Erastus Dow Palmer

Palmer was born in 1817. He was a self-taught artist who showed early talent by carving wooden animals on his father’s farm in Pompey, N.Y.
As a young man, he moved to East Aurora (near Buffalo) to work as a carpenter.  While living in East Aurora, he married, but illness claimed both his wife and infant son.  Shortly after this double loss, he relocated to Utica where he continued as a carpenter and woodcarver.  In 1843, he married Mary Jane Seaman.
Having seen illustrations of cameos in the home of a client, Palmer was inspired to cut a cameo of his wife using an oyster shell and the smallest of his carpentry tools.  He showed the finished piece to a local lawyer for whom Palmer had done work.  The lawyer was very impressed by Palmer’s work and immediately lent him books with engravings of famous artwork, provided him with letters of recommendation to a number of prominent artists of the era, and strongly encouraged Palmer to pursue a career as a sculptor.
That career began with a series of portrait cameos, mainly of prominent Utica residents.  However, Palmer found that working on such a small scale was straining his eyesight.  He began producing larger reliefs in marble.  One early work is the allegory of Faith which hangs in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in downtown Albany. He then progressed to
 larger marble works and, later, some bronzes sculptures such as the figure of Robert Livingston which represents New York State in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol.
Dow’s Studio
Palmer relocated to Albany early in his artistic career, maintaining a home and studio first on Columbia Place and, later, on Lafeyette Street. He also kept a farm in Glenmont.
There is a curious tale told about Palmer’s passing and a final visit to his closest friend, the painter Asa Twitchell. The following was written by Anna Parker Pruyn on the reverse of a ca. 1900 photo of Palmer and Twitchell seated in the gallery of Lawson Annesley:
“Mr. Palmer died first. Mr. Twitchell lived out on N. Scotland Rd. and had no telephone. Mr. Annesley drove out to break the news to him, but Mr. Twitchell said he already knew it. ‘He came out 9 this morning – stood by his bedside and said “I- I’m going – I have come to say goodbye to you.'”
Palmer died at the age of eighty-six on March 9, 1904 and was buried in the Albany Rural Cemetery in Lot 15, Section 34. His monument was the work of Marcus T. Reynolds and the sides incorporate the marble reliefs of “Dawn” and “Evening” by Palmer. Palmer had a long history with the Cemetery. Not only did he create some of its finest monuments (including the Angel At The Sepulchre).  He also served as one of its Trustees.
Paula Lemire

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


“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.


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.


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

Albany’s Dorothy Lathrop – Award Winning Author and Illutrator

What if I told you there was a woman from Albany who brought joy to thousands of children across the world for almost 100 years and will continue to do so?

Her name is Dorothy Pulis Lathrop and she was an award-winning illustrator and writer of children’s books.

Dorothy was born before the turn of the last century in 1891. Her parents, Cyrus Lathrop and Ida Pulis Lathrop, came to Albany in 1888. Cyrus was originally from Connecticut, son of a bookseller. Ida was from Troy – the school teacher daughter of a carpenter. In the early days they lived at 230 Washington Ave. (just above Henry Johnson Blvd.), where Cyrus ran a thriving business that re-supplied restroom laundry in restaurants and other businesses. There were 2 daughters (Gertrude – whom we will discuss at another time) and Dorothy.


2.2Meanwhile, Ida painted; she was a self-taught artist of great skill. (Her paintings are in the permanent collections of a number of museums) and the last time one of her pieces came up for auction – at Christie’s’ about 25 years ago, it went for $15,000. By the early 1900s Ida had nationwide fame.

Cyrus was a man of great faith and concern for the well-being of his fellow man, especially children. He’s said to have volunteered frequently at the City Mission when he first came to Albany. In 1892 he was one of the founders of the Albany Boys Club and soon became its president and executive director. This lead to a series of appointments in NYS government, overseeing charitable organizations – from orphan asylums to hospitals – across the State. He remained in state government for the rest of his life.

In the early 1900s the Lathrops moved to one of the new villas on South Allen St. in Pine Hills. The house was designed by Ida and included two rooms for her art studio. The large backyard was filled with the apple trees and the family’s petting zoo: porcupines, sheep, turtles, raccoons, goats, chipmunks and squirrels. While Cyrus traveled for work Ida and the girls stayed at home, painting and playing with the animals.

Dorothy graduated from Albany High School and went on to study art at Columbia in NYC. She returned to Albany and taught art for a couple of years at Albany High School, getting some free-lance magazine work, but she was determined to have a career as an illustrator. She returned to art school in Philadelphia and New York and then started pounding the pavements in New York City, portfolio in hand. One of her stops was at the new and tiny publishing firm, Alfred Knopf. Knopf was a year younger than Dorothy, eager to try new talent and snapping up European authors to publish in America.

3.jpgKnopf paired her with Walter de la Mare, an English poet and writer best known for his children’s books these days. Their first partnership was “The Three Mulla Muggars (a/k/a – “The Three Royal Monkeys”. He believed fervently in children’s natural inclination to live in a world of fantasy. Lathrop’s illustrations lead the reader into that realm and let them run wild. (Dorothy developed a close relationship with de la Mare; they collaborated on another 5 books.)

4She was off and running – at the beginning of prolific award-winning career. She illustrated almost 50 children’s books (and wrote of many of them herself) that drew on her love of animals and nature. In 1929 she was the co-winner of the Newbery Medal (the Medal is awarded by the American Library Association for “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” ) with writer Rachel Field for “Hitty, Her First Hundred Years”. It’s a wonderful story of a doll who travels the world for a century and writes her memoirs. (Hitty – the actual doll, owned by Rachel Fields and inspiration for the book, spent time on display in Harmanus Bleecker Library in Albany in 1930.)


Two years later Dorothy was a Newbery runner-up for “The Fairy Circus”, which she wrote and illustrated. (I inherited all the Lathrop books from my mother and uncles. This may be my favorite; a group of fairies who put together a circus with all the little woodland creatures in their world, but I’m positively mad for all Lathrop’s books.)



9In 1938 she was the first winner of the Caldecott Medal (awarded by the American Library Association) for the “most distinguished American picture book for children” for ”Animals in the Bible”. She said in her acceptance speech, “I can’t help wishing that just now all of you were animals. Of course technically you are, but if only I could look down into a sea of furry faces, I would know better what to say.”

1Dorothy continued to work in the realm of children’s lit into her 60s, but in the early 1950s she turned to non-fiction as well. In “Let them live” (1951) she was one the first to warn against the destruction of the natural habitats and eco-systems that support wildlife.

Dorothy called Albany home until the mid-1950s She was a founding member of the Albany Print Club (her specialty was wood block prints, although she was proficient in all media); her papers are in its permanent collection. Sometimes, she could be found reading her books at story hour in some of the local library branches. In 1954, Dorothy and Gertrude moved to the Falls Village, Ct., but still spent considerable time in Albany. Her work, and that of Gertrude, a sculptor, was displayed at the Institute and other venues. (The Institute has the work of Ida, Dorothy and Gertrude in their collection.)

12I have a dim recollection of seeing Dorothy at the John Mistletoe book store (originally on Lark St. – subsequently it moved around the corner to Washington Ave.). The Mistletoe was first owned by her good friends Eleanor Foote and then Mary and Ed French. It had a great children’s section and from time to time Dorothy would appear at events. She was a tall, kind and soft-spoken woman who seemed more a home with kids than adults.

Dorothy died in 1980 at the age of 89 in Falls Village. She’s buried with her sister and parents in Section 27, Lot 46 of the Albany Rural Cemetery.

She once wrote: “How I came to write and draw for children I do not know. Perhaps it is simply that I am interested most of all in the things many of them like best–creatures of all kinds, whether they run, fly, hop, or crawl, and in fairies and all their kin, and in all the adventures that might happily befall one in a world which is so constantly surprising and wonderful.”

Here’s a list of the books Dorothy Lathrop illustrated:

  • A Little Boy Lost. Hudson, W. H. (author), Knopf, 1929.
  • An Angel in the Woods. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1947.
  • Animals of the Bible. Lathrop, Dorothy (author), Lippincott, 1937.
  • Balloon Moon. Cabot, Elsie (author), Henry Holt, 1927.
  • Bells and Grass. De La Mare, Walter (author), Viking, 1965.
  • Bouncing Betsy. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1936.
  • Branches Green. Field, Rachel (author), Macmillan, 1934.
  • Childcraft in 15 Volumes. Lathrop, Dorothy P. et al. (author), Field Educational Pub., 1954.
  • Crossings: A Fairy Play. De La Mare, Walter (author), Knopf, 1923.
    Devonshire Cream. Dean, Agnes L. (author), Unity Press, 1950.
  • Down-Adown-Derry: A Book of Fairy Poems. De La Mare, Walter (author), Henry Holt, 1922.
  • Fierce-Face: The Story of a Tiger. Mukerji, Dhan Gopal (author), Dutton, 1938.
  • Follow the Brook. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1960.
  • Grateful Elephant. Burlingame, Eugene W. (author), Yale University Press, 1923.
  • Grim: The Story of a Pike. Fleuron, Svend (author), Knopf, 1921.
  • Hide and Go Seek. Lathrop, Dorothy (author), E.M. Hale, 1931
  • Hitty: Her First Hundred Years. Field, Rachel (author), Macmillan, 1947.
  • Kaleidoscope. Farjeon, Eleanor (author), Stokes, 1929.
  • Japanese Prints. Fletcher (author), Four Seas Press, Boston, 1918.
  • Let Them Live. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1961.
  • Made-To-Order Stories. Canfield, Dorothy (author), Harcourt Brace, 1953.
  • Mopsa the Fairy. Jean, Ingelow (author), Harper & Brothers, 1927.
  • Mr. Bumps and His Monkey. De La Mare, Walter (author), Winston, 1942.
  • Presents for Lupe. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1940.
  • Puffy and the Seven Leaf Clover. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1954.
  • Puppies for Keeps. Lathrop, Dorothy (author), Macmillan, 1944.
  • Silverhorn: The Hilda Conkling Book For Other Children. Conkling, Hilda (author), Stokes, 1924.
  • Snow Image. Hawthorne, Nathaniel (author), Macmillan, 1930.
  • Stars To-Night: Verses New and Old for Boys and Girls. Teasdale, Sara (author), Macmillan, 1930.
  • Sung under the Silver Umbrella. Education Association For Childhood (author), Macmillan, 1935.
  • Tales From The Enchanted Isles. Gate, Ethel May (author), Yale University Press, 1926.
  • The Colt from Moon Mountain. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1941.
  • The Dog in the Tapestry Garden. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1962.
  • The Dutch Cheese. De La Mare, Walter (author), Knopf, 1931.
  • The Fair of St. James. Farjeon, Eleanor (author), Stokes, 1932.
  • The Fairy Circus. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1931.
  • The Forgotten Daughter. Snedeker, Caroline Dale (author), Doubleday, 1933.
  • The Happy Flute. Mandal, Sant Ram (author), Stokes, 1939.
  • The Light Princess. Macdonald, George (author), Macmillan, 1952.
  • The Little Mermaid. Andersen, Hans (author), Macmillan, 1939.
  • The Little White Goat. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1935.
  • The Littlest Mouse. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1955.
  • The Long Bright Land. Howes, Edith (author), Little Brown, 1929.
  • The Lost Merry-Go-Round. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1938.
  • The Princess and Curdie. MacDonald, George (author), Macmillan, 1927.
  • The Skittle Skattle Monkey. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1945.
  • The Snail Who Ran. Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Stokes, 1934.
  • The Snow Image. Hawthorne, Nathaniel (author), Macmillan, 1930.
  • The Three Mulla-Mulgars. De La Mare, Walter (author), Knopf, 1919.
  • The Treasure of Carcassonne. Robida, A. (author), E.M. Hale, 1926.
  • Who Goes There? Lathrop, Dorothy P. (author), Macmillan, 1935

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

The Most Prolific Albany Artists You May Never have Heard of – Meet the Van Zandts – Father and Son


We’re pretty sure you’ve seen at least one of these pictures before. We love them; they’re cheerful and take us back to a time in our history. They were all painted by a father or son from Albany NY – Thomas Kirby Van Zandt (known as Kirby Van Zandt) or his son, William Garrett Van Zandt.

The Van Zandt family had roots in Albany going back to the 1600s; they were among the earliest of the Dutch Settlers. It appears the family lived in the city until about 1780 or so, and then purchased a farm near the New Scotland Plank Road in the town of Bethlehem. (The Van Zandt farm was probably close to what is now the intersection of Whitehall Rd. and New Scotland Ave.) Kirby married, Frances McCormick from the same vicinity. Archibald McCormick came from Scotland in 1787 and operated a farm about where the Academy of Holy Names is today, across from what is now McCormick Rd.

Thomas Van zandtKirby was born in 1814 and by time he was 30, in 1844, identified himself as a painter in the city directory. At that time he was living on State St. between Lark and Dove. He sounds like a young man who was fairly confident in his talent and his ability to make a living through his art. The confidence was not misplaced; he was very successful over 40 years. He specialized in horses and farm animals. The area outside Albany was still rural and scattered with hundreds of farm in the surrounding counties,. If you were a fairly well-to-do farmer, you would have the well-known painter Kirby Van Zandt paint your prize winning chicken or bull. Kirby also established himself as a horse-and-carriage painter catering to Albany’s wealthier citizens, like Erastus Corning and Kirby’s brother-in-law, Judge Van Aernum (the painting of the Judge and his sleigh is in the permanent collection of the Albany Institute of History and Art). In later years he specialized in horses and spent time in Saratoga at the horse tracks.



A fast trotterThe Van Zandt paintings are referred to as “folk art”, but that isn’t meant to diminish the quality of the paintings. It’s a term that just describes their style. The Metropolitan Museum says these 19th century “ (folk)artists worked principally in the Northeast… Almost all of them favored strong colors, broad and direct application of paint, patterned surfaces, generalized light, skewed scale and proportion, and conspicuous modeling. Most developed compositional formulas that allowed them to work quickly, with limited materials and in makeshift studios.” This describes Van Zandt, moving from farm to farm and painting livestock and chickens in barns. In an era when photography was still a new thing, Van Zandt paintings were widely known in this area as way to preserve the image of your favorite animal.

But In several instances Kirby went out of his comfort zone; they involve Leland Stanford (Stanford University). Stanford and his wife Jane Lathrop were born in Albany. Although younger than Van Zandt, Stanford clearly respected Van Zandt’s talent and commissioned his work a number of times. In 1878 Stanford invited the noted photographer Eadweard Muybridge to his estate to settle an argument. Muybridge is a photographer important for his pioneering work in photographic studies of motion and early work in motion-picture projection.

05952rStanford, who loved horse and horse racing (the shared passion with Van Zandt) believed that at a horse ran all four legs left the ground and at some point it was suspended in the air. Stanford wanted Muybridge to capture this moment in the horse’s stride, an instance imperceptible to the naked eye. Muybridge took a series of photos. The plate itself was fuzzy and unsuitable for publication, so it was left to Van Zandt to strengthen the image. He reproduced the image twice, first as drawing of “crayon and ink wash” dated September 16, 1876, and again as the finished canvas in 1878.

Van Zandt also painted one of the few pictures of Leland Stanford, Jr., (when he was about 12 in 1881), 3 years before his too young death from typhoid when he was 15. It’s a picture of a bundled up boy and his dog near a frozen lake where people are skating, so it was probably painted in Albany on a Stanford family trip back East. It may be set in Washington Park.leland stanford

The Cantor Museum at Stanford University includes six paintings by Kirby Van Zandt and one by his son William. They include the Leland, Jr painting and Jane’s childhood home – somewhere on Washington Ave. between Dove and S. Hawk. (There are several addresses for their homes in the 1840s city directories so we’ve been unable to establish the exact location.) He also painted Jane’s father, Dyer Lathrop and Leland Sr,’s childhood home on Central Ave. just beyond the Albany city line. Of course he did several pictures of Stanford’s favorite horse, “Abe Edgington”.

Lathbrop house

h (2)


abe edgington with dog bill

As Kirby’s success grew, and he married and had a family, he moved to Knox St. near Madison, where he ultimately had his home and a studio in the building next door. But as Washington Park grew the Van Zandt properties were acquired for Park expansion. The family located to the farm on New Scotland where Kirby spent his final years before his death in 1886. The area was then known as Hurstville, and it must have been quite agreeable, since there was a horse racing track located about where Mater Christi church and school are today (the Pleasure Park trotting track existed from the 1860s to the early 1900s).

WilliamThis brings us to his son, William who followed in his father’s footsteps. William was born in 1867 while the family lived in Albany. He had his father’s talent and his love of horse and horse racing. William was actually a “starter” for the Saratoga races and a member of Albany Driving Club. (The Driving Club met at Woodlawn Park – where Albany Academy for Boys is currently located and held trotting horse races.) In addition to painting, William held several jobs, including Albany City vital statistic registrar and then assistant superintendent for art in the Albany public schools. He lived at the family farm in New Scotland, then in the city at several uptown locations and then spent the last 20 or so years in Guilderland. He passed away in 1942.

Portarit of a cow

sulky and driver 1909

Both Van Zandts were prolific artists and their painting styles are similar (we read somewhere that William always include 3  birds somewhere his paintings – we can find in some and not others). It’s probable the Van Zandts painted hundreds of paintings in their lifetimes. They’re in the collections of the Bennington Museum and the Fenimore Art Museum; many are in private collections and other smaller galleries. Sometimes you can find a show at a local museum, but folk art has never really caught on in a big way, which we think is a shame. It can tell us a lot about the lives of the people and objects who were its subjects and the people who made the art.

A gentleman's ride

A trotter

afternoon sleighride


horse Portait

untitled - thomasThoroughbred hedl by groom tk

the leoipard


Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Reading Lolita in Albany; the Pine Bush and the Karner Blue

lolita book

In 1958 Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, “Lolita” was published in America; it quickly became one of the most controversial books of the 20th century. Despite its critical acclaim, the Albany Public Library banned “Lolita” (although no one in the library system appears to have read it before making that decision). Lolita quickly became a runaway best-seller and was rushed into paperback print.

LolitaWhen Stanley Kubrick’s movie adaptation of “Lolita” was released in 1962 its Albany reception was a tad more temperate. The Albany Roman Catholic Diocese, arbiter of Albany morality, did not ban it, but did condemn its “depravity” (because the National Catholic League of Decency had censored the film during production it was really pretty tepid). Back in the day, Catholic churches in Albany posted a list of the verboten movies in their vestibules; in 1962 “Lolita” topped the list. (Ironically, the list was a guide to “must see” movies for some.) THEN some eagle eyes thought they spotted Albany and Rensselaer locations in the film (the gothic spires of the D&H Building, Memorial Hospital). There was huge buzz and Albany residents flocked (in broad daylight) to the Hellman movie theatre on Washington Ave where “Lolita” had its first Albany run.

Lolita 1962

But the Nabokov connection with Albany extends beyond “Lolita”.

lolita nabokFlash forward to 1975 when the New York Times used an illustration of the Karner Blue butterfly in an article that featured endangered species of flora and fauna. In response, Nabokov wrote to the editor:
“By a nice coincidence, the so-called Karner Blue illustrating Bayard Webster’s note on insects needing protection is a butterfly I classified myself. It is known as Lycaeides melissa samuelis Nabokov or more properly Lycaeides samuelis Nabokov (I considered it at first to be a race of the western melissa Edwards, but have concluded recently that it is a distinct species).…..It is a very local butterfly attached to extensive growths of lupine, in isolated colonies, from Michigan (probably its original habitat) to Albany, N.Y. Readers of my fiction may have found it settled on damp sand in a vacational scene of my novel PNIN. “

Vladimir Nabokov was an inveterate lepidopterist. His fascination with butterflies started as a young child in Russia, and continued after his emigration to the U.S. A New York Times article by Margaret Mittelbach and Michael Crewdson ( July 14, 2000) ) explained:
“While Nabokov was writing in the 1940’s, he also studied the anatomy of butterflies at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard. Among the butterflies he examined were some old specimens collected in the 19th century from Karner, N.Y., a bygone village in an area known as the Albany Pine Bush. Although he identified the Karner blue as a distinct subspecies in 1943 and named it Lycaeides melissa samuelis, it wasn’t until the late spring of 1950 (when he was teaching at Cornell) that Nabokov took up his net and went looking for Karner blues in the wild. Before leaving he wrote to a friend, the literary critic Edmund Wilson, that he planned to drive to ”a place called Karner, where in some pine barrens, on lupines, a little blue butterfly I have described and named ought to be out.”

“In 1950, while driving from Boston to Ithaca, he visited the Pine Bush for the first time. The day after his visit, he wrote Wilson again saying that he had driven ‘to a certain place between Albany and Schenectady where, on a pine-scrub waste, near absolutely marvelous patches of lupines in bloom, I took a few specimens of my samuelis.’ ” (In 1950 the Karner blue was the most abundant insect in the Pine Bush.)

Lolita 5

In 1975, many concerned local citizens were afraid the Pine Bush (and the Karner blue) would be destroyed by development. In 1973 the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation had already set aside about 450 acres of the Pine Bush for protection, calling it the Pine Bush Unique Area, but destruction of huge swathes of the home of the Karner Blue continued. In 1978 a grassroots organization called “Save the Pine Bush” was formed to fight the encroachment. Today the Pine Bush Preserve Commission protects and manages 3,200 acres. While the Karner Blue is still endangered, by all accounts Nabokov beautiful blue butterfly is returning to the Pine Bush and is “on the brink of survival”.

Nabokov’s Karner Blue has been called the “poster bug for the Pine Bush” and Nabokov the “Godfather of the Endangered Species Act”. It’s pretty clear that if he hadn’t written that shockingly smutty novel that appalled the civilized world, including Albany, and made him so famous that the world paid attention to him, we might not have the Karner Blue.

Lolita Pine bush

*IMDB lists 4 Albany locations for “Lolita”; I only know of 3. The D&H building is clearly visible from Rensselaer, Memorial Hospital plays a minor role, and there is a scene that features what is probably an Arbor Hill street – I have yet to find the fourth.. Some say Albany doubles as “Parkington” a fictional city in “Lolita”. (Although most of the movie was filmed in England, second unit directors took Humbert’s car on the road filming American streetscapes.)

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Erastus Dow Palmer

Erastus Palmer’s “Angel At The Sepulchre.”

Sculptor Erastus Dow Palmer died on March 9, 1904.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzPalmer’s name is quite closely linked with the Albany Rural Cemetery. He created a number of notable monuments, including “Remembrance” for the grave of Lucretia M. Olcott (wife of the Cemetery’s first treasurer, Thomas Olcott), several marble portraits, and one of the Cemetery’s most famous statues, the heroic “Angel At The Sepulchre.” Palmer also served as a trustee of the Cemetery.

He is buried in Lot 15, Section 34. His monument, a Roman-inspired sarcophagus, was designed by Marcus T. Reynolds. It is decorated with palm fronds as a play on the sculptor’s name.

More on Palmer can be read here:…/…

Grave of Erastus Dow Palmer

“Grief” by Erastus Dow Palmer on the reverse of the Daniel Campbell monument.

Marble portrait of Lewis Benedict

Portrait of Thomas Olcott

Grave of Lucia M. Olcott with statue and relief by Erastus Dow Palmer. Statue is called “Remembrance.”

Happy Birthday Herman Melville!


Melville 3

Although not a native son, he spent his teenage years in Albany, so we claim him as ours.

melville 1.1His mother, Maria Gansevoort, was the daughter of Peter Gansevoort (“the hero of Ft. Stanwix”) and member of the Albany elite. General Gansevoort defeated forces of British Officer Barry St. Leger during the Battle of Oriskany in August 1777, preventing St. Leger from aiding General Burgoyne, a major factor in the American ability to win the Battles of Saratoga later that fall. His father, Allan Melville, was the son of Thomas Melville, member of the Boston Tea Party and a ranking American officer in the Revolutionary War.

melville 5When Allan was in his early 20’s he started a fancy goods import business in NYC that became very successful. He sailed to Europe many times to source products; his journal indicates he traveled over 48,000 miles in 22 years (that wanderlust proved to be genetic).

melville 15Allen and Maria married in 1814 in the Dutch Reformed Church in Albany on the corner of N. Pearl and Orange streets (the same building you see today, erected in 1798) and the church  attended by Alexander Hamilton when he was in Albany with his wife, Eliza. Allen moved the business to Albany, but it didn’t thrive. Maria was reluctant to go to NYC, and they moved to Boston, but business competition was fierce. Finally in 1818, Maria agreed to move to New York, where Herman was born in 1819.

Both Allan and Maria were, to put it bluntly, snobs. They never felt they were able to assume the position in society in New York to which they both felt they were entitled. (She was descended from a long line of Dutch aristocracy and they were both descendants of Revolutionary War heroes.) This sentiment, coupled with disastrous investments by Allan and a nationwide economic downturn, forced their return to Albany in 1830.

The family lived in several houses on Broadway between 1830 and 1833, including an upscale house on the corner of Broadway and Steuben. Allan went to work for his brother-in-law Peter. Chafing under Peter’s control, yet still struggling under great debt, he borrowed money and established a fur and cap store on Broadway.

melville 14Herman seems to have thrived in Albany; he continued his education at the Albany Academy (located in the Joseph Henry Building that houses the City School district offices today), roamed the countryside, watched the ships ply the Albany Basin and the Erie Canal lock, and spent time with his Melville and Gansevoort cousins in the Albany area and in the Berkshires.

Yet Allan’s business limped along during the Depression of 1832. On his return from an unsuccessful trip to secure merchandise on credit from NYC merchants, Allan fell ill and died.

Melville 16

mlville 4The family was almost penniless and besieged by creditors. They moved to a smaller house at 3 Clinton Square. What then followed for Herman was a 6 year cycle of intermittent enrollment at the Albany Classical Institute on N. Pearl St. and the Albany Academy and work – as a clerk for the State Bank (his uncle Peter was a Trustee), for the family business and later as a school teacher.

Melville 6Herman’s older brother, Gansevoort took over the family fur business after their father’s death; Herman went to work for him. Then in 1834 the factory that supplied the business, located near Beaver Creek in what is now Lincoln Park, was destroyed by fire. Gansevoort re-built and for a short time all was well and Herman re-enrolled in the Albany Academy. But again, the economy collapsed in the Panic of 1837. The family business went bankrupt and Herman, now 16, went to teach school in Lenox, Mass.

His sojourn in the Berkshires lasted only months and he returned to his mother’s house in Clinton Square. In 1838, his mother moved to Lansingburgh and Herman enrolled in the Lansingburgh Academy, earning a certificate as surveyor. He searched for permanent work, but was unsuccessful. He spent more time by the docks, and finally in June 1839, sailed as a cabin boy on ship setting off for Liverpool.

In 1841 he signed on to his first whaling ship, the Achusnet, and journeyed to the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific. He sailed and roamed the South Seas for about 4 years, came home and started writing.

melville 2His greatest novel “Moby Dick” was written in 1851. And without it we would not have the ubiquitous string of coffee houses, named after the Chief Mate, Starbuck, from ” Moby Dick” (the name was selected by the founders- a history teacher, an English teacher and a writer).


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Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Edmonia Lewis


Edmonia was born in Greenbush and even though she left the Albany area, moving to an area outside Buffalo  at a young age, when she was orphaned, she maintained close ties to the City.

In 1875 there was a large reception/testimonial for William H. Johnson, the most prominent Albany Afro- American abolitionist and diligent worker for the rights of Afro-Americans after the Civil War.

The gathering was held at the AME Church on Hamilton St. (still there today, just below Lark). During the reception, Mr. Johnson was presented with a bust of Senator Charles Sumner by Ms. Lewis. (Sumner had been a leading proponent of rights for the freed Afrro-Americans in the post Civil War era during Reconstruction.)

Mr. Johnson was so very pleased with the bust and admiring of the skill and talent of the Ms. Lewis, the bust was exhibited at the Atlanta World’s Fair in 1895. He subsequently donated it to the Frederick Douglass Hospital in Philadelphia, shortly after it opened in 1897.

Here’s  more about Lewis from a February 1, 2017 article by Brigit Katz:

After being orphaned, Lewis lived with a tribe of  Chippewas (Ojibwa), her mother’s family. When Lewis was just 15 years old, she enrolled in Oberlin College, a private liberal arts school in Ohio. Slavery would still be legal in the United States for another six years when Lewis started Oberlin, and Al Jazeera reports that at the time, the college was one of few institutions that would enroll African American students.

But Lewis’ education came to an abrupt and violent end in 1863 when she was accused of poisoning two of her white roommates. Lewis was forced to stand trial, and though she was ultimately acquitted, she was attacked by a mob of white vigilantes, and ultimately left Oberlin before graduating, “in part, due to harassment,” the Edmonia Lewis Center for Women and Transgender People at Oberlin writes, as Talia Lavin noted in The Toast.

Robert Gould Shaw

Undefeated by this devastating incident, Lewis moved to Boston and went on to secure an apprenticeship with Edward A. Brackett, a well-connected Boston sculptor. There, Hill writes, Lewis crafted sculptures of well-known abolitionists, like Charles Sumner, Wendell Phillips and Robert Gould Shaw, who lead the 54th Massachusetts, the Afro-American regiment memorialized in the movie Glory. These works proved quite popular, and Lewis was able to use the profits from her sales to travel to Europe. She visited London, Paris, and Florence, before ultimately settling in Rome.

tumblr_inline_mxvjknosRH1rdmtifIn Italy, Lewis fell in with a group of American women sculptors, who were drawn to the country’s abundance of fine, white marble. Lewis’ sculptures stood out from that of her contemporaries, in part because her work often nodded to Native American and African American culture.  The Old Arrow Maker, for example, shows a Dakota woman plaiting a mat, while her father carves an arrowhead from jasper. The sculpture references a scene from “The Song of Hiawatha,” a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Lewis’ life across the Atlantic has obscured many details from her autobiography, but Lavin notes that she was buried in London in 1907. Though the majority of her work did not survive to the present-day, much of what remains can be found at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

http-americanartsiedu-images-1994-199417_1ajpgOne of Lewis’ most famous sculptures ), The Death of Cleopatra, is among the sculptures on display there. Rediscovered in the 1970s after it went missing for almost a century, the work depicts the Egyptian queen draped over her throne, moments after her death. When the sculpture was first featured at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, some critics were shocked by its realism. Others, Google’s Arts & Culture Institute reports, regarded it as the most impressive American sculpture at the exhibition

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Happy Birthday Frederic Remington – NYS Civil Servant

Yes… it’s true. Frederic Remington, legendary Western artist, began his professional artistic career while living in Albany and working as a NYS clerk.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz14463115_1098902510158010_1571781977939561995_nHe was born in Canton NY on October 4, 1861; the family then moved to Ogdensburg. After high school he became the first (and only, for the time) student to attend art school at Yale, but his father became ill, and he returned home after a couple of semesters. Upon the death of his father his uncle found him a well-paying job (about $1,200/year) as a clerk for State Government in Albany.

During those years, 1880 -1882, city directories list his address as 142 State St. (1 building down from Eagle), about where the Renaissance Hotel (a/k/a DeWitt Clinton) is located today.zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz14595687_1098902660157995_716157162025590146_n

In 1881, Fred (as he was called) took a vacation out West with a friend and was smitten. He returned to Albany and worked on sketches from the trip. He submitted one to Harper’s Weekly (allegedly on a piece of wrapping paper) and it was accepted for a February 1882 issue.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz14523198_1098902923491302_6247921815322569543_nUsing a legacy from his father, he cleared out of Albany and by March 1883 Remington purchased a ranch in Peabody Kansas. That didn’t work out so well, but he kept on drawing for Harper’s and within about 5 years became an artist of major repute, both in the U.S. and across the world.

The moral of the story? NEVER underestimate the talents of a NYS civil servant.



Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

James Fenimore Cooper and Albany

Although James Fenimore Cooper is closely  associated with Cooperstown, since it was founded by his father William, Cooper had very close ties with Albany.

As young man he was sent to Albany to be tutored, along with several other young men, by the Rector of St. Peter’s Church. His son, Paul, was born in Albany in 1824 and was one of the founders of the law firm, Cooper, Erving and Savage. His son, James Fenimore Cooper (named after his grandfather) continued in the firm.

We’ve been unable to identify exactly where Cooper and his family lived in his adult years while in Albany. We’ve heard various locations downtown, but there is an elusive snippet of info that leads us to think he may have lived somewhere in the country.. near Madison and Ontario.

When his son Paul started practicing law in Albany in the early 1850’s he initially lived at 126 State St., then purchased a house on Chapel St. By the 1880s, he was living on “Millionaire’s Row”, that portion of Elk St. just above Eagle St. His son James was quite wealthy and lived in a mansion, now demolished, on Western Ave., opposite the downtown U Albany campus. (It is, of course, now a parking lot.)

If you want to read a really interesting Cooper book, try “Satanstoe”. It’s semi-autobiographical and there are fascinating descriptions of Albany in the mid and late 1700s.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor