How Albany’s Celery King Transformed the Victorian Thanksgiving Table

It’s time to take a look back in time to an Albany Thanksgiving table in the 1860s. Most of the foods would be familiar – turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, biscuits and, importantly- celery!! Yes – it wasn’t a Thanksgiving without celery. Really.

Why celery? It’s was a fussy, difficult to cultivate vegetable. As a result it was an expensive treat. (A food blogger – Hannah Arndt Anderson calls it the “Avocado Toast” of the Victorian Age.) And because it was such a luxury, it was displayed proudly on the Thanksgiving dinner table in a glass vase, stalk end down, leaves up. The wealthy always had intricately carved crystal vases (the really rich had sterling silver celery vases), but by the 1850s pressed glass started to be manufactured and celery vases for the masses were within the reach of the middle class. Cooks cleaned and scraped raw stalks, and then put them in cold water in the vases. The celery was a symbol of prestige and confirmed a family’s status as the celery vase was passed around the table. Etiquette books of the time identify where the celery should be placed in a table-setting.

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Enter Albany’s Theophilus Roessle

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Roessle was born 1811 in Germany and emigrated to the U.S. in 1825. He came to Albany penniless. He said he was offered a place to say by the father of match girl he met on the street. The next morning he borrowed a shovel from the old man, found work and was paid a meager sum. But he was off and running towards making his fortune.

Back in Germany his father was a market gardener. Roessle worked at odd jobs for about 5 years and finally leased property near the Western Turnpike from his employer, Dr. Wendell, and started a market garden. Over time he learned landscaping and saved every penny.

Roessle began to buy land along the Albany-Schenectady Turnpike (now Central Avenue between the city line and Wolf Road) and continued farming. His cash crop was celery, which had been a notoriously finicky item to grow. But grow it did for Roessle. By 1840 he was selling a thousand bunches a day, mostly to restaurants in Albany and Saratoga, but as far south as the Fulton Market in NYC. He began with 7 acres and soon had over 100, devoted almost exclusively to celery.

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(This area would later become the hamlet of Roessleville. As his wealth increased, Theophilus Roessle built a large, elegant Italianate mansion, the entrance road flanked by stone lions, near present-day Elmhurst Ave. The Mansion is long since gone.)

Roessle then embarks on a new career. Around 1850 he buys the Delavan House hotel in Albany on Broadway, near the train station. (Having spent much time selling produce to the hotel he thought he could make a better profit than the current owner, Edward Delavan.)* Roessle’s celery became legendary far and wide across the country as travelers passed through Albany and stayed at the Delavan. It becomes the premier hotel in the city. (The Roessle family sold the Delavan in the early 1890s and it was, sadly, destroyed in a horrible fire in 1894. The destruction of the hotel paved the way for the construction of Union Station.)

Meanwhile Roessle knew so much about celery, he literally writes the book, “How to Cultivate and Preserve Celery” in 1860. Farmers everywhere started to grow celery using the Roessle method. But Roessle kept growing celery (there’s an ad in an Albany paper in 1876 in which he advertises 200,000 bunches for sale).

Roessle also continues the hotel business, acquiring and substantially improving and enlarging the Fort William Henry Hotel in Lake George, and later taking over the Arlington Hotel in Washington, D.C., known as one of the most opulent and exclusive hotels in the District.

Roessle’s hotels were huge successes, which is a good thing, since by now everyone in the country was growing celery and it was no longer the “thing” it had once been. Celery had now become accessible to the masses.. it’s a huge deal. There’s a celery frenzy. All sorts of celery recipes make their way into cookbooks of the late 1800s. (I was raised by grandmother who fed us stewed and creamed celery in the 1950s – a particular unappealing holdover from the late 1890s when anything was fair game for inclusion in a white sauce.)

Celery vases were relegated to back cupboards and celery stalks took their rightful place on “relish dishes” with pickles and green olives (which became the newest thing, shipped from California) on Thanksgiving tables by the early 1900s. (According to food historians, the next – and only appearance- of the upright celery stalk is in the Bloody Mary cocktail in the 1950s.)

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Theophilus Roessle died in 1890, He’s buried in the South Ridge of Albany Rural Cemetery; a massive granite shaft marks his grave. (Paula Lemire, the Cemetery Historian, says she’s actually seen celery, rather than flowers, left at his gravesite.)

*Roessle was far more than just the celery king and hotel mogul. There are strong indications he was an active, albeit somewhat silent supporter of the anti-slavery movement in Albany. He had a close relationship with Edward Delavan, the previous owner of the hotel and a wealthy abolitionist. Stephen Myers, the head of the Underground Railroad in Albany worked at the Delavan. If you look through old city directories, many of the Black men involved in the city’s anti-slavery movement worked in some capacity at the Delavan. Additionally, there was a very close relationship between Roessle and Adam Blake, son of slave, who first owned the Congress Hotel (where the Capitol is located today) and who then owned the Kenmore Hotel on N. Pearl. When Blake died the flag on the Delavan House was flown at half staff.

Julie O’Connor (thanks to Paula Lemire for her help)

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National Dutch-American Day Albany

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November 16, is  National Dutch-American Heritage Day when we celebrate our Dutch roots. Without the Dutch there would probably be no Albany.

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We were discovered in 1609 by Henry Hudson, exploring for the Dutch East India Co. By 1624 there was a settlement surrounding Fort Orange.

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The village came to be known as Beverwyck (basically Beaverville). In 1664 the English came into possession of the entire New Netherlands colony and Beverwyck became Albany, but the streets of Albany retained their Dutch names for many years.

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When Martin Van Buren was elected our 8th president in 1837 his primary language was Dutch, although he’d been born in 1782, after the American Revolution. It was common in the early 1800s for there to be “English” schools in Albany where kids from Dutch speaking families could learn English. Into the 1880s there were still members of old Albany Dutch families who spoke Dutch at home (old habits die hard).

We are surrounded by our Dutch heritage in our place names, from Guilderland, to the Krumkill and Normanskill Creeks, to Feura Bush and Watervliet.

Few vestiges of our original Dutch architecture exist – the oldest is the Van Ostrand- Radcliffe house at 48 Hudson Ave. that dates back to the 1720s. (Johannes Van Ostrand came to Albany from a Dutch family outside Kingston and Johannes Radcliffe was the grandson of one of the original Dutch settler families and a British soldier who arrived to garrison the Fort.) Another is the Quackenbush House on Broadway, built in the 1730s – currently home of the Old English Pub. The Dutch style of building remained popular long Dutch officials left the Colony. Fort Crailo across the river was built in the Dutch style in 1707. There’s also the Ariaanje Coeymans House, Coeymans, built in the Dutch style circa 1700, the Peter Winne house in Bethlehem, the Yates House in Schenectady and the Van Loon house in Athens – all examples of original Dutch buildings.

We pay homage to our history through our more current architecture. – the fire House on Delaware Ave and the old AFD fire signal building are the best known examples of our Dutch heritage, although built in the 20th century.

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Today, Albany pays tribute to its Dutch Heritage during the Tulip Festival every May when the streets are scrubbed in the old Dutch manner and we crown the Queen of the Dutch flowers.

 

While the official presence of the Dutch in America ended over 300 years ago, they brought us food, traditions and words we use in everyday life. Santa Claus was originally the Dutch Sinterklaus (a/k/a St. Nicholas). We eat yummy Dutch foods: waffles, donuts and cookies, and use Dutch ovens to cook. Where would we be without the words: aardvark, bazooka, brandy, caboose, coleslaw, cruller, dollar. hooky, iceberg, pickle and smuggle? And there’s “Dutch courage” (alcohol aided bravery), a stern “Dutch Uncle” and “Going Dutch” (homage to legendery Dutch parsimony).

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You might be surprised how strong and pervasive Dutch roots are in America and how many people have Dutch ancestors despite the relatively few original Dutch settlers. Famous Americans with Dutch roots include FDR, Tiger Woods, Dick Van Dyke, Marlon Brando, Robert DiNiro, Christine Aguilera, Anderson Cooper, Walter Cronkite, Henry Fonda, Humphrey Bogart, Diane Keaton,Jane Fonda, Taylor Swift , the Kardashians and the Boss.

Albany’s Gertrude Valentine – World War I volunteer – killed in France

There are scores of World War I soldiers buried at Albany Rural Cemetery. Some, like sixteen year old James Armstrong and pilot George Goodwin died in the War. Others lived to serve in World War II. There are also several Army nurses buried here.

In Section 27, Lot 16, a large dark granite cenotaph bears the following inscription:

“In Loving Memory of Gertrude Crissey Valentine
Born April 8, 1890
Died in France June 11, 1919
while serving her God and Country
Buried in Le Mans Cemetery
American Officers Row No. 177 Sec A”

“She died in the line of duty.”

Gertrude was raised at 80 Chestnut Street in Albany. Her father, Clarence Valentine, was a partner in a firm making such wooden products as packing boxes, moldings, shingles, as well as felt weather stripping. Gertrude attended the State College for Teachers’ Model School from kindergarten, then went on to Vassar College where she graduated in 1913. She returned to Albany and continued her education at the State College with plans for a teaching career. She was also involved in local musical societies as newspapers mention young Miss Valentine playing the piano and coronet at various social functions.

During the War, she went to England and then to France with the YMCA. At the close of the War, while still serving as a canteen worker, she was killed in an automobile accident. Her grave is now in Plot C, Row 7, Grave 13, Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, Fere-en-Tardenois, France.

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Between 25,000 – 30,00 American women served overseas in World War I. Over 100 were women  from Albany.  They included nurses working at field hospitals and Base Hospital 33 (established by Albany Hospital-now Albany Med-in Portsmouth England, the Red Cross, the YWCA and the Salvation Army, many of whom worked close to combat areas.Gertrude Valentine was one of approximately 125 American women who died in the line of duty in the Great War.

Never forget that women who couldn’t even vote went off to war to serve their country.

By Paula Lemire from the Facebook Page Albany Rural Cemetery – Beyond the Graves

Albany’s Own Curmudgeon – the Decorated Veteran who Hated War – Sgt. Andy Rooney

He was born in 1919, raised on Partidge St., ( the downtown UAlbany campus is there today), graduated from Boy’s Academy, went to Colgate and was drafted in 1942.

When his unit was shipped to England he started submitting articles to the “Stars and Stripes” – the military newspaper. Soon he was assigned to the Army’s press corps. Over the the course of his service he reported on the break-out from St. Lo during the Normandy invasion, covered the liberation of Paris, flew with B-17 bomber crews over Germany, and was one of the first journalists to report the liberation of the concentration camps first hand.

Afte the War Andy and his wife Margaret Howard (a local girl) returned to Albany where he spent 2 years on local radio, and then began his broadcasting career in NYC. He spent over 3 decades on “60 Minutes”. On any Sunday you could love his commentary and be outraged the next. His views were sometimes out of step with times. In 1990 he was suspended for 3 months for perceived racist and homophobic comments. Yet he’d been jailed while in basic training for sitting in the back of a segregated bus with Black patrons in the 1940s.

Andy continued to write, producing over a dozen books – mostly best sellers.

He spent his summers at the family camp at Rensselaerville in the Hilltowns for many years.

Andy died in 2011.

Andy was a self-avowed pacifist. He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal for his heroic and meritorious service in World War II, yet wanted Veteran’s Day to be called, “No More War Day”.

A Glamour Girl and Her Pig

Barbara Pepper was born Marion Pepper in 1915 at the Astor Hotel in the heart of New York’s theatrical section. Her father, David M. Pepper, was the desk man at the hotel. In 1920, David accepted a management job at Albany’s Hampton Hotel, and moved to this city along with his wife Sally and his 5-year-old daughter, Barbara. The child was enrolled and became an honor roll student at School 2.

Pepper quit his Albany job in 1928 and moved back to New York City and the Astor Hotel. Barbara grew up surrounded by glamour girls, show people, and gangsters. In 1930, her parents tried to remove her from these bad influences by enrolling her at Fairfax Hall, Virginia, a junior college and preparatory school for girls.

On her first weekend home, instead of returning to school, Barbara went around the corner to where Lee Shubert was auditioning chorus girls. Shubert didn’t recognize the daughter of his old friend, Dave Pepper. He saw a cute kid who could dance, and he signed her. Mom and Dad Pepper were beside themselves, but Shubert convinced them to give the girl a chance.

At age 15, Barbara Pepper was in show business. She quickly became one of the White Way’s best known showgirls. Barbara starred in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1932 and in two of George White’s “Scandals,” where she was the youngest comedienne on Broadway.

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The next year, Eddie Cantor dragged her to Hollywood for a bit part as a showgirl in “Roman Scandals.” She settled in California, briefly becoming a Goldwyn Girl, where she befriended a young Lucille Ball. Pepper never quite achieved stardom, but still became a movie mainstay, appearing in over 20 films, mostly in one-dimensional supporting roles or bit parts as a flashy dame.

Pepper’s management executed a major push to enhance her career in 1937, with a spate of ads and publicity stunts.

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The latter included a trip to Albany, where she revisited her old school and met with her old teacher. Still, her roles remained consigned to small, often-uncredited parts.

That same year saw a marriage to Leon Janney, a 19-year-old actor; it lasted all of three weeks. 07-1937-pepper-mar-e1541526950998

 

Pepper appeared in the 1940 Hitchcock film, “Foreign Correspondent.”

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The actress made one more return to her childhood stomping grounds, in 1941, as a player in the Hollywood Sweater Girl Revue, at the Palace Theater.

 

After her disastrous first marriage, Pepper took up with Warner’s screen star Craig Reynolds. Reynolds would become Hollywood’s first Marine to be wounded in WWII. They married in 1943.

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Reynolds died in a 1949 motorbike accident. Following this, Barbara spiraled down into depression and alcoholism.

In 1951, after Bea Benaderet proved unavailable, Barbara was seriously considered for the part of “Ethel Mertz” on her friend Lucille Ball’s classic sitcom “I Love Lucy” However, with William Frawley – whose fondness for the bottle was legendary – already cast as “Fred Mertz,” executive producer Desi Arnaz felt he couldn’t take the chance of having two problem drinkers in pivotal roles on the same show.

Forced to find work as a laundress and waitress in between sparse acting parts, Pepper’s weight quickly ballooned and her voice turned gravelly. For the rest of the decade, Barbara would surface only occasionally in small comic roles on television and in films. She appeared a number of times on “I Love Lucy,” “Perry Mason,” “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” and “The Jack Benny Program,” and also had a brief appearance in 1963’s “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”

Barbara Pepper’s late-career break came when she debuted as Doris Ziffel in “Petticoat Junction” (1964). This led to a recurring part in 30 episodes of “Green Acres” (1965-1968), where Doris played the mother of Arnold, the TV-watching pig.

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Deteriorating health eventually forced her to relinquish the part during the 1968-1969 season, with actress Fran Ryan taking over the part. Pepper’s final screen appearance was in 1969’s “Hook, Line & Sinker,” in which she played Jerry Lewis’s secretary.

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Barbara Pepper died on July 18, 1969 in Panorama City, California, aged 54, from a coronary thrombosis.

The Douw Building: A Collateral Demolition

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The Douw Building was at 36 State Street, on the corner of Broadway. Built 1842, it once housed the mercantile establishment of Voickert Peter Douw. The Douw family history dates back to the days of the early Patroons. The site of the Douw building was in the family’s possession since the early days of Albany. They were descendants of the Van Rensselaers.

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In 1946, the building was sold to Honigsbaum’s, ending more than 200 years of ownership by Douw family. Occupants at time of sale included the Cordelia Shop, the Interstate Bus Terminal, the Post Office Cafeteria and the Dixson Shoe Rebuilders.

Whatever Honigsbaum’s plans were for the Douw Building, they were never realized.

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In 1961 it was again sold, this time to the adjacent Hampton Hotel. Occupants at that time included the Interstate Plaza Bus Terminal, Mike’s Food Market, the Interstate Luncheonette Restaurant, the White Eagle Bakery, and the Corner News. The Hampton said they planned on remodeling the building and using it as part of the hotel; this never came to be.

Meanwhile, in the early 1900’s, George Douglas Miller built an eight-story structure on part of his wife’s property on Beaver Street in the midst of the Hampton Hotel complex. The unique thing about Miller’s building, or folly, is that it never was occupied and was supposedly built to spite the Hampton Hotel. Thus its name, “Spite Building.”

Bob Stronach, Staff Writer for the Times-Union, picks up the story, from this article of August 12, 1969:

“The Beaver Street building of the hotel complex had a beautiful roof garden with a magnificent view of the Hudson River Valley. But Miller erected his building alongside it, hoping the hotel would buy his structure as an annex. When the hotel owners refused to purchase the addition. Miller raised his roof so it blocked the roof garden view.

“Still unbeaten, the Hampton owners added a story to the roof garden, and once again there was a delightful view. But then, the undaunted Miller again raised his roof and shut out the view. At this point, the hotel owners quit and the Beaver Street property was never used again – except as a cote for the Plaza pigeons.

“Since then, “Miller’s Folly” has become a fire hazard, with a caved-in roof and broken windows. Mayor Corning said the structure now belongs to Albany County and is being demolished to eliminate the fire hazard. What will be done with the land it stands on is not yet known, he added.

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“State Broadway Corp of 38 State Street, purchased the Hampton Hotel last January and signed a lease with the Albany Housing Authority to renovate the complex and operate it as a public housing facility for senior citizens. The hotel units are expected to be converted into about 100 one-bedroom apartments.

““The important thing,” spokesman for State Broadway said, “is that the mayor, Mr. Bender (housing authority director), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the State Broadway Corp. have worked diligently toward alleviating the housing shortage for the elderly and all the above have every confidence that these efforts will be fruitful.”

“State Broadway Corp. also owns “The Douw Building” at State and Broadway, which had belonged to Miller’s wife. The corporation is tearing it down.

“Demolition teams removing “Miller’s Folly” said the bottom half of the narrow building was “solidly built” but the upper half was unfinished inside and quite unsafe.”

Miller never got as far as installing steps in his building; progress to the top was only obtained by a series of connecting ladders.

No reason was ever given for the demolition of the Douw Building. However, we can probably assume that because the Hampton had failed to renovate or use the structure, when it became property of the Albany Housing Authority, it simply became a white elephant, too costly to renovate.

Becker the Wrecker razed Douw Building in the fall of 1969. It was one of Albany’s oldest surviving structures.

By Al Quaglieri from hisAlbany blog, https://alcue.wordpress.com/author/alcue/

 

 

The Boys from Albany – Not just names on the Vietnam Wall

There are 37 names on the Vietnam Wall from Albany, NY.

USA Capt. Thomas J. Bergin, 30, 3/14/64
USAF Maj. Theodore R. Loeschner, Jr., 37, 4/24/65
USMC Pfc. Hans Jorg Rudolph Lorenz, 21, 4/26/66
USA Spec 4 Keith Knott, 19, 5/9/66
USA Pfc. Robert G. Burrell, 19, 8/2/66
USA Pfc. Arthur J. McNally, 23, 10/17/66
USMC Lance Corp. William F. Ditoro, 22, 1/7/67
USA Spec 4 Richard J. Mosley, 20, 1/27/67
USA Spec 4 Donald J. Sheehy, 20, 5/5/67
USMC Lance Cpl. Rich Rockenstyre, 18, 8/31/67
USMC Capt. William M. Van Antwerp, Jr. 30, 9/16/67
USA Pfc. Frank Maleca, 20, 10/13/67
USA Spec 4 Ralph J. DiPace, 20, 10/21/67
USA Spec 4 Gerald H. Slingerland, 10/26/67 (a day after his 19th birthday)
USA Spec. 4 Robert J. Winters, 22, 11/9/67
USA Spec. 4, Edward A. Finlay, 19, 12/6/67
USA Corp. Willam M. Seabast, 22, 1/31/68
USMC GY Sgt. Anthony N. Valente, 38, 2/27/68
USMC Cpl. Bertram A. Deso, 20, 3/1/68
USMC Lance Cpl. Michael G. DeMarco, 21, 4/11/68
USMC Corp. John J. Vennard, 34, 4/17/68
USA Staff Sgt, Robert J. Smith, 22, 4/18/68
USMC Pfc John C. Fiffe, 18, 5/8/68
USN, Fireman, Joseph S. Ott, 20, 7/14/68
USMC Pfc. Kevin J. McArdle, 18, 8/18/68
USMC Maj. Harold S. Lonergan, 39, 2/23/69
USA Spec 5 Christopher Brow, 23, 2/26/69
USMC Lance Cpl. Richard J. Leahy, 22, 3/6/69
USMC Pfc. 1st class, Clifford G. LaBombard, 19, 4/15/69
USA Spec 4 Charles Chandler, 20, 4/18/69
USMC Pfc. John W Gladney, 19, 7/4/69
USA, Spec 4, Thomas K. Ryan, 18, 8/2/69
USA 1st Lt. Stanley A. Brown, 23, 11/1/69
USA Spec 4 Lewis C. Ouellette, 19, 4/13/70
USA Corp. Samuel W. Williams, 21, 7/26/70
USA Staff Sgt. Daniel E. Nye, 25, 11/28/71
USN Lt. Ralph P. Dupont, Jr., 24, 5/16/72
USMC Lance Cpl. Ashton N. Loney, 5/15/75

They came from all neighborhoods – Pine Hills, Arbor Hill, North Albany, West Hill,  New Scotland and the South End. They lived on  Myrtle Ave, Livingston Ave.,  Clinton Ave., Second Ave., Emmett St., Madison Ave.,  First St., Washington Ave., Lark  Dr., Magnolia Terrace, Hunter Ave.,  So. Main Ave. and Ontario St.

A very small number were college graduates.  Most had just completed high school when they joined the service – they were graduates of Albany High, Philip Schuyler, Milne, Cardinal McCloskey, and VI.

Most were impossibly young… 18, 19, 20. (There is an old Bellamy Boys lyric, “..they sent him off to Vietnam on his senior trip”.)

Some enlisted, some were drafted and, and in the time honored Albany tradition, several had brushes with the law and Albany’s justice system offered them the “choice” – jail or the Army.

Their deaths span 11 years.  The first to be killed was an Army captain “observer” who died in 1964.  One was an MP  who died defending the US Embassy during the Tet offensive of 1968.  Most died  in the harsh and unforgiving provinces of Vietnam during the War’s brutal years of 1967 -1969. One was a medic who went borrowed a gun and went into save other men; he and the men he tried to save died on that mission. The last one to die  was a Marine killed  in the Mayaguez “Incident” by the  Khmer Rouge in 1975. His body was never recovered.   He was not even a US citizen (he was from Trinidad, but his mom lived on Lark Drive).  His name, as well as the others killed in the “Incident”, are the last names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

An astonishing number died within their first 4 months in Vietnam. Johnny Gladney, who was a year ahead of me in Jr. High and High School,  was killed after being in Vietnam less than a month – on the 4th of July.

During  the 10 months of my junior year in high school, 15 boys died.  This is Smalbany, so you always knew the boy, or you knew his sisters/brothers  or  his cousins, or a friend of a friend.

The City moved on, but underneath, people felt a sadness and then  they went numb – just like the rest of the country. The killing seemed inexorable.  There was no way to stop it – it went on and on and on.

They are more than names.. each one has a story.  One was a long distance runner who could fly like the wind.  One was an avid reader; he won a Boy’s Club prize for  reading the most books when he was  11. Another was fascinated by flying, so he became a helicopter pilot. Some were quiet and reserved, some were outgoing and  boisterous.

8  boys were from the same class in Albany High and all members of the same Hi-Y club,  They all enlisted  in the Marine Corps.  The bond between 2 of the boys was so strong, that after the death of one, the other, sensing his own imminent death, begged to be buried next to his buddy when his time came.  They rest together in St. John’s Lutheran Cemetery – one Catholic and one Protestant.  A third boy from that same group died a year later.

Here are pictures of some of the boys/men.

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Albany’s Own Curmudgeon – the Decorated Veteran who Hated War – Sgt. Andy Rooney

He was born in 1919, raised on Partidge St., ( the downtown UAlbany campus is there today),  attended Boy’s Academy , went to Colgate and was drafted in 1942.

When his unit was shipped to England he started submitting articles to the “Stars and Stripes” – the military newspaper. Soon he was assigned to the Army’s press corps. Over the the course of his service he reported on the break-out from St. Lo during the Normandy invasion, covered the liberation of Paris, flew with B-17 bomber crews over Germany, and was one of the first journalists to report the liberation of the concentration camps first hand.

Afte the War Andy and his wife Margaret Howard (a local girl) returned to Albany where he spent 2 years on local radio, and then began his broadcasting career in NYC. He spent over 3 decades on “60 Minutes”. On any Sunday you could love his commentary and be outraged the next. His views were sometimes out of step with times. In 1990 he was suspended for 3 months for perceived racist and homophobic comments. Yet he’d been jailed while in basic training for sitting in the back of a segregated bus with Black patrons in the 1940s.

He spent his summers at the family camp at Rensselaerville in the Hilltowns for many years. When his TV schedule slowed, he spent more time in the area. You could find him often in bookstore in Delaware Plaza (We were the twice a week regulars in the early 2000s.)

Andy died in 2011.

Andy was a self-avowed pacifist. He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal for his heroic and meritorious service in World War II, yet wanted Veteran’s Day to be called, “No More War Day”.

World War I and the Mystery of Albany’s Lady in Memorial Grove

4A century ago in 1918, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the Great War ended. The War defined a generation. For the first time fathers, brothers, sons and uncles had gone off to battle in a place faraway across an ocean. It was the first time technology – tanks, airplanes, and chemical weapons – had been used to kill.

In early 1919 most of the men from Albany returned from the brutal war.* Black soldiers Henry Johnson and Alfred Adams (both from Orange St.), who fought with the Harlem Hellfighters 369th “Negro” regiment returned, after having been awarded the Croix de Guerre by France. (Johnson was just recently awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.)

But others did not. Approximately 75 men from the city of Albany were part of the 116,000 men who died during the War. (Parker Dunn** – Medal of Honor recipient- was one of those Albany men killed in combat.)

Albany, like other cities, towns and villages across the country, considered how best to honor those men. Some places erected traditional monuments which often took the form of a statue of a “doughboy” – the term for American soldier in World War I – or victory arches. Others established parks and spaces that would benefit the living. Albany took a different approach, based in part upon one of the forgotten aspects of the aftermath of World War I.

Military and government leaders refused to allow the American dead to be buried at home***. There would be no funerals and burials in family plots. Many men had been buried on the spot where they were killed. Others ended in huge military cemeteries in France. This horrified most Americans.

2Albany’s response was to create a memorial that resembled the peace and greenery found in a cemetery, dedicating the ground in the name of those who died.  It would be called Memorial Grove. By 1920 the City decided to use land it already owned, on the corner of New Scotland and South Lake, just south of the Dudley Observatory, west of Albany Hospital and opposite the newly built Troop B Armory. Families, especially the Gold Star mothers**** would have a place to go. It would be a calm and serene area, screened from the streets. In an area where there was not much development.

Today the land is mostly level, but when the Grove was established it was much different. There was a large hill and then moving down the slope was a “bowl” of sorts; a natural amphitheater. At the top of the hill was Observatory and the Grove, much larger than it is today, below. The grounds of the Grove were centered around the “bowl”. Oak trees (one for each man who died) were planted (planting trees in honor of those who died was a common post-World War I practice). The Grove was landscaped with azaleas, rhododendrons and poppies. There would be a “Mound” to represent the graves of those killed in the War. The Grove would be a memorial to “serve both the living and the dead”.

And this is where our Albany history becomes murky; we’ve tried to piece together the sequence of events as best as we can.

In late 1920 the U.S and the Allied countries relented and agreed to return serviceman’s bodies from overseas, which would allow them to be buried in family cemetery plots. This meant that the design of the Grove would change. In late 1921 the Albany Common Council appropriated $40,000 for completion of the Grove, with something other than “The Mound”. This is where the mystery begins. Common Council minutes indicate that the City Board of Contract and Supply was authorized to erect a monument/memorial in the Grove. But then the trail grows cold.

4.1 (2)There is nothing more in Albany official records and sparse detail in the newspapers of the time. A 1921 article refers to an “altar or a small monument” to be erected, inscribed with the names of those who lost their lives. Veterans groups wanted something else and opposed the plan. But at some point it’s clear the Gold Star Mothers became involved and played a major role in the decision making. The November, 1922 Armistice Day ceremonies in Memorial Grove include a “dedication of the laying of the foundation of the shrine”.

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4.1What is unveiled on Armistice Day 1923 by the Gold Star Mothers is the statue of the lovely lady of the Grove that remains today. We don’t even know if she has an official name. She’s variously referred to as “Our Lady of Peace”, “The World War I Memorial”, “The Mother’s Monument” and “The Mother’s War Memorial”.

 

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We know she was sculpted (and probably designed) by a very famous sculptor and stone cutter, Attilio Picarrelli. He was one of 6 brothers who were superb marble carvers in great demand in the early 1900s. While Daniel Chester French designed the Lincoln Memorial, the brothers cut the stone. The stones were cut so well, piece by piece, in their studio in the Bronx that when they arrived in Washington D.C. all the sections fit together perfectly. The brothers are also responsible for the beautiful lions, Patience and Fortitude, that flank the entrance to the New York Public Library. Of all the brothers, Attilio was the most talented and a remarkable sculptor in his own right. He was responsible for the Maine Monument in Central Park in NYC and the Fireman’s Memorial, also in NYC on Riverside Drive. (President Roosevelt award the Jefferson Medal to Picarrelli in 1932 for his contribution to American art.)

However, we still have no idea how he was selected and why the memorial took the form of the lovely lady, whether city funded and how much she cost.

8.2BUT, we do have pretty good evidence that we know who served as the model. Audrey Munson was called “The American Venus”; she was the model for at least 60 major sculptures by over 20 American artists including Picarrelli and Daniel Chester French. She was the “It” girl of American art in the early days of the 20th century. (There’s a new book, “The Curse of Beauty” that tells the story of Audrey, the world’s first “supermodel”.) If you look closely at those statues, you can see the resemblance to the Lady in the Grove. Audrey even appeared on U. S. currency- the Winged Mercury dime and the Walking Liberty Half-dollar. The names of those killed in World War I were never inscribed on the foundation behind the Lady in the Grove as originally intended (we don’t know why). But the base in back of a statue, referred to sometimes as the sarcophagus, reads, ” That the memory of those who made the supreme sacrifice in the world war may remain forever fresh in the hearts of a grateful people”.

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9.1It appears there was a sense in the years after the statue was dedicated that she was not entirely sufficient as a memorial and we needed something more. In 1933 the City sponsored a competition for an additional memorial. A design for a large flagpole, inscribed with the names of the men from Albany who died in the Great War and embellished with symbolic Albany beavers was selected. The woman who won the competition was Gertrude Lathrop, an Albany native and well respected artist.***** Several years later the Fort Orange Post of the American Legion erected a new building on New Scotland Ave. and the Grove was complete.

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10Today the Fort Orange post building is gone; demolished for the Psych Center circa 1970, as are most of the oak trees; and there haven’t been poppies in 80 years and the azaleas have been gne since 1969. The flag pole can still be seen on the corner. Off to the side is the Lady of the Grove, almost out of sight.

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11 (2)For decades, into the 1980s, there were Veteran’s Day ceremonies in the Grove, but with the building of a multitude of monuments by the Empire State Plaza, their venue changed. But every Veteran’s Day you will find a memorial wreath placed in front of the the Lady of the Grove.

Despite her age, the Lady is is still beautiful – an example of womanly courage and fortitude in the face of the horrors of war. The sword, sheathed and pointed downward, denotes peace and is twined with laurels representing honor and glory. She holds a palm frond, representing victory.

We can find nothing similar in the country; although there are some Gold Star Mother monuments. there appears to be nothing like the Albany Lady of the Grove anywhere else in America. There are a few Gold Star Mother monuments remembering those from World War I, but nothing as beautiful as Albany’s Lady. She’s very very special; you should go take a look at her.

Another place in Albany where there should be an historic marker and she should be on the National Register of Historic Places.

And if you have any information about her, please message us so we can add to her story.)

*Several of the men from Albany died during the period 1918-1920 when an American force was sent to Archangel, Russia (north of Moscow on the Barents Sea) to fight the Bolsheviks after the Revolution.

** The bridge over the Hudson, the Dunn Memorial, is named after Private Dunn.

*** U.S. military leaders balked at a recovery effort. Initial estimates suggested that more than 70,000 men had been buried in temporary battlefield graves. U.S. allies, meanwhile, were horrified at the idea of Americans digging up their dead and shipping them home. The British government worried that its own people would demand the same for its more than 700,000 dead. French leaders envisioned ghoulish trains packed with bodies crossing their countryside, and argued that France had to concentrate on rebuilding, they banned removal of bodies for three years.

****During World War I the symbol of a service flag with a gold star was established, identifying families who had lost soldiers. Grieving women became known as “Gold Star” mothers and widows.

***** Gertrude was the sister of Dorothy Lathrop, the award-winning illustrator and writer of children’s books (we told you about her several months ago).

Thank you to Paula Lemire, Andrew Mace, Paul Nance and Rob Eaton who contributed to this article.

Miller’s Nook-Albany Rural Cemetery –

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Prior to the acquisition of the land by the Albany Cemetery Association between 1841 and 1844, a portion of the grounds in and around the south ravine was occupied by several buildings, most notably a mill and a small schoolhouse.

According to Charles Heisler, a past Superintendent of the Cemetery who compiled an extremely detailed handwritten record of all the land purchases that comprise the present Cemetery site, about half of the original acres purchased by the Albany Cemetery Association had been owned by John Hillhouse, a West Point graduate and the engineer who did some of the earliest survey work on the site.

Hillhouse had inherited his portion of the site from his father, Thomas, and John attended the little school on the south bank of what became Consecration Lake. This land is described as “the South Ridge from about Section 104 east to the Chapel and from the southern boundary north to Moordanaer’s Kill, the stream between the South and Middle Ridges.” He also left behind a detailed account of what existed on this land prior to the laying out of the Cemetery:

“The brook (called by the old Dutch inhabitants of the valley ‘Moordenaer’s kill,’ from a tradition of a murder committed near the bridge that crossed its mouth at the time the road between Albany and Troy ran along the river bank), originally hugged the base of the hills bounding the dell on its northerly side. The school-house stood directly on its bank on the south side, at the base of the most prominent of these hills, whose top was crowned with a lofty pine. The mill was further up the stream, on the same side with the school-house, just at the point where it emerged from the ravine and entered the open dell. A bridge now occupies its site. It was called the “old oil mill,” and was originally built by my father for the purpose of preparing oil-cake for the fattening of cattle. The house was for the miller’s use. There were two dams on the creek above for the supply of water for the mill, one at the bend just beyond the high bridge, the other on the site of the present dam at the outlet of the lake above. From the former the water was conveyed in an open plank race carried along the slope of the hill, and discharged through a long, high trough upon the over-shot wheel. The mill and dwelling were erected about 1816. How long they served their original purpose I am not able to say exactly, but probably some five or six years….

About 1829, the mill, having been leased to some parties for the manufacture of printers’ ink, the school, with its fixtures and dunce-block, was removed to the new school building, which my father built and which is still standing on the south side of the Cemetery avenue. The manufacture of ink not proving a success, the work was abandoned and the school-house became thereafter the home of one of the farm laborers, while the mill was given up to the bats and flying squirrels, and suffered to go to decay. In this state they continued until 1846, when, in the purchase made by Gov. Wm. L. Marcy and Thomas W. Olcott for the Albany Rural Cemetery, they became the property and passed into the possession of that most worthy association and fell before the tide of improvement.”

Nothing, of course, survives of the “old oil mill.” The last traces of it appear on the first published map of the Cemetery in 1845. Just to the north of Consecration Lake, a curved open space is identified as “Miller’s Nook” (now the area of the Spaulding and Springsteen family plots in Section 62, Lots 97 and 98) and the site of the present stone bridge is called “Mill Side Bridge.” By 1858, however, when “Churchill’s Guide Through The Albany Rural Cemetery” was published, these names had disappeared completely from the new map.

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1880s view of the area of the “old oil mill.” The stone bridge is just behind the large tree to the left of the fountain. The “Miller’s Nook” is on the right just behind the man on the shore of Consecration Lake.
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The waterfall on the Moordanaer’s Kill.
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The Hillhouse family plot in Section 4, Lot 1. The large monument on the left is reportedly the first granite one erected in the Cemetery.

From Albany Rural Cemetery- Beyond the Graves