred Dolge's notes for his own defense
I was particularly glad to find that the society offers for sale a photocopy of the very rare  book, History of a Crime, in which Dolge explained how his dream of an ideal industrial village was destroyed.  There were also fragile newspaper clippings in which Dolge was viciously attacked as responsible his own financial collapse.
Possibly Rudolf Dolge?

In the self-published History of a Crime the industrialist provides a very detailed description of how he was tricked out of all he had built. After a brief summary of the conspiracy by Hardin and Ingham, the bulk of the book consists of depositions  in a lawsuit initiated by the Garfield Bank, and concludes with  Dolge’s  May 6, 1899 farewell speech, in which he says:

“I have been called a dreamer. Yes, I am a dreamer, full of ideals, full of enthusiasm for the good, the noble in mankind and nature, a firm believer in humanity and the possibility for everybody. The world would be better if we had more dreamers of this kind and fewer cold-blooded egotists who regard their fellow men only as an object for plunder.”

He paints himself as an idealist among knaves, but it simply defies credibility how such a brilliant and dynamic man could let himself be repeatedly deceived by Judge George Hardin and Schuyler Ingham, remaining loyal to them even as they systematically dismantled his companies from April to August of 1898. He is also less than convincing in his explanation of how his son Rudolf was prevailed upon to give a  power of attorney to the unscrupulous men who destroyed  not only his father’s wealth but  also the hopes that his workers had placed in the pension, insurance and profit-sharing plans dependent on the Dolge companies.
Trestle foundation from the Dolgeville-Little Falls Railroad

Perhaps Dolge was overextended since financing the Dolgeville-Little Falls railroad and trusted Hardin and Ingham to devise means to outsmart his creditors. Perhaps his own hands were not completely clean, but this possibility cannot yet be determined with any certainty. It is clear, however, that Hardin and Ingham profited immensely from Dolge’s ruin and immediately destroyed the complex social welfare system he had built up.
Dolge mansion

The Dolgeville Mills

After only touching the surface of the archives, I walked around the village to see some of the many structures still in use 114 years after its founder left forever. The limestone factories on the East Canada Creek and the Dolge mansion are in fine repair, as they were on my last visit, thanks to the care of their current owner, Charlie Soukup.  The Turnhalle, the imposing social and cultural center of the 1890s community on Faville Avenue, currently houses Bergeron Company which manufactures strollers, car seats, and equipment for children with disabilities. It is heartening to see companies like Bergeron still making valued products here in America, although they are reportedly seeking Asian partnerships.
The Turn Halle

I then followed Van Buren Street extension down to the location of High Falls Park, a gift of Dolge to the village which was, sadly, sold off by his creditors soon after his departure. I met a very friendly retired couple, the Andersons, now living near where the home of Dolge’s father once stood.  Christian Dolge was a revolutionary in Germany, imprisoned for his part in the 1848 uprising, and must have been quite a formative influence on his son.  He is said to have been friendly with Karl Marx, who fled Germany after 1848. Marx’s history of the uprising, and analysis of why it failed, is quite readable. (Marx’s Revolution and Counter-Revolution, or Germany in 1848 is available free on Kindle)
Christian Dolge

Christian Dolge and hunting companion

Christian followed his son to Dolgeville by the 1880s and his farmhouse was the scene of many gatherings. He kept his own menagerie and the remains of his trout ponds are still on the Anderson’s property.  The Andersons told me what they knew of the High Falls Park and shared with me a map drawn by John Lacik.
Map of High Falls Park by John Lacik
A view of what was once the ballfield at High Falls park

Looking across what was once the ball field of High Falls Park, I tried to imagine the nearby woods as they were in the 1890s, a scene of wholesome recreation for the  workers and their families who lived a life beyond imagining for those toiling in the factories of Little Falls and similar milltowns. Here in Dolgeville, those who worked hard believed that a decent pension, healthcare, and education for their children was assured.  How many of them, I wondered, realized that their hopes and expectations depended entirely on the one man whose name the village bore?  And how many could have imagined that over a century later American working people would still not be assured of health insurance and a decent pension and disability protection, and moreover that those benefits already won would be under attack?
Mr. and Mrs. Dolge in later life.
Woman at left may be Dolge's sister Anna

My novel on the later life of Alfred Dolge, Mr. Dolge's Money,  can be found on Amazon in paperback for $9.95 and on kindle for 99 cents. The story centers on Alfred and Anna's grandson Joseph, or Jose, who is imagined as a son of Rudolf's from Venezuela. At the very end of World War I. Alfred dispatches the young man on a mission across newly Bolshevik Russia into a Germany in the midst of its revolution. In the course of Joseph's attempts to recover his grandfather's hidden fortune, he narrowly escapes from Lenin's secret police and the early Nazis and their followers from the occultist circles of Munich.

 My  short factual biography of Alfred Dolge is also available on Kindle for 99 cents and as an illustrated paperback for $7.95. The Kindle version can  also be read on tablets,smartphones and PCs by downloading the free Kindle app. Amazon Prime members may also borrow the story through the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Last Days of a Unique Fishing Community on the Hudson

View from the village toward Amtrak and the Hudson

At some point in the 1800s – no one seems to know when – a unique fishing community sprang up along the river in Hudson, NY.  And as of today, that unique community will exist no more. It will go the way of other communities of free spirits in this region, like the fiercely independent Taghanic Basketmakers who were driven out of the hills above Lake Taghanic  90 years ago.
Entrance to Furgary is next to Hudson's waste treatment plant

Known as the Furgary Boat Club – and no one seems to known the origin of the word – generations of local people have made use of the collection of shacks between the town’s waste treatment plant and the Hudson River.  For years, city officials have talked about evicting the Furgary squatters but now that threat has finally become a reality.

Contemplating the end of an era

Two days before the eviction, I visited the site and talked with a melancholy  group of Furgary folk.  Most, if not all, had memories of the place going back to childhood and none could really understand why the City of Hudson was taking away land they had long regarded as their own.  But the problem is that the land was never their own in any legal sense. Joe Gallo, the president of their official group, the North Dock Tin Boat Association, told WGXC that there were never any deeds for the shacks nor any legal means of transfer.  Informal arrangements and mutual trust among members were what held the little community together. And according to a Register-Star article, no one ever lived there full-time. (I found no real evidence, one way or the other, on this claim.)
Longtime Furgarians

When I visited, the community residents were friendly enough but I was told by other local people that the Furgarians had long regarded the area as their private property and had posted plenty of No Trespassing signs prior to their recent troubles with the City.  Apparently, membership was usually limited to people whose families had lived in Hudson for generations. However,  one man who had moved to Hudson only a decade ago told me that he was friendly with the villagers and was considered a welcome guest  by them whenever he dropped by. But in no sense did the fishermen ever consider it public land, although in fact the several acres of shoreline and wetland do belong to the City of Hudson.

Wetlands stretch north from the Furgary shacks

The long-simmering dispute over ownership of the fishing village was brought to a head three years ago:
“In August of 2009, while performing a deed search, the Columbia Land Conservancy discovered the land, and the adjacent waste water treatment plant property, belonged to the state, which promptly traded it for property under the river owned by the city. Now that Hudson knows they own the land officials see development potential for the riverfront property.”
"Main Street"

Although Hudson’s current mayor, William Hallenbeck, said in a Common Council meeting on July 9 that he wished he could find a way to save the Furgary camp, the fisher folk with whom I spoke doubted his sincerity.  Their leader Joe Gallo, said that former mayor Rick Scalera was so adamant to destroy the community that he would be driving the first bulldozer. According to Gallo, the City has failed to recognize the services provided gratis by the Furgarians, for which the City would now have to pay:

“For a century and a half, we have been stewards of this part of the Hudson River. We have not only worked the river for shad and other fish, we’ve also managed the habitats and public hunting grounds of the foreshore, North Bay and Middle Ground Flats. We’ve safeguarded this area for the many children and pets who are drawn to it. And we’ve done it for free.”


Whether the destruction of this community will be cost-effective for the City of Hudson remains to be seen but it is clear that, as Gallo says, the City has shown “No regard for the cultural aspect.” This kind of American community outside the usual restrictions of laws and deeds was once common, but now  is extremely rare. As one fisherman-hunter-trapper told me, “Since Katrina, there’s nothing like us this side of the Mississippi.”  Surely, a wiser as well as more economically sound course might be to preserve the unique community but open it to a wider public.  Issues of liability cited by City officials could certainly be handled much the same as for other city parks.

Moving Day
No one with whom I spoke has any real idea of what will follow the destruction of the Furgary community. A strong possibility is that the Columbia Land Conservancy, whose researcher discovered the title discrepancy that set this whole crisis in motion, may seek to extend its adjacent natural area north of the city.  The organization’s Summer 2012 newsletter includes an article entitled “A Transformational Plan for Hudson’s Waterfront.”

Although no mention is made of the Furgary site, the accompanying map illustrates a plan “to connect the heart of Hudson to the Greenport Conservation Area and beyond.”  And a non-profit like the CLC certainly has a number of donors and supporters with deep pockets who could well have an influence on local officials.  There are also rumors of condo development, but considering that the site is right next to the city Waste Treatment Plant, that seems highly unlikely.

The CLC's Greenport Conservation Area adjoins Furgary site

I suspect that the most likely impetus behind the community’s destruction is the drive by a well-funded non-profit (i.e. the Columbia Land Conservancy) to keep expanding protected areas in the county. While such a motive is, in general, to be applauded, in this case it may well be that the “green” values of some of the county’s more influential residents are prevailing over the age-old traditions of a small group of local people. 

Update July 19, 2012

We visited the Furgary site a few days after the Hudson PD’s SWAT team launched its 3 a.m. assault against what  amounted to “three grumpy old men. ” The little cove was quiet and deserted, except for a few hungry cats. Police had strung netting loosely around the property and tacked up a few unofficial No Trespassing signs, but clearly no one was attempting to reoccupy the site – which raised the question of why Hudson authorities felt the need for such overwhelming force to back up its eviction orders.

The Register-Star reported that the Hudson Police Department felt the need for a SWAT team because of reports that people on the site were armed and planning to reist the eviction. No word on where such rumors originated. Mayor Hallenbeck also tried to justify the SWAT option in an interview with WGXC radio.  A well-informed older gentleman who joined me while I was looking over the now closed little village blamed the overreaction on the excessive dumping of military equipment into America's police forces by the feds after 9-11. 

Update Nov. 3, 2016
Over four years have passed and the Furgary settlement remains boarded up, in some cases falling into ruin. Makes you wonder what the rush was in closing down this unique Hudson River fishing camp.


Monday, July 9, 2012

Shermans Amusement Park at Caroga Lake, Then and Now

Shermans, 1929

We recently paid a visit to Shermans Amusement Park on West Caroga Lake. Although the resort has been open only sporadically for many years, the buildings are in surprisingly good repair. Local fishermen told us that the park has been closed for about five years but that the last owner, George Abdella, did make substantial investments to bring it back from a previous state of near-abandonment. (For those interested, the hundred acre site and 1400 foot shorefront are being offered for $2 million by Weichart Realty)

On a date at Shermans, 1931

Mary, Betty & Kay ready to go dancing at Shermans, 1926

However, we were there not to search for real estate bargains but to pursue memories of that bygone age when the first inexpensive automobiles brought throngs of summer visitors to the Caroga region, when a host of summer camps sprang up, and the music of Sherman’s carousel drifted across the lake. 
A champion swimmer at Shermans, 1929
Our first stop at Shermans was the snack bar. Nothing to eat, of course,  but we did see rolls of 15 cent tickets for the various rides and attractions.   Back in the 1950s, a series of tame monkeys held court on this spot, dashing up and down a pole and catching all the popcorn that could be tossed in their direction. (Mr. Sherman's platinum-haired daughter presided as the Popcorn Lady at this location.)

We then took a look at the old dance hall, which dates back to the 1920s, and saw that the dance floor is still ready for a foxtrot or two.  Back in those years, couples paid a dime a dance and passed through a turnstile to the dance floor. (Wallflowers could save money.)  

From the dance hall, we passed to the Ferris Wheel, which was closely examined by a young man in our company. He wondered where people sat.

Next stop was the bumper car pavilion, where gleeful youngsters once slammed into each other amid a shower of sparks.

 And then on to the carousel where the horses look ready to ride. These are the original horses, we were told, and they were carefully refurbished by the most recent owner.

Just to the west, Canada Lake and Pine Lake were also the scene of many summer frolics of long ago, and Groshans Park on Pine Lake offered some of the same features as Shermans: rides, picnic areas, a beach and a dance hall.

The Allen Inn at Canada Lake, 1935

Ready for boating on Canada Lake, c. 1925

Groshans Park at Pine Lake, 1925 (postcard)

Before leaving the Caroga region, we stopped for a picnic and swim at the state park on East Caroga Lake.  The park is much the same as it was decades ago, according to the oldest member of our band.
Picnic at East Caroga Lake, 1929

and more recently

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A walk into the 19th century in Troy, new York

Monument Square

Six years ago Fred Bernstein wrote in the New York Times travel section that “Troy has one of the most perfectly preserved 19th century downtowns in the United States” and a recent visit proves he is still right:

Drive into the city, and you'll find block after block of town houses, churches and commercial buildings that look almost exactly as they did 100 years ago. A 1,200-seat concert hall has stunning frescoes and astonishing acoustics. A row of antiques stores inhabits buildings at least as precious as the merchandise inside. And a remarkable Tiffany window forms the backdrop for the circulation desk at the beaux-arts public library.

The Gasholder House once stored coal gas
to illumine Troy's streets

According to Bernstein, after World War II the local economy declined so suddenly that much of the original architecture has been preserved intact. And in contrast to many of the other old upstate industrial cities we have visited, the housing stock in Troy is occupied and in good repair. The presence of two colleges, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Russell Sage College have certainly contributed to this outcome. And a good number of hard-working lower income people have come north from New York City in recent decades, taking advantage of low cost housing no longer available in the metropolis.

An old mill on the Poestenkill Creek

Troy’s architecture reveals many layers of industrial development, with some factory buildings doubtless used by many succeeding industries over a period of two centuries. One of the very earliest industries was the production of nails, horseshoes and other iron implements, drawing on the extensive iron mines in the nearby upstate mountains.

The Burden Iron Works Museum


An interesting look at this era can be found at The Burden Iron Works Museum next to the railroad tracks at 1 East Industrial Parkway:
The museum building itself served as the offices for the Burden Iron Works Company. It grew out of the Troy Iron and Nail Factory, but Scotsman Henry Burden took it from a little local operation to one of the most important iron mills of its day. Burden patented a machine that could make horseshoes and the company scored a contract to make the horseshoes for the Union Army. At its peak the iron works was grossing $400 million (in today's money) just in horseshoes.
Two gents with detachable collars

The next great industry in Troy sprang from what now seems a peculiar fashion necessity of 19th century males: detachable collars and cuffs. In 1825 a local woman, Hannah Montague is said to have grown tired of washing her husband’s shirts when only the cuffs and collars were dirty. She made her life easier by developing a detachable collar that could be cleaned and starched separately from the shirt. Soon enough, a host of factories had sprung up in Troy to manufacture such collars and cuffs –and with them a great many laundries to wash and iron the detachable fashion accessories.

The Troy Record building

These labor-intensive industries were the setting for the nation’s first female labor union in 1864, led by a formidable young Irish immigrant. The 19 year old Kate  Mullaney and girls like her worked 14 hour days in laundries specializing in the detachable accessories, earning no more than three or four dollars a week. Influenced by the male Iron Moulders Union, Kate and her friend Esther Keegan organized the Collar Laundry Union with 300 or the approximately 3000 Troy women employed in the collar and laundry trades.

Supported by, and supporting their male colleagues among the Iron Moulders, Kate’s union went on strike for higher wages in 1866, and won. In 1868 she led another walkout and won an additional increase in wages, and that same year she was elected vice president of the National Labor Congress at a New York City Conference. In 1869 the union established its own cooperative laundry, a new advance in the labor movement. The manufacturers countered by floating rumors in the press of a new, disposable paper collar which led to a collapse of the cooperative, and a year later to the dissolution of the union. Kate, whose labor career ended before she was 30, married and lived an apparently quiet life until her death in 1906.

Kate Mullany House dedication
Although in the end her union did not survive, Kate Mullany’s achievements have not been forgotten and in 1998 Senator Hillary Clinton joined local activists to dedicate Kate’s home at 850 3rd Street as a National Historic Site.

River Street

If you are thinking of a short visit to downtown Troy, you could do no better than follow the walking tour suggested by Fred Bernstein. Start with a snack or coffee at Illlium, a cafĂ© on Broadway on the edge of Monument Square. Then follow River Street to the antique shops. Many small businesses are located in the classic Victorian buildings on these streets.

Market Block Books on River Street

No Name Design on Fifth Avenue

Cary Organ Co. on Jefferson Street

Troy Pork Store at 4th and Ferry  Streets

Be sure to continue at least as far Washington Park, between Second and Third Streets and Washington Place and Washington Street,  a gated park resembling Gramercy Park in Manhattan.  

Troy Public Library
From there walk north on Second Street to the Troy Public Library, where Tiffany windows and Hudson River paintings adorn the classic structure.

The Rensselaer County Court House

Next door is the majestic Rensselaer County Court House and across the street is the Russell Sage College campus, graced by a statues of its founder Emma Willard and a soldier of the Spanish American War. The latter monument is unsual in its recogntion of those who served in suppressing the Phillipine Insurrection of 1898-1902. This largely forgotten and sorry episode in our nation's history is the subject of both John Sayles' film Amigo and his historical novel A Moment in the Sun.

Also on Second Street is the historical society and the Troy Savings Bank MusicHall, known for its regular schedule of concerts.

Russell Sage campus
But you really don’t need to follow any set route -  just wander where you will in this movie setting of a town and imagine yourself in the world of a hundred and more years ago. (You won’t be surprised to learn that Troy was the setting for Martin Scorsese’s Age of Innocence in 1993.)

Martin Scorsese directing Michelle Pfeiffer and Daniel Day Lewis