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Category Archives: history

Faithful Memories

On my first visit to the Herkimer County Historical Society, several years ago, I was particularly struck by a portrait of a formidable-looking lady in masculine clothes. Our guide told us it was Margaret Tugor, a local educator of note. I wondered if anyone had written a biography of her. I had a vague thought of writing one myself but, as I don’t know how one goes about writing a biography, it came to nothing.

Flash forward to 2014 when I saw in the Herkimer Telegram that Bill Rosenfeld had written a book called Reminiscences of Margaret Tugor and would be giving a program on it at the society. I made immediate plans to attend.

Margaret Tugor was principal at South School in Herkimer NY in the early 20th century. In those days, the railroad tracks ran down what is now State Street, distinctly separating north and south Herkimer. Many poor immigrants lived in South Herkimer. South School was later renamed the Tugor School to honor Margaret Tugor.

Miss Tugor was a truly memorable character. Although she was a strict disciplinarian, she was very kind to her children and inspired them to do their best. She showed and demanded respect for all.

Mr. Rosenfeld had one prop to illustrate his program: Old Faithful. This was a wooden plank, a little larger than a ruler. It had been made at the Standard Desk Company by a former student. Old Faithful replaced a switch which had previously been used. Yes, Margaret Tugor ran South School at a time when corporal punishment was the accepted mode of discipline. Rosenfeld looked at Old Faithful speculatively and remarked that in memory it had seemed larger.

Mr. Rosenfeld’s program was very informal. He said he did not want to tell what was in the book, because, well, it was in the book. In fact a lot of the people attending had already purchased a copy. I was not one of them, but I am confidently expecting one on my birthday. Rosenfeld opened the floor to questions and said if anybody had any memories of Miss Tugor they could share them.

One man had been a student at South School during Tugor’s tenure and had felt the sting of Old Faithful. Another attendee had not known Tugor but had grown up hearing about her from his parents. A woman had taught at the school after it had been renamed the Tugor School. Many reminiscences were shared.

Rosenfeld said he hoped to inspire others to also record their memories of Margaret Tugor. He said he would like to see a whole shelf full of books about her. Judging from the memories and stories shared, this seems well within the realm of possibility.

I sat jotting notes about the various reminiscences in my notebook. Perhaps I shall write another blog post recounting some of the stories. Or perhaps I should seek out more people with more reminiscences and add to that shelf of books Mr. Rosenfeld would like to see.

Cemetery Walk

At the last program I attended at the Herkimer County Historical Society, I made a note of a cemetery walk in Oak View Cemetery in Frankfort, NY.

The walk had been postponed from Monday to Thursday last week. This was good news for Steven and me, because we could not make it on Monday. We drove to the cemetery and after some slight confusion as to where to pull in and park, we joined the crowd that was gathering for the walk.

I’m always pleased to see the people that gather for these historical society things, both the number and the variety. I like to see that people are interested and that they get away from their televisions and computers to participate. I know it is good for me to do so.

I was a little sorry I had forgotten to use bug spray, but this was a minor point. Sue Perkins, head of the historical society gave the presentation, assisted by Caryl Hopson. Caryl carried the speaker for Sue’s cordless microphone. It worked pretty well except for the occasional feedback. I think everybody was able to hear.

Sue and Caryl had visited the cemetery, picked the graves they liked, then researched the stories of the people buried there. They also had a binder with pictures of some of the people and places talked about. A little girl walked around showing us the pictures. after a while she must have gotten tired or bored, because her mother took over the task.

We heard a wide variety of stories. The one that particularly struck me was about a black baseball pioneer, John W. Jackson, also known as Bud Fowler, who was buried in the Potters Field. A Potters Field is where they used to bury indigent people, whose families could not afford a proper burial. A marker has since been placed for Jackson.

The final grave — they saved the best for last, Sue said — was Dieffenbacher. In face, there were Dieffenbachers in the crowd, one of whom was wearing a Dieffenbacher’s Potato Chip t-shirt. I think everybody though that was pretty cool.

I really enjoyed the walk-around aspect of the talk. My only problem was that i could not take proper notes for my blog post. I did pull a small pad out of my purse and jot down John Jackson, Dieffenbacher, and Whipple-Winkel Co. I took no further notes, so I don’t know what kind of company Whipple-Winkel was. Perhaps I could look it up at the Historical Society and make it the subject of a future blog post.

For more information on the Herkimer County Historical Society, you can visit their website at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nyhchs. You can also like them on Facebook, where they have been known to post some really cool pictures.

Wicked Good Program

For some time I had been intrigued by a book titled Wicked Mohawk Valley at the Herkimer County Historical Society. While attending a program on Strike Story (perhaps you read my blog post about that), I heard there was to be a program on the Wicked book on July 25, which was last Thursday. I made immediate plans to attend.

Steven worked till seven so had to join the program already in progress, but I got there in plenty of time. Before the actual program, we heard a few previews of upcoming attractions. I made note of two: a Wine Tasting and Tour at the Balloon Farm Bed and Breakfast in Frankfort, NY from 1 to 4 p.m. Aug. 4, and a walking tour of the Frankfort Cemetery at 6 p.m. Aug. 26 (I hope those are also previews of coming attractions for blog posts).

Dennis Webster is the author of Wicked Mohawk Valley as well as Wicked Adirondacks and Haunted Mohawk Valley. The last, co-authored by Bernadette Peck, was given to me by Steven last Christmas. I had not even noticed it was the same author, so add that to the list of things I don’t pay enough attention to.

Wicked Mohawk Valley is a collection of true stories about famous or rather infamous area dwellers, mostly from history. Naturally, Webster included chapters on Chester Gilette and Roxalana Druse, two very well-known figures (at least to this blogger). However, since those two have been covered quite extensively elsewhere, Webster merely mentioned them at Thursday’s program.

The most famous person he talked about, and his favorite story, was Dutch Schultz, Public Enemy No. 1 after Dillinger died. I never knew Schultz was tried in Malone, NY, a place I have visited many times. The authorities were trying to get Schultz the same way they had gotten Al Capone, on tax evasion. They chose Malone as a place where they hoped Schultz did not own all the cops and judges.

It was perhaps a mistake to let Schultz know in advance where the trial was to be held. He and his PR team arrived a month before the trial and went on a charm offensive. He went to ball games and cheered for the home team. He bought rounds at the local watering hole. He gave a party for all the kids in town. He told everyone he was just a hardworking businessman who had tried to settle with the IRS for $100,000 and was being persecuted. Who wouldn’t believe such a nice guy?

Webster went on to tell a few more stories from the book, which does not include a lot of stories about gangsters. For one thing, the mafia in Utica was covered quite well in a series in the Utica OD recently. It sounds like he found a lot of really interesting stories outside the mafia.

Webster also talked about Haunted Mohawk Valley. The folks at the program seemed more interested in ghosts than gangsters. Perhaps he will do another program highlighting his haunted activities.

I thoroughly enjoyed Thursday’s program. I can’t wait till Steven buys me Wicked Mohawk Valley for my birthday!

Strike Talk

Last fall I was in a readers’ theatre play called Strike Story, written by Little Falls, NY, resident Angela Harris. It told the story of the 1912 strike by Little Falls textile workers. Last Thursday Harris gave a lecture on the history of the strike at the Herkimer County Historical Society.

I had learned a lot about the strike by being in the play. However, I was sure there was more to learn. I was certain I had forgotten a lot from the play as well.

A small but interested crowd had gathered at 406 N. Main St. in Herkimer. Steven and I greeted some friends and found seats. A slide show accompanied the talk, showing many photographs of the period.

I guess I’d better not try to re-tell the whole talk as Harris gave it. For one thing, I would probably get some stuff wrong and embarrass myself. I would like to give a few highlights, however.

As in the play, Harris started her story before the workers actually walked off the job and the strike began. Little Falls was a manufacturing hub that was growing too fast for its own good. Soon Little Falls could beat New York City for bad tenements.

The people in the tenements were not complaining, but some attention was being paid. The Fortnightly Club, a group of civic-minded ladies further up the economic ladder, hired a contagion nurse to try to address the growing epidemic of tuberculosis. That was my part in the play.

Harris also talked about the Bread and Roses Strike in Lawrence, MA, which was remembered for its violence. That strike came before the one in Little Falls, and some of the Little Falls organizers tried to do some of the same things those strikers did.

Another new thing I learned was that there were Shoddy Mills, which got the cast offs from the other mills. That was where we get the term “shoddy workmanship.” I always like to hear about word origins.

We really enjoyed the talk. I asked Angela if she was writing any more plays. I should have asked if she intended to write a book about the strike. I’d buy that book. Maybe she could have a book signing at the Historical Society.

Jail Visit

I left the Herkimer County Historical Society and went to the opposite of the Historic Four Corners, the 1834 Jail. The Jail is not open for tours on a regular basis, so one must seize the opportunity when it is available.

I joined a tour already in progress, but I had not missed much. Jim Greiner was the guide. He wrote the book Last Woman Hanged: Roxalana Druse, about one of the Jail’s most famous inmates. I’ve read the book and heard Greiner speak about it. It’s an excellent book, and he is a dynamic speaker. He is an entertaining tour guide as well, knowledgeable and enthusiastic.

I toured the Jail last year on Museum Day (and wrote a blog post about it). There was not a huge difference in restoration from last year, although the Friends of the 1834 Jail have accomplished a lot since the time they started. Money, as always, is the problem. They are not eligible for many grants, because the Jail can never be fully handicap accessible.

I enjoyed seeing once again the cell which held Chester Gilette, the Jail’s other famous inmate. I was once again sorry we could not go up to the third floor, where Roxalana Druse was housed.

Everybody on the tour seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. One fellow mentioned a murderer from the 1960s who had probably stayed in the Jail. Apparently the guy shot a girl in the Frankfort Police Station. I hope somebody writes a book about that one, if nobody has already. I highly recommended Last Woman Hanged to a lady, but I did not see whether she purchased it.

I don’t know when the 1834 Jail will hold another event, but I certainly intend to watch for it. I may even join Friends of the 1834 Jail and try to help them raise funds. Maybe eventually I’ll get a look at that mysterious third floor.

Surrounded by History

The Herkimer County Historical Society held an Open House on Saturday in honor of Museum Day in New York State. I remember attending their open house last year (I believe I wrote a blog post about it). I was delighted at the chance to repeat the experience.

The museum is about a ten minute walk from my house, but my husband, Steven, was able to drop me off on North Main Street on his way back to work (he had an early lunch). When I walked in the front door a tour was in progress. I felt like wandering, so I sneaked upstairs.

I had seen the display of dollhouses before, but, goodness, that was a year ago. These things are often worth a second viewing. I also looked once again at the portraits on the wall, making special note of Margaret Tugor, a local educator of note. I would love to write a biography of Tugor, if only I had any idea how to research such a thing.

Back downstairs the tour had reached the Remington typewriter. I have a minor collection of typewriters myself, but nothing truly antique. I wandered over to the gift shop. I didn’t see any post cards I haven’t purchased previously, and I didn’t see anything good for a Father’s Day gift (for my father at least; I’m sure there were many things of interest to other fathers).

The third floor was open in honor of the day. This is where they house items not currently on display as well as archives. I walked along shelves of books and collections of papers. I felt surrounded by history. Some volunteers were around, but I did not have any questions.

I did chat up a volunteer and another patron about a bicycle on the second floor. It was one with the giant front wheel and tiny back wheel. A card said somebody local had ridden it all the way to the west coast. We marveled at the feat. Not only no chain and no gears on the bike. No highways. No Motel 6 or KOA Kampgrounds. What an adventure!

As always I enjoyed my visit to the museum. Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve always enjoyed checking out local history. I continued my Museum Day wanderings across the street (kitty corner, actually) at the 1834 Jail. That will form the topic of tomorrow’s post (barring accident). Stay tuned!

More Museum Day Fun

I continued my historic adventures Saturday by crossing the street to the Herkimer County Historical Society, which was also offering an open house.

I’ve been through the building several times, but I’m always happy to go through again. Even amongst the displays that don’t change I find I’ve never seen everything. Saturday the third floor archives were open. I was delighted to check that out.

The third floor also houses artifacts not on display. I was particularly fascinated by the collection of old typewriters. I have a minor collection of old typewriters myself. I don’t display them, but I do occasionally haul one out and type on it for old times’ sake.

Looking at all the books and papers, I wished I knew how to set about doing historical research. It looked to me as if there are oceans of information to be had. Some years ago I conceived the ambition to write a biography on Margaret Tugor, a local figure of some note. I may have mentioned that in this blog. Well, someday I may do it. I may not know how to start, but I know where to start.

Back downstairs I got into a conversation with another lady. She asked me if I was involved in any more plays. I said not the current one but I was writing a murder mystery. I used to have a small business that put on interactive murder mysteries. I would not care to attempt to do it for profit again, but for Ilion Little Theatre or as a fundraiser for the Herkimer County Historical Society… that has possibilities. The lady I was talking to said there were some hams on the society board (“hams” was the word she used; she did not name names). I think it would be a very fun thing to do. Certainly blogworthy.

I walked around the museum looking at the displays. I admired their new one, about the War of 1812. I don’t know much about that war. I think a trip to my local library may be in order. The lady at that end of the building showed me another display, all about the different ethnic groups and where they settled in the area. To this day, you can see traces of the various heritages.

I always enjoyed history in school, because it was like a story and I like stories. I didn’t feel it necessarily had anything to do with me personally. Looking at displays at the county historical society, I can see that it does. The War of 1812 is no longer an academic event whose date is pretty easy to remember for the test. Immigration isn’t just about Ellis Island and a potato famine in Ireland.

I suppose I’m stating the obvious. I shall retreat from my attempts at being profound and just say that I think the Herkimer County Historical Society is cool. Check it out. For more information call 315-866-6413.

Gimme Some Sugar

Sunday Steven and I went to the Herkimer Home State Historic Site, 200 State Route 169, Little Falls, NY, for the annual Sugaring Off.

We’d already had a full morning with a grocery shop, a breakfast out, a walk, a run and a blog post (not necessarily in that order). But I was excited to go to one of my favorite places, and to have a real Mohawk Valley subject for a blog post.

We set off down Route 5S in the direction of Little Falls. Past the Humane Society and the Historic Fort Herkimer Church. You can see for miles across beautiful farm land and mountains. Steven thought he missed the turn, but I didn’t mind as I was enjoying the scenery. It turned out we hadn’t missed it, though, and soon we were driving down the narrow road to the Home, realized that, as usual, finding a parking space might be problematic. We took the easy way out by parking behind the last car on the side of the drive and walking the rest of the way.

I was pleased to see that many people were taking advantage of the event. A large crowd was wandering around the grounds or going into the Visitor’s Center. Many volunteers were walking around or manning displays and booths wearing period costumes. We purchased some fritters with warm maple syrup and a small bag of popcorn. We found a spot on the grass to sit. It wasn’t too damp for the length of time it took to eat two fritters and nibble some of the popcorn.

We couldn’t just walk through the Home itself, as we have at other events, because they had scheduled guided tours. The tours were free, but you had to pick up a ticket from the Visitor’s Center. The next tour was almost forty-five minutes away, so we walked around looking at other things. We were able to go down into the root cellar, where a costumed volunteer was telling us how the underground temperature of about 50 degrees made it the perfect refrigerator.

Horse drawn wagon rides were offered, but we didn’t time it right to take one of those. We wandered up to the Visitor’s Center and looked at the displays there. Upstairs some ladies were demonstrating cooking on an open hearth. We sampled some cornbread and pumpkin bread. Yummy! Back out on the lawn, we got to eat some Jack Wax or Sugar on Snow. Hot syrup is dripped onto well packed snow. Quite a tasty treat.

I especially enjoyed looking at the cemetery. Some of the gravestones are obviously replicas of the originals, but some are old and authentic looking. I took a couple of pictures for Halloween decorating purposes. We hung around close to the cemetery during the Militia Demonstration, because I was afraid the sound of the guns would give me a headache.

I picked up some fliers in the Visitor’s Center, most notably one listing 2012 programs at the Herkimer Home. I’m sure the site is good for multiple blog posts. I also grabbed a flier called “Discover Herkimer County New York.” That might have some good ideas for Mohawk Valley Girl. Stay tuned! For more information on the Herkimer Home call 315-823-0398 or visit http://www.littlefallsny.com.

Historic Fun

Monday Steven and I celebrated a day off together with a visit to the Herkimer County Historical Society.

While we waited in the gift shop for one of the ladies to let us into the museum, we looked over a cabinet dedicated to Roxalana Druse, the subject of a talk we attended last week. It included such artifacts as a bonnet she wore and part of the rope used to hang her.

I think the museum itself is good for several blog posts. I didn’t even read all the little cards by the various displays. I noted with interest some information on Margaret Tugor. She was principal of the Southside School, which was later renamed after her. On our first visit to the museum, a few years ago, a portrait of Tugor caught my eye. I was fired with ambition to write a biography about her. I have not done so yet, because I really have very little idea of how to research a biography.

Upstairs is a lovely display of doll houses, the collection of Joyce Keller, a Herkimer native and lifelong resident. I picked up a brochure that had biographical information on Keller as well as notes on the doll houses and their contents. I didn’t read through it at the time but just strolled around enjoying the display. The details were wonderful and the craftsmanship impressive. The brochure points out specific furnishings such as a miniature copy of Dolls’ Houses in America signed by Flora Gill Jacobs, the author. I may return to look at the display again and make sure I don’t miss anything.

Back down in the gift ship, I picked up two brochures about Herkimer County (always looking for more Mohawk Valley adventures), then selected some postcards. I also found a notepad bearing a logo of Herkimer’s Historic Four Corners (my favorite!). I pointed out to Steven a DVD and a couple of books for him to keep in mind when my birthday rolls around again. (some women my age ignore birthdays, but I like to give my husband every opportunity to buy me presents).

We had a nice conversation with one of the ladies there. We talked about the recent program given by James Greiner about Roxalana Druse, the Last Woman Hanged. I mentioned my blog and how I had written about Homefries with the Historical Society (my, that was a long time ago). I greatly enjoyed our visit and hope to return soon. The society is located at the Historic Four Corners (of course), 400 N. Main St., Herkimer, NY 13350. For more information call 315-866-6413.

Last Woman Hanged

Tuesday I attended a lecture sponsored by the Herkimer County Historical Society. Does that sound cultured and intellectual? It may have been. It was also a great deal of fun.

James M. Greiner, author of Last Woman Hanged: Roxalana Druse, was talking about the famous case. I have many times noticed the historic marker outside the 1834 Jail and wanted to learn more about the local murderess. Last December, Greiner was at the Historical Society signing his book, but I missed it, which was too bad, because I had previously told my entire family NOT to buy me Christmas presents, because I was buying myself the book (they got me presents anyways, but that’s a whole other blog post).

Tuesday’s talk took place at the Herkimer County Courthouse, at Herkimer’s Historic Four Corners, a favorite walking place of mine and Tabby’s. I walked over, because Steven planned to drive straight from work (always fun to have a rendezvous). The event drew a large crowd. I could have gotten there much earlier and saved us seats closer to the front. Then again, with such a large crowd, some people may have taken exception to my saving a really good seat for somebody who may not arrive on time. Our seats in the back turned out to be fine, however; we had no problems hearing.

Greiner’s book is all about the facts of the case. Apparently everybody who grew up around here “knows” that Roxalana Druse fed her husband’s dead body to the pigs and was hanged on the hook in back of the jail, neither of which, it turns out, was the case. I have to confess, I didn’t know (or “know”) any of that. You see how much I missed out on, growing up in Rome.

We heard a lot about the true case and about the research Greiner undertook to find out about it. He is an excellent speaker, very organized and articulate, and obviously passionately interested in his subject. He says he follows the rule “Write what you love.” I wrote that one down.

He had previously published two books on the Civil War and wanted to do something different. He said he called up the Historical Society and said, “I want to do a murder.” (I wrote that one down, too.) He said the historical society lady’s response was to the effect of, “Not Gillette, he’s been done to death!” I must confess that made me feel a little vulgar, because I can’t get enough of the Gillette case. I don’t think any disparagement was meant, only that Greiner wanted to explore uncharted territory. As pointed out on the back of Greiner’s book, the Gillette case has overshadowed the Druse case. This book helps to even up the score.

I was able to purchase the book Tuesday. Several people attending had already read it and told me it was an excellent read, impossible to put down. After the talk, I went to the front of the room to get the author to sign it.

“Oh, I signed all of them.” He showed me where he did.

“Oh, I’m silly.” I did feel silly, especially as I was debating in my head whether to say Cindy or Cynthia when he asked me who to make it out to. That’s what author’s at book signings in movies always do.

I was really happy I was able to attend the talk and to buy the book. I look forward to reading it. Copies are available at the Herkimer County Historical Society, 406 N. Main St., Herkimer, NY. For more information call 315-866-6413.