Hard history is great, but while conducting research, I’m constantly collecting odd and unlikely stories on a variety of subjects. I like to think of them as the offbeat side of history (stretching the definition of history to include all news items from the past) … of little value to historians, but certainly entertaining. Collecting them helps relieve the (sometimes) tedious job of searching hundreds of pages for a few nuggets of information.
Take, for instance, the subject of North Country linemen, those workers who climb utility poles to make connections or repairs. Their daily routine might be as boring as any other job most of the time, but linemen have a measure of danger built into their profession, beginning with working high above the ground. When something goes wrong, the results can be spectacular. Continue reading
In June, Nyack Hospital and Montefiore Health System issued a joint press release announcing a merger. When the process is complete, Nyack will have a medical institution informed by over two centuries of history in health care. Will the philanthropic and progressive impulses that characterized the creation of nonprofit hospitals in nineteenth-century America endure?
A moment of reflection seems to be in order. Here’s a snapshot of the origins and early days of each health care institution that may provide some prologue and set expectations for what will follow. Nyack Hospital was incorporated in 1895. Initial funds were raised by an initiative called “Kirmess,” that drew inspiration from medieval festivals that used merrymaking to accomplish good. Continue reading
In 1968 the conflict that erupted over community control of the New York City public schools was centered in the black and Puerto Rican community of Ocean Hill–Brownsville. It triggered what remains the longest teachers’ strike in US history.
That clash, between the city’s communities of color and the white, predominantly Jewish teachers’ union, paralyzed the nation’s largest school system, undermined the city’s economy, and heightened racial tensions, ultimately transforming the national conversation about race relations. A new memoir, Inside Ocean Hill–Brownsville: A Teacher’s Education, 1968-69 (SUNY Press, 2014) has been written by Charles S. Isaacs, a teacher who crossed the picket lines. Continue reading
Remember the hit song, “Sixteen Tons,” taken to #1 by Tennessee Ernie Ford many decades ago? Most people are familiar with the famous line, “St. Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go, I owe my soul to the Company Store,” meaning, “Hey, I can’t die … I’ve got debt to pay.”
The line referred to Company Towns of the coal-mining industry, where the company owned everything: coal, land, and houses. Workers were paid with scrip―coupons redeemable only at the Company Store, where prices were artificially inflated. Continue reading
The nation’s first bona-fide all-female union was formed in Troy 150 years ago under the leadership of a young Irish immigrant, Kate Mullany, and her colleague, Esther Keegan, in reaction to low wages, 12- to 14-hour workdays and unsafe conditions in the collar factories.
Local writer and director Ruth Henry dramatizes the story in a new musical, “Don’t Iron While the Strike is Hot.” Continue reading
What happens when a giant high-tech corporation opens a massive new plant on the outskirts of a small, rural, historic city? And what happens when it just as suddenly leaves?
In Kingston: The IBM Years (Friends of Historic Kingston, 2014), three prominent college professors, an award-winning novelist, a longtime Ulster County journalist, and two former IBM Kingston employees examine the history of the IBM complex and the work that was conducted there, the impact the facility had on Kingston and its surroundings, what life was like as an “IBMer,” how it influenced regional architecture and thrust a colonial city into the modern age, and the effect of a “boom and bust” cycle on a rural, traditional community. Continue reading
Historian Jim Mackin will present “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Copake Iron Works But Were Afraid to Ask” at a lecture and slide show on Saturday, June 21st at 2pm at the Roeliff Jansen Community Library, 9091 Route 22 in Copake, Columbia County, NY, followed by a reception and tour of the Iron Works.
Mackin will also host guided tours of the Copake Iron Works Historic District throughout the summer, beginning on June 8th as part of New York State’s Path Through History Weekend. Continue reading
For a century, the world’s best iron ore was produced by a small Clinton County village in upstate New York. That remarkable legacy is shared in the Lyon Mountain Mining and Railroad Museum, housed in the town’s former railroad depot building. The cost to visitors “can’t be beat,” as they say—admission is free.
This community project developed into a remarkable facility dedicated to regional and town history. The focus is on iron mining, once a dominant force in the region’s economy. Continue reading
The Chapman Historical Museum’s new exhibit, At the Lake, which runs through August 31, presents different perspectives on what it has meant to be at Lake George over the past 150 years. Included in the exhibit are the stories of groups that camped on the lake’s many islands, families that built grand homes on the lake, and others who constructed more modest camps.
To diversify the story the exhibit also includes the experiences of people who lived on the lake and worked there each summer as waitresses, cooks, laundry workers, guides and boatmen. Continue reading
Red Hook’s historic Lehigh Barge #79 will play host to the exhibit From Shore to Shore, which explores the worlds of craftsmen and the places where boats and ships are still being worked on today. Thirteen exhibition panels, accompanying audio video interviews and a timeline highlight profiles of master craftsmen, their tools and the historic boat yards where they work.
On May 3rd from 2 to 4 pm there will be a reception featuring curators Nancy Solomon and Tom Van Buren along with invited boat builders, boatyard owners, and waterfront preservation specialists. Continue reading