Category Archives: Public History

The Devil’s Kitchen: Warren County’s Nightmare for Drivers


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devilskitchenThe colorful name Devil’s Kitchen has been used in numerous book titles, restaurant names, and for hiking destinations in at least seven states. Close to home in upstate New York, we have a Catskill version, described here as “quite possibly the most hellacious [bicycle] climb in New York State.” The same area, with cliffs, numerous waterfalls, and slippery slopes, has seen many hiker deaths as well.

But there’s another Devil’s Kitchen farther north, located about midway on Route 9 between Chestertown and Warrensburg. Despite lacking the cliffs and stunning landscapes featured at other identically named places, deaths have occurred at the Adirondack site—which today exists in name only. Continue reading

Erie Canalway Touts NPS Centennial Accomplishments


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cyclists-on-the-erie-canalway-trail-near-bushnells-basinAs the National Park Service embarks on its second century, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor in New York is celebrating the accomplishments of its centennial celebration.

Erie Canalway NHC programs and visitor information helped thousands of visitors, students, and residents find their way to New York’s legendary canals, Erie Canalway Trail, historic sites, and canal communities in 2016. Continue reading

Being A NYC Yellow Cab Driver in the 1960s


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jules-stewart-cab-driverThe afternoon I crashed my Yellow Cab into a fire hydrant in West 17th Street I discovered that Gotham Hospital, where I happened to be born, had long ceased to exist. That was not the hospital blown up by The Joker in The Dark Knight. Mine was quietly shut and bulldozed in the 1960s. But this perhaps helps explain a Batman fixation that endures to this day, the 77th birthday of Gotham’s caped hero. Continue reading

Bruce Dearstyne: More Ideas For Putting History To Work


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New-York-State-Map1A September post on this New York History Blog had some examples of “putting history to work” – showing the value of history for revealing historical precedents, insights or parallels which help shed light on current issues. Demonstrating that value in varied, imaginative ways is an important strategy for building support and securing resources for our history progams.

Here are a few more examples: Continue reading

Johanna Yaun: The New York History Community’s Next 100 Years


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ny-history-next-100-yearsI don’t want to let 2016 come to a close without marking an important commemoration in the history of historic preservation.

One hundred years ago, the Federal Government created the National Parks Service. During the official centennial celebration in August of this year, the Hudson Valley was honored to welcome the Secretary of Interior, Sally Jewell, to a roundtable discussion at the Bear Mountain Inn.  For the discussion, participants were asked to predict which trends would persist in the next 100 years of historic preservation and historic interpretation. With a new administration in the White House, a new Secretary of Interior will soon follow and the challenge to reach that person with the priorities of the historical profession will begin again. On a local level we face a continuing retraction of municipal resources for arts and cultural protection and programming as the burden is shifted to non-profits. My predictions are based on those concerns as well as the changes that I see in how technology is being used to reach the public. Continue reading

18th and 19th Century Racial and Ethnic Riots in New York


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orange riotLike many states in the nation, New York has a long history of racially and ethnically related civil disturbances, riots, rebellions and uprisings. These unsettling events have had lasting impacts on these communities long after disturbance had passed and relative peace was restored. The following is a descriptive but incomplete list of 18th and 19th century conflicts (principally of those in New York City) in which lives were lost, property was damaged or destroyed and law and order had to be established with the often violent, coercive use of force by police and/or state military units. Most importantly these events occurred in the context of a long-standing history of racial, ethnic and social class conflicts coupled with a triggering incident that set off a more sustained period of communal violence. Continue reading

Dr. Brad VanDiver’s Cliffside Brush with Death


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longspeak2005wikiResearching Dr. Bradford VanDiver’s life and telling his full story isn’t possible in this brief format, but if you read last week’s account, you’re at least privy to the amazing and varied highlights. There remains one stunning and frightening event that he failed to mention during published interviews about various achievements and key moments in his past.

While plumbing for details that might have occurred prior to his professional career, I encountered reference to VanDiver’s participation with the National Speleological Society in exploring several new caves in the Howe’s Cavern area of Schoharie County in 1948. Some of the underground sites there involved drops of more than 100 feet, for which the spelunkers’ group called upon Brad VanDiver and his close friend, Ernest Ackerly, to handle the rigging of ropes, ladders, and other safety equipment. They also joined in the exploration of new passages. Continue reading

Mary Boylan: Plattsburgh’s Little-Known Theater Treasure


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y1-maryboylanOn the west side of Lower Manhattan in New York City, Greenwich Village has long been home to progressive thinkers and artists of all types, as well as ground zero for several movements. In the 1950s and 60s, it was a mainstay of the nation’s bohemian culture, hosting beatniks, folk music originals, the strong counter-culture movement, and the Beat Generation, with such icons as Maya Angelou, Truman Capote, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Rod McKuen.

The coffeehouse scene flourished at that time, when a remarkable alternative to commercial theater was developed: Off-Off-Broadway, where productions ran the gamut from scripted to impromptu, and venues ranged from old warehouses to small cafes. At the heart of this historic movement was a little-known North Country actress and writer who was widely respected in the New York City arts community.

Mary Elizabeth Boylan was born in Plattsburgh, New York, in February 1913. Her father, John, was a mainstay of the community, serving as district deputy of the Knights of Columbus for four years, president of the chamber of commerce for two years, and general manager of the Mountain Home Telephone Company. In 1924, when Mary was 11, the family moved to Rochester, New York, where her dad became president of the Rochester Telephone Company three years later. Continue reading