Cellphone snap of two pine trees, looking just as cold as me.
It’s black & white, but this is the time of year I really appreciate pines, for a bit of green.
Evergreens, when it’s ever snowy, ever gray skies, ever blue fingers, ever red noses.
Cellphone snap of two pine trees, looking just as cold as me.
It’s black & white, but this is the time of year I really appreciate pines, for a bit of green.
Evergreens, when it’s ever snowy, ever gray skies, ever blue fingers, ever red noses.
When the autumn leaves had all fallen, I began leafing through old photos.
And…here’s a random closeup.
Not a thing of beauty, but just kinda interesting. Can you guess what it is?
(I show the answer in just a minute.)
This fall, turning over a garden bed (but not a new leaf), this odd stratified object was unearthed. It looked pretty ancient, but isn’t – based on a couple minutes of research on the manufacturer’s stamp, it was made sometime after 1929. Because it’s stainless steel, I think these veins and patterns are some sort of mineral deposits on the surface, rather than corrosion, but basically just thought it looked kinda interesting. Some sort of tiny electro-chemical mystery, transpiring down there in the dark substratum beneath the innocent-looking cabbages.
Here’s some other archaeological treasures from the garden:
An old medicine bottom, fragments of china, stoneware, and glass. I think the metal ornament isn’t a toy, but a kind of hood ornament – we’ve never had a snowmobile, but one of our neighbors enjoys fixing up vintage Ski-Doos, and sometimes rides around the neighborhood, so that probably explains that.
Here’s another picture of the strata:
Yes, an old spoon. Who would dare say, we don’t have an exciting time of it in my hometown.
When I was a kid, I was excited to dig up a couple of horseshoes. Although it was sad to think of some horse years ago, limping around, or left jacked up on blocks by shoe thieves.
But the artifacts turned out to be stragglers from the lawn game, not actually from shoeless horses. (Un-shod horses? De-shodded? Slipshod? Shoe-eschewing?)
Yes, people still play horseshoes in my town, and the previous residents of our house had installed lighted, sand-filled pits in the backyard. I did wonder, since they had this opportunity to practice whenever they wanted, why I found the horseshoes buried in a flower bed twenty feet away. Excess enthusiasm, I guess, or evidence of some long-forgotten domestic tiff? And I also wondered, if a pit is filled up with sand or sawdust, is it still a pit? You have time to contemplate such deep thoughts, while you’re throwing pieces of metal at a stick.
There have been people living in this house for 150 years or so, all of them pretty steadily dropping things in the yard. My dad’s thing is coffee cups, left half-full in odd places – behind some tomato cages, in the crook of a tree, under the pole beans – we usually harvest them all during the fall cleanup, but probably a few have ended up sinking beneath the sod. Kind of a mug’s game, and some future generation will find all these ceremonial chalices, and be wondering, who exactly was this nameless World’s Best Dad.
An old lady used to live across the street. Mrs. Z told me her uncle and aunt lived in our house, in the ’20’s, when there was still a barn, chicken coop, and grape arbor – all of those long-vanished – and that explains the rusty plowshare, bits of chain, etc. I sometimes dig up.
So – getting close to New Year’s – – out with the old, and in with the new.
But instead of throwing this stuff in the trash, I’m going to (if the ground isn’t frozen too hard!) find a spot at the base of a maple tree, and bury these fragments of history, for some kid to find in the future.
I’ll throw something into the treasure trove, too.
Trying to decide between a fork, a subway token, or a Jabba the Hutt figurine.
Heck, all of the above, I’ll just dig a bigger hole.
My last post featured a monument to a Seneca chief, that turned out to be complete rubbish. (“Gu-Ya-No-Ga, the Seneca Chief”)
Facing the facts, I finally found a fairy tale – – a fallacious fib by foxy farmers, fabricating a fable, falsifying and feigning familiarity of former times. A fiction, fraud, fib, forgery, flimflam, and furtive falsity. A kind of phantasm. Phony. A full load of phooey.
That’s all the “F” sounds I’ve got, and now my mouth is dry, let’s move on.
I took the mock monument seriously, because there was an official, state-issued, serious-looking, cast-iron plaque next to it. How could I doubt it? It just stood there, looking, well, like Al-Gore-on-a-stick: blue suit, kinda square, a bit dull, but sincere and trustworthy.
These old roadside blue & gold-trimmed historical markers are a familiar sight around New York State. I’ve seen them all my life, and never really paid much attention to them, until now.
Turns out, most are kind of antiques themselves. In 1926, the Education Department started planting them up all over the state. They didn’t have the internet, but a century ago, folks seemed to share our obsession with tagging things. There are 2,800 of the old blue signs – my county has 40, and next door in mostly-rural Cayuga county, there’s 176!
As far as I can tell, the plaque for Gu-Ya-No-Ga is the only state marker, of thousands, based on a joke.
There is a rather cryptic one, near Otsego Lake (“Glimmerglass”):
“Natty Bumpo” Leatherstocking – Rescued Chingachgook from flames – Chingach dying in his care – “Pioneers”
Well, nobody wants a Flaming Chingachgook, it’s hard to get that odor out of the drapes. But I’m not sure how many people nowadays would have any idea what this sign is about, and realize it’s fictional. “Pioneers” was the 4th novel in James Fenimore Cooper’s series of Leatherstocking Tales. But maybe they saw the movie version of the 2nd one, “The Last of the Mohicans” with Daniel Day-Lewis, and get the general idea.
The Education Department stopped making these signs many years ago. Like me, they found that the strain of being concise was too much to bear. But since 2006, the Pomeroy Foundation has put up another 600.
I notice when driving in other states, sure, there are billboards and directions, but there just aren’t the thickets of factoids, suggestions, warnings, and orders that New York feels is necessary. Every time I come back to NY, there’s more — last month, about a thousand toll collectors lost their jobs, and were replaced with a new swarm of signs about E-ZPass and electronic billing.
On visits to my great-uncle in the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania, I’ll drive down Bear Creek Road, winding and bumpy, and at night you’ll see glints from broken headlights and pieces of chrome, where some weekender ran into a tree or boulder. NY would plaster it with Slow! Sharp Curve! 25 MPH! No Shoulder! Possible Indigenous Chipmunk Crossing! etc. But there aren’t any warning signs that I can remember, I guess the Pennsylvanians credit people with enough brains to take it easy on those curves. The scarred and paint-streaked boulders do a good job, serving as reminders.
A couple of years ago, Albany stuck up 500 more placards along the Thruway – – not directional signs, just tourism advertising. “I Love NY” “The New York State Experience” “Taste of New York” “Path Through History” etc. Five hundred more signs to block the view. The feds got fed up, and threatened to cut off highway funding if they didn’t remove these distractions. NY, at great expense, took down 400 of the signs they’d just put up, and moved them to various parking lots, etc.
There’s also all sorts of signs put on buildings by the villages or cities, historical societies, county highway departments, etc. There’s billboard-sized history ones at all the rest stops on the Thruway.
Another 1920’s series in the Finger Lakes, follows the route of the Sullivan-Clinton Expedition during the Revolution, and marks most of the forty villages the soldiers burned.
In the Finger Lakes region, try walking twenty feet in any direction, you’ll run into a signpost.
Trip over any large rock, and there’s probably a brass plaque stuck to it.
Sometimes they’re random, useless factoids, and only interesting, because you wonder what possessed anyone to put them on a sign. But I find, a lot of these odd snippets of history, will prompt you to look up the whole story.
Here’s a random example – from Montezuma, NY. If you’re embarrassed to admit you’ve never heard of Tyler, perhaps it will comfort you to know, I never did either. But that’s how these signs work – – I was curious and looked him up. Turns out, he was one of the founders of Syracuse. The sign mentions “salt maker,” and then you start reading about the days when a lot of the salt used in the U.S. came from brine wells around Syracuse, and so it goes… another hour lost to browsing on the internet. Here’s a link to his family’s pyramid. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oakwood_Cemetery_(Syracuse,_New_York)#/media/File:Oakwood-Comfort-Tyler-02.jpg
When the blue history markers were put up, it was a logical time for these tiny roadside histories — 1926 was also kind of a marker for roads themselves in this country. It’s hard to visualize, in our car-obsessed era, but for most of U.S. history, paved roads were scarce. People were excited about rivers, canals, ships, and railroads. But toward the end of the 19th century, the “good roads” movements – – which included farmers, millions of bicyclists, and then auto enthusiasts – – began to gain traction. When FDR was governor of NY, and then President, he accelerated this – building farm roads, highways, and parkways.
When people first started traveling by car, promoters created hundreds of random names on cobbled-together routes like the “Lincoln Highway,” or “Dixie Highway,” but often long stretches were unpaved, or even just ruts across a prairie, with an occasional signpost put up by the Boy Scouts (seriously). One of the first cars to make it across the U.S., was only able to do it, by carrying a second set of custom wheels, for driving on railroad tracks.
Between 1914 and 1926, the miles of paved roads had more than doubled, and the official U.S. numbering system began (basically the system we have now, Route 66, etc.), instead of just having names, like the “Albany Post Road,” “Natchez Trace,” “El Camino Real,” and “Oregon Trail.” *
By the ’20’s, there were millions of people driving around — I was surprised to learn that they made over 3 million cars in 1926! By the end of the decade, there were something like 26 million cars on the road.
So 1926 was also when Burma-Shave stated putting up their roadside signs, poetic gems like:
Every shaver / Now can snore / Six more minutes / Than before / By using / Burma-Shave
So in 1926, the state educators jumped on the bandwagon, minus the poetry. Here’s a sampling from around the state, and I didn’t make any of them up.
“Henry Hudson, Explorer, Here ended the voyage of the Half Moon, In quest of the Indies, September 1609”
“Clermont. Near the foot of Madison Avenue, Robert Fulton in Aug. 1807, Completed the first successful steamboat voyage.”
These two signs are near Albany, our state capital (just south of where the Mohawk River joins the Hudson). A lot of voyages and quests have terminated there, in a snarl of confusion & crookery, regulations & red tape.
Henry probably wouldn’t have made it to China, going by way of Schenectady. You can do it, although it’s not really the best route. But we’ll never know – he got to Albany and couldn’t get the right permits to go any farther.
Or maybe the locals, like all true New Yorkers, refused to admit they had no idea how to get to China, and gave him bad directions, sending him by way of northern Canada.
Where two years later, his crew finally got fed up, and abandoned him in Hudson Bay (this last part is true, poor guy).
If Henry had just made it up the Mohawk as far as Utica, he could’ve bought his mutinous crew Half-Moon Cookies, maybe smoothed things over. They’re a central NY specialty – devil’s food chocolate cookie, flipped over, with buttercream icing, half vanilla/half cocoa.
(Well, ok, actually they weren’t invented until the ’20’s, but they’re pretty great! They’re NOT the same thing as NYC black-and-white cookies, Half-Moons are way better.)
The second sign is about the boat “Clermont” and the beginning of the end for sailing vessels. Robert Fulton partnered with Robert Livingston, a NY politician and one of the Founding Fathers, who, in the interests of liberty & democracy, etc. got himself a monopoly on traveling the Hudson by steamboat.
They established a commuter run, NYC-Albany, that covered the 145 miles in only 36 hours, pretty competitive with current Amtrak service.
You know, for years, until I wrote this post and took a closer look, I believed the state flag had both these vessels on it. Someone must’ve told me that, but it’s not so. It’s just two random ships.
More old blue signs:
“Cheese Factory, First in Town of Berne, Built in 1878, And made 495 pounds in a single day.”
By gum, who wouldn’t find this exciting, and useful to know?
Whether Upstate NY or Wisconsin, I’ve always been surrounded by cheeseheads, so I took a keen interest in this one.
One day’s production would keep a dozen Americans cheesed for a year. Or eight Danes.
“Andre captured here in 1780. Three honest militiamen arrested Major John Andre, Adjt-Gen. British Army, disguised, Preventing disaster to American cause.”
André, of course, was the head of the British Secret Service in America, and was caught, and hanged, just after Benedict Arnold handed him the plans to the fortifications at West Point.
It was obviously unusual, and noteworthy, that the local militiamen were honest. And one of them could read (true).
When they found the West Point documents, hidden in his stockings, André told them the plans were for the Army-Navy football game. The militiamen conferred, and decided neither football, or even rugby, would be invented for another ninety years, and anyways, what was with the snobby little accent mark on this guy’s name? Nobody used la cédille in these parts. And maybe he was French, with a name like that?
Congress and France had signed a Treaty of Alliance, but that didn’t mean the Westchester County Militia had to trust Monsieur Fancy Boots. A guy who wore socks, even though he had boots, and was maybe a redcoat, or maybe he hailed from the country that started half of the French & Indian War. André then tried to bribe them with his horse and pocketwatch, but since they were honest, and had muskets, why couldn’t they just take that stuff anyway. So they hanged him. And his fancy accent mark, too, for good measure.
Many militia bands in those years, were less partisans than brigands. The old courthouse in Goshen, about 25 miles west of West Point, had a skull embedded above the doorway, which they obtained from Claudius Smith, leader of one of these bands of marauders.
“Decker’s Tavern. Here Modeline, the Indian who scalped Tom Quick, Sr., Reenacted the old man’s death agony. He was shot for it by Tom Quick, Jr.”
There are several markers, in both NY and Pennsylvania, concerning Tom Quick “The Indian Slayer,” who depending on your viewpoint was a (1) brave frontiersman (2) teller of tall tales in taverns, or (3) psychotic murderer.
“Home of Jethro Wood, Inventor of Cast Iron Plough”
“The First Cast Iron Plow in the World, Was Made by Jethro Woods, At Foot of Falls, 1819”
“Site of Home, John Wood. Field Officers were voted for here, May 11,1776. Also Birthplace John Wood’s son, Jethro Wood, Inventor First Iron Mould Plow (1814)”
They were certainly excited about plows in 1926.
Everyone knows John Deere, who invented the steel plow. But before him, was Jethro Wood, and his iron plow, who rated three of these plaques, in three different towns.
Sometimes I’ve seen these markers along a road, but there’s no shoulder, and I can’t stop, or even slow down enough to read them. It occurred to me, that maybe it would be better to spread them out, like the old Burma Shave signs, so people could read them without pulling over. So, for example:
Was pretty good.
His iron plough
Was good enough
the rocky soil to till.
It had no peer
At least until
Vermont’s John Deere
Made one better still.
Here’s a link to a complete inventory of the original signs. http://www.aphnys.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Historical-Markers-Listing-2018-07.pdf
These 1926 history plaques were supposedly for the 150th anniversary of the Revolution, but I think the project had more to do with the lack of booze. People were stuck in the middle of Prohibition, and needed something to do, some kind of a hobby. Just like us now, during the Pandemic, frantic after being housebound for so long, sticking little labels on everything in the cupboard and on the workbench, ordering up Tupperware, bins, and desk organizers, alphabetizing our record collections, etc. Rearranging the canned goods by expiration date, building replicas of the Eiffel Tower with rolls of toilet paper.
Personally, during the past nine months, I’ve had each of my socks embroidered with individual names, to help keep them in pairs. Lewis & Clark, Abbott & Costello, Orville & Wilbur, Darryl & His Other Brother Darryl.
These history markers were approved for all kinds of stuff. Old-time schools, bridges, churches, battles, trails, native villages, etc. and residences or burial places of famous people.
Businesses – gristmills, woolen mills, saw mills, smithies, mines, hotels, etc. – are all mentioned.
You can tell a lot about a culture, and time, by what it names and celebrates.
There are markers for lots and lots of inns and taverns – in the old days, they were essential social centers, meeting places for politicians, revolutionaries and militias. But among these Prohibition-era markers, there’s not one for a brewery, distillery, malt house, or winery!
The colonial Dutch started building breweries in the 1640’s, and alcohol was an essential part of life in the old days, a huge industry. In the 1800’s, NY grew more hops than any other state, but there are no markers for hop farms or oast houses. Even George Washington made whiskey, for pete’s sake, and owned one of the largest distilleries in the country. But in 1926, during Prohibition, alcohol wasn’t deemed worthy of a single mention. Not even Schaefer, Rheingold or Knickerbocker!?
What else is missing? Women. Out of 2800 signs, I only saw a handful. Ann Lee, leader of the Shaker sect, is mentioned, Harriet Tubman, some general’s widow, a county named for the Dutchess of York (that’s how they spelled Duchess in the old days). Emily Chubbuck a/k/a Fanny Forrester, who in her 37 years managed to be a teacher, writer, poet, and missionary. Yep, I never heard of her either, but doesn’t she sound like someone you should look up? Sybil Ludington, who also has a couple of statues and a Bicentennial stamp, for doing a Paul Revere-style ride, except Sybil didn’t get caught.
And another thing, sign after sign points to all kinds of citizens of good repute, but not one house of ill repute? Just once, wouldn’t you like to see a plaque “Washington Didn’t Sleep Here”?
*P.S. In the 1950’s, when Eisenhower called for an interstate system, he was probably thinking of his transcontinental drive in 1919, part of an army convoy, from Washington, D.C. to the world’s fair in San Francisco. They took two months, and claimed to have rocketed along at 5.67 mph. Counting the days they spent resting along the way, probably averaged closer to 2 mph.
The Eisenhower interstates, actually one of FDR’s ideas, were the largest public works project in U.S. history, a federal Ten Year Plan completed in only 36 years. And now it’s way overdue to have all those roads and bridges replaced, currently rated D+ by the engineers, but nothing that $588 billion couldn’t fix.
People have asked me with surprising frequency, about the inspiration for these history posts.
I say surprising, because that frequency, 91.3 MHz, is usually reserved for public radio stations.
Maybe that has something to do living one block from the WITI Tower, which for a time, was the tallest radio/TV tower in the world. (On humid days, I’ll suddenly start receiving 88.9 Radio Milwaukee, crystal clear, on my toaster. When they’re playing soul, I don’t mind, the toast comes out great, golden-browned and tasty. But when it picks up heavy metal, everything gets charred, and when it’s streaming alternative art-rock bands, the bread stays pale, limp, and apathetic.)
And as for how inspiration strikes, well lately, inspiration has been on strike more than a French trade union.
Actually, no one has ever asked where these ideas came from, they just express a wish that they’d stayed there. Well, the process is simple – I just flip through old photos, and try to remember why I took them.
This photo, for example. I saw this bow & arrow oddity, at a little crossroads in the country, not far from Keuka Lake, surrounded by corn fields and pastures. I guessed, the highly inaccurate brave was originally an advertising emblem, or an old tin weathervane, that blew off a barn roof one night, and the thrifty local farmers repurposed it for this memorial. (Turns out, that might be exactly right. Or it may have been a decoration from an old steamboat.)
So one rainy day, I looked it up, and that’s what this post is about.
First off, what are we to call this bit of homely roadside whimsy?
There’s a substantial stone obelisk, but the tin Indian is two-dimensional, and it seems like, it doesn’t really qualify as a “statue.”
So let’s call it a “Folk Art Effigy,” or “Naïve Tribute to Indigenous Peoples.”
Yep, I’m just a self-appointed roving rural art critic. We, the editorial staff here at UpState & Away, are all about sounding pretentious, artsy, and serious-minded.
Like those little dots on naïve. How cool! My imaginary editor seizes upon any chance to use umlauts, diaeresis, dipththong, all that fancy-schmancy stuff.
(Doesn’t diaeresis sound like an unpleasant digestive disorder?)
(and dipththong?? an abbreviated swimsuit, for someone with a lisp?? I have no idea.)
According to the blue sign next to it, which is an official 1932 New York State Department of Education Commemorative Plaque, that tin Indian is meant to be a “Chief of the Seneca Nation, and a Friend of the Revolution.”
“Seneca” is kind of a big deal in this part of the world. It seemed odd that I’d never heard of this chief, Gu-Ya-No-Ga.
During colonial days, the Iroquois Confederacy was the most powerful alliance of natives in the northeast, feared and courted by the Dutch, English, and French. In 1776, the Seneca tribe was the largest in the alliance, in fact, larger that all the others (Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Tuscarora ) combined.
Famous leaders included Cornplanter and Red Jacket, who fought with the British during the Revolution, and then negotiated with George Washington afterwards. And Half King, who helped George kick off the Seven Years’ War by ambushing some French-Canadian soldiers. Col. Ely Parker, General Grant’s wartime aide and later Commissioner of Indian Affairs, was also a Seneca sachem.
After the Revolution, the tribe was eventually pushed onto reservations in the western part of the state, and fragments ended up in Oklahoma and Canada. But the name still plasters the area. Town of Seneca, County of Seneca, Seneca Falls, Seneca Lake, Seneca Castle, Seneca Army Depot, Seneca Mills, Seneca Point, Seneca Foods Corp, and innumerable streets.
For many decades, “Seneca Chief” was the brand name for the most popular sweet corn in the region. One of the largest razor and cutlery manufacturers in the world was once in Geneva, NY, and many of their old “cutthroat” straight razors were stamped with “Seneca Chief” and an (inaccurate) image of a Native American.
And the first packet boat to travel the length of the Erie Canal, in 1825, with bands playing and cannons firing, was the Seneca Chief. (A replica boat is now being built in Buffalo.)
The name wasn’t always so popular in some circles. For European settlers, during the colonial times, it was loaded with menace. All during the Revolution, Seneca warriors terrorized the borderland towns of New York and Pennsylvania, a long ordeal of mostly-forgotten skirmishes, raids, ambushes, and massacres.
So anyway, this memorial to Gu-Ya-No-Ga puzzled me – – a leader of a tribe that fought a bitter and bloody war against the colonists, who somehow was a “friend of the Revolution,” and then somehow, forgotten.
Were they thinking of Gu-Ya-Su-Ta (aka Guisuta, Kayasota, etc. ) who guided Washington to a meeting with the French, in 1753, just before war broke out? But during the Revolution, that chief fought against the colonists, as did most of the Iroquois.
(The Oneida and Tuscarora tribes were the exceptions, and provided the rebels with scouts, guides, messengers, and warriors, even aiding the 1779 Sullivan Campaign, when Washington sent an army through this region on a scorched-earth mission, burning Iroquois villages, crops, orchards, and food supplies.)
The Iroquois were often given more that one name during their lifetime, and these names were often mangled by translations through French-to-Dutch-to-English, etc.. Others are known by nicknames applied by the colonists, which also might have variations, so it’s easy to get confused.*
But I’d read a lot about the Iroquois, as an undergrad history major, writing my senior project about them. And it surprised me that I’d never heard of this particular chief, who broke with his people to aid the revolutionaries. And the first description, when I googled him, claimed he was a close personal friend of Geo. Washington! How could I have read so many books and period documents, and missed this guy??
And as one version tells it, one night in the 1880’s, the locals were drinking hard cider, and made the whole thing up. As you likely have guessed by now, there was no such Seneca chief.
But in 1910, hundreds gathered to see this goofy monument go up. Were they all in on the joke, or had they started to believe the story? Another twenty-two years goes by, and the state education department puts up an official plaque, further legitimizing the tale. How a bunch of back-of-beyond farmers managed all this, I have no idea, but they’re kind of my heroes.
If you do a search, there’s several article about the hoax online, I think this one may be the best:
This state has always produced and attracted all kinds of hoaxes, jokesters and con men. At the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, you can still see the “Cardiff Giant,” a ten-foot-tall fossilized man, dug up by a farmer, south of Syracuse. Which is where his cousin had buried it, a year earlier, after having a stonecarver create it. (There was a copycat “Taughannock Giant” which they dragged up to Cornell to study.)
P.T. Barnum (“There’s a sucker born every minute”) was a Connecticut Yankee, but he knew just where to open his museum/circus/menagerie – – NYC, right on Broadway. Where he displayed the “Fiji Mermaid” (in reality, a hideous mashup of taxidermied monkey and fish), an old lady posing as George Washington’s 161-year-old nanny, Tom Thumb’s baby, and other con jobs.
Farther back in time, 1823, in the midst of an epidemic/depression, a couple of guys hired some fife & drum bands, and organized a parade of 1,000 workers, who paraded up Manhattan, with shovels, picks, saws, etc. for an emergency, massive operation. The workers had been persuaded, by a stirring speech and a barrel of whiskey, that to save their city from sinking, they needed to cut the island in half, and anchor it with massive iron chains.
Except…the story, which I’ve seen mentioned in a number of books and magazine articles, is itself baloney, and never happened.
I suppose Washington Irving qualifies as a hoax-ster for his Knickerbocker “history” of early New York, but it’s harmless, good fun, has some real history blended in, and is a wonderful and charming piece of writing.
More recently, in the 1980’s, George Plimpton wrote a Sports Illustrated article, and eventually a book, about Hayden Siddhartha “Sidd” Finch, who studied yoga in Tibet, played French horn, and pitched 168 MPH fastballs for the Mets.
New York has also produced some less charming cons, like Bernie Madoff and Clifford Irving (who not only wrote a fake bio of Howard Hughes, but after he got out of jail, had the brass to peddle another book about his deception, The Hoax.) And what’s-his-name, who left NYC for Washington, always tweeting gibberish from his bathroom.
In the old days, sometimes it took a cast-iron plaque, bronze statue, or carved stone tablet to create a persuasive myth. And those were simple country folk, pre-Internet. Apparently, all us modern-day sophisticates can be cozened & bamboozled with something as ephemeral as a tweet — a tissue, or rather, toilet paper of lies.
So…this little monument. Misinformation? Propaganda? Thou shalt not bear false witness, etc.? Let us ponder this, deeply.
Nah. This is Upstate New York, and it’s November – – so chill out. I guess some people might find this folk art/fake memorial, to be offensive and disrespectful, but personally, I’m filing Gu-Ya-No-Ga under the “mostly harmless, and kinda funny” category. It’s really not about Native Americans at all, it’s about some rural types, indulging in a bit of storytelling, maybe putting one over on the local newspaper editor. And the story, and strange little monument, have been hanging around long enough, they’re historical items in their own right.
I’m going to write more about these blue history markers, which are getting to be antiques themselves, that’ll be my next post. So far, scanning through hundreds of them online, the Go-Ya-No-Ga plaque is the only one I’ve found, that is simply baloney-on-a-stick.
This illustration is from “The Pilgrims’ Party” (1931), one of a series of histories for children by Sadyebeth and Anson Lowitz.
More of a fable, a bubbe-meise (grandmother’s tale) than real history. The sanitized Disney/Hallmark version of Thanksgiving may stick in your craw, but perhaps it’s a way to get kids interested in history, and real Native Americans, maybe not such a bad place to begin telling the more complex tale, about the reality of what happened between the Puritans and Wampanoags.
Well, like Squanto in the children’s book, it’s time to go prepare the traditional holiday pop corn, or parched maize. Maybe they didn’t really have popcorn at the first Thanksgiving, but Native Americans, including the Iroquois, did cultivate a number of varieties of corn, and some of it really was popped in heated clay vessels.
I’m feeling grateful, relieved, and thankful for quite a number of things, this Thanksgiving, and glad we have this holiday, cheers.
P.S. about complicated names:
“…after the second sexton’s disappearance, in 1908, the burial ground fell into disuse, and was slowly smothered by undergrowth.”
The first shot is from the Beddoe-Rose Cemetery, which in real life, is a bit battered by the years, and probably falling tree limbs, but isn’t spooky in the slightest. It was a burial plot for two families, that began farming along Keuka Lake after the Revolution, and dates back to 1815. The last burial was over a hundred years ago, and about seventy years ago, the state purchased the land for a park. The farmhouse was torn down, and the little hillock is now surrounded by woods.
The scratches on the sign board, from a state forest near Naples, NY, are just rust or something.
And not blood-stained claw marks.
Looking for these shots, however, I did find some genuinely scary stuff:
Portapotties, chemical toilets, whatever you call them, these things make your blood run cold. Some time this century, we need to gather all the villagers, with pitchforks and torches, and chase these horrors from our public places and gatherings. They’re like little plastic museums of the Dark Ages. We’re a couple centuries overdue for well-ventilated, self-cleansing versions. Public parks should have public restrooms, why do we allow ourselves to be
inconvenienced, wait, discommoded in this way?
Two old-time horrors in this shot.
On the top left, a wreath made of hair. Indescribably creepy.
And in front, in all its splendiferous horribleness, is an 1862 “half-mourning” dress.
The Civil War was bad enough, without this kind of assault.
Imagine some poor vet, having survived Antietam and Gettysburg, limping home from Appomattox, his brain teeming with battlefield horrors, running into this thing. Hadn’t he suffered enough?
Maybe this dress is a widow’s expression of pent-up rage, over Victorian strictures – some book of etiquette specified a schedule, when it was deemed seemly to only be half-sad about someone’s death. And this widow took her revenge, with this lilac & black attack.
Who the heck would give creepy coin banks like this, to a kid??
When your name is Dillman, I guess it’s natural to take an interest in pickling. Back in my hometown, in 1902, the Dillman brothers founded this company, which perfumed the area for many years. Seriously, Kraut Juice?? I just know, that if this health drink was still around when I was a kid, my parents would’ve made me drink it.
A Seneca headdress, as you probably know, did not remotely resemble this “Plains Warbonnet” on the label.
Bonus Ghost Story
Well, here’s a short ghost story, of sorts. It’s been told to me by my dad, many times. Many times. Many times.
On the wall of my bedroom, in my parents’ home, hang four old swords. One is a Civil War non-com’s, and was given to my father when he was a boy.
A little while after it was given to him, he walked up to the hardware store, bought some fancy brass hooks, and hung the sword on his bedroom wall. Even though my grandmother had told to not do that, because it might fall off somehow, during the night, and stab him. Once it was hung, he then went downstairs, to feed the dog, a large, very sweet Newfoundland.
The dog, as soon as he was in the house, ignored his dinner, and ran upstairs, which was very unusual, since he was always hungry, and knew he wasn’t allowed in the bedrooms. He then stood in the doorway of my dad’s bedroom, and began to bark and growl.
Now, my dad says, that dog only growled four times in his entire life. The other three times, he’d taken a dislike to the UPS van. Otherwise, and this dog lived nearly twice the typical lifespan for that breed, he simply never growled. He was a big dog, 150 pounds, and when he growled, it was impressive. It scared the living crap out of the UPS man, and he stopped driving up to the house, and often just hung the parcels on the mailbox by the street.
But that afternoon, the dog stood in the doorway, looking into the bedroom and growled and growled.
My father, with complete composure, acted quickly and decisively, the way he always does in these situations.
He ran outside.
The dog followed, and together, they sat on the front lawn, until it started to get dark, and the folks came home to make dinner. At the time, neither of them said anything about the growling to my grandparents.
Now, it’s possible there was a bat in the room. It wouldn’t be the first time – my father often left the screens open, so he could throw things out the window, fiddle with the wire antenna to his radio, which he’d strung out to a fencepost, or shoot his BB gun at tin cans on the driveway, even though he’d promised never to load the gun inside the house. But he says, the screen was closed, and he didn’t see any bats. He believes it was something to do with hanging up that sword.
Now it’s been on my bedroom wall for quite a while, and nothing’s happened, so far.
None of these snaps are stellar examples of photography. They’re meant for a quick flip through, to enjoy the autumn colors.
I didn’t have much free time this autumn, to walk through the woods while the leaves were doing their amazing color transformation.
Sugar maples are my favorites – – creating an incredible number of variations in shades and patterns.
I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch, to compare the loose leaves, to leaves of books – – like a visit to a big library, there’s always going to be just too many to look at and take in.
And the maple leaves are already coming down and fading – – we need some clever tree botanists to improve their shelf life. Keep the colored leaves on display longer.
Arboriculturist is the term for a tree botanist, I think, making me a humble arboricultourist.
The leaves get stamped by librarians, and anyone else walking, Expired, and turn to brown, way too quickly. The show is done, and the woods are dun.
When the pages of old documents and books have begun turning brown, the librarians and archivists call them “foxed.”
Well, no good. Yet another thing that needs fixing. I think foxes are beautiful, and using them to describe splotches of mold/fungus/rust in dusty old books is highly inappropriate.
I thought of how to replace this term without slandering foxes.
“Warthogged”? Warthogs are grayish, not brown, so that won’t work.
I think I found the solution in a fish market.
Monkfish. Delicious, but ugly as homemade sin, it’s amazing the fisherfolk don’t throw them back in the ocean. They look like dead blobby aliens, that the harbor patrol pulled up, bloated and brown, after a couple weeks underwater.
And as big-mouthed bottom-feeders, perfect for our current times.
So we’re going to call the paper leaves with brown splotches “monk-fished,” and this term works well with old manuscripts.
“Brown” has positive attributes, of course. People associate it with Earth.
Down-to-earth, soil, wood, wholesome, organic.
Plain, wholesome. Good ol’ Charlie Brown.
President Reagan used to wear brown suits, I think it helped project an image of reliability.
But perhaps in modern/urban days, brown has a less positive image. The sky in Atlanta or L.A.. The administration packed with brown-nosers. Remember in “Reservoir Dogs,” when the robbers are assigned color codenames? Quentin Tarantino, that arbiter of good taste, objects to being called “Mr. Brown,” which he associates with…organic waste, although he used a different term. (Tim Roth was “Mr. Orange,” and remained silent, it was good he didn’t ask for “Mr. Taupe,” since that’s French for “mole.”)
Brown is also the color of dead leaves, once this colorful time has wound down, and they’re just a heap of decaying cellulose. Well, here’s a handful (maybe a peck, certainly not a bushel) of autumn leaves, still dressed up for their last hurrah.
1963 “Ugly Brown” Lee Hazlewood https://youtu.be/lRyekqsdgx8
This old Beetle has been rusticating in a back field so long, a tree is growing out of it.
Just for fun, below is a “Woodstock Reunion” version.
It’s not uncommon to see colonial-era churches, and those from the early days of the republic, surrounded by burial grounds. In those days, churchyards = graveyards, and no doubt it was a successful business strategy, helping to keep folks on the straight and narrow. The “rural” or “garden” cemetery movement didn’t begin until the 1830’s.
But it always struck me as odd, driving by this schoolhouse, to see it with its own cemetery, like a perpetual after-school detention for wayward and recalcitrant pupils.
The epitaphs probably have misspellings and tell of fatal miscalculations and deadly grammatical errors, “died of a dangling participle,” etc.
“John Smith ~ We’re Just Spitballing Here”
“Billy Schmeider ~ Never Added Up to Much ~ And Has Now Been Subtracted”
“Here Lies Nathaniel Johnson / Under This Slate / Lies the Late Nate / Always Late / To Class”
“Jane Jones ~ Death is a Debt to Nature Due / Which I Have Paid and So Must You / Altho Death / Could Not Thwart / I Still Owe a Book Report”
Never send to know for whom the school bell tolls…kind of rang a bell with me, so I never stopped, just thumbed my nose and sped by.
But finally, one autumn day, I pulled over to take a few photos, and found the explanation for the strange combo – – the 1869 building was moved to this site, along Route 14A, in 1991.
After the move and restoration, the county historian wrote “The Baldwin Cemetery directly behind the school…has recently become active again,” which sounds mildly alarming, if you believe in ghosts, but I suppose it just means, they’d resumed burying people there again.
The new setting seems appropriate, because when I drove out to the original site – – there was another burial ground there, too, the abandoned “West Woods Cronk Cemetery.”
So now I can’t pass by with mentioning the Cronks, a name I’ve run across before, on farms and roads all around Upstate, and while reading about the early Dutch days of this state, when it was New Netherlands.
When I visited Pixley Falls (north of Rome, NY), there was a historical marker not too far away, for an old-time countryman named Hiram Cronk.
Even though he was a small-scale farmer, in an area that seems like the hind end of beyond, when he died in 1905, Hiram rated a funeral procession through Manhattan, and reportedly 50,000 people paid their respects as he lay in state in New York’s City Hall.
It was not just his extraordinary age. When he passed away, at the age of 105, Hiram was the last veteran of the war of 1812. He’d joined the army on August 4, 1814, as a drummer boy.
Another branch of the family kept a longer version of the original Dutch name, something like Krankheyt, and eventually produced a famous newscaster of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, Walter Cronkite.
And that’s the way it is.