Yurt Power!

I spent Saturday night with my college girlfriends, Kim and Katie. Kim and Katie are two of the coolest YorkState women of my personal acquaintance. After greeting me with hugs and love, the first thing Kim says is: "Hey, Alia, check out the back of my head, I shaved it!" Sure enough, a large chunk of Kim's beautiful, wavy red hair is gone. In its place, the words ICE ICE BABY are shaved in. I can tell already that this is going to be a fabulous weekend. Katie and Kim are intelligent, funny, laid back and most importantly: they are phenomenal carpenters.

In mid July, the women began to construct a yurt to live in for the 2005-2006 school year. Both SUNY Geneseo Seniors have wanted to live in, and have talked about living in, a yurt for a few years now. Despite doubtful nay-saying, their yurt was completed and ready for move-in by late October.

A yurt is a traditional Mongolian dwelling made from wooden poles and wool insulation. Kim and Katie's dome yurt is 16 feet in circumference. The highest point of the building is the center at 8 and a half feet. The women lived outside in tents while they researched how to construct a yurt for the first part of the summer. The used a book called "All About Yurts" or something along those lines. (If you type "yurt" into a search engine, you can find quite a bit of helpful information.) The women found all of the raw materials on Katie's family land in Palmyra, NY. They then cut and carved each part of the circular wooden lattice and every one of the 51 poles that make up the domed roof. For insulated walls, Katie and Kim used wool they treated.

Their yurt resides on old Wadsworth land near campus. In exchange for helping out in the family stable, Katie and Kim live on the property rent free. The yurt has been built upon a wooden plank. Stones, dirt and fox furs make up the floor. The beautiful furs, found first as road kill, are then gutted, tanned and treated by the two woodsy ladies. Katie turned one of her road kill foxes into a hand puppet. We horrified fellow students by bringing FoxAnne with us for Sunday breakfast at the Geneseo Family Restaurant.

A small wood-burning stove heats the yurt. It was about 25 degrees outside on Saturday night and around 50 degrees inside. I didn't mind the cold. The three of us snuggled up close and reminisced all hours in our down feather sleeping bags. Oh, the stories we have!

Like traditional Mongolian yurts before, Kim and Katie's masterpiece is completely portable. Genghis Khan traveled all over Mongolia in an enormous yurt pulled by 22 oxen. Mongolian soldiers were fierce fighters; they had the support of their wives and children who traveled to battle with them via yurts.
The yurt does lack in-door plumbing. We used a bucket for a "pee only" chamber pot and Kim constructed an outhouse for shitting. Katie and Kim shower in the barn when the weather is warm. They use showers in the art building the rest of the year.

Kim expressed irritation at all of the nay-saying people gave them while they were planning construction. She feels folks wouldn't have doubted their abilities if they were male. I can see that, sexism sucks. I think the dumbest put-down I've heard regarding their work is "Oh, well, it was a mild winter this year." As if Katie and Kim have any control over the weather! Or that a few less snow storms makes their accomplishment any less impressive!

The women will move their yurt to the SUNY Geneseo campus for Senior Week in mid May. Kim will show the yurt as her Senior art project. Both are planning on continuing to live in the yurt after graduation, most likely on Katie's family land.

I cannot express my delight and pride in my two friends enough! They inspire me and prove to all of us that alternative lifestyles are viable. We don't have to rely on luxuries to live. We don't have to use technology, oil, cars, excess, etc. When the shit hits the fan, those women are ready. I'm with them.

-Submitted by Alia

Editor's Note: Thank you Alia for your submission! Just as a reminder, York Staters tries to be an open for discussion on life in Upstate New York. If you wish to submit a post, please check our Submission Guidelines and Mission Statement for instructions. -Jesse

The Concentration of Wealth and Power in New York

This past Friday, two pieces of news in the Binghamton newspaper caught my attention, both on the front page. The first read: “U.S. Family Incomes are Falling, gap between wealthy, other groups widens from 2001-2004, Fed reports” and the other “Free clinics growing as need increases, rising insurance costs force more to seek alternative services.”

According to the first article, by Martin Crutsinger of the AP, “average family incomes, after adjusting for inflation, fell to $70,700 in 2004, a drop of 2.3 percent when compared with 2001… the gap between the very wealthy and other income groups widened during the period. The top 10- percent of households saw their net worth rise by 6.1 percent to an average of $3.11 million while the bottom 25 percent suffered a decline from a net worth in which their assets equaled their liabilities in 2001 to owing $1,400 more than their total assets in 2004.” In fact, the gap between the richest and poorest has been increasing for more than two decades.[1]

The article other detailed the rising importance of free clinics, focusing upon on in Broome County. It read: “estimates show about 15.5 percent of New York’s population are without insurance, which translates to as many as 38,000 people in [the Binghamton Metropolitan] area… While most of the patients work, they may have part-time jobs that don’t offer health insurance or the premiums they’d have to pay are unaffordable; 95 percent of patients report their annual income as less than $20,000.” This is troubling, especially since there was an article in the Wednesday paper entitled “Health care costs by 2015 20% of income.”

Of course this discussion of large categories like “bottom 25%” and “top 10 percent” hide the incredible disparity at the top. According to Forbes list of the richest 400 Americans, New York has 48 members of the “Rich List” with a combined net worth of $89,100 million (that’s $89,100,000,000)[2]. To put this in perspective, New York has a population 19,011,378 people with a combined wealth of $900,000,000,000 and an average income of $35,884 [3]. According to my calculations, this means that .0002% of New Yorkers own 10% of the state’s wealth (how much they control through heading boards of companies and non-profits and through stock is almost impossible to gauge) [4]. A glance at the list shows that all 48 live Downstate, the vast majority in the City itself.

So, what am I getting at here? Am I about to launch into a Kerry-like tirade against the “top 1% of Americans” (a group I believe both Kerry and Bush may belong to)? Isn’t this the moment when Liberals proclaim a need for graded income tax, national health care, more money for Head Start, etc?

However, I am not a classic liberal and I am not going to call for an increase of taxes, though I will condemn these individuals, as they deserve. To think that 38,000 people in Broome County are forced to wait long into the night at free clinics while working at two or more jobs just to get to health care while Mr. Newhouse down in Bedford, NY has $7.7 billion (that’s $202,631 per insurance-less person in Broome County) is disgusting. But this is not a problem that federal taxes will solve.

Why? Because the problem is not where wealth is concentrated, but the concentration of wealth itself. Whether it is in the hands of 48 people living in penthouses or in a handful who have been “elected” in Albany or Washington often makes little difference. We should be learning that concentrating wealth in Washington leads to horrible corruption (think Jack Abramhoff, the scandals in Iraq, the Clinton-ear debacles and the day-to-day graft known as the pork barrel). Republicans want to concentrate wealth amongst those who are already wealthy and into the military (and military contractors), Democrats rarely want to challenge those who are already wealth, instead leaning on the middle class and poor to draw out funds for their tremendous government programs. The tragedy of Katrina can show what happens when people rely too much on centralized, federal bureaucracies for their survival.

With either party, productivity (how much labor can be squeezed out of each worker in an hour) has only risen since the 1970s, corporate profits have spiraled upwards from around $20 billion in 1970 to around $640 billion in 2003, while real wages have declined over that time. Yet, our individual tax burden, as a percentage of income, has increased over the decades. These trends have continued with both Democrats and Republicans.

So what can be done? The centralization of wealth in individuals and the government continues in part because we are ambivalent to it. We spend money at Wal-Mart, which continually siphons off funds to Bentonville; we are too often quiet to government’s continual thievery to support wars and corruption. Wealth is built within communities through the labor of individuals, the siphoning occurs afterwards. If we were instead to build mechanisms of local control and local interdependence (like the Ithaca Hour, the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative or the Battenkill Cooperative Kitchen, to quote a few that I have discussed), wealth would circulate locally and remain to deal with local problems. Of course, this is easier to say than do and the immense power of pro-corporate, pro-centralization propaganda cannot be denied, and the same is true for the immense amount of work that must be done. However, I believe strongly in our traditions of innovation and social justice here in Upstate New York and think we are up to the task.

-Posted by Jesse

[2] The wealthiest, a Mr. Samuel Irving Newhouse Jr., has accumulated $7,700,000,000.
[3] Stats on us normal folk are from
[4] Meanwhile, 14.4% of New Yorkers live below the poverty line (http://www.publicagenda.org/issues/factfiles_detail.cfm?issue_type=welfare&list=6)


The Shame of Central New York, or, how one man turned a proud people into a corporation

The United States is a self-described “Bastion of Freedom,” and here in New York we are often proud of our tolerance and prevailing liberal views; after all, they say even an Upstate conservative would be a raging liberal out in Wyoming or down in Alabama. When we think of centers oppression and despotism, we rarely think of the US and are even less likely to think of New York. Tyrants live in Iraq or North Korea; oppression is found in Iran or perhaps Birmingham. Certainly not a stone’s throw from Syracuse, at a place where busloads of little old ladies and graduating high school seniors travel daily.

To our great shame, however, a despot rules in Upstate, New York. No, I’m not referring to Pataki or the State Legislature, but to Ray Halbritter, CEO of Oneida Nation Inc and Federally recognized leader of the Oneida Nation, the master of Turning Stone Casino.

The history of the
Oneida people is a tragic part of New York history. In the Treaty of Canandaigua (with the USA in 1794), the Oneida negotiated a reservation of 6 million acres in Upstate New York (to put that in context, the Adirondack park is a little over 6 million in size). Despite being allies with the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War, effectively shattering the Iroquois Confederacy to side with the European-Americans, the Oneida were systematically betrayed throughout the resulting decades. The 20th century opened with only 32 acres remaining in the Oneida hands.

The rise of Halbritter begins within “The 32” in 1977 when the Grand Council of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) recognized three individuals, Lyman Johns, Richard Chrisjohn and Arthur Raymond Halbritter, as “messengers for the Oneida people residing in Central New York” [1]. The resulting years were times of struggle as pro-gaming and anti-gaming groups within the reservation came to conflict. One of the roots of the struggle came from the Longhouse Religion and the Code of Handsome Lake. A native prophet of the late 1700s and early 1800s, Handsome Lake revived the traditional beliefs of the Haudenosaunee and created his “Code” to help them adapt to reservation life. One of Handsome Lake’s great commands is against gambling of all types. [2] Handsome Lake’s followers stood firmly against the proposed Bingo casino, even to the point of arson. (For more details on the time period, check my timeline of antebellum history in New York).

However, in the end the pro-gaming faction, lead by Halbritter, triumphed. This lead to Halbritter’s consolidation of control over the Nation in 1993. After the deaths of Johns and Chrisjohn (both elderly men), Halbritter assumed complete control over the nation. He further diluted traditional,
matriarchal, government by creating, without the approval of the Oneida, a Men’s Council; he appointed all Clan Mothers and Men’s Council Members, in direct violation of tribal law. [1, 4] Halbritter created a 54 man police force to police 32 acres of ground; there was not a single Oneida on the force [4]. Simultaneously, Halbritter negotiated a secret deal with the State of New York to open a casino: Turning Stone. He also formed, and became CEO, of a corporation named Oneida Nation Inc., which today is virtually inseparable from the Oneida Nation government.

In April of that year, the
Grand Council stripped Halbritter of his status (a power that they have the power to do under Iroqois and US law), and to this day there is no representative of the New York Oneida on the Council. This decision was ratified by the US Department of the Interior and then reversed the very next day after intense pressure from Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY). While the Department of the Interior could not force Halbritter onto the Council, he did remain in charge of the Oneida, this probably didn't bother Halbritter much as he reportedly did not show up to Council meetings for years, despite being chosen represent his people on it.[4]

Halbritter then turned on his own people. He began to
strip Oneida status from dissenters who opposed his heavy-handed actions. To take one’s Oneida citizenship is akin to removing one’s American Citizenship: one cannot vote or receive services. In effect, these people were evicted from their homes (which were razed), had their health care, educational allowances and stipends removed, jobs taken away, were isolated from their family and social circle and sealed out of their religious organizations. In 1995, Halbritter, in fact, sealed the Wolf Clan’s Longhouse (religious and social building) and ordered the arrest of anyone entering. [1, 6]

The secretive regime also
refused to comply with the 1988 Indian Gaming Act and refused to hand over audits to the National Indian Gaming Commission from 1993-96. While Halbritter eventually acquiesced to the Commission (only because they threatened to close the casino), the Oneida themselves have never been able to see the financial accounting books of the organization. The abuses continue: laws of the Nation are also constructed in secret by non-Oneida lawyers and the police have been accused of illegal surveillance, breaking and entering and abuse of Nation members. [1, 3, 4, 5]

Today, the conflict continues, though Halbritter maintains the upper hand. Upstate non-Iroquois from the area tend to support the Casino (which has over a 1,000 jobs) and the plight of the Traditionalist, anti-gambling Oneida is ignored. The spin doctors of Oneida Nation Inc have largely played it off as a “family conflict” over “greed and money,” but of course the Oneida are all closely related and the Traditional opposed the creation of the casino in the beginning. For examples of spin, see editorials in
Daily Sentinel, Oneida Dispatch, and the Daily Sentinel who all seem more concerned about money and jobs than democracy and justice; note that the Sentinel claims that the revocation was an act of ‘whites,’ but the BIA was headed by a native american and all the parties involved were natives. [4]

What can you do to help? For one, avoid the Turning Stone. You can tell others, especially those planning trips to Verona to gamble, about Halbritter. Write letters to the editor, complain in public. Let the word get out that one man has taken a nation and turned it into his own business and that when there are complaints against him, he responds with secrecy and violence. More actively, you can help the
Oneidas for Democracy, representing the traditional voice; they need money and material assistance to continue their struggle. They also have a list of officials and news outlets that one can send letters to. A petition has been set up online for support of an investigation.

Will we tolerate tyranny in our own backyards? Will the people of the United States back up their own rhetoric of democracy and freedom when it doesn’t profit oil revenues? Will the people of New York reject the generations-old practice of ignoring the Haudenosaunee and instead embrace our history of resistance to oppression? So far, it doesn’t look good.

-Posted by Jesse

A Historical Journey, by Doug George-Kanentiio
Mountain Views: A Perspective on Strawberries and the Seneca Casino Deal, from the Niagara Falls Reporter by John Hanchette
Oneida Indians Move to Unseat Casino Boss, from The New Standard, by Katherine Comp
The Oneida Report (and here), from the Christian Peacemaker Teams
Docket: Shenandoah, et al v. Halbritter, from The Center for Constitutional Rights
Native Americans Under Siege, from Sacred Lands


A request for help

I'm currently working on a relatively large project to map population movements in Upstate New York through census data and I'm hoping for your assistance.

The idea behind the project was germinated through a fantastic book entitled "Sundown Towns" by James Loewen. In his book, he tracks the "ghettoization" of Northern Blacks between 1890 and 1950 (and continuing today) through a process called "Sundown Towns." Simply put, he hypothesizes that during this period the majority of incorporated places outside of the South managed to ban African Americans. Many of them used outright violence to drive away black communities, which had been welcomed with open arms during Reconstruction. Since then, they have used a combination of violence, legal bans and subtle pressures to keep their towns all-white. The effect was to force blacks into the inner cities and constrain their settlement elsewhere. Thus the ghetto was a creation of white pressure and violence, not a choice by the black community.

Since I grew up in what had been until recently an all-white town (Johnson City today is: "88.86% White, 3.09% African American, 0.19% Native American, 4.93% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 0.84% from other races, and 2.03% from two or more races. 2.23% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race." from Wikipedia), I was captivated by the book. Unfortunately, Loewen is from Illinois and focuses primarily upon Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and the Ozarks; it appears that these areas were hotbeds of the Sundown phenomenon, but it was not constrained to them. For example, he quotes North Tonawanda and Tuxedo Park in New York as bening virulently anti-black Sundown towns for generations.

I am trying to track down more information on this great shame to our nation and try to uncover how much it affected our region in particular. Why are cities like Buffalo (37.23% Black), Syracuse (25.35% black) and Rochester (38.55% black) famous for having black folk* while neighborhing suburbs like North Tonawanda (97.86% white), Solvay (95.81% white) and Penfield (93.48% white) are lily-white?

The assistance that I am asking from you folk is twofold: 1) Does anyone know where I can acquire copies of the census, in particular old censuses (I'm looking for 1860, 1890, 1930, 1970 and 2000)? 2) Does anyone have personal experience with this phenomenon? Did you grow up in an all-white town? Are you familiar with life in an interracial city? Also, eventually I will need saints to proofread the research if anyone is interested in that. Thanks for any help you can give.

-Posted by Jesse

*Though interestingly, not even near a majority. Binghamton is considered by many Johnson City (88% white) and Endicott (91.65% white) residents as being dangerously black, but only 8.41% of its population is black and 83.18% white.


Facts About Waterfowl

May 29th, 2004

It is the way of Canadian geese, when a threat is precieved to their young by another animal, to either swim away or to hiss. Having ridden along the Erie Canal many times, I have often been hissed at by little families of geese who have no intention of moving down the steep bank of the towpath to retreat into safety of the water. One or both of the parents will take a few steps out towards a passing jogger or cyclist, bowing their heads and hissing while their little fluffy progeny stay nestled in the grass. Riding by this afternoon about a dozen yards in front of my mother, I stayed to the farthest side of the path from a family group and was met with some of the most insistent hissing from a goose I have run across, and so in the spirit of experimentation, I hissed back to see what the goose would do. As it turns out, a goose when hissed back at is likely to take off and fly after you and beat you about the head with its wings for a short distance before returning to its family, because this is what happened to me, much to my ammusment and much to my mothers horror.

On Erie Boulevard, a road which coincidently follows the path of a now filled-in portion of the historic waterway, is Liquor City, and behind that on a side street is an establishment called Pan Asian Grocery. Driving home from dinner with my family yesterday, my mother decided that she wanted to stop there, because apparently they the best price on large quantities of minced garlic. I had never been in before, and found the fishy smelling store awash in ambient oriental music fairly interesting, but that interest was truely piqued when I saw in an open carton by the check out, atop a stack of cardboard boxes, a few dozen eggs. The sign, which was the flap of the box on which they were set, declared: Duck Eggs $0.89 -> Babies Inside! I picked up the one on the corner and warmed it between my palms as I brought this to the attention of my mother in disbelief that the eggs were in fact viable. My mother, in turn, asked the check-out lady who replied in somewhat shakey English that they were supposed to be heated up to ninety degrees and then eaten. An example she gave my mother as an occasion for such a meal was if you were having a problem with your shoulder. I didn't buy one, because I wasn't sure if I had the means to incubate it, or if the eggs were even fresh enough that it would enable the duck inside to be born at all. The car ride home was composed of fanciful speculation on my brothers and my part about having duck babies, and if you hatched one, whether it would follow you around. Thinking about it now, it seems almost silly to have assumed that if kept warm a live duck could emerge from one of those greenish eggs.

Posted by Natalie


"Weird New York"

In my little world York State's libraries are amongst our greatest treasures, ranked with our fantastic park system and our traditions of innovation and exploration. The other day, I visited my local library, the Johnson City Your Home Public Library, to pick up something special that I had requested. I arrived and, for a 25 cent fee (for the hold), I acquired Weird New York by Chris Gethard.

Part of the "Weird U.S." series, Weird New York is a tour of the bizarre, terrifying and wonderful underbelly of the Empire State. The book, largely a repository for folklore and urban legends is divided up into thematic chapters including: "Local Heroes and Villains," "Roadside Oddities" and "Cemetery Safari." Inside each chapter are sections detailing the oddities that range from a single line to several pages. Some of my favorites include:
"Whiskey Hollow" an isolated road in Baldwinsville where the KKK and Satan worshippers commit acts of absolute evil and teenagers find the remnants of animal sacrifices. Of course, the ghosts of murdered children also haunt the area.

"The Crypt Keeper Knocks Back!" About a mausoleum in an unnamed cemetery on Route 8 between Unadilla and Bridgewater. When you knock on the door, the restless spirits within... knock back!

"The Clawfoot People" of the Zoar Valley near Gowanda. All descended from a single woman, the 200 or so men of this clan all exhibited a deformity called "clawfoot." In the 1920s, the family all secretly made a pact to not reproduce, forever eliminating their shame.


"Rosemary's Texas Taco" on Route 22 in Putnam County, a bizarrely decorated Tex-Mex restaurant filled with robots, found objects and sculptures. Behind Rosemary's is a "fantasyland" garden filled with animals, junk and more scuptures.

I highly reccommend Weird New York to any with a taste for the bizarre, fascinating or terrifying. But if you live in the Triple Cities, I warn you that I've got the only copy in the library system, and I am keeping it until its due date.

-Posted by Jesse


The Middle-of-Nowhere in York State: Pt. 1

I want to know all of York State. I want to have some sort of memory to recall for every village, township etc. in York State. I'll make a map to show how much of York State I need to know(what I consider York State) which also includes how much I know so far. Cities aren't interesting, I want to find the most middle of nowhere place. For me to know a village it needs to have some sort of main street, some sort of structure(s) to represent that community -something to give it a center or consciousness(or at least an apparent one, so I can form a picture to go with the name on the map.)

I figure most everything west of the Hudson to Jamestown, everything from the NY-PA border well into the Adirondack's and Watertown are my borders. The villages of the western and southern Catskills are of a different sort than those of the Adirondack Park, so the Catskills will probably be more prominent in my formation of York State. Although, just south of the St. Lawrence there are probably some true-blue York State hamlets -but an expansion of my York State conciousness will have to wait until I've mapped out everything south of Lake Ontario and west of Rockland County. I want to know all of York State.

I know where the people of Tunnel go to get their mail, I know that the most depressing bar south of the Finger Lakes Region is in the Town of Lisle, I think Triangle might not be more than a general store and an antiques shop. I need to have some sort of memory to associate with any village someone mentions, or writes about, or with words on a directional sign when I'm on my way somewhere. My father can recall some random thing about every town he's been in; he's probably been in every middle of nowhere place in southern and central York State. He grew up in Norwich, I can ask him what's more 1980's: Greg's Big M grocery store in Whitney Point or the Great American grocery in Cooperstown, and he knows what I mean and replies that the Great American in Cooperstown is probably more 1960's. It's actually slightly disturbing that he can't recall that I have my degree in anthropology, but can recall arcane information about where the name White Sulphur Springs came from besides for there being sulphur springs.

In Tioga County there is a town which is the crossroads to all of central York State, this is Richford -birthplace of John D. Rockefeller. My girlfriend recently asked me where I wanted to live if I could live anywhere, and I told her Richford. She knows what Richford is; it's a gas station across from a tiny ice cream/hot dog stand and some streets with houses. She was baffled as to why I'd want to live there, but I would -and I'd go to the potato festival there or whatever festival it is, and I'd own the ice cream stand -right there at the crossroads. I would probably come into contact with a ton of York Staters venturing north to Cortland, west to Ithaca, south to Newark Valley, or east to Greene who are from even more middle of nowhere places than Greene. They could tell me something about their town, and I could probably tell them something about how an abandoned mausoleum across from a cemetary there reminds me of a certain horror movie -or I can ask them if the guy with the bad brain tumour that they were collecting change for in the gas stations ever had that operation.

There are places like German, Fishes Eddy, and Beaver Meadows that I'm not sure have any type of main street, but I still have some memory to associate with the places. They can't be considered for winner of absolute middle of nowhere because they don't have any type of apparent center(I don't think the one-lane bridge over the eddy in Fishes Eddy counts, even if everyone travels over it everyday.) I figure there's some township north of Olean and southeast of Buffalo that may win it all. Although I'm not counting out the space north-west of Oneonta and East of North Norwich.

There's too much going on in the Adirondack's and Catskills during the different seasons for their towns to pull most middle of nowhere place, sorry Swan Lake. Last summer I was lost trying to get to my favorite two townships in north PA, which will remain nameless, and ended up in some village with a million antique stores, a lumber yard, a small grocery/bait shop and a couple bars. I went into a bar for a sandwich and there were already 4 or 5 regulars drinking at 1 or 2 in the afternoon. I learned quite a bit about the town from the walls, plus some interesting gossip from the patrons and bar tender. It was strange to me that there were regular working people that lived in the Catskills all year round; since my picture of humanity in the Catskills has always been either that of the Bed and Breakfast patron from downstate, the outdoors family vacationers, or the old men who kick it with Rip Van Winkle outside the saloon(Jesus, I can't remember, maybe it was by some tree.) to escape doing work or being nagged by their old dutch wives. In fact many towns in the Catskills are as York State as Palmyra, and there is even a secret city there called Liberty!

I wonder if people who've briefly stopped in Johnson City remember the shopping mall, or massive Christian store -which is named 'Arrowhead' for some reason, or if they went down Main Street and thought that there sure were alot of dollar stores and dirty-looking diners. Maybe they've been there before and wonder what happened to the gay bar, eyesore abandoned factories, or strip club that were on or just off Main Street. I want every town in York State to feel familiar, for whatever reason even if no specific memory can be recalled -but it's even better if I can picture the castle of Walton or the bar me and my friends walked in and then out of in Hancock(across from a crappy auto-dealer with a stupid car pedestaled into the air) when the bar-flies eyed us--when someone says they're from a village between Hancock and Walton.

-Posted by Joe


What's in a Name #3: Penn Yan

I've always felt that the village of Penn Yan had a somewhat strange name, but did not discover its origin until I stumbled upon it while doing other research. Some weeks ago, I was glancing through a map of intentional communities in Antebellum Upstate. I knew something about the Shaker communities in Groveland and New Lebanon and was certainly acquainted with the Onedia Community but there was a great mystery right in the heart of the Finger Lakes called "Universal Friend."

Having a few spare minutes, I began to search for the story behind the "Universal Friends" and found an incredible tale that deserves describing here. It all begins in 1776, a year of revolution, that sparked waves of social upheaval beyond those simply tied to the war. One of those waves began with a funeral.

Jemima Wilkinson, a daughter of Quakers and New Light Baptist convert was 25 years old and living in Ledyard, Connecticut the year of the Declaration of Independence. She was known throughout the area for her fascination with religion and tendency to obsessively quote Scripture. Her death by fever, however, was not completely out of the ordinary for the time, though many mourners arrived at the funeral from the community probably because of her youth. During the funeral service, the coffin was opened for a final viewing of the corpse; to everyone's surprise and horror, the body was not cold and lifeless. Jemima's face had color and her chest moved with breath. The young woman suddenly leapt up in the casket and announced that she had died and returned to life; "If she was going to be buried today, Jemima vowed, she alone would preach the interment sermon. But, she intoned, she wasn't about to be buried, this day or any other day soon."[1] She had seen the Light and was brought back to heal the world. Proclaiming to be Christ reborn, she changed her name to the "Publick (sic) Universal Friend" and stated that she would found a new religion, the "Universal Friends."

The speech was so moving and "few who heard her resurrection speech were unimpressed with its sincerity and persuasiveness." [2] Word spread like wildfire of Jemima's return and she quickly became the hottest attraction in southeast Connecticut. Jemima was a "tall and graceful woman with dark hair and dark eyes, she had a magnetic personality and a powerful preaching style that created fervent disciples."[2] She took to preaching in men's clothing and gathered a following. Of course, soon a whispering campaign was instigated against her that forced her, and a small group of her followers, into exile. The "Jemimamites" began a wandering life, first to New Milford (CT) and then to Tioga County (PA). Everywhere they were reviled, but at the same time, her following constantly grew. Jemima's preaching followed Quaker ideals, though she adopted Shaker concepts of communalism and sexual abstinence and Calvinist ideas of a lost and dying world. She fiercely promoted Abolitionism, Pacifism and "Plain" living (including dress) [2].

In Tioga she declared that the Jemimakin (their new name in PA) would leave their tormentors and travel to the frontier where they would construct a community based on love, a new Jerusalem. They travelled close to 100 miles, deep in the wilderness to Keuka Lake. "In order to show their respect for their leader and also to reduce the wear and tear on her person from what promised to be a difficult journey -- the Jemimakins constructed for her traveling comfort a magnificent sedan chair complete with well-padded seats, a garish paint job and the initials 'P.U.F.' emblazoned on each side." [1]

In 1787, the Universal Friends founded the settlement of Jerusalem, NY. Today this name lives on in the Town of Jerusalem, located on the same spot, in Yates County. The settlement they founded on the northern shores of Keuka Lake grew and prospered with Jemima at its head. In 1790, it reportedly had 260 inhabitants; however it did not grow in numbers beyond this and life soon settled into a routine at Jerusalem, slowly losing its early fervour.

Jemima died in 1819 and her faith began to quietly break up afterwards. Reportedly, Jemima's followers so deeply believed in her first resurrection that her body remained unburied in a public spot for decades after her death to await her return. Finally, she was buried in an unmarked grave somewhere on her property where she rests today.

The town of Jerusalem did not disappear though and continued to prosper. "In later years, long after Jemima's passing, when the first post office was pending for the City of Jerusalem, the federal government asked the residents if they would be willing to rename their settlement: something shorter, perhaps, with a less biblical ring to it, but appropriate, of course. Since everyone in town had originally followed Jemima Wilkinson from Pennsylvania or Yankee Connecticut, they agreed to call their town 'Penn Yan.' Thus Penn Yan, New York, was born and officially registered in Washington, D.C." [1]

Joe and I visited Penn Yan and the Town of Jerusalem today and took a pilgrimmage to Jemima's/The Friend's house, which is still standing. The tall, white farmhouse is private property and only a tiny plaque bearing this bland inscription: "Built around 1790. Friend's Home. Here lived Jemimah Wilkinson known as the Universal Friend." The Village also seems to have a bit of amnesia about The Friend, at least in their tourist-oriented publications. In discussions with Penn Yan natives, I do know that she has not been completely forgotten, but it seems strange that an area so teeming with tourism that the Village, or any organization that I can see, have done nothing to promote her story. Overall, this seems to me to be a deep shame as Jemima and the Universal Friends are not only engaging but important history. Jemima was a striking person, especially when you understand that she was the first woman to found a religious movement in what is today the United States. The Friend was an anomaly, but was also a product of her time. Her message was radical, but still resonanated enough to bring hundreds of people away from their homes and settled lives to the frontier in order to pursue a dream of a utopian Jerusalem. She was one of the first to do this in America, but certainly not the last; the flight to Jerusalem would be repeated over and over in American history by new religious movements, but most notably by the Mormons. The influence of Wilkinson's faith on a young Joseph Smith, only a county away to the north is little understood or studied.

It seems that once again, unfortunately, history has been conveniently forgotten when it involves the events of females. The erasing of the events of women is endemic to the United States and gives a sense that everywhere men where first, that everything that deserves doing was done by men and validates the idea that, if it was good enough for our Founders, it should be good enough today. Jemima gives one sterling example of history that should be understood and discussed, not simply because "we need to hear more about women," but because it is important and interesting in its own right and that to ignore it is a crime against history and the future. However, I am glad to have visited the Friend and learn the fascinating story of "what's in a name."

-Posted by Jesse

[1] "Jemima Wilkinson," by the Curbstone Press. It also has interesting information on the legends that grew up in the wake of Jemima's passage.
[2] "Unruly Women: Jemima Wilkinson and Deborah Sampson Gannett" from Biographies from Early America by James Henretta. This essay also talks about Mrs. Gannett, a courageous woman who dressed as a man to fight in the Revolutionary War.


The Ghosts of Sagamore

Author's Note: This essay was written this summer for Adirondack Life Magazine. Unfortunately, they turned down my offer, so I've decided to put it up here. However, it is written in the present tense, but is six months old and refers to events and thoughts from this summer. -J

For the past six months, I have been the Tour Supervisor at Great Camp Sagamore, living and working on the grounds as generations of workers have done before me. Sagamore is a National Historic Landmark outside of the hamlet of Raquette Lake in the central Adirondacks. One comment that we receive almost weekly on the public tours is the similarity, at least superficially, that our compound has to the mountain hotel in the film The Shining. Isolated high in the mountains, our old wooden buildings are maintained in glorious isolation by a single caretaker, Bob, throughout the long winter. Having wandered the halls of the Main Lodge late at night with only the emergency lighting, I know the eeriness that grand old buildings can have. However, in contrast to the hotel of The Shining and the silence of winter, for six months out of the year, we are a bustling little community; also none of our staff has ever tried to kill each other, except possibly the chefs, but that’s a story for a different day.

Yet, the similarities between Sagamore and the film run deeper than this simple comparison. At the heart of the film is the concept that the actions of the living leave behind traces in the wake of their passing. Like the “smell of burnt toast,” the crimes and passions of those who have gone before haunt the places through which they have passed. What complicates the film is that some people, like Jack Nicholson’s character and that of his son, have an ability called the “Shining,” which allows them to see these residues in the form of ghosts. Of course, being a horror flick, the spirits in The Shining all committed unspeakable acts that perpetuate themselves over and over again, eventually driving Nicholson to madness through the horror they reveal.

A work of fiction, the film is meant only to be entertaining, and yet, like most great stories, it has a kernel of truth at its heart. We do leave behind traces of our passage when we move through a place. It forever holds the imprint of our passage, and the ghosts of those who have come before.

For those who have not driven the four mile dirt road from Route 28 to the Camp, Sagamore is one of those rare places in America that simply exudes history. Unlike a Revolutionary War battlefield or the typical historic house, Sagamore is not associated with a single event or person in history. It is also not a site frozen in the past, it is a living place where people play and work, love and hate. Not only do our interns and employees live in the old worker’s quarters, but throughout the summer and fall, people stay with us, learning traditional crafts, attending conferences and Elderhostels and participating in our grandparents-grandchildrens camp. It is a place that contains layers upon layers of the past, each folding into, affecting and being affected by the others.

Sagamore is one of the famous “Great Camps” of the Adirondacks, meeting the recreational desires of the urban rich of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In particular, they, like many of us, made a yearly summer quest to escape the crowded, filthy cities of the Gilded Age to return to nature. The Great Camp was a collection of small, simple buildings deep within the forest, usually upon the edge of the water. They were built in a style that was consciously rustic: little cabins, covered in bark-cover logs of local trees, blending into the forest. This aesthetic was carried into the interiors with polished knotty paneling, magnificent hand-peeled beams and coarse granite fireplaces; the textures of the outdoors, indoors. The Camp was intended to be self-sufficient, thus Sagamore had a year-round staff of around 40 men when it was built. These employees farmed the land, timbered the forests and maintained the delicate illusions that high-society Camp life required.

Built in 1897, the Camp’s designer was the legendary William West Durant who first fused the decorative ideas that are today called the “rustic.” Durant intended for the Camp to become a model home through which he could market his development empire. While Durant was exceptional at creating works of architectural genius, he seemed to have no talent for making nor keeping money. Accumulated debts and lawsuits forced him to sell the Camp in 1901, at a loss, to its most famous owner to date: Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt I. Between 1901 and his death in 1915, Vanderbilt expanded the facility from its original function as a simple hunting camp until it became a complete rustic village serving dozens of guests and servants.

High society entertainment in the Adirondacks between the World Wars rose to unprecedented levels. The Vanderbilt Family entertained the likes of Richard Rogers of Rogers and Hammerstein, Hoagie Carmichael, Madame Chang Kai-Shek and General George Marshall of celebrated Marshall Plan fame. Meanwhile, the workers swelled to over 150 in the summer, creating a unique cultural sphere that became the crucible and cradle for techniques of craftsmanship in wood, stone and iron that today make the region notable.

Eventually, Vanderbilt’s widow, Mrs. Margaret Emerson McKim Vanderbilt Baker Amory (she was a busy woman, Mrs. Emerson), gave the camp in 1954 to Syracuse University. It became a conference center and was used as such for two decades. In the mid-1970s, the land was sold to its current owner: the Sagamore Institute of the Adirondacks. The Sagamore Institute is a small non-profit that acts as the steward and interpreter of this National Historic Landmark.

Working at Sagamore is not like working in most other places. We live here, in a world without television or cellphones, one radio station and only dial-up internet. It takes an hour, round trip, to go to a small supermarket (in Inlet) and four hours to reach the closest mall (in Utica).

But it is a place that teaches lessons to those who stop to listen. These types of old places, should they not be bulldozed, whitewashed or drywalled into oblivion, accumulate a crust. That remnant, almost a smell of the past, hanging on the walls and gathering in forgotten corners, is absent in much of our current, disposable culture. The hands of hundreds of nameless individuals have left their mark and their voice in this place. Millionaires and valets, guides and sports, generals and college students, fabulous movie stars and humble tour guides, they all haunt Sagamore. Of course, they only appear if you know which corner to peak your head into and how to breathe life into them. This skill, in many ways, is analogous to the possession of the mystical ability of the Shining.

Possessing and the passing on of the Shining is the true goal of the tour guide. Every day, at 10 am and 1:30 pm, we at Sagamore try to convey this vague feeling of historical awe into something approaching a cohesive narrative to a group of visitors. When it is done properly, this historic tour makes the phantoms of the past emerge from the walls to dance for the people, yet, when it is done poorly, it is the reason so many people despise history. History without this special element is a dead, withered collection of facts that crumbles at the touch of an inquisitive mind.

But, if you open your eyes, you may realize that not only this nationally proclaimed place is historic, but that history is everywhere where humans can be found. Realization of the presence of ghosts comes in strange ways. Such as scratching your head of over the dozens of unmarked VHS tapes containing hours upon hours of television programming hidden in a back room, or thankfully using the conveniently placed, apparently handmade, nails in your closet wall. These things are everywhere that humans have been, we simply choose to ignore them in our daily life. It is unfortunate that some times, America, in its rush for the newer and the bigger, we lose the older, subtler, quieter things that give our society depth, sophistication and an ability for introspection.

Perhaps that is why a place like Sagamore, where you can’t get cell reception or a good tv station, is so important today. On a greater scale, the Adirondack Park itself, is an oasis and a respite for escape and contemplation. They encourage, foster and force one to feel the interaction between past and present, and people and their surroundings. At Sagamore, everything we touch will bear the legacy of our passing. In this view, history is not something dead and separate from life, it is instead a narrative entered, recreated through our passing and then left behind, sending out ripples to mark our presence. This type of thought is both empowering and humbling. This is an experience with the Shining, perhaps not as suddenly mindshattering as what faced Nicholson in the movie, but just as profound in changing how we view ourselves, our communities and our world.

-Posted by Jesse


New Link

The Upstate Reading list has been compiled from all of the suggestions given and put on it's own page. The link is on the right hand column of the blog. Please feel free to visit it and submit your own entry if you so desire.

-Posted by Jesse

Tastes of the Region #6: Grape Pie

The other day I was thrilled to read that Upstate’s Ontario County has been rated the #1 place to live by Progressive Farmer Magazine. In the article, I found this quote:
“Tourism is blossoming, thanks largely to the county's agricultural heritage. Ever heard of a grape pie? No? Well go to Naples, where this self-proclaimed (and who's going to challenge them on this?) "Grape Pie Capital of the World" brings in well over 100,000 visitors during the few weeks of grape harvest. When it's over, about two-dozen women have sold more than 70,000 pies from their kitchens. The Concord grape may not be as popular as it once was, but folks here still find it quite useful, thank you very much.”
Being the occasional author of an article or two on Upstate foods, my interest was piqued. I found more information on one of my personal favorite sources on Upstate living, Voices, the Journal of New York Folklore. In 2002, they did an excellent short piece on grape pies.

The pie first became popular in the 1960s when a
Naples restaurateur, Al Hodges, added grape pies to his menu to add local flavor. He acquired a recipe “from an old German woman in the area.” Demand for the pies quickly outstripped his ability to make them, so he enlisted Irene Bouchard, who lived across the street and owned a bakery, to make the pies.

When the article was written (2002), Mrs. Bouchard was 84 years old and still baking. She is locally recognized as the Mother of the grape pie in Naples. The local concord grapes are common in the vineyards and the village is the self-proclaimed Grape Pie Capital of the World. It hosts the annual
Grape Festival which has competitions for everything from grape bread to wine and of course grape pie.

Why is grape pie so distinctive, and why isn’t everyone eating it? From what I understand, the secret is the fact that grapes are a pain to peel so chances are they’ll never really rival apple, cherry, etc. From my personal experience, concord grapes are something of an acquired taste and I read the pies described by some as tasting like Pop-Tarts. Of course, I’ve also read
this description on www.rateitall.com:
“If any of you ever get to the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, find a little town called Naples. There you will find, all summer long, roadside stands selling grape pies. Believe me, you have not lived. The town holds a grape festival every year, I think in September or early October. I tried to go to it once, the cars were backed up, coming into the town for a mile and a half. Every incoming road, even the ones only the townies know about.”
So, with any luck, grape pie will remain a local delicacy, one of those little local quirks, like catlessness or polish pizza, that make our communities unique and special. The pie’s relatively recent popularity and level of variation within the community of Naples itself (for example, there is an array of thickeners available like flour or tapioca) show that our communities can still be vital creative places. To order a grape pie for yourself, there are many places available throughout Ontario County but you can have them shipped from the Arbor Hill Winery or from Monica’s Pies. To end our essay, I would like to include Mrs. Bouchard’s recipe from Voices. I was tempted to use the one from Progressive Farmer, but I think that I’d best trust Upstate authors and the oldest grape pie maker to know best. Enjoy!

Mrs. Bouchard’s Grape Pie
5 1/2 cups Concord grapes, washed

about 1 cup sugar, depending on the sweetness of the grapes
1 tablespoon tapioca
Pastry for a 9-inch pie

Pop the skins off the grapes by pinching them at the end opposite the stem; set them aside. Put the pulp (without water) into a heavy pan, bring it to a boil, and let it boil 5 to 6 minutes. Put it through a colander or food mill to remove the seeds. Pour the hot pulp over the skins and let the mixture sit for 5 hours. ("This colors the pulp and makes it pretty.") Add the sugar and tapioca, then pour the mixture into the pie crust and dot with butter. Put on the top crust. (Irene uses a "floating" top crust—a circle of dough slightly smaller than the top of the pie—because it is easier than crimping top and bottom together and it also makes a pretty purple ring around the edge.) Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350 degrees and cook 20 minutes more until the crust is browned and the juice begins to bubble up.

-Posted by Jesse


There are not cats in Solvay but there are urban legends

My training is that of an anthropologist and my passion is for folklore and popular beliefs, so I always have my ear to the ground for urban legends, old stories and their ilk. Earlier this evening, when I was chatting with Natalie, she brought up the strangest story. To summarize, our conversation went something like this:

Natalie: I was at knitting class and I met a fellow Syracuse ex-pat and we started talking about all the ordinary stuff, you know, driving times to get home and how there are no cats in Solvay...
Jesse: Wait a minute, what about cats in Solvay?
Natalie: Well, yeah, Solvay, this little village next to Syracuse, supposedly has not cats. The story goes that it was populated by all Eastern European immigrants who used to eat cats, so there were none to be found in the village limits. So if you ate at with a family from Solvay, don't eat anything that is supposedly 'rabbit.' Today people say there are still no cats because the Asian immigrants use them in their cooking.

Well, I decided to look into this matter more deeply so I broke out my copy of Encyclopedia of Urban Legends by Jan Harold Brunvand and checked the
Urban Legends Reference Pages. Between these two sources, I'm usually able to find some discussion of any urban legends. For example, for years children in my town have told stories about sexual perversions committed by a prominent local newscaster and a gerbil. Brunvand not only discusses how and where this legend appeared, but also describes how it is widespread across the United States and what social pressures led to its creation.

Yet in this case, both of these sources, and several lesser ones, came up dry. It appears that Solvay and its cats are something of a unique, or at least rare, occurrance in the United States. Having grown up in a town with a high number of Eastern Europeans, Asian-Americans and cats, I can tell you there is no direct linkage.

After searching for "cats" and "solvay," I found only two promising links. The first was for a website run by the
Solvay Class of 1964. They run a list called "You know you've lived in Syracuse too long when..." The very first on the list was: "You know every possible cat-related Solvay joke."

The second link was to an
essay discussing cat eating and a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary. Near the bottom was the following quote:
"While most accusations [of cat eating] are aimed at those originating from Asian countries, other foreigners and their unfamiliar cuisines are also sometimes suspected of using cats and dogs…
There is also a rumour that there are few cats in the town of Solvay (near Syracuse) in the USA because its large Tyrolian immigrant population eat cats; a habit that, according to the rumour, goes back to the First World War when Austrians suffered serious food shortages. It is reputed that the cats are prepared in a variety of ways, including a secret Tyrolean recipe (probably salted and smoked since surplus cats are still sometimes salted, smoked and eaten in parts of rural Switzerland). Children in
the area were told not to eat a meal containing rabbit at an Austrian, Tyrolese or Piedmontese home, because the meat was really cat."

While urban legends are often amusing just on their own (this one is pretty funny), what interests me about them is how they tell stories about our culture. Cat eating stories and jokes usually involve racial stereotyping of Asians, which can be seen in some of the modern retellings. However, perhaps into this story we can see a reaction to the sizeable Italian population in Syracuse. Immigrants have always faced persecution, and not all of it involves burning crosses; sometimes, the truly subtle slurs are those that get laughed at or passed on for generations, even by those who are today of Italian descent. Today, Solvay's Cats have probably lost most of anti-Italian viciousness and hang on in Syracuse and Solvay for other reasons. Natalie mentioned that Solvay is a proud little town that maintains its own identity in the shadow of Syracuse next door. Perhaps the story of Solvay's cats, today helps to create an identity for the people of Solvay, to differentiate themselves from others and define their community as unique. I'm not saying that Solvay's identity is necessarily rooted in its catlessness,* but that the story serves to reflect and reinforce peoples' ideas. Just as the story of the newscaster and the gerbil is a reaction against the "perversion" of homosexuality, the cat story tells something about the people who continue to repeat it, long after its original anti-Italian reasoning faded.

Of course, not all urban legends are homophobic or racist** they all involve stereotyping or demonizing of some sort; they create categories and reinforce identities, some positive and some negative. When children repeat them on the schoolyards, they are teaching themselves the stories that help to define where they, and those around them, belong in our society. Adults do the same around water coolers or at lunch break. This is not always negative, sometimes, like in my interpretation of the modern version of the Solvay story, these identities can be positive forces and the local reinforcement is a buttress against homogenization and annexation.

What urban legends have you heard around Upstate New York? What stories do they tell about your community? Are they an accurate reflection of the attitudes today or are they, like Solvay's cats, holdovers from an earlier era that have been adapted? If you are from Syracuse or Solvay, have you heard of the town without cats? Where did you hear it and from whom? What do you think of my interpretation? I look forward to your comments.

-Posted by Jesse

* I am perhaps the first person ever to write "catlessness" in a serious essay.
** Though, sadly, a good number are.

(I'd like to append to this post with a note that while there seem to be no cats in Solvay, a great many other towns have more than they can handle. I don't mean to sound too much like a public service announcement or Bob Barker, but it takes the effort of more than just a few dedicated citizens and organizations to keep stray and feral cat populations under control. And now, if you live Oswego county, there's an easy way to help out cats and get rid of rodents. This plan seems like a better solution than sending them to Solvay. ~Natalie)

The Greatest Basketball Coach You've Never Heard Of

In February 1987, basketball coach Dick Baldwin of the Broome Tech Hornets collected his 876th victory, making him the most winning coach in collegiate history. This was for all NCAA divisions, Broome's happened to be Division 3. Although, today he might still not have the most victories, he's still in the top 5; yet Dick is never mentioned among the coaching greats when the list is pulled out during televised basketball games.

This is because his victories and his achievements aren't seen as as real as the Division 1 coaches'. Which is nonsense, since the D 1 teams play Division 2 and 3 teams regularly, and the talent is vastly superior in D 1. And the talent among D 1 schools is also significantly differing, which is not the case of the D 3 schools. Most of the talent of the Division 3 schools is at a level that makes almost every game they play a challenge. I think Coach Baldwin's achievement is as significant as the D 1 coach with as many victories and he should be given credit for being one of the winningest coaches in collegiate history.

Posted by Joe


York Stater of the Month, January: Sojourner Truth

Antebellum Upstate New York was a place filled with passion, for new religion, for social justice and for the abundant economic and technological opportunities of the day. The characters of the day were just as colorful as the philosophies that created them, and none more captivating and challenging even today that Sojourner Truth.

Born in 1797 as
Isabella Baumfree, Sojourner was a slave owned by a Dutchman in Ulster County. Sold away at the age of 11, she lived under a variety of cruel to middling masters, including one who forced her to marry against her will another slave named Thomas.

New York finally outlawed slavery in 1828, but Sojourner ran away a year before that because her master (John Dumont, the same who married her to Thomas) reneged on a promise to free her a year before emancipation. She took with her an infant son, the youngest of five children she had with Thomas.

It must have been difficult for Sojourner, a relatively young, single run-away slave with an infant child, to set her self up in New York City. However, not only did she succeed in getting a job as a domestic but also in successfully
suing her old master for the custody of her son, Peter.

With this lawsuit, the illiterate Isabella Baumfree began to differentiate herself from the average citizen. She soon joined a string of religious communities in New York and Massachusetts. A devout Christian, she became a preacher and in 1843 declared that God had called her to bring his message to the world. She changed her name to Sojourner Truth and became an itinerant preacher.

Sojourner fought for the two great causes of her day: Abolition and Women’s Suffrage. Though she was sometimes accepted in communities, she often had to struggle to be heard: an illiterate female former slave was hardly the typical preacher. She also spoke out for prison reform, against capital punishment and in favor of Temperance. During the Civil War, she helped the 1st Michigan Colored Division and fought for the rights of escaped slaves.

After the War, she settled down in
Battle Creek, Michigan and worked for the Freedman’s Bureau. She died in Michigan in 1883 and is buried in Battle Creek. As a final salute, here is the text of her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech delivered in 1851 to the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio:

"Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him. If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say."

-Posted by Jesse


Announcement: Formation of a new organization

Hello Everyone, As those who've read my posts on this site know, I am a die-hard Johnson City patriot. However, it's not easy to be a fan of a town that is decaying and idling in a pit of its own despair. I've become fed up with it all and decided to organize. To sum up the organization, here is the "ad" I put up in the Radicalendar:

"Revitalize Johnson City! Informational Meeting

Are you tired of the same-old Johnson City status quo? Do you cringe when you hear that we have to sell out, once again, to big developers and corporations? Would you like to see more democratic voices in village affairs?

You are not alone.

Please join us for the first informational meeting for a new organization intended to revitalize and protect the community of Johnson City. Time: 7-8 pm Place: Your Home Public Library upstairs meeting room, Main Street, JC Cost: Free"

I thought I would repost here and invite discussion on the topic. But first, to fend off a few questions:

1) Why just Johnson City? I believe firmly in the idea that politics, economics, and all meaningful change, occur at the local level. Our local communities are where we live, work and play; democratic movements must start here. Why JC? Because it's where I live; though I heartily support similar movements in other villages, towns and cities and collaboration between them. However, by keeping our eyes close to home and in a small area, we can focus our energies for change and make sure that our own movements remain democratic and do not replicate the bureacracy, corruption and oppression found in society at large.

2) What goals does the organization have? Well, this is something for the organization to decide. However, I have envisioned a few projects. The primary one would be to conduct a community survey and use it to create a master plan. Our village has no plan, no goals and without them we are simply drifting away. However, we don't need big outside consultants to tell us what our community needs; the goal of the survey would be to discover what JC has, what it needs and how to get there. Other projects might include rebuilding parks, hosting community meetings and debates, cleaning up town, hosting cultural events, etc.

3) How will the organization be governed? My co-founders and myself have agreed that for the first meeting, we will hopefully run as a benevolent dictatorship that believes firmly in egalitarianism. The first meeting being for informational purposes; the second will only be those folks who express an interest and will decide how the organization will be run in the long term and what our goals will be.

4) How many people are interested? Well, hopefully, you are if you've read this far. Outside of you and me, there are right now about a half-dozen interested parties that have contacted me.

5) Who can join? Anyone interested in seeing a new Johnson City. Later we will probably create points of unity that will define our membership more closely. Right now, though, it is not closed to those who live outside of village limits. I hope that doesn't change as I technically live in the Town of Maine (JC schools and address have deluded me). If you have any other questions, don't hesitate to email me. I hope to see you on the 15th!

-Posted by Jesse

R.I.P. Al Lewis

Sean Kirst has an interesting post and 1998 article on his blog about renaissance man Al Lewis, best known as Grandpa Munster and 1998 Green Party candidate for Governor of New York. Also a basketball scout, restauranteur, and radio personality, the details of Lewis' life before he rose to small screen notariety are somewhat mysterious, with his age at the time of his death being reported as both 82 and 95. Regardless of his age, Lewis' commitment to the working class of New York State was well documented and informed his political career.

An outspoken public figure, he called George Pataki a Potato Head, cursed so extensively on the air he made Howard Stern cringe, and said at a Capitol press conference that the way to get rid of PCBs in the Hudson was to get a big spoon and feed it to the CEOs of GE.

He will be missed.

Posted by Natalie

Update: Memorial Service for Grandpa Al Lewis


A monument and the fate of a village

The Your Home Public Library of Johnson City is, like the village that surrounds it, slowly crumbling and being forgotten. Despite recently joining the National Register of Historic Places, the old red brick mansion has been overshadowed by the new Broome County Library in neighboring Binghamton. The folks who come there now are either too poor to afford cars to go into Binghamton or die-hards like myself. Yet, the building still sees use and life, which is more than can be said for the monument next to it.

The Harry L. Johnson Memorial used to face Main Street, however, when the old Endicott-Johnson Fitness Center was built next door, it was moved down to the side of the Library, where it sits today, surrounded by dry brown weeds and cracked pavement. The monument itself is quite typical of those across the country; it consists of a raised horseshoe-shaped dais, with a bronze statue in the center flanked by semi-circular stone walls that bear inscriptions and bas-relief plaques with images on them. The statue in the center, presumably of Harry L. himself is seated, looking sternly across the Village. Below it an inscription reads “IN MEMORIAM HARRY L. JOHNSON 1922, ” and above his head another says “ ‘Be not weary in doing well’ Gal. 6:9.” On his right hand side, the bronze plaque shows a seated Harry L. calmly arbitrating for a group of workingmen who are all keenly intent upon whatever he is saying. “ ‘Greater Love Hath No Man Than This That A Man Lay Down His Life for His Friends’ St. John XV XIII.” Above the plaque, carved into the stone is the line “Erected by Endicott Johnson Workers.” On the other side, above the plaque, the sentence continues “And Citizens of Johnson City, N.Y.” The plaque on this side is bit more worn and cryptic but appears to be a prototypical American family of four children and their parents emerging from their home and looking down the street, some of the children appear to be carrying garlands to greet someone’s arrival.

Near Harry L.’s foot is a small inscription that reads “John F. Paramino Sculptor 1922.” It is interesting that Paramino was hired to do this job. A search for his other pieces finds that he pretty much worked in Boston making bronze and stone likenesses of Revolutionary War heroes, Presidents and leading Puritans from the Colonial Era. The commissioners of the Harry L. sculpture obviously desired to have an artisan who new how to convey the grandeur of a Founding Father and were willing to ship him in from Boston to do the work.

The inscription “Erected By Endicott Johnson Workers” is not unique; it is also seen on the nearby George F. Johnson Memorial and on the grand Square Deal Arches that grace both ends of Main Street. It must be noted that while there was certainly great (though not universal) love of the Johnsons in the Village, the EJ Workers Associations were controlled by the bosses and were not independent unions. In fact, an important event commemorated in Village history was when the EJ employees defeated a union vote and members of the EJ Worker’s Association went out into the street and burned effigies of the union organizers. Company boys until the very end.

Through combining the various images of Harry L. as a benevolent leader and beloved community member, the proclamation of loyalty, even after death, of his employees and the various Biblical quotes, the Harry L. monument tells a powerful story. The fingerprint of the Johnsons is ubiquitous in Johnson City; off the top of my head I can think of 13 monuments to the family: C Fred Johnson Middle School, Harry L. Johnson Elementary School, George F. Johnson Memorial Highway, Frank Johnson Memorial American Legion Post, Sarah Jane Johnson Memorial Methodist Church, Harry L. Drive, CFJ Park, the George Johnson Pavilion (now renamed), the aforementioned Arches and two stone memorials, CFJ Boulevard, George F. Johnson Park, George F. Johnson Memorial Library, and of course, Johnson City itself. The Village and neighboring Endicott are also littered with buildings created by the Family and their Corporation: factories, tanneries, warehouses, cafeterias, libraries, parks, carousels[i], health clinics, a farmer’s market, dance halls, parks, theaters, shoe outlets, golf courses, mansions and entire neighborhoods of “EJ Homes” built to house employees. C Fred was mayor for a while; Harry L. started the library. George F. Johnson reportedly held off the City of Binghamton from annexing JC and drove the KKK out of the Village during their all-powerful era in the 1920s.[ii]

There is not, however, a single street, building or memorial, dedicated to the workers who built the buildings or who made the shoes. This a bit shocking to me, for those people, the anonymous mass that leaned close to hear Harry L.'s words were many of our ancestors. They braved the journey across the ocean or out of the farm and worked long and hard to build this community, to raise their children and create lives for themselves. Today we enjoy still the fruits of their labor and sacrifice.

My concern, though, is not to debate history and whether the Johnsons and the EJ Corporation are justly memorialized, whether their model of the “Square Deal” and “Industrial Democracy” is better than unionization, or any other similar discussion, but instead to ponder how the ghosts of the Johnsons continue to haunt their Village today.

Since the day George died in 1948, the Village seems paralyzed, spiraling into oblivion and helpless to do anything but watch.With an occasional blip, Johnson City has continually hemorrhaged people, jobs and income since that day. As pitiful as it sounds, we have been waiting for him to come back and tell us what to do next.

When a community is created and shaped by the will of one man (with a bit of help from his brothers) and when the people of that community elevate that man to a mythical, can-do-no-wrong status, what happens when that man dies? We in America treasure and laud our democratic traditions and status as a republic. Yet at the same time, in countless communities, we have abandoned this same self-confidence and resilience and instead turned to the worship of leaders. The strength of this anti-democratic tendency can be seen not just in fawning memorials and historic effigy burnings, but in our present-day fascination with strong, benevolent leadership. But, as Johnson City, and so many other abandoned factory towns, mutely demonstrate, strong leadership is not always benevolent. The debates raging over executive power in Washington perhaps echo these same sentiments, but I have been around too long to not know that the Democrats are just waiting for a Kennedy, Roosevelt or King to take control and lead them to the promised land. Their problem is not with a strong executive, but one not from their camp.

However, Washington is a long way from Johnson City and is rarely what I think about when I visit Harry. Instead, my thoughts usually turn to the future of this little Village that the world has forgotten. What will become of the Johnson’s City? Or the Harry L. Monument, for that matter? Right now, it is slowly crumbling away, like the memories that inspired it; one can take that as a dire sign for Johnson City, as the coming death of our history and our community. There is in fact a movement to revive the monument, to drag it from its present location and re-erect it on Harry L. Drive on the other side of town. I suppose these folks are proposing this monumental waste of money and energy to avoid that type of historical oblivion. Yet, it is also possible that when Harry’s dais finally collapses and the plaques of doe-eyed workers and loving villagers fall from the walls, an entirely different event will occur. That instead of disappearing with its long-dead leader, the Village of Johnson City will finally be free to find its own path and its own voice, not from the Johnsons, but from clutches of their memory and our love for them.

-Posted by Jesse

[i] Broome County reportedly has the nation’s highest concentration of carousels, all operating for free and donated by George F. Johnson. The story goes that he loved them as a child, but wasn’t able to ride them because of the cost, so he gave six to the area towns and villages upon the promise that no child would ever be charged to use them. You have to admit, he was a classy guy, even if it was a cold calculated PR move as some might believe.
[ii] Not a small feat considering that the hate group’s Northeast headquarters was located in Binghamton, just on the other side of the Arch.