The Troy Polloi's "Signs": An interview with Joe Cavallaro, a Greene County man who tried to ask Assemblyman (and gubernatorial candidate) John Faso a question, and was arrested. An entertaining read with the insightful snarkiness towards elected officials The Troy Polloi is known for. Read Part I and Part II of this engaging interview.
Sean Kirst's "Upstate Rebellion": Reviving the art of the serialized novel, Post-Standard columnist Sean Kirst has undertaken a story exploring the ills of upstate, featuring an octagenarian farmer, a walking and talking pig and cat, and a 1966 Cadillac deVille. Check out Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3, and catch up!
"Dia Beacon: Not Minimalist Enough" by Katherine Arnoldi: a thought-provoking look at the negative impact of arts-based urban revival in Beacon, NY. (Submitted by alert reader Enid M.)
Brenda Ann Kenneally's "Upstate Girls" Photo Essay: heartbreaking and excellent.
-Posted by Natalie
I found this shot the other day on Flickr and I found it to be quite striking. It was taken in downtown Syracuse and, as you can see, it is an advertisement for a free building. I contacted the photographer, Phil, and he said:
"It was taken of a building on the 1400 block of S. Salina St., across from our office. The place had in different incarnations been a car wash, a car repair place and a dry cleaners. During all these times it had dumped toxics into the land it occupied. It's final use was for a corner store--a store that was closed under the city's Nuisance Abatement law for persistent arrests for drug trafficking on its premises. The building owner had a huge back tax bill--approaching a half million--and couldn't sell because of the contamination."We've all seen these types of places (though perhaps not openly advertised as free) throughout our Upstate cities and towns but usually choose to ignore them. I thought that with current blogging debates over pollution (in particular in Endicott and Onondaga Lake) it would be useful to bring up the smaller incidents of every day pollution and decay that litter our world. It's also fascinating to me that the photographing of ruins has become an art form in and of itself, especially in the "Rust Belt." My copies of The Living Forge (a Rust Belt arts journal out of Buffalo) are primarily filled with poems and shots of ruins. Have we internalized the post-industrial ruin so completely that it has become a form of self-identification? I know that I never saw the old factories working; they were always abandoned husks on the landscape, the dead heart of every town that I knew. I have heard there are places where the factories are still running and there are jobs, but I have never seen them.
As a side note, I highly reccommend visiting the Flickr (it's a website dedicated to sharing digital photos) pool of "Signs in Syracuse" and Phil's collection on life in "Syruckus."
-Posted by Jesse
“New York residents support reintroducing wolves to the Adirondacks by a margin of 8 to 1… Not only is support for wolf reintroduction in Adirondack Park high among New Yorkers and New England residents, but there is strong support among the park's residents. Among Adirondack Park residents, 3 out of 4 (76 percent) support reintroduction of the eastern timber wolf to Adirondack Park, while 19 percent oppose… Furthermore, two-thirds (67 percent) of hunters residing in the park support reintroduction. Eighty percent of New Yorkers support reintroduction, while only 10 percent oppose. More than 84 percent of all New England residents want to bring back the wolves.”Recent studies have shown that wolf attacks on humans are incredibly rare, especially compared to attacks by pit bulls, mean cats, bulls and honeybees, and that even the damage to ranching stock is negligible (the Defenders of Wildlife have paid only $52,000 to a little over 50 ranchers to pay for livestock deaths around Yellowstone since wolves were reintroduced there and Montana has far more livestock than the Adirondacks). So why is there still and opposition, and such a vocal and stiff one, to reintroduction? Some of the clues can be found in folklore.
Today, I was looking through old copies of the New York Folklore Quarterly from the late 40’s and early 50’s. One of the prevailing themes was the danger provided by wolves, bears and pumas. In the Spring 1948 edition, there was an article entitled “Wild Animals of Southern Erie County” by Ethelyn Weller, which retold frontier stories of dangerous creatures that are still passed down in the farmhouses of rural Erie County. To quote Weller:
“By 1830, farmers who lived in the vicinity of Morton’s Corners had become so desperate over the attacks of the wolves, which, running in packs, were destroying sheep in flocks for miles around, that they determined to get rid of them at all costs.Weller continues with descriptions of wolves with “teeth bared and bloodshot eyes fixed on the [hunter’s] dog,” of ferocious bears that hold off entire packs of dogs and panthers with mystical ties to local Indians. She concludes by saying: “there are many such stories, but these have stood the test of the years, probably because they picture pioneer life in this section of Erie County so accurately.”
Accordingly, on a day set for the purpose, some 500 farmers from Concord, Collins, and North Collins gathered at Morton’s Corners, chose leaders, and in groups spread out over the country in a mass wolf hunt… The hunt continued for several days, but no wolves were seen possibly because so much noise and so many men tramping about in what were previously the animals’ unmolested haunts frightened them away. At any rate, no one ever heard of a wolf again in that part of the county.”
Several other editions of the Quarterly detail the persistence of belief in werewolves in many parts of New York. I particularly enjoyed one from the Winter 1951 (“Another Werewolf” by Henry Shoemaker) where a North Country farmer marries a “darkly beautiful” young woman only after promising to never see her unclothed at night. He comes home late one night with a gift for her and accidentally knocks the blanket off of her lower half, revealing a pair of wolf legs and a tail; he flees the house, never to return.
While folklore isn't the defining entirety of a people's belief system, it does give clues into what is important, valuable, amusing and terrifying to them; it is a window into their worldview. Despite what Ms. Weller believed back in 1948, I don’t think that the events she recorded reflect everyday frontier life, or even accurately describe exceptional events. How many tales do we have from the 1820s and 30s? Why were these ones maintained and passed on? Why are tales of wolf-men (and women) still told in isolated houses and farmsteads?
It is my belief that the wolf, and to a lesser extent the bear and panther, represent the wild antithesis to civilized life. In the cities, these lines need not be drawn since there is no question of the civilized nature of life. Out in the country, however, the wild presses close, especially for the farmer whose life is a constant struggle to contain and control the wild. Having myself worked as a farmhand, I know that on a farm, an incredible amount of time is spent pulling out weeds, keeping away predators and parasites, struggling with rocks and cutting away at the dingweeds. The demon wolf becomes the symbol of the wild destroyed and man triumphant. “We don’t have wolves around here anymore” becomes synonymous with “we don’t have Indians around here anymore” and “we don’t have wilderness around here anymore.” For those that grew up with stories of great, and triumphant, wolf-hunts and the battles of man and dog against bear or wolf, the thought of purposely reintroducing a wolf into the landscape is counter-intuitive, a regressive step that spits in the face of their struggles to make a living out of the land.
-Posted by Jesse
Particularly astute readers might notice that several new links and minor technical changes now grace our weblog. The links are:
Other changes include: new quotes on the Upstate Quote Board and books on the Upstate Reading List (both added to the end of the lists), spelling and grammar corrections (including one particularly embarassing one in the section on how we value correct spelling in our submissions guidelines) and a cleaning up of our "Writings" page.
Syracuse Real Food Co-Op: A link to the Co-op's blog, which deals with topics of sustainable agriculture and quality food in the Syracuse area.
Cookin' in the Cuse: I always enjoy this fun blog about finding, making and eating good food in Syracuse.
Frugal Upstate: This blog rates up there with Wildrun (the blog dedicated to rescuing feral cats in Spencer) for the most unique and specialized. This blogger from Norwich is dedicated to living a frugal life and helping others do the same. Check out her post on making your own laundry soap.
If you see anything you think ought to be changed here feel free to let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, as always, if you have a York State Quote, a favorite York State Book or an entire post that you want to put up here, please send it to us (though you might want to check the Submissions Guidelines and Mission Statement first). We are always looking for new submissions to broaden our understanding and appreciation of Upstate New York.
-Posted by Jesse
Editor's note: The following is the text of a petition by the newly-formed Patriot League of CNY, signed by 20 of their members and sent into the Syracuse Post-Standard last week, and who protested in front of the Post-Standard's offices on April 15th. Their website (under construction) will be located at www.plcny.org
"Finding that the two party political system is currently more about seizing and maintaining personal power, rather than our elected legislators exercising their authority for the good of the People as a whole, the Patriot League of Central New York has been formed. We believe that government of the People, by the People and for the People should be returned to the People. With strength in numbers and in votes, we seek the empowerment of ideas that are in the interest of the common good, education, endorsement and enlightenment of all American citizens and the return to the Judeo- Christian values of the United States of America. The values this country was originally founded upon and that were enumerated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America."
Airing of Grievances
April 15, 2006
We, the undersigned, have assembled on this day to express our extreme dissatisfaction and disgust with what we deem as business as usual, at the expense of the common citizen, in Central New York. While armed solely with both the power of voice and vote, we aim to continue to utilize both in order to bring about change in said status quo so as to rid ourselves of that which ails us.
We cite the following grievances:
Career, corrupt, and out of touch politicians who feel the office exists for their own benefit
Pork-barrel politics, particularly the funding of white elephant projects benefiting wealthy, private institutions such as Syracuse University
Abuse of non-profit status by “For-Profit” organizations such as SU with little or no public oversight or approval
Ever-increasing income and property taxes
Ever-increasing governmental budgets
Growth in the number of taxpayer-subsidized jobs and businesses
Ever-increasing school budgets despite poor performance
Ever-increasing tax-payer subsidization of social programs
Lack of regulatory oversight and enforcement relative to price gouging by utilities
Lack of distinction between the Republican and Democratic Parties
Biased reporting and editorial oversight by the Syracuse Post-Standard
We support the following remedies:
Term-limits on political office
Public referendum with regards to governmental budgets, tax increases and public-funded projects
Public oversight and revocation of non-profit status regarding abusive *
“For-Profit” organizations and subsequent taxation of said income
TAX CUTS, TAX CUTS, TAX CUTS!
Reduction in governmental agencies, budgets and payrolls
Public oversight and approval of utility and gas price increases
Consolidation of services amongst towns and villages
Overhaul of the educational system by rolling back the clock and getting back to basics (3Rs, character development, personal responsibility, and vocational training focusing on the trades and apprenticeships)
Reform of the GOP and a return to conservative principles
Conservative representation on the Post-Standard editorial board
Next Meeting: Monday, May 1st 7pm at the Mattydale VFW Join Us!
"... Whenever the Legislators endeavor to take away, and destroy the Property of the People, or to reduce them to Slavery under Arbitrary Power, they put themselves into a state of War with the People, who are thereupon absolved from any farther Obedience ... [Power then] devolves to the People, who have a Right to resume their original Liberty, and, by the Establishment of a new Legislative (such as they shall think fit) provide for their own Safety and Security, which is the end for which they are in Society." John Locke
- Submitted by Jon Alvarez
* Editor's clarification: I asked Jon what sort of public oversight he envisioned, he replied "we feel volunteers would step forward to help with oversight and regulation...just like staffing libraries"
While living abroad in Europe, it was necessary on several occasions to explain one of the more peculiar features of American higher education: the Greek letter fraternities and sororities. My European friends had seen Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds and perhaps The Skulls and wanted to know “the truth of the matter.”[i] I always enjoy telling a good story to a new audience and so I regaled my friends with descriptions of Rush, Pledging and the general debauchery of Frat parties. Now, I had better lay this on the table now, as it will probably become apparent quickly: I am not a member of a Greek-letter social fraternity, never really had a desire to join one and always viewed them as a source of more negative than positive influence on society.
What interests me today though is not the current situation with Greek life on American college campuses, but instead their origins in the 1820s in rural Upstate New York. It seems that in colonial America, secret societies were very much the rage, especially the godfather of fraternal organizations, the Freemasons. Especially on our young college campuses, secret societies devoted to debate, literature and socializing appeared (like the Flat Hat Club  and Phi Beta Kappa  at William and Mary). Like the universities themselves, these organizations were made up of the social elite; they were clouded in the public perception by a self-made fog of ritual, mysticism and myth. Everyone knew that powerful men, judges, lawyers, Presidents and Congressmen, were all members of these organizations, but no one knew for certain who belonged to what organization. In an atmosphere like this, it was easy to fear that an over-arching conspiracy dominated society. The creation of the new republic had sown the seeds of egalitarianism in the common folk and stiffened their faith in their own ability to create social change.
As I’ve mentioned before in my timeline on antebellum Upstate, all of this boiled over in 1826 with the disappearance of William Morgan (here is an article on the event by modern Masons, and here is one by the anti-Mason party at the time) and the resulting waves of anti-Masonic feeling throughout Western New York. This sentiment did not simply affect the Masons, but was targeted at all secret societies, which were seen by the anti-Mason populists as antithetical to the ideals of a republic.
A chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa secret society was started at Union College (Schenectady) in 1817, one of the seven original chapters of the organization. The organization had already pioneered the uniquely American Greek system: three Greek letter names, secret membership rituals and numbered chapters in other colleges. However, as the American Masonic organization was pummeled by its opponents, other secret societies came under intense pressure. In 1831, Phi Beta Kappa removed its veil of secrecy and moved towards being the scholastic honor’s society that it is today.
Yet, the seeds had been planted at Union College. In 1825, another, similar, organization had been formed: the Kappa Alpha Society. Combining Phi Beta Kappa’s use of Greek letters, secrecy and daughter chapters with ideas from older debating and literary societies, Kappa Alpha is today the oldest surviving Greek letter social fraternity. In 1827, two more organizations, Delta Phi and Sigma Phi, were formed, creating the Union Triad (named after the college where all three were located). Campus authorities cracked down on the organizations in the 1830s and Kappa Alpha and Sigma Phi went underground. Delta Phi resisted disbanding and is the longest running college-recognized fraternity today. All three organizations survive today as relatively small, regional Greek-letter fraternities.
So, what does this bit of obscure history mean to York Staters today? Well, of course for members of modern Greek organizations, history is important to understanding their membership today. But for those of us who don’t wear letters on our jerseys, the creation of the Greek letter system in Upstate New York is another window into our fascinating regional history and a glimpse at the social upheavals of the early years of the American Republic. The history of the anti-Masons and the backlash against secret societies is an oft-forgotten chapter in our story, but I think one that has important ramifications forging the character of this region and the path that it would follow.
-Posted by Jesse
[i] Bizarrely, I had several similar conversations about the Prom. It’s strange that these two American traditions have become so important in our films.
My friends and I, especially my comrade-in-arms Joe, enjoy visiting the odd and forgotten corners of our region. We pursue the sites of urban legends, haunted houses, ghost towns, strange rock formations and quirky restaurants with a passion that some devote to the collection of Beanie Babies or Star Wars memorabilia.
This weekend we went north in the pursuit of a haunting. According to the book Weird New York, there was a mausoleum on "Route 8 between Unadilla and Utica" that was home to one of the un-dead. Supposedly, if one knocks upon the door of this mausoleum, the being within the crypt knocks back. However, the instructions to find the mausoleum were very obscure: 1) it was past a cornfield, 2) it was after a curve in the road, and 3) the cemetery was unmarked.
For those not used to driving in rural York State, I will inform you that this description is met about six times between Unadilla and our final destination. So here we were, late Easter night (we figured the Witching Hour on the day of resurrection would be the perfect time), filled with steamed clams and Greek salads from the Spot restaurant in Binghamton, driving slowly along an empty highway, staring into the spookiest graveyards in the world, all the time listening to "Thriller" by Michael Jackson.
Needless to say, it was a cold and fruitless night and we returned empty-handed.
Joe and I (minus two lesser companions) decided to return the next day when it would be easier (and more dignified) to look, if a bit less creepy. After getting out and wandering through even more cemeteries, we finally came to the right one, which was north of the picturesque village of New Berlin (which has a similarly picturesque old cemetery we toured).We immediately recognized "Eunice's" tomb from the pictures in the book and as we stepped out of the car, I was awash with emotions. The practical side said that I had driven for hours (in all four legs of the journey) for nothing but a high school legend. I felt that, hiding in the bushes, some group of 9th graders were watching and making a fool of me. At the same time, during moments like these you're inevitably filled with the thrill of terror, the knowledge of death, the possibility of magic and the triumph of a goal achieved. Also, at the back of my mind scratched the first realization that this was not simply "a mausoleum with a ghoul inside it," but a tomb where someone, back in 1926, buried Eunice G. Welch, someone they loved. A person lay within those stone walls, a person that was dead and probably would have been forgotten completely but for an inscription in stone and the fearful legends of children.
So, out there on Route 8, somewhere north of New Berlin where cell-phones don't work and the world was quiet, all that stood between mortality and oblivion and me was a thin door of rusted steel and the rapping of my fist. And then we knocked.
And nothing happened. Of course nothing happened, what should we have expected? That the secrets of life and death, the hint of an afterlife would come rushing out of that door? Or, even better, that some deep sound would resonate from the tomb like in a fantasy story and that we would run screaming like children to my car? What the hell were we doing in the middle of nowhere knocking on tombs?
The ride back was quiet and sobering.
-Posted by Jesse
Today, in my mind, two events stand out from the many that have occurred over the past week. The first was George Pataki and the proposed budget. The fact is he vetoed it, the word on the street claims that the reason he did it was not because of ideology or a deep disagreement with the numbers, but because he wanted to look “fiscally conservative” for a possible Presidential run in the future.
Now, regardless of whether you like or dislike the proposed budget or even whether or not Pataki vetoed for personal gain or deep held beliefs, the way our government stands, he could have done it for the most selfish reasons. He could even stand up tomorrow and say “I made that veto so I could advance myself, and I really don’t care about you York Staters” and nothing would happen to him.
But what does this mean? If we dig deeper beyond this outrage, we will remember that the budget is the product of a long running personal and political feud between Sheldon Silver and Joseph Bruno. Since when is the will of three men considered a republic? Do we stand at the dawn of the age of Caesars? How can the people of New York sit back and be content with their government when it is the arbitrary whim of three, or even three hundred men?
The second event was perhaps not as earth-shaking for York State in general, but will probably affect my life in a greater way. My older brother’s home caught fire yesterday morning and was completely gutted by the flames. Luckily, my brother, his girlfriend, the cat and the dog all escaped unharmed, but all of their possessions were destroyed. Now, this is a tragedy, but such things happen in life; what was not necessary and what brought up my current anger was what happened later that morning.
My brother’s girlfriend, who works on an assembly line, called work (she works third shift) and asked for the day off because her home had burned down. Her boss informed her if she didn’t show up, she would be fired. So she sat on that assembly line all night long making vacuum cleaners and crying, because she could hardly afford to lose her job at a time like this.
What has become to the state of our society? How much power have we given the tyrants of our world, both petty and grand, over our own lives? Both the vacuum plant overseer and the governor can and have put their own personal advancement and profit over the suffering of others and they do so every day.
-Posted by Jesse
Since before I was born, my grandmother has come up to my home every Easter to decorate eggs with her grandsons and this year was no different. I was always intrigued by store-bought egg dyes because our technique was so different. I questioned Grandma about it this year and she told me that she had learned it “a long time ago” when she was young and that it was a “European tradition” that had been practiced in this valley for years. Beyond that, she couldn’t tell me anything of its history, though I do know that my Grandmother comes from an old York State farming family and had little experience with the world outside the farm community until she was grown.
Our egg dying art begins with a trip outside. We take bags and scour the yard for interesting leaves, stems and flowers. After collecting a few fistfuls worth apiece we head back to the house. We then gather up our ingredients, which are:
Squares (about 3” to a side) or toes of old pantyhose
A pot of boiling water
As many onion skins as one can find
A half cup to a cup of vinegar
Room temperature raw eggs[ii]
Your collected plants.
The basic process involves putting the leaves on the pantyhose and then wrapping the pantyhose and leaves around the egg very tightly and tying them with a string. The wrapped egg is then placed inside the pot where the boiling water, vinegar and onion skins have been cooking for 5-10 minutes. Your eggs remain within the water for about 10-15 minutes and are then removed and unwrapped. The result is that the egg is a dark brown except where the leaves sheltered the eggs, those spots remain white. Your eggs can now be put into a more traditional color dye, if you desire.
For a bit of troubleshooting: if you don’t tie the pantyhose as tight as you can, the water will seep under the leaves and you won’t get a very good print. The more onions you use, the darker your dye will be… though a bit of red food coloring can be added to fill it out if you think that it isn’t dark enough.
Though as a small child I was jealous of the kids who got to use the store-bought kits, today I look forward to our yearly Easter crafts project with Grandma as an important family tradition and a good way to spend an afternoon.
-Posted by Jesse
[i] I used to think “Ukie” was a derogatory term, one of the many from my home town (Litvaks, Hanacks, Polacks, Ukies and Ruskies) and the equivalent to “guinea” or “wap,” until recently when I attended a Ukrainian festival and the priest referred to the food booths as being run by “old Ukies.” I don’t feel bad using the term anymore.
[ii] It is very important that your eggs are not cool, as they will crack when boiled.
It was only recently, after I began to tell "my father's" stories to others, that I realized that he, and I, are the next step in an ancient tradition of storytellers and that there are Liars, like my father, telling the "God's honest truth" across York State and beyond. I slowly began to appreciate the art form, which is not creative, in that most storytellers (or "raconteurs" to folklorists) do not invent whole-cloth their tales, but instead use motifs and ideas that go back centuries and trace their roots into Europe. The art instead is to use this basic framework and build upon it, adding your life and your experience into the tale-telling. The good liar doesn't memorize anything word-for-word, but instead allows the story to flow from his or her own experience and the reaction of the crowd. According to folklorist Vaughn Ward:
"Folk tales are formulaic oral literature, told among men who share a common work and community history... The narratives are not memorized ver batim; rather, a store of motifs, fragments and anecdotes are combined, recombined, localized and embellished according to the skill of the raconteur. The art is learned by imitation and assimilation. Gifted youngsters, attracted to elders and to their yarns, spend a long time listening and taking in without joining in. They absorb, unconsciously, the structure of the tales the pacing, and the techniques of embellishment. More deliberately, they learn the formulas they will later use in their tellings. [They] add to their repertoires, not by memorizing texts, but by practicing until they can compose and recompose stories.That quote is from the work I Always Tell the Truth (Even if I have to Lie to Do It!): Stories from the Adirondack Liar's Club, an excellent work that I highly suggest to anyone interested in learning more about the art. Lying, as Ward's compilation suggests, is alive and well in the Adirondacks and anyone who spends nights in Boy Scout Camps and with similar organizations finds liars are to be found across the grand state of New York. I myself have a wonderful memory of what we called a "B.S. Contest" in Boy Scout camp as a young boy, each of us taking turns to try to outdo the tall tale of the teller before us. In an environment without television or X-Box 360, we naturally turned to storytelling as a form of entertainment.
The best raconteurs, the ones most respected and enjoyed in their communities, usually begin their tales with factual anecdotes full of specific details. Imperceptibly, they improve on the truth, building to an explosion of crazy exaggerations: an eruption into the magical-and sometimes grotesque- illogic of ancient fairy tales. Trickster and numskull motifs become attached to stores about local characters."
Many find lying to be something of an amusing holdover, a quaint relic with no practical purpose or future beyond the entertainment of tourists and the employment of folklorists; they seem to believe that when the old men all die, so will lying with them. Is there truth to this belief? Will lying die out, swallowed up by modernity as inevitably as the condos and strip malls migrate north from NYC? I suppose that this is an open question and I can tell you, that as a proud member of the next generation of liars, it is not all old men who tell stories (though they may as a group be better at it). However, an oral art form like this one will live only as long as there are liars and audiences. Lying doesn't seem to appeal to as many young people as video games (now I sound old and crotchety) or Hollywood movies and there isn't any money to be made by big corporations when people sit around and just talk, so large-scale promotion doesn't seem immediately forthcoming. Is the art of lying worth saving? If so, how can we do it and what role does storytelling have in a modern age? In the meantime while we think about these questions, has anyone heard the story of the Sooner Hound? What, you've never heard of the Sooner Hound? Well, he'd sooner hunt than do anything else. My uncle first acquired the Sooner Hound in...
-Posted by Jesse
Well, we had a set of neighbors who lived down the road in the old blue house, the Schwartzs, and I remember that they were possibly the filthiest human beings I've ever met. Now, my mother wasn't the cleanest housekeeper, but my parents would never let us eat anything off of their farm because of the awful state of affairs. My father said it was downright embarrassing for the whole neighborhood.
But regardless, Mr. and Mrs. Schwartz were good people and I was friends with Tommy Schwartz so it wasn't too odd when my Grandpa, he lived next door, came over and asked me if I wanted to see Mr. Schwartz's new mule. Well, it was summer and I was always willing to do something with Grandpa so I said yes. I was also a bit curious as I had heard about the mule, it being some sort of special pure-bred, and as I had never seen a special mule before I wanted to take a look.
Well, we went down to Schwartz's farm and sure enough there was Mr. Schwartz with a group of the neighbors, mostly old men, showing off his new mule. It was a handsome beast, a spry and strong young thing and even though I didn't know the first thing about mules (besides the fact that Grandpa said that ever since the he drove them in the Great War he would take them over a horse any day), I could see that this was a special one.
Now Mr. Schwartz was awfully proud of that beast and he wanted to show off it's abilities, so he went into the barn and got out the stone boat (that's a sled that's used to drag stones off a field after plowing). Now if the Schwartz household was good for one thing, that was the fact that it was full of junk, and so he started to pile up stuff on the stone boat. Everybody pitched in, even me, and we soon had that stone boat piled up with bits and pieces of broken machinery, old bags of grain, rusty tools, buckets of nails and even an old stove.
When we stepped back everyone realized that this was an awful lot for even a strong fully grown mule to pull, not to mention a young, immature one. My grandfather took Mr. Schwartz aside and told him he'd break his prize mule if he tried to pull that, but Schwartz was a proud man and after all that boasting he had done, he couldn't exactly start taking stuff off again. So he hitched up that mule and started to have her pull the load. I must say, she gave an awfully good show of it, dragging the load a good 20 yards before the back end slipped into a ditch.
Well, Schwartz whipped and hollered and shook those reins and that mule pulled and pulled and pulled until all of a sudden, we all heard a "pop!" and that mule sat right down on her rear end, there in the mud and filth of Schwartz's farm; her eyes were crossed, her tongue hung out and her head rolled about. I don't have to tell you that Schwartz was awful worried about that, after all, he had just gotten this mule and it wasn't cheap. So after discussing it a bit, they sent me running down the Hill a ways to fetch Dr. Pratt. Now Doc Pratt was famous in the area for his learning, propriety and, most of all, cleanliness and sanitation in his work; needless to say, he didn't often frequent the Schwartz Farm.
However, he was a professional man and agreed to help. He came up, picking his way through the garbage that littered the Schwartz's lawn and arrived there at the circle of men. He looked at that handsome young mule, then at the stone boat, then back at the mule. He shook his head and said 'Jim, you can't work a young mule like this or you'll break her. Luckily I can fix the problem but, you best be more careful with her while she's young." Mr. Schwartz nodded and then the doctor went to work. He opened up his black back and took a piece of garden hose, about 3 feet long; he took that bit of hose and shoved it right up that mule's arse. He took then other end, inhaled deeply and blew as hard as he could into that hose. Well, that mule perked right up, in fact if I remember rightly, her ears stood right on end. He then went around to the front side of her, opened up her mouth and took her jaw in one hand and her nose in the other, then jerked them in opposite directions with a single smooth motion. The mule stood right up and her eyes uncrossed, as good as new. Well, everyone thought that was a right fine trick and complimented the Doctor, especially Schwartz. The Doctor said it was fine, just not to do it again and that his bill would be in the mail.
Well, by this time, more of the neighbors had gathered around and everyone wanted to see how the new mule performed. Schwartz was awfully pleased with himself, after all, it wasn’t every day his neighbors would risk dysentery, cholera and the plague to enter his disgusting farm, so he said he would give another demonstration and told his wife Mary to bring out some lemonade for the people; I don’t think anyone drank it. He took about half of the load off of that stone boat and got it out of the ditch; he was about to have that mule give a good show when he overheard someone, probably one of the Masters’ boys, comment that it was an awfully small load and not very impressive. So Schwartz got off that stone boat and began to load it up some more. By the time he was done, it was about the same as the first time, perhaps minus the cast-iron stove.
As you might suspect, the second time around was just about the same as the first time, which was probably the goal of John Masters when he made that comment. Sure enough, there was that poor mule, sitting like a fool on the ground, head lolling about, tongue hanging out and eyes crossed. Well, Jim Schwartz couldn’t go and call that Doctor again so soon so he thought he would try to fix the problem himself. He got everybody digging around in the trash about his house looking for a piece of garden hose. They located one, Jim cut it to the right length and proceeded to stick it up that mule’s rear end and blow for all his worth. But try as he might, he couldn’t get any change out of that mule. Everybody offered advice, but nobody else was willing to put their mouth on some piece of hose that come out of Jim Schwartz’s barn, so all that happened was Jim Schwartz blew until he got all light-headed and fell down.
It was decided that something had to be done and once again I was sent for Doc Pratt. Well, the Doctor was probably expecting me, but I don’t think that made him any more pleased to be summoned. He came down in a bit of a huff and arrived in that filth strewn field filled with all his kinfolk and neighbors. He looked at Jim Schwartz, at the stone boat, at the mule, at the piece of piping still sticking out of that mule’s behind and then back a Jim Schwartz. He then went over, took that piece of piping out of the mule, looked at it real close like, then turned it around and stuck the other end it the mule, took the end that had just been inside that animals rear end, gave a mighty blast of air and repeated his earlier treatment. Sure enough, that mule was as right as rain.
Well, Jim Schwartz was just about fit to be tied. He said ‘jeeze Doc, I’m awful sorry, but I’m curious, I couldn’t see any difference between those two ends of the tube, why’d you turn it around like that?’ The Doctor looked at him real hard and said ‘There isn’t any difference between the two, damn Jim, you think I’d put my mouth on some piece of tubing that you had just stuck in yours? That’s disgusting’ ”
-A true York State tale as related to me by Dick Harasta, a storyteller from the Town of Maine in Broome County. Posted by Jesse
Back in July of 2002, an article appeared in the New York Times* about Schenectady mayor Albert P. Jurczynski's plan for the economic revitalization of his upstate city: immigrants. In 2002, the city had lost a quarter of the population it had in 1960, and with major manufacturers like General Electric gone, the Mohawk Valley city was in rough shape. Mayor Jurczynski, whose grandparents had been some of the many Polish immigrants who shaped Schenectady, saw an opportunity in the hardworking Guyanese population of Richmond Hill in Queens, and began to actively court migration to Schenectady, which provided an opportunity for the Guyanese to own homes and businesses (some vacant houses were sold for as little as $1). With the help of two Guyanese developers from Queens, free bus tours from Richmond Hill, and the Schenectady Economic Developement Corporation, Jurczynski attracted as many as 2,000 Guyanese, growing the community in the city substantially from 200 just the year before. That December, The Times continued to follow the case in an editorial, touting the impact of immigrant groups on smaller older (read:declining) towns as "enormous and positive."
The turnaround to the city anticipated by mayor Jurczynski did not come quickly enough. By 2003, the New York Times was reporting a different situation: less than a year later, the city in decline had, according to the Chamber of Commerce's Marc DeNofio, "hit rock bottom" in light of serious problems with the budget. DeNofio's note of optimism was "We can't go any lower, so the only way to go is up. It's not going to happen tomorrow, but in 10 years from now, hopefully Schenectady will be back on the map." By the time this article was written, the Guyanese population in Schenectady had reached around 5,000, and the hope was that the initiative to recruit these immigrants would pay off in the long term revitalization of the city.
At the time of its inception, this initiative caused controversy, with other ethnic groups in Schenectady feeling that they were getting the short shrift, or felt the mayor and others were insinuating that they were not hard-working. Others still found the idea exploitative. But for many, the opportunities found were a version of the American dream.
So what's happening now? One blog that chronicles the Guyanese diaspora notes the impact of one Stewarts District Manager, another account from a Albany Times Union report in 2004 runs up against a cultural divide with the backyard slaughter of goats. (An article from the Daily Gazette noted the eventual ban of all livestock in the city, but alas, you have to pay to read that paper online.)
As the debate over illegal immigration has brought cultural clashes and immigration issues generally to the fore in recent weeks, I wonder about the impact these issues have on Upstate communities, not only culturally but economically. The Guyanese in Schenectady represents a very different attitude towards immigration and migration than those we have seen in the discussion. How has the Guyanese initiative worked in Schenectady thus far? What controversies still exists in the community, and what new ones have been raised? Is Schenectady on its way to being "on the map" again? Please comment or email your thoughts on this issue.
Posted by Natalie
*Articles from these years are in the New York Times archives, which you have to either pay for, or have access to LexisNexis. If you'd like to see the text of this article or others, send me an email.The first article is available elsewhere online; the second "Two Cities, Two Immigrant Landings" from December 25, 2002, and third "Schenectady Hits a New Low, And There's No Edison in Sight" from November 23rd, 2003 are not.
Posted by Natalie
IBM was founded in the Village of Endicott just downriver from my hometown (Johnson City) and thrived there for many years before finally pulling out the last of its operations about 6 years ago. One of the many perks that IBM employees were given was use of the IBM Country Club. This property is still a country club today and is particularly precious as one of the last large undeveloped (if you consider a golf course undeveloped...) tracts in the Town of Union. It is a nice green break between the communities of Johnson City and Endwell.
In the hills above this property is an area known as "The Glen," a fantastic gorge filled with waterfalls and majestic old-growth trees. For generations, locals have traveled to this place (long before IBM owned it) and enjoyed the last old growth in the area. At one time, old growth oaks spread across the Town of Union, in fact the massive keel of the USS Monitor (the Civil War ironclad) was cut from the area that is today the Oakdale Mall in Johnson City (which is where “Oakdale” get its name… no oaks there now).
Today only the Glen is left. A few years ago (6 I believe) when IBM was pulling out of the region, they were attempting to squeeze as much value out of the land as they could and scheduled the last of the oaks for logging. I participated in a number of street protests that led up to Waterman Conservation Center being given the title to the land in perpetuity.
I was greatly saddened tonight when I read that IBM buried considerable polluted material in the Glen. It’s a shame to see in their greed and ignorance they left their scars upon that beautiful place. I guess it goes to show that corporations, even the ones we consider benevolent, have only one value when the chips are down: the dollar. However, I suppose that Waterman, an excellent organization, is the best possible owner of this precious local gem and will find the best course considering modern recovery abilities and local resources.
-Posted by Jesse
I think it is time for our local leaders to reexamine the handling of the trichloroethylene spill in Endicott. Thus far the public policy, from my perspective, has been to shout “we want action” to any government agency or company who will listen. By this papers own account those policy makers and scientists from whom we are seeking help “have little consensus on what levels pose a health threat.” Why would we as a local community put our trust into these individuals to solve our problems, when by their own admission they can’t even accurately define the problem? There is also an inherent conflict of interest in this policy since those people from whom we are seeking professional advice (IBM, NY State, DEC) are the same organizations that would end up paying for whatever solution they would propose.
If we are to be honest with ourselves, we must recognize that the only people who give a damn about what happens to this community are the people who live here. And were this a small farming community we would have little choice but to “hope for the best” and let the higher authorities solve our problems. But in Broome County we have a first class university (and many others within arms reach) with dozens of qualified PhD’s we can tap, who are always looking for meaningful research projects. Not to mention the tens of thousands of capable scientists, engineers and students who call this area home, and would be more than willing to help their neighbors in need. While true that we do not posses the monetary capital to fix this problem, we certainly do posses the intellectual capital needed to find a solution. And while proceeding on this path, would undoubtedly require more work then our current “let someone else handle it” approach. In the end, we would have a much stronger case for forcing those responsible into taking the necessary redeeming actions.
-By Russell Petrosky
Editor's Note: This is a letter to the editor of the Press and Sun Bulletin that was also sent to us for publication. It refers to a chemical spill that occurred earlier this year in the village of Endicott. For more details, check out the CNY Ecoblog's post on the subject. -Jesse
When I came to study linguistics in Anthropology I took a fascination in reading about regional dialects. For those not initiated to the secrets of social anthropology, let me lay a bit of groundwork here. Firstly, there is a difference between an “accent” and a “dialect.” An accent is a variation in pronunciation; for example, much of Upstate New York is infamous for its stretched “a.” Long Islanders and folk from the Bronx have differing pronunciations of some sounds, thus have different accents.
A dialect, on the other hand, is much more extensive, encompassing differences in pronunciation, variant words, typical sayings and common metaphors. For example, the word “wicked” as a term meaning “cool” or “neat” is known to be used in Boston and New England, but not well known outside of that area. A dialect encompasses one or more accent regions within its borders.
Every accent and dialect originates from two sources. The first is the “substrate,” or the language(s) spoken by the people who settled in the spot. So Hudson Valley English still holds some traces of Dutch in the rural areas. The second influence is the effect of time. People are naturally inventive and will create new words and sayings to meet their unique needs; simultaneously, over time subtle, unplanned, changes in pronunciation and meaning pile up between languages.
So what does all this mean to Yorkstaters and their “soda,” “pop,” “hots,” and “hot dogs”? New York State sits at the confluence of three important dialectical regions. We may actually be unique in this regard as many states (including huge ones like California) have only one dialect. For a more scientific discussion and some good dialect maps, click here.
The first is the New York City Dialect, whose substrate rests largely upon the Italian and Jewish immigrants to the region; its heart is the Bronx and Brooklyn, but it has spread out along Long Island and deep into New Jersey. Famous speakers of this dialect include Rudy Guiliani and the stereotypical “New York Cabbie.”
Our second dialect, moving north and west, is the Western New England, which is found in much of Connecticut, the Berkshires, Vermont, the Adirondacks and the Albany area. Western New England is closely related to Eastern New England and grades into Maritime Canadian in the north and “Midland” in Pennsylvania. The fact that the children in my hometown used the word “wicked” when I was growing up shows continuing evidence that white speakers in the Southern Tier, to this very day, share more in common linguistically with Boston than with New York City. One simply has to ignore the differences in pronunciation.
The final linguistic region is known as “The Inland North” and is the common speech of the American Great Lakes. The speech of Buffalo, Rochester, Watertown (perhaps) and all of Western New York is closer to that of Chicago, Michigan, Toledo, Cleveland and Gary than New York City. It comes from a substrate of New England settlers and was built upon by German, Irish, Hungarian and Slavic immigrants. These are the folk who call their drink “pop.”
This discussion often raises many more questions. So where exactly are these borders drawn? It’s easy to say that Buffalonians speak Inland North, Adirondackers talk like Vermonters and Brooklynites speak with a New York City dialect, but what about the areas in between? Where does Inland North become Western New England? Why do the Yuppies of Manhatten not speak with a New York City dialect? Are there other influences affecting these borders?
It’s always difficult to draw the exact borders of one dialect and another because dialects are groups of many different factors. For instance the “Upstate A” and the word “Pop” are both indicative of the Inland North, but the Upstate A reaches much further east (into places like Syracuse, the Mohawk Valley and Binghamton) than Pop does. Likewise, some NYC words make their way north, especially in the Black dialects that then jump to wider usage. So while most linguists agree on the names and heartlands of dialects they universally disagree on where to draw the line.
The reason that in many places, especially upper and upper-middle class areas, the local dialect is weak or absent is because of the deterritorialization of these areas. Wealthy people have a habit of either purposely downplaying their own regionalization and then raising their children in what they see as a neutral “correct” form of English; this “correct” form is most typically heard in the anchors on the major network news shows. So, in a place like upscale Manhattan, you have wealthy from around the globe who have purposely abandoned (even subconsciously) their own regional dialects.
Finally, there are as many influences upon local speech as there are people, everyone has the ability to engage in linguistic creativity. However, linguists have found that some people have more influence than others. Powerful personalities can shift language patterns within their own neighborhoods and have a cascading effect in other areas. In a broader sense, an ethnic group with a distinctive speech can greatly affect their area depending on 1) if they have many local speakers and 2) how much power they have comparatively. Weaker groups have less effect than powerful ones (whose speech others try to imitate). The effects of these groups persists in the areas in which they have settled.
The best example of this is just over the border in the “Hayna” Valley of Pennsylvania, which has been heavily influenced by the large numbers of Slavic immigrants at the beginning of the last century. Hayna speakers use many Slavic pronunciations and even words; in York State, some of this Slavic influence is found in the word “You’se,” especially “You’se Guys,” which combines it with the word “Guys,” a gender-neutral northern American (Inland North, NYC, North Central, New England) word, to create a term roughly equivalent to “Y’all” in the Southern dialects.
In conclusion, I would like to emphasize the importance of local speech. In much of the world, local dialects are considered cultural patrimony, a vital part of the people’s heritage to be studied, celebrated and preserved. Local speech reflects the origins, history and unique position of a people. It is an expression of who we are and where we come from. Unfortunately, often times linguistic terms like “You’se Guys,” “Pop” and “Crick” (meaning a creek or brook) are derided and seen as backwards or incorrect and fall out of popularity, at which time they are replaced by a sterilized import from Standard American English. Already the Northeast has lost unique words like “Cupboard” instead of “cabinet,” a southern word and “pail” instead of “bucket,” which is also a southern word.
So what are your experiences with and opinions of York State’s incredible profusion of linguistic variation? What words do you use that you don’t think they do elsewhere? Does your town have a unique expression or metaphor? I look forward to the comments.
-Posted by Jesse
PS: Also check out: Sea to Shining Sea, a great website PBS that gives an intro to language variety in the USA
 Please note that these are dialects of Standard American English; for the purposes of brevity I leave out Haudenosaunee English, Black American English, Chicano English and other subdivisions of American English.
 Excepting Erie Pennsylvania which speaks Pittsburghese and the Upper Penninsula of Michigan, northern Wisconsin and Minnesota which speak “North Central,” made famous in the NPR program A Prairie Home Companion and in Fargo.
 “Hayna” is not a river or an actual valley name, but is the name of the dialect spoken in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre.
The Rochester City bus drops/picks me up very close to the Liberty Pole. Being downtown with all the other environmentally conscientious and/or broke folk and/or people of color near the unique marker inspired this post.
And although I personally don't have too many qualms with the anti-war demonstrators using the Liberty Pole as a rallying area, it's always nice to see a diversity of tactics and periodic changes in location to build a more effective Rochester movement.
- Sidney Hill, the Tadodaho of the Onondaga Nation, quoted from Syracuse Progressive
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled “The Shame of Central New York, or, how one man turned a proud people into a corporation” about human rights violations in the name of tribal sovereignty and corporate profit being conducted on the Oneida Reservation/Turning Stone Casino.
However, I don’t want to present a picture of Haudenosaunee affairs as a universally grim one as there is one great beacon of hope and reconciliation: the Onondaga Nation and the Great Council led by Tadodaho Sidney Hill.
The position of Tadodaho is an ancient one; he serves as the political and spiritual leader of the Great Council of the Iroquois. After a period of training that lasted from the death of the last Tadodaho in 1996, Hill was inducted into the position in 2002. Since then, he has been on a mission of healing and reconciliation. He regularly speaks to local non-Haudenosaunee groups, leading a widespread campaign of outreach.
On March 11th, 2005, the Onondaga Nation filed a land claims suit that accused New York of unlawfully taking Onondaga lands in the 18th and 19th centuries. For more details on the claims and the suit, click here. But unlike similar suits raised by their neighbors the Oneida the goal in these claims was not to build casinos and resorts but instead to act primarily as leverage to force the cleanup of Onondaga Lake. Today one of the most heavily polluted lakes in the country, it holds special importance for the Haudenosaunee people as the site of the founding of their Confederacy. According to Sidney Hill:
“This past year, we have made our voice heard on the ‘cleanup’ of Onondaga Lake and the former factories and toxic waste dumps that sit in the lake's watershed.
We have documented where government-approved plans call for leaving tons of mercury and other toxics in the land and water, and we insisted instead that all efforts should make the lake clean enough to eat the fish and for plants and animals to thrive.
All lesser standards are inferior and should be as unacceptable to you, our neighbors, as they are to us.”
York Staters recognizes Sidney Hill for both his dedication in preserving Upstate traditions and his vision of a cleaner, safer and more spiritually sound future for both our peoples. Non-Onondaga looking to help make real this vision of the future should look into NOON, the Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation.