Category Archives: Public History

Playing the Hand You’re Dealt: Billy Richards, ‘the Armless Wonder’


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While researching a pair of books on North Country iron mining, I unexpectedly became privy to tragedies that many families faced. Mining accidents were frequent and involved excessive violence, often resulting in death. Victims were sometimes pancaked — literally — by rock falls, and their remains were recovered with scraping tools. Others were blown to pieces by dynamite explosions, usually as the result of, in mining parlance, “hitting a missed hole.”

The “missed hole” nomenclature refers to unexploded dynamite charges accidentally detonated later by another miner when his drill made contact with the material or caused a spark. The resulting blast was often fatal, but not always. Those who survived were usually blinded, burned badly, or maimed in some fashion.

In 1878, in Crown Point’s iron mines at Hammondville, near Lake Champlain, a young laborer, Billy Richards, was tasked with holding a star drill (basically a hand-held chisel with a star point) against the ore face while his partner — his step-father, Richard George — struck it with a sledge hammer. Through this commonly used teamwork method, a cadence developed whereby the star drill was struck and the holder then turned it slightly before it was struck again. Continue reading

New York State Unveils New Empire Pass Card


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The Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) has announced the new State Parks Empire Pass Card is now available for purchase. The new Empire Pass Card, accepted at state parks and recreation areas across New York, is a wallet-sized plastic card that can be shared among family members including parents, grandparents, caregivers and more. The card is presented upon vehicle entry and includes QR code and embedded chip technology to allow for easier park access at select facilities. Continue reading

State Museum Creates New York State History Advisory Group


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The New York State Museum has announced the creation of the New York State History Advisory Group. The group is expected to meet, according to an announcement sent to the press, “periodically to advise the New York State Historian on issues related to the history field in New York State, including suggestions pertaining to local and municipal historians, academic history, historic preservation, and heritage tourism.” The Advisory Group’s suggestions and recommendations are “purely advisory in nature and are nonbinding” the announcement said. Continue reading

Convent Life 50 Years Ago


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The Historians LogoThis week on “The Historians” podcast, Mary Lou Reid takes a look at life in the convent fifty years ago when she was a novice in the order of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Reid, who left the religious order for a career in media and financial planning, discusses this topic in the context of her self-help program, The Convent Diet. Listen to the podcast here. Continue reading

Some History of the Famous Red Barn in Keene


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In late December, the rustic red barn that stood at the intersection of Routes 73 and 9N in Keene was taken down by the Department of Environmental Conservation after it became hazardous.

Although not an officially-recognized historic landmark, many who have traveled through Keene saw the barn, with its majestic High Peaks in the background, as a quaint countryside icon.

Since it came down, folks have waxed nostalgic while mourning the abrupt loss of this unassuming structure. I decided to dig into the barn’s history and see if there was more to it than met the eye. Continue reading

Two Horrific Events in New York City


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The Historians LogoThis week on The Historians Podcast, history teacher Doug Kaufman discusses the 1911 Triangle shirtwaist factory fire in New York City. Steve Jankowski of Broadalbin, NY, tells how he escaped from the scene of the 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. They spoke at an event sponsored by Amsterdam Reads on the historical novel “A Fall of Marigolds” by Susan Meissner. Listen to the podcast here. Continue reading

Robert Moses’ Least Controversial Triumph


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robert mosesThe many controversies that surrounded Robert Moses during his long career as New York’s “Master Builder” were sharpened by his long battle with Jane Jacobs and by Robert Caro’s 1974 biography, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (1974).

But his least contentious achievements are also the most unknown: the construction of the New York Power Authority’s hydroelectric plants along the St. Lawrence and Niagara Rivers. Continue reading

Jumping The Alleys: The Age of Pinsetters


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The Historians LogoThis week on The Historians Podcast, Dave Greene and Bob Cudmore discuss bowling and pinsetting during the twentieth century. Pinsetters were boys and girls who manually set up bowling pins in commercial alleys before the advent of pinsetting machines. Fifty years ago a typical wage was ten cents a game, about the cost of a soda from the soda machines of the day. Pinsetters often “jumped alleys,” handling two bowling lanes at a time. Listen to the podcast here. Continue reading

North Country’s Hal Smith, Mayberry’s Affable Town Drunk


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For millions of people, holidays are all about going home, returning to one’s roots of family and friends. That concept was epitomized by a North Country man who attained great fame in Hollywood, but to his great credit never forgot the home folks — and to their credit, the home folks never forgot him. Whenever he returned to the North Country, or old friends visited him in California, there was always an exchange of love, admiration, and deep appreciation.

He was born in northern Michigan in 1916 as Harold John Smith, about as anonymous a name as one can imagine, and likely one that stirs no sense of recognition. But if Otis Campbell were mentioned, many would instantly recall Mayberry’s affable town drunk from The Andy Griffith Show. Continue reading