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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Salem’s Forgotten African Americans

By William A. Cormier

A Research Journey Begins

Little did I suspect that a telephone call in February 2002 from an Albany man, Lloyd Stewart, searching for his ancestors, would result in the larger discovery (for me) of Salem’s near-forgotten African-American presence of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Stewart’s ancestral names, Van Vranken and Burke, were two names that I recognized from my work as town and village historian, and as I searched the historical records for them, I discovered that Van Vrankens, Burkes and other African Americans were buried in the “African Grounds” in Evergreen Cemetery and also in the Revolutionary War Cemetery or “Old Burying Ground.”

The design of Evergreen Cemetery, built in 1859, reflected the attitudes of mainstream American society in the Victorian period. The cemetery committee, with the help of William Blair and Dr. Asa Fitch Jr., among other prominent Salem citizens, engaged the services of J. C. Sidney, of Philadephia, to design the cemetery. Sidney was considered one of the most talented landscape gardeners in the country, and his design resulted in a grand landscape of tree and shrub lined avenues and lily filled ponds.[1] As citizens purchased lots they place ornate mausoleums, gravestones and statues at the grave sites, creating the grandeur of this cemetery that is evident today.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

“Raise My Voice Against Intolerance.”
The Anti-Nazi Rally in Madison Square Garden, March 27, 1933,
and the American Public’s Outrage over the Nazi Persecution of Jews

by Dr. Robert G. Waite
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved by the author.

“I have come to Madison Square Garden many times, mostly to speak on behalf of the political party to which I belong,” explained Alfred E. Smith, former governor of New York State and 1928 presidential candidate, to the 23,000 plus listeners crowded into the arena on the evening of March 27, 1933. Another 35,000 had massed on the streets outside, listening to the words of Governor Smith and each of the other speakers broadcast over a public address system. “But I don’t believe I ever came into it with greater satisfactions than I feel tonight to raise my voice against intolerance, bigotry and against the suppression of freedom of speech and the press and the abridgement of the right of public assembly.”1 Governor Smith was joined on the podium by a group of prominent figures, including New York City mayor James P. O’Brien, president of the American Federation of Labor William Green, Senator Robert Wagner, distinguished members of the clergy, and Rabbi Stephen Wise, president of the American Jewish Congress and the organizer of this mass protest against recent measures taken by the Hitler regime in Germany against its Jewish citizens. “This protest is not against the German people whom we love and revere,” Rabbi Wise assured the audience when he came to the podium. “It is not against the political program for Germany is master within its own household, but solely against the present anti-Jewish policy of the Nazi government.” Similar rallies were held in more than 65 cities in 25 states as a wave of outrage swept across America. An estimated one million were expected to join the protest meetings.

The rally in Madison Square Garden grew out of a far-reaching and deep-seated anxiety in America over the Nazi treatment of the Jews and the regime’s assault on organized labor and political opponents. As reports of mistreatment and discrimination were published in newspapers throughout the nation, Jewish communities, political figures, religious leaders, and rank and file labor became alarmed and they added their voices to the protest which percolated into a steady stream of letters to German consulates in the US and into rallies in cities throughout the nation. The rejection of Nazi policies was widespread, deeply felt, and sincere. The responses showed how much Hitler’s repression had touched a raw-nerve among the American people and not simply its Jewish citizens. Rarely have so many American from such diverse backgrounds, from such differing religious and political beliefs, come together in common cause to voice their outrage over persecution and repressive policies. The rally in Madison Square Garden culminated this spontaneous protest movement and sent a powerful message to political leaders in the United States and in Germany. Its impact was, however, mixed.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

How the Piarists and the Docent Saved Frank Lloyd Wright’s Graycliff

by Paul E. Lubienecki, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved by the author.

“Dear Dar:

I have been-seen-talked to, admired one of nature’s noblemen-Mr. Frank Lloyd Wright. He is not a freak-not a crank-highly educated and polished, a straightforward business like man with high ideals.

He would be pleased indeed to design your House. Mr. Wright says he don’t want any man to accept his ideas just because they are his-he proposes to furnish a reason for his ideas and wants judgment made solely on the merits.

He will build you the finest, most sensible house in Buffalo. You will be the envy of every rich man in Buffalo, it will be published in all the Buffalo papers, it will be talked about all over the East. You will never grow tired of his work, and what more can you ask? He is pure gold.”[i]

This letter, dated October 22, 1902, from Chicago businessman William E. Martin to his brother Darwin, would forever alter the architectural landscape of Buffalo, New York and establish a strong and enduring friendship between Frank Lloyd Wright and the Martins. Through the years, the distances and the personal and professional tumults, Darwin Martin and Wright remained steadfast in their mutual admiration. In his autobiography, Wright states “I would like to tell...especially of the lifelong interest and loyalty of Darwin D. Martin and the building of several houses for him...”[ii]

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

One Man’s Contribution to the War Effort

by Rob't E. Yott
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved by the author.

As we enter the third year of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, I feel it appropriate that remember one of the many veterans of Steuben County, whose tireless efforts helped to preserve the Union; Major John Stocum.

John Stocum was born in Pultney, Steuben County, on April 27, 1825. That same year his father drowned in the Conhocton River. Alone and penniless, John moved to Bath in1840. Here he learned the cabinet making and undertaking trade. In February of 1847 Stocum, a member of the First Presbyterian Church married Elizabeth Metcalf of Bath. Together they had at least three children; John L., James D. and daughter, Osie (nicknamed Kate.) When his son John was old enough he joined his father’s business. The Directory of 1854 shows Stocum and Son had a warehouse located on the eastern edge of Pioneer Cemetery on West Steuben Street. In 1858 Elizabeth died. Stocum remarried in June of 1860. His new wife Susan B. Townsend of Elmira gave birth to Frank and Ruby.

In 1852, Stocum had joined the local militia, the 60th Regiment, 27th Brigade, New York State Volunteers and served as the orderly sergeant. When its commanding officer, Captain Levi C. Whiting, was promoted to major, Stocum was commissioned captain by New York governor Myron H. Clark. Stocum served in this capacity until 1858. He also served as watchman for the village of Bath from 1853 to 1857.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Supporting Good Habits: The Rockefellers, the Sisters of Mercy, and Higher Education in New York State

by Eric Martone
Copyright © 2013.  All rights reserved by the author.

On Sunday, May 20, 1962, a collection of New York State and Catholic Church dignitaries made its way to Dobbs Ferry for the dedication ceremony of Mount Mercy-on-the-Hudson, a magnificent new complex comprised of over 80 acres overlooking the Hudson River for the New York province of the Sisters of Mercy. The Sisters had already moved into the unfinished facility during the fall of 1961, but the stress of moving and construction delays had prevented a proper dedication ceremony. That time had finally come, and all of the individuals involved in this massive undertaking now had a moment to bask in the glory of their accomplishments. The complex, which had cost more than $6 million to build at a time when the national average price for a house was less than $20,000, included eight impressive brick buildings “of contemporary architecture”: the provincial house, a residence for student Sisters, a faculty residence, a residence for senior Sisters, a chapel, Our Lady of Victory Academy, a parish elementary school, and Mercy College.[1]

Monday, April 29, 2013

Dutch Women in Seventeenth-Century New Netherland

by Maria Vann 
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved by the author.

On 6 March 1663, Altjen Sybrants appeared before the Honorable Council of War and the Honorable Court at Wildwyck, New Netherland in search of vindication from accusations of slander. Schout Swarthout, a member of the council, lodged the complaint after a previous visitation to Sybrants’ home to notify her about a new order from the Council of War. Upon hearing the order prohibiting strong drink to be sold to militia or Indians, a frustrated Sybrants suggested the Schout “might cleanse his anus!”[1] Such slanderous words from anyone- no less a woman in New Netherland was a serious matter for the courts and Schout wanted restitution for his honor. Denying the accusation, Sybrants challenged male authority by arguing that, “he [the Schout] must prove this.”[2] The case continued on subsequent days as witnesses were brought to testify in support of the defendant’s guilt. Throughout the process, Sybrants never confirmed she had said such slanderous words; instead she declared that Schout treated her “in a manner out of spite,” for what is not clear.[3] Eventually, after several testimonies against her, the defendant was sentenced and condemned as a public example for her “vile and foul language.”[4] Altejen Sybrants was ordered to pay a fine of one hundred Caroulus guilders of which two-thirds was to be paid to the prosecutor Schout and one-third to the Church at Wildwyck.[5] Though Sybrandts lost her defense, much can be gleaned from her testimony, or lack thereof. She demonstrated a bold and unwavering will, capable of confronting the male establishment, signifying she knew full well her rights as a citizen with a voice in the Dutch Empire.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Remembering Olympia Brown: Pioneer Minister and Advocate for Equal Rights for Women

Olympia Brown. 1919. Library of Congress
by Herbert C. Hallas
Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved by the author.

One hundred and fifty years ago this summer in the North Country, Olympia Brown became the first woman in U.S. history to become a fully ordained minister with a degree from a regularly established theological school.[1] She was ordained by the St. Lawrence Association of Universalists in the Universalist Church of Malone, New York on June 25, 1863, and graduated from the St. Lawrence University Theological School in Canton, New York two weeks later.[2]