Great, Strange and Rarely Seen: Objects from the Vault

The Albany Institute of History & Art has unlocked its vault to present some of the little-known objects in the new exhibition Great, Strange and Rarely Seen: Objects from the Vault opening Saturday, April 14, 2012. A special exhibition opening reception will be hosted on April 12.

The exhibition reveals the cosmopolitan breadth of the Institute’s holdings with stunning Chinese lacquer, intricately carved Japanese netsuke, and 18th-century English porcelain statuettes. Other collections, like patent models and human hair jewelry, demonstrate the ingenious and quirky sides of human creativity. Also to be included are panoramic photographs, unusual clocks, a chronology of mirrors, women’s bonnets and hats, British and American fortepianos, and riches from the Library.

Individuals are invited to celebrate the opening of the exhibition with a special reception on Thursday, April 12 from 5-7 PM at the Albany Institute. Guests will enjoy a preview of Great, Strange and Rarely Seen followed by wine and light hors d’oeuvres. This event is free of charge.

Great, Strange and Rarely Seen is on display in the Main Floor Galleries of the Albany Institute of History & Art, located at 125 Washington Avenue, Albany. This exhibition has been generously funded by the Buchman Foundation and Elle Shushan, and will be on view through August 26, 2012.

Historic Cherry Hill Opens, Fundraiser Planned

Historic Cherry Hill in Albany, a non-profit historic house museum built in 1787 and lived in continuously by five generations of the same family until the death of the last family member in 1963, opens for the public season on Wednesday April 4th. The museum has 20,000 objects, 30,000 manuscripts, 7,500 textiles, 5,000 books and 3,000 photographs in its collection and offers a behind-the-scenes restoration tour exploring the large restoration project currently underway on Wednesday afternoons at 1, 2 and 3pm and on Saturday afternoons at 2 and 3pm.

A special fundraiser to benefit the museum will be held on Saturday, April 14th from 5:00pm to 7:30pm. Participants will join Van Rensselaer family member Elsie Whipple and Cherry Hill hired hand Jesse Strang on the 185th anniversary of their romantic rendezvous at Hill’s Tavern, explore the historic tavern building and learn about their tryst that led to murder. The fundraiser is hosted by The Tailored Tea at the Historic Hills House, formerly known as Hill’s Tavern and will include wines and specialty teas as well as homemade sweet and savory treats. Tickets are $50.00 per person. For more information or to order tickets, call Historic Cherry Hill at (518) 434-4791.

Admission to Cherry Hill is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and college students and $2 for children between the ages of 12 and 18. The museum also offers an Architecture Hunt for Families on Saturdays between 1 and 2pm. Admission for the Hunt is $2 for adults and $1 for children ages 6-11. The museum is open from April through December for tours on these days. For more information visit the museum’s website.

Albany Institue Annouces Spring Lecture Lineup

The Albany Institute of History & Art has announced its 2012 Spring Lecture lineup. From April through June, visitors are invited to attend lectures given by local authors and nationally recognized scholars. Topics will range from United States presidents to New York’s French history to Japanese netsuke.

All of the lectures listed are with museum admission. Lectures are presented in the Key Cultural Center at the Albany Institute of History & Art, located at 125 Washington Avenue, Albany. The schedule is as follows:

* Susan Leath, “Bethlehem: Stories beyond the Book”

* Dennis Gaffney, “The Presidents”

* Eloise A. Briere “J’Aime New York”

* Rob Naborn, “Memories of Eilardus Westerlo”

* Elle Shushan, “The Albany Influence: Portrait Miniatures in Federal New York”

* Sam Aldrich, “Dancing with the Queen, Marching with the King”

* Jeffrey Klotz, “Netsuke: Function and Decoration”

For more information on any of these lectures, visit or call (518) 463-4478.

William Kennedy’s Prohibition Story:An Interview with Exec Producer Dan Swinton

The passage of the Volstead Act and prohibition against intoxicating liquor caused a profound change in American culture by breaking the traditional mold of heroes and anti-heroes. Popular media has romanticized the anti-hero “gangster” role, and some of the greatest actors of the movie-making era have portrayed names like Al Capone, “Bugs” Moran, “Bugsy” Siegal and “Machine Gun” Kelly on the silver screen. In many instances, thugs, authorities and officials become the puppets of the crime boss, or the authorities become as violent as the criminals do.
Read more

Albany’s Unique Architecture: H.H. Richardson

Any visitor to Albany has to consider the unique architecture styles that define the city. New York History had the recent opportunity to talk with Andrew Alberti, the program manager for Lakes to Locks Passage, about Albany’s architecture. Alberti studied the history of Albany’s architecture when he was a Masters student at the University at Albany’s public history program. Read more

Irish American Museum Presents Erie Canal Exhibit

The Irish American Heritage Museum presents its newest exhibit “The Irish and the Erie Canal” at its new galleries at 370 Broadway in Albany. The new exhibit, wholly developed by its staff and volunteers, is open to the public from Wednesdays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on Saturdays and Sundays from 12 noon to 4 p.m.

“In keeping with our mission of education, ‘The Irish and the Erie Canal’ reveals the historical contributions of the Irish to the planning, designing, engineering, funding and construction of the famed achievement that transformed early America, and in particular New York City, into a world economic power, linking the Great Lakes and the interior of the young nation to the Atlantic Ocean,” stated Ed Collins, Chair of the Museum’s Board Of Trustees.

“Our exhibit expands the common perception that the Irish were limited to only the actual construction of the canal,” Mr. Collins further stated. “The Irish were involved from start to finish, from originally proposing the concept a hundred years before a shovel was even put into the ground, to the routing, to its design, to securing support from elected officials, to the elected officials themselves, to its construction and finally to its navigation and transportation services once it opened.”

“The Irish and the Erie Canal” was researched, written and composed by James Zibro, a Cohoes, NY, resident of Irish descent who is completing his PhD at Catholic University in Washington D.C. after earning Masters degrees in both American History and Irish Studies at the same university and a dual Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degree at Union College, Schenectady, NY. Museum Director Krisy O’Connor produced the exhibit and Museum volunteer Adele O’Connell served as the exhibit’s editor.

The suggested donations for admission are: $3 adults, $2 seniors and free for children 14 years of age and younger. Museum Memberships are also available upon entry. Donations and memberships help fund the Museum’s educational programs.

The Museum is unique in the United States, where almost 40 million people claim Irish ancestry. The Museum is committed to the tenet that preserving one’s heritage is vital to providing a cultural and historical foundation to future generations of Americans.

The Irish American Heritage Museum was created by New York State Legislation in 1986 and permanently chartered by the New York State Education Department in 1992 as a 501c3 non-profit educational institution. The Museum’s mission is to preserve and tell the story of the contributions of the Irish people and their culture in America, inspiring individuals to examine the importance of their own heritage as part of the American cultural mosaic.

Canal Life: Near Tragedy on the George W. Lee

In November 1886, Captain John Frawley of the canal boat George W. Lee reached the eastern terminus of the Mohawk River at Cohoes. Before him was the Hudson River intersection: south led to Albany and New York City, and north was the path of the Champlain Canal, which ran from Waterford to Whitehall, at Lake Champlain’s southern tip. Access to the Champlain Canal was on the north bank at the Mohawk’s mouth, opposite Peeble’s Island.

At the mouth of the river was a dam, maintaining calm water so the boats could cross the river, and about 500 feet upstream from the dam was a bridge. Canal boats were pulled by tow ropes linked to teams of mules or horses. To cross from the south bank of the Mohawk to the north, towing teams used the bridge, which is what Frawley did.

Sounds simple, and usually, it was. But the Mohawk was badly swollen from several days of rain. Traveling at night, Frawley was perhaps unaware that the normally strong current had intensified. Water was fairly leaping over the nine-foot-high dam.

Accompanying the captain were his mother, around 60 years old- his ten-year-old son- and the boat’s steersman, Dennis Clancy. To help ensure that things went okay, Frawley left the boat to assist the team driver during the crossing of the 700-foot-long bridge. They moved slowly—the rope extended sideways from the bridge downstream towards the boat, an angle much more difficult than pulling a load forward along the canal.

Below them, the George W. Lee lay heavy in the current, straining against the rope. All went well until the bridge’s midpoint was reached, when, with a sound like a gunshot, the rope snapped. Horrified, they watched as the boat swung around, slammed sideways into the dam, and plunged over the edge. Nothing was left but darkness.

Shock and grief enveloped them at such a sudden, terrible loss. Within minutes, though, a light appeared on the boat’s deck. It had held together! At least one person had survived, but no one knew how many, or if any were injured. The roar of the river drowned out any attempt at yelling back and forth. With the boat aground, there was nothing to do but sit and wait until morning.

With daylight came great news. All were okay! But, as had happened the previous evening, great elation was followed by great uncertainty. How could they be saved? The river remained high and dangerous. The boat, resting on the rocks below the dam, could not be reached. And the November chill, heightened by cold water pouring over the dam all around them, threatened the stranded passengers with hypothermia.

A rescue plan was devised, and by late afternoon, the effort began. The state scow (a large, flat-bottomed boat), manned by a volunteer crew of seven brave men, set out on a dangerous mission. Connected to the bridge by a winch system using two ropes, the scow was slowly guided to the dam, just above the stranded boat.

The men began talking with the passengers to discuss their evacuation. Then, without warning, disaster struck. Something within the winch mechanism failed, and again, with a loud cracking sound, the rope snapped. Over the dam went the scow, fortunately missing the canal boat. Had they hit, the results would have been catastrophic.

Briefly submerged, the scow burst to the surface. A safe passage lay ahead, but the drifting scow was instead driven towards nearby Buttermilk Falls by the swift current. Two men leaped overboard and swam for shore in the icy water. The rest decided to ride it out.

In one reporter’s words, “The scow sped like an arrow toward Buttermilk Falls. It seemed to hang an instant at the brink, and then shot over the falls. It landed right side up and soon drifted ashore.” Incredibly, everyone survived intact. Chilled, wet, and shaken, but intact.

Meanwhile, still stuck at the base of the dam was a canal boat with cold, hungry, and frightened passengers. A new plan was needed, but darkness was descending. The stranded victims would have to spend another night on the rocks.

On the following day, Plan B was tried. According to reports, “A stout rope was stretched from the Waterford bridge, over the dam, to a small row boat at Peeble’s Island [a distance of about 1800 feet.] Two men stood on the bridge and pulled the skiff upstream until it came alongside the canal boat Lee. The party embarked and the boat was allowed to drift back to the island.”

What an amazing, fortuitous outcome. Two boats (one at night) over a dam- three people trapped for more than 36 hours in a raging river- two men swimming for their lives in icy water- and five men and a boat over a waterfall. All that potential for tragedy, and yet all survived unscathed.

Photos: The dam at Cohoes, looking west from Peeble’s Island- A canal boat scene at Cohoes.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

NYS Museum Research in Archaeology Lectures

Research findings on a 200-300-year-old skull found in a wall in Coeymans &#8211 the subject of recent news accounts &#8211 will be one of the topics discussed during a series of lectures on “Research in Archaeology” at the New York State Museum. The lectures will be held Wednesday through March 28 at 12:10 p.m. in the Huxley Theater. Lecture topics and dates are:

? March 14 &#8211 “Learning from Pottery.” Broken pieces of pottery, or sherds, are one of the most common artifacts recovered from archaeological sites younger than 3,000 years old. Dr. John P. Hart, director of the State Museum’s Research & Collections division, will
discuss recently completed research on sherds that provides information on how Native Americans interacted across what is now New York state.

? March 21 &#8211 “The Skull in the Wall: The Case of the Coeymans Lady.” The discovery of a human skull during repairs to the stone foundation at the historic Coeymans House in southern Albany County raised many questions about the person’s identity and manner of death.
Lisa Anderson, curator of bioarchaeology, will take a closer look at the skeletal evidence and historical context of the case.

? March 28 &#8211 “Cache and Carry: New Insights on Ice Age Technology of New York Paleoindians.” New York’s first people colonized the state at the end of the Ice Age. Ranging widely across New York and beyond, many have wondered how these hunter gatherers
created a portable stone technology compatible with their mobile way of life. Dr. Jonathan Lothrop, curator of archaeology, describes new insights from the study of a Paleoindian stone tool cache discovered in the upper Susquehanna Valley.

Founded in 1836, the State Museum is a program of the New York State Education Department’s Office of Cultural Education. Located on Madison Avenue in Albany, the Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New
Year’s Day. Admission is free. Further information can be obtained by calling (518) 474-5877 or visiting the museum website at

Photo: Coeymans House from LOC Historic American Building Survey Digital Collection.

Lincoln Author Harold Holzer Event to Focus on NYS

Abraham Lincoln Scholar Harold Holzer will be visiting the Albany Institute of History & Art to present the lecture “Lincoln and New York” on Sunday, February 26 at 2 PM. Following the lecture, listeners will have a pre-publication date opportunity to purchase and receive a signed copy of Holzer’s newest book, Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory.

As visitor, President-elect, and later as President and iconic martyr, Abraham Lincoln had an unusual and ongoing relationship with New York State. In turn, the Empire State forged a unique and important relationship with its wartime leader. Holzer examines the 16th President’s dealings with the nation’s most populous and important state, and the role New York played in the social, military, economic and technological upheavals of the Civil War.

Holzer will be available after the lecture to sign copies of his newest book, Emancipating Lincoln, which will be available for early sale prior to its publication on February 27. The book focuses on Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and how its meaning has changed over time. It has received early acclaim from critics, being deemed “highly recommended for anyone wanting to learn about how freedom came to be” by the Library Journal.

Admission to this event is $10.00 per person. Seating is limited, so please purchase tickets ahead of time at or in person at the museum Front Desk.

St. Peters Church in Albany the Focus of Events

The Albany Institute of History & Art will be presenting the first of a three lecture series “300 Years, One Congregation”, about St. Peter’s Church on State Street on Sunday, February 12 at 2 PM. In this first lecture “In One City of Two Cultures, Ministering to Three Nations” the history, purpose, and influence of St. Peter’s Church in Albany will be explored by a panel of experts, including the Reverend Paul Hartt, Rector, Ms. E. Connie Powell, Church Archivist and Mr. Chris Grill, Mentor at Empire State College. This event is FREE with museum admission.

The lecture series is in conjunction with the upcoming exhibition “St. Peter’s Church in Albany”, opening at the Albany Institute on March 3 and running through April 29, 2012. The exhibition draws from the collections of St. Peter’s Church and the Albany Institute and includes the rarely seen 1712 Queen Anne Communion Service, land grants, portraits, furniture, drawings, prints, maps, and photographs to highlight the history of the church and its role in the historical events that shaped Albany and the Upper Hudson Valley.

The other two lectures included in the series are:

Three Buildings, Four Distinguished Architects

John G. Waite, FAIA, and Doug Bucher of John G. Waite Associates, Architects, PLLC will present a lecture on the architectural and artistic history and legacy of St. Peter’s Church. FREE with museum admission.

One Faith: The Stained Glass Windows at St. Peter’s Church

Mr. Anthony Anadio will present an illustrated lecture of the stories told by the thousands of pieces of stained glass created by some of the world’s finest artisans that are part of St. Peter’s Church. The lecture will be followed by a tour of St. Peter’s to see the actual windows. FREE with museum admission.


MARCH 3–APRIL 29, 2012

The distinguished history of St. Peter’s Church in Albany, New York begins in 1708 when England’s Queen Anne sent missionaries to establish friendly relations with the Iroquois. A gambrel-roofed masonry edifice with a bell tower was completed in 1715. Located on State Street, just below present day Chapel Street, it was the first Anglican Church built north of New York City and west of the Hudson River. In 1802 Albany architect Phillip Hooker designed a new Federal Style church near the same location, which Richard Upjohn of New York City, well-known for his Gothic Revival Style replaced in 1860. His son, Richard M. Upjohn added the impressive bell tower in 1876. The richly decorated interiors include work by leading artists designers including windows designed by the English artist Edward C. Burne-Jones and fabricated by the William Morris Company of London in 1880- the chancel windows made by Clayton and Bell of London in 1885- and the rose window over the State Street entrance made by the Tiffany Company in 1892. The exhibition, drawn from the collections of St. Peter’s Church and the Albany Institute, include the rarely seen 1712 Queen Anne Communion Service, land grants, portraits, furniture, drawings, prints, maps, and photographs arranged to highlight the history of the church and its role in the historical events that shaped Albany and the upper Hudson Valley.

Illustration: St. Peter’s Church circa 1850 by James Eights (1797-1882), watercolor.