When the night train to Montreal set out from Utica on April 29, 1931, James E. Smith had already been toiling over the needs and wants of his passengers for many hours. At 29 years old, Smith had been a Pullman porter for about three years. He had done a stint in Pennsylvania and now was employed on the New York Central line of the Pullman Company.
The experience of the Pullman porter was both uncommon yet ordinary. The Pullman Palace Car company hired black men almost exclusively as porters. This practice began under the direction of the founder of the company, George Pullman, after the Civil War. On board a luxurious and comfortable Pullman Car, Pullman porters were expected to be the ideal servants to their well off white passengers. Continue reading
The first national observance of the “Night of Terror” will be held November 15, 2014 by the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial Association, an organization raising money to build a national memorial honoring women who were arrested and imprisoned during the 72-year campaign to win voting rights for women. Lorton, Virginia is the planned site for the suffragist memorial, not far from Occoquan Workhouse where the “Night of Terror” on arrested suffrage picketers was carried out in 1917.
November 14-15, 1917 is recognized in history as the night when a total of 31 suffrage activists were targeted with violent attacks in an effort to break the spirit of the activists. The “Night of Terror” occurred at the Occoquan Workhouse (then part of the District of Columbia’s prison complex) in Lorton, Virginia, not far from Washington, DC. Continue reading
Of all the fascinating races in Sullivan County’s colorful political history, none has had a greater statewide impact than the 1931 contest for the New York State Assembly.
And the significance of the election had only a little to do with its outcome.
William Whittaker, a South Fallsburg (Sullivan County) Democrat, was the Assembly incumbent in 1931, having won the seat the year before in a contest decided by fewer than 200 votes. His opponent in both races was John T. Curtis of Monticello, owner and editor of the Sullivan County Republican newspaper. As Election Day approached, Republican party officials in the county became suspicious of an unusually large number of absentee ballots, and asked for an investigation. Continue reading
This week on “The Historians” radio program, David Fiske of Saratoga County with stories of two 19th century hangings in Ballston Spa. In the second half of the show I talk with pianist Stan Wiest who has tales about life on the road as a musician in the 20th century.
Listen to the whole program at “The Historians” online archive at http://www.bobcudmore.com/thehistorians/
Edward H. Rulloff was one of the most famous American criminals of the 19th century, believed responsible for multiple murders and sundry other crimes, and eventually being publicly hanged in Binghamton, New York. He was also a brilliant savant, obsessively seeking respectability and the approval of what he deemed “good society.”
And if not for this obsession, his crime spree would have without a doubt included the National Union Bank in Monticello, the County Seat of Sullivan County. Continue reading
This week on “The Historians”, Pulitzer Prize winner Edward Larson, author of The Return of George Washington: 1783-1789 (Harper Collins-Wm. Morrow, 2014).
In the second half of the show I talk with Leader Herald history columnist Peter Betz on the White Cap vigilantes in late nineteenth century Northville. Listen to the whole program at “The Historians” online archive at http://www.bobcudmore.com/thehistorians/
On Friday, October 24 and Saturday, October 25, Historic Cherry Hill will present a dramatic tour reliving the infamous 1827 murder that occurred at the Cherry Hill mansion, one-time home of the Van Rensselaer family.
The public is invited to step into the experiences of the Cherry Hill household on the evening of May 7, 1827, when a hired hand murdered a household member. The dramatic tour will investigate the scene of the crime and the differing perspectives of those who were there on that fateful evening. Actor James Keil will appear as Jesse Strang, bringing to life the murderer whose violent act was motivated by romantic attachment to his victim’s wife. The murder resulted in two sensational trials and Albany’s last public hanging. Continue reading
The Fulton County Sheriff’s Association will offer a public review of the case of convicted Adirondack serial killer Robert Garrow tomorrow, Thursday, October 2 at the Johnstown Eagles Club, 12 S. William St., at 7 pm. The presentation will be given by regular New York History Blog contributor Lawrence P. Gooley, who is the author of Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow.
Garrow, an abused Dannemora child turned thief, serial rapist, and killer who admitted to seven rapes and four murders (although police believed there were many more). Among his victims were campers near Speculator where Garrow escaped a police dragnet and traveled up Route 30 through Indian Lake and Long Lake and eventually made his way to Witherbee where he was tracked down and shot in the foot. Claiming he was partially paralyzed, Garrow was shot and killed during an attempted prison escape in September 1978 – he had faked his paralysis. Continue reading
“Traitors & Spies: An American Revolutionary War Experience” is the theme of a Sunday, September 14th educational program sponsored by the Friends of the Fishkill Supply Depot at the Hyatt House in Fishkill from 2 until 4 pm. “This community program,” explained Lance Ashworth the Friends’ president, “will support our mission to keep the history of the American Revolutionary War alive in the Hudson Valley and to bring the heritage of the Fishkill Supply Depot to more and more people.”
Speakers include Stephen Case, author of Treacherous Beauty: Peggy Shippen, the Woman behind Benedict Arnold’s Plot to Betray America; Damien Cregeau, an independent historian, who will discuss spying in and around New York City during the war; and Rachel Smith from the State Historian’s office at the University of Connecticut who will shed light on Nathan Hale’s legacy. Moderator for the program is Dr. Colonel James M. Johnson from Marist College. Continue reading
There may be no more despicable person in Sullivan County’s history than Lizzie Brown Halliday. She was known to have murdered at least five persons, and was suspected of killing many more. When she died in 1918, the New York Times described her as “the worst woman on earth.”
And much of the country believed, at least for a short time, that she was the notorious murderer known as Jack the Ripper, responsible for the grisly Whitechapel murders in London. Continue reading
Saturday, July 31, 1937 dawned sunny and warm in Sullivan County, a nearly perfect summer day. A light breeze stirred the cooling waters of Swan Lake as dozens of vacationers rowed about in the bright morning sunshine. Two of those vacationers, convinced that it was their lucky day, rowed enthusiastically over to a strange shape they saw bobbing on the surface of the lake. What they discovered instead was grisly and gruesome. It was the body of a man, all trussed up and tied to a rock and a slot machine frame. Continue reading
A year ago, I wrote about a regional writer of fiction and nonfiction who had passed away. At the time, he was among the elder statesmen of Adirondack authors. His books include One Cop’s Story: A Life Remembered, which details his service in New York State Police Troops B and D. To share one person’s perspective and to help preserve his memory, here is what I wrote about a man whose presence is missed by many. A year after his passing, I still occasionally receive contacts from people who recall him fondly.
The Adirondacks lost a longstanding member of the regional writers’ community when John Briant of Old Forge, known far and wide for his Adirondack Detective series of books, passed away on May 14, 2013. I’m not a religious person, and I can’t say to what extent John was, but if he was devout, he probably looked forward to reuniting with his beloved wife, Margaret, who passed away the previous June. Continue reading
It was in October of 1887 that itinerant laborer Abel John Allen was arrested for the brutal murder of Ursula Ulrich in Jeffersonville, NY. Nine months later he became the last man ever hanged in Sullivan County.
His murder of the widow Ulrich notwithstanding, the man known as Sailor Jack was a complicated fellow who packed a lot of living into his 34 years. He spent his time in the Sullivan County jail – awaiting first his trial and then his execution – writing about forgiveness, redemption, and having a “right heart.” Those writings reveal a world traveler, an astute observer of the passing parade, a philosopher. Continue reading
Cold warriors of the 1950s achieved one of their most macabre victories by frying Ethel Rosenberg in the electric chair, not for sharing atomic secrets, but simply as leverage to coerce her husband Julius to reveal sources.
Joan Beber’s play, “Ethel Rosenberg Sings: The Unsung Song of Ethel Rosenberg” at the Beckett Theatre until July 13th probes gender politics and personal story. This lively and intelligent exploration doesn’t flinch at setting Ethel’s story to music, since as a smart Jewish girl from the Lower East side bursting to escape the confines of immigrant horizons Ethel (Tracy Michaelidis) saw herself on stage “hitting a high C.” Undercover Productions and Perry Street Theatricals give this rendition of “straight from the spy files” of history an imaginative twist by framing it with prison politics and interracial casting that bounces the themes in an echo chamber of past and present. Continue reading
On the afternoon of July 14, 1842, Sheriff Felix Kelly fastened a noose around the neck of Cornelius Hardenbergh, and a few seconds later Hardenbergh, a member of what had once been the region’s most prominent family, entered the history books as the first man ever hanged in Sullivan County.
Hardenbergh’s execution was the first of five in the county over the years– four have taken place during the month of July– and the events leading up to his hanging make fascinating reading.
Hardenbergh had been convicted of murdering Anthony Hasbrouck, his relative by marriage, and one of the county’s wealthiest and most powerful men. The case remains, more than 170 years later, among the strangest in county history. Continue reading
On the morning of June 10, 1723, just before the break of dawn, a British warship stationed out of New York spotted two sloops sailing less than 50 miles south of Long Island. The captain of the warship, Peter Solgard, was all but certain the sloops were trouble. Three days before, he had been warned by a sea captain about a pirate crew under the command of a notoriously violent captain, Edward Low. But in the HMS Greyhound that morning, Solgard did not attack. Instead, Solgard tacked and set a southerly course, keeping the pirates in view but not approaching, “to encourage them to give him chase.” Continue reading
Elmira Reformatory (Arcadia Publishing, Images of America series, 2014) from local authors Dr. William G. Hinkle and Bruce Whitmarsh contains more than 200 images of this well-known facility in Chemung County, NY.
The Elmira Reformatory, established in 1876, is an important part of both local and national history, especially in the history of prisons and prison reform. Archival images, the majority of which were provided by the Chemung County historical Society, depict scenes of everyday life at the reformatory that remains in use today as the Elmira Correctional Facility. Continue reading
The amazing, and fortuitous, rescue of Solomon Northup was made possible by a New York statute that was signed into law, and became effective, on May 14, 1840.
Following the 1808 ban on importation of slaves into the U.S., enacted by Congress, the kidnapping of free blacks for sale as slaves became a larger problem. The ban reduced the “supply” of slaves, and with “demand” unchanged, prices rose, along with the potential profit for kidnappers. In 1817, in a description of a kidnapping case, the City Hall Recorder noted that, after 1808: “the practice of kidnapping was commenced, and has been carried to an alarming height.” Continue reading
It’s that time of year again, when 420 events are in the news. The war on drugs that began in the late 1960s and early 1970s has been declared a failure by many officials, a sentiment echoed in recent years by the Global Commission on Drug Policy. But America’s war on drugs (if you don’t count Prohibition) began in the 1930s with the focus on marijuana.
The principal salvo in the new war was 1937’s Marihuana Transfer Tax Act, which placed strict controls on the growth and use of hemp. Many states adopted their own restrictive laws. At that time, the North Country was a pot-lover’s paradise―except that there weren’t that many pot lovers in the area to enjoy it.
With new rules in place, lawmen immediately began literally weeding out this nefarious plant that was destroying society (according to dubious … perhaps “doobie-ous” is more appropriate … testimony before Congress). Continue reading
The Chemung Valley Living History Center will host the 150th Anniversary Commemoration of Camp Chemung (the Civil War Prisoner of War Camp in Elmira, NY) on May 3rd and 4th, 2014.
The event will include a re-enactment on the actual camp ground in Elmira. Continue reading