Category Archives: Albany

Three Stories about William Holding’s Auxetophone

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auxetophone adWhile researching Professor William Holding, who led a very busy orchestra that played on the Day Liner and in the Ten Eyck Hotel’s grill, we ran across a story about the Professor related by old time columnist of old times, Edgar S. Van Olinda. Then we ran across it again. And again. And each time, it was more than a little different from the previous. Van Olinda was a columnist for the Times-Union who seemed to have known everyone and remembered everything, but he didn’t necessarily remember the point of his stories retold over the decades. This is interesting, not only because the level of detail varies with each telling, but there are little important details in each one as well.

In 1942, this is the story he told:

We recall back in those days, before the event of music, Prof. Holding had a large reproducing machine near the band stand, called an Auxetiphone,  [sic] which stepped up the volume of tone by means of compressed air. On this particular evening, some of the boys from the Masonic temple–O, fellows like Bill Gillespie, Ed Easton, Fred White and other members of Masters Lodge, wont to gether together after the degree work for a little session in the Ten Eyck grill. As you may recall, the steward of the Ten Eyck was Ed Sherlock.
Prof. Holding had a lot of fine records and owned orchestrations which he and his men of the ensemble played as an accompaniment to the records. Often the musicians would put on an orchestral record and play along with it from their own scores. During the playing of one of these numbers, Ed Easton, turned to one of his companions and said without batting an eye: “You wouldn’t think Al Rennie would let the orchestra practice while the customers are sitting around, would you?” A disgusted look from Mr. Sherlock. A little later, Mr. Holding put on a record of the greatest tenor of all time. At the end of the selection, dead-pan Easton again remarked: “Gee, I never knew Holding could sing like that!”
That was TOO much for Mr. Sherlock, his face getting redder every minute. “That’s not Prof. Holding singing, you so-and-so. That’s Caruso!” said the disgusted steward as he disgustedly returned to his cubicle off the kitchen. And no one laughed louder than Prof. Holding when told what caused such unseemly mirth following his artistic rendition of the orchestral part.

In 1964, Van Olinda remembered it this way:

Mr, Holding and his ensemble played on the Albany Day Line steamers, between this city and Kingston Point, and then would hot foot it up State Street to Mr. Rockewell’s hotel. For the dinner hour Mr. Holding had an Auxetiphone machine near the bandstand, whose volume was stepped up with compressed air. His repertoire consisted, principally, of the current light operat [sic] medleys, and on request, would play excerpts from grand opera, using a Caruso Red Seal record, and playing the score with his orchestra.
One night, some of the kabitzers were sitting around the room, among them, Steward Ed Sherlock. When Caruso’s magnificent tenor blazed forth in one of his famous arias, one of the lads turned to Mr. Sherlock and said:
“Gee, I didn’t know Bill Holding could sing like that!”
Fixing the gentleman with a stoney stare, Mr. Sherlock replied: “Why, you ignorant churl, that isn’t Bill Holding, That’s the great Caruso.”
And that was the end of a beautiful friendship.

In 1945, he gave his most elaborate rendering of the story, again beginning with a visit from the local Masons of Masters’ lodge No. 5.

One night in particular, some of Masters’ leading lights were seated around one of the many tables, among whom were the late Edward Easton, banker William Lane Gillespie and Ed Sherlock, steward of the Ten Eyck and a member of the lodge. Mr. Sherlock, an Englishman, was of a more or less serious disposition. Mr. William Holding, leader of the orchestra and his versatile musicians were playing request numbers, embracing everything from grand to light opera.
This same auxetiphone [not actually yet mentioned in the column], a stepped-up with compressed air victrola, was in use during the sojourn of the members of Masters lodge’s inner circle. Mr. Holding had a lot of records of famous singers for which he had obtained the orchestrations. It was his pleasure to play one or more of the records, while he conducted the orchestra, furnishing the musical accompaniment which wasn’t too prominent in the old horn recordings, pre-dating the present orthophonic method.
Mr. Holding decided to play one of the very popular Caruso recordings, something like “Una furtive Lagrima,” and was just getting his musical teeth into the score. Caruso’s magnificent voice was filling the quietude of the grill room, when Ed Easton turned to Ed Sherlock and said: “Gee! I never knew that Bill Holding could sing as well as that.”
Fixing the Albany lawyer with a knowing look, Ed Sherlock said, disdainfully: “Why you darned ignoramus that isn’t Holding singing; that is Caruso.” And as the members of the group gave the laugh to Mr. Sherlock, he muttered something about being unable to fathom the American sense of humor.

There may yet be other versions of this story that Van Olinda thought was worth telling over and over again.

If this Auxetophone sounds a bit like a reverse karaoke, it pretty much was. It was specifically promoted for use just as Professor Holding used it, and the Victor Talking Machine Company provided the orchestrations that the musicians were to play: “In order to promote the use of the Auxetophone in conjunction with a small orchestra, Victor published scores that it called Orchestrations. Each of these scores was designed to be used along with a specific Victor record. When properly used, the famous singer featured on the record would be accompanied by live music. This was the next best thing to having the famous singer hold a concert in your home town.” According to the Auxetophone website (one of those things for which we love the internet), they were made from about 1906 to 1915, and sold for the staggering sum of $500. If you want to hear one, you’re in luck; or perhaps not:  “Have you heard the auxetophone? It is to be hoped not.”

 

The Musical Holdings

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We spoke yesterday of Claude Holding, the accomplished musician who then became an accomplished hotelier, building the Wellington Hotel on State Street. His story, and his father’s, tell a tale of times long gone.

William Holding, Claude’s father, was often called Professor Holding and was one of Albany’s most well-known orchestra leaders. He led an outfit called the Albania Orchestra in the 1890s, and later had the orchestra that played on the Albany Day Line and then performed each evening in the grill room of the Ten Eyck Hotel. This all comes from various Around The Town columns by Edgar Van Olinda over the years.

“How did the scions of the families, engaged in the lumber, cattle and stove businesses spend their evenings in the early decades of the century? There were no television, ratio, nor compact cars, and few night spots. Following a play at the Empire or Harmanus Bleecker Hall theatres, the young bloods would assemble in the grill room of the Ten Eyck Hotel, now the Town Room, to quaff a few and listen to the infectious music of William Holding’s salon orchestra.”

In one of the columns in the Times-Union, in 1942, Van Olinda showed a painting that Frank Hutchens made in 1906, which then hung in the Wellington Hotel office of Claude Holding.

“Here is a picture that should bring a lump in the throat of some of the older Albanians, for it shows the beloved music master of the Ten Eyck hotel, Prof. William Holding, leading his fine orchestra in the grill room of the State street inn during the period prior to the first World war.” The painting, unfortunately too poor in the scanning to bother presenting here, shows a group of eight musicians playing. The members of the group were: William Blakeslee, clarinet; Neil Wilde, cornet; Prof. William Holding, violinist-leader; Morris Borodkin, flute; Neils Jacobsen, bass viol; Claude Holding, violin; Gabrielle Califoano, viola; and Arnold Janser, ‘cello. This was not only a working orchestra, but a hard-working orchestra, playing essentially three gigs a day: down the river on the Day Liner, back up the river, and then hike their instruments up State Street hill to the Ten Eyck for the evening show.

“This same group functioned on the Day Line steamers, playing as far as Kingston Point and returning on the up boat from New York and showing the through passengers from the Metropolis what a good orchestra really sounded like . . . During the reign of Strauss, the Waltz King, and at the time Puccini was just beginning to be known as an opera composer, Prof. Holding and his group could be heard every evening, either on the hotel mezzanine or in the State street grill. Requests were welcomed by the professor and graciously played by his men, and there were very few numbers asked that Mr. Holding, senior, did not have at the tips of his agile fingers.”

William Holding was listed as a professor of music in the 1910 census; it appears he was a private instructor. He was 64 and living with wife Lodeska at 98 Chestnut Street then. He had earlier addresses on Morton, Central and Clinton.

Claude Holding, who was said to have joined his father’s orchestra as a violinist before he had turned 12, actually left Albany for New York City for about 10 years, returning in 1902. “Claude Holding has the distinction of having been a member of the Philharmonic orchestra of New York under the baton of Emil Paur, and numbers among his intimate friends of that former period, such outstanding figures in the musical world as Anton Seidl and Victor Herbert. The Albany man owns Seidl’s baton, which, inscribed to him, hangs on the office wall; the maestro’s beret and gown and smoking set; priceless relics of the Golden Age of music. Mr. Holding had a rich experience as violinist in the orchestras of the Empire, Garrick, Madison Square, Knickerbocker, Herald Square theatres; the Manhattan Opera house and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He was also a member of the Richard Arnold String Sextette, one of the finest chamber music organizations of New York at the time it was considered the ranking organization in a highly specialized field of music.

In 1956, Van Olinda wrote, “And some day, if you are interested, drop into the Wellington Hotel lobby, and look at the oil painting of Bill Holding and his Day Line and Ten Eyck Hotel ensemble. No rock ‘n’ roll in that era.”

Claude Holding did quite well for himself. It was noted in 1957 that he had owned an 11-bedroom mansion and boathouse at Still Bay on Lake George. He was also highly regarded: “The late Claude Holding, hotelman, had many fine traits. One day at his Lake George home he wanted to introduce an Albany man to some friends. He had forgotten his name for the moment, so he asked him. In a few days the man received a letter apologizing.”

The Wellington Hotel and Its Musical Owner

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We’ve shown the top postcard before, but thought it would be nice to put together these three postcard views of Albany’s famous Wellington Hotel, the longest survivor of the grand hotel era in the Capital City. It started as a small hostelry on State Street with only 17 rooms, when it was bought in 1911 by a musician who had played in hotels and on steamboats and then decided to try his hand at the hotel business. That was Claude J. Holding, who expanded the Wellington to 200, then to 400 rooms. His July 24, 1949 obituary in the Times-Union said that ‘”he gained wide recognition when he established the first ‘built-in’ garage in this section of the country. The innovation permits hotel guests to enter an elevator immediately upon leaving their cars.”

The expansion of the Wellington was big news in 1914, with the Times-Union saying it would compare favorably with the classiest apartment hotels in New York city. “It will be one of the most modern apartment hotels in the country, lighted throughout with electricity, equipped with electrical elevators and with running hot and cold water in every room. The breakfast and tea room which will be situated on the main floor of the Howard st. part of the building will be elaborately decorated and elegantly furnished and will be one of the daintiest and most attractive places for dinners in Albany and vicinity. The present dining room will be converted into the offices of the hotel. The present reception room will be altered and redecorated. There will be an elevator in the new and old parts of the building. The aim has been to make the hotel strictly fire proof in every detail. In the Howard st. part there will be 103 rooms, and 50 additional rooms will be afforded by the ‘L’ making the total number of rooms in the hotel about 200.”

Claude J. HoldingClaude was the son of a famed orchestra leader named Willis Holding, who was the music master at the Ten Eyck Hotel; Claude started playing with his father’s orchestra before he was 12. He played violin and viola on the steamboats between Albany and Kingston, and studied under Richard Arnold, master of the New York Philharmonic, who made Holding a member of the Arnold Sextet. He was a member of theater and operatic orchestras and “played in the band at performances of Maude Adams when she starred in ‘The Little Minister.’” While he gave up the music profession for hoteling, he did continue to conduct the YMCA orchestra for many years.

Claude was also active as a founder and president of the Albany Society Council, trustee of National Savings Bank, president of the Albany Auto Club, member of the Chamber of Commerce, legislative chairman of the New York State Hotel Association, director of the New York State Chamber of Commerce, director of the American Automobile Association, and member of the Fort Orange Club. He was 74 when he died. One of his sons, Reynolds Holding, took over after that, and eventually sold out to the Carter hotel syndicate,  “a chain outfit from New York,” as columnist Edgar Van Olinda put it.

After endless stops and starts to redevelop the Wellington and its neighboring buildings, the Berkshire Hotel and the Elks Lodge, the Wellington and its annex were finally taken down, leaving only its facade fronting a new development. The site is now taken up by a parking garage for the Renaissance Hotel, which is what they’re calling the DeWitt Clinton these days. The garage survived on Howard Street until very recently, but was finally demolished to make room for the new Capital Center.

Wellington Hotel Street ViewOn the left side of this Street View you can see the reworked facade of the Wellington, not quite the same as in its glory days, but way better than it was for many years.

 

Lincoln Park Pool

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Lincoln Park Swimming PoolA grand view of Albany’s Lincoln Park swimming pool. As the city grew, the old public baths proved insufficient to meet the need, and in the 1920s there were some short-term stabs at providing swimming facilities, including the Rocky Ledge wading pool and what appears to have been a swimming tank in Lincoln Park. By 1930, this rather grander pool was completed, and it has remained in operation ever since. From the Albany Group Archive, another view, from its opening year:
Lincoln Park Swimming Pool  July 4 1931  albany ny 1930s

The Delaware and Hudson Building (and Evening Journal)

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D&H building at night
On the one hand, this is such a common Albany view that we hardly think about it. On the other hand, who gets tired of looking at the Delaware and Hudson Railroad Building, the headquarters of what was once one of Albany’s great railroads? And on the third hand, it’s the D&H Building at night, with the trolley loop in front of it, The Plaza, ringed in trees and lights. This was architect Marcus T. Reynolds’s crowning achievement, completed in sections starting in 1914-15 and finally done in 1918. The structure to the right is actually the Albany Evening Journal building, built for the newspaper founded by Thurlow Weed in 1830 but which would only last until 1925. The photograph is a little fanciful in its lack of trolley tracks, or trolleys. Everyone who remembers that they shipped off to war from this building is, unfortunately, wrong – although there was a freight terminal just north of it behind Dean Street, this was never a railroad station, just a rather grand office building.

The building the D&H occupied prior to this one still stands on North Pearl Street.

Another undated card from the Tichnor Collection at Digitalcommonwealth.org.

 

The Court of Appeals

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Still mining the Tichnor Collection from digitalcommonwealth.org, with this lovely postcard view of the New York State Court of Appeals building on Eagle Street, just north of City Hall, across Pine Street. For those not familiar, this is the highest court in New York State’s court system (those imbued with common sense are usually surprised to find that state Supreme Courts are the lowest level of state court — but are supreme over local courts). This stretch of Eagle Street is just a touch off the main routes, and some people are surprised to find this and the county courthouse (just visible to the left) tucked away in a quiet setting across from Academy Park.

Originally, this was built as the State Hall. State courts then were housed in the Capitol (the old one). Besides the much smaller old Capitol, the State also had offices in the Old State Hall at the corner of Lodge and State. Lack of space to a push for a new ace and concern about fire destroying records led to the push for construction of this new State Hall, and local architect Henry Rector was commissioned to design this building, which opened in 1842. (Time has been unkind to Rector’s work, with the only other surviving example being a row of houses on Westerlo Street in the Pastures.) It originally housed the state chancellor, Register of Chancery, the clerk of the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, as well as the attorney general, the auditor, Erie Canal appraisers and commissioners, the comptroller, and the state engineer and surveyor-general. The Court of Appeals remained in the Capitol, and stayed there when the new one was built as well. However, a need for better court space led to a renovation and the Court of Appeals moved in in 1917. A second, much more extensive renovation, was completed in 1959, including a replacement dome and rebuilt foundation. Another round of renovations took place beginning in 2001, again replacing structural elements of the dome, but this time also adding on to the building.

In Waite’s “Albany Architecture,” Anthony Opalka writes that the marble for the building was quarried by inmates at Sing Sing Prison, down the Hudson River at Ossining.

 

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

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Cathedral Immaculate ConceptionThis postcard view, likely from the 1930s or so like the others we’ve been showing, shows the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, on Eagle Street at the southwest corner with Madison Avenue. While of course there is no Cultural Education Center towering over it from behind, there’s an amount of license in showing a cleared grassy area up Madison Avenue, because in fact that stretch of Madison was packed with the usual three-story Albany row buildings, as you can see:

madison and eagle 1920s albany ny (Cathedral of the Immaculate conception of left)

Construction began on the cathedral and the cornerstone was laid in 1848, with the dedication in 1852. it was designed by Irish immigrant Patrick Keely, who designed something like 500 churches, many in the industrial towns of the northeast. Reportedly, it was only the second cathedral dedicated in New York (St. Patrick’s in NYC being the first). The Troy Daily Times reported on the dedication:

Solemn Dedication of the Albany Cathedral

According to previous arrangement, this imposing ceremony came off on Sunday, and was deeply interesting. It commenced about 9 o’clock A.M. There were two Archbishops, five Bishops and about one hundred Priests who officiated on the occasion.

The dedicatory service was performed by Archbishop Hughes, of New York. The clergy formed in procession from the two Sacristies on either side of the grand altar, and passed through the middle aisles to the front of the Cathedral outside, where the ceremony properly commenced.

After the appropriate prayers with the first blessing of the New Edifice were ended, the procession moved round the whole edifice, the clergy chanting the Miserere, and the dedicating Archbishop sprinkling the Cathedral with holy water as the procession moved round – using the prayers appropriate for the occasion.

Returning to the place in front of the Cathedral, the Solemn Entry was made. After the Archbishop had three times knocked at the gates of the main entrance, the clergy sang the Litany of the Saints, emblematic of the solemn entry into Heaven – the Temple not made by the hands of men …

During the Pontifical Mass, Archbishop Hughes took his throne, where he sat with this attendants until after the gospel, when he took off his mitre and cape, and ascended the pulpit, (also but temporarily erected,) in front of the sanctuary … He first alluded to the disappointment in the absence, by unexpected sickness, of the Archbishop Purcell, of Cincinnati, who was to have preached the dedication sermon, whose place he was now unexpectedly to fill.

He complimented the congregation at the early completion of so noble a structure, and quoted it as an evidence of the zeal and influence of their first Bishop, and his venerable clergy, and of the union also that existed betweeen the pastors and the flock.

He also highly complimented the architect and builders, and made allusions to the Right Reverend Bishops of Montreal, Bogota, etc,. who had honored the occasion with their presence …

This imperfect and hurried sketch does nothing like justice to the grand occasion, or eloquent extemporaneous discourse in any way, but may give an idea of the imposing solemnity of the occasion, and of the  joy that seemed to fill all hearts. There were present about from 4000 to 5000 people. Service will hereafter take place regularly at the Cathedral Church.

Dedication, as was often the case, did not mean completion; the spires were not complete in 1852, and the chancel had not been built. The north tower was completed in 1862, and, appropriately, Meneely bells from West Troy were hung. The south spire didn’t come until 1888.

While the cathedral was outside the area that was taken for the Empire State Plaza, its parishioners were not.  In addition to robbing the church of a neighborhood to serve, it is reported that the years of construction next door did damage to the cathedral building and rendered its pipe organ unusable. The cathedral did survive, however, and extensive renovations took place in the first decade of this century, with a reopening of the church in 2010.

The Capitol’s Grand Staircase

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Capitol Grand StaircaseAnother postcard from the Tichnor Collection at Digitalcommonwealth.org. “The Grand Staircase” is something of an understatement – this is the New York State Capitol’s Great Western Staircase, also (and probably better) known as The Million Dollar Staircase. But, of course, it cost much more than that, at an estimated $1.5 million. With 444 steps (which Hoxsie used to climb with regularity, for both business and pleasure), it took 14 years to complete, making it one of the speedier parts of the Capitol’s construction. This postcard really doesn’t begin to do it justice, though it does seem to show it in a time when it was still naturally lit by skylight (which it is once again, but with electric lights as well). The stonecarvers were given tremendous license, and as a result it is one of the most incredibly ornamented structures you will see on this continent. If you’ve never seen it, just go inside and look – you don’t need to be on a tour to wander the Capitol freely (though there are now metal detectors at the doors). If you can’t, take a look at this collection of photos from Northeast Architecture.

The Post Office and Courthouse

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Post Office, Albany, NYThis postcard from the Tichnor Collection shows what was once known as the “new” post office in downtown Albany. According to the Federal General Services Administration, a new post office was first authorized in 1930 with a $3.325 million allocation “to purchase a site and construct a new federal building in Albany, New York, to house a post office, courthouse, and custom house.” The following year, this site on the corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane was chosen, which necessitated the demolition of a number of buildings on Broadway and Dean Street (which technically still runs behind the building). The new structure was designed by local firm Gander, Gander & Gander in 1931, and the cornerstone was laid August 18, 1933. The building opened in 1934. “The building had an exterior bridge connecting the nearby rail station with the post office, which occupied the entire first two floors” – meaning not Union Station, but the freight warehouse of the Delaware and Hudson Railroad, which was located on Dean Street adjacent to the D&H Headquarters. The building was known as the Post Office or the Courthouse, depending on why you were going there, for many years until 1988 when the building, already on the National Register of Historic Places, was named in honor of James T. Foley, the son of a politically connected cockfighting promoter, who served as a federal court judge for 40 years.

 

The building is an understated Art Deco beauty. As the GSA website says,

The facade, which faces west on Broadway, contains two entrances, each topped with an eagle that is more than eight feet tall and carved from a seventeen-ton Vermont marble block by New York City sculptor Albert T. Stewart, who also received the commission for the building’s frieze. Artist Benjamin Hawkins created ornate aluminum screens titled Departments of Government located behind the eagles. The screens contain stylized motifs representing the Departments of Navy, Agriculture, Labor, Army, Post Office, Commerce and Revenue, as well as images of the courts, thirteen stars representing the original colonies, and the New York state seal. A bas-relief frieze encircles the building on three elevations: the west facade contains images of postal service activities, the north elevation shows customs duties, and the south elevation illustrates the mission of the courts. To make the carvings visible to street-level viewers, Stewart created figures approximately eight feet tall and executed at a depth of nearly three inches.

Typical of the Art Deco style, the architects designed an opulent interior. Six marble types, including St. Genevieve Golden Vein, Rose, Champlain Black, Eagle Grey Tennessee, Eagle Pink Tennessee, and Verde Antique, are used on the richly appointed interior walls and floors. Ceilings are ornate plaster with medallions and stepped molding covered with aluminum leaf. Entrance vestibules lead to public lobbies with marble walls. Marble mosaic medallions are inset in the north and south lobby floors. A gilded plaster ceiling medallion of the United States Seal is centered in the lobby and framed by step moldings covered with aluminum leaf and gold stars.

Marble pilasters divide the main lobby into nine bays, each articulated with a ceiling mural. Artist Ethel M. Parsons painted the oil-on-canvas murals in 1935, depicting each of the seven continents as well as the North Pole and the United States. Interspersed with the murals are plaster plaques by Italian artist Enea Biafora Portraying famous Americans, including Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington, as portrayed on the earliest U.S. postage stamps. With the exception of the murals, the ceiling is covered with aluminum leaf. Four original black marble writing desks are centered in the main lobby.

Throughout the building, in both public and private spaces, intricate wood inlay designs adorn the ceiling and wall trim. Each of the five floors contains two elevator lobbies with adjacent public staircases. The stairs have treads and landings of Eagle Grey Tennessee marble with Champlain black marble risers. Cast-aluminum railings, also designed by Biafora, contain stylized motifs related to the functions of the building, including an airplane and scales of justice.

The murals are probably what most of us miss most about easy access to the building’s lobby – there were worth the trip. The post office left the building in 1995, with most of its sorting functions transferred out to the suburbs and the remaining functions accommodated by a joyless little space on the bottom floor of a parking garage on Hudson Street, which no one looks forward to going to.

Maiden Lane below Broadway 1930s albany ny

In this view, looking east down Maiden Lane, the bridge to the D&H freight terminal is visible, an essential feature from a time when much intercity mail traveled by rail.

The Capitol Flag Room – or, War Room

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Capitol Flag Room, or War RoomThis postcard, also from the Tichnor Collection at Digitalcommonwealth.org, depicts what was then called the Flag Room of the New York State Capitol in Albany. Even when this postcard was made, it doesn’t appear that battle flags were on display here … they may have already been moved out into the eastern entry hall  to the Capitol, where they suffered for decades. Some have now been conserved. In Hoxsie’s memory, this space was always called the War Room, so named for its ceiling murals depicting significant conflicts in New York’s history. Like the flags it once held, this space suffered mightily for a long time, essentially consigned to use as a storage space until it was restored during Governor Pataki’s administration. It is now used for various historical exhibits and is officially designated as the Governor’s Reception Room, but we’re not buying that moniker.

We’d love to know what the marker on the pedestal used to say. It’s not quite legible in any of the versions of this postcard that we’ve been able to find.