The Borscht Belt: Revisiting the Remains of America’s Jewish Vacationland (Cornell University Press, 2016) by Marisa Schenfeld, which features essays by Stefan Kanfer and Jenna Weissman Joselit, presents Scheinfeld’s photographs of abandoned sites where resorts, hotels, and bungalow colonies once boomed in the Catskill Mountain region of upstate New York. Today the Borscht Belt is recalled through the nostalgic lens of summer swims, Saturday night dances, and comedy performances. But its current state, like that of many other formerly glorious regions, is nothing like its earlier status. Forgotten about and exhausted, much of its structural environment has been left to decay. Continue reading
During the summer hiking season, one of the most popular destinations in the Catskills is Overlook Mountain. Sunny days will have the parking area, located across from a monastery on Mead Mountain Road in Woodstock, at overflow capacity. The hike to the summit, along a dirt road, is not especially grueling, though hikers can expect to do some heavy breathing as they near the top. Continue reading
The 2016 Headwaters History Days will take place from this weekend, June 3 – 5, and feature programs, exhibits, concerts, open houses, tours and workshops along the newly designated Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway (NYS Route 28).
Fifteen historic sites and organizations will celebrate the history, culture, folklife and landscape of the Central Catskills in this third annual event. Continue reading
The Thomas Cole National Historic Site has announced the inaugural art exhibition in its “New Studio” building at the former home of Thomas Cole (1801-1848), founder of the first distinctly American art movement.
The New Studio, built in 1846, was designed by Cole, and demolished in 1973 before the historic site became a museum. The reconstruction, to be officially unveiled with the opening of the exhibition on May 1, 2016, provides the Site with museum-quality climate-controlled space for displaying art. The upcoming show will be the first to take advantage of that new capacity. Continue reading
Hundreds of fighters, champions and also-rans alike, have come to the verdant Sullivan County countryside over the years to train for upcoming fights, providing the Catskills with a permanent link to the sport. And that link transcends the fact that heavyweight contender Ed “Gunboat” Smith grew up in Obernberg, heavyweight champ Jimmy Braddock owned a home in North Branch, and featherweight champ Abe Attell, generally regarded as one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters in history, is buried in Beaverkill.
It has not been recorded when the first professional fighter came to the county to train, but there is lots of information from which to make an educated guess. While it isn’t clear whether or not he ever actually trained in the county, Robert Prometheus Fitzsimmons, the undersized British fighter who wrested the heavyweight crown from Gentlemen Jim Corbett in 1897, is known to have frequented many of the Silver Age resorts in the region, primarily those favored by New York City’s policemen and firemen. That probably meant Brophy’s Mountain House in Hurleyville, which was so closely associated with New York’s Finest and New York’s Bravest prior to its demise in a fire in 1910 that is was often referred to as Brophy’s Mad House, due to the unrestrained antics of the off-duty officers. Continue reading
The Columbia Inn in Pine Tree, Vermont did not bear much of a resemblance to a Catskills’ hotel of that era, and Dean Jagger’s General Tom Waverly was definitely not much like a Sullivan County hotel owner, but the movie “White Christmas” has a strong local flavor nonetheless.
The titular tune of the top grossing film of 1954, of course, was conceived and written right here in Lew Beach, and the movie’s thin plot line was really little more than a vehicle for county resident Irving Berlin’s music. And then there is Danny Kaye, sharing the lead with the inimitable Bing Crosby – who sings Berlin’s most memorable song for the third time on screen– as well as Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen.
But except for two separate twists of fate, Kaye may not have been part of “White Christmas” at all. Continue reading
Stephen M. Silverman grew up in Los Angeles and admits he knew nothing about the Catskills before coming to New York to attend college. And yet, despite that rather late introduction to the area, he has managed to write what promises to become one of the most important books about the region, released last month by Knopf.
In fact, from the first glimpse of its colorful dust jacket to the final profound phrase on the last page of text, The Catskills: Its History and How it Changed America is about as impressive a book as you are likely to find on this or any subject. The history is comprehensive, covering virtually everything from the Hardenbergh Patent to Washington Irving to hydraulic fracturing to casinos; the illustrations are magnificent, including some of the most breathtaking renderings of Asher Durand and Thomas Cole; and the sources are impeccable, most notably hours and hours of videotaped interviews with respected modern authorities. Continue reading
To most, Irving Jaffee will best be remembered for the two gold medals he won in the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid. To others, he will forever be the man over whom two legendary Catskill hotels went to court one winter.
Jaffee was among the greatest speed skaters of his generation. He turned in the fastest time in the 10,000 meters at the 1928 Olympics in St. Moritz, only to have the event canceled without an official winner because unseasonably warm temperatures had thawed the ice. Four years later, in Lake Placid, Jaffe won gold medals in both the 5,000 and 10,000-meter races as American men swept all four speed skating events. Continue reading
While the tourism industry has prospered in Sullivan County, New York for more than 150 years now, the concept of fall foliage as a tourism tool is relatively new.
The idea of promoting the changing colors of the leaves on the trees to encourage tourists to visit an area did not exist much at all before the late 1930s, and although both the Berkshires in Massachusetts and the Poconos in Pennsylvania were promoting fall foliage tours as far back as the 1940s, the Catskills did not begin to cash in on the idea until the 1950s. Continue reading
Many of the participants at the 14th Annual Catskills Preservation and History Conference at the Liberty Museum & Arts Center in Liberty, NY last month were quite surprised to see and hear about the magnitude of Sullivan County’s resort industry during its heyday.
The opening presentation featured an in depth retrospective of the Delano Hotel in Monticello by Marvin Rappaport, grandson of the founder. Continue reading