The First Burials in Albany Rural Cemetery- 1845

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A tall monument marked with the name “Strain” stands at the edge of a steep hill at the eastern edge of the North Ridge. It is a fairly simple tombstone by Albany marble cutter John Dixon,but an inscription on its south face tells that it marks “The First Interment In The Cemetary” (note the incorrect spelling of cemetery).

These first burials at the Rural Cemetery took place in May, 1845. Twenty-one year old David Strain died of consumption on October 24, 1844, just a few weeks after the consecration. Buried at the same time were Rebecca and Isabelle Strain. Rebecca was an infant sister who died in 1829. The records don’t indicate twenty-five year old Isabelle’s relationship to David. She may have been his paternal aunt; she died of an inflammation of the brain in 1819.

While the Cemetery had already been dedicated when he died, it was not yet completed; there was still landscaping required, new paths to be laid out, and other improvements to be made. It is likely that young David’s remains would have been placed in one of the public receiving vaults still in use at the old State Street Burying Grounds until the family plot was ready to receive him, along with Rebecca and Isabelle.

A sentimental poem later published in the Albany Argus hints that David may have gone abroad to seek a cure and reads: “Sleep on, it seems but yesterday,Thou wert in foreign lands, Where thou wert met by glowing hearts, And more than friendly hands. When all the spells their love had tried Could not thy health restore, Weary and faint, you dared the sea To reach thy home once more.”

David and Rebecca were children of Albany soap and candle manufacturer Joseph Strain. His soap and candle factory stood at 54 Church Street in Albany, his residence was a few doors away at 63 Church. The family’s summer home still stands at the corner of Broadway and McDonald Circle in Menands. For many years, it served as the Home For Aged Men.

The Strain family plot is located on what was originally called Kennisau Hill and later renamed Landscape Hill. It is now simply Lot 46, Section 6.

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When Albany had a Christmas Parade

From the late 1930’s, with an hiatus for World War II, until 1966, Whitney’s Department Store sponsored a Christmas Parade through downtown Albany.12278763_920020901379506_1722683508307449656_n
Whitney’s was 1 of the 2 anchor department stores in downtown. In the 1880s Mr. Whitney, a dry goods merchant already in business prior to the Civil War, built a large 6 floor store on N. Pearl to cater to the carriage trade. Whitney’s in downtown Albany closed in 1968 (it survived for a couple more years at a Stuyvesant Plaza location). The building was demolished in the early 1970s. Today the location is about the middle of the intersection of Pine St. and N. Pearl St.

The Christmas Parade was held in mid-November (to work kids into the Christmas toy frenzy) and the route varied over the years, but it always wended its way down State St and N. Pearl. It drew thousands from Albany and surrounding areas. The Parade culminated with the arrival of Santa in front of Whitney’s Toyland, where children could then visit Santa for the rest of the Christmas season. (Sounds like “A Christmas Story”.)

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Thanks to Chuck Miller for his permission to use his pics of the Parade in the mid-1960s and to my brother Mike for his photo with Whitney’s Santa in 1959.

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Note: some of the funkier balloons in the 1960s Parade are holdovers from the 1930’s Parade.. waste not; want not.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Mark Twain and Albany

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His first major nationwide lecture tour began in 1868; near the end of that tour he made his first appearance in Albany on January 10, 1870, at Tweddle Hall (the northwest corner of State and N. Pearl). At the last minute, Twain changed the subject of his lecture to his favorite: “Our Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands”, based on his stay in Hawaii.

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The lecture was part of a subscription series in Albany sponsored by Union Veterans to raise money for the widows and orphans of dead Union soldiers. In his letter of January 10 to the love of his life, Olivia (who was to become his wife less than a month later) he says that he expects the lecture’s audience to be the largest of season’s tour.

Twain appeared in Albany several more times; lecturing in 1871 and testifying before the NYS Assembly on behalf of the osteopathic profession in 1901.

One more Twain/Albany delicious tidbit: Twain’s first novel, “Innocents Abroad” (1869) lampoons American tourists in Europe and the Holy Land, and is based on a trip Twain took in 1867. One of the characters, The Oracle (a know-it-all windbag who spouts all sorts of wrong information at the drop of a hat with great authority), was modeled on Albany’s Dr. E.Andrews, a passenger on the trip. Maybe that’s why he switched the topic of lecture?

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(BTW: Twain was, for many years, fast friends with Albany’s own Bret Harte, writer of “The Outcasts of Poker Flats”, and other wonderful short stories, but in the 1870s that friendship foundered on money issues. More about Bret at a later date.)

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

The Albany Army Relief Bazaar for Civil War Aid and the Emancipation Proclamation -1864.

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In February and March 1864, as the Civil War raged on, the Albany Army Relief Bazaar opened to raise money for the U.S. Sanitary Commission to aid sick and wounded Union soldiers. Stationary and field hospitals were nightmares; understaffed and with limited medical supplies and decent food.

While the leadership of the Commission was largely male, it was the women across the Union who did much of the work and fundraising. Fairs and bazaars were one way for the women on the home front to play a role. The first fair opened in Chicago in late 1863; others followed shortly thereafter.

The Albany Bazaar was held in a large temporary structure in Academy Park (about the size of a football field). There were such crowds each day, that although it was intended to close at February’s end, it continued into early March. It raised over $100,000 for the Sanitation Commission, a huge sum at the time. Everyone in Albany and surrounding towns (Kinderhook, Troy and Saratoga) pitched in, donating their time, services or goods. Behind the scenes there were carpentry, housekeeping, laundry and dish washing committees, comprised of people of little means who wanted to help. Before the Bazaar started, these committees raised nearly $500 out of their own pockets. In the lead up to opening there was a frenzy among the women of community- knitting, crocheting, quilting, lace making and basket weaving; no Victorian craft was left behind if it could sell at the Bazaar. Almost every merchant in Albany donated good and services; items ranged from hams to pianofortes.

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Untitled militraOn opening day there was a wide array of booths – including English, Irish, Japanese, Swiss (each competing to raise the most money), exhibits and services, a dining room and even a post office selling special Bazaar stamps. These were staffed by volunteers, ranging from society women, to members of the Afro-American community to the Shakers. If there was any way possible to make money, the Bazaar did.. Local photographers took pictures that were sold to attendees. There were concerts, raffles and an art exhibit. The Bazaar even had its own newspaper, “The Canteen” (for sale, of course).

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bazzarOffsite there were balls, banquets, and, my favorite, a “Grand Billiard Soiree”. And when the Bazaar closed even the decorations and the building were sold to raise more money.

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But the high point of the Bazaar was a lottery for the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln in his own hand. William Seward, then Secretary of State and former NYS governor and U.S. senator, persuaded Lincoln to donate. 5,000 tickets were sold at $1 each. The winner was Gerrit Smith, a well-known abolitionist and member of the lottery organizing committee, who donated it back to the U.S. Sanitary Commission. After a series of protracted high stakes negotiations following Lincoln’s death, the Proclamation was purchased for $1,000 by the NYS Legislature, with the proviso it remain in Albany. As a result of a fire in Chicago in 1871, the Albany Emancipation Proclamation is the only surviving Lincoln original. (Thankfully, it was rescued in the great Capitol fire of 1911.)

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Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Winston Churchill in Albany

NYC railroad police and dewyIn mid March 1946 Winston Churchill visited Albany. Shortly after delivering his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in Missouri in earlier inthe month he returned to the East Coast. Before he left for England, he journeyed up the Hudson to visit with Eleanor Roosevelt and lay a wreath on the grave of President Franklin Roosevelt in Hyde Park.

Churchill continued north to Albany, accompanied by his wife and daughter Sarah. On March 12, he met with Governor Thomas E. Dewey. They had a meeting, the substance of which was never revealed, but there was a press photo op. By all accounts the Churchills were served a lovely dinner, including roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, and stayed overnight in the Executive Mansion.

The next morning they departed from Union Station on an early train, back to New York City. At the station, Churchill had a brief (6 word) conversation with a second cousin from Albany, Mrs. Douglas Olcott, Sr.. He then turned to the crowd and said, “Thank you all very much. All good luck. God bless you all”. Then he embarked on the train and flashed his famous V for victory sign.

Not the stuff of legend, but Sir Winston Churchill in Albany.. in any circumstance .. IS thrilling!

Note: This was not the first visit to Albany by Churchill. While he was on his first speaking tour in North America he had dinner with Vice-President Elect Theodore Roosevelt on December 10, 1900 in the Mansion. (Churchill MAY have been lecturing on his experiences in the Boer War at Jermain Hall in the Y.M.C.A on N. Pearl St, but we can’t corroborate.) In any event there are no accounts of the Winston/Teddy meeting. However, 7 years later, in 1908 in a letter to his son Ted Jr., Roosevelt says that Winston’s father Randolph “was a rather cheap character,” and that Winston “is a rather cheap character.” He would later add that both father and son displayed “levity, lack of sobriety, lack of permanent principle, and an inordinate thirst for that cheap form of admiration which is given to notoriety.” Hardly a fan.

Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor

The Great Capitol Fire of 1911

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On March 29, 1911, the Great Fire destroyed the west wing of the Capitol, wiping out the Assembly Chamber, other offices in that wing, and most importantly, hundreds of thousands of documents in the State Library; the history of New York State and Albany up in flames.

The first fire alarm was pulled at Fire Box 324 at about 3:30am on the corner of Washington Ave, and Hawk St. Within 5 minutes fire crews reached the building but parts were already engulfed. 150 firemen and 10 engines were deployed, as were the Fire Protectives (a fire salvage crew paid by city insurance companies) and almost all city policemen. Then the 10th NY National Guard based out of the Washington Ave armory arrived.

Firemen battled the fire in shifts; just when they thought they had beaten it, smoldering embers in another area would come to life. (Fire apparatus was not removed for another 2 weeks, just in case.) When men on the line started to weaken or were hit with flying shards of marble or granite, others stepped up to fill their spot and give their brothers respite. (In 1911 a great uncle was a tillerman from Hook and Ladder 3 – Clinton and Ontario, and at 6’ 5”, reputedly the most able axe man in the city.) Despite Fire Chief Bridgeford’s determination that the fire was contained by mid-morning, it was another 24 hours or so until it was fully extinguished.

Thousands of spectators gathered in the street; police duty shifted to holding back the crowd. The effect of the fire on the people of Albany was profound. First there was disbelief. That a building that looked like a fortress could have burned so badly was incomprehensible. They’d been told it was “absolutely fireproof”. There were few in the City who didn’t have a connection to the Capitol. It was built with the blood and sweat and backs of hundreds of stone cutters, masons, carpenters and laborers who had come to Albany to build the Capitol and the city had become their home. Hundreds of people worked in the Capitol; it housed most NYS offices.- it was their work “home”. Many of the firemen and police were from the South End and Arbor Hill; for most, when the Capitol was under construction it had been their playground as they dodged construction foremen. The destruction of Albany’s architectural pride devastated the city.

For years people talked about fire and the bravery of the firemen. But one of the stories that was passed down to me was about “saving the library.” Flames and smoke shot through the State Library and its treasures. An heroic effort saved some. The only extant copy of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 in Lincoln’s own hand was saved by Harlan Horner of the State Teacher’s College. Notified shortly after the fire broke out, he dashed to the Capitol, and put as much as he could in a large basket. About 30 basketfuls were saved, including royal charters, Major Andre’s pass from the Revolutionary War, wampum belts from the 1600s, George Washington’s survey equipment and a draft of his farewell address from 1796. But hundreds of thousands of documents were lost, including the papers of Governor Dewitt Clinton and Dutch documents from the earliest days of Rensselaerwyck and New Amsterdam.

Papers and documents littered the streets and swirled for a 6 mile radius. As it was told to me, somehow the children of Albany got the idea that the papers were all from the Library and were “Albany’s history”. Less than 18 months prior the city had celebrated the 300th anniversary of Hudson’s sail to Albany in 1609; these kids knew their history and were determined to save it. They set about picking up every stray paper they could find to save “Albany history” from the Library for weeks. They scoured streets and parks and some braved roof tops. I was told that, in retrospect, most of what they found and turned into their teachers were actuarial tables, or bill drafts or expense accountings, but every now and then they did find a fragment of history.

Copyright 2021 Julie OConnor

Albany: Cradle of the Union (a/k/a/ Ben Franklin Slept Here)

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ben 3On July 14, 1754, many of the delegates from seven colonies (New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Maryland) who attended the Albany Congress were still on their way home. The Congress was convened by NYS Lt. Gov. James Delancey for the purpose of discussing alignment of the 6 Indian Nations who attended the Congress, should there be a war with the French. But Ben Franklin had his own agenda. He wanted to discuss the “Albany Plan of Union” which would have been the first confederation of the colonies. Prior to the Congress, in May 1754 he published what is considered to be the first political cartoon in America, “Join or Die”. Ben and Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson presented the Albany “Plan of Union” which was adopted on the last day of the Congress, July 10, 1754. It was, in part, modeled after the Iroquois Confederacy. Members of the Confederacy attended and were an integral part of the Congress.

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The Congress was held in the Stadt Huys (City Hall)* at the intersection of State and Broadway, about where the SUNY Central Building (a/k/a the D&H Building) is today and there is a plaque, commemorating the Congress and Ben’s Plan.

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Ben was persuasive enough to convince the delegates, but not a single colonial assembly approved the plan to unite “under one government as far as might be necessary for defense and other general important purposes”. Most historians agree that even if the Colonies had approved the Union, the British government would have quashed.

20 years later or so the Albany Plan of Union would become the basis for the Articles of Confederation which would bind the Colonies together throughout the Revolution and until 1789 when the Constitution was ratified. During the Revolution, the slogan became “Unite or Die”.

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ben 16A Resolution of 83rd US Congress, August 1953 officially named Albany as “Birthplace of American Union” and official medals were authorized, created by the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.

 

ben 22There was a HUGE Citywide Cradle of the Union celebration in June 1954 involving a parade, other festivities and participation by children in all city schools, public, private and parochial. ( We don’t party for our history the way we used to.)

In 1988 a portion of a road in Washington Park was named Albany Plan of Union Avenue and there is a commemorative plaque on a boulder just off the Avenue.

 

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*The Stadt Huys was demolished circa 1836 when a new City Hall was erected in the current location – alas that was destroyed by fire in 1880, and the one that currently exists was constructed.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

The Declaration of Independence in Albany

Set in the greenery in front of University Plaza is a small iron fence enclosing a white marble tablet. The tablet is quite worn and nearly illegible now, but a smaller plaque next to it has a transcription of the original lettering:

“The following is the wording that was placed on the memorial stone immediately adjacent to this plaque: The Declaration of Independence was first read in Albany by order of the Committee of Safety July 19, 1776 in front of the City Hall then on this site. This memorial of the event was placed here by the citizens July 4, 1876.”

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz13718534_1039082696139992_3304741044390138878_nAt the time of the Revolutionary War, Albany’s city hall – or Stadt Huys – stood here along Broadway across from the foot of modern Hudson Avenue. At the time, this key thoroughfare running parallel to the riverfront was call Court Street and the Stadt Huys had been erected in the early 1740s to replace a 1686 meeting space on the same site.

During the Revolution, it was the meeting place of the Albany Committee of Correspondence, Safety, and Protection which was chaired by Abraham Yates, Jr..

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz13754671_1039083669473228_2545378727848215776_nIn July 1776, in the days immediately following its approval in Philadelphia, copies of the Declaration of Independence were distributed to and read before the public in major cities throughout the rebelling Colonies. The New York copy was received by Abraham Yates, Jr; it had been sent on by his nephew, Robert Yates, who was a member of the New York Provincial Congress. The Declaration was then read to the public from the steps of the Stadt Huys on July 19 by Matthew Visscher. Visscher, a twenty-five year old lawyer, served as secretary to the Committee.

 

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz13699995_1039077149473880_7175930192316421927_nIn 1876, a committee was formed in Albany to honor the 100th anniversary of American Independence. The Centennial Memorial Tablet Committee met “to procure the erection of a permanent memorial at the spot where the Declaration of Independence was first publicly read in Albany.” $100 was earmarked for the project and, at the cost of $80, the marble tablet with gilt letters was commissioned. By 1876, the old Stadt Huys was long gone, but arrangements were made to mount the marble table on the facade of the Commercial Building which stood near the corner of Broadway and Hudson Avenue.

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Before a gathering of “two or three thousand” Albany residents, the tablet, which was covered by an American flag, was unveiled by Visscher Ten Eyck (Matthew Visscher’s grandson.) The tablet’s reveal was greeted by hearty cheers from the crowd, patriotic songs, chimes from the steeples of nearby churches, and a 100-gun salute.

When the Commercial Building was demolished to make way for construction of the D & H Building, the marble tablet was salvaged and set within the iron railing. The gilt lettering has since worn away and the tablet marking the first public reading the Declaration of Independence is easily overshadowed by the ornate D & H Building (now SUNY Plaza).

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Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

How Albany Celebrates its Birthday – the Dongan Charter, July 22 1686

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77 years after Henry Hudson landed on our shores in 1609 Albany became a city. On July 22, 1686, the Royal Governor of the New York colony, Thomas Dongan (BTW..much has been made of the fact that he was an Irishman and a Catholic), granted the city of Albany a royal charter. The charter was crucial because it separated the City of Albany from the rest of the Patroon’s holdings (a/k/a Rensselaerwyck) and created its own identity. Charter provisions also fixed Albany’s boundaries, created a city government structure, and identified trading rights.

The first meeting of the new government was held on July 26, 1686 and Pieter Schuyler.. yes of the venerable Schuyler family, was the first mayor. Some historians say the fee for the Charter was $1,500 for Dongan and $120 for his Secretary – with payment of one beaver pelt per year to the English monarch. (We assume that debt was cancelled in 1776.)

We don’t know if the 100th birthday of Albany was celebrated in 1786 – our guess is yes.. and with more than a tipple or two. (Ben Franklin collected more than 200 words/phrases to describe having over indulged- colonial Americans drank all day, every day – from early in the morning until they went to bed.)

4But by 1886, for our 200th birthday, we do know there was a citywide bicentennial bash that lasted an entire week. Public events included an immense illuminated parade with floats depicting the history of the City, Scottish games and a boat regatta, public concerts, grand orations, a military parade and fireworks. Visitors swarmed the City.

 

 

 

19By 1936, there was a sense that Albany needed to do something to celebrate her 250th birthday. It was the middle of the Great Depression, and everyone needed a lift. Again there were massive citywide celebrations – a parade, a ball, concerts, church celebrations and a regatta. John Boyd Thacher, Mayor at the time, was the master of ceremonies, welcoming residents and visitors to the citywide festivities; he was everywhere and everyplace, it seems at the same time. His great uncle, John Boyd Thacher, had done the same when he was Mayor 100 years before during Albany’s Bicentennial. (We do like tradition in Albany.)

26In 1986 when the City’s 300th birthday rolled around, we partied on and off for a year -had a parade, a regatta, a celebratory ball, tall ships, historical exhibits, a balloon fest in Washington Park and a riverfront festival with Mayor Tom Whalen at the helm.

Since this is the Big 330, enjoy these images from past celebrations and we suggest you lift a glass to the oldest continuously chartered in the United States. The Dongan Charter still rules.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

When the Batmobile Came to Albany

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September 17th is  International Batman Day. We have no idea what it means.. but it must be a good thing. And it reminded us of the late 1960s when the Batmobile would come to Albany to the Custom Car Shows at the New Scotland Ave. Armory.

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1968  New Scotland Ave. Armory Custom Car Show – courtesy Carl Johnson

The shows were the brainchild of George Barris, king of custom cars for TV and movies, like the Batmobile, the Monkee Mobile and the Munster Coach. The Armory was the mecca for teenage boys from all over the area.. custom cars, a band and Go Go dancers. What’s not to love?

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