Friday, February 22, 2013

The Ghost Writer & the Rectory

My mother reads the obituaries every day. I'm not sure if it's just hold over from when my dad worked at St. Mary's Cemetery in South Glens Falls or what... Last week she took me by surprise when she told me about the death of author & local ghost expert David Pitkin.

David & I first met when I was Special Order Clerk and local interest buyer at Borders in Saratoga Springs, NY. Let me tell you, Saratoga County Ghosts was hard to keep on the shelves & when it went out of print for a couple of years, you'd have thought it was my fault. People were not happy. Eventually it was revised & reissued as Haunted Saratoga County in 2005. It was about that time that David contacted me in my capacity as Town Historian. He had heard a story from Blondie cartoonist Paul Fung about a ghost in the rectory of St. Paul's Episcopal Church right here on Main St. & wanted to see if I had anything on that & how it may relate to the suicide of banker Edwin Andrews. As far as I can tell, the two stories are not related other than they both have to do with the village of Greenwich.

I'll leave the Andrews story for another time, but I thought it fitting, in honor of David, to write about the rectory ghost. David's telling of the story can be found in New York State Ghosts, Volume 1 pages 215-219.

Apparently both Father William H. Harris and his predecessor Father Lowry had  run-ins with the spectre (Harris' preferred term). Lowry's wife Anita  heard running on the stairs even though her daughter and a friend were playing nearby. Cold draughts & objects being moved were other common occurrences.

Fung & his family visited the Harris' in July of 1972 when he saw the menacing ghost upstairs.Everyone in the Harris family had an encounter with the spectre until eventually Father Harris says he was able to exorcise the "evil face in a pointed shroud"*. Harris was lying in bed when the ghost began to apply unbearable pressure on him. Eventually he wrenched an arm free & said "Go! In the name of Jesus Christ, go!"* The apparition left & its presence was no longer detected by the family.

R.I.P David Pitkin (1939-2013)

* newspaper clippings in a file in my office. Undated & unattributed.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Happy Birthday Susan B.

Well, today's blog topic was a no-brainer. It's Susan B. Anthony's 193rd birthday! But, what should I write about. I've written about her here so many times, yet I have barely scratched the surface.Then I realized that I have never talked about the redwork embroidery piece I created a few years ago.

The Association of Public Historians of New York State (APHNYS), the official professional association for municipal historians in NY of which I have been a member these last 9+ years, put out a call for quilt blocks related to the towns, cities, counties, et al that make up our great state. I am not a quilter, but, as some of you may know, I am an avid hand embroiderer. So, I decided to create an embroidered quilt block to submit for inclusion in this quilt.

I decided on Susan B. Anthony & Chester Alan Arthur as subjects for this project. I like embroidering portraits. I have a great book called Presidential Redwork: A Stitch in Time by Michael Buckingham that provided the pattern for Arthur. I had to make one for Anthony. I used the image below because of its simplicity & similarity in style to the Arthur pattern.

Susan B. Anthony circa 1868

Next I decided to use an outline of the Town of Greenwich. Once I had all of the pieces, I drew it out on paper, then used a light box to trace the pattern on a piece of unbleached, cotton muslin. Using DMC embroidery floss #347 (a rich red I love), I hand embroidered it using only an outline stitch & cross stitch instead of french knots (which I am terrible at)*.

top and bottom of 12 inch quilt block

I submitted one for the village of Greenwich as well, since there is no village historian at the moment. Unfortunately, I have never heard anything more about this quilt project.

*If you are interested in my other embroidery projects, click here.

UPDATE (June 8, 2013):
I found an image of the quilt top from 2010. My blocks are in it! In the bottom left you can see the redwork block above & the block I embroidered using the village bicentennial logo. I have an e-mail in to see if APHNYS has finished the quilt. Carol Flint, Town of Huron historian is pictured with the quilt.

APHNYS quilt showing Greenwich blocks in bottom left.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Witches, Greenwich Style!

I've actually been thinking about this for some time, but a recent Facebook post by The Arts Center of the Capitol Region in Troy, NY kind of recharged my interest in the idea. They are doing an installation of fiberglass Uncle Sams! They should be up in Troy by April. I think Greenwich so do a public art installation of witches!

That got me wondering about all of the different installations of this kind throughout the world & whether anyone has done witches before. According to Wikipedia, no!

Zurich, Switzerland did an installation of Lions (the city's symbol) in 1986. Then Zurich did the original CowParade in 1998. Chicago copied it in 1999 & then it spread all over the world.

'Cow cooking with Milk' CowParade Rio de Janeiro 2007

Since 1998, animals have dominated. Everything from bears, gorillas, rhinos, toads, fish, pigs... Of course, Saratoga Springs, NY had Horses Saratoga Style in 2002 & 2007. Bennington, VT held Moosefest in 2005 & 2009.

Glens Falls, NY departed from the animal theme when they hosted Have a Seat in Glens Falls in 2011. Guitars, mermaids & tulips are some of the other non-animal projects. But, I think the weirdest ones are Brain Extravaganza in Bloomington, IN in 2012 & Go Superlambananas! in Liverpool, UK in 2008. Not to mention the concrete Rip Van Winkle's attempted downstate in 2011-12.

So, I think witches are a GREAT idea! They have never been done before, & the artists & artisans in our area would do an amazing job with them.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The future president & a landmark case

I enjoy reading lots of posts on Facebook from various women's history authors & organizations. One post caught my particular attention this past Tuesday. Penny Colman, a children's history/biography author whom I admire, posted a picture of a street sign in NYC, Park Row & Elizabeth Jennings Place with the following...
One hundred and one years before Rosa Parks, Elizabeth Jennings insisted on her right to ride a street car in New York City. Forced off by the conductor & a police officer, Jennings filed a lawsuit. The day after a judge ruled in her favor the railroad company desegregated its cars. In the 1990s, a group of schoolchildren lobbied to get this street sign placed at Spruce Street and Park Row, near the site of the incident.
Elizabeth Jennings Graham

"Cool!" I thought, and went about the rest of my week. Now here it is, Friday morning & I'm trying to come up with my blog post. I type "Chester Arthur Family" in to Google, because I still trying to research his sister Mary, the anti-suffragist, & I find this from the Miller Center.
A second case was also instrumental in advancing Arthur's public profile. The firm defended a black woman, Elizabeth Jennings, who had been forced out of the white section of a Brooklyn streetcar when she refused to leave the section reserved for whites. Jennings's case predated Rosa Parks' case in the 1950s by over 100 years; Parks' defiant act involving racially segregated motor buses in Montgomery, Alabama, launched the historic civil rights movement led by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Arthur, now a partner in Culver's firm, won $225 from the streetcar company and $25 from the court. The case forced all New York City railroad companies to seat black passengers without prejudice on their streetcars.
Chester Arthur was her lawyer! He was the one who tried the case. I go to my book shelves.  Zachary Karabell's bio Chester Alan Arthur? Nothing. OK, it's a slim volume in a series focusing on the presidency. Thomas C. Reeves' 400+ bio Gentleman Boss: The Life of Chester Alan Arthur? Listed in the index... "Jennings Case, 16." Elizabeth Jennings isn't even referenced, but there is a long paragraph. In the notes a few corroborating sources are listed including an article from Frederick Douglass' newspaper.

It's these little pieces that keep me interested in history. I hope you enjoy what I rediscover.