Tag Archives: Crime and Justice

Dannemora: Love So Strong, It’s Criminal


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Ah, Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air. Chocolates, flowers, and special cards are a must. Maybe a family meal, or perhaps a romantic dinner for two. Jewelry? Diamonds? The sky’s the limit when it comes to making your sweetheart happy and showing true dedication. But it’s all pretty amateurish compared to real commitment. Which brings us to Fred Roderick and Agnes Austin. Their love is one for the history books.

Here’s the story as described in 1883 in a couple of newspapers. Without hard facts, I can’t account for all the details, but you have to admire the sense of purpose, focus, and ingenuity this couple used to achieve togetherness.

At Sageville (now Lake Pleasant, a few miles southeast of Speculator), Fred Roderick, about 25 years old, had been jailed for stealing a pair of horses, which had since been returned. In those days, a convicted horse thief could expect to do time in prison. Next to murder, it was one of the most serious crimes—horses were a key component to survival in the North Country.

In rural Hamilton County, it was no simple task to organize a trial, so for several months the county jail served as Roderick’s home. It was lonely at times, but he wasn’t entirely without company. Every Sunday, the local Methodist pastor brought a dozen or so members of his congregation to the jail, where they sang songs and held a prayer meeting.

For a couple of years, young Agnes Austin was among the church goers who participated. Shortly after Roderick’s incarceration, parish members noticed that, instead of lending her voice to the choir at all times, she seemed to have taken a personal interest in Fred’s salvation.

Soon Agnes gained special permission from the sheriff for weekday visits which, she assured him, would lead Roderick down the straight and narrow. But it seemed to work in the reverse. Agnes began showing up at the jail less often on Sundays and more frequently during the week. Imagine the whispers among her church brethren. Their pretty little friend was consorting with a criminal!

Or maybe her missionary efforts were sincere after all. Fred Roderick finally came forward and accepted religious salvation, owing it all, he said, to young Agnes. People being as they are, tongues wagged more frantically than ever about the supposed scandalous goings-on. Mr. Austin forbade (what was he thinking?) Agnes from making any more jail visits. Taking it one step further, he spoke to the sheriff, hoping to kill a tryst in the making.

It wasn’t long after that Agnes disappeared. With her supposed lover lingering hopelessly in jail, why would she run away? Well, as it turns out, she didn’t. Agnes and Fred had made plans. She was told to hide out at his father’s camp, where he would join her after his escape. (Country jails were often loosely kept, and escapes were common.)

After waiting more than a week for her sweetheart, Agnes took matters into her own hands, which led to a sight that shocked the residents of Sageville. A constable rode into town, and behind him trailed Aggie Austin. The charge? Horse theft. In broad daylight, she had taken not just any horse, but one of the very same horses Fred had stolen!

Because she was female, and because she made no effort to run when pursued, bail was set at $600—which Agnes immediately refused. To the puzzled bondsman and the sheriff, she explained: if Fred couldn’t be with her, then she would be with Fred. To that end, she had left the camp, stolen a horse, made sure she was caught, and now refused to be bailed out of jail.

It gets better. The next morning, Fred informed the sheriff that he wished to marry Miss Austin, and Agnes confirmed the same. Papa Austin most certainly would have objected, but Agnes was 19, of legal age to make her own choice. And that choice was Fred.

The judge was summoned, and the sheriff and his deputies stood witness to the joining. The district attorney weighed in as well, contributing what he could to the couple’s happiness.

Though separate trials were required, he promised to “bring both cases before the same term of court, and thus allow the pair to make their bridal journey together to their future mountain home at Clinton Prison.”

Now THAT’s commitment.

Photo: Clinton Prison at Dannemora, notorious North Country honeymoon site.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Black History Symposium to Examine Prison State


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The City College of New York Black Studies Program presents a symposium, “Confronting the Carceral State II: Activists, Scholars and the Exonerated Speak,” 1 – 7 p.m. Tuesday, February 14, in The Great Hall of Shepard Hall, 160 Convent Ave., New York City. The event, consisting of two panels of activists and scholars plus a book signing, is free and open to the public.

The symposium builds upon the work begun by “Confronting the Carceral State: Policing and Punishment in Modern U.S. History,” a symposium held in March 2010 at Rutgers University. “At that conference,” a press statement from the organizers said, “it was made abundantly clear that the mass incarceration of the poor and people of color was an issue that demanded not only study but action.”

“Confronting the Carceral State II” is intended to inform and inspire study and action. All are welcome to join the audience and engage the panelists and each other in the discussion. The event program follows:

1 – 2 p.m. Reception and book signing for participating authors.

2 – 4 p.m. Panel One: Historical Perspectives:

Dr. Yohuru R. Williams, associate professor of African-American history, Fairfield University, moderator: “I Am Troy Davis: The Execution Narrative and the Politics of Race in 21st Century America.”

Dr. Donna Murch, associate professor of history, Rutgers University: “Towards a Social History of Crack: Drugs and Youth Culture in the Age of Reagan.”

Dr. Heather Thompson, associate professor of history, Temple University: “Ending Today’s Carceral Crisis: Lessons From History.”

Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture: “Occupied Blackness: Urban Policing and the Inevitability of Stop and Frisk.”

4 – 6 p.m. Panel Two: Activists and the Exonerated Speak:

Dr. Johanna Fernandez, assistant professor of Black and Hispanic Studies, Baruch College, moderator: “The New Phase in the Struggle to Release Mumia.”

Javier Cardona, arts & education director, Rehabilitation Through The Arts: “Doing Hope: Applying the Arts to Rehearse and Re-Create Life Within And Outside Prison.”

Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, professor of geography, CUNY Graduate Center: “The Popular Front Against Mass Incarceration: Movement, Perils, Prospects.”

King Downing, program analyst, American Friends Service Committee: “Doing Justice Work.”

Felix A. Navarro, Jr., Leaders Against Systemic Injustice (LASI), City College Student Organization: “Opening The Eyes Of The Youth.”

Vanessa Potkin, senior staff attorney, The Innocence Project: “Addressing Wrongful Convictions.”

Raymond Santana and Korey Wise, “Exonerees From The Central Park Jogger’s Case.”

6 – 7 p.m. Reception and book signing for participants.

For more information, contact Professor Venus Green, 212-650-8656, vgreen@ccny.cuny.edu. To RSVP, please call 212-650-8117.

Photo: The Vernon C. Bain prison barge operated by the City of New York. This medium and maximum security prison facility houses 800 prisoners. It was built in 1992 at a cost of $161 Million. Courtesy Travels of Tug 44.

Boonville’s Jesse Knight, Wyoming Pioneer Judge


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Among the North Country men who made their mark in the Old West was a native of Boonville, in the foothills of the southwestern Adirondacks. He became a success in business, politics, farming, and law, and played an important role in the development of a wild territory into our 44th state. But it was ties to some notorious characters that brought him a measure of fame.

Jesse Knight was born in Boonville on July 5, 1850, the son of Jesse and Henrietta Knight. His grandfather, Isaac, had settled in Oneida County in the early 1800s and raised a family, among them Jesse’s father. But young Jesse never knew his dad, who left that same year for California, and died of yellow fever on the Isthmus of Panama. (The isthmus was a newly created US Mail route to reach California and Oregon, and a popular path for pioneers headed West.)

Jesse attended schools in Lewis, Oneida, and Fulton counties, and at 17 went to live with an uncle in Minnesota for two years. He moved to Omaha, and then settled in the Wyoming Territory. Within a decade, Knight progressed from store clerk and postmaster to court clerk and attorney. At Evanston near Wyoming’s southwest border, while running a successful law practice, he served as Territorial Auditor.

He also acted as a land sales agent for Union Pacific. Among the properties he sold was 1,906 acres on the Bear River … to one Jesse Knight.

In 1888 he was elected prosecuting attorney of Uinta County, and in 1890, when Wyoming attained statehood, he was voted a member of the state constitutional convention. He was also elected as judge of the Third Judicial District.

By this time, Knight was doing quite well financially and had added to his landholdings. On nearly 1400 acres along the Bear River and more than 800 acres of hills, the judge’s ranch had developed into an impressive enterprise. Within the fenced property, he grew high-quality hay (250 tons) and rye (50 tons), and raised herds of superior-grade cattle and horses.

Irrigation was a key element: two main ditches (one was 3 miles long, 20 feet wide, and 4 feet deep) supplied ample water. The Union Pacific rail line bisected the property, allowing Jesse’s products easy access to markets elsewhere.

Besides his showcase farming operation, Knight’s public career was also flourishing. In 1896, he suffered what appeared to be a setback, failing to win the Republican re-nomination for district judge. Unfazed, he ran as an Independent and won handily. A year later, he was appointed as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of Wyoming to fill an unexpired term. In 1898, Knight was elected to a full 8-year term.

His business ventures were similarly successful. Besides the ranch, he owned part of a copper mine. He was also one of only two Americans working with several of Europe’s wealthiest men in developing oil wells in Wyoming. The consortium was valued at $10 million (equal to over a quarter billion in 2011). Jesse had a seat on the board of directors.

In 1902, his prominence was noted in the naming of the Knight Post Office, which served a community near Evanston for 19 years.

On April 9, 1905, though still a young man of only 55, Supreme Court Justice Jesse Knight died of pneumonia. He had accomplished a great deal for any man, let alone a poor, fatherless boy from the wilds of New York. His survivors included a wife and five children.

Among Knight’s legacy are connections to some of the West’s notorious characters. In his capacities as rancher, lawyer, prosecutor, and judge, he dealt with many violent, dangerous men over the years. According to biographers of “Big Nose” George Parrott, it was Judge Jesse Knight who sentenced Parrott to hang for the attempted robbery of a Union Pacific pay car and the subsequent killing of two lawmen who were pursuing him.

It was pretty much an average crime story until Parrott tried to escape from jail before Knight’s sentence could be carried out. The attempt prompted an angry mob to forcibly remove Big Nose from his cell and string him up from a telegraph pole.

John Osborne, one of the doctors who had possession of Parrott’s body, examined the brain for abnormalities. Further dissection of the body led to lasting fame for Parrott’s remains. The skull cap that had been removed was saved, and over the years it served as an ash tray, a pen holder, and a doorstop. A death mask of his face was also made. That aside, now it gets gruesome.

His body was flayed, and the skin was sent to a tannery, where it was made into a medical bag, a coin purse, and a pair of shoes, all of which were used by Osborne. The shoes were two-toned—the dark half came from the shoes Parrott wore during the hanging, and the lighter part was made from his own skin.

Doctor Osborne wore the shoes for years—even to the inaugural ball when he was elected governor of Wyoming! The rest of Parrott’s remains were placed in a whiskey barrel filled with a salt solution, and eventually buried. The barrel was uncovered in 1950, and it was found that the skull cap neatly fit the remains, proving it was Parrott’s body. Other tests later confirmed the results. The death mask and “skin shoes” are now on display in a museum in Rawlins, Wyoming.

In 1903, Supreme Court Justice Knight was involved in the famous case of Tom Horn, a former lawman and detective turned outlaw and hired gun. In a controversial trial, Horn was convicted and sentenced to hang for the killing of a 14-year-old boy. Justice Knight was among those who reviewed the appeal, which was denied. Horn was hanged in November, 1903.

The most famous character linked to Knight was Roy Parker, who was actually Robert LeRoy Parker, better known as Butch Cassidy. They met when Cassidy was arrested for horse theft, a case tried in “Knight court.” After delays, the trial was finally held in 1894. Cassidy was very popular, and many of his friends were in town with the intent of intervening on his behalf.

A verdict was reached, but Knight ordered it sealed, to be opened on the following Monday, by which time it was hoped many of the visitors would have left town. But Cassidy’s friends were loyal, and high anxiety reigned in the packed courtroom when the verdict was read. To counter the danger, the sheriff, several town officials, many private citizens, and the attorneys all came to court armed. Famously, Judge Jesse Knight carried a pistol, hidden beneath his robes.

The jury pronounced Cassidy guilty, recommending him to the mercy of the court. Knight sentenced him to two years in the Wyoming State Penitentiary at Laramie. A few months before his scheduled release, Cassidy’s sentence was commuted. The term imposed by Judge Knight was the only prison time Butch Cassidy ever served during his lengthy, notorious career.

Photos―Top, Jesse Knight; Middle right, Big Nose George Parrott; Middle left, Shoes of George Parrott … literally; Bottom, Robert LeRoy Parker, aka Butch Cassidy.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Colonel Jonathan Hasbrouck’s Tory Son Cornelius?


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Governor George Clinton of New York sat down at his desk, in January 1781, to read a painful letter from Judge Robert Yates. The letter concerned the son of a now deceased acquaintance, Colonel Jonathan Hasbrouck. It involved his oldest son, Cornelius Hasbrouck, who as Clinton read the letter, sat in a Kingston jail tried, convicted, and branded for stealing “sundry oxen and goods and chattels of the United States of America”. Continue reading

Books: Aaron Burr’s Challenge to Jefferson’s America


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The name Aaron Burr instantly calls to mind one event: his duel with Alexander Hamilton, in which the latter, one of the darlings of American politics, was slain. But there was so much more to Burr, one of the most fascinating characters in American history, now revealed in American Emperor: Aaron Burr’s Challenge to Jefferson’s America (Simon & Schuster, 2011) by DC-based historian David O. Stewart.

At one time or another, Burr was considered a man of great integrity, a shoo-in for the presidency, a murderer, and a traitor. Yet the most outrageous story about Burr is known to few and understood by fewer still. As he neared the end of his vice-presidential term in 1804, he began an extraordinary scheme to create his own personal empire in North America.

For generations, historians and writers have scratched their heads over what Aaron Burr was up to when he traveled west in 1805, leaving the vice presidency while under indictment in two states for the murder of Hamilton. Did Burr mean to foment secession of America’s West? Insurrection in New Orleans? An invasion of Mexico and Spanish Florida? Or simply to lead a settlement of Louisiana lands? In American Emperor, Stewart tells this astonishing part of Burr’s story, tracing his descent from made man to political pariah to imperialist adventurer.

The same passion for history that led the New York Times to print a glowing review of Stewart’s first book, The Summer of 1787, about the writing of the Constitution, can be found in his new account that combines history with an arresting adventure story.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Lecture: Famous Murder Case at the Adk Museum


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The first program of the Adirondack Museum’s 2012 Cabin Fever Sunday series, “Chester Gillette: The Adirondacks’ Most Famous Murder Case” will be held on Sunday, January 15, 2012.

It’s the stuff movies are made of- a secret relationship, a pregnancy and a murder. Over a century after it happened in Big Moose Lake, Herkimer County, the Chester Gillette murder case of 1906 is the murder that will never die. The murder of Grace Brown and the case following was the subject of Theodore Dreiser’s 1925 book An American Tragedy, and the Hollywood movie A Place in the Sun.

The story continues to be told today with a 1999 Opera at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and in a 2011 documentary North Woods Elegy. Author Craig Brandon, considered among the world’s foremost experts on the case, and author of Murder in the Adirondacks, will present and lead a discussion.

Craig Brandon is a national award-winning author of six books of popular history and public affairs and a former award-winning reporter.

Held in the Auditorium, the program will begin at 1:30 p.m. Cabin Fever Sundays are offered at no charge to museum members or children of elementary school age and younger. The fee for non-members is $5.00. The Museum Store and Visitor Center will be open from noon to 4 p.m. For additional information, please call (518) 352-7311, ext. 128 or visit
www.adirondackmuseum.org.

New Book on Convicts in Colonial America


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Independent scholar Anthony Vaver’s blog Early American Crime has staked-out some substantial ground with what he calls “an exploration of the social and cultural history of crime and punishment in colonial America and the early United States.” Now Vaver has an outstanding volume to accompany his work on the web, Bound with an Iron Chain: The Untold Story of How the British Transported 50,000 Convicts to Colonial America (Pickpocket Publishing, 2011).

Most people know that England shipped thousands of convicts to Australia, but few are aware that colonial America was the original destination for Britain’s unwanted criminals. In the 18th century, thousands of British convicts were separated from their families, chained together in the hold of a ship, and carried off to America, sometimes for the theft of a mere handkerchief.

What happened to these convicts once they arrived in America? Did they prosper in an environment of unlimited opportunity, or were they ostracized by the other colonists? Anthony Vaver, who has a Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, tells the stories of the petty thieves and professional criminals who were punished by being sent across the ocean to work on plantations. In bringing to life this forgotten chapter in American history, he challenges the way we think about immigration to early America.

The book also includes an index and an appendix with helpful tips for researching individual convicts who were transported to America.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

New Book: Sport of Kings, Kings of Crime


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A new book, The Sport of Kings and the Kings of Crime: Horse Racing, Politics, and Organized Crime in New York, 1865-1913 by Steven A. Riess, fills a long-neglected gap in sports history, offering a richly detailed and fascinating chronicle of thoroughbred racing’s heyday and its connections with politics and organized crime.

Thoroughbred racing was one of the first major sports in early America. Horse racing thrived because it was a high-status sport that attracted the interest of both old and new money. It grew because spectators enjoyed the pageantry, the exciting races, and, most of all, the gambling.

As the sport became a national industry, the New York metropolitan area, along with the resort towns of Saratoga Springs (New York) and Long Branch (New Jersey), remained at the center of horse racing with the most outstanding race courses, the largest purses, and the finest thoroughbreds.

Riess narrates the history of horse racing, detailing how and why New York became the national capital of the sport from the mid-1860s until the early twentieth century. The sport’s survival depended upon the racetrack being the nexus between politicians and organized crime.

The powerful alliance between urban machine politics and track owners enabled racing in New York to flourish. Gambling, the heart of racing’s appeal, made the sport morally suspect. Yet democratic politicians protected the sport, helping to establish the State Racing Commission, the first state agency to regulate sport in the United States.

At the same time, racetracks became a key connection between the underworld and Tammany Hall, enabling illegal poolrooms and off-course bookies to operate. Organized crime worked in close cooperation with machine politicians and local police officers to protect these illegal operations.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Alcatraz Island Exhibit at Ellis Island Museum


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Every year only 1.5 million people can visit Alcatraz Island, but the demand to see the historical landmark is twice that. New Yorkers now have the chance to see what “The Rock” was like with the opening of Alcatraz: Life on The Rock, a traveling exhibit that tells the legendary story of Alcatraz Island, at the Liberty National Monument’s Ellis Island Museum of Immigration. The 2,800 square-foot modular exhibit of artifacts and interactive displays runs until Jan. 12, 2012 on the third floor of the Grand Hall.

Created by Alcatraz Cruises in partnership with the National Park Service (NPS), the 2,800 square-foot modular exhibit features authentic artifacts and recreated areas of the prison. Visitors enter the exhibit through a Civil War Sally Port to a touchable model of the island and can then explore four eras of the island’s history: “Preserving the Rock,” “Strength: The Native American Occupation,” “Life on the Inside,” and “Military History.” Murals, video clips and memorabilia help bring to life other historical elements of the island such as its role as a military prison, the Native American occupation of 1969–71, Alcatraz’s depiction in pop culture and the island’s lush flora and fauna. Visitors can also get an inside look at the infamous federal prison, operated from 1934–1963.

Guests can visually experience life inside the prison by looking through a mock tunnel, similar to the one dug by prisoners attempting escape, and by searching for Civil War era etchings in a recreated prison wall. The exhibit features several rare, authentic artifacts, including an original letter written by Robert “Birdman” Stroud, a blood-smeared baseball from the Alcatraz exercise yard, a butter knife turned weapon and a cookbook that the Alcatraz Women’s Club sold to families on the island.

Admission is included with all Statue Cruises tickets to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and is only accessible by ferry during operating hours.

To purchase tickets, visit www.statuecruises.com. Museums interested in booking the Alcatraz: Life on the Rock exhibit can learn more by calling Denise Rasmussen at (415) 438-8320.

Lawrence Gooley: Lincoln’s Avengers


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There is a historical connection between a group of North Country men and the Abraham Lincoln story. On the downside, the men in question are linked to a dark subject, the aftermath of Lincoln’s death. On the upside, they played a positive role in the hunt for the president’s assassin. With admiration, they have been referred to as Lincoln’s Avengers.

Several men from Clinton, Essex, St. Lawrence, and Warren counties belonged to the Sixteenth New York Cavalry. Shortly after Lincoln’s death, the troop was among the military escort at the president’s funeral. An honor, surely, but not the event that would bring them a measure of fame.

In the days following the assassination, multiple search missions were conducted in Washington and elsewhere in the hopes of finding John Wilkes Booth and his accomplices. After several false alarms, important new information was uncovered, requiring a swift response.

On April 24, five days after Lincoln’s funeral, headquarters in Washington ordered Lieutenant Edward Doherty to gather 25 men of the Sixteenth New York Cavalry and report to Colonel L. C. (Lafayette) Baker, Special Agent for the War Department. Among those to step forward and answer the call were ten men from the Adirondack region.

Doherty met with his captain and later reported: “He informed me that he had reliable information that the assassin Booth and his accomplice were somewhere between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. He gave me several photographs of Booth and introduced me to Mr. Conger and Mr. Baker, and said they would accompany me.

“He directed me to scour the section of the country indicated thoroughly, to make my own disposition of the men in my command, and to forage upon the country, giving receipts for what was taken from loyal parties.” In other words, move now. There was no time to prepare. Food and other needs would have to be secured from sympathetic US citizens, who would later be reimbursed.

For two days the troop pursued leads almost without pause, finally ending up at the now infamous Garrett farm in Caroline County, Virginia. Inside the barn was perhaps the most wanted man in American history, Booth, and one of his conspirators, David Herold.

The men of the Sixteenth surrounded the barn while negotiations and threats were passed back and forth between Booth and Lieutenant Doherty. Booth refused to leave the barn despite warnings he would be burned out. He even offered to shoot it out with Doherty’s men if they would pull back a certain distance from the barn.

Realizing he faced almost certain death, David Herold decided to surrender. After leaving the barn, he was tied to a tree and questioned. He verified for Doherty that it was indeed Booth inside the barn. The original plan, he said, was to kidnap Lincoln, but Booth instead killed him, and then threatened to do the same to Herold if he didn’t help Booth escape.

Doherty again turned his attention to the barn and its lone desperate occupant, who refused to come out. Finally, Everton Conger, one of Lafayette Baker’s detectives who accompanied the troops, set fire to the barn around 3 am. The idea was to force their quarry out, but things didn’t go as planned.

Due to the rapidly spreading blaze, Booth could be seen moving about inside the barn, and one of the men, Boston Corbett, decided to act. Claiming he could see that Booth was about to shoot at Doherty, Corbett fired. His shot hit Booth in the neck, coincidentally only an inch or two from where Booth’s own bullet had struck Lincoln.

Their captive was dragged from the barn, still alive, but he died about three hours later. Shortly after, his body and the prisoner, Herold, were taken to Washington. The most famous manhunt in American history was over.

Within several months, the men of the Sixteenth were discharged, carrying with them the pride (and the attending glory) for delivering what many felt was justice. Most of them returned to humble lives, sharing their story with family and friends over the years.

Six of the ten North Country men who participated lived at one time or another in the Saranac area. They had connections to many regional communities, having been born, lived in, or died in: Bangor, Beekmantown, Brushton, Cadyville, Chester (Chestertown), Elizabethtown, Minerva, Norfolk, Olmstedville, Plattsburgh, and Schuyler Falls.

As often happens, the spelling of names varies widely in census records, military records, and newspapers. This admired group of North Country heroes included: David Baker, William Byrne, Godfrey Phillip Hoyt, Martin Kelly, Oliver Lonkey (or Lompay), Franklin McDaniels (or Frank McDonald), John Millington, Emory Parady, Lewis Savage, and Abram Snay (Abraham, Senay, Genay).

In 1865, Congress voted reward money to those involved in the capture of many individuals. Among those so honored were the men of the Sixteenth New York Cavalry, the envy of all others for killing the man who himself had murdered a legend.

Photo Top: Actor and assassin John Wilkes Booth.

Photo Middle: Conspirators at the ends of their ropes. Hanging, from left to right: Mary Surratt, David Herold, Lewis Powell, and George Atzerodt at Washington, DC, on July 7, 1865.

Photo Bottom: Congressional award list for Lincoln’s Avengers. The North Country men received the modern equivalent of $28,000 each.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Young Al Capone: Scarface in New York


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Many people are familiar with the story of Al Capone, the “untouchable” Chicago gangster best known for orchestrating the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. But few are aware that Capone’s remarkable story began in the Navy Yard section of Brooklyn. Tutored by the likes of infamous mobsters Johnny Torrio and Frankie Yale, young Capone’s disquieting demeanor, combined with the “technical advice” he learned from these insidious pedagogues, contributed to the molding of a brutal criminal whose pseudonym, “Scarface,” evoked fascination throughout the world.

Despite the best efforts of previous biographers lacking true insider access, details about Capone’s early years have generally remained shrouded in mystery. Now through family connections the authors of Young Al Capone: The Untold Story of Scarface in New York, 1899-1925, William and John Balsamo, were able to access Capone’s known living associates. Collecting information through these interviews and rare documents, the life of young Al Capone in New York comes into greater focus.

Among the revelations in Young Al Capone are new details about the brutal Halloween Night murder of rival gangster “Wild Bill” Lovett, grisly details on how Capone and his Black Hand crew cleverly planned the shootout and barbaric hatchet slaying of White Hand boss, Richard “Peg Leg” Lonergan, insight into the dramatic incident that forced Capone to leave New York, and more.

Bill Balsamo, considered by some to be one of the premier Capone historians, has invested more than twenty-five years in researching and writing this book. He is the author of Crime, Inc. (now in its fifth printing). John Balsamo worked on the Brooklyn waterfront for more than thirty years while compiling extensive material regarding the life of young Capone.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Event Marks 1850 Fugitive Slave Act Protest


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In August 1850 Gerrit Smith and Frederick Douglass organized a two day convention of abolitionists to protest Congressional debate on the proposed Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. 2,000 people attended the meeting in Cazenovia which Ezra Greenleaf Weld captured in the famous daguerreotype image owned by the Madison County Historical Society in Oneida NY. At 2 p.m. on Sunday, August 21, the 151st anniversary of the first day of that Cazenovia Convention, Norman K. Dann Ph.D. and W. Edward Edmonston Ph.D. will present Protest to the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act.



Norm Dann, professor emeritus Morrisville State College, will provide a brief chronology of the events that led to the second of two laws to return escaped slaves, and outline the horrendous intent and the dreadful impact of the law on slaves and free citizens. Dann is the author of Practical Dreamer: Gerrit Smith and the Crusade for Social Reform (2009), a Steward at the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark, and a founder and member of the Cabinet of Freedom for the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum.

Bill Edmonston holds Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and taught for four years in the School of Medicine, Washington University (St. Louis) before coming to Colgate University where he taught Neuroscience/Psychology for 29 years. While at Colgate he was named New York Professor of the Year and a National Gold Medalist in the CASE Professor of the Year Awards program (1988). Edmonston also held a Fulbright teaching fellowship (1982) at the University of Erlangen, Germany.

Edmonston has published three professional books, one book on the American Civil War, and two mystery novels. From 1989 to 2005 Bill and his wife Nellie, had a small publishing firm (Edmonston Publishing, Inc.) that specialized in original journals and memoirs of the American Civil War. Learning of the Cazenovia Fugitive Slave Law Convention through the publishing company’s participation in the Annual Peterboro Civil War Weekend, Edmonston became especially curious about two aspects of that convention: 1) The Edmonson sisters, and 2) the lack of a pictorial depiction of the meeting other than the well-known daguerreotype.

The Edmonson sisters, who escaped slavery and who were in attendance at the Cazenovia meeting, had lived in the same area of Montgomery County, Maryland, where Bill’s ancestors had resided and held slaves. Knowing that the family name is variously spelled, Edmonston set upon a search for a possible common ancestor with the Edmonson sisters.

In 2010 Bill created an oil painting of the central figures of the Cazenovia Convention daguerreotype and donated it to the Gerrit Smith Estate NHL. Bill took up painting about a dozen years ago, and paints “whatever strikes my fancy,” including landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes, still-life, people, and trompe l’oeil. Bill’s oil paintings have appeared in shows in Cooperstown, Utica, Old Forge, Albany and other venues in the upstate region. His works are in private collections in Philadelphia, New York City, Virginia Beach, Munich, Germany and the Central New York area.

The public is encouraged to attend the program at the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark, 4543 Peterboro Road / 5304 Oxbow Road, Peterboro NY. Admission is two dollars. Students are free. This program is one of a series of programs provided by the Stewards for the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark during 2011 and partially supported by a PACE grant from the Central New York Community Foundation. The Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark and the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum are open from 1 – 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays from May 14 to October 23 in 2011.

Admission to each site is two dollars. Stewards and students are free. For more information: Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark, 4543 Peterboro Road, Peterboro NY 13134-0006 www.gerritsmith.org 315-684-3262 and National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, 5255 Pleasant Valley Road, Peterboro NY 13134-0055 www.AbolitionHoF.org 315-684-3262

Illustration: Oil painting created by Bill Edmonston of 1850 Cazenovia Convention organized to protest the Fugitive Slave Bill.

Historical Fiction: Secret of the White Rose


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2010 Edgar Award winning Author Stefanie Pintoff has a new novel of historic fiction set in turn-of-the-century New York, Secret of the White Rose.

The murder of Judge Hugo Jackson is out of Detective Simon Ziele’s jurisdiction in more ways than one. For one, it’s high-profile enough to command the attention of the notorious new police commissioner, since Judge Jackson was presiding over the sensational trial of Al Drayson. Drayson, an anarchist, set off a bomb at a Carnegie family wedding, but instead of killing millionaires, it killed passersbys, including a child. The dramatic trial captured the full attention of 1906 New York City.

Furthermore, Simon’s assigned precinct on Manhattan’s West Side includes the gritty Tenderloin but not the tonier Gramercy Park, which is where the judge is found in his locked town house with his throat slashed on the night before the jury is set to deliberate. But his widow insists on calling her husband’s old classmate criminologist, Alistair Sinclair, who in turn enlists Ziele’s help. Together they must steer Sinclair’s unorthodox methods past a police force that is so focused on rounding up Drayson’s supporters that they’ve all but rejected any other possibilities.

Stefanie Pintoff’s combination of characters and a fascinating case set amongst the sometimes brutal, sometimes glittering history of turn-of-the-century New York makes for compelling reading.

Pintofff, who won an Edgar Award Winner for her first novel, is a long-time New Yorker whose first two novels, In the Shadow of Gotham (April 2009), A Curtain Falls (May 2010) also cover early New York circa 1904-1906.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Special Tour of Grant’s Cottage, Mt. McGregor Offered


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Adirondack Architectural Heritage is offering a special tour of Mt. McGregor in Saratoga County on Monday, July 18. Mt. McGregor is the home to Grant’s Cottage and Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility. The latter is a compound of buildings that sprawls along the mountaintop and was constructed in 1912 as a tuberculosis hospital by Metropolitan Life Insurance Company to care for its afflicted employees.

By the 1940s it had become a veteran’s camp, and then a center for people with developmental disabilities. After a period of vacancy, the site reopened in 1976 as a medium security prison. Just over the fence is the cottage where Ulysses S. Grant spent his final months completing his memoirs before succumbing to throat cancer in 1885.

The tour will be led by Wilton Town historian, Jeannine Woutersz, and will include a visit to the Wilton Heritage Museum, Grant’s Cottage, and Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility. The tour begins at 10 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m. The fee is $40 for AARCH and Wilton Heritage Society members and $50 for non-members. Reservations are required; the registration deadline is Friday, July 8.

Adirondack Architectural Heritage (AARCH) is the private, non-profit, historic preservation organization for the Adirondack Park region. This tour is one of over fifty events in their annual series highlighting the region’s architectural legacy. For more information on membership and our complete program schedule contact AARCH at (518) 834-9328 or visit their website.

Photo: The Wilton Heritage Society Museum, formerly the Methodist Episcopal Church, built in 1871.

Books: 19th Century Murder Mystery


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Story ideas are the stuff of legend, and the idea for Ellen Horan’s debut novel 31 Bond Street came from a long forgotten mid-19th century Manhattan murder mystery.

31 Bond Street transports readers back to New York City in 1857, to a gripping murder case known as the ‘Bond Street Murder.’ Horan discovered a yellowed newspaper page in a print shop and her research soon uncovered one of the most sensational trials of the century, occupying front pages as the nation grappled with the perils of the impending Civil War.

The story begins during on a blustery January morning when a wealthy dentist, Dr. Harvey Burdell, is found brutally murdered in his sumptuous townhouse at 31 Bond Street in Manhattan. An attractive widow, Emma Cunningham, becomes the prime suspect. Emma Cunningham’s fate is placed in the hands of two lawyers: the idealistic defense attorney, Henry Clinton, and the District Attorney, Abraham Oakey Hall, who aspires to be mayor.

With Cunningham’s life on the line, Clinton applies the new science of forensic analysis in an attempt to spare her from the gallows. The murder case uncovers tensions and rifts in the upstairs-downstairs world of 31 Bond Street, as well the city at large. As a woman seeking security for herself and her daughters through marriage, Emma Cunningham made the fatal mistake of placing her trust in the unscrupulous Dr. Burdell, whose world included financiers who plot for land and power, corrupt politicians, a conspiracy of slavers and a courageous black carriage driver who has witnessed too much.

Incorporating historical material from trial testimony and newspaper accounts, Horan expertly researched 31 Bond Street and filled it with authentic details of life in New York City, great and small: the hoops and whalebone stays under a velvet gown, the lacing of cherry trees lining Washington Square, walnut catsup at Astor House, Lenape Indians in Hudson River Park.

The new paperback’s PS section includes an interview with author, the story behind the book, and more.

Ellen Horan has worked as a studio artist and as a photo editor for magazines and books in New York City. She lives in downtown Manhattan, the setting of her first novel. Her website is http://www.31bondstreet.com/.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Walking Tour Explores the Mafia in America


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A new walking tour examines the roots of the Mafia in America including the often overlooked early lives of such criminal heavyweights as Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Al “Scarface” Capone, Giuseppe Morello, Joe “The Boss” Masseria, Meyer Lansky, “Bugsy” Siegel, and more.

The weekly walking tour with guide Eric Ferrara is hosted by the Lower East Side History Project and runs every Saturday and Thursday at 2:00 pm, through March 2011. The cost is $20 per person.

The tour details the Sicilian and Italian immigrant experience and conditions which led to organized gangsterism in America. From the arrival of Sicilian Black Handers and Neapolitan Camorra to New York in the 1890s, to the forming of the Mafia Commission in 1931, tour participants visit the early homes, headquarters, hangouts and assassination locations of some of the most powerful criminals in American history, and explore the wars which shaped the future of organized crime.

Sites visits include “Black Hand Block,” headquarters of the “first family” of the American Mafia; the headquarters of Paul Kelly’s notorious Five Points Gang, the gang responsible for breeding the likes of Al Capone, Johnny Torrio, “Lucky” Luciano, and hundreds more; the home of prohibition era’s “Boss of Bosses;” and the childhood homes and teenage haunts of “Lucky” Luciano, “Bugsy” Siegel and Meyer Lansky.

Ferrara deciphers the myths and realities of the Mafia in Hollywood, including Boardwalk Empire and The Godfather series. Ferrara is a published author, educator, and founder of the Lower East Side History Project and the first museum in America dedicated to gangsterism. He is a fourth generation native New Yorker with Sicilian roots in Little Italy dating back to the 1880s, and has assisted several movie, tv, and media projects world wide, including HBO, SyFy, History Channel and National Geographic.

Ferrara says that he has consulted the families and estates of crime figures discussed on the tour, as well as law enforcement agents, collectors, authors and historians to provide unique first-hand accounts, images and documents in over five years of research.

For more information visit the Lower East Side History Project online.

A Livingston Family Secret: Arsenic and Clam Chowder


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Arsenic and Clam Chowder recounts the sensational 1896 murder trial of Mary Alice Livingston, a member of one of the most prestigious families in New York, who was accused of murdering her own mother, Evelina Bliss.

The bizarre instrument of death, an arsenic-laced pail of clam chowder, had been delivered to the victim by her ten-year-old granddaughter, and Livingston was arrested in her mourning clothes immediately after attending her mother’s funeral.

In addition to being the mother of four out-of-wedlock children, the last born in prison while she was awaiting trial, Livingston faced the possibility of being the first woman to be executed in New York’s new-fangled electric chair, and all these lurid details made her arrest and trial the central focus of an all-out circulation war then underway between Joseph Pulitzer’s World and William Randolph Hearst’s Journal.

The story is set against the electric backdrop of Gilded Age Manhattan. The arrival of skyscrapers, automobiles, motion pictures, and other modern marvels in the 1890s was transforming urban life with breathtaking speed, just as the battles of reformers against vice, police corruption, and Tammany Hall were transforming the city’s political life.

The aspiring politician Teddy Roosevelt, the prolific inventor Thomas Edison, bon vivant Diamond Jim Brady, and his companion Lillian Russell were among Gotham’s larger-than-life personalities, and they all played cameo roles in the dramatic story of Mary Alice Livingston and her arsenic-laced clam chowder.

In addition to telling a ripping good story, the book addresses a number of social and legal issues, among them capital punishment, equal rights for women, societal sexual standards, inheritance laws in regard to murder, gender bias of juries, and the meaning of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Ferdinand Pecora’s Investigation of the Great Crash


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In the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, the image of Wall Street’s most influential powerbrokers being called before Congress to give an accounting of their actions will not soon be forgotten. One name was repeatedly invoked during this time, a reminder of when the government first had to step in to protect the American people from Wall Street’s excessive greed: Ferdinand Pecora.

In the winter of 1933, Ferdinand Pecora took the reins of the bumbling Senate investigation of the 1929 crash. He was an unlikely hero: Sicilian-born, stout, with little experience in the Wall Street realm, he nevertheless created the sensational headlines needed to galvanize public opinion for reform. The hearings, under his leadership, spurred Congress to take unprecedented steps to rein in the free-wheeling banking industry, and led directly to the New Deal’s landmark economic reforms.

Now, Michael Perino’s The Hellhound Of Wall Street: How Ferdinand Pecora’s Investigation of the Great Crash Forever Changed American Finance, tells the story of Pecora’s pursuit of the “banksters” of Wall Street. The story a resonates so powerfully even today that Nancy Pelosi, Frank Rich, and Ron Chernow, among others, have publically referred to his legacy.

The Pecora commission brought an end to Washington’s traditionally hands-off approach to the stock market and led directly to the creation of the SEC and other landmark financial reforms that still govern our markets today.

In Hellhound Of Wall Street, Congressional hearings become high-stakes courtroom drama, with an inspiring tale of an unlikely hero’s triumph over powerful interests. Michael Perino provides a minute-by-minute account of the ten dramatic days when Pecora turned the hearings around, cross-examining the officers of National City Bank (today’s Citigroup), particularly its chairman, Charles Mitchell, one of the best known bankers of his day.

Mitchell strode into the hearing room in obvious disdain for the proceedings, but he left utterly disgraced. Pecora’s rigorous questioning revealed that City Bank was guilty of shocking financial abuses, from selling worthless bonds to manipulating its stock price. Most offensive of all, and all too familiar sounding today, was the excessive compensation and bonuses awarded to its executives for peddling shoddy securities to the American public.

A gripping courtroom drama with remarkable contemporary relevance, Hellhound Of Wall Street brings to life a crucial turning point in American financial history and reminds us again of the delicate and crucial relationship between Wall Street and government.

Michael Perino is the Dean George W. Matheson Professor of Law at St. John’s University School of Law. A former Wall Street litigator, Perino has authored numerous articles on securities regulation, securities fraud, and class action litigation. He has testified in both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives and is frequently quoted in the media on securities and corporate matters. He has appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered”, “Morning Edition”, and “Marketplace”, and on “Bill Moyers’ Journal” on PBS, and on CNBC.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Early American Crime Site Launches Podcast


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One of the more interesting early American sites on the internets, Anthony Vaver’s Early American Crime, is now available as a podcast. Beginning with “Early American Criminals: Thomas Mount and the Flash Company,” you can subscribe to hear (as well as read) tales of America’s earliest criminals.

Early American Crime features stories about the criminal underworld of colonial America and the early United States including criminal profiles, cultural essays, features on early crime slang, and an outstanding series of posts on convict transportation including it’s evolution as a new form of punishment, the business of transportation, convict voyages, and the end of the system.

Vaver described his site when it launched in 2008 by saying: “Crime and its punishment are among the top social concerns in the United States today. Over one percent of the adult population in the United States now lives in prison, and even though the United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, it holds almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners. Stories of crime fill our newspapers and affect the elections of our public officials. Yet, we as Americans know little about the history of crime and punishment that has brought us to this point. My hope is that this website will help provide a more complete understanding of crime and punishment in America by focusing on its early appearance and practice.”

The site is well worth taking a look at, and now also a listen to.

Adirondack History Center Ghost Stories, Book Signing


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The Adirondack History Center Museum is offering ghost stories, haunting music and a book signing on Saturday, October 30 at 4:00pm. The program begins with stories of Essex County ghosts by storyteller Karen Glass. Ms. Glass is Keene Valley town librarian and a member of the Adirondack Storytellers’ Guild and the League of New England Storytellers.

Haunting music will accompany the storytelling. Following the ghost stories, there is a book signing by author Cheri Farnsworth of her book Adirondack Enigma: The Depraved Intellect & Mysterious Life of North Country Wife Killer Henry Debosnys. Henry Debosnys was the last person hanged in Essex County in 1883. His skull, noose, drawings and a pass to his execution are exhibited at the museum.

Cider and donuts will be served at the program. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for members. Students 18 and under are free. Please call the museum for reservations at (518) 873-6466.