Monday, December 4, 2017

A Bridge Collapse, a Ball Game, and Bravery Remembered by Kyle Riecker

A baseball game was underway on Brown’s Island one hot summer day in August 1922. The sharp crack of a pop fly followed by cheering echoed from the island which split the West Canada Creek just south of the village of Newport. Villagers and fans of the visiting team were on their way to see the game, crossing the suspension bridge that connected the island to the mainland. The queasy off-pitch sound of a suspension cable snapping must have struck terror in those crossing the bridge at the time. Once the cable snapped, the bridge gave way under their feet and they plunged into the turbulent waters of the West Canada Creek. Those crossing were unceremoniously tossed into the creek and dozens of men, women and children were left stranded on Brown’s Island.

A view from the mainland of people are gathered in Brown’s Island near Newport, NY, for one of the many community events that took place on the island between the 1920s and the 1960s.  Source: The Newport History Center
The Herkimer Telegram published an article on the collapse in 1929: “More people were on the bridge approaching the island when a suspension cable gave way. Those on the bridge were thrown into the creek, which was strewn with rocks. Fortunately there were no broken bones or serious injuries, although several were taken to the hospital emergency rooms.” A similar account was later published in Margery Foss’s A Glimpse in Passing, Newport NY, 1791-1991.

The bridge to Brown’s Island was never known for its sturdiness and it was a source of amusement for local daredevils and teenagers. “The young guys thought it was a lot of fun to rock the bridge back and forth, like a carnival ride,” said Joyce Murphy, 88, who volunteers at the Newport History Center.

Joyce Murphy, 88, who volunteers that the Newport History Center, stands next to the bridge to Brown’s Island as a young adult. Source: The Newport History Center
A native of Newport, Murphy recalled crossing the bridge with her bicycle and attending picnics and baseball games on the island. The waters of the West Canada can be perilous. The creek's currents can be strong and potentially deadly, depending on the rainfall. And so, the attendees as well as the baseball teams were in quite a pickle that day on Brown’s Island.

Although the score of the baseball game and the visiting team’s name have been lost to the ages, the quick thinking and bravery of those stranded on the island has been remembered.Murphy’s cousin, Elnora Fralick Hartman, was on the island when the bridge collapsed, and is one of the sources of the Herkimer Telegram and Foss’s account. “The ladies stranded on the island were transported by gallant men who locked arms together to make a seat for their passengers as they waded the creek, knee deep in places, and deposited them carefully onto the shore,” according to the Telegram. “Can’t you just hear the squealing young ladies being carried by the young unattached men?” a footnote said.

Mildred Smith Autenrith was also on the island that fateful day. Autenrith, who lived to the age of 102, was the matriarch of her family. Her daughter, Betsy Newman, is a part time organist and choir director for the First Baptist Church of Newport. Newman recalled her mother as a person who would keep her cool in a precarious situation such as being stranded on the island. She described her mother as a petite woman, around five feet tall, who had black hair, and was very pretty. Autenrith worked for the family business, W.E. Autenrith Sons, which is a funeral home located in a pale yellow house on Main Street in Newport.

Autenrith was probably attending the game that day to "chew the fat" and socialize with her friends and neighbors rather than for baseball. Newman said that Autenrith wasn’t much of a sports fan, but was involved in many community activities, which included playing the piano for dances held at the pavilion on Brown’s Island.

After the collapse, the bridge was soon rebuilt in the same suspension style.  Brown’s Island Memorial Park was officially dedicated on July 4, 1923, in memory of Guy Bateman, Theodore Morey, and Daniel Toomey, residents of Newport who died on the battlefields of Europe in World War I.

A program from the day that Memorial Park on Brown’s Island was dedicated to three of Newport’s residents who lost their lives in WWI. Source: The Newport History Center
Many more baseball games were played at Memorial Park. The Newport High School, now abandoned, used the park as their home field for school baseball games and practices. “The high school didn’t have a good sports field location, so they used the island as their field,” said Murphy. “It’s an odd location but we thought nothing of it.” Since school was in recess in August, it’s likely that the game in 1922 was between Newport and another area league team. Newport’s team used Brown’s Island as their home field. The league teams held fierce rivalries and were notoriously rough and rowdy.

Valley league baseball team members from Frankfort, Newport and Ilion gather for a photo. Newport’s manager, in the back row and fifth from the right, was a tavern owner in Newport. Source: The Newport History Center.
Located at the southern tip of the island, Memorial Park’s baseball field had a reputation for easy home runs due to its proximity to the creek. After all, who is going to try to catch a hard hit into a watery outfield?  Surely the Newport League team used that as a home field advantage.

The island is named after Eseck Browne, who lived during the nineteenth century and was an early settler in Newport. The small country village, located about 20 miles from Utica, is nestled in the Kuyahoora Valley, which runs more or less parallel to the Mohawk River Valley. “He used to put his [live] stock on the island, but then one year there was a flood and he lost them,” Murphy said. When asked about the correct spelling of the island’s name, Murphy said “To tell the truth, nobody was very fussy about it.”

As the island became abandoned, the planks that made up the bridge's roadbed were eventually removed, which only further emboldened daredevils and country boys who crossed using only the lines, like tightrope walkers. Because of concerns of serious injury, the suspension cables were removed in the 1960s. “Memorial Park on Browne Island now lies quietly in the West Canada Creek as an untouched wildlife sanctuary where the cry of ‘play ball!’ is only a happy memory echoing from the past,” Foss wrote.
The ruins of the bridge to Brown’s Island can still be seen from Route 28, across from the Newport Fire Department. Photo by Kyle Riecker
Now, only the concrete foundations and rusted iron scaffold remain, partially concealed by the underbrush of the creek side. The ruins of the bridge can still be seen, across from the Newport Fire Department on Route 28. But Murphy warns today’s generation of daredevils and history seekers to stay off the island. “It’s overgrown with poison ivy, so don’t go over there.”

This story, written by Kyle Riecker, originally appeared in the Utica College Tangerine

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

From Whence it Came: The Origins of the “Star-Spangled Banner” by David Wittner
Over the recent Memorial Day holiday weekend, I found myself musing over the myriad Facebook posts and Tweets that purported to explain the true meaning of Memorial Day and more importantly the origins of the “Star Spangled Banner.” One Youtube video I was sent claimed that after watching this video viewers “would never think of our National Anthem in the same way again.” [1] Awestruck, is one word I could use to describe seeing this video, but astonished that someone could misrepresent the history of the “Star-Spangled Banner” so thoroughly is more accurate. After watching the video, I was moved to write out of a sense of wanting others to know the origins of one of our national traditions.

Francis Scott Key wrote the “Star-Spangled Banner” in 1814, shortly before the end of the War of 1812. In actuality, Key didn’t write the “Star-Spangled Banner,” he wrote a poem, “The Defence (sic) of Fort McHenry,” part of which became our national anthem.[2] Key, a Georgetown lawyer, was sent to Baltimore by President James Madison to negotiate the release of an American physician, Dr. William Beanes, who was held prisoner by the British following the Battle of Bladensburg. Key and another negotiator, State Department lawyer John Stuart Skinner, were on an American flag-of-truce ship, President, the morning of September 13, 1814, when British warships in Chesapeake Bay launched a 25-hour bombardment of Fort McHenry, which guarded Baltimore Harbor.[3]

Fearing that Key and Skinner would warn the Americans of the pending attack, the British frigate HMS Surprise prevented the American ship from leaving the area, forcing it to drop anchor in the mouth of the Patapsco River until the siege and battle ended. In reality, being “held hostage” during the battle was one of the terms of Beanes’ release. Regardless, Key and Skinner witnessed the battle from the decks of the truce ship. One can only image their anxiety watching the British fleet bombard the American fort throughout the night. According to (faulty) British estimations, Fort McHenry and the city of Baltimore would fall in a matter of hours.

When dawn rose the following morning, the American flag was still flying over Fort McHenry. In actuality, it wasn’t the same flag that Key saw at the beginning of the battle. There are various stories but the flag Key saw at dawn was a large garrison flag, not the smaller battle flag that flew throughout the night.

Unsure of American troop strength, British soldiers under the command of Colonel Arthur Brooke—who planned to bypass Fort McHenry and attack Baltimore—returned to the fleet. Key’s truce ship was released as the British sailed for New Orleans shortly thereafter.[4] Inspired by what he witnessed, Key jotted down some notes and supposedly finished writing his poem, “The Defence of Fort McHenry,” within a day of returning home. The poem was published in the Baltimore Patriot and Evening Advertiser on September 20, 1814. There is evidence that Key suggested setting the poem to music and ironically used the melody of “To Anacreon in Heaven,” a popular British drinking song at the time.

Unofficially, the “Star Spangled Banner” was viewed as a national hymn in the nineteenth century. During the Civil War, 1861, Oliver Wendell Holmes added a fifth stanza to the hymn in support of the Union cause. It was subsequently removed. In 1916, Woodrow Wilson issued an executive order proclaiming the “Star Spangled Banner” the national anthem to little effect. It wasn’t until 15 years later, 1931, that congress passed (and Herbert Hoover signed) legislation formally declaring the “Star Spangled Banner” our national anthem.

I think it only fair to give full coverage to Key’s poetic talents. Here is the full poem from which the national anthem is derived both in transcription and an original penned copy.

        The Defence of Fort McHenry
O! say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
’Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ’In God is our trust.’
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave! [5]

[2] An original broadside can be seen at Historians still argue whether or not Key intended to write a poem or a song.
[3] There are several good, easy to read books on the history of the battle of Baltimore, the attack on Fort McHenry, and the origins of the national anthem including: Walter Lord, with an introduction by Scott S. Sheads, The Dawn’s Early Light, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012), and Steve Vogel, Through the Perilous Night: Six Weeks that Saved the Nation, (New York: Random House, 2013) as well as Sheads’ blogpost,
[5] There are numerous transcribed versions of The Defence of Fort McHenry including

Friday, April 22, 2016

Woodstock: Peace and Music

Author: Paul Joyce (Utica College Accounting Major)

The 1969 Woodstock Music Festival was a significant event in New York State’s cultural history.  Originally planned to run from August 15th to 17th, the festival ultimately lasted until August 18th, making it a four-day affair.  Over 450,000 people attended the festival, and 32 different musical acts performed over the four days. [1]

Woodstock became a symbol of the 1960s and of the hippie movement.  As Elliot Tiber puts it, “the site became a counter-cultural mini-nation in which minds were open, drugs were all but legal and love was ‘free’”. [1] Young people gathered to spread their message of peace and love while listening to some of the most talented musicians of the time.

Many people do not know the roots of the event or that it did not actually take place in Woodstock, New York.  The festival was held in Bethel, a small rural community near the Catskill Mountains. [1] Joel Rosenman, John Roberts, Artie Kornfield and Michael Lang were the four young men who developed the idea of the festival.  Rosenman and Roberts were constantly looking for opportunities to make money in New York City, while Lang and Kornfield were both more oriented with the music scene (and by extension, recreational drug use). [1]

Lang and Kornfield initially birthed the idea of a major concert in the Woodstock area to get away from the crowded spaces of New York City, enjoy the land, and listen to some of the period’s most popular music.  However, Kornfield and Lang required money to launch the festival.  The pairs’ lawyer advised them to consult with Rosenman and Roberts due to their reputation as businessmen.  Intrigued by the idea of a festival, Rosenman and Roberts partnered with Kornfield and Lang to launch the Woodstock festival. [1] The size and scale of the proposed festival grew, and the group needed a location large enough to accommodate tens of thousands of people.  Ultimately, they decided to hold the festival at Bethel dairy farmer Max Yasgur’s land. [1] They initially planned for about 50,000 people, which in reality was surpassed by a large margin when the festival actually occurred.

Because of the influence of Lang and Kornfield, Woodstock’s planners were able to secure major musical acts for the festival.  Santana, Janis Joplin, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, The Who, The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and Creedence Clearwater Revival were among the groups who played at the festival. Hendrix performed his famous rendition of the Star Spangled Banner on the guitar. [2] These musical artists preached the ideas of peace and love, and the crowd was very receptive to those messages.

Woodstock served many purposes, as it was not only important because it allowed for different musical artists to have an opportunity to display their musical prowess.  The circumstances of the time period played a vital role in the Woodstock Festival’s launch, as well as the impact it had on young people in America.  In 1969, Woodstock occurred in the midst of one of the most turbulent times in American history.  The unpopular Vietnam War was still going on, and the American public became increasingly disillusioned by the conflict. Woodstock’s attendees largely opposed the cost of the war, as well as the draft.  They wanted the United States to pull out of Vietnam to avoid more deaths and to create peace both in the region and at home.

Meanwhile, the Civil Rights movement and the crusade for equal rights for African Americans continued during Woodstock. The festival reflected resistance to the status quo in favor of peace and love.  The music industry propagandized the gathering thousands of people at Woodstock to hear the ideas of musicians pushing for peace.  There was the idea of strength in numbers; the people felt that banding together could help them change the system and bring peaceful results, such as the end of American involvement in Vietnam.  It also gave people an escape from their everyday lives, sharing the memories of Jimi Hendrix shredding a guitar solo or Jefferson Airplane serenading the crowd with “Somebody To Love”.  The images of 450,000 people gathered in one location to take in this music was truly iconic, and the legacy of Woodstock continues to live on.
[1] Elliot Tiber, “How Woodstock Happened,” The Times Herald-Record, 1994.
[2] Corey Kilgannon, “3 Days of Peace and Music, 40 Years Later,” New York Times (New York, NY), F14.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Contemporary Struggles in the Mohawk Valley and Central New York

As promised, we’re delivering Part II of our history seniors’ “One Cool Source” from their individual projects, which they will present at the Utica College History Department's / Center for Historical Research's annual History Project Symposium. Each student is researching a project that connects with the theme “Superheroes” in the Mohawk Valley, which entails the reconstruction of events in the region's past that involved triumph over adversity, or struggles in power. Here’s a bit about the remaining topics from this year’s seniors.

Adam Tomblin

Fairies, Fury, and Freedom:  The Struggle for LGBT Equality in Central New York

Famous gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk once said: “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” To understand Milk’s statement, one must understand the struggle for LGBT freedom and equality. My historical research paper, “Fairies, Fury, and Freedom: LGBT Rights Activism in Central New York.” This focuses on the activism in the LGBT community in Central New York and how localized movements sparked the beginning of the broader LGBT rights movement. My argument is that, without local grassroots movements, there would not have been a national or international movement to ensure the protection and equal treatment of LGBT persons. The grassroots are the reason for the success of the LGBT rights movement. Primary sources are critical to my research. The main primary sources I use are in-person interviews with local activists, who were instrumental in LGBT activism before it was more open and popular. The people I interviewed are incredible, both in resilience and just sheer gestalt. If someone asks me why I am doing this project, I will explain the importance of knowing where the struggle began, why it happened, where it has taken us, and what we still have left to do.

Amanda Backer  

Closed for Business:  Boonville and Globalization

I have wondered about a building in my town that is considered to be an eye sore. It is a reminder of the good old days in Boonville: the Ethan Allen furniture company building. My curiosity about the building led to many questions about Boonville’s past. Looking for answers led to two key newspaper articles. One is a 1999 article about Ethan Allen’s 7.6 million dollar expansion of its Boonville plant and the creation of almost fifty new jobs. In an interview, the CEO stated that Ethan Allen was about keeping jobs local, in America, and that the company respected its workers and was optimistic about the future. Just five years later, another newspaper article announced the sudden closure of the plant, which put 250 Boonville residents out of a job. What would cause the company to spend 7.6 million dollars on an expansion project, only to close its doors a few years later?  Like many companies, Ethan Allen was looking for a cheaper way to manufacture its products. It closed its American facilities and moved the jobs elsewhere. These two “cool sources” launched my research project and revealed how global economic competition could affect a small town in Central New York. [1]

Zach Handy

The Corporatization of Education: How Big Money Corporations are Destroying the Teaching Profession in Gloversville and New Hartford, New York

Becoming an educator has always been a dream of mine. I am currently enrolled in Utica College’s teacher certification tract. When it came time for me to choose my topic for my senior history research project, I had no idea what I wanted to do. However, when I really thought about the things that I am most passionate about, teaching was one of the first things that came to my mind. The history of education caught my eye because all of the controversy that the profession is facing lately. The teachers are upset with the Department of Education, and many students are opting out of almost all of the state tests. I decided to research the history of standardized tests, as well as education corporations to show how the history of these things can cause the controversy we are seeing today. One of the primary sources that I am excited about is an interview with a Utica College education professor. This professor has knowledge of local education, as well as its history. I am expecting this professor to give me many first hand examples of how he reacted to standardized testing, as well as his opinion on the matter to compare with other educators I plan on interviewing. This particular professor, however, has a lot to say about educational practices that could potentially be doing more harm than good. I believe interviewing him will provide “one cool source” because he has so much knowledge about the subject, as well as so much to say about it.


[1] “Ethan Allen closing 2 plants,” Furniture Today, April 22, 2004.