Albany Winter Sports – 18th Century Edition; Sledding down State St. Hill

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The best description of winter sports in Albany in the late 1700s comes from “Memoirs of American Lady” by Scotswoman Anne MacVicar Grant. She came to live in North America with her soldier father when she was a young girl. She ended up residing much of the time with Madame Margarita Schuyler (Philip Schuyler was one of her many nephews) on the southeast corner of State and Pearl in the 1760s.

Ice skating and driving horse drawn sleighs* across the Hudson were typical diversions. But in her book she describes sledding down State St. hill as a particular Albany amusement (we assume driven by the topography of the city).

41815839674_d6bd718483_bWe imagine her peering out the window of her home with Mrs. Schuyler as young men “flew” down the hill.

 

 

 

 

 

“In winter, the river (the Hudson), frozen to a great depth, formed the principal road through the country, and was the scene of all those amusements of skating, and sledge races, common to the north of Europe. They used, in great parties, to visit their friends at a distance, and having an excellent and hardy breed of horses, flew from place to place, over the snow and ice, in these sledges, with incredible rapidity, stopping a little while at every house they came to, and always well received, whether acquainted with the owners or not. The night never impeded these travellers, for the atmosphere was so pure and serene, and the snow so reflected the moon and star-light, that the nights exceeded the days in beauty.

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14250938597_61e070eee1_bIn town, all the boys were extravagantly fond of a diversion that to us would appear a very odd and childish one. The great street of the town (today we know it as State St., in the midst of which, stood all the churches and public buildings, sloped down from the hill on which the fort stood, towards the river: between the buildings was an unpaved carriage-road, the footpath, beside the houses, being the only part of the street which was paved. In winter, this sloping descent, continued for more than a quarter of a mile, acquiring firmness from the frost, and became extremely slippery.

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Every boy and youth in town, from eight to eighteen, had a little, low sledge, made with a rope like a bridle to the front, by which it could be dragged after one by the hand. On this, one or two, at most, could sit—and this sloping descent, being made as smooth as a looking-glass, by sliders, sledges, &c., perhaps a hundred at once set out in succession from the top of this street, each seated in his little sledge, with the rope in his hand, which drawn to the right or left, served to guide him. He pushed it off with a little stick, as one would launch a boat; and then, with the most astonishing velocity, the little machine glided past, and was at the lower end of the street in an instant. What could be so peculiarly delightful in this rapid and smooth descent, I could never discover—though in a more retired place, and on a smaller scale, I have tried the amusement: but to a young Albanian, sleighing, as he called it, was one of the first joys of life, though attended with the drawback of walking to the top.

An unskillful Phaeton (sledder) was sure to fall. The conveyance was so low, that a fall was attended with little danger, yet with much disgrace, for an universal laugh from all sides, assailed the fallen charioteer. This laugh was from a very full chorus, for the constant and rapid succession of this procession, where everyone had a brother, lover, or kinsman, brought all the young people in town to the porticos, where they used to sit, wrapped in furs, till ten or eleven at night, engrossed by this delectable spectacle.

What magical attraction it could possibly have, I never could find out; but I have known an Albanian, after residing some years in Britain, and becoming a polished, fine gentleman, join the sport, and slide down with the rest. Perhaps, after all our laborious refinements in amusement, being easily pleased is one of the great secrets of happiness, as far as it is attainable in this “frail and feverish being.”

*James Fenimore Cooper describes a particularly fraught and sort of terrifying horse drawn sleigh ride over the Hudson in his novel “Satanstoe” ‘, set in the late 1750s, in which he drew heavily on descriptions of Albany from Mrs. Grant’s “Memoirs”.

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Boats on the loose and the Livingston Ave. Bridge – Albany NY (January 25, 2019)

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Photo by Lori Van Buren – Albany Times Union
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Photo by Lori Van Buren – Albany Times Union
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Photo  by Lori Van  Buren  – Albany Times Union
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Photo by Lori Van Buren – Albany Times Union

Photos from  earlier today (mostly from Times Union newspaper – Lori Van Buren) of boats that broke loose from the Troy docks., due to weather conditions)  and ended up at the Livingston Ave. Railroad Bridge.

It was the first bridge built over the Hudson at Albany.

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The bridge was opened in 1866, after decades of wrangling. It was built by Titan of the Gilded Age Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt who saw the future in transcontinental railways and divested himself of his shipping concerns to buy up railroads.

AND then.. he denied bridge access to several other RR lines, which denied them access to NYC, until they caved. All part of his plan to create a New York Central Railroad monopoly. Crafty devil. In a matter of days he controlled 40% of rail lines in the U.S.

5 years later the Maiden Lane RR bridge was built (demolished circa 1971 after train station moved Rensselaer).

(Passenger rail lines were in bankruptcy or on the brink across almost all the country by the late 1960s. AMTRAK, a quasi governmental organization, was created in the Nixon Administration to salvage what was left and keep passenger trains running.)

Albany’s Amazing Gold Rush Piano and its Connection to the Donner Party

A recent post by Carl Johnson (part of the Friends of Albany History blogger community) in Hoxsie.org caught our attention. There was a nugget of a story about a piano made in Albany that sailed around Cape Horn and made its way to California in 1849. It was called the “Pioneer Piano” since it was one of the first pianos to come to California.

Yikes!! That’s interesting. We needed to know more about this piano made in Albany that traveled 6,000 miles around the tip of South America in 1849, and ended up some 40 years later on the California coast.

The trail starts with a reference to a newspaper account, “Her Pioneer Piano” from the 1884 “Santa Cruz Daily Surf” by Mrs. Frank Lewis. With some research we pieced together one of the most fascinating stories we’ve come across in a while.

First, let’s talk about the piano

francis_putnam_burns_(pianos_and_their_makers)Albany was a hub of piano manufacture dating back to the early 1800s and a magnet for young men who wanted to go into the business. The man who made the piano was Francis Putnam (known as F.P.) Burns, born in Galway in 1807. He was probably in his early 20s when he came to Albany to learn cabinet making and piano manufacture.

In 1833 Burns married Myra Cole, from Duanesburg, and went out on his own in 1835. Burns was said to be “…of an artistic temperament and an excellent mechanic …would never permit piecework in his shop, impressing his workmen with the idea that a piano is a work of art, requiring the most painstaking efforts, without regard to time consumed in its construction.” Within a decade his pianos were winning awards in NYC (1842) and Albany (1848).

F.P. appears to have been moderately successful in selling his excellent quality pianos (his pianos cost between $100 – $500) despite intense competition in Albany. Francis and Myra has 5 children, 4 of whom survived to adulthood. By 1860 Edward, his only son, joined the business. But the Civil War intervened. Edward enlisted and had a successful military career. Upon his return from the Army Edward went back to piano making. But when his father died in 1868, Edward closed the firm, married a young woman from Middleville in Herkimer Co. and went into her father’s leather tanning business. And so the F. P Burns piano co. came to an end.

Why and how did the piano get to California? (The plot thickens)

Gold was discovered in January, 1848 at Sutter’s Mill just east of Sacramento. Within 6 months men were flocking to the West. President Polk announced the momentous discovery to Congress in December, 1848. Gold fever spread throughout America and the entire world. Men from Albany were not immune and hundreds of men in the Albany area set out for California to make their fortunes.

Some went alone or in twos or threes, and started a trek westward across the country with a small grubstake, pickax and a bedroll. Others, with more means, formed companies to support major expeditions.

The Albany Mining Association was created by 100 men from Albany and its environs who bought “shares” for $300 to finance the venture and make their fortune. The Association purchased the ship “Nautilus” (for about $9,000) and retained Capt. Wilson as master. In late February, 1849 75 mostly young men from the Association set sail for San Francisco from the New York docks. (The total passenger complement was 93.) It was a major event reported in the NYC and Albany newspapers.

The ship was fitted and provisioned for a two year mining venture. (The prices of tools, etc., would be double, triple or quadruple in California than if purchased in Albany.) Significantly, for our story, items that would make their anticipated 4-5 month trip more pleasurable were loaded on the “Nautilus”; these included musical instruments for a ship’s band and a piano!

The story of the voyage is documented in journals kept by 2 members of the party – James L. Pangburn – from Schoharie (now in the San Francisco Maritime Museum) and Dudley E, Jones, from Clifton Park (University of Arkansas archives) They describe the hours of enjoyment derived from the piano. Its “delightful strains” eased the monotony of the journey down one side of South America, around Cape Horn and up the other, with a stop at Rio de Janiero. The “Nautilus” landed over 7 months later in San Francisco in late October, 1849.

Well, what happened to the piano in California?

1849 burnsThe “Nautilus” was sold, as well as other items that would not be used for the mining enterprise. The money would be put towards the purchase of provisions and other necessaries for the miners. (Capt. Wilson had Gold Fever and had agreed to to join members of the company.) James Reed bought the piano from Capt. Wilson, for $1000, for his daughter Patty in November, 1849. “It was regarded as a great curiosity when it arrived in San Francisco and crowds flocked to see the instrument and listen to its melody”. (Patty later became Mrs, Frank Lewis, the owner of the “Pioneer Piano”.)

The Donner Party Connection

downloadMrs. Lewis started out life in Illinois as Martha Jane “Patty” Reed, daughter of John Frazier Reed – one of the organizers of the Donner Party – “the infamous wagon train caught in the early winter of 1846-47”. Reed had a fiery temper and killed a man during an argument while on the trail. He was banished from the group in October, before the winter snows started to fall. The group he left behind, including his wife and 4 children, was trapped in what is now called Donner Pass, northwest of Lake Tahoe, in the Sierra Mountains. Reed tried several times to reach his family and the others with whom they were stranded. Finally in February 1847, he and several other relief parties rescued the 47 survivors, including his wife and children.

The family recuperated and settled in San Jose. But Reed heard reports of gold and headed back to the Sierras. He found his fortune near Placerville, about 80 miles from the location where his family has been trapped in the winter of 1846-47. Reed hit pay dirt. He was said to have returned with many saddle bags bulging with gold. More than enough to pay for a piano for a daughter whom he had once abandoned to hellish circumstances.

The 1884 newspaper article describes the piano as “.. a square, rather plain in finish, unostentatious in appearance and made of rosewood. It has not lost its pristine sweetness of tone through age as was evidence yesterday afternoon when a (Daily) Surf representative listened to some of the old time airs that Mrs. Lewis kindly reproduced. So highly was this piano respected for its early associations that for the 5 years it was in San Jose it was omitted from the assessor’s roll, that official facetiously remarking that as old men are exempt from paying poll tax, why should not this instrument be free from taxation on account of its age and valuable services.”

(Based on research by Heather Morris, the F. P. Burns Albany piano was the 4th piano to arrive in California; 3 others were delivered to Spanish grandees in the early 1840s.)

After Mrs. Lewis’ death, the piano went to Sutter’s Fort Historic Park in 1946—to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of her family’s ordeal. Today, the piano is said to be the California State Archives warehouse in Sacramento.

Thanks to Heather Morris and her blog – http://www.hmcreativelady.com/“The beginnings of my search for the first piano to come to California” April 2014 and “The Bad Luck and Good Luck of James Frazier Reed”, James D. Houston, Oakland Museum of Ca., https://www.museumca.org

Dr. Mary Walker, Recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and her time in Albany

I came across this picture, taken on State St. in 1911. It’s photo of Dr. Mary E. Walker.

I had one of those lightbulb moments. My Gram used to tell me about a nice old lady in Albany who wore men’s clothing. who often lived at the YWCA on Steuben St. Gram said her brothers and male cousins used to try to knock off her silk top hat with snowballs. And then her uncle would “thrash” them.

To be honest, I filed it under “whatever”. Just another Gram story (there were hundreds – oft repeated) and the reference to men’s clothing meant nothing to me. (I wore jeans.. so what?) Yadda Yadda Yadda. Now I wish I paid more attention.

Dr. Mary Walker is the only female recipient of the Medal of Honor. Her story is remarkable.

She was born in Oswego in 1832 into a family of devoted Christian non–sectarian “free thinkers”. By 1855 she’d earned a medical degree from Syracuse Medical College (only the second women in the U.S. to do so). She set up practice in Rome NY, but volunteered with the Union Army when the Civil War started.

Her initial petition to serve as a physician in the Army Medical Corps was rejected. Yet she waded in, tending the wounded with selfless devotion (and performing surgery when necessary). Finally in 1864 President Lincoln approved her petition, providing the male physicians agreed. Again, she didn’t wait for permission and traveled to the join the Army of the Cumberland. Walker was met with hostility. She compounded her sin of gender by her eccentric dress – she wore bloomers and treated Confederate civilians. Wild rumors circulated. She was a lesbian, she had a high ranking officer lover, she was a spy. In spring 1864 she was captured by Confederate troops and served as a POW for a number of months until released in a prisoner exchange.

In 1865 President Andrew Johnson awarded her the Medal of Honor (she was also awarded a military disability pension for injuries suffered). When a review of recipients was performed in 1917, her name, with about 900 others (including Buffalo Bill Cody), was deleted from the list, thought to have not sufficiently met the standard for the award. In 1977 President Carter’s Administration restored the Medal.

After the War Walker became involved in a variety of social and political reforms including temperance, women’s suffrage and dress reform. In her early days she wore trousers underneath shortish skirts. Later she settled on a traditional Prince Albert coat, necktie and trousers. She was arrested for her “costume” on several occasions as she traveled across the country lecturing and fund raising for her causes.*

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It was the issue of women’s rights that consumed most of her attention in later years. Consequently, she spent much time in Washington D.C. lobbying Congress and attempting to sway the New York State Legislature. In the decade or so leading up to the first NYS referendum on a woman’s right to vote in 1915 (which was defeated) she was a constant fixture in Albany. Sadly it seems that her eccentricities deflected from her lobbying efforts.

(Dr. Walker suffered an injury in 1915 and retired to her home in Oswego where she died in 1917. )

As I dimly recall from Gram stories the uncle who would “thrash” the boys for taunting Dr. Walker was a prominent figure in Albany Civil War veterans’ organizations. Thinking back, it seems he expressed no special warmth for Dr. Walker, but did demand the young men of Albany treat her with deference and respect for the role she’d played in the War.

*In 1982 the U.S. Postal Service issued a 20 cent stamp that featured a curiously feminine “very girly” image of Dr. Walker. She probably would not have approved.

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Albany’s Ziegfeld Girl and her Dreams; from the Follies to Burlesque

1 (2)A small article in a 1936 Albany “Times Union” caught our eye. Julie Bryan from Albany was selected to be the understudy for Gypsy Rose Lee in the “Ziegfeld Follies”.

 

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Julie was born in Hudson, but at some point came to live with relatives on Clinton Ave. in Albany (probably after 1925 when her father died; her older brothers still lived in Hudson in 1930.) In an interview with the “Daily Worker” in 1936 she said she’d attended St. Joseph’s Academy on N. Swan, and played the lead in “The Story of the Miraculous Medal”. By our calculations she was about 16 when she left school and went out into the world. That would have been in 1933, at the height of the Great Depression. She told the interviewer she’d done some modeling, some touring with stock companies around the country, and had been selected in a contest for the Follies to become a Ziegfeld Girl and Gypsy’s understudy.

2 (2)(In just 4 years Gypsy Rose Lee had become a household name as a burlesque queen vs. playing part of a horse in the vaudeville circuit “Dainty June Revue”. The Revue appeared in Albany in 1927 at the Harmanus Bleecker Hall Theater on Washington Ave, next to the Armory – the main branch of the Albany Public Library is in that location today). By late 1928 “Dainty June”, star of the act and Rose’s sister, had run off to get married. Rose Louise stepped into the breech, became Gypsy – the rest is history.)

We can only imagine what it meant for Julie to become a Ziegfeld Girl*. The Ziegfeld Follies were a musical revue, featuring song, dance, beautiful girls, vaudeville comedy, and more beautiful girls, modeled after the Follies Bergeres in Paris. It started in 1907 By Flo Ziegfeld, and had been the springboard for, and featured, stars like Sophie Tucker, Fanny Brice, W.C. Fields, Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, Louise Brooks, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Blondell, and Eve Arden. Being a Ziegfeld Girl was the epitome of glamour.

The girls were famous – for their beauty and poise; acclaimed the world over. Being a Ziegfeld Girl was the stuff of dreams for young girls, especially in the midst of the Depression. It’s interesting that in her interview Julie not only mentions her salary – $85/week (when the average salary for a man was about $35 and even less for a woman), but also that she’s a member of Actor’s Equity – the union for theatrical workers, and it protected the show girls like Julie.

The 1936 show, at the historic Winter Garden theatre on Broadway, was produced by Billie Burke, widow of Flo Ziegfeld and former Ziegfeld Girl (you probably know her better as Glinda – the Good Witch of the North in the Wizard of Oz). Sets and costumes were designed by Vincente Minelli (who would become a famous movie director in the 1940s and father of Liza Minnelli), included music by Ira Gershwin and choreography by George Balanchine (who founded the NYC Ballet in the 1950s). It was a uniquely American mix of style, sophistication, spectacle and sex. Some say the Follies changed the Broadway musical forever.

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Heady stuff for a young girl from Upstate New York.

It was chance of a lifetime for a kid who had tread the boards in a Catholic high school play. The cast included a mostly unknown comic, Bob Hope and the legendary Fanny Brice. In late 1936 Gypsy left the Follies to try Hollywood, but Julie stayed. (She remained in the chorus – one of the famous “Ziegfeld Girls” and was given a small featured role (“The Girl in Green”).

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But the Follies of 1936 was a limited run and would be the last (Billie Burke was moving on to her movie career).

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5.5 (2)Shortly before it close Julie was “poached” by the Minskys for their new Oriental Theater on Broadway, where she headlined the show – her name was in neon lights in the night sky. Minsky’s burlesque show was a somewhat less upscale version of the Follies (“The Poor Man’s Follies”) and almost as famous (and it was where Gypsy got her start). It was the same combination of schtick vaudeville comedy (Phil Silvers and Alan Alda’ father Robert shared the bill Julie Bryan), singing and dancing, with a bit more flesh.

 

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Alas, the days of the Minsky’s on Broadway were numbered. As far as we can tell Julie Bryan was the last featured star before Mayor LaGuardia shut down burlesque theaters in NYC. (He wouldn’t when the Follies was still going strong, but acceded to pressure once it closed – Burlesque on the Great White Way wasn’t to be tolerated.

So where did that leave Julie Bryan? We’re not quite sure. Her name surfaces in a gossip column linked to Frank Fay, former husband of Barbara Stanwyck and a bit-part B movie actor. (There’s always been a story that the movie “A Star is Born” is based on their marriage, when the Svengali-like controlling husband is eclipsed by his wife’s success.)

We do know that in 1939 Julie had a bit part in a movie “Torchy Plays with Dynamite”, the 9th and the last in a series of hugely popular B movies about a feisty young detective. In at least 2 ads, Julie Bryan gets the billing, over Jane Wyman (a/k/a Ronald Reagan’s first wife) who played Torchy.

But either Hollywood didn’t want Julie Bryan or she didn’t want Hollywood. (In her “Daily Worker” interview she intimates that Hollywood might not be for her; she wanted the certainty of a steady paycheck.)

6.2So for the next 9 years we find Julie as queen of the burlesque circuits, with top billing, touring through the Mid-West and Northeast. It was steady good money, and Gypsy Rose Lee had made stripping almost respectable. Along the way, in the mid-1940s, she married comic a couple of years older, Jack Martin, with whom she had toured.

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(Just because the theaters were shut down in NYC, didn’t mean burlesque died. There were theaters all over the country including Utica, Rochester and Buffalo (the Buffalo Theater lasted until at least 1969). Often the dancers filled in between movie showings or played midnight shows. The burlesque dancers went into variety reviews (what had been vaudeville, but with a new name) and during and after World War II, they became staple acts in night clubs – luring customers away from the new thing – TV. (Albany had more than a few into the 1960s.)

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9By 1950 Julie would have been in her early 30’s, and the burlesque phase of her life came to an end. We think she briefly took up a new solo act, as Julie Martin, playing nightclubs as “The Queen of Whirlwind Taps”, but that was over within a couple years.

The rest of her life is a blank until we find her in 1994, at the time of her death, back in Hudson, using the name Julie Bryan. There are so many unanswered questions, so if anyone knows anything, please let us know.

But Julie Bryan, the tall, slender, beautiful blond from St. Joe’s, had once been a Ziegfeld Girl. No on one could ever take that away from her. She was a member of a select club of the some of the most glamourous and sought after women of the 20th century.

For the story of another Albany Ziegfeld Girl, read Al Quagieri’s blog post, “A Glamour Girl and her Pig” https://alcue.wordpress.com/…/…/a-glamour-girl-and-her-pig/…

* 3 movies were made about the iconic Ziegfeld Follies, “The Great Ziegfeld” (1936) – William Powell and Myrna Loy, “The Ziegfeld Girls” (1941) – Judy Garland, Hedy Lamar and Lana Turner and “The Ziegfeld Follies” (1945) – Fred Astaire, Lucille Ball, Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Lena Horne.

Julie O’Connor

Lombardo’s: A Century old Albany Restaurant Closes

Lombardo’s Restaurant closed New Year’s Eve 2018.

1.1Charley (Salvatore) Lombardo was the youngest of 3 sons from Martone, Calabria in southern Italy. His father died when he was a child; the remaining family, including his mother, worked as farm laborers. His older brothers left for America and sent passage money for Charley. He joined them in Milford, Mass. in the early 1900s when he was in his young teens.

The brothers then came to Albany. Charley worked as a porter and then as a bartender in James O’Donnell’s saloon at 560 Broadway (where Tricentennial Park is today).

In 1915 the Sons of Italy acquired a building at 118 Madison; Charley opened his own restaurant/saloon in the building in 1916 with $300 he’d managed to save. He said later he worked 18 to 20 hours a day because 2 friends had co-signed the lease and he needed to keep up his end of the bargain. In 1918 Charley was drafted into Army, and served a short time before World War I ended. On his return, he picked up the pieces and moved forward.

In 1920 Charley moved the business across the street to 121 Madison Ave. (into what had previously been the offices of the Italian Consul and the Albany branch of the Bank of Naples) and established the Madison Avenue Lunch. (He’d purchased the building the previous year.)

1.2Later that year he married Anna Manganaro, from another Italian immigrant family, and they started a new life together over the restaurant. While the family thrived over the next dozen years, the business held on in troubled times– Prohibition had begun in January, 1920

Much of Albany thought Prohibition was stupid and wrong. It was “intolerance run amok” (the “Albany Times Union”) and on a more basic level it cost jobs. But the city was on the verge of coming under Democratic control, which it did in 1921 when William Hackett was elected mayor. The boss of the Democratic Party, who happened to own the Hedrick Brewery on Central Ave., paid only lip service to Prohibition. (Albany was a pivotal link in the nationwide bootlegging chain.)* Establishments like the Madison Avenue Lunch in Albany survived the Prohibition years. As far as we know Lombardo’s wasn’t a “speakeasy”, just a place where a tired man (or woman) could find a brief respite after a hard day at work.

But that’s not to say the federal agents charged with enforcing the “dry act” turned a blind eye. As we look through old newspapers it appears that the premises of 121 Madison Ave. were raided at least 5 times, mostly in the years 1930 and 1931. Charley Lombardo was never among those arrested. We’ve been told he told he did provide bail for employees who were busted, and they never served time (wink wink, nod nod). O Albany.

FDR campaigned on promise to end Prohibition laws and on March 22, 1933, less than a month after his inauguration, he signed the Cullen–Harrison Act permitting the sale of 3.2 percent beer and wine. Smart entrepreneurs like Charley Lombardo were ready to go. In summer 1933 he opened a newly re-furbished and expanded restaurant at 119-121 Madison Ave. re-named “Lombardo’s” (By December 1933 all federal Prohibition laws were repealed.)

6In the 13 year “dry spell” Anna and Charley had 4 children – Pat (Pasquale), Mary, Tillie (Matilda) and Charles, Jr. – known as Bill. The new restaurant was a hit – the murals you see today – dark wood trim booths, the decorative pressed tin ceiling and the black and white floor tiles were the height of 1930s splendor. Charley was gracious and genial host, and the food was wonderful.

 

 

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Over the next 6 decades the business thrived, serving great food at affordable prices, in the midst of its restrained Art Deco splendor. (If it isn’t broke, why fix it?) Just once, in the 1950s, Charley experimented – opening Lombardo’s Cafeteria on South Pearl St. near the corner of Madison Ave. (It was a time when downtown Albany, including South Pearl, was teeming with businesses and shoppers and the Cafeteria was designed to attract those with only a brief time for lunch – but the Cafeteria closed in a couple of years.)

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7  By this time Lombardo’s was truly a family business – the Lombardo children and some of their spouses entered the business, as well as an array of in-laws and cousins AND Marge Lawlor. Marge spent almost 50 years as a waitress at Lombardo’s and became part of the family. Times changed, children grew up, but Marge was always there.

Charley understood the value of community – he was active in his church, the Elks, the Southend Merchants Association, and the Chamber of Commerce He was a faithful supporter of the Roma Intangible Lodge #215 and the Sons of Italy, and a mainstay of Little Italy’s festivals and celebrations.

When Charley Lombardo, the patriarch, died in 1956 the restaurant continued to be successful. (Anna passed away in 1958.) The children had learned the lessons of great hospitality and great food from their parents. Jimmy (Vincent) Baumbaca, another Italian immigrant, started in the kitchen in the late 1930s. He married Mary Lombardo and remained a fixture in the kitchen. After Pat died suddenly in 1971 Jimmy was also the face of the front of house, channeling Charley’s smile and affability.

 

Despite the gutting of much of downtown Albany’s Little Italy for the Empire State Plaza and the diaspora of Albany’s Italian population, Lombardo’s thrived. It became a place to celebrate family and traditions – birthdays, baby showers, wedding rehearsal dinners, re-unions, wedding anniversaries, high school and college graduations, first communions and confirmations, engagement parties. The milestones of Albany life were commemorated at Lombardo’s. It was a favorite location for banquets and retirement parties; or just that that comfortable place on a cold February Sunday night in Albany when you had to get out of the house or you would go nuts. You were treated like family, whether you were a regular or not, and if you were a regular there was a good chance your order might be placed with the kitchen as you walked in the door.

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The rest of downtown Albany was a ghost town by 1980, and the city’s population dwindling, yet Lombardo’s remained a destination, even for those who’d moved to the suburbs. New comers to the city, many of whom had come to work in expanding State government, discovered Lombardo’s and fell in love.

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By now Charley and Anna’s grandchildren, and even their great grandchildren, worked in the restaurant. Lombardo’s was, above all, about good food and family. But it was also, through decades a gathering place for local and state politicians. When you walked into the bar, you never knew what luminaries you would see. War stories were told, campaigns plotted and deals made. The fate of the city or state might hang in the balance over Lombardo’s veal and peppers.

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Finally in 1991 the intertwined families sold the restaurant to the Rose-Marie and Paul Mancino. (Paul knew the restaurant from his childhood.) Except for some updating of the menu, and a renovation of the banquet room it didn’t change. (And it became a family affair when their son Anthony joined the staff.)

Despite the sale, Bill Lombardo remained in the apartment over the restaurant and you could often find him in the bar. (He was a great story teller and loved the ponies.) Bill passed away in December 2016, the last of Anna and Charley’s children.

The Mancino’s had been trying to sell the restaurant for the past 7 years. In 2017 Rose-Marie passed away; Paul decided to close the restaurant.

The end of an era.

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*For more on Albany during Prohibition we recommend “Wicked Albany: Lawlessness and Liquor in the Prohibition Era”, Frankie Bailey and Alice Green, The History Press, 2009.

Julie O’Connor with assistance of Anne Fitzgerald, a Lombardo great granddaughter.

 

 

Twelfth Night in Colonial Albany.. It’s All about the Cake

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In early January, if you lived in colonial Albany in early 1700s what we would think of as December festivities- St Nicholas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s festivities would be winding down. But wait, there’s more – what we have come to know as Twelfth Night. Its origins are in a Roman festival called Saturnalia surrounding the winter solstice. In the Christian era the 12th day after Christmas was designated as the date of the arrival of the three wise men in Bethlehem bearing gifts for the Christ child. But over time, and due in large part to the Protestant Reformation, January 6th became more of a secular holiday.. more than a bit of a blowout.. it was off the hook.

Curiously, there’s no documentation of the celebrations in the early New York colony, although there are passing references to the holiday. But many historians think that keeping traditions would have been very important for people who crossed the Atlantic and came to a new world.

So the colonists of Albany, whether Dutch, Walloon (Protestant French emigres) or German or English or Scandinavian would have all whooped it up. The English called it Twelfth Night, the other colonists would have referred to it as variation of “Three Kings Day”. In some cultures the festivities started the eve of Epiphany (January 5) and in others Epiphany Day (January 6).

Whenever the celebrations started it was a rollicking bout of good cheer, with much food and drink ..lots of drink. All sorts of treats piled the tables of Albany homes and taverns (in Dutch homes they would have included doughnuts, cookies, waffles, and pancakes), but the cake was the thing. If you had come from England, a bean might have been inserted into one side of the cake and pea on the other side. The male who got the slice with the bean became king for a day, the female the queen. If you were Dutch there probably was only one bean, and that person became the king. There might be a designated “fool” or jester whose job it was to amuse and entertain. There would have been games and drinking (if only they had known about beer pong) and often music.

Paintings of The Three Kings celebration in the Netherlands in the 17th century, were a favorite subject during the “Golden Age” of Dutch painting. It was wild and crazy.. mischief and mayhem.

 

There was no single Twelfth Night cake recipe – but most of them were a version of a fruit cake. One food historian has concluded that by the mid-1700s the most often used Twelfth night cake recipe was also used for a “Bride’s Cake” – another cake recipe designed to serve a large crowd. In fact, George and Martha Washington were married on Twelfth Night and her anniversary cake did double duty. (Google “Martha Washington anniversary cake” for updated versions). However the French emigres took a different approach and made a “Gallette des Rois” (cake of the kings”) – a large rough puff pastry filled with almond cream.

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The celebration of Twelfth Night died out in America by the 1850s, as Christmas and New Year’s took center stage. (Descriptions of lovely winter scenes in American literature in the early 1800s are often compared to the white icing and sugar decorations of Twelfth Night cakes which tell about the refinement of the cake.) But try as we might, we found no ads for bakeries or bake houses selling Twelfth Night cakes in America in the early 1830s. (We need to do more research.)

15The “Godey Lady Book” (America’s most popular woman’s magazine of the 19th century ) described Queen Victoria’s Twelfth Night Cake at Windsor Castle in 1848 – “..a miracle of confectionary skill” – 3’ in diameter and 4’ tall – with lavish sugar decorations that included a working music box and mechanical fish and figures of “Chinese persons” that beat time to the music.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Julie O’Connor

Albany’s Baker Street Irregular: Frederic Dorr Steele – Sherlock Holmes Illustrator

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“The Sherlock Holmes story started with ‘A Study In Scarlet” in 1887. Three or four English illustrators tried their hand at picturing the sleuth but the man who jelled the famous profile for the British was Sidney Paget. He was one of Sir Arthur’s favorite illustrators.

But Americans know Sherlock through the work of another artist, the late Frederic Dorr Steele, who illustrated most of the Holmes’ stories on this side of the Atlantic and whose sharp pen and ink sketches are almost as well known as the yarns themselves.”
— Rochester Democrat Chronicle, April 6, 1952

Frederic Dorr Steele was born in Eagle Mills, Michigan on August 6, 1873. His father, William Henry Steele, was a native of Albany, part of a large extended family. The Steele family had deep roots in Albany and their ancestors included early Dutch settlers and the Livingston family. His mother, Zulma DeLacy Dorr, was born in Ghent, Columbia County; she was an artist of some repute. His maternal grandmother. Julia Ripley Dorr, was a hugely popular and critically acclaimed novelist and poet of the Victorian period.

As a young man, Frederic moved to New York City to study art at the National Academy of Design. From the 1890s on, he worked as an illustrator for magazines such as The Illustrated American and Scribner’s.

In 1903, he began to illustrate Sherlock Holmes stories for Collier’s Magazine. He would produce numerous drawings of the legendary detective for the remainder of his professional career. He based his drawings of the legendary detective on actor William Gillette who portrayed Holmes on stage beginning in 1899 and in a silent film in 1916. zz

Between Gillette’s onstage image and Steele’s drawings, the image of Sherlock Holmes with his sharp features, calabash pipe, and deerstalker cap took hold in American culture, and has endured for over a century.

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Steele married Mary Thyng in 1898 and the couple resided in Nutley, New Jersey until 1912 when he returned to New York City. Frederic and Mary separated in 1936.

Steele spent his last years living at 717 Greenwich Street and, on July 6, 1944, he died at Bellevue Hospital at the age of 70. He was cremated and, on October 30, 1945, his ashes were brought to Albany for burial in a very old family plot originally purchased by his great-grandfather, Lemuel Steele.

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Frederic’s grave is a narrow, unmarked space between his father’s headstone and the southwest corner post of Lot 61, Section 5 on the South Ridge.

By Paula Lemire, Historian at the Albany Rural Cemetery,  from her Facebook Page: Albany Rural Cemetery – Beyond the Graves. Albany Rural Cemetery- Beyond the Graves

St. Nicholas Day in Colonial Albany

If you were living in colonial Albany today in the early 1700s you and your family would probably be preparing for the arrival of St. Nicholas on December 6th.

St. Nicholas was a real person – a 4th century bishop who lived in what’s now Turkey. He provided for the poor and the sick, and became the patron saint of children (he’s also the patron saint of pawnbrokers – go figure). He was much admired and loved throughout Europe.

Over time the legend of St. Nicholas grew and his religious feast day became a celebration that extended beyond the church walls and incorporated regional pagan myths. Each country (and regions within countries) developed their own St. Nicholas traditions, but there are 2 commonalities – St. Nicholas arriving the night before before his feast day, leaving presents for the children (usually left in their shoes) and the women of the house in a baking frenzy- special treats for this festive and special day.

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In some areas St. Nicholas arrived by boat from Spain (much of the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Germany was under Spanish rule in the 16th and 17th centuries). In other mostly Germanic regions he flies on a white horse; in some places he comes into town riding a horse or walking beside a donkey carrying a load of gifts. Scandinavians had mythical little creatures “tomte” or “nisse” (suspiciously like elves) that assisted with December festivities. (And in pagan tradition, there’s often a creature called a Krampus – part Devil/part goat – that punishes bad children and sometimes leaves coal instead of gifts.)

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There’s no documentation of exactly how the Feast of St. Nicholas was celebrated in colonial Albany (although cookbooks yield some interesting info), but there is historical documentation for the same time period for the countries from which the citizens of Albany emigrated. Some scholars think the people who came here abandoned their traditions in the New World. We know that in the earliest days of the New Netherlands Colony, Peter Stuyvesant, the Governor, was quite straight laced and adhered to his own sense of the Dutch Reformed dogma – basically old peg leg was a bit of a religious fanatic. But after the early 1670s, when the colony was finally in the hands of the British, people were free to celebrate as they wished (more or less).

So we theorize the traditions would have been more important for people so far from “home”, but what did happen was probably a mixing of cultural traditions. There were Germans, Scots, Swedes, and Walloons and Huguenots (French Protestants), English and Norwegians. They lived next to one another and they intermarried * and traditions melded as cultures blended.

But Albany was still predominantly Dutch in the early 1700s. So most of the children would be waiting for “Sinterklaas” (the Dutch name for St. Nicholas) on St. Nicholas eve called “Sinterklaasavond”. Then all the children, giddy with excitement, would put out their wooden shoes (wooden shoes, except for the very rich – were a cultural thing in most of western Europe and Scandinavia – sabots among the French, clogs in the Norse countries land, klomp and Klompen among the Dutch and Germans.

The toys would be homemade in anticipation of just this night – wood or cornhusk dolls, tops, hockey sticks, whistles, stick horses, ninepin and balls, ice skates – lovingly crafted by parents. In addition to the toys, there would sweets and chocolate and maybe a coin. And probably an orange – the global trade of the Dutch had made exotic fruits like oranges high prized special delicacies (orange is the color of the Royal Dutch family – the House of Orange). An old Dutch poem about St. Nicholas even mentions oranges specifically.

“Saint Nicholas, good holy man!
Put on the Tabard, best you can,
Go, therewith, to Amsterdam,
From Amsterdam to Spain,
Where apples bright of Orange,
And likewise those granate surnam’d,
Roll through the streets, all free unclaim’d”

The women of the families in each ethnic group would bake their specialties. For the Dutch that meant a cookie call a Speculaas – a highly spiced shortbread (it’s still probably the national cookie of the Netherlands), crunchy little cookies called Kruidnuten (sometimes called Ginger Nuts – mini-speculaas)** and Peppernoten (Pepper Nuts) – small, chewy and also made with exotic spices. The lucrative East Indies spice trade had a dramatic impact on Dutch (and other European baking and cooking) and used spices that could only come from Southeast Asia in the “Spice islands”. The cookies would be rolled and dough placed in special forms.***The forms were usually made of wood, intricately carved and passed down through generations.

Fast running sloops would bring the spices, sugar, cacao, molasses and oranges up the Hudson to Albany to the docks about where Madison Ave. meets Quay St. today. They would have been off-loaded from larger ships in New York harbor, bringing the cargo from Asia, the British and Dutch Islands in the Caribbean and the colonies of British Honduras (now Belize) and Surinam, which was owned by the Dutch, in Central America.

German women would have made Stutenkerl (also called Nikolaus) – sweetened dough shaped into the form of St. Nicholas (with the Reformation, the dough men looked less bishop- like). And Scandinavian women would have made Pepparkakor – crisp ginger cookies cut in shapes of stars and hearts.

(I’m of the opinion that a German Haufrau was visiting a Swedish Hemmafrau and decided she would make a ginger cookie St. Nicholas (or visa versa) and that was the origin of the gingerbread man.)

Meanwhile Brits and the Scots brought little to the table. The religious wars in Scotland and England for over a century ended with a Protestant ban on saint day celebrations. And Christmas (save for a church service) was a no no. Except for religious services, Holiday traditions had taken a huge nose dive. So, they took to it like duck to water and by the early 1770s Sinterklaas is now Santa Claus and associated with Christmas.

As you’ve been reading along you can see how the Feast of St. Nicholas evolved into American Christmas, but that’s a whole other story we’ll save for another time.

*My Dutch 10th great grandmother married an English soldier and her daughter married a Swede (by way of Holland) who was a ship captain – all within 40 years of the family settling in New Netherlands in the 1650s. And my Walloon ancestors quickly married Germans and Dutch.

** Ginger nuts are still featured in Albany bakery ads of the 1850s.

***Speculaas are still made (in the Nertherlands you buy a Speculaas spice mix – rather than the individual spices) and the windmill cookies you like are actually speculaas.

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Julie O’Connor

Albany Cakes for Christmas? So Many Kinds -So Little Time

‘Tis the season for baking and what better than an Albany Cake? But which Albany Cake? The pudding? The cookies? Or an actual cake?

From the early 1800s to the early 1900s Albany Cake was a thing. Well, actually, many things. English cookbooks equate Albany cakes to “Dutch Pudding” in 1810. In the 1840s-1860s it appears Albany Cake was really a large soft cookie.. more like tea cakes. We found Albany newspaper ads for bakeries in 1841 – Albany Cakes are sold alongside “Lafayette Jumbles” – jam filled small sponge cakes and “Jackson Snaps” – crisp, thin lemon cookies, Plum Pudding and Dutch New Year’s Cake – caraway seed cookies.

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As we looked through old books and newspapers from the 19th and early 20th century for Albany Cake we found at least a dozen different recipes for pudding, cookies and cakes.

Here are four – from 1810 to 1922

“Dutch Pudding, or Albany Cake”
Mix 2 lbs. or less of good flour with a lb. of butter melted in ½ pint of milk. Add to this 6 eggs, separately well beaten, ½ lb. of fine sifted sugar, 1 lb. of cleaned currants and a few chopped almonds, or a little candied orange peel, chopped fine. Put into it 4 spoonfuls of yeast. Cover it up for an hour or two, and bake for an hour in a wide flattish dish. When cold it eats well as cake (“New London Cookery”, Esther Copley, London 1810)

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Albany Cake
1 ½ lbs. of flour, ½ lb. of powdered sugar, ½ lb. butter, ½ pint black molasses, ¼ pint sweet milk, ½ teacup brandy, ½ yeast cake, cinnamon, cloves, ½ lb. of raisins, ½ lb. currants. This cake demands rather a long baking in a moderate oven. If iced it will keep for weeks. (“Harper’s Bazaar” 1905)

Albany Cakes
1 lb. sugar, ½ lb. butter and lard mixed, 1 egg, ½ pint sour cream. ½ tsp. soda and 1 ¼ lb. flour. Let stand in ice box overnight. In the morning roll in long pieces and twist around to form a cookie. Sprinkle top with granulated sugar. (“The All-American Cookbook”, 1922)

Luckily, a young food blogger recently converted an 1840 recipe (from a Canadian author) for Albany Cake to a contemporary form so you can try it out for the Holidays – icing and sprinkles would be very festive. (The Canadian author lived just west of Buffalo in Ontario.)

Julia Baird – Cloud 9 Cookery – Albany Cake