Category Archives: Natural History

Fred Kerslake’s Famous Pig Circus, Part 2


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PB1 FK PosterThe three mains stars hogging the limelight from Fred Kerslake were pigs Jerry, Peggy, and Pete, whose antics were irresistible. Recognizing the possibilities, booking agents sought them for summer tours and winter vaudeville circuits. Rave reviews followed in Buffalo, Chicago, Philadelphia, and a host of other stops in between. Audiences couldn’t get enough of watching pigs play leapfrog, read, and count―it was both bewildering and hilarious at the same time.

Professionals were taking notice as well. Among them was Germany’s Carl Hagenbeck, who pioneered the displaying of animals in their natural habitats rather than in caged enclosures. Hagenbeck emphasized properly selecting animals with the right temperament for training or display choosing only a few prospects from a large group, and then using what was described as “constant patience, firmness, and kindness” to train them. Still, there’s no denying that whips were used to tap or give a quick sting to animals during training. Continue reading

Working the Waters: Maritime Culture of Long Island


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Joey ScavoneLong Island Traditions will present “Working the Waters: Maritime Culture of Long Island” in collaboration with the NY Marine Trades Association “Tobay Boat Show” in Massapequa, New York on September 26 through September 28, 2014. “Working the Waters: Maritime Culture of Long Island” will present to the public first-hand accounts about the contemporary and historic traditions of commercial and recreational fishermen, the factors affecting these traditions and their future on Long Island in the wake of Superstorm Sandy and the decline of the bays.

The program is the culminating event of ongoing documentation by Long Island Traditions folklorist and executive director Nancy Solomon. Since 1987 Solomon has been documenting the culture and traditions of Long Island maritime tradition bearers, ranging from decoy carvers and driftwood painters to trap builders, boat model makers and net menders. Continue reading

Fred Kerslake’s Famous Pig Circus


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PA1 Austin & Stone's“That’ll do, pig.” It’s a line I’ve heard more than once from my wife and business partner, Jill (we’re always razzing each other about something or other). It is, of course, the famous line near the end of Babe, a movie we both enjoyed. We’re also fans of Arnold from Green Acres, and of the pigs who played leadership roles in George Orwell’s allegorical novel, Animal Farm. You can see a theme developing here―a bunch of very smart pigs who, in fantasy worlds, did all sorts of things that a reasonable person knows a pig can’t really do.

Can’t really do? Not so fast. Yes, Orwell’s pigs were the smartest animals in the barnyard. Arnold could get the mail and understand English. Babe could herd sheep as well as any sheepdog. But in the real world, the North Country once had something to rival them all. I give you Fred Kerslake’s pigs. Continue reading

ADK 46er History Doc Being Shown In Elizabethtown


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Grace HudowalskiThe Adirondack History Center will conclude its summer lecture series with a showing of the documentary The Mountains Will Wait for You at 7 pm on Tuesday evening, August 26 at the museum in Elizabethtown, NY.

The film tells the story of the first woman to climb the 46 High Peaks and a founder of the Adirondack 46ers hiking club. Grace Hudowalski was born in Ticonderoga and recently East Dix, one of the 46 High Peaks, was renamed Grace Peak in her honor.  Continue reading

September Marks 15th Annual Hudson River Ramble


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2014 Hudson River RambleThe Hudson River Valley Greenway and Hudson River Valley National Heritage have announced that the 15th Annual Hudson River Valley Ramble will feature more than 200 exciting events throughout the Hudson River Valley region.

The Ramble will be held during each weekend in September, and features the events of more than 150 partner organizations. The Hudson River Valley Ramble offers a variety of walks, hikes, paddles, biking tours and other events and is designed to showcase the scenic, natural, historic and cultural resources of the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area . Ramble events are led by naturalists, ecologists, historians, geologists and trained volunteers from participating organizations. Continue reading

Circle of Vines: The Story of New York Wine


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New York State Wine HistoryWinegrower and journalist Richard Figiel, who established Silver Thread Vineyard on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake in 1982, offers a short history of New York wine in Circle of Vines: The Story of New York Wine (SUNY Press, 2014).

Figiel follows the state’s wine industry from its turbulent evolution in various regions as it emerged as a dynamic player in the world of fine wine. He begins by examining New York’s distinctive viticultural roots and the geologic forces that shaped the state’s terrain for winegrowing. Starting with early efforts to grow grapes for wine in the Hudson Valley, the story moves west to the Finger Lakes and Lake Erie, circles around the state from Long Island to the North Country, and, finally, to contemporary New York City. Continue reading

Olmsted Exhibit Celebrates Utica’s Natural Landscape


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Fort-Proctor-Park-Staircase.-Photo-Richard-WalkerIn the early 20th century, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (1870-1957) and Thomas R. Proctor (1844-1920) led the way in the transformation of the Utica landscape, creating beautiful and naturalistic recreational spaces that provided escapes from the city and enhanced the quality of life for its inhabitants.

“A Century of Olmsted: Utica and Beyond,” on view August 14 through January 4 at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, is the first exhibition to explore the creation of some of Utica’s most beautiful natural places. Continue reading

Environmental History:
Prestonia Mann’s Polluted Stream


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The Willey house - Keene NyIn 1896, New York City resident Prestonia Mann purchased an Adirondack estate in Keene and set about to create a summer community based on the 1840s Massachusetts Transcendentalist utopian experiment, Brook Farm. She sent an invitation to her circle of acquaintances – mostly progressive social reformers and educators – describing the place she named Summer Brook in homage to the earlier colony:

It includes a large common hall, a cottage, and about twenty acres of land traversed by a fine trout brook. The region—at the northern end of Keene Valley—is in the noblest part of the great wilderness. The land lies 2,000 feet above the sea, upon a small plateau jutting out from among the foot-hills of Mount Hurricane, in the midst of wild and rugged scenery, commanding a splendid mountain range from Whiteface on the north to Tahawus on the south.

Unfortunately, a hotel upstream, The Willey House, was dumping all of their raw sewage into the same “fine trout brook”, known as Gulf Brook. Continue reading

Sullivan County: Doctors Say ‘Go to the Mountains!’


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adWhile Sullivan County was not officially formed until 1809, the region’s history as a popular healing environment dates back considerably before that.

From the earliest visits of the Lenape, who constructed their sweat lodges among the willow trees on the banks of the Delaware to the tuberculosis sufferers who searched for a cure in the cool mountain climate, hundreds of thousands of people have visited the area because of its clean air and pure water.

From about 1890 to 1915, the county enjoyed a prosperous period of tourism—today called the Silver Age— based almost entirely on those concepts of fresh air and pure water. In fact, for decades the Ontario & Western Railway’s promotional campaign for the area was based on the slogan, “Doctors Say ‘Go to the Mountains!’” This was often followed by the trident reminder ‘pure air, pure water, pure milk.” Continue reading

Stanley Maltzman Exhibition at Thomas Cole Historic Site


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Stanley Maltzman Thomas Cole House_2014The Thomas Cole National Historic Site has announced a summer exhibition and birthday celebration for a very special tree that turns 200 years old this year.

The exhibition entitled Thomas Cole’s Honey with new artworks by the beloved artist Stanley Maltzman will open July 26 with a reception that is free and open to the public from 4:30 to 6 pm. The exhibition will run through October 2, 2014.

A special selection of approximately ten new artworks by Stanley Maltzman will be on view at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site from July 26 – October 2, 2014. All made between 2013 and present, Maltzman’s watercolors, pastels, and drawings pay homage to the towering, 200 year old Honey Locust tree that stands across from Thomas Cole’s front door. Continue reading

Long Island Traditions Annual Freeport Bay House Tours


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Beers Bay HouseOn Saturday August 16 and September 13, Long Island Traditions will sponsor its annual bay house tours in Freeport, NY. The tour will include conversations with local bay house owners and will be hosted by folklorist Nancy Solomon, director of LI Traditions. The trip will visit area bay houses on the 1½ hour tour on a traditional flat bottom boat.

The bay houses have a long history, dating from the mid-19th century when baymen harvested salt hay for the farmers during the winter. The bay houses provided shelter, along with storage for fishermen’s traps and duck decoys. The bay houses were originally built by fishermen and baymen and have been passed down from generation to generation within many families. In the Town of Hempstead two of the approximately 20 bay houses that either survived Superstorm Sandy or have been rebuilt during 2013-14 will be featured on this year’s annual tour. Continue reading

The Lyon Mountain Mining and Railroad Museum


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LyMtM&RRM NYHFor a century, the world’s best iron ore was produced by a small Clinton County village in upstate New York. That remarkable legacy is shared in the Lyon Mountain Mining and Railroad Museum, housed in the town’s former railroad depot building. The cost to visitors “can’t be beat,” as they say—admission is free.

This community project developed into a remarkable facility dedicated to regional and town history. The focus is on iron mining, once a dominant force in the region’s economy. Continue reading

New Hudson River Greenway Trails in Dutchess County


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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Hudson River Valley Greenway has announced the designation of four Dutchess County trail segments as “Greenway Trails” and part of the Hudson River Valley Greenway Trail system. The trails were designated at a recent meeting of the Hudson River Valley Greenway Board.

The trails total approximately 24 miles in length, and are located in County-operated Bowdoin Park, Wilcox Memorial Park, Quiet Cove Riverfront Park, as well as the Dutchess Rail Trail, which connects to the Walkway Over The Hudson and the Hudson Valley Rail Trail in Ulster County. Continue reading

Fort Ticonderoga King’s Garden Season Begins


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birdbath iris king and poppiesFort Ticonderoga’s King’s Garden will present a new spring event “Friendship & Flowers” on May 17, 2014. This pre-season event for gardeners and their friends offers continental breakfast, a horticultural talk, giveaways, a garden tour, and plants to take home. Attendees will get a first look at the King’s Garden which opens to the public on May 24.

“Early season blooms of lilac, crabapple, columbine and forget-me-not will tempt your senses,” Heidi Karkoski, Fort Ticonderoga’s Director of Horticulture, says adding that the event will be an opportunity to “learn about plans for the season and what new annuals and perennials will be added to our designs.” Continue reading

Shad: The Founding Fish Returns


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Lenapeshad[1]There was a time when Lenape fishermen – or women, since they did much of the fishing in that culture— would use nets woven from branches, saplings or wild hemp to catch huge numbers of shad in the Delaware River.  Much of their catch would be preserved by a unique smoking process that would keep them edible through the winter.  The Lenape designated March as the month of the shad and celebrated with a festival that often lasted six weeks or more.

The early European settlers learned the importance of shad from the Natives and quickly picked up the technique of smoking them to provide food for the harsh winters when game was scarce.  Some historians, including William E. Meehan writing in Fish, Fishing and Fisheries of Pennsylvania in 1893, have noted that virtually every Colonial era homestead in a broad area bordering the Delaware River “had its half-barrel of salted shad sitting in the kitchen with some choice pieces of smoked shad hanging by the kitchen chimney.” Continue reading

Master, Mentor, Master:
Thomas Cole and Frederic Church


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church-catskillcreek-1847-washingtonctymusThe new exhibition of landscape masterpieces by Frederic Church and Thomas Cole is now open at the Thomas Cole Historic Site, featuring twenty artworks from 1844-1850, focusing on the early work of Church when he began studying with Cole in Catskill, New York.

The exhibition, on view through November 2, 2014, includes plein air studies by Church when he was an 18-year-old apprentice as well as large, highly finished and stunningly skillful paintings that were completed just a few years later. Compare Church’s work to Cole’s from the same time period as they covered the same territory together. Continue reading

Talk: Proposed Dams on The Upper Hudson River


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Proposed Upper Hudson River DamsMike Prescott often jokes that “someone has to be the dam historian,” because that’s what he’s become – the historian of the various dams in the Adirondacks.

Now the Warrensburgh Historical Society is hosting a presentation by Prescott, “Proposed Dams on The Upper Hudson River” on Thursday, May 22, 2014 at 7:00 pm in the Richards Library Community Event Room, Warrensburg, NY. Continue reading

Finger Lakes Museum Hosting Planting Days


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Finger Lakes MuseumThe Finger Lakes Museum is preparing for the opening of its Discovery Campus grounds in Branchport this July with three community planting days – May 10, 17, and 25 from 10am to 2pm.

Plant a single tree, a mini-grove, a section of a perennial garden, or shrubbery – any and all help during those days will be greatly appreciated.  Community members, friends, and volunteers are all welcome.  Continue reading

Remembering Past Adirondack Floods


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1979 EtownFloodNYHRefrigerators can float. There are many things that can be learned from flooding, and that’s one tidbit that stuck with me from when my parents’ house took on about two feet of water more than a decade ago. When the water subsided enough to safely wade across the road to their front door, I went alone to assess the damage—but the door wouldn’t budge. Finally, it began to give an inch or two at a time.

When I managed to squeeze in, I was more than a little surprised at what I found. As the water had deepened in the kitchen, the refrigerator toppled and then somehow floated through the kitchen doorway into the house entrance, blocking the front door. The rest of the first floor was similarly wrecked—everything was sopping wet and coated with mud. Continue reading