Defining Upstate

York Staters recently received an email that raises some important, fundamental questions about our mission here and the definition of Upstate New York itself. I spoke to the emailer, Em, and she[1] agreed to allow her questions and my response to be posted here for public discussion. So, here is Em’s email and my response:

Hi All,
I grew up in Buffalo and went to school in Ithaca and Syracuse. I had never heard the term Upstater until I moved to New York City (at the age of 39). To me, Upstate is anything up the Hudson. Then it's the Finger Lakes region (and then a bit of Leatherstocking) and Western New
York. Where is this York thing coming from? That's totally Redcoat. And have you read this amazing book : "Voyageurs" by Margaret Elphanstone that tells the story about, basically, the War of 1812, as they also do at Old Fort Niagara and Fort York at Niagara on the Lake CN. We folks from Buffalo are not Upstaters, we are Western New Yorkers, the beginning of the Midwest.

The question of the definition of a York Stater is a touchy one that has always remained in the back of my mind while writing in this blog. Buffalonians have told me that they’re Western New Yorkers, some Syracusians say they’re Central New Yorkers and many folk from the North Country adamantly believe that they’re the only Upstaters.

To call for an Upstate awareness is not to ask for an invalidation of other regional identities (Western New York, Central New York, Adirondack, etc), but to recognize the fact that we all have incredible commonalities. Unlike their neighbors in Canada or Erie PA, Buffalonians are tied to a state government that is increasingly dominated by the City of New York and has created a distinct political culture that we share across the board. New York politics effect Buffalo in distinct ways that her non-NY neighbors do not experience but have parallels in her fellow Upstate cities.

Current politics aside, Buffalo’s history has always been within the same orbit as the Finger Lakes and Central NY in particular. Historical accounts of the region open with all of Upstate New York (minus the Adirondacks) as the heartland of the mighty Iroquois Empire. White settlement throughout the region was predicated on the same treaties and wars that broke that early empire. Furthermore, Buffalo was shaped by the Erie Canal experience, one of the distinguishing historical events that binds much of Upstate together, from Albany westwards. Buffalo was likewise a part of the Burnt-Over District
and the profound social experimentation that swept through the region between the 1820s and 1860s (those interested in this fascinating period of UNY history might start out with this “Timeline of Innovation” that I drew up).

We are also climactically and economically similar to one another: relatively small cities with distinct local cultures (often flavored by waves of European immigrants whose descendents maintain ties to their heritage---unlike much of the Midwest) surrounded by farm and forest-land. This cultural pattern is continued somewhat to the south (Erie and Scranton-Wilkes Barre are similar) but is distinct from New England Uplands, Ontario and the Boshwash
Atlantic Seaboard, which we border in the other directions.

As I wrote in my early essay, A York State of Mind
, I am hesitant to define ‘Upstater’ in the purely negative terms of “someone who lives in New York but not in New York City,” but instead to celebrate the distinct historical legacy, governmental burdens, climate, ecology, economic and settlement patterns that define our region. Thus, while we recognize, and celebrate, the regional differences throughout the state, we also call for a celebration of our cultural unity—and for the further development of that unity in order to protect our way of life.

As for the term "York Staters" in our mission statement
we explain that it is an old (early 19th century) term for inhabitants of NYS outside of the City (who were called New Yorkers or just Yorkers). We have rehabilitated the term for several reasons: it is catchy and easy to remember, it has historical significance and, perhaps most importantly, it allows us to express the fact that we have our own identities and lives independent of NYC without necessarily surrendering the name "New York" (which we also have right to) to our neighbors to the southwest.


[1] I’m running with a gender assumption here, please accept my apology Em if you’re actually male. I get this problem all the time with my gender-neutral name.


Sustainable Housing in Upstate New York

I believe that the issue of how we build our houses is one of the most pressing to face us today. Urban sprawl, energy inefficiency, and rows of soulless suburban ‘McMansions’ all plague our communities. I’ve been interested in how we can adapt our housing traditions to both reflect the local vernacular architecture and values of environmental and social sustainability. The latest product of this exploration has been a house entitled “Excelsior” (after New York’s state motto, ‘ever upward’), which attempts to show that ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ housing is not the province of neo-hippies building Navajo Hogan-inspired houses out of straw bales and earth bags, but can be interwoven into local architectural traditions to create attractive, livable homes.

This home fuses the traditional Federalist farmhouse that we see all throughout rural Upstate with ecologically conscious ideas like passive solar heating, home-grown vegetables (it has an attached greenhouse) and renewable energy use (solar power and wood heat). Throughout it, I've also added little touches that I'd like to see in a house, such as floor-to-ceiling windows and bookshelves, comfortable window seats for reading and an open, airy design.

Since the floorplans and descriptions are rather long, I
have created a subpage to lay out all of the details: Excelsior, Sustainable Upstate Housing. I hope only to inspire discussion and thought on the best way to build our homes, as I am not an architect or a professional in any construction fields (I do wield a fine paint brush though, if the need arises); however, those planning their own homes are welcome to adopt any ideas they desire from Excelsior.

I do hope that you enjoy my home. I look forward to your comments.



Why You Should Move To Central New York

Editor's Note: Jon submitted this essay about reasons why you should move to Central New York, and while he may be preaching to the choir for many of us, the holidays are a time that Upstate expatriots return to see family, and perhaps reconsidered the reasons they left or consider returning. Full disclosure: Jon is a real estate agent, so if you're thinking of returning and need a lead on a place to live, I'm sure he can help out. Happy Thanksgiving everyone! - N

Why You Should Move To Central New York
By Jon Alvarez

Move to Central New York? Why on earth would someone want to do that, you ask? Because this transplanted Texan feel’s it’s the best place to live in America, period. So, if you don’t already live here, what are you waiting for? Ok, I know, you probably don’t know anything about this part of the country and probably think it’s a suburb of New York City. Well, I’m here to dispel that misconception and to tell you that we’ve got it all here in what many refer to as Upstate New York, away from the hustle and bustle and congestion that characterizes The Big Apple. In fact, when my family chose to relocate from Austin, Texas, most of our friends mistakenly thought that was our destination, as they had no other concept of what represented New York. Simply put, Syracuse, Central New York, or CNY, is a completely different creature from NYC and we couldn’t be happier with our decision to relocate here. And if you happen to find yourself in the same situation I was in, tired of the overcrowding of urban sprawl, traffic congestion, extended periods of extreme heat and drought, exorbitant housing and living costs, then CNY should be a prime target on your relocation radar.

The quality of life we’ve discovered here in the Syracuse area is the primary reason why you should move to this part of the country. Please, don’t get me wrong, I loved Texas and its Lone Star attitude, and Austin was a very happening place, but guess what? Syracuse is, too! Like Austin, there is a plethora of activities for the young and hip, what with Syracuse University and several other colleges existing within CNY, not to mention the many museums, art houses, and the ever rocking Armory Square in the heart of downtown Syracuse, so there’s always something to do. One thing is certain; as a family man, I‘ve come to appreciate and love the quality of life afforded to my family here. We chose to sell our house in Austin and make a quality of life move as we’d grown weary from years of dealing with the traffic congestion and overcrowding that came to characterize the metropolis that was becoming Austin. We’d had enough of the blistering summer heat and crunchy June grass that became all too familiar as drought conditions would set in by early summer. You won’t find any of that here in CNY! We enjoy a nice variety of temperate conditions within the four seasons that can be found in Central New York.

Another bonus of living here is that there’s water here and plenty of it! While we do get quite a bit of snow here, it typically lasts three months and it certainly creates an enjoyable atmosphere while sitting by the fireplace. With that, there’s plenty to do for the outdoor enthusiast, as our weather and close proximity to numerous ski slopes make for some great skiing. The Central New York region also has plenty of lakes and canals for fishing and boating enthusiasts and because of the amount of water we receive either via snow or rain, we never encounter drought-like conditions. Since this region is so used to the amount of snow we receive, it rarely hinders driving as the area town and village highway departments are prepared to deal with it and thus, keep the roads plowed and salted to avoid delays for commuters. Some of the other activities one can enjoy as a result of the winter season aside from downhill or cross-country skiing are snowshoeing, sledding, ice skating, snowmobiling, and ice fishing. Of course, I must mention that my wife’s favorite winter activity is the aforementioned sitting by the fireplace, warm and cozy with a good book and enjoying the landscape as it becomes adorned with snow. Now, how many parts of the country can virtually guarantee a white Christmas? Bottom line, we have lots to do here and we get to enjoy the abundance of green grass, huge trees and large sections of wooded areas as a result of the amount of moisture we receive in this part of the country.

The four seasons is another reason you should move to CNY. Another reason we chose to move to this part of the country was that we wanted variety. Fall is easily our favorite time of the year and Central New York is one of the greatest locations for those wishing to enjoy the wonderful, vibrant fall colors of autumn in New York. The abundance of trees in this part of the country makes for a great October! One can make a day trip of driving throughout the area to enjoy not only the great views, but also the various apple and pumpkin festivals that can be found throughout the area. Central New Yorkers sure know how to make use of their natural resources, too! Apple cider, apple donuts, fritters, home-made Maple syrup, pumpkin pie, apple pie, apple butter…wow, I’m getting hungry just thinking about all the great treats we’ve enjoyed this past fall at all the various fall festivals. Since we’re talking about food, I might as well mention the fact that CNY has awesome food, particularly Italian and greasy spoon diners. We’ve never enjoyed pizza and spaghetti on such a wide scale from so many fine Italian establishments, not to mention the great diversity in menu selections that can be found at the various restaurants in the area. As for the tiny Mom and Pop diners that seem to flourish in the area, it seems every town or village has one that serves a mean breakfast for under $5 and is usually hard pressed for open tables.

Another bonus we’ve discovered in our time here in Central New York is how friendly we’ve found the people here to be. While we found Austin to be very transient, the Central New York region has been home to generations of Upstate New Yorkers who were born and raised here and chose to remain in the region. This tends to foster a greater atmosphere of civic pride and neighborly attitude, which we have happily benefited from. Our favorite story to tell new friends and acquaintances centers on the night we were moving into our new home in the Radisson subdivision. Despite the fact that there was a raging snowstorm blowing about, my family was visited by an angel in the form of Carolyn Eaton, our new neighbor directly across the street, appearing on our doorstep bearing a piping hot apple pie! Never have I tasted such a delicious apple pie, particularly since it came special delivery from such a great neighbor whom we lovingly refer to as our adopted mother. Despite the fact that we chose to sell that house and move across town, we spend nearly every holiday with the Eatons and their loved ones as they’ve become like family to us. That same street also bore us one of our closest and dearest friends, the Rotchford family. Rarely do we find ourselves at the Eatons where we won’t pop into the Rotchfords to catch up and toss back a few, not to mention the daily and weekly phone calls just to say hi. Space and time prevent me from going into further detail on the amount of new friends we’ve made since relocating to CNY. Bottom line, we’ve found a place we love to call home in just a relatively short time because of the nature and warmth of the good people of Central New York.

On a final note, I’d be remiss if I did not mention a few more of the benefits of living in Central New York, particularly the absence of “traffic” and congestion, as well as the incredible housing prices and architectural treasures found here. Rarely, if ever, do I find myself in bumper-to-bumper traffic. In fact, it usually takes 30 minutes or less to cross from one section of the area to another. The region’s proximity to the east coast, the Adirondacks, NYC, and Lake Ontario lends itself to some great weekend getaways. And just to give you an idea of the housing values found in CNY, the median price of housing in Central New York is 49 percent cheaper than the national median and is currently lower than it was in 1990! The current median price for housing in Onondaga County is only $127,000! Compare that with $435,000 for Washington, D.C., $172,000 for Atlanta, $290,000 for Chicago, $416,000 for Boston, $538,000 for Los Angeles, $176,000 in Austin, $255,000 for Denver, well, you get the picture. Besides getting a lot of bang for your buck, the architectural styles of the area are incredible! You can’t find many turn of the century houses in other parts of the country at affordable prices, especially on large lots, country settings, or on the water. There’s gold to be found here, one simply has to come find it!

So, considering the fact that making a move to Central New York can greatly improve your family’s quality of life due to the region’s abundance of great people, abundant natural resources, temperate climate, low housing prices, unique and historic architecture, the area also plays host to the great New York State Fair. CNY also has plenty of entertainment, sports and outdoor venues and activities, plus we have virtually no traffic congestion and we’re conveniently situated along the east coast. So, what are you waiting for? Get your bags packed, sell that expensive home in that overcrowded part of the country you currently find yourself living in, and come to Syracuse!


Redefining 'Killjoy' at Fayetteville Manlius High School

Syracuse Post-Standard coverage of a decision by Fayetteville-Manlius High School principal James Chupila to cancel a December 2nd dance to prevent the "grinding" or "freak dancing" that characterized the Homecoming event has been picked up by a variety of other news outlets, from Buffalo to NYC, from Newsvine to Fleshbot.*

Concern has erupted over the appropriateness of sexualized dancing at school events. I certainly don't blame parents for their concern, nor do I think Chupila's decision was out and out wrong. While in the short term it might prevent some brief clothed contact between naughty bits in a public setting, there are larger and longer-term implications.

Firstly, Chupila, also known as Chupa Chup, is going to have his hands full when it comes to FM's big fundraising event, Dance Marathon on March 3rd. The 12 hour event raises money for Camp Good Days and Special Times. That's right: 12 hours of dancing to top 40 dance hits, a full half-a-day's potential for grinding. Will a protective and Puritanical impulse to prevent what might go wrong pull the plug on one of the schools most community-building and altruistic events?

Regular readers are probably aware that though I currently live in the Hudson Valley, I'm from Fayetteville, outside of Syracuse. I graduated from Fayetteville-Manlius High School and was in school during the Water Balloon Incident of 2000. At the end of the school year, it was customary for water balloon fights to break out in the school parking lot. The year before, some of the balloons were filled with liquids other than water, and thus the FM administration made it clear that no one would be allowed to possess them. This of course made students more determined - when the water balloon fight began, a staggering number of state and local police officers were called, nightsticks and riot control tactics were employed, and dozens of students were arrested. Ill-will was generated, and the potential for irreverent fun was smashed like so many water balloons.

The topic of restriction of free expression/protecting students from their own hormones/monitoring what is done on school property is certainly an incendiary issue, one that will probably always be debated as cases like these arrise, has no easy resolution, and of course, is not exclusive to Upstate New York.

I recognize and sympathize with the difficult position that issues of student sexuality place upon educators. However, I would encourage people to think very carefully about how we treat the youth that we hope will become our Upstate future. While the duty of the school is to protect its students, micromanaging their lives in every way does everyone a disservice and sucks the the value out of what should be a time when students are learning important life lessons as well as academic ones. Overprotecting people leaves them either a) unprepared for what will happen when the protection is no longer there, or b) resentful and more likely to subvert authority in some other, probably more extreme, way. In a place striving to be more youth-friendly, I think it's unwise to infantilize high school students.

Posted by Natalie

Check out some cross talk on the Syracuse Post-Standard Forums here and here, and peruse the FM Code of Conduct, if you're interested, and if you're still interested, you can read this Manlius lawyer's take.

* Fleshbot is totally NOT SAFE FOR WORK


Albany's Egg: No corners for you

The Egg, exciting and old/The Egg, you'll do what you're told/The Egg, the Egg, no corners for you/The Egg, when was it new?/The Egg, there's nothing to do/The Egg, the Egg, no corners for youPoured concrete flowing into organic shapes/Carpet, wood trim, and some velvet drapes/Combine to make one perfect place/From the outside I am thinking/I'm a number, not a man/From the inside I am thinking/What were they thinking?/The Egg, exciting and old/The Egg, you'll do what you're told/The Egg, the Egg, no corners for you/No corners for you/No corners for you
Albany/The Egg (2004) by They Might be Giants
Perennial geek-rock duo They Might be Giants has perhaps perfectly captured the essence of Albany’s most unique building: The Egg. The band’s homepage, TMBG.com continues:

"The Egg was built as part of Nelson Rockefeller's dream to reinvent Albany as New York's state capital. It was designed by Wallace Harrison and contains virtually no straight lines or corners. Construction began in 1966 and finished in 1978. The Egg's performance center continues to flourish and is They Might Be Giants' home away from home, in Albany. The friendly Egg is nestled among Albany's state buildings, which are perhaps the harshest example of modernist brutalism on permanent display. Former residents of Albany have described the song as capturing the essential Albany-residential (or Albanian) experience."

The bizarre structure has, in the eyes of some, come to architecturally represent Albany the way the Golden Gate Bridge, the Empire State Building or the Sydney Opera House have for their respective homes. Of course, Albany residents might have some reservations about seeing an example of harsh “modernist brutalism,” bloated state building projects and gubernatorial narcissism (some say Rockefeller created the entire Empire State Plaza as a monument to himself) as the architectural summary of their lives. Of course, for the majority of Upstaters, “Albany” refers to all of those things first and a city where people live second.

TheEgg.org, however, takes a different take on the building:

Architecturally, The Egg is without precedent. From a distance it seems as much a sculpture as a building. Though it appears to sit on the main platform, the stem that holds The Egg actually goes down through six stories deep into the Earth. The Egg keeps its shape by wearing a girdle - a heavily reinforced concrete beam that was poured along with the rest of the shell…

The Egg houses two theatres - the Lewis A. Swyer Theatre and the Kitty Carlisle Hart Theatre… Wrapping around fully half The Egg is a lounge area for the Hart theatre…

The building's curved exterior defines the interior statement as well. There are virtually no straight lines or harsh corners inside The Egg. Instead, walls along the edge curve upward to meet gently concave ceiling light for celestial effect. The backs of performing areas are fanned - inviting one inward - providing an intimacy impossible in a conventional theatre. And throughout, walls of Swiss pearwood veneer add warmth and enhance the acoustics in the theatres.

Visually distinctive, yet ingenious The Egg is a beautiful synthesis of form and function. We invite you to use it for your organization - and hope you visit and enjoy it frequently.

Regardless of your opinion on the Empire State Plaza, all must agree that the Egg is a spectacular monument (to what is the question I suppose): an odd bowl perched at a precarious angle hanging over an abyss, like the great rocks one sees suspended on rock pillars out west. I personally have to hand it to the building’s designers, at least they used a little creativity; I reflect upon another example of Upstate mass architecture, the Dome in Syracuse, and the fact that the designers there seemed to try their best to avoid approaching aesthetics like a smart cat does to Solvay.

-by Jesse


Urban Explorations- The Ruins of Upstate New York

One of the things that I love about this state is its sense of fading glory. You see, with fading glory, you don’t get any of the arrogance of new growth, or the growing pains. Don’t get me wrong, being a crumbling Rust Belt town comes with its own sorrows and pains, but it also seems to come with grim determination and stately resolve. And after all, who’s seen a building built in the last ten years that wasn’t as ugly as sin? In our forests you find the remnants of old stone walls and farmer’s wells and in the brownfields and old neighborhoods of our cities are hidden little gems. [“Adventures in Johnson City,” by the author]
Two hundred years ago, European Romantic poets, writers and painters “discovered” their ruins. Suddenly, the old castle on the hill that had always been used locally as a source for cheap cut stone and was possibly considered something of an eyesore, was instead “picturesque” and a piece of important nationalist heritage. Something similar is going on all around us today. Perhaps to the surprise of many, a generation of local artists, writers and thinkers are becoming fascinated with Upstate New York’s ‘picturesque’ ruins.

Have you ever known the joy of pushing open the old iron door of the abandoned factory and walking among the rusted-out machines illuminated through grimy windows that make dust motes sparkle? Have you ever stepped into the once-grand dance hall where local pirate-developers have stripped out even the floor tiles and thought of the legendary jazz bands that played there in the ‘20s or the days when it was a roller rink and your grandmother courted young Poles? There is simply something fantastic about abandoned buildings and what many consider an eyesore is precious to a growing few (ex)urban explorers. The RocWiki site even has a page listing destinations for “
Urban Exploration.” Perhaps the coolest Rochester ruin is definitely the Abandoned Subway, providing residence for those without other homes and canvases for those without other artistic outlets since 1956.

In my continuing lookout for information on ruins, I have found a site dedicated entirely to abandoned towns, although it is entitled “
Ghost Towns and History of the American West,” it has a nice subpage for Ghost Towns of New York. The site details twelve abandoned settlements from the infamously polluted Love Canal in the suburbs of Buffalo (here’s the Wikipedia article) to Tawahus, the ghost village that sits nestled below the Adirondack High Peaks (here’s a nice site of pictures of the spectacular—and surreal—abandoned iron mines at Tahawus).

By the way, did you know that much of Love Canal, perhaps America’s most famous toxic site, has been redeveloped and is now called Black Creek Village and inhabited by families? Before you get up in arms, some of the first inhabitants were actually former Love Canal residents who wanted to move ‘back home.’ Interesting to know. Even the “Uninhabitable Zone” behind the fences is still occupied:
Seventy-three year old Chester Pysz can't understand why they call the five-block area at the heart of Love Canal the "Uninhabitable Zone" - namely because, he still lives there… Chester remembers when the toxic ooze began to seep into people's basements, when the vegetables in his garden began to wither, when his neighbors began to get headaches, kidney disease, and respiratory infections. A panic came over the town, and within a year or two, almost all of the town's 900 residents were evacuated. But Chester never left. Now, twenty years later, he and another man of ninety-five are the Zone's last inhabitants. And some days, when the winter wind howls down these unplowed streets, it feels like they are the last two men on earth…

[The residents of Black Creek] call the Uninhabitable Zone their "own private Eden" - it's a place where they can pick wildflowers and walk their dog without a leash. Occasionally they encounter Chester Pysz, who remains more determined than ever to ignore the EPA's seemingly arbitrary distinction. There is little to say these days. His house sits just fifty yards from the edge of Black Creek Village, but as far as all of them are concerned, it's a different world. [
A bit creepy eh? If you’re interested in more essays on exploring the abandoned world around us, check out these earlier York Staters posts:

Old Jamesville Penitentiary
The Going Rate
The Ghost Deer of Romulus (and Part II)
Hudson Valley Ruins
Adventures in Johnson City
Anybody want to buy a fort?

Enjoy your explorations!


[1] “Locations that Almost Made the Book” from the official website of “Braving Home,” a book of America’s most extreme hometowns by Jake Halpern.


The Lost Treasure of Phoencia

In my opinion, lately the quantity and variety of good old-fashioned York Stater folklore has declined greatly on this site, so I thought it was time to jump start with something new. So, in lieu of our usual tales of haunted cemeteries (like this one and this one) and unique recipes, I would like to pass on a legend of a fantastic treasure buried in the rolling foothills of the Catskills.

The story begins in 1935, when the legendary mobster
Dutch Schultz—fleeing a prison sentence for tax evasion—along with his flunkie Lulu Rosenkrantz, brought his fortune in a metal box north from New York City. They buried it under a tree (which they marked with an ‘X’) next to the Esopus Creek in Phoencia [map]. The exact nature of the treasure varies, from $5 million to $9 million; some say that it was all in hard cash, others say it was a mixture of cash, gold and jewels. [1]

Schultz was a legendary racketeer, bootlegger and mob boss famous for his brutality: “Enemies often ended up dead, one hung by his thumbs on a meat hook.” [
Schultz's success -- and probably his talent for making headlines -- caught the attention of prosecutor Thomas Dewey, the future New York governor and Republican presidential nominee. Mob historians believe that by 1935, Schultz wanted Dewey killed. But New York City's other crime lords, uncomfortable with murdering the high-profile lawman, decided instead to get rid of Schultz. Assassins were dispatched to the Palace Chophouse in Newark, N.J., the night of Oct. 23, 1935. As his henchmen were sprayed with gunfire at a table, Schultz was plugged in the bathroom with a rusty .45 bullet. [2]
Despite being shot in the spleen, stomach, colon and liver, Dutch lived for another 24 hours. In a Manhattan hospital, the feverish gangster babbled strange phrases (that is a link to the transcription), which were dutifully recorded by a police stenographer:

Oh, mama, mama, mama . . .I am a pretty good pretzler. . .How many shots were fired at me?. . . John, please, did you buy me the hotel for a million?. . .I'll get you the cash out of the box. . .there's enough in it to buy four-five more. . .You can play jacks and girls do that with a soft ball and do tricks with. . .Lulu, drive me back to Phoenicia. . .Don't be a dope Lulu, we better get those Liberty bonds out of the box and cash `em. . .sure it was Danny's mistake to buy `em and I think they can be traced. . .Danny please get me in the car. . .Kindly take my shoes off, they're not off. . .there's handcuffs on `em . . . Wonder who owns these woods?. . .he'll never know what's hidden in `em. . .My gilt-edge stuff and those rats have tuned in. . .What did that guy shoot me for? [1]

Since then, the legend of Dutch Schultz’s treasure has become something of a local (and beyond) passion in Phoencia. People search the woods with everything from metal detectors to backhoes, some referencing maps, others combing Dutch’s ramblings and the enigmatic statements of his fellow mobsters for clues. There has even been a film made about it: Digging for Dutch. In many ways, the search for Dutch has become a part of the identity and pride of this little town deep in the mountains—which is perhaps worth more than anything Dutch left behind.[3]

-By Jesse

[1] “Dutch Schultz and his lost Catskills Treasure” from Purple Mountain Press
[2] “
Did mobster Dutch Schultz bury millions?” from the Chicago New Times, July 17th, 2005 by Michael Hill.
[3] “
Eye For Film: Digging for Dutch” and “Dutch Schultz’s Millions


In November, We Remember: Emma Goldman & Upstate, NY!!!

by Problema Goldman in November of the year 2006

Emma Goldman was born in 1869 in Kaunas, Lithuania and later died in 1940 in Toronto, Canada. During her life, Emma was a constant target of state repression and was notorious as “a sponsor of anarchy, of violence, free love, and revolution, she was vilified in the press as “Red Emma”, “Queen of the Anarchists”, “The most dangerous women in America,” yet her name
would also appear on the list of the some of the world’s most influential women like Jane Adams, Annie Besant, Hellen Keller, Harriet Tubman, and Madame Curie to name only a few. In Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America by Paul Avrich, (p. 45) Emma Goldman is described as a propagandist and organizer for:
“women’s equality, sexual liberation, and birth control to labor activism, liberation education, and artists freedom. Strong in her opinions, not in her sympathies, she was a powerful orator who toured the country restlessly, incessantly, selling vast quantities of radical literature and raising funds for the anarchist movement, of which she was a leading representative.”
This is the story of Emma Goldman and the events that surrounded her while in Upstate, New York. In 1885 at the young age of 17, Emma Goldman emigrated from Lithuania to the United States of America eventually settling into Rochester, NY. In Rochester, NY Emma worked at the Garson Co. textile factory and soon married a fellow worker by the name of Jacob Kersner. In 1886, Emma credits the Haymarket Riot as a life changing event of vision and inspiration, of which she first heard of from the German socialist Johanna Greie at meetings organized in
Rochester. Emma later wrote that “the decisive influence in my life” was the Haymarket Riot and death of the Chicago anarchists “which brought me to life and helped to make me what I am.”[1]

In 1889 Emma found herself unhappy with her marriage and moved to New York City(NYC) where she was introduced to more radical activities. As we shall see a little further on, it is important to note that Emma never legally divorced Jacob Kersner. One such influence, was that of Alexander Berkman also-known-as Sasha, of whom Emma first met in NYC. According to
my research (largely taken from The Emma Goldman Papers); Emma didn’t return to Rochester until August of 1901 when she spent a month visiting her sister Helena. After her visit in Rochester, she traveled on to Buffalo where the Pan-American Exposition was taking place.

On September 6th, 1901 President of the United States of America William Mckinley was shot and killed by self-proclaimed anarchist Leon Czolgosz. The government would soon charge Emma Goldman with responsibility for this assassination for supposedly influencing Czolgosz, but the charges were soon dropped and Emma got some of her first on hand experience and taste of state repression. Recently, I stumbled across some amazing ancient family records from 1901 - a scrapbook of their journey from Albany to Buffalo to see the Pan American Exposition. Part of the entry on September 6th reads, “On the way we heard that our good President
McKinley had been assassinated at Buffalo.” The scrapbook includes an old President McKinley pin and various Pan American Exposition articles, stamps, admission ticket, and some discourse about everyday life. In reference to the anarchists, I like Uncle Hank’s, quote from Around the “Pan” with Uncle Hank also published in 1901:
“Them Anarchists is like rattlesnakes; fust they rattle dangerous warnin’s and then they strike a deadly blow. No civilized community ez safe while they’re about. It’s high time they waz exterminated; jes’ make it high treason when they rattle on’ about removin’ rulers; an’ let ther strong arm of ther law grasp ’em around th’ neck an’ strangle ’em tew death before they hev time tew coil an’ strike. Naow ye see th’ danger ov ’lowin’ ther scum of Europe tew cum inter th’ country. Yer quarantine yaller fever, but ye never think ov quarantinin red anarchy, which is a sight more dangerous diseese. . . .”
For Emma’s perspective of the situation take a look at the article she wrote:Tragedy at Buffalo. You can also check out Emma Goldman’s book written in exile Living My Life (whereas Chapter 24 is about Buffalo, NY)
After the assassination, the State of New York passed on April 3rd of 1902 the Criminal Anarchy Act, Chap 371. Part of the document reads, that any person who advocates for criminal anarchy is one who:
2. Prints, publishes, edits, issues or knowingly circulates, sells, distributes or publicly displays any book, paper, document, or written or printed matter in any form, containing or advocating, advising or teaching the doctrine that organized government should be overthrown by force, violence or any unlawful means; or,
In 1903 the United States Congress went on to pass an anti-anarchist immigration act, thinking that all the anarchists were coming from across the Pond.

Later on, in 1904 Emma spoke in Rochester before fellow garment workers on behalf of the Free Speech League in solidarity with John Turner against the anti-anarchist immigration law. Later on, Congress rules against John Turner that it has “unlimited power to exclude aliens and deport those who have entered in violation of the law, including philosophical anarchists.”

In the March of 1906 the first issue of Mother Earth was published. Soon afterwards, Emma began her national lecture tour, which included among the stops Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, and Buffalo where the police actually tried to disrupt the event.

In the March of 1909, Emma found herself back in Rochester. On April 8th, the US Court in Buffalo invalidated the citizenship of Jacob A Kersner, who was Emma’s claim to US citizenship through marriage.

In the January of 1910 a free speech battle erupts in Buffalo with Emma in the middle. A large amount of discontent with anarchy seemed to be prevailing through Buffalo after the assassination. Back in Rochester, Emma holds three different discussions. In March, an amendment is made to the Immigration Act of 1907 which forbids the entrance to the United States for criminals, paupers, anarchists, and persons carrying diseases.

In 1911 Emma spoke at the inauguration of the new Ferrer School in New York City also-known-as the Modern School, of which she was instrumental in its foundation along with many other notable anarchists.
The Modern Schools, also called Ferrer Schools, were American schools formed in the early 20th century around the ideas of educator and anarchist Francesc Ferrer I Guàrdia and modeled after his Escuela Moderna. They were an important part of the anarchist, free education, socialist, and labor movements in the U.S., intended to provide education to the working-classes from a liberating, class-conscious perspective. The Modern Schools had classes for children during the day, and lectures were given to adults at night. [wikipedia]
On January 6th Emma began her lecture tour in Rochester. Over the next six months she would travel to 50 different cities in 18 different states, delivering over 150 lectures and debates. On January 8-14, she spoke in Buffalo with poor attendance. On April 7th the Free Speech League was incorporated in Albany.

In August of 1914, World War I officially begins and on December 20th Emma delivers a speech on war to over 1,800 in Rochester that was organized by her niece Miriam Cominsky. Two years later, in 1916 Emma lectures again in Rochester on the subjects of education, Russian literature, birth control, sexuality, and anarchism.

In the February of 1917 the Alien Immigration Act is passed by the US government allowing the deportation of undesirable aliens “anytime after their entry.” In 1918, Emma lectures again before her imprisonment for US military draft refusal. The US intelligence agencies soon begin collecting the names and addresses of over 8,000 Mother Earth subscribers. On September 27th, 1919 Emma is released from imprisonment to mobs of reporters, friends, and niece Stella Ballantine, who accompanies Emma back to Rochester.

On November 25th, 1919 the Department of Labor ordered the deportation of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman. At dawn on December 21st Berkman and Goldman set sail on the SS Buford, bond for Russia. Later on in 1920, US Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, working with Justice Department agent J. Edgar Hoover and immigration commissioner Anthony Caminetti ordered the arrest of approximately 10,000 radical aliens. In 1923, Emma Goldman’s mother, Taube died in Rochester.

Upon her arrival in Russia, Emma was at first enthusiastic about the Russian Revolution of 1917, but soon became a critic. She was stunned by “the wholesale arrests of Russian anarchists, the dispersal of Makhno’s guerrilla army in the Ukraine, and the conversion of the local soviets into instruments of party dictatorship, rubber stamps for a new bureaucracy.”

In 1939, Emma Goldman passed away in Toronto, Canada and her grave soon afterwards was set to rest in Chicago. Emma Goldman from what is known as Upstate, New York: one of America’s most celebrated radicals and an anarchist at that!

Upstate, New York Emma Goldman Links
Emma Goldman on Rochester Wiki
Archives for Emma Goldman


And now, a visual interlude

The Germantown boat launch at sunset.

Posted by Natalie


Stops Along the Way #1: Good ideas in the North Country

Last month, I announced the creation of a new semi-regular column here at York Staters: Stops Along the Way. The new column, of which this is the first installment, is meant to celebrate and explore the geography of our lives and especially those “little” places where, to quote the introductory essay, “we rest for a moment, gain knowledge, joy or assistance before continuing upon our myriad of journeys. These places are not destinations in the proper sense of the word, but are the planned or unintended links in the chain that makes up a trip.”

For this first essay, I want to explore further the idea of symbolic geography and how the identity of a community can be tied up in the places that make it distinct. In particular, I want to focus upon a new project from
Traditional Arts in Upstate New York (TAUNY), a non-profit based out of Canton “dedicated to documenting, preserving and promoting the folk arts and folklore of New York’s North Country.”[i] This year, the organization began to put together a fascinating program called the “Register of Very Special Places” (RSVP).

The Register operates similarly to the National Register of Historic Places in that it is a selective listing of places of cultural importance that conveys certain tangible benefits and an aura of importance to the site. Individuals and groups nominate sites to both registers, gathering together necessary evidence and justifications for the selection committee.

Where the two Registers begin to differ is in what they recognize and celebrate. The National Register attempts to protect those places that witnessed events that shape the destiny of our nation. The RSVP, on the other hand, is in one sense humbler and in another of potentially much greater relevance to our daily lives. The RSVP, you see, documents and protects those places that make the North Country communities come thrive. They are living places, and the Register celebrates and protects our living present, not the memories of events in the distant past. As TAUNY writes:

Is there a place in your community that’s very important to local people? A place that’s been around for some time and would be sorely missed if it were suddenly gone. One that has its own stories to tell?

At TAUNY, we call such places cultural landmarks or “Very Special Places.” Around the North Country these treasures might include barber shops, fire stations, ghost houses, kids’ summer camps, a tree or boulder, a drive-in theater, general stores, hockey rinks, local diners, ethnic churches, a footbridge, roadside attractions, Grange halls, hunting clubs,, a public sculpture, a factory, school houses, etc.” (emphasis original)

TAUNY’s project is eminently local: submissions are done by local people—probably mostly amateur historians—and are judged by a committee also made up of locals. The State or Federal government are not involved, this is a recognition by a (relatively) small non-profit based out of Canton.

The benefits of joining the RSVP include: the sites profile being placed on an online gallery, copies of the submitted information would be placed in local libraries for community use and the site will be given an “attractive, locally crafted slate marker.” Listing also might be helpful in future applications to the National Register and could be useful in developing tourism.

The deeper benefit of the RSVP, and the one attractive to me personally, is that “your community will have the satisfaction of actively participating in preserving your local landmark and conserving your local way of life.” The Register is a physical recognition that our communities have lives of their own, that they are distinct. That Johnson City or Olean or Indian Lake couldn’t be replicated somewhere else. The combination of people, tradition and geography profoundly shape our characters as individuals and the lives that we lead. Instead of focusing upon the epic and distant—the National Historic Landmark or National Park—the RSVP turns its eye instead to the places in which we live. In celebrating our own lives, we in turn find ourselves empowered, realizing that we—and the places in which we live—are inherently valuable.

-By Jesse

[i] All of the following quotes are either from TAUNY’s website or from their pamphlet “Register of Very Special Places”


Introducing the Categorized Archive

After one full year of blogging, York Staters has put up over 200 posts. And when each post is pushed off the front page by newer posts, where does it go? Why, to the archives of course, which had heretofore been only grouped by the date posts were published.

But no longer! In honor of our one year anniversary, we thought it would be great to find a way to catagorize posts so that readers could go back and find other posts about a particular region or topic. Using the magic of del.icio.us, there is now a York Staters Categorized Archive! Surf around using the tags on the side bar to find past posts of interest to you.

There are a few tags that are a bit nebulous, such as 'history', since almost every post has something to do with history. It goes without saying that all of the posts are about Upstate New York. And I'm sure there are some inconsistencies to work out, so if anyone has suggestions of how to improve the Categorized Archive, please let me know.

On a personal note, it's interesting to go back through the posts of the last year and see what sort of patterns and themes emerge, and see how this crazy idea has blossomed. Many sincere thanks to our readers and contributors, and if you're just joining us, check out the archive and catch up!

Posted by Natalie

Upstate Speed Traps- Banditry or Survival?

We have all seen it, though perhaps not been prey to it: the spot on the highway off-ramp or just at the edge of the incorporated village where the speed limit abruptly drops and the local police sit awaiting oblivious out-of-towners. I myself have run afoul of these predicaments twice: once late at night in Ellenville in the Catskills and another time near Old Forge. Lately, I have noticed a growing concern in some quarters (here, here) over speed traps and, in particular a handful of small rural communities who have been found to be more or less funding the local budget with speeding revenues.

In a sense, these communities are akin to highway bandits raiding passing caravans. Perhaps a better analogy would be to the petty states along the old Silk Road that used to press travelers for tolls or bribes (depending on your perspective). In either case, peripheral communities that would otherwise gain little from the wealth traveling through their midst turn to force to extract their cut.

The problem, however, is more complex than the handful of gross cases (such as
the town of 60 that had 14 police officers entirely funded through traffic violations) and comparisons to bandits of old reveals. On one hand, it is possible to view the problem as the case of small towns struggling to meet the needs of their citizens in an era where they are increasingly squeezed by budgets and politics determined in far-off cities who desperately turn to travelers from those same cities to make ends meet; Robin Hood wears a blue uniform. The alternative view is summed up by the creedo statement of the anti-speed trap site New Rome Sucks:
We are the people who have been chewed up by the system and left for dead. Countless State, County, City, and Township legal systems financially and mentally abuse Us for the sole purpose of revenue generation and we have no way to defend ourselves other than to unite and fight. Billions of dollars are sucked from us yearly by this form of "protection" even though the punishment never deters the crime. The fine is just a bribe so they don't take away our "privilege" of driving. We have no control over the system. We have no justice in the system.

The problem is further complicated by the fact that the people pulled over are often themselves disempowered. In general, young people (especially men) and minorities tend to be given disproportionate numbers of tickets (check out

this study in Boston). While it is true that locals are often able to avoid speed traps through simple local knowledge and possible social ties to the officers, Out-Of-Towners are hardly a homogenous group.

However, there could be a counter argument that in some cases minor fines spread out across many travelers can do more social good in helping impoverished towns than the fine does harm to the travelers. It is one thing to pay for more police officers to write more tickets and another thing all together to pay for clinics, after-school activities and senior nutrition that would be otherwise unavailable.

What does a community do when the traffic that once passed through it is diverted onto the superhighways, when trade withers up? Does a small community that maintains a public road through it have the right to ask for thru-travelers to contribute to the maintenance? These are the questions that were raised generations ago when the Silk Road merchants wandered through Central Asia and they are still relevant today. Do I blame a small, struggling rural community for using all the tools in their repertoire? I may curse my luck but I personally don’t hold a grudge over it—that is, of course, my own take on the matter.

I believe that what we have in the end is a highly particularistic ethical situation, one that is fitting more for discussion in local communities themselves. However, there is a broader question for us Upstaters that the speed trap dilemma raises that is lost in the call for state- or nation-wide crackdowns: what are the forces that cause rural communities to turn to legal banditry for survival? Until we begin to approach the complex difficulties created by a federal government increasingly signing off its expenses to the states, states like our own that are bloated, inefficient and corrupt and local governments that themselves are often incomprehensibly organized and largely ignored, we will never be able to come up with laws that solve the problem.

-Posted by Jesse


The Secret History of the Tomb in McDonough

If you go to the Chenango County Chamber of Commerce website you'll find a bit about a boy in a tomb who was afraid of the dark.

So the fable goes, Merritt Beardsley told his father, William, in December of 1865, that he didn't want to be left in the dark when he died; therefore there's a tomb with a window in Miller Cemetery outside of Oxford, NY. The thing is, this history is based on a story from a book of Upstate folktales: Oxcarts Along the Chenango [Oxcarts Along The Chenango by Roy Gallinger; published 1965 Fay Edward Faulkner, Heritage Press, Sherburne, NY.]

Here is the Oxcarts story.

which is referred to by the historian of Oxford town, which is the basis of the history being presented to news journalists [Press and Sun-Bulletin 10/31/06] and tourists. Every reference is coming right out of the Gallinger tale which admits its source as a folktale, "the story of little Merritt Beardsley has been forgotten by all but the very old folks."

Another interesting fact of the tomb is that the kid's name is spelled wrong above the window(Little Merrits Tomb) but correctly (or maybe both are wrong) on the birth-death marker. While it's believed as part of the tale, that the writing above the tomb was added after the kid died, there's no reference to it in the Oxcarts book- besides for Gallinger using the adjective 'little' a whole bunch of times in the story when talking of Meritt, his hands, a grove of pines...

So the inscription could have been added in the 1960's or later, or it may have been there since the kid died, but it probably would have been corrected by the immediate family. Although, I tend to believe that the people of the area and the chamber of commerce took notice of the story when it appeared in the Oxcarts book; then it became official history, then the inscription was placed above the tomb.

Now for the folklorist; it's obvious that no one was around when this kid died, so a dialogue between the kid and his father couldn't be recounted by the "very old folks" to the collector. So imagine that Gallinger is told about a grave of an 8-year-old with a window, maybe it doesn't have the inscription above yet, and so Gallinger tells the tale of a little boy who's afraid of the dark- of his own accounting; maybe the bit about being afraid of the dark was already a part of the folktale.

My interpretation is more mundane, that the family wanted to view their son after he died, much like windows into tombs throughout history ala Lenin, a zillion catacombed Italians- specifically the perfectly embalmed little girl behind the glass window. So the family is forgotten, and a folktale emerges from middle-of-nowhere York State, remembering a beloved son who was afraid of the dark.


Does the tomb window get the light of the morning sun every day of the year?

Is Gallinger still alive, if not, how can we recover his sources for this folktale?

What year was the inscription made?

What is the real spelling of this kid's first name?

This story has been reappearing in upstate newspapers since at least the 1970's, was it ever referred to in the Norwich Sun/Evening Sun before 1965?

Does the historian of Oxford town know more folktales than history?

-By Joe