Category Archives: Albany

The Science Fiction Writer Next Door: P. Schuyler Miller

Published by:

Growing up, my family lived next to a four-unit apartment house in Scotia, one of those places that was oddly transient on a street of homes where people generally lived for decades. There were young couples just starting out, divorcees figuring out their next steps, old people at the end. An interesting mix. And somewhere in there (several years before we were in the neighborhood) lived a man with an ancient Dutch pedigree, a strong interest in local history, a large civic presence, and a long list of published science fiction.

P. Schuyler Miller 1930Peter Schuyler Miller was a descendant of General Philip Schuyler, born in 1912 into a branch of the family living near Scaghticoke. His birth announcement in the Mechanicville Mercury was listed under Stillwater; he was born at Samaritan Hospital in Troy, “8 lbs. to the good.” He moved to Scotia in 1924, graduated from Scotia High School in 1927, then went to Union College for undergraduate and a master’s degree in chemistry, in 1932. He was a chemist in GE’s research laboratory (as was his father), did graduate work at Columbia University, and in 1938 joined the Schenectady school system as secretary for the adult education department and head of publicity for the department. He was the conservation chairman and a governor of the Adirondack Mountain Club, vice president of the Schenectady County Historical Society, president of the Mohawk Valley Historical Association, trustee of the Caughnawaga Museum at Fonda, member of the Bird Club of Schenectady. Oh, and he was an avid amateur archaeologist with a strong interest in the Iroquois, president of the Van Epps-Hartley chapter of the New York State Archeological Association, and member of the Mohawk Valley Hiking Club. He was a busy guy. In 1944, he was broadcasting a 10-minute newscast for children over WSNY two days a week, stressing “the geography behind the day’s headlines and the children are asked to submit questions to be answered on the air.” He was a speaker on conservation issues, on maps, on life in revolutionary times, on pre-historic Schenectady, among other topics. He did so many things that we can’t really list them all. Among all his other activities, his authorship of science fiction stories received scant notice in the press, but he was a prolific author.

Astounding Science Fiction P Schuyler Miller storyHis Wikipedia entry says that his work appeared in such magazines as Amazing Stories, Astounding, Comet, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Marvel Tales, Science Fiction Digest, Super Science Stories, Unknown, Weird Tales, and Wonder Stories, among others. It also says he was a technical writer for GE in the ‘40s, possibly while he was working for the school system.

His father, Peter Schuyler Miller Sr., was a research chemist at GE, and the family lived in Scotia for many years. From the mid 1920s through at least 1936, when his father died, Peter Jr. lived with his father and mother at 302 S. Ten Broeck Street, a house that decades later was occupied by the grandmother of one of our childhood friends, right across the street from Mohawk School. In the early ‘30s, he wrote a substantial amount of short fiction, usually producing two or three stories every year, right through 1944; after that his output of short stories slowed. He started reviewing science fiction books in 1945, for Astounding Science Fiction and then Analog. In doing that, he collected a large correspondence, including letters from Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury; originally donated to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, they are now in a collection at the University of Kansas.

In 1952, when he was living in the aforementioned apartment house, it was announced that he was resigning from the city school system, where he was an assistant in audio-visual aids, to join the advertising department of the Fisher Scientific Company in Pittsburgh. At that time, it was noted that “More than 50 of his science fiction stories have been published since his first work of this kind appeared in 1930. Many of these stories have been selected for anthologies and a novel written in collaboration with L. Sprague DeCamp, ‘Genus Homo,’ was published in France in 1951 under the title “Le Regne du Gorille.” He is in charge of the book review department of Street and Smith’s ‘Astounding Science Fiction’ magazine.”

Before he left the area, Peter Schuyler Miller gave the Schuyler Mansion  a four-foot cavalry sword worn by General Philip Schuyler during the revolution. On June 13, 1952, Mrs. Martha C. Mershon’s fourth grade class at Schenectady’s Hamilton School presented the sword on behalf of Miller. “Miller said the sword will add to the other effects of the Revolutionary hero being collected by the Schuyler mansion. The only time the sword has been worn in public since the general’s death in 1804, he said, was when the French military leader Lafayette carried it in a reception in Albany in 1825.” Miller said the sword had been obtained from Schuyler’s son, Major Rensselaer Schuyler, in 1799 by John Vanderspiegel of Bennington, and was presented to Miller’s great grandfather, Samuel G. Eddy, a local historian of Stillwater, in 1848. The sword had been on loan to the Schenectady Historical society (sic) from Miller’s father since 1922. One of the students in Mrs. Mershon’s class was Karen Vrooman, who was descended from General Schuyler through his daughter Elizabeth.

In 1969, Barnett Fowler mentioned in his Times-Union column that he had had the pleasure of running into Peter Schuyler Miller at a party in Glenvillle celebrating the golden anniversary of Clarence and Henrietta Van der Veer. Fowler said that at one point years earlier Miller had mentioned that Schenectady had been offered an estate on upper Chrisler Avenue, but the city wasn’t interested. Fowler tipped off the YMCA, which got the estate for nothing and used it to build the Mont Pleasant branch of the YMCA.

A Canticle for P. Schuyler MillerPeter Schuyler Miller was on an archaeological expedition, studying prehistoric sites, when he died on Blennerhassett Island in the Ohio River in West Virginia on Oct. 13, 1974. Interestingly, Harman Blennerhassett was a figure in the Aaron Burr conspiracy of 1811 – and Aaron Burr, of course, killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804. And Alexander Hamilton, of course, married Elizabeth Schuyler, in the home of General Philip Schuyler. Whether this was just coincidence, or whether he was there from a particular interest, no one seems to know. His obituary ran in the Schenectady Gazette on Oct. 17, 1974; it didn’t mention why he had been in West Virginia or how he had died, but did note that he would be buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Schaghticoke.

Henry Hart and Bret Harte

Published by:

Bret Harte Books

We were pleased and surprised to be wandering through the galleries of Lancaster, PA this weekend and to come across a prominently displayed set of Bret Harte books that made the connection to Harte’s origins in Albany. If he’s remembered at all today, it’s probably for “The Outcasts of Poker Flat,” an 1869 short story that, at least in Hoxsie’s day, was taught in the short story curriculum and has been turned into at least five movies and, oddly enough four operas. You can read it (or even have it read to you) at this Wikisource page.

Bret Harte's father

Harte was born in Albany and lived here as a child; his writing all came after he had kicked the dust of the old Dutch town off his boots and replaced it with the dust of California. But his family had a strong New York pedigree, according to Axel Nissen’s “Bret Harte: Prince and Pauper.” Grandfather Bernard Hart  was one of the signatories to the agreement among New York City stockbrokers that created the New York Stock Exchange, and later was secretary of the Board. Around 1795 he became involved with Catherine Brett Jackson, a widow with two sons, of Dutchess County; Hart married her and fathered a child, Henry, in 1800. They separated soon after however, possibly amidst family disapproval of Catherine, of the Dutch Reformed religion, marrying a Jew. It appears they lived around Kingston, until Henry Hart entered Union College as a member of the class of 1820; although he finished, it appears he did not technically graduate. That would put him in the same class as Wiliiam H. Seward. Henry Hart married Elizabeth Rebecca Ostrander of Kingston; they married in Hudson in 1827. They had a daughter, Elizabeth Cornelia Thorne Hart 1in 1831, and moved to Albany two years later. Henry Hart taught at the Albany Female Academy, boarding at 289 North Market Street (Broadway). Son Henry was born in 1834. They moved to Columbia Street (Nissen says 15 Columbia; the ad seen here says 19) and Henry Senior opened his own school at Steuben and North Market. They were living on Columbia, on a block probably later obliterated for the railroad tracks, when Francis Brett Hart, known as “Frank,” was born on August 25, 1836.

Unfortunately, Henry’s school failed in the Panic of 1837, and they went to Hudson, the first of a number of moves as Henry chased teaching work in New Brunswick, Philadelphia, Providence, Lowell, Boston, and finally New York City, where the surname gained an ‘e.’

The New Netherland Institute says that Harte moved to California in 1853, at age 17, and got work as assistant editor at the “Northern Californian” newspaper in Union ,CA. Fiction writing followed, as did a friendship with Mark Twain before anyone knew him. Twain credited Harte with teaching him how to write: “he changed me from an awkward utterer of grotesqueness to a writer of paragraphs and chapters that have found a certain favor in the eyes of even some of the very decentest people in the land.”

Harte returned east in 1871, settling in Boston and writing for The Atlantic Monthly. Then he went abroad, serving as United State Consul in Krefeld, Germany, then in Glasgow; he settled in London in 1885. He lived in Europe for his last 24 years, dying in 1902. He’s buried in Frimley, Surrey, England.

He did make at least one return visit to Albany. In 1872, he was featured at the Young Men’s Association lecture course at the Martin Opera House, discussing “The Argonauts of ’49.” So Harte didn’t completely forget Albany, and Albany didn’t forget him – in 1902, Cuyler Reynolds listed him among the Albany authors who could fill a library.

Corning Your Beef

Published by:

While not entirely Albany specific, we thought this article from the Albany Argus in 1862 was a good lesson in what life was like before refrigeration. It’s hard to fathom now what people went through to keep meat “fresh.” This supposed letter (which may just be an editorial contrivance; they were common enough in those days) gives “An Old Housekeeper’s”  receipt for curing beef. If you didn’t know, “receipt” and “recipe” are essentially the same word, meaning “receive.” Like a lot of old “receipts,” this is not one we’re anxious to taste.

Messrs. Editors: your receipt for curing beef is all well enough as a “relic of the dark ages” – but I have a mode adopted for many years, which entirely “takes you down.” It is this:–Take a quarter of beef, (say the fore quarter, for that is the most economical for general family use,) weighing from 130 to 150 pounds. Cut is up in pieces of 4 or 5 pounds each, after saving cut your steaks, pie meat, roasting and soup pieces.—After that is done, cleanse the cask, and pack the pieces intended for corning, compactly in the cask, without a particle of salt. Then take from one to two pails of water as may be required and add to it enough of common table salt, as will make a brine, sufficient to bear up a good sized potato, boil the brine, and while hot, add two ounces salt petre, and one pint of molasses. Have at hand, a sheet or table cloth, folded into quarters, and while your brine is scalding hot empty it in your cask – put the cloth over the cask and let it stand and cool. In twenty-four hours your beef is fit for the pot, and remains so. The idea that hot brine will spoil the meat is just as absurd as to take a peck of rock salt to preserve a quarter of beef. This receipt is applicable to the preservation, say, from the first of December until the last of March, at which time, if any meal remains, take it out, wash it in clean water, boil and skim the remaining brine, and if necessary add salt enough to bring it up to the potato standard, pouring it on now, only when cold.

Allow me to say a word about the boiling. Beef intended for eating cold, or for “hash” should always be allowed to cool in the liquor it is boiled in; for the reason, that the juices extracted by boiling, again return to the meat in the cooling. If your housewife readers will try my receipt, they will find their corn beef from the beginning to the end “just right.”

Just remember: always follow the potato standard.


The Destruction of Tweddle Hall (and more of its history)

Published by:

Tweddle Hall, from AIHA

We’ve talked before about Tweddle Hall, the center of Albany civic life for what turns out to have been a mere 21 years. Malt merchant John Tweddle built it at the Elm Tree Corner to meet the need for a public hall for lectures, entertainment, and meetings in the booming city, with the building opening late in 1860. Its importance was perhaps immeasurable, but its existence was actually brief, and it burned rather completely on Tuesday, January 16, 1883. The Albany Morning Express told the tale, headlined “In Ashes!”

Since the eventful morning nearly three years ago when the old City Hall was laid in ashes, no event has caused such excitement as the one of yesterday, which has laid bare the walls of one of the oldest places of amusement in Albany, and reduced Tweddle Hall to ashes.

The paper noted that it was extremely fortunate that there was no one in the building at the time; certainly had it happened during a performance of some sort, the cost would have been high.

“It was about twenty minutes to eight o’clock yesterday morning that several men coming down State street saw a boy rushing out of McCammon’s music store, under Tweddle Hall, shouting “fire.” He was hatless and coatless, his hair singed and his face livid with fear. He was quickly surrounded by a small knot of people, and in answer to questions put him pointed inside the store. Fear had made him dumb, and following the direction of his finger, the men stared and saw a bright light in the rear of the warerooms, while dense volumes of smoke rolled through the open doorway. Officer Fahy, who heard the shouts of the boy, ascertaining that a fire was in progress sent in an alarm from box 19.”

The response from Steamer 4 was quick, and the firemen were running a hose from a hydrant on the southwest corner but before the water could start to flow, “the flames shot from the roof over the stage, and it was palpable to all that Tweddle Hall was doomed.” Steamers 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6, and Trucks 1 and 2 arrived, and a general alarm was soon ordered, calling out reserve steamers and firemen,
“but the fire was spreading with astonishing rapidity and within twenty minutes from the time the boy rushed to the sidewalk, shouting the alarm, the whole north end of the roof was a seething mass of fire, and from every window on the gallery floor flames were issuing in sheets. The manner in which the fire spread created consternation even among the firemen. It was so hot that for a block away the assembled multitude were forced to retire; so hot, in fact, was the atmosphere that the heavy plate glass windows of B. Stark’s fancy goods store, and in those of Killip’s and the shoe store adjoining, on the opposite side of North Pearl street, over one hundred feet away, were shattered, as were also seventy-five panes of glass in the Albany Savings Bank building, corner of Chapel and State streets, nearly three hundred feet away.

It looked as if the whole block was going to go. Flames on the west side threatened the residence of Erastus Corning (junior – the railroad tycoon had died in 1872), but firefighters were able to save it. On the north side was “the old Austin mansion,” then occupied by the Women’s Exchange, and next to that the Odd Fellows’ Hall, both of which were thought doomed, but those were preserved as well.

“While all this work was being performed the [other] firemen and citizens were not idle. Telephones and messengers were brought into use and the occupants of the stores were sent for, and the work of removing the goods commenced. The Insurance Patrol covered the greater portion of the goods in North Pearl and State streets, and the damage that resulted to the goods and chattels has been caused alone by water that came pouring down from the floors above; and in consequence of these precautions much is saved the insurance companies.”

1883 tweddle fire

The iron roof of the building collapsed at 8:30, and the fire’s force was spent by 10:30 that morning. “Never before in the history of fires in this city was so much clever work done by a body of men [the firemen] in the face of what at one time appeared most dreaded disaster … Several times they were shouted to by citizens to leave their exposed positions, but orders must be obeyed, and, unheeding the mandates of outsiders, they remained steadfast, and refused to leave until ordered to do so by their superiors. On North Pearl street it was impossible to force the water to the fourth story, and attempts were made to rig ladders, but the network of wires prevented this, and curses loud and deep were uttered both against the Telephone Company and the Water Commissioners.”

The wires were a problem. It appears the fire officials tried to get the telephone companies to do something about the tangle of wires that blocked their access – though what they could do in short order isn’t made clear. What Chief McQuade did was ultimately as effective as anything that could have been done: he ordered his men to chop down the “mammoth pole, bearing forty wires,” and ladders could be brought in.

The cause of the fire was not known; rumors of arson were flowing. The boy who discovered the fire worked for Edward McCammon in his music store. On opening the store, as he was preparing to start the stove he smelled smoke and went to the rear of the store to investigate. Then he heard cracking of glass, and the transom over the rear door burst with heat and flames; he found the back hall ablaze. Apparently not having been taught not to open doors where there may be fires, he found it hard to shut, and then ran out the front.

The losses were estimated at about $100,000, and the Express went so far as to list all of the insurance companies involved and their coverages. In doing so, we got a look at some of the tenants in the building, which included the Albany County Bank, the aforementioned McCammon’s music store, William Buckley’s art store, the law officers of J.W. Mattice and Edward W. Ronan, an insurance agent named Williams, H.B. Tuttle’s shoe store, Louis Sautter’s drug store, James Maher’s crockery store, John F. Conor’s tailor shop, and several others.

The Express took the opportunity of its destruction to give us some great details on the history of Tweddle Hall and the buildings that preceded it on what has long been Albany’s most important corner. It’s too good to edit down:

The site of the hall up to 1793 was occupied by a frame tavern known as the Blue Bell and afterwards by Charles R. and George Webster as a book store and printing office. The property being acquired by John Tweddle, then President of the Merchant’s Bank, the old structures were demolished, the work beginning Thursday, May 5, 1859, preparatory to erecting the well-known edifice called Tweddle Hall. The architect was H.N. [Horatio Nelson] White, of Syracuse, but the work was done by Albanians; Robert Aspinwall, mason; John Kennedy, carpenter; William Gray, stonecutter. The dimensions of the building, which was of Connecticut free stone, were 88 feet on State street and 116 on Pearl street. The total cost of the edifice and lot was $100,000. The lower stories were devoted to stores and offices, but over all was the large hall 100 by 75 feet, comfortably seated over 1,000 people. Two or three years ago the hall was converted into a theatre, its stage apparatus being one of the best and most expensive in the country, while the scenery was the work of the best artists, costing many thousands of dollars. At the time of the destruction it was owned by Mrs. Pulling, of New York, and Miss Tweddle, of this city, T.W. Tillinghast being the trustee.

Tweddle Hall was opened to the public on the evening of June 28, 1860, with a farewell complimentary concert to George William Warren, in which Mr. and Mrs. Henri Drayton and local talent took part. Mr. William D. Morange, of this city, read the dedicatory address, full of wit, humor, reminiscence and poetry, written by himself. Since that day the history of the hall has been a notable one. Within its walls have been delivered lectures, readings, concerts, minstrel shows, balls and meetings. Numbers of the most distinguished dramatic artists of the world have appeared here, and the hall had a reputation among singers and actors second to no other place of entertainment in the land. The first dramatic entertainment given in the hall was Dec. 25, 1861, under the management of John T. Raymond, who brought out Edward Eddy for one night. September 14, 1863, Edwin Booth made his first appearance in Albany at Tweddle Hall, opening in Hamlet, and playing Richelieu, Othello, Sir Edward Mortimer and Petruchio and Shylock. Although the Academy of Music was opened Dec. 22, 1863, dramatic representations continued to be given at the hall. February 29, 1864, James H. Hackett began a short engagement as Falstaff. This was the last appearance in Albany of the great comedian. November 16, 1866, Maggie Mitchell played Fanchion and Little Barefoot, as we think for the first time in Albany. March 14, 1867, Parepa Rosa appeared in concert with Carl Rosa, J.R. Thomas and S.R. Mills, for the benefit of the fire department. January 8, 1870, she appeared for the first time in Albany in opera, in “The Marriage of Figaro.” April 20, 1867, Ristori played Mary Stuart, and December 27, of the same year, Elizabeth. March 18 and 19, 1868, Charles Dickens read the Christmas Carol and Trial from Pickwick, Dr. Marigold and Bob Sawyer’s party. April 14, 1869, Clara Louise Kellogg appeared in concert. Edwin Forrest appearing as Richelieu October 27th of that year. In the summer of 1872 the hall was transformed into “an opera house,” that is, orchestra chairs were put in, the seats behind them were elevated in tiers, and the stage was enlarged and beautified with scenery, curtain and private boxes. The exists were also much improved. It was opened November 12th, with readings by Mrs. Scott-Siddons, and has since received its share of patronage. Here hundreds of people have listened to Salvini. During the present holidays St. Peter’s hospital fair was held there, and on Tuesday night, January 9th, the Ancient Hibernians held their ball. The hall was engaged for readings for Thursday night next.

R.S.V.P. to V.R.S.P.; or, the Young Lady Didn’t Invite Him to Skate

Published by:

In 1870, the St. Lawrence Republican (of Ogdensburg) ran a story headed “R.S.V.P., or the Van Rensselaer Skating Park,” and promised that “The following ‘local story,’ taken from the Albany Evening Journal, is told in good enough style to make it interesting to the general reader.” Since we were already on the topic of the skating park, we thought we’d present it here.

R.S.V.P. – The Van Rensselaer Skating Park is not the thing of beauty and joy forever that it once was. Skating hereabouts is on a slippery road, and bids fair to be soon numbered among the lost arts. Before the final crash takes place, before the Van Rensselaer Skating Park melts entirely from memory, we wish to record here one fact in regard to it, one story depending upon it, which is too good, and too sadly true, to be lost.

There resided in Grafton, Rensselaer County, in this State, a few years ago, when the Van Rensselaer Skating Park was in its first glaring popularity, a young gentleman who meant well, but didn’t mean enough. He was a trifle crude, not to say green; he had not had those cosmopolitan experiences whose results are summed up in the terse compliment, “He’s traveled.”

The young archer, with the tormenting arrows, sighted him one day and sent a dart for his heart, which “went home” as unerringly as a Haymaker in a close match with “Mutual” friends.

So it happened that our young friend woke up one morning – as the sun was touching with fine gold the towers and battlements of Grafton – and found himself not “famous,” but famously in love. She was a little thing from Troy – a pretty young blonde, with such fair, fair golden hair; “it looks like woven lightning,” was the opinion he expressed in regard to it, through the medium of the postal service.

A letter from Grafton to Troy, from Troy to Grafton, was but a matter of twelve hours, and the little blonde and her Grafton lover sent the white missiles thick and fast.

Kind messages that fly from land to land,

Kind letters, that betray the heart’s deep history,

In which we feel the pressure of a hand,

One touch of fire, and all the rest is mystery.

He used to repeat those lines from Longfellow to her, and when she acknowledged to fancying them very much, and confessed to their being “so sweet,” he had them forthwith printed neatly with her monogram on ever so many quires of paper, and made it all a present to his love, with his love. The little blonde in response came out in one of her most charming blushes, accepted the paper, and said she made all the quires vocal, for his benefit. He bowed in bewildering delight, and leaving her that day, was linked sweetness of sorrow.

It was but two days afterwards that the young lady took a sheet of her nice new paper, and proceeded to indite thereon, in the Grafton interest. She wrote to know if James – which was the name of her lover – could come to Troy, on a particular evening; she would be pleased to have his company, etc. Now, it so happened, that this was an invitation to a stunning party the young lady was giving in honor of her eighteenth birthday, and, of course, she counted particularly on her lover’s presence. She had said nothing to him about it before sending the invitation, and the invitation itself she mde vague in order to take him by surprise. At the bottom of the carefully written mottoed monogramic and delicately scented sheet there was, standing in the left hand corner, the initial letters – R.S.V.P.

In due time the mail deposited this seductive chirographical lure at Grafton, and James received it and read it with delight – Come down to Troy and see her? Of course he would, and that with the greatest pleasure. In the midst of his happy thoughts, his eyes suddenly lighted on the letters in the corner. Blinded with his first delight, he had not noticed them – R.S.V.P.

That bothered him.

“P.S.” he was familiar with; indeed the little blonde’s notes and letters always introduced him to three or four of them. “N.B.,” he had learned to take notice of. “S.T. 1860 X.,”1A reference to a “tonic” called Drake’s Plantation Bitters he sharply surmised, told of some Bitter experiences. “C.O.D.,” he knew had its meaning – it was Expressly understood by him. “O.K.,” he appreciated as the exponents in letter, of contentment in spirit, and, better still, he had read “The Initials.”2A reference to both OK and Old Kinderhook But R.S.V.P. collared him, threw him down, and trampled him in the dust of darkness and ignorance. What could it all mean?

He thought, and he thought, and he thought.

Finally, his eye lit up, his features grew radiant, and the Grafton mind saw the light. The meaning of the initials was clear to him now – how stupid in him not to have seen it at once. R.S.V.P. meant, of course, V.R.S.P., (the young lady in the hurry of writing, and in the trepidation of the new paper, had got the letters in the wrong order,) and V.R.S.P. meant – Van Rensselaer Skating Park.

On the evening called for in the invitation, James, from Grafton, drove down to the Van Rensselaer Skating Park, the trysting place appointed by her inditing hand. It was a carnival night; Chinese lanterns, and fireworks, and music made the park gay, bewildering and all attractive.

As bright the lights shone o’er fair women and brave men, he looked anxiously for his little blonde. He saw a number of pretty girls from Troy, skating at their gracefulest, saw bevies of beauties from Albany gliding along, but not, not his “Heart’s Delight.” He went from one end of the park to the other, he made inquiries of the men who shoveled snow, he interviewed the park directors; but as his queries were rather indefinite, being worded, “Did you see anything of her?” he got no information, which was of the slightest service to him. But he wouldn’t give her up without a desperate struggle, and so wandered here and there, with searching eyes, until the lights were all put out, and the last of the gay company had dispersed. Then he went sadly home.

The next day, a young gentleman from Grafton called on a bright little blonde in Troy. She answered the bell herself, but remarked as she opened the door, remarked with flashing eyes, “I’m not at home sir,” and then shut the door quickly.

“Shut it with a jam

That sounded like a wooden d__n.”

She never made up with him. She says: That any young gentleman who wouldn’t so much as reply to a young lady’s polite invitation, when expressly requested to do so, but would, instead, go careering off to Albany on the very evening of her lovely party, was not worthy of her young heart’s devotion. He says: That he wishes he had begun little Pinney3Author of a popular French grammar earlier in life, but objects, all the same, Pinney or no Pinney to the horrible habit of introducing French into English composition.

He still lives in Grafton, is a subscriber to “Revue des Deux Mondes,” and is confident that, regarding himself from a [?] point of view, he will never again be found in a somniferous state. But alas! It is too late now. The little blonde was married last summer, to a dashing young officer, with much buttons. There was a tide, which, if taken at the flood, would have led him and her to the parson. He didn’t take it, but knocked his prospects high as Gilderoy’s kite4A common saying of the day, relating to the hanging of a Scottish robber on the rocks of a misinterpretation, which did strange injustice to the original intentions of a nice girl.

The Van Rensselaer Skating (and Curling) Park

Published by:

Stare at an old map long enough, and eventually you’ll be faced with a mystery you have to solve. We’ve stared at the Hopkins map of Albany from 1876 more than a sane person should admit, and every now and then a little detail jumped out at us, calling for attention. We ignored it any number of times, until finally it became clear we had to figure it out. What the heck was the Curling Park?

It’s on the map on the north side of the city, across the canal and railroad tracks from the lumber district, part of what was then still the Stephen Van Rensselaer estate before that area became industrial. But was curling a thing in Albany? It was, but the “park” was used for much more than that.

The earliest reference we’ve found to what was called the Van Rensselaer Skating Park (though it appears to have had no connection to the Patroon other than its location) was in 1861, with an advertisement in the Argus proclaiming that the park would commence its season December 1, 1861 and end March 1, 1862. But it had been open at least one year prior: “In opening the Park for the Season, the Directors solicit from the Public the same generous patronage extended to them last year, and pledge themselves to conduct in a manner calculated to give satisfaction to all.” Gentlemen’s season tickets were $4.00; ladies and children under 12 years, $2.00. “Subscribers will be allowed to introduce Ladies by paying 25 cents for each admission. On evenings designated for Carnivals, an extra charge will be made.”

Weather allowing, the park was to be open daily except Sundays from 9 AM to 10 PM. Of course, one wouldn’t want to go all the way up there to find out what the ice was like, but the 19th century had a system: “The condition of the ice may be known by a RED BALL hoisted upon the Staff at the foot of State street by day, and a COLORED LIGHT by night.” Stages left the Capitol and Exchange (the old Federal building at State and Broadway) every half hour from 1 to 8-1/2 PM. Trains on the “Northern Railroad” apparently also stopped there, with 5 departures each direction each day. Fare for either stage or train was five cents. Tickets were available at Newcomb’s at 524 Broadway, Lathrop’s at 57 State Street, or at the Park.

Van Rensselaer wasn’t the only skating and curling park. Another one called “The Orr Union Skating and Curling Park, known heretofore as Buttermilk Falls,” was also open in 1861. Family season tickets were only one dollar. We’re entirely unclear as to the location; the entrance was given as from Eagle street. “The above Park will be in charge of Relief Engine Co. No. XI, and a Special Officer appointed by the Mayor will be in attendance to keep order. There is a building erected for Refreshments, and a separate room for Ladies. The best of order will be kept. Open from 9 A.M. to 10 P.M.” Tickets were available at Fleming’s Segar Store, South Pearl and Beaver streets, and George Stevens’, corner of Bleecker Place and Eagle. (Paula Lemire was good enough to remind us that Buttermilk Falls was within what is now Lincoln Park, and so this skating park was likely somewhere around the bowl of the park.)

Van Rensselaer was still open in 1863, when the opening of the skating season was noted:

“The Van Rensselaer Skating Park was opened for the season yesterday [Dec. 7, 1863], to the great delight of innumerable young ladies and gentlemen. The sight of the welcome signal flag floating in the breeze caused no small degree of joy among those who could live on skates.”

Both the aforementioned Lathrop and the Erastus Corning Co. sold a variety of skates. Lathrop claimed the largest assortment in the city, “among which are The Skowhegan Skate, The Norwich Clipper, The Blondin Skate, The Philadelphia Club Skate, The New York City Club Skate, and Dutton’s Shell Groove Skate.” Corning advertised skates and sleigh bells together; perhaps they were used together.

In 1866, live music was added: “The managers of the Van Rensselaer Skating Park begin to-day a new style of entertainment. Schreiber’s band will furnish music to the skaters this afternoon from three to six o’clock at no extra charge to season ticket holders, while the public generally are admitted at the moderate price of 25 cents. This novelty should prove a success, and we hope that it may do so.”

The Van Rensselaer Skating Club put the park up for sale in the summer of 1867: “Proposals will be received by the Van Rensselaer Skating Club for the sale of all the property belonging to the said Club, and located upon the Park Grounds, north of the Van Rensselaer Mansion, consisting of Buildings, Fence, Iron Pipe (about 800 feet), Ice Planes, Snow Plows, Torches, Colored Lanterns, Liberty Pole, Flag, &c.” They were offering either all or any portion of the property, or to sell it “with a view of continuing the use of the Park for Skating purposes.” While we found several notices of the sale, we don’t find if the Park was actually sold; we just know that it continued on.

Before we even get to a mention of curling proper, we find an odd mention of a baseball game to be played at the curling park – on skates. On February 9, 1865, the Argus wrote: “It is expected that the return match of base ball on skates, between the Nationals of this city, and the Washington Club of Troy, will be played on the Van Rensselaer Skating Park this afternoon.” Perhaps this was an exhibition or a novelty, but we found another game that was played similarly on Feb. 12, 1868: “The match game of base ball played on the Van Rensselaer Skating Park yesterday afternoon between the Knickerbockers and Nationals of this city, resulted in favor of the latter club by a score of 58 to 10; but four innings being played.”

Dec. 12, 1868 is the first time we find mention of a formal curling club, but again it’s clear they had been around in previous years:

“The Albany Curling Club have commenced operations for the season, their first game being played Thursday, on their rink, adjoining Van Rensselaer Skating Park. They enjoyed the game very much, and will be at it every afternoon when the ice is in order. Curling is peculiarly a Scotch game; but as Scotchmen are to be found all over the globe, it is not to be wondered at that they should introduce their favorite game in countries such as this, where ice suited to the game is so easily obtained.”

There followed a detailed description of how curling works. Interesting that it said the curling rink was adjoining the skating park; perhaps they had once been one and the same. When the skating season opened that December, the Albany Morning Express said that heavy snow had caused a delay in opening the rink. “Lively times at the park may then be expected, as there is no other place for skating in this vicinity.”

In 1872, The Troy Daily Whig noted that the International Curling Club would be hosted by the Albany Curling Club. “This Club will meet at the Albany Board of Trade Rooms at 5 o’clock this evening [June 11, 1872]. The delegates from abroad will be entertained by the Albany Club at the Delevan House. To-morrow, at noon, the quoit prize will be contended for on the Albany Curling Club grounds.” The article also referred to a Grand National Curling Club.

That’s about the last mention of the skating park that we’ve found. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Van Rensselaers moved out of the manor house about 1875, as the area industrialized. We’d love to know if there was a connection.

In modern terms, the curling park was located across the canal (Erie Boulevard) and the railroad tracks from what is now Huck Finn’s warehouse. Google Maps has it as occupied by a company called Baker Commodities, a rendering and grease removal service. We’re sure they have no idea their recycling operations were once the site of one of old Albany’s great pleasure centers.


Let’s Look at the Record

Published by:

As Al Smith Used to Say

Art by Al Williamson

This panel is from a comic book called “Cliff Merritt Sets the Record Straight,” a production of the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen from 1965 extolling the safety benefits the BRT brought to both workers and society. The fictional Cliff was being honored by the BRT for his years of service, and in conversation with a know-it-all teen whose father said the railroadmen were all feather-bedders. We were surprised to find Cliff quoting Al Smith: “Well, as Al Smith used to say: ‘Let’s look at the record!'” But it turns out, that is something that Al Smith would say.

Al Smith was from New York City, not the Capital District, but he was first elected to the Assembly in 1904 and served through 1915, serving as both Majority and Minority leader at different times. He was elected Governor in 1918, lost re-election in 1920 (two-year terms back then), then won again in 1922, 1924, and 1926. So, he spent some time in Albany. He sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1924 and didn’t get it, but succeeded in 1928, only to be defeated by Herbert Hoover. He tried for the nomination again in 1932, but ended up deferring to another New York Governor, Franklin Roosevelt. He is, of course, most remembered in Albany today not for his substantial reforms to the civil service system, which still echo through state service today, but for the Alfred E. Smith State Office Building that sits across from the Capitol.

It turns out that “Let’s look at the record” was a phrase commonly attributed to Al Smith. The Mount Vernon Daily Argus wrote in 1934: “Al Smith, campaigner par excellence and coiner without peer of the salty phrase, never invented a more ringing challenge than his famous ‘Let’s look at the record!'” Not only that, there are countless examples quoting him just the way that Cliff Merritt did. It even appears in a 1957 ad for the Bowery Savings Bank: “Let’s look at the record, as Al Smith used to say.” Smith had been dead for 13 years at that point.

For the record, so far, we haven’t found a direct quote of Al Smith saying “Let’s look at the record.” Any internet searches to try to find Al Smith actually saying “Let’s look at the record” are necessarily drowned in a sea of others quoting him as saying it. We find references to it as late as 1970, and then it seems like either the phrase, or the memory of Al Smith, disappeared.

Gov. Bouck’s Grand Quick Step

Published by:

Governor Bouck's Grand Quick Step Cover

More historic Albany sheet music, the product of historic Albanians. This one (again from the Lester Levy Sheet Music collection at Johns Hopkins) is “Gov. Bouck’s Grand Quick Step,” as performed by the National Brass Band, Albany. It was composed and arranged for the piano forte, “and respectfully dedicated to his excellency,” by Oliver J. Shaw. The music was published by Boardman & Gray, of 4 & 6 North Pearl Street. Like our last entry, this is a very Albany work.

The music was in honor of William C. Bouck, who had been an Assemblyman and Senator from Schoharie County before spending 19 years as a Canal Commissioner.  “He was known as “white horse” Bouck, in the days when the Erie Canal was being built. Bouck was responsible for carrying the pay for the workers at the western end of the Erie Canal project. He carried the full saddlebags of money regularly to the workers, alone, riding a white horse, and never once was molested or robbed.” Madison County’s Bouckville is named for him –it’s where the Chenango Canal connected to the Erie Canal, making a connection to the Susquehanna river.  In 1840, Bouck ran for governor but lost to William Seward; in 1842 he ran again and won. It was that event that was celebrated in song by Oliver J. Shaw.

Oliver J. Shaw’s name was put down as Ollaver in the 1850 census. He was 36 and a “musick” teacher who was born in “Road Iland”. When he died in 1861 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire at the tender age of 48, his occupation was listed as “Professor of Music.” (The cause of death was “Dropsy on the chest,” another term for edema.) We don’t find much about his tenure in Albany other than a mention in association with a concert in 1846. A book called “Emily’s Songbook: Music in 1850s Albany” said that he “was a popular musician, church organist, music teacher, and composer during his stay in Albany,” and that he arrived here in 1841 and moved on to Utica in 1852.

Boardman & Gray, of course, was the biggest of the piano makers in a city that once could have justified the nickname “The Piano City.” In 1842, it was relatively new, and it makes sense that a piano manufacturer would also publish music for its customers to play, but we haven’t previously run across music published by them.

The cover litho, “View of the State and City Halls taken from the Capitol,” was from a daguerrotype by Johnson & Mead of Albany, about whom we find pretty much no information, but it’s a wonderful view. The building to the left, of course, still stands, as the New York State Court of Appeals. It was known as State Hall then and was brand spanking new in 1842, which may be why it was included on music meant to celebrate a new governor. To its right is Albany City Hall, but not the one we’re familiar with — this is Philip Hooker’s lovely edifice, which opened in 1832. Unfortunately it burned in 1880, leading to the construction of the 1883 Richardson masterpiece we have today.

The music in its entirety is here.


The Wide Awake Quick Step

Published by:

The Wide Awake Quick StepWell, here’s another piece of all-Albany sheet music that we just had to share. It’s 1860’s The Wide Awake Quick Step!

A brief history of early American and Civil War music reports that “The ‘Wide Awakes’ were an early Republican political group that supported the election of Abraham Lincoln for president in 1860. The Wide-Awakes were Unionists that wanted to show that they were alert and ever vigilant in defense of the Federal government in Washington.”

The music was composed by Max Mayo, who apparently was also an Albanian but about whom we can’t find much. In fact, the only mention we find of Max Mayo is not a favorable one – in an edition of the New-York Musical Review and Gazette, a correspondence from Albany dated January 5th mentions him as having accompanied two operatic concerts given by Miss Lucy Escott (also given as Eastcott): “All the accompaniments were played too heavily by Mr. Max Mayo, a common but very unnecessary fault, which ought to be remedied.”

Published by A and D.R. Andrews of 85 State Street, the Tweddle Hall Music Store. A. Andrews is likely Alfred, who was an organist who lived at 21 Lancaster; D.R. may have been Daniel Andrews, a compositor who boarded at 253 Hamilton.

Apparently the music was performed by Schreiber’s Albany Cornet Band – Howell’s “Bi-Centennial History of Albany” identifies Schreiber as Stephen Schreiber, and says the band “for several years did a large business. It disbanded in 1869.” Schreiber and the band were headquartered at 83 Green Street, in a building called Washington Hall. They are found playing all over the place.

The piece was dedicated to J. Owen Moore, “Comp. A Central Club.” In 1861, J. Owen Moore lived at 70 Philip St.; in 1863, he was listed as a Captain, 3rd Regiment, living at 28 Dallius (now Madison). In 1869, he was listed as an undertaker, with a factory at 117 S. Pearl, an office at 32 N. Pearl, and a house at 74 Hudson.

The lithography was by Harry Pease, who boarded at 777 Broadway, along with three other Pease men, Richard, Richard Jr., and Earl. Richard was the founder of the Pease agricultural implements concerns and, along with Harry, Pease’s Temple of Fancy, where they created the first printed Christmas card in America.

Feeling energetic? You can find the whole work here. Hoxsie’s hoping someone will record these pieces for us.