Following his election as President in 1860, Abraham Lincoln undertook a train ride to Washington that took him through Albany. He arrived in the city on February 18, 1861 with his wife and three sons.
As their train passed the West Albany railroad shops, an electrical switch was turned off at the nearby Dudley Observatory, causing an electromagnet mounted on the roof of the Capitol in downtown Albany to release a metal ball that slid down a pole, signaling to military officials to start a 21-gun salute in Capitol Park. Continue reading
Who remembers Aaron Burr as anything more than Quick Draw McGraw shooting down the near-sighted Alexander Hamilton at dawn in 1804? But there is much more to the man, as Gore Vidal revealed in his intriguing 1973 historical novel, and other subsequent scholarship.
Two aspects of Burr’s varied career stand out in today’s world. First, his treason trial that closely examined issues of what counts as an act of war against one’s own government. And second, his relationships with a series of highly intelligent and accomplished women, reflecting his high opinion of the female sex and its potential. Continue reading
The media was all abuzz recently over the revelation that actor Ben Affleck requested that producers of the PBS show ‘Finding Your Roots’, hide the fact that one of his ancestors owned slaves (going back six generations). When the news was leaked, Affleck responded by posting to one of his social media sites: “We deserve neither credit nor blame for our ancestors…”
I agree with him. But what I find more intriguing is his eagerness to hide the information from the public to begin with. Why hide the family skeletons? If anything, isn’t he impressed that the producers were able to uncover so much information about his ancestors? Continue reading
Michael T. Keene, author of Mad House: The Hidden History Of Insane Asylums In 19th Century New York, will discuss his book, which draws on hospital archives, private letters, and newspaper accounts, on May 16th at the Mabee Farm in Rotterdam Junction.
Michael Keene is the author of Folklore and Legends of Rochester, Murder, Mayhem and Madness, Mad House, and Question of Sanity. Continue reading
Nighttime in the past was different than today-far darker and more hazardous. In the Middle Ages night was seen as a sort of anti-time, the very negative of day, when all things bad happened and only people with evil intent were found on the street.
All this began to change in the 18th century. Street lighting in big cities became more common and medieval curfews were abandoned. Less a source of fear than in the past people were more likely to see beauty in a starry sky and to seek out nightly entertainment instead of hiding behind locked doors. Yet the 18th century was still very much a period of transition. Continue reading
The smuggling trade between Albany and Montréal presented a large problem for the imperial governments of Great Britain and France between 1700 and 1754.
In this episode of the “Ben Franklin’s World” podcast, Dr. Eugene Tesdahl, an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, joins us to discuss the infamous Albany-Montréal Trade and the business of smuggling in colonial North America. You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/021
The indictment of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on federal corruption charges is the latest manifestation of corruption in the New York State legislature. Since 2000, about 25 state lawmakers have left office because of criminal or ethical issues. U. S. Attorney Preet Bhahara, who brought the charges against Silver, says the legislature is a “cauldron of corruption.” Governor Andrew Cuomo established a controversial, short-lived Moreland Commission to deal with corruption and has inserted an ethics package in his proposed budget to force the legislative reform.
Bhahara’s sweeping characterization of the legislature is exaggerated. Over the years, the New York’s legislature has been one of the most important in the nation, usually keeping our state at the forefront of minority rights, social reform, and progressive policies. Throughout history, though, there have always been a few corrupt legislators who violate the laws and public trust. But legislative wrongdoing is probably no worse today than it was many times in our history. Continue reading
This week “The Historians” podcast features Lawrence Gooley, author of Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow (Bloated Toe Publishing).
Larry also discusses con man and thief James Brady, subject of a series of stories recently on New York History Blog. Listen at “The Historians” online archive at http://www.bobcudmore.com/thehistorians/
For decades one of the nation’s most wanted bank robbers, Albany Jim Brady was now old, ill, and housed in the Westchester County Almshouse. Newspapermen came to interview him, asking about what were literally his old partners in crime. Animated by the subject, he told with obvious delight the story of a co-conspirator who once attempted a double-cross. The man was Julius Doherty, one of a gang of thieves Brady worked with in the Southwest.
With a large bag of stolen money, they were returning to New York when Julius proposed the robbery of a jewelry store in Washington. Easy pickings, he promised, and just too good an opportunity to pass up. Brady was hesitant, not wanting to push their luck after a successful run, but he finally agreed to look the place over. They left the bag of money in a secure location at the train station. Continue reading
A compelling story about three murders in Brooklyn between 1872 and 1873 and the young women charged with the crimes is told in a new book by Robert E. Murphy, Three Graces Of Raymond Street: Murder, Madness, Sex, and Politics in 1870s Brooklyn (SUNY Press, 2015).
Between January 1872 and September 1873, the city of Brooklyn was gripped by accounts of three murders allegedly committed by young women: a factory girl shot her employer and seducer, an evidently peculiar woman shot a philandering member of a prominent Brooklyn family, and a former nun was arrested on suspicion of having hanged her best friend and onetime convent mate. Continue reading
AT&T has given a $20,000 contribution to support the conservation and digitization of documents burned in the 1911 New York Capitol Fire.
The documents are expected to be conserved and digitized are badly fire damaged and contain information about life in the Hudson Valley in the 1700s, primarily in Dutchess, Ulster, and Orange counties. They have been unavailable to the public since 1911; no timetable for online public access has been announced. Continue reading
In late 1888, having served a full term of 11 years, Albany Jim Brady was finally released from prison. He quickly hooked up with Sophie Lyons, who had recently left her husband Ned after more than 20 years of marriage. Together Brady and Lyons traveled to Europe, where they were virtually anonymous. Putting their remarkable acting skills to work, they earned a small fortune from various scams, including a Paris heist of $200,000 in diamonds (equal to about $5 million in 2015). Continue reading
After his third prison escape in 14 months, Albany Jim Brady worked extra hard at avoiding lawmen. But he also stayed busy and was a suspect in several additional crimes: the robbery of New York City’s Metropolis Bank in early 1877; a heist of the bank in Keeseville, New York, a short time later; and hitting the Sixth National Bank in April of that year, a job that again smacked of Brady’s boldness: drilling upward into an office, accessing the vaults, and completing the theft during daylight hours. Continue reading
As noted in Part 1, Albany Jim Brady’s good looks and suave demeanor aided him on crime trips to outside areas, like Canada. To operate in more familiar haunts, like New York City, he became a master of disguise and used many an alias. Still, as skilled and shrewd as Brady was, his daring exploits are what often got him into trouble. Continue reading
This week “The Historians” podcast features an interview with Richard Norton Smith who has spent 14 years writing On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller (Random House, 2014).
Rockefeller was Republican governor of New York State from 1959 to 1973, vice president of the United States from 1974 to 1977, and part of one of America’s most wealthy and influential families. In this interview Smith discusses Rockefeller’s role in destruction of Albany neighborhoods and creation of the Empire State Plaza. He describes Rockefeller’s service as an adviser to three Presidents (two Democrats), his expansion of the state university, his dyslexia, his love of modern art, his failed Presidential bids, the Attica prison uprising and the cover-up surrounding Rockefeller’s death while alone with a female intern. Listen at “The Historians” online archive at http://www.bobcudmore.com/thehistorians/
This is not a story about Diamond Jim Brady (1856‒1917), who, during America’s Gilded Age, was a flamboyant, legendary businessman and philanthropist with an appetite for diamonds and other jewels. It is instead about Big Jim Brady, who, during America’s Gilded Age, was known for his own type of philanthropy, had an affinity for jewels, and was a legendary figure – as the handsomest and coolest of crooks. Continue reading
There have long been stories – most of them unsubstantiated – about the activities of the German American Bund in Sullivan County in the years leading up to World War II.
While the activities of that particular pro-Nazi organization in the region may be debatable, there is no question that a small group of men charged with plotting to overthrow the U.S. government and replacing it with a Nazi style dictatorship spent much of the summer of 1939 in Sullivan County. Continue reading
During the summer of 1939, a small group of men from out of the area rented a camp just outside Narrowsburg, a small community on the Delaware River in Sullivan County, where they spent most of their time shooting rifles. Their need for such extensive practice was understandable; locals who observed the target practice described the men’s aim as “plumb awful.” Continue reading
Written more than eighty years ago, Fifty Years in Sing Sing: A Personal Account, 1879-1929 (SUNY Press, February, 2015) is the personal account of Alfred Conyes (1852–1931), who worked as a prison guard and then keeper at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York, from 1879 to 1929.
This unpublished memoir, dated 1930, was found among his granddaughter’s estate by his great-granddaughter Penelope Kay Jarrett. Continue reading
This week on “The Historians” podcast, an interview with Gloversville Leader Herald columnist and former Fulton County historian Peter Betz on murders most foul. Betz says his readers react the most to crime tales in his bi-weekly history column. In a 1934 murder, a nurse kept her wits about her, but her friend, a popular Gloversville shoe salesman, died anyway. Listen at “The Historians” online archive at http://www.bobcudmore.com/thehistorians/