I've already commented on William R. Farrell's Classical Place Names in New York State, which is really more of a reference than a read. On the fiction side, the next book in my queue is The Saskiad, a coming of age story about a girl growing up on a 1960s style commune in Ithaca. In the graphic novel department, I've been eyeing The Jew of New York, about a mid-nineteenth century plan to establish a Jewish homeland upstate and carbonate Lake Erie, among other things. I've heard mixed reviews about The Last Good Chance, though it looks like an interesting read to get thinking about community revitalization plans upstate.
Despite this list of my own already in progress, I'm very interested in other people's experiences, so I'm reaching out for recommendations. What Upstate books would you recommend reading? Which ones would you caution against? Which ones do you plan on reading?
Browsing around not only online, but also in bookshops is an excellent way to get some ideas. For the truly dedicated, I've heard that over in Saugerties the Hope Farm bookstore has been specializing in New York books for nearly 50 years.
(Note: While I'm linking to Amazon for all these titles, I personally use it only as a database for authors, titles, and ISBN number, which I then take to my local bookstore and have them order. It's not cheaper or faster, but it's nice to support local business when you can.)
Posted by Natalie
I appreciate Alia for thanking me in an earlier comment and referring to the timeline as a "people's history." She also commented that it was a shame that this was never taught to her at school. This is something that I also think is a shame. After all, these are interesting stories of revolt, creativity and people struggling with powerful questions of morality. Worth at least a movie I think. Please email us any events you think are missing or corrections you can see.
-Posted by Jesse
We forget that the story of racism in America is not confined to the South and that we to are haunted by America’s greatest shame. For example, it was only 1964 when Rochester was consumed in a race riot. The Flour City was not the only northern cities to burn around that time: NYC, Jersey City, Paterson (NJ), Philadelphia and Chicago also in 1964, the Hough riot (Cleveland) in 1966, Newark, Plainfield (NJ) and Detroit in 1967, Chicago again in 1968 after King’s assassination and York (PA) in 1969.
The presence of such recent race riots shows that racial tensions and oppression are strong enough in the North to spark violence. However, racial violence is not new to our region and has not always involved the uprising of the oppressed. For example, throughout the 1920s, the Second Ku Klux Klan, an anti-Jewish, Black, Immigrant and Catholic organization, was incredibly strong in the North.
In Upstate New York, the Klan made Binghamton its northeastern headquarters from 1923 to 1927; at that time 40% of the city’s residents were immigrants or their children. In 1926, Klan members marched through the largely Italian-immigrant village of Endicott, burned crosses and recruited “many well known business people.” These businesses advertised in the newspaper with a secret code to convey their allegiance to members.
Xenophobia, racism and hate are interwoven into the history of our region just as popular resistances to those pressures are. My timeline of Upstate antebellum events includes not only the inspiring events of the Jerry Rescue (where a mob freed a captured slave in Syracuse) and the Underground Railroad, but also stories of mobs chasing the first Anti-Slavery Society meeting out of Utica, attempting to destroy Frederick Douglass’ printing press and attacking converts to new religions like Mormonism.
Today, we are still haunted by racism. The group that is sponsoring the march in Buffalo, the Racial Nationalist Party of America, has made a name for itself in Lockport flyering and protesting. It is not the only racially-charged group in York State; the Southern Poverty Law Center maintains a database on hate groups and is watching 12 organizations in our area. The Racial Nationalist Party is only one:
Around Syracuse are three KKK affiliates: The Free Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Imperial Klands of America Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. In Buffalo, the Neo-Confederate League of the South and a branch of the Nation of Islam operate. Rochester has a wing of the Neo-Nazi National Alliance and the fundamentalist terrorist group known as the Jewish Defense League. Schenectady and West Hurly also have branches of the National Alliance, Syracuse the Nation of Islam and Parishville the white power Council of Conservative Citizens.
Race is a powerful force, but one that white America tries its best to forget. Yet, ignorance or denial of reality does not change the nature of the beast. Hate crimes, from KKK scrawled on the hood of a car owned by a person in an interracial relationship in Ballston Spa, to assaults on Latinos in Farmingville, organized hate groups, race riots and the widespread day to day oppression that is often only understood in large scale statistics, tell a very different story than the one heard on the evening news.
I think that, as thoughtful people looking to improve life in our region, we cannot forget the importance of race. What are the forces that drive race in America? How is the American story race told in our hometowns? Perhaps most importantly for this website, how are hate groups driven by a lack of identity and how can we work to fill this problem? Why, when we are located so deeply in the North, are there neo-confederates working out of Buffalo? Has our region so spectacularly failed to produce a meaningful identity that some of our citizens have instead turned to a pro-slavery revolt in the South close to 150 years ago? Why does any vehicle with a New York license plate have a Confederate flag in it? Why does “being country” necessarily mean you find your heroes in Texas or Tennessee? On a different note, how does an Upstate identity differ for Blacks, Latin@s, Whites who descended from old families and those from immigrant stock, Asians and Indigenous peoples? Where does it converge? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
-Posted by Jesse
The pizza is described in an interview by the Press and Sun Bulletin of Mr. Brozzetti as sweeter than normal pizza and "half-way Sicilian."* It seems the cheese is at least partially American and something else, and the crust doesn't taste bland like normal NY style pizza. The only way the pizza is available is in sheet, or half-sheet standard, you can't get any type of round pie or triangular slice.
Polish pizza is really sloppy and gross, so Brozzetti's being really sloppy and not gross was a favorable delicacy to the local Polish -including my mother's extended family and my immediate family. There is no way any pizza on the planet tastes like Brozzetti's, so people will always regularly come back to Broz, even when they live across the country for 7 years. Many youths have been heard saying that they love Brozzetti's so much that they'd in fact marry it when dared to do so by friends after describing their affections for it.
Brozzetti's is located south of Wilson Regional Medical Centre in Johnson City village. If ever in southern Broome County, you may throw away your pizza preconceptions and experience something new until 11 pm EST.
-Written by Joe
However, all is not lost for the structure as recently an organization called The Goodwill Theater Inc is working hard to resurrect it from the dead. In the pursuit of this goal, the organization has gained a $10,000 2004 NEA Challenge Grant, $72,750 from the US Congress for internal renovations, $225,000 in 2004 from the Governor’s office for acquiring the land, another $225,000 in 2000 from the Governor and possibly other grants that I am not aware off. The total is more that $632,000, no paltry sum, but perhaps not enough for the structure. Luckily, the building only cost $78,000; the group was also given the former police station, which is on the same street.
The organization’s eventual goal is “an arts district with theaters, a professional-level school for the fine arts, studios, galleries, cafes and retail space. Preliminary cost estimates range from $20 million to $40 million…”*
I am relieved that someone is finally taking an interest in the classic buildings of downtown Johnson City. All my life, I have taken detours to look at the outside of the Goodwill building and think of what it was and what it could someday be. I relish the thought of seeing it open and restored to its former glory.
However, I am deeply disturbed by the long-term plans of Goodwill Incorporated. This organization, headed by Naima Kradjian who recently lost a race for Mayor of Binghamton, seems to care little about the people of Johnson City. None of its money comes from the village or organizations within the village; it has received Congressional grants, gifts from the Governor and aid from the National Council on the Arts, but it has not yet been embraced by the people of Johnson City. Even its little local fundraisers all occur in posh Vestal across the river. The Mayor seems, as usual, to go along with whatever idea has fallen into his lap and doesn’t require any work or thought on his part. Have the people of Johnson City been asked whether they want to turn downtown into an “arts district”? Do the people who live and work in downtown Johnson City want to cater to bored professionals from across the river? Perhaps they do, but neither Ms. Kradjian nor I know, as they’ve never been asked.
The people of Johnson City tend, in general, to be poor immigrant families or elderly ex-factory workers, not exactly the most powerful groups in our society. Many of us deeply love our little town and many are willing to work to make it glow again, but to bring about one small group’s vision on another town is cultural imperialism. Once again the great centralized bureaucracies of the world, the state and national governments, have begun funding change without knowing what they are doing. This is the effect of the faceless bureaucracy.
Behind much of this “vision” for a new Johnson City is the recent success of the First Friday Art Walk in Binghamton. On the first Friday of each month, the galleries and cafes of downtown Binghamton open up for an evening bash. I have attended these events and found them entertaining. I would estimate that several hundred people came out to look at art, sip wine, eat cheese and feel “cultured.” I do not disagree that First Friday has had a positive effect on blighted Downtown, but I hesitate as to whether it can be a solution on a broader scale.
The purchase of fine art requires money, something that already has to be in the neighborhood. Broome County can support one Art Walk a month, but I doubt whether a competitor would be able to survive. Plus, the bringing in of outside artists does little to give “culture” to any but the precious few who can purchase their art. We will always be too far from NYC and too small to bring people from the greater world into our valley to buy art and so we will always be selling to ourselves. Any “high art” endeavor would be risky indeed.
What I am driving at here is that I feel that the Village of Johnson City can do much more with $20-40 million. Art is certainly desirable, but lets make it public art that everyone can enjoy, made by local artists who represent our lives. A few thousand dollars worth of murals painted by local spraypainters and up-and-coming traditional artists will go much further to livening up downtown Johnson City and improving the lives of the people who live there than millions of dollars worth of art in some private gallery. The revival of the Goodwill Theater is a damn good idea, but lets have it show movies and plays that the people who already walk by it every day can enjoy. Despite a prevalence of Eastern European and Southeast Asian communities in the neighborhood, there is no forum for movies and shows from those areas and in those languages within our region. Is this what the people want? Perhaps, I would reckon it is a better guess than a swanky café and a private arts school, but I suggest we ask the people themselves.
The “refined” people of the region have become fixated on “art” as the solution to local problems of late. Limited successes in the First Friday endeavor have greatly encouraged them. But in the end, I am afraid that by catering to this small minority of local residents and their desire to mimic the urban lives they see in Sex and the City we will be pouring our precious monies down a deep, deep hole and betraying the majority of residents, who do want to see a revived downtown, but want to do it in a way that everyone can enjoy equally.
-Posted by Jesse
*Much of this information comes from “JC arts project gains ground” in the Press & Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, NY) on January 15, 2005 by Greg Erbstoesser
The next day I returned the way I had come, going back to life in my own town, some 35 miles away. I was curious about this bucolic country I had traversed, and tried to get familiar with my route. And along the road home, I noticed a road break away, a county highway with a sign pointing east that read: Churchtown.
It was early summer, a time of year that for me had always meant gleeful exploring, hiking, and swimming, indulging ones curiosity in the world around them. Brimming with expectation, I dragged him out swimming one day, but the experience made him sick and we drove back quickly, my desire for shared adventure becoming tinged with worry and guilt.
We rarely went out. Groups of people, public places all made him uncomfortable, and oftentimes physically ill. So we’d stay in his house, happy in each other’s company, but many times my mind wandered over the places I had seen driving, the places we one day might investigate together. I imagined what it would be like to live in many of the houses along the way, what it would be like if explored together some small hamlet in the hills.
The more he descended into agoraphobia, the more I came to enjoy the trip from my house to Chatham I explored the intervening stretches of earth with my eyes, caressing the landscape with my gaze like my fingers would have lingered over the texture of a soft fabric. I encountered it in the summer sun, the wind and the rain, and more often than not, in the dead of the night, if only to arrive at my destination and succumb to sleep. Whether on a whim or if I was urgently needed, the hills, trees, and creeks along the way ushered me across the miles.
I made this journey enough times that in anyone else’s mind it would have become dull, a drive made on mental autopilot, a commute. I became fascinated with each county highway and country road that broke away from my route. And I explored many of them, criss-crossing southern Columbia County on the way to my destination. But I never could bring myself to try going to Churchtown. I always saved that adventure for some other day.
Churchtown, in my mind, was always just over the crest of the next hill, on the other side of those wide open fields of who knows what lush green crop, beyond the stands of unnamed trees. I envisioned a crossroads, flanked on all sides by white clapboard churches, for surely a hamlet named Churchtown would have to have more than one. It would be a charming place with large shady trees with inviting farm houses like the ones in which I might someday live.
It occurs to me now that the cynical might think I was deluding myself, becoming entranced by the landscape of a life that would never exist. Perhaps this is true. For all the times I made the trip to see him that summer, he was never able to come to my home, to see the countryside along the way as I did. But even as our lives and the landscape in between changed over the years, there was always something hopeful about that journey.
Last week on a bright winter day, I made the turn, and followed the road to Churchtown, needing to prove to myself, once and for all, whether or not the place I had imagined existed. There was no indication of how far down the road it actually was, and my estimation of ‘just over the hill’ turned out to be false. I went over that hill, and then another, and then another. Finally the road came to a T, and I was at the center of Churchtown, facing a single white church on a hill, and just beyond, a cluster of houses. I cast my eyes over the true landscape. Though they are a feature of most church yards, I had never envisioned all those graves.
Cars rolled up behind me at the stop sign and were becoming impatient, so I took a right and drove on. And I kept driving, thinking maybe it was the next town that I had imagined, or the next one. I kept driving, looping around places both familiar and strange, until the sun was low in the sky and I meandered home, leaving exploring yet to do another day. I still believe it might be the next town, next time.
Posted by Natalie
Editors note: When York Staters came into existence, I envisioned that we would get a number of submissions of personal essays. We tend to focus on historical facts and issues that currently challenge out upstate communities, but the landscape, character and experiences of upstate also have profound effects on our personal and emotional lives that should not be overlooked and are entirely with the scope of York Staters. Thanks to Joe and Alia who have submitted material of this nature, and as a friendly reminder, we are always accepting submissions. ~ Natalie
We live in often depressing times, especially for those concerned with local autonomy and regionalism. It is easy to point out the flaws of society, to villify the corporations and governments that strip our communities of their resources, but sometimes it is difficult to promote anything different. Without good examples to point to, the job of community empowerment is far more difficult. In earlier posts I have discussed Upstate examples like the Ithaca Hour local currency project and the Battenkill Cooperative Kitchen, but rarely does one organization qualify as a comprehensive example for movements in local sustainability.
Yet, for every rule there is an exception and in the slums of Roxbury/North Dorchester, Boston, the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) stands out as a model of what local people can do for their communities with a little bit of cooperation and determination.
In the 1970s, the neighborhood around Dudley Street was an urban wasteland. The effect of the pullout of businesses was exacerbated by a rash of arsons that left 20% of the neighborhood as abandoned lots. The community was largely made up of immigrant communities and people of color; everyone was poor.
In 1985 the DSNI was formed and began to have community meetings to plan the future of the community. Their original goals were modest: end illegal dumping in empty lots, start a multicultural festival and restore commuter rail traffic to the area. However, by 1988, DSNI had developed a comprehensive, bottom-up, neighborhood redevelopment plan. It was the first non-profit ever to get the right of eminent domain authority over vacant land; DSNI could seize and develop abandoned plots within an area known as the Dudley Street Triangle. The Dudley Neighbors Incorporated, a community land trust, was created to develop the area.
With the control over this land out of the control of absentee landowners and in local hands, the people began to put it to good use. Lots were set aside for the Dudley Town Common, 85 “tot-lots” (playgrounds), urban gardens and farms, and low cost housing. The Dudley Common was the first recognized and funded Town Common in an inner city in Massachusetts.
DSNI has organized yearly festivals, built community centers, made scholarships and murals and provided start-up funding for dozens of locally owned businesses. The organization has protected its members from hazardous waste, converted old drug houses to usable housing, tested the soil safety in home gardens, and completed many other small projects for the people. It provides leadership training to local people which has allowed for other movements, such as tenant's right's organizing to take place in the area.
By 1992, the Dudley Triangle won the "Best Kept Neighborhood" Civic Award from the City of Boston. It was incredible how for they had come in seven years. Today the organization has over 3670 members, has rehabilitated over 600 of 1,300 vacant lots for homes, gardens, food production, parks, playgrounds and a Town Common, built over 400 new homes and rehabilitated over 500 other housing units. The organization is working on helping its members with their taxes, an often difficult task for immigrant members (not to mention everyone in general) and continues with its other activities.
What is great about DSNI is that they are organized and run by local people for their own benefit. While the neighborhood organization was jump-started by an outside agency, since then the people have controlled their own destiny. For us here in often devastated Upstate communities, there is much to learn from Dudley Street. They did this all without permission from, and often in spite of the ineffective governmental and corporate officials who had abandoned them. They did it without an expensive outside PR firm or a state-created Master Plan. The best part is that it worked and continues to work today. We often despair to revitalize our communities and are apt to blindly turn to authority to solve the problem. Dudley Street shows us that there is another way, that it might be difficult and long, but in the end it is the only choice for the long term sustainability, health and self esteem of our homes.
-Posted by Jesse
1) The high concentration of sex offenders being brought to Pharsalia might be dangerous to the community if there was a break.
2) Studies show that prison workers spread out their earnings far beyond the local area (they often commute long distances, for example) possibly negating much of the benefit to the Pharsalia area.
3) The current population of mental health patients might be endangered by the new inmates.
4) The fact that the Governor's plan to confine sex offenders after their sentences are finished (the purpose of the Pharsalia plan) is being challenged in court means that the jobs might have no security.
These complaints are legitimate fears, but there is one that I think has been ignored by the Press and remains unknown to the general public: the problem of relying upon government for employment. A look at the list of the top 10 employers in Broome County finds that 5 are public entities; in a similar list for Chenango County has 6 of the top 10 in the public sphere. Camp Pharsalia would certainly join that list.
Public sphere work is, of course, necessary: we need schools, roads, fire departments and ambulance squads. I would never support the radical Libertarian idea of complete privatization of society, in fact, I support more social spheres coming under the control of local communities. However, the key word here is "local." The jobs that too often come under the rubric of "public" having nothing to do with local control: big prisons, big university centers, big water reservoirs, big building projects and big parks. The jobs do not create wealth, they just move tax money around.
More importantly than the fact that tax dollars are not created, but simply shifted, is that these jobs have the tendency to hamstring local power. Just as the expansion of Wal-Mart into our community siphons our ability to control our destiny and sends that power to Bentonville, AK, these big projects too often put our communities directly into the service and orbit of New York City. Some of this is inevitable, after all NYC is one of the world's great metropolises, but it is not necessary that we simply give them the control of our lives. What if they decide to send their children elsewhere (or to keep them at home)? Or if inner-city prisons enter fashion? What is the state government no longer needs Camp Pharsalia? When we give over to big bureaucracy, we have no control of our destinies. We have more than enough examples to show that they often care little for the fate of our communities down in that mighty City and up in Albany.
In my discussion of the parallels between Buffalo and New Orleans, I spoke of how the people of both places suffered because they placed their trust and well-being in distant masters who, it turned out, had little care for those same people. In Buffalo, the great corporations who owned the factories and the federal government, authorities whose centers of power lay far away, betrayed the city. With New Orleans, it was blind trust in the dike-building Army Corps of the Engineers and the Federal Bureaucracy that that destroyed them. Too often, the promise of centralization leads us down the path of subservience and, ultimately, ruin. Who has respect for the servant that grovels before him? To the community that does literally anything to bring him there, especially if there are a thousand other places willing to do the same tomorrow?
Why should the people of Pharsalia turn down the Governor's offer to build the new prison center? Because they would become a colony of New York City, not a community standing on its own ground. They would give up all pretence of local government and live under Gubernatorial Fiat. To take him up on his offer would risk building their community behind a leaky dike that can crumble at the whim of a distant politician or a faceless bureaucracy.
-Posted by Jesse
-Posted by Jesse
Supermarket reglars and cereal afficianados probably remember Flutie Flakes, the frosted breakfast cereal that made its debut in the region in 1998 and gave countless children early morning sugar highs until 2001. Flutie Flakes were similar in packaging to Wheaties, and in concept to Frosted Flakes. As a cereal conussoir, I found that Flutie Flakes were superior to Frosted Flakes due to their thicker flakes that resisted sogginess longer, and made for a more satisfying crunch.
But it was Flutie Flakes regional appeal and the Flakes charitable mission that set it apart from other cereals. Doug Flutie was a high-profile Bills player with enough celebrity pull to sell cereal, especially in Upstate New York. Proceeds from the sale of Flutie Flakes went to the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism.* Flutie Flakes were also used in a candy that was sold in the Buffalo area: a chocolate bar filled with Flutie Flakes.
The flakes themselves had no regional ties. The cereal was produced by PLB Sports, a Pittsburgh-based company that "specializes in combining high profile athletes and their charities with unique and superior quality product lines." The cereal itself in Flutie Flakes was the same as the company packaged as Elway's Comeback Crunch and several other cereals. Flutie Flakes defected from the upstate market when Flutie joined the San Diego Chargers in 2001: the box took on the Chargers color scheme and was called Flutie Flakes Super Charged. However, even though Flutie himself had left Upstate, the company looked into having Wegmans and Tops continue to carry it. Also of regional interest, the company also produced the Melo Bar, a candy bar promoted by former Syracuse University basketball player Carmelo Anthony.
The sucess of Flutie Flakes, in my mind, speaks to the possibilities of regional marketing. While the product itself was regretably not regional, the collective power of Upstate sports/cereal fans not only helped children with autism and their families, but engendered a sense of regional connection that is so missing in the national mass-market consumer culture of today. And if there are any two things that get York Staters up in arms, they are sports and bad weather. Just think of the sucess if they had named it Doug Flutie's Snowstorm Crunch.
* The percentage of the proceeds is unknown. Some sources say "a portion", others say "a large portion"
Posted by Natalie
Honoring the Heart and Soul of America
July 1, 2006, Onondaga Lake Park, Syracuse NY
The “Remembering America’s Roots” event will honor, remember, and educate people about the influence that the greater Central New York area had in shaping and making America. The event will be held Saturday July 1, 2006 from 9 AM to 7 PM in the Willow Bay section of Onondaga Lake Park (Syracuse NY). It will be free and open to the public.
“Remembering America’s Roots” will highlight the following CNY hallmarks that shaped our nation’s development:
Democracy– The Haudenosaunee Great Law of Peace was the basis and model for our form of democratic government. The Tree of Peace was planted on the shores of Onondaga Lake.
Civil Rights/Social Justice–The area was called the “Northstar Country” for all the slaves that escaped on the Underground Railroad, followed the North Star to freedom here. It was a hotbed of Abolitionism.
Women’s Rights/ Social Justice- The Women’s rights movement was born here.
Spirituality– CNY is home to America’s Second Great Awakening. It was called the “Burnt Over District” for all its religious revivals. Mormonism, Seventh Day Adventists, Pentecostalism, Evangelism, Spiritualism, Utopian communities all has their roots in the greater CNY area.
Other— A host of other initiatives from the compassionate treatment of the mentally insane, to animal rights, to…were started in CNY.
Organizations can table for free at the event. We also encourage their members to participate and lead in events such as lectures and re-enactments. Since we are assuming the costs for this event we ask that organizations not solicit funds for donation at the event.
Places of worship that wish to table must demonstrate that they have in the past or are currently involved in peace, justice, civil rights issues or promote ecumenism and dialogue between various faiths.
All participants must be accepting of other people’s perspectives and be committed to non-violence. This is a necessity since we will have a wide variety of groups who may have opposing views. Email us if you are interested: firstname.lastname@example.org
We are also open to anyone interested in joining our organizing efforts. Email us if you are interested: email@example.com
“Where People Gather” is a community of people that have grown around the sweat lodges hosted by Cherie and John Sardella of Parish, NY. John is a Mohawk that has taken the mission of introducing others to his Native customs. He believes in the “Big Answer,” that we must all learn from each other and come together. His wife Cherie along with teacher Pam Rosati, hold spiritual and women’s events. Pam and her husband Lou, who is also a teacher, hold regular drum circles at their home in Camillus. John and Cherie as they have for past events will lead a pilgrimage and organize the musical performances. They are members of the band called Gypsy Red.
Loraine Mavins–Head of the Paine Branch Library will be working on re-enactments and lectures.
madis senner- is a faith based activist that has been lead organizer for over 10 events around Onondaga Lake. He will coordinate and lead organizing and planning has he has done on other events. He will also lead the media/PR effort. “Remembering America’s Roots” will be promoted locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.
Go to our website for more information: http://www.AmericasRoots.org
Submitted by madis senner
I am not an old man. In fact, I am one of those fresh-out-of-college-20-somethings whose flight Upstate pundits and politicians constantly bemoan. But while I may not have as many years under my belt as some of the writers on this blog, I am aware of when I am being sold a shoddy bill of goods.
Unfortunately for Upstate New York, my homeland, those same pundits and politicians are peddling us second hand ideas and half-hearted excuses. It seems that every time I pick up the paper, I see the same reasons for the decline of this region: bad weather, lack of “culture” and youth entertainment, high taxes, inefficient state and local government and a business culture that favors Downstate over Upstate.
All of these arguments have some weight, but in varying degrees. It is true that we have tremendous snowstorms and a preponderance of gray days. Our options for young people and cultural pursuits are not even in the same league as San Francisco or New York. Our taxes are inordinately high, our governments are bloated, corrupt behemoths and the City wins any regional pissing match.
Yet, it seems that the governmental officials view these problems as an excuse to throw up their hands. The Mayor of my hometown, Johnson City, seems content to throw out the first baseball at Little League games and officiate at Rotary Club meetings. Meetings, roundtables and conferences gather to discuss our region’s problems and yet the only turn out this same litany of excuses on why nothing happens. If this was what we elect officials for, it seems it would be more efficient to program a computer to spit out the same whining reasons whenever anyone asks it a question.
When the governmental officials do actually decide to take action, it is inevitably to court some out-of-state business into building a distribution center, a call center or a big box store into their areas. The chance to hold a press conference and announce a hundred minimum wage jobs has the politicians scrambling to sell out their town’s sovereignty. Claims that the tax base will increase are nullified by the fact that they arrange deals to eliminate taxes, while still retaining services. The cluster of abandoned factories that stalk the heart of every Upstate town should have taught us lessons about placing our hope and trust in impersonal, distant masters, but it seems that only the unemployed (and if you’re a Mayor, you’ve got a job) notice.
The true problem, it seems to me, is a lack of vision and gumption. It is easier for our “leaders” to wait for companies to fall into their laps, toss ceremonial baseballs and court pork barrel projects than to take risks and come up with new ideas. What we lack is a sense of self, and idea of where we came from and a dream of where we are going. Our communities float aimlessly, slowly fading into oblivion.
It has not always been this way. Time after time, our region has been birthplace of innovation. In the 15th century, the Iroquois forged a mighty empire that made the English, French and Dutch tremble and at whose heart was the Finger Lakes and the Genesee Valley. The League they founded was an incredible political and social innovation. Again, after the decline of the Iroquois, the region became a hotbed of social innovation in the 1820s to 40s. The people of the region dreamed big dreams and had the energy and courage to create the type of world they desired to see. In so many of the movements of that era, Abolition, Women’s Rights and Temperance for example, Upstate New York came first. That time and place also saw the birth of Mormonism, the 7th Day Adventists, the Pentecostals, the Oneida Community and the Spiritualist Movement. Finally, the region saw a third burst of innovation, this time technological, around the turn of the last century. Industry and technology melded with hard work and dedication in places like IBM in Endicott and Kodak in Rochester.
Today, we have only an inkling of this tremendous history that surrounds us. We think of our status as “Upstaters” as more of liability than a source of pride and identity. It is true that our taxes are too high, that our government is corrupt and that there are more theaters on Broadway than in all of our cities combined. But these problems will not be overcome by complaining, or by attacking them as independent items on the agenda. They are all linked to a general malaise throughout our land. Even our complaints about how snowstorms drive away jobs ignore our glorious summers and sublime falls. These problems of course must be solved, but will come as part and parcel of a greater push to create a new age of innovation.
Luckily, there is a movement growing to reclaim a sense of Upstate identity. A new cooperative weblog entitled “York Staters,” a 19th century term for Upstate residents, attempts to fuse historical exploration, political discussion and old fashioned regional pride into a force to rejuvenate our region. Across the state, bloggers like NYCO, the Buffalo Pundit and Balogh are all asking the same questions. Art revivals are sweeping places like Binghamton and Rochester, people are preserving historic buildings and creating plans to revitalize downtowns. We can only hope that the historian Phillip Maples wrote about the terrible winter of 1823 holds true today:
“York Staters eat snowstorms for breakfast, spit on their hands, then go out and do what needs doing.”
We are a people accustomed to gray days, but it appears that dawn is coming. Only if you don’t listen to the politicians.
Jesse Harasta is a graduate of SUNY Geneseo (’05) and a proud resident of Johnson City, NY. He returned home for no reason more than his latent Slovak stubbornness resolving to buck a national trend, but instead found inspiration in his decaying community and a heightened resolve to rebuild. He is the co-editor of the Upstate weblog “York Staters.”
She is always a bit more of an optimist than I am and sees in that city the perfect heartland and springboard for an envisioned York State Renaissance. Now I must admit that I have not spent a decent amount of time in the city, but my impression was always that it was something of a hole, not exactly a spot to inspire hope. It was always my metaphor in our personal conversations for the collapse of the Upstate economy.
So, finally this thing came to a head last night and Natalie invited me to come to Amsterdam with her to see for our selves the "truth." But we need your help. I am willing to admit if I am wrong, but we don't know where to start. For those of you who know the city well, especially those who have lived there, we ask: what is it that makes Amsterdam special? What are its quirks? It's secrets? The places that serve the best food, that give the best entertainment, the niftiest buildings, the ghost stories or the historical personages? Is there a statue of Kirk Douglas in a heroic pose (he's from the area) or a giant silo painted to look like a rolled up rug (Amsterdam used to make carpets)?
I am looking forward to being proved wrong about Amsterdam, New York and anticipate your comments. Of course, after our excursion, we will make a full report on our adventures in this blog, so keep posted!
Posted by Jesse
"•Residents should stay positive and focus on what they as citizens can do.
•Worries that young people living in poverty will miss out on opportunities available to their more affluent peers may be alleviated with scholarships to allow them to join.
•Owners of small retail stores who are concerned they'll be driven out of business by national chains may consider staying open later.
•School officials could foster understanding of other cultures by seeking public funds to offer more foreign language programs."
The article also quotes the region's drawbacks as: "high taxes, a shrinking population and intolerance of differences." There is some substance here, even though quoting "a shrinking population" as a reason for shrinking populations is a bit strange. In particular, I am pleased to see a discussion of intolerance, an issue mentioned in our previous post, being aired. Also the fact that the concerns of poor youths (or heavily indebted ones) and small business owners are considered is a positive sign.
However, the one great Achilles' Heel of this type of conference is its reliance upon the current institutions for change. School officials changing classes, elected officials instituting policy adaptations and business leaders staying open later; the only thing for residents to do is "stay positive." What help is staying positive by itself? Prayer alone does not build a house. The conference, like so many others, simply tells us to sit back and trust our leaders... the same leaders who have done little or nothing for years to drag us out of the pits in which we have fallen. I think it is time that we, the people, start to figure out solutions for our own problems. I've personally had enough of sitting back and being positive.
-Posted by Jesse
Next we checked out The Old Toad. I had heard about the bar's wait staff previously, it's true, all of the bartenders and servers are imported specially from the UK. But whatever it takes to make yuppies happy, right? I left with a bitter taste in my mouth after reading two signs posted on the exits by the Monroe County Police Department. The pigs command that we stop giving money to pan handlers, and instead, send the homeless to a handful of Christian Churches. So now the State is telling me what to do with my spare change and the homeless get a side of Jesus with their dinner?
I feel like I should say something positive in here somewhere: The raspberry daiquiri at Mex on Alexander St was decent. Oh, and the movie was good.
The final bar Dan and I went to left me with a horrible feeling in my gut. The horrible feeling was my own racism and fear churning in my stomach. I wanted to see what "the scene" was like at this Asian Restaurant/Cocktail Lounge near Java's cafe and the Eastman School of Music. (Sorry, the name of the place escapes me and Google isn't helping me tonight.) I felt surprised at what I found, and my reaction has made me unhappy with myself. Dan and I walked in and, with the exception of maybe one middle aged woman and the two people behind the bar, the lounge was entirely filled with black people. This is difficult for me to write, but I want to get to the bottom of my fears and racism so that I can overcome them. Here's the bottom of it for you: The bar was filled with what appeared to be poor black people from the city of Rochester.
Somewhere along the way I learned to be scared of black/people of color (and this is an interesting term, many people I know consider me "of color sort of") who are not of my socio-economic class. It's possible I may have come down with a bad case of 15-year-old girl syndrome tonight. I felt like Dan and I were getting weird looks/bad vibes from the other people in the bar. I even thought about how the vibes might have been worse if I were not "of color sort of," or if Dan didn't look like a working class weirdo. Sorry if you read this Dan: with your unkempt masses of black, curly hair, flannel shirt, and Converse sneakers.
I digress and want to get back to the scared feeling. The black guys looked tough- but so what? What was going to happen to me in a public bar with 20 people around? Dan and I stayed for 5 or 10 minutes, while I tried, unsuccessfully, to buy a drink. I felt this stupid, goddamn fear from the moment we walked in. But I didn't want to walk in, take one look at the patrons, and flee with my caucasian friend in terror. That would have been so rude, obvious and embarrassing. It must be so hurtful to have people feel afraid of you because of the color of your skin and the side of the railroad tracks you live on. Or, if you live in Rochester, which side of the Genesee River you live on. It must hurt to have the corporate media constantly focus and obsess over crime stories that involve black males. I usually don't get hot for Michael Moore, but he has a really good point in Bowling for Columbine when he studies our nation's culture of fear. Moore asks, why does the TV show COPS film the hunting down of poor people of color, instead of focusing on the crimes of white Enron executives?
What exactly did I have to fear tonight in the bar? Where should my fears have more appropriately laid instead?
Those of you who have watched Ken Burns' documentary "The Civil War" are probably familiar with this haunting melody, which played in the background for over an hour of the 11 hour documentary. If you haven't heard it, I suggest listening to this recording, though the midi file does no justice to what I feel is the most beautiful, mournful air ever written for the fiddle.
What surprises many people who watch the show is that Ashokan Farewell was actually written in 1982 by a New York fiddler named Jay Ungar. Jay describes the inspiration for the piece:
"Ashokan is the name of a town, most of which is now under the Ashokan Reservoir, a very beautiful and magical body of water that is across the road from our home...
I composed Ashokan Farewell in 1982 shortly after the summer programs had come to an end. I was experiencing a great feeling of loss and longing for the lifestyle and the community of people that had developed at Ashokan that summer. The transition from living in the woods with a small group of people who needed little excuse to celebrate the joy of living through music and dancing, back to life as usual, with traffic, disturbing newscasts, "important" telephone calls and impersonal relationships had been difficult. I was in tears when I wrote Ashokan Farewell. I kept the tune to myself for months, slightly embarrassed by the emotions that welled up whenever I played it."
The tune that he wrote is profound and an elegant metaphor for Ashokan itself, which was once a thriving little town in a deep Catskill valley. The press of modernity and the demands of the great City overwhelmed the tiny village's ability to defend itself and it was flooded to make a deep, dark reservoir. The same waters that Jay Ungar paddled over close to 70 years later. The song to me is more powerful because of that loss.
Ken Burns found the piece to be haunting and used it to convey the melancholy that the Civil War inspired within him. In particular, a version with a single fiddle (Jay) playing in the background is used during the reading of Major Sullivan Ballou's letter to his wife Sarah a week before his death at the battle of Bull Run. In the documentary, the reading of the letter with the tune in the background is a most powerful combination. The letter itself brings a tide of emotions even to the passive observer like myself. I have difficulty imagining what it would be like to be the beloved who received it. Such elegance, grace, intelligence and kindliness destroyed forever in a war started to defend the monstrous institution of human bondage.
The three stories, the town of Ashokan, Sullivan Ballou's tender letter and Jay Ungar's grief as he left the tranquil world of summer are intertwined in my mind. They are also a metaphor for what I believe I am struggling for in Upstate New York. Human beings can be so awful to one another. Sometimes, as the trio of reminiscences tells us, things that are good and beautiful and simple are destroyed in the name of progress. Around me my beautiful treasured homeland is, like so many other places on this earth, being swallowed and negated by the pressures of homogenization, development and short sighted "progress." This website, to me, is a place to mourn and remember the past, perhaps the most human of all activities. It is also a place where memories can survive, for we are like Mr. Ungar, paddling over seemingly placid waters that hide deep and beautiful secrets, writing a song to express what we cannot say. That song, our Ashokan Farewell, shows that the human spirit to create art and beauty, to love and, of course, to mourn can survive through it all for another day. Even in the darkest, grayest Upstate Monday in February, the dawn does come and someday the snow does melt and smiles do return. For as long as we can remember, we can also dream, we can hope and we can work to build something new and beautiful.
However, Buffalo did not give the world a single dish and wipe their hands of the matter of culinary innovation. To the contrary, the city is home to a thriving regional culinary tradition. A quick visit to www.buffalofoods.com, a site designed to provide expatriates with local foods, reveals a wealth of meats (especially sausages), breads and sauces. There is even a local soda (Loganberry, which I find disgusting, but I guess each to his or her own) and a local chocolate delicacy called Sponge Candy. One distinctive Buffalo/Rochester dish that one does not need to order, but can be made at home is Beef and Weck, which I will also discuss below.
The Buffalo Wing is a relatively recent invention, dating back only to 1964. It was invented by Teressa Bellissmo of the Anchor Bar, though there are several variations of the story (for a good summary, check out the Atlas of Popular Culture in the Northeastern US's article on Buffalo Wings). All agree though that "Mother Teressa" took what she had at hand: butter, hot sauce and a glut of chicken wings, and turned these common ingredients into something fantastic. The wings combined thrift (the wing was thrown out in those days), good taste and ease of cooking to create what has become the ultimate bar food. In 1964, wings cost 5 cents a pound (source) and my father distinctly remembers in the 60's and 70's how wings were served for free at Buffalo bars to get the patrons to drink. In 1977, the mayor made July 29th Chicken Wing Day. Since 2002, there has been a yearly National Buffalo Wing Festival.
A recent Journal of NY Folklore had an article on Beef on Weck read:
...those of us born within hailing distance of the Peace Bridge know that long before Teresa at the Anchor Bar came up with her inspired solution for undesirable chicken parts, Buffalo had a signature food. My fellow expatriates, home for a visit, have been known to hug the relatives, pat the dog, dump the suitcases, and head directly out for...a beef on weck?
...it is [the] roll that makes the sandwich unique. Made only in the Buffalo-Rochester area, the
kummelweck—often alternatively spelled kimmelweck—is basically a Kaiser roll topped with lots of pretzel salt and caraway seeds. Inside, very thinly sliced roast beef is piled high, and the whole thing is served with a dish of "au jus" (I suppose it is too much to expect a German sandwich to make sense of French prepositions), for dipping. Alternatively, the cook sometimes dips the top of the roll into the jus just before serving it. In either case, the beef on weck sandwich must be accompanied by a pot of freshly grated, sinus-clearing horseradish.
This unique sandwhich is clearly descended from southern German cuisine imported around the turn of the last century. The local innovation was the addition of the horseradish and salt, both added by local breweries who served the dish for free to encourage patrons to drink (this seems to be a theme). Today it has caught on and is served around the city. Here is a listing of some of the places one can find Beef on Weck in Buffalo today.
4 to 5 pounds chicken wings
Black Pepper and Salt
4 cups vegetable oil
4 Tbsp butter (1/2 stick)
5 Tbsp Louisiana-brand hot sauce or Tabasco sauce
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1) Halve and trim the wings, salt and pepper them, if desired.
2) Heat up the oil in a heavy pot until it sizzles. Fry the wings and pat them dry.
3) Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy saucepan, add the hot sauce and the 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Stir well and remove from the flame immediately.
4) Pour on the sauce and toss. Serve with bleu cheese and celery.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Note: Commercial sauce can also be used, I suggest the Original Anchor Bar sauce. Also, when I was in Spain, a Buffalonian friend of mine and myself experimented with pan frying the wings in a little olive oil. The flavor was not as deep, but it created a lighter snack that might be appreciated by health conscious eaters.
1/4 cup caraway seeds
1/4 cup coarse salt
2 envelopes active dry yeast
5 cups (approximately) flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup oil
2/3 cup milk
3/4 cup warm water
1) Combine the caraway seeds and the coarse salt in a small bowl and set aside.
2) In a large mixing bowl, combine the yeast, 2 cups of flour, the salt, oil, milk, and water. Mix well at medium speed for 2 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally. Add the eggs and beat the mixture another minute, adding as much flour as the mixer will take. By hand, stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough.
3) Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead, adding flour if necessary, until it is smooth and elastic. Place it in a large greased bowl, turning it to grease the top. Cover and let the dough rise until it has doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes. Punch the dough down and knead it for two minutes on a floured board.
4) To shape the rolls, cut the dough into 24 pieces. Tuck the edges of each piece under and shape it into a flat, round roll. With a sharp kitchen knife, cut four evenly spaced, shallow arcs into the top of each roll from the center to the edges, pressing at the center with your thumb to make an indentation. The pinwheel pattern should resemble that on a Kaiser roll. Sprinkle the tops of the rolls with the caraway-salt mixture, then transfer them to baking sheets and cover them. Let them rise until they have doubled in bulk.
5) To bake, place a heat-proof pan of water on the floor of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When the oven is hot, put in the rolls and bake them for about 30 minutes, until they are brown.
-Posted by Jesse
Pleasant Valley Organic Farm's where I worked two summers ago. The first two are of their produce at the Saratoga Springs Farmer's Market and the third is of Adam, a fellow York Stater who was one of the farm hands.
-Posted by Jesse
A place to raise families and take in the scenes
There’s fishing and sailing and hiking galore
And plenty of places to do things indoors
Hunting is a sport that is popular in these parts
As is golf, softball, football and darts
Summers are filled with barbeques and friends
Working outside ‘til the light of day ends
Sunshine and hot days for playing outside
Enjoying time with family, eating corn and drinking wine
Autumn with leaves as bright as can be
Rake them in piles, run, jump and scream
Days getting shorter, temperatures getting cooler
The snow is coming, white will blanket us sooner.
Winter in its glory with snow towering high
Snow ball fights, warm fires, hot chocolate and sliding
Flakes falling slowly with style and grace
Picking out the perfect Christmas tree to decorate
Spring brings the rain, not that warm yet by any stretch
But the dogs love to get out and play some fetch
Muddy and blooming, the time has become
But for us it’s just another season to pass along
I love this area of ours, with its wide open spaces
Peace, quiet and nice, helpful neighbors
We live in a simple, undemanding town
With nice people, a bit of charm and we’re damn proud
I won’t ever leave if I don’t have to
Because this is where we made our home, me and you."
By Shannon Masters 11/1/04
Editor's Note: Thank you Shannon for your submission. York Staters would be honored to post the writings, poetry and artwork of any of its readers. Please check out the Mission Statement and Submission Guidelines for more information.
I would like to present another, perhaps more humble, but just as far-reaching project being realized in the eastern part of our state. The small town of Salem, NY (population 964) might not normally be rated on the top of a list of hot-beds of social innovation. However, since 2003, local people have been working to set up the Battenkill Cooperative Kitchen.
The idea behind the Cooperative Kitchen is to provide the resources for local people to create, process and package local food-stuffs. So Aunt Ginny would be able to can her famous apple butter to sell at stores or in farmer’s markets. Normally, this is a cost prohibitive venture, as there are strict health requirements for foods. However, the Cooperative Kitchen will meet all of these requirements and be available, at nominal cost, for rental by folks like Aunt Ginny. Since none of these small producers need more than a few hours every week, many people, and organizations, could utilize the kitchen’s resources.
This simple idea has far-reaching consequences and is rooted deeply in regionalist thought. The key to many ecological and regionalist development schemes is a turn to local produce; local food keeps money in the area, decreases petroleum usage, strengthens local identity and forges the network necessary for community. Washington county is blessed with a supply of farmer’s markets and small scale growers, but it is not always easy to process this food into products like jams, breads, pies, etc without industrial kitchens.
Since the project is a non-profit cooperative, it can keep its rental costs low, allowing a wide variety of people to participate. It helps to strengthen downtown Salem, bringing more people onto Main Street. Also important is the fact that the kitchen is located in the basement of the Salem Courthouse (1869), a threatened local landmark that is being turned into a community center at the heart of Salem. The Courthouse also hosts the newly revived Footlighters Theater Troupe, historic exhibits, classes, art exhibits, community programs and a nascent youth center.
The cooperative functions for its community on many levels: keeping money local, helping small businesses get on their feet, preserving a historic landmark, promoting regional food, allowing for creative expression and creating the person-to-person ties needed to maintain our communities. The people of Salem aught to be an example to the rest of us.
Posted by Jesse
Serling won the Purple Heart and Bronze Star in the Pacific when he served with the 11th Airborne as a paratrooper/demo specialist. Apparently Serling suffered Post-traumatic Stress Disorder from his experiences there and had intense nightmares throughout his life, and people talk about how some Twilight Zone episodes are just these nightmares being played out. Upstate is the setting for many a Twilight Zone episode, however having watched most of these episodes there is nothing really Upstate about them besides the inclement weather.
Serling Went to Antioch College in Ohio where he received a degree in Literature and worked as a writer for a radio station. His fantastic writing skills were soon made apparent when he was able to sell TV-play after TV-play, winning television awards before his famous stint in the Twilight Zone. The Twilight Zone was cancelled after a bunch of seasons and he went on to do a similar show called Night Gallery, which was pretty killer in its own right, and wrote horror and sci-fi short stories. He Co-wrote Planet of the Apes, Jesse tells me, but I'm more excited with the news he taught at Ithaca College and was a Unitarian Universalist.
toponymy n. the place names of a county or district as a subject of study
Many names of upstate cities, towns, and hamlets are named for deities, places, famous personalities of the ancient Greek, Roman, and biblical world. Some of these examples are obvious (e.g. Rome) and others might not get a second though as to their origins (thinking of a famed fourth century Roman general when you think of the old ‘goin’ shoppin’ at Camillus Mall!’ jingle? Me either.) For the second feature in the “What’s in a Name?” series, we’ll endeavor not to expose the origin and evolution of one name that shapes our state, but many. Where did these classical names come from? And why are there so very many of them?
The first classically named city in upstate
The names of these townships in The Military Tract were not adopted by the residents, nor were they the result of immigration, but given by the New York State Land Office. In fact, many residents were upset over the names, feeling perhaps that they did not reflect their geography or their first residents, as many settlements in those days did with names like Smith's Tavern or Wheaton's Corners. Towns names like Homer, Lysander, Fabius, Pompey, Aurelius, Camillus and Cicero refered to heros of a time long past, which had seemingly little to do with the pioneer existence in upstate New York.
However, classical names (especially those applied to those in the Military Tract) had much to do with the spirit of the new republic, and embodied staunchly republican values by equating themselves with such characters as Cinncinatus, who in a time of crisis left his plow to lead the Roman people as dictator (a temporary position appointed in times of grave threat) and rather than abuse his position as dictator, he defeated the enemy and returned to his plow and restored the republic. Or Solon, the Athenian lawmaker who wrote the city's democratic constitution, and rather than be under pressure to change it, left Athens for ten years to allow his constitution a chance to prove itself. Values such as these of self sufficiency and a sense of duty to the state were honored in the ideal of the early American republic, and with vast tracts of land in the west being settled, New York wished to be at the forefront.
In the early years, classics lover and New York State Surveyor General Simeon DeWitt was considered the name giver for The Military Tract, but by the late 1800s the State Land Office decided it was Robert Harpur, an educator and colonial legislator, Deputy Secretary of the State of New York, and Secretary of the State Land Board. The Military Tract touched off the fashion for classical naming that extended from 1790 to 1850
The complete volume on this subject is Classical Place Names in New York State by William R. Farrell (with illustrations by Bettina B. Chapman and Carolyn I. Coit.) Conceived over a forty year period and remarkably complete, the book provides the ancient referent for each classically named upstate city, town, and hamlet, organized thematically into chapters (Greek personalities, for instance.) Each entry is accompanied by a map of
The inquiry into these origins goes beyond the realm of face-value historical curiosity. Donald H. Mills, a classics professor at
Farrell, William R. Classical Place Names in
Posted by Natalie