On the Fifth of July, there will be a ceremony in the Ithaca City Cemetery to remember and rededicate the grave sites of two African American families. The Tompkins County Civil War Commission and the Sons of Union Veterans collaborated to clean the grave of Daniel Jackson, who was called “Faithful.”
Jackson was slave in Maryland before fleeing to Ithaca, where he joined others he had known from the South. He was a reliable worker in E. S. Esty’s tannery and at the end of the Civil War he returned to his birthplace to bring his elderly mother North to live with him. The two died in 1889 five days apart: he was 75 and she was thought to be 103. A stone has been placed to mark her resting place and the plot has been landscaped. Continue reading
An obituary from 1865 led me to investigate the life of Ira T. Brum, who enlisted in the 185th New York Volunteers in June 1864. The regiment was full of young men from Onondaga and Cortland, and some few from elsewhere in the state. Company F contained mostly men from Cortland who enlisted together that spring.
The 185th participated in the siege of Petersburg and was part of the Appomattox Campaign, fighting at Quaker Road, Gravelly Run, Five Forks and at Appomattox Court House. There, on April 9th, 1865 members of the 185th saw the “white flag come out and was glad to see it.” First Lieutenant Hiram Clark of Marathon gathered his men and sang “Hail Columbia.” As the men settled against a fence, a shell came over and killed Clark, the “last man killed in the army of the Potomac.” Continue reading
The Epidemic: A Collision of Power, Privilege, and Public Health by David DeKok tells the story of how a vain and reckless businessman became responsible for a typhoid epidemic in 1903 that devastated Cornell University and the surrounding town of Ithaca. Eighty-two people died, including twenty-nine Cornell students.
Protected by influential friends, William T. Morris faced no retribution for this outrage. His legacy was a corporation—first known as Associated Gas & Electric Co. and later as General Public Utilities Corp.—that bedeviled America for a century. The Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979 was its most notorious historical event, but hardly its only offense against the public interest.
The Ithaca epidemic came at a time when engineers knew how to prevent typhoid outbreaks but physicians could not yet cure the disease. Both professions were helpless when it came to stopping a corporate executive who placed profit over the public health. Government was a concerned but helpless bystander.
For modern-day readers acutely aware of the risk of a devastating global pandemic and of the dangers of unrestrained corporate power, The Epidemic provides a riveting look back at a heretofore little-known, frightening episode in America’s past that seems all too familiar. Written in the tradition of The Devil in the White City, it is an utterly compelling, thoroughly researched work of narrative history with an edge.
David DeKok is the author of Fire Underground: The Ongoing Tragedy of the Centralia Mine Fire (Globe Pequot Press), which previously appeared as Unseen Danger. A former award-winning investigative reporter for the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, he has been a guest on Fresh Air and The Diane Rehm Show.
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The program schedule and registration form for the 31st Conference on New York State History at Ithaca College on June 3-5 are now available at http://www.nyhistory.com/cnysh/2010CNYSHProgram.htm. This year’s keynote Wendell Tripp Lecture will be “How Historical Enterprise in New York State Became Fractured (and sometimes dysfunctional) in the Twentieth Century” by Michael Kammen, Cornell University.
The Conference on New York State History, now in its thirty-first year, is an annual meeting of academic and public historians, educators, librarians, archivists, museum professionals, publishers, and students of history who come together to discuss topics and issues related to the people of New York State in historical perspective and to share information and ideas regarding historical research, programming, and the networking of resources and services. The conference is self-sustaining and is organized by a Steering Committee of historians from a variety of institutions across the state.
The New York State Barn Coalition and Historic Ithaca will present the 12th Annual Conference on the Preservation of Historic Barns on October 24. This conference, open to anyone with an interest in historic barns and their preservation, will be held at Ithaca Foreign Car Service, 501 West State Street. Built in 2006, this new timber frame building houses an auto shop in the heart of downtown Ithaca. For his contribution of this extraordinary building to the downtown streetscape, owner Dave Brumsted is the recipient of a 2007 Pride of Ownership award from the City of Ithaca.
A copy of the conference agenda is online via pdf. Late registration deadline is 12pm tomorrow October 22; the cost for the conference is $40. Contact Kristen Olson at (607)273-6633 to confirm that space is still available.
The Board of Trustees of the Finger Lakes Cultural & Natural History Museum have officially closed the site submission process. Nineteen potential building sites were proposed by seven Finger Lakes Region counties and the City of Geneva before the deadline of July 15th.
Counties that submitted proposals include Cayuga, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tioga, Tompkins, and Yates. The City of Geneva is partnering with Seneca County on a site that straddles the Ontario/Seneca county line at the north end of Seneca Lake.
The deadline, which had been originally set for June 15th, was extended by the board for 30 days to give some counties more time to complete title searches. The sites are now being toured and evaluated by the project’s Site Selection Committee.
A question arose concerning a 20th site being added to the list when a landowner inquired about submitting a parcel in Ontario County. The board considered the inquiry but determined that the deadline should be upheld in fairness to the counties that worked hard to make submissions on time, according to a press release issued last week. The landowner is not being identified.
The search for a building site has ramped up the level of excitement for the initiative to develop a cultural and natural history museum to showcase the 9,000 square-mile Finger Lakes Region.