THE 1867 NATIONALS OF ALBANY

 

 

 

 

 

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Though not as well known as the 1867 Nationals Club of Washington D.C., their namesake team to the north in Albany, New York played ball in northern New York and Massachusetts during the same year that the Nats of Washington D.C. embarked on their notable ‘grand tour of the west.’ This rare triple plate albumen panoramic photo shows the Albany Base Ball Club in all their splendor. In this feature, our columnist William Ryczek tells us about that team when they made their mark just after the Civil War.

The photo of the 1867 Nationals of Albany on this web site shows a team unfamiliar to many who have studied the early days of baseball. There was a famous National Club from Washington, D.C., that undertook baseball’s first western tour in 1867, journeying throughout the Midwest and bringing top-flight baseball to areas where it was unknown. Albany’s Nationals were far less renowned, rarely ventured far from home and their main goal was to compete with the Albany Knickerbockers for supremacy of the city.

Albany, the capital of New York State, is located on the west bank of the Hudson River, approximately 140 miles north of New York City. In the first half of the 19th century, it was one of the 10 largest cities in the United States, but by 1860 as Americans moved west, it was no longer so ranked. In 1870, its population was approximately 69,000, with an economy centered on beer, banking, heavy industry and lumber. In 1865, there were roughly 4,000 sawmills in the Albany area.

The National Base Ball Club of Albany was formed May 6, 1864, with H.A. Carpenter as president. (Carpenter, still with the team in 1867, is holding the score book in the panorama photo above.) The club split six decisions in its first season and was much more active during the next two summers.

In 1865, the Nationals played 14 games on spikes and three on skates —  a version of baseball that achieved a degree of popularity in the 1860s. Ice skating was all the rage during that decade, and was combined with baseball for a game in which the players donned skates and the rules were slightly amended to account for the difficulties of playing on frozen ponds. Players were allowed to over-skate the bases, and a second catcher sometimes was employed to capture pitches that skidded past the first backstop.

The Nationals were mediocre on both land and ice in 1865, going 8-6 in traditional games and winning once, losing once and playing one tie on skates. The team stayed close to home, playing mostly in Albany and Troy. In fierce competition for local honors, the Nationals split two games each with the Knickerbockers and Live Oaks, who along with the Nationals were the three best teams in Albany. The Victory Club of nearby Troy and the Unions of Lansingburgh (a Troy suburb) also provided stiff competition.

In January 1866, the Nationals beat the Knickerbockers on ice but lost twice to them during the summer, giving the latter the championship of the city. The Nationals won 11 of 15 games in 1866, losing only to the Knickerbockers, the Unions of Morrisania and the Excelsiors of Brooklyn. Although the Excelsiors were not as strong as they had been during their glorious 1860 season, the Unions were one of the best teams in the New York area. While the Nationals couldn’t match the best New York City nines, they dominated lesser teams, including a 113-15 win over the Fremont Club of Fishkill.

The first problem the Albany clubs faced before taking the field for the 1867 season was finding a field. The Nationals spent a fair amount of money and time fitting up the Rensselaer Park Grounds only to be refused permission to use it. The Skating Park was another possibility, but eventually the club elected to play its home games on the Washington Parade Ground, a portion of Washington Park bounded by Willett and Knox streets and State Street and Madison Avenue. The principal shortcoming of the field was a deep ditch behind the catcher. Wild pitches frequently landed in the ditch, and the press repeatedly urged that it be filled.

The first reported game of the Nationals took place May 28 against the Live Oaks, a junior club ostensibly composed of youths 16 and under, and resulted in a 26-21 Nationals win. There was little activity in June, the biggest news on the Albany baseball scene being some unpleasantness involving the umpire of a Knickerbockers game. The 1860s are usually recalled as the “gentleman era,” but on this occasion (and apparently others previously) one of the Knickerbockers behaved in a most ungentlemanly manner.

“The Knickerbockers nine do not deserve to have an umpire act for them while this man is among their number,” said the Albany Evening Times. A few days later, the newspaper commented, “We have seen quick-tempered players behave petulantly, but the Knicks stand alone among clubs which have always borne a reputable name in having on their nine a deliberate violator of the proprieties of base ball.”

Albany fans also came in for criticism because the treatment of visiting players was not always delivered in the impartial spirit so prized by baseball’s most ardent supporters. Fans were expected to maintain a respectable decorum and applaud the good play of both teams with equal enthusiasm. As the summer wore on, the Evening Times expressed its disappointment with the deportment of local spectators The Albany crowds had always been, it stated, the most respectable of those seen in any city other than Utica, “But [their] character is altering rapidly” the paper said. “During the last two matches played on the Parade Ground, a crowd of blackguards on right field have stoned the Utica and National fielders. An example should be made of some of those brutes. A short visit of one or two of them to a building plainly visible from the scene of their misdemeanor would have a wonderful salutary effect. An officer in plain clothes is going to be among them on the next match.”

There had been little activity by the Nationals until late June, after which they began to play regularly. On the 28th, they beat the Victory Club 35-31 at Weir’s Course. A few days later, Albany easily defeated the Niagaras of West Troy, then visited Pittsfield to take on the Old Elm Club. The journey to the Berkshire region of Massachusetts was one of the longest the club had undertaken, and as was typical for the era, the Old Elms were genial hosts, meeting the Nationals at the station, taking them to the grounds in an omnibus and treating them to an enjoyable dinner after the game. To complete the gracious reception, the Old Elms obligingly lost to the Nationals.

By William Ryczek, June 26,  2013 National Pastime Museum

 

Stay Calm and Bake Cake- Make America Cake Again! Election Cake.. an Albany Tradition?

Presidential elections in America have always been a big deal – the day for voting was merely the culmination of a “national crisis’. In 1831 Alexis de Toqueville traveled across America; upon his return to France he wrote: “A presidential election in the United States may be looked upon as a time of national crisis…” “Long before the date arrives, the election becomes everyone’s major, not to say sole, preoccupation. The ardor of the various factions intensifies, and whatever artificial passions the imagination can create in a happy and tranquil country make their presence felt. . . . As the election draws near, intrigues intensify, and agitation increases and spreads. The citizens divide into several camps, each behind its candidate. A fever grips the entire nation. The election becomes the daily grist of the public papers, the subject of private conversations, the aim of all activity.”

And when voting day arrived, it was time of celebration. Voting is a strenuous business and requires feasting and drinking. Time for cake! Election Cake!

An 1886 book says that, “Election cake was served in private homes and sold outside polling places, so it was frequently made in large batches” . “Mothers sat up all night to watch the batch of twelve or twenty loaves, or called their daughters long before cock-crowing to make investigations; nay, some were known to faint from fatigue while mixing the materials.”

The first recipe for Election Cake fittingly appears in the first uniquely American cookbook published in this country – “American Cookery” by Amelia Simmons in 1796 in Hartford, CT. The cookbook was a huge success. A follow-up edition was published the same year since “the call has been so great, and the sales [of American Cookery] so rapid that [the author] finds herself not only encouraged but under a necessity of publishing a second edition.”

This second edition, larger than the first with many additional recipes, was published by the Webster Brothers, George and Charles, of Albany. Their printing shop was on the northwest corner of State and Pearl – the “old Elm tree” corner. (A Citizen’s Bank is located there today.) It was the largest printing establishment in Albany.

The Albany edition appears to be the definitive edition because contains a statement that the person Amelia employed to prepare the first edition omitted essential recipes and included others without her consent. One of recipes omitted was Election Cake, featured prominently in the 2nd edition.

For years it was assumed that Amelia was from Connecticut (the cake recipe is often referred to as the “Hartford Election Cake”) and its genesis was the “muster cakes” prepared for the annual colonial militia musters in Connecticut. But some historians have concluded Amelia was probably from the Hudson Valley, very possibly Albany. Amelia uses the leavening agent pearl ash (a precursor to baking soda) in many of her recipes, which is derived from leaching large amounts of wood. In the late 1700s, the Albany area was a center for the production of potash, i.e., the unrefined source of the pearl ash. Additionally Amelia includes, for the first time in America, recipes for cookies. The word cookie is derived from the Dutch “koekje” – a staple in the Dutch baking. She also included the frst recipe for “slaw” koolsla – Dutch for cabbage salad. Albany Election Cake? Maybe. .

In the 1850’s ads for Election Cake can be found at Mrs. LaGrange’s Tea Cake Bakery on Steuben St. In a nod to Prohibition, the recipe for Election Cake in a 1920 Albany Evening Journal says to substitute lemon juice for booze.

Election Cake was an annual staple in this country until it fell out of fashion in the 1960s, but this year it has been re-discovered and is all the rage.Since we can make a good case for it as another Albany cake, we thought we would jump on the election year cake wagon.

ORIGINAL RECIPE FOR ELECTION CAKE – Amelia Simmons
Thirty quarts of flour
10 pound butter
14 pound sugar
12 pound raisins
3 doz eggs
one pint wine
one quart brandy
4 ounces cinnamon
4 ounces fine colander seed
3 ounces ground allspice
Wet flour with milk to the consistence of bread overnight, adding one quart yeast; the next morning work the butter and sugar together for half an hour, which will render the cake much lighter and whiter; when it has rise light work in every other ingredient except the plumbs, which work in when going into the oven.

Updated recipe for Election Day Cake from the Cooking Channel (We selected this one because others exclude the booze.. we like tradition.)
Two .25-ounce envelopes dry active yeast
1 cup warm, but not hot, water (about 105 degrees F)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the pan
1 cup mixed dried fruit, such as golden raisins, cranberries and pitted prunes, chopped if large
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup American whiskey, bourbon or rye
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons milk
Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in a medium bowl. Stir a few times and let stand to allow the yeast to dissolve and begin bubbling, 1 to 2 minutes. Sift 1 1/2 cups of the flour into the bowl and stir until mostly smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place for about 30 minutes. The mixture will expand, loosen in texture and will have large bubbles on the surface.

While that sits, generously butter a 12-cup Bundt pan and set aside. Place the dried fruit, 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar and all of the whiskey in a microwave-safe bowl. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Heat in the microwave until hot and bubbling, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir and set aside to cool. In a medium bowl, whisk the remaining 1 1/2 cups flour with the cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and salt.

Beat the butter with the remaining 1/2 cup brown and the granulated sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until combined (the mixture may look slightly curdled at this stage), and then add 1 teaspoon of the vanilla. Beat in the yeast mixture and then reduce the speed to medium-low and gradually beat in the flour mixture. Add the plumped dried fruit with any remaining liquid and beat on medium speed until the fruit is well blended. The dough should be soft and elastic at this point.

Transfer the dough to the prepared Bundt pan and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until the dough fills the pan about three-quarters of the way, about 2 hours. When is the cake is almost done rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Bake the cake until golden brown and a skewer inserted comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes in the pan on a wire rack. Loosen the sides with a small metal spatula and turn onto the wire rack to cool completely.

Before serving, stir the confectioners’ sugar with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1 tablespoon milk. Gradually add as much as needed of the second tablespoon of milk to make a thick glaze that will just gently run. Spoon over the top of the cake, allowing the glaze to slowly run down the outside and inside of the cake.

Note: Some of this material came from online article in the Hartford Courant by Leeanne Griffin (2016) and a blog post “Biography of America’s Earliest Cookbook Author – Amelia Simmons” by Barbara Wells Sarudy.(September 2014)

Thanksgiving in New Netherlands? Not so much.

Although some historians allege the first Thanksgiving actually has Dutch links, and is a tradition the Pilgrims picked up during their sojourn in Leiden, Holland, after fleeing from England before setting off to America, there is little evidence to support the theory.

The colonial Dutch in Albany celebrated religious holidays with much joy and gusto, like Christmas, New Year’s and Easter (celebrations of which Puritans did not approve), but not Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was basically a New England colonial tradition, that didn’t start making its way to New York until the early to mid-1700’s, when the Yankees started to move west into New York.

By the 1770s, the concept of a national day of Thanksgiving took hold – the Continental Congress declared a day of Thanksgiving after the Battle of Saratoga in 1777 for all 13 colonies. Albany MUST have rocked that one.. having escaped a near brush with the British Army. Congress declared another Thanksgiving Day in 1782 and in 1789 President Washington issued a proclamation for a national Thanksgiving Day from the seat of government – New York City.

By the early 1800s local newspapers begin to reference Thanksgiving, so it’s quite clear the idea caught on, and an annual Thanksgiving celebration was an Albany “thing”, even before it was proclaimed a national holiday by President Lincoln in 1863.

So it’s pretty safe to assume that by the time the definitive edition of the first truly American cookbook was printed in Albany in 1796 by the Webster brothers print shop (corner of State and Pearl) these recipes from Amelia Simmons’ “American Cookery” would have been in use on Thanksgiving in Albany for quite some time.

(Note 1: if you want to see a real Dutch colonial kitchen, take a trip to Rensselaer, just across the river to the NYS Crailo Historic Site. The building was erected in the early 1700s by Kiliean Van Rensselaer’s (THE Patroon) grandson, when the area was considered to be part of Beverwyck. (As it would before several centuries- until the late 1800s it was still known as East Albany.)

Note 2: Just in case you are cooking a turtle, I’ve included Amelia’s recipe for turtle; it’s quite laborious.. so you might want to consider it for Christmas, to give yourself ample time.)

To stuff a Turkey
1.Grate a wheat loaf, one quarter of a pound butter, one quarter of a
pound salt pork- finely chopped, 2 eggs, a little sweet marjoram,
summer savory, parsley and sage, pepper and salt (if the pork be not sufficient); fill the bird and sew up.
2.One pound soft wheat bread, 3 ounces beef suet, 3 eggs, a little sweet thyme, sweet marjoram, pepper and salt, and some add a gill of wine; fill the bird therewith and sew up. Hang down to a steady solid fire,basting frequently with salt and water, and roast until a steam emits from the breast. One third of a pound of butter into the gravy, dust flour over the bird and baste with the gravy; serve up with boiled onions and cranberry-sauce, mangoes, pickles or celery.
3.Boil and mash 3 pints potatoes, wet them with butter, add sweet
herbs, pepper, salt, fill and roast as above.

French Beans
Take your beans and string them, cut in two and then across, when you have done them all, sprinkle them over with salt and stir them together. As soon as your water boils put them in and make them boil up quick, they will be soon done and they will look of a better green than when growing in the garden if; they are very young, only break off the ends, them break in two and dress them in the same manner.

Biscuit: One pound flour, one ounce butter, one egg, wet with milk and break while oven is heating, and in the same proportion.

Pies:
Apple Pie: Stew and strain the apples; to every three pints, grate the peal of a fresh lemon, add cinnamon, mace, rose-water and sugar to your taste. Bake in paste No. 3.
Minced Pie of Beef: Four pound boiled beef, chopped fine; and salted; six pound of raw apple chopped also, one pound beef suet, one quart of Wine or rich sweet cyder, one ounce mace, and cinnamon, a nutmeg, two pounds raisins.. Bake in paste No. 3, three fourths of an hour.
Pompkin:
1.One quart stewed and strained, 3 pints cream, 9 beaten eggs, sugar, mace, nutmeg and ginger, laid into paste No. 7 or 3, and with a dough spur (Note: anyone know what a dough spur is.. please message us), cross and chequer it, and baked in dishes three quarters of an hour.
2.One quart of milk, 1 pint pompkin, 4 eggs, molasses, allspice and ginger in a crust, bake 1 hour.

Puff Pastes for Tarts (6 recipes.. no wonder Pillsbury has cornered the market.).
No. 1. Rub one pound of butter into one pound of flour, whip 2 whites and add with cold water and one yolk; make into paste, roll in in six or seven times one pound of butter, flowring it each roll. This is
good for any small thing.
No. 2. Rub six pound of butter into fourteen pound of flour, eight
eggs, add cold water, make a stiff paste.
No. 3. To any quantity of flour, rub in three fourths of it’s weight
of butter, (twelve eggs to a peck) rub in one third or half, and roll
in the rest.
No. 4. Into two quarts flour (salted) and wet stiff with cold water roll in, in nine or ten times one and half pound of butter.
No. 5. One pound flour, three fourths of a pound of butter, beat well.
No. 6. To one pound of flour rub in one fourth of a pound of butter wet with three eggs and rolled in a half pound of butter.

To Dress a Turtle
Fill a boiler or kettle, with a quantity of water sufficient to scald the callapach and Callapee, the fins, &c. and about 9 o’clock hang up your Turtle by the hind fins, cut of the head and save the blood, take a sharp pointed knife and separate the callapach from the callapee, or the back from the belly part, down to the shoulders, so as to come at the entrails which take out, and clean them, as you would those of any other animal, and throw them into a tub of clean water, taking great care not to break the gall, but to cut it off from the liver and throw it away, then separate each distinctly and put the guts into another vessel, open them with a small pen-knife end to end, wash them clean, and draw them through a woolen cloth, in warm water, to clear away the slime and then put them in clean cold water till they are used with the other part of the entrails, which must be cut up small to be mixed in the baking dishes with the meat; this done, separate the back and belly pieces, entirely cutting away the fore fins by the upper joint, which scald; peal off the loose skin and cut them into small pieces, laying them by themselves, either in another vessel, or on the table, ready to be seasoned; then cut off the meat from the belly part, and clean the back from the lungs, kidneys, &c. and that meat cut into pieces as small as a walnut, laying it likewise by itself; after this you are to scald the back, and belly pieces, pulling off the shell from the back, and the yellow skin from the belly, when all will be white and clean, and with the kitchen cleaver cut those up likewise into pieces about the bigness or breadth of a card; put those pieces into clean cold water, wash them and place them in a heap on the table, so that each part may lay by itself; the meat being thus prepared and laid separate for seasoning; mix two third parts of salt or rather more, and one third part of cayenne pepper, black pepper, and a nutmeg, and mace pounded fine, and mixt all together; the quantity, to be proportioned to the size of the Turtle, so that in each dish there may be about three spoonfuls of seasoning to every twelve pound of meat; your meat being thus seasoned, get some sweet herbs, such as thyme, savory, &c. let them be dryed an rub’d fine, and having provided some deep dishes to bake it in, which should be of the common brown ware, put in the coarsest part of the meat, put a quarter pound of butter at the bottom of each dish, and then put some of each of the several parcels of meat, so that the dishes may be all alike and have equal portions of the different parts of the Turtle, and between each laying of meat strew a little of the mixture of sweet herbs, fill your dishes within an inch an half, or two inches of the top; boil the blood of the Turtle, and put into it, then lay on forcemeat balls made of veal, highly seasoned with the same seasoning as the Turtle; put in each dish a gill of Madeira Wine, and as much water as it will conveniently hold, then break over it five or six eggs to keep the meat from scorching at the top, and over that shake a handful of shread parsley, to make it look green, when done put your dishes into an oven made hot enough to bake bread, and in an hour and half, or two hours (according to the size of the dishes) it will be sufficiently cooked.

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The Rev. Martin Luther King in Albany NY

Rev. King only visited Albany NY once, in June 1961.  He spoke at the Wilborn Temple on Jay St., which until 5 years before had been a Jewish synagogue, Temple Beth Emeth.

In the wonderful featured picture in this blog post, the Reverend is sitting back while NYS Governor Nelson Rockefeller  (left) and Albany Mayor Erastus Corning (right) appear to compete for his attention.

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Read all about it. Albany’s First Newspaper.. a HUGE deal

The first issue of Albany’s first newspaper, the “Albany Gazette”, was published yesterday, November 25 in 1771. It was also the first newspaper published in New York State outside of New York City. The publishers were 2 Scotsmen, the Robertson brothers. There is some disagreement regarding their shop location; either Court St. (tiny chunk of what is now Broadway, south of State, near Beaver and Hudson) or Chapel near Pine St. We’re not sure how long the paper lasted, but the Robertson brothers were Loyalists and fled Albany in 1776 for Canada; the paper ceased publication at least 2 years before they left.

In 1782 Charles Webster and Solomon Balantine started the “Northern Gazetteer or Northern Intelligencer”; but there was trouble in paradise. A year later Webster dissolved the partnership and left for New York City. When Balantine left Albany, Webster returned to Albany, and in 1784 he started printing the “Albany Gazette” again. Shortly thereafter, his brother George joined him in the business.

(NOTE: Joel Munsell, printer and historian of Albany in the mid-1800s, reports that it was once suggested to the Websters that they print the Gazette in Dutch, in whole or in part, given the number of people in Albany and surrounding areas who did not speak or read English.)

The Great Fire of 1793 destroyed he Webster Brothers print shop on Middle Lane (a short alley connecting State St. to Maiden Lane; now James St.). In 1794 a new, much larger shop was erected at the corner of State and Pearl and came to be known as the “White House”. That corner is the famous “Old Elm Tree Corner”, after a tree planted by Philip Livingston in the 1730s. That tree stood for about 150 years, until being cut down in the late 1800s.

The “Albany Gazette” merged with the Daily Advertiser in 1817 and became known as the “Albany Gazette and Daily Advertiser”. It suspended publication in 1845.

PS. Look carefully enough and you will an old plaque embedded in the wall of the bank that stands on the Old Elm Tree Corner commemorating Philip Livingston and the Tree, but sadly nothing about the “Albany Gazette”.

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Recalling the Grocery Stores of Albany’s Past

The trick of time is that it passes slowly, and changes are incremental, so you can hardly notice it happening. The world of today looks mostly like the world of yesterday to us, and yet there have been a thousand little changes over the years that separate those worlds. When things change all at once, it seems a revolution, but when they change little by little, it just seems the passing of time.

Grocery stores are one example. Sure, 50 years ago, they were selling milk and meats, frozen foods and Cap’n Crunch, just as they are today. And yet everything about them has changed.

Grocery stores in the Capital District used to be numerous, to say the least. The 1870 directory for Albany alone listed 17 wholesale grocers. Retail grocers counted in the hundreds, at a time when Albany’s population was just about 70,000. In 1920, when Albany had 113,000 residents, there were 20 wholesalers and an even greater number of retailers, in every corner of the city.

Every neighborhood had several groceries in those days, and shopping for food was often a daily enterprise. The vast majority of these were small storefronts, usually the lower levels of residential buildings – you can often see reminders of them today, in places that long survived as neighborhood stores, as odd bump-outs on the fronts of brownstones, as enlarged entries and windows at the basement level.

Even when I was growing up in an older suburb in the ’60s and ’70s, they were still numerous. My first real job was working in one of them, one of the last of the high-quality butcher shops in the region, which was also a neighborhood grocery store.

Somewhere around the 1930s the supermarket concept was developed – a neighborhood store, but with more, and run by a central chain. There were A&P stores, and Grand Unions and Mohicans. For a while, there was a chain associated with the area’s seminal radio station, WGY Food Stores. But even as late as 1958, the chains barely had a hold. There was one A&P in Albany, one Albany Public Market, one Grand Union, four Empires, two Central Markets (later to become Price Chopper). Trading Post was the biggest chain in the city, with 5 locations.

The rest of the city’s shopping was done at small neighborhood stores with names like Gimondo, Femia, Sharkey Demaco, Rosenberg, and Tanski. Even the so-called supermarkets were very much part of their neighborhoods in those days, often repurposing previous buildings — such as the Central Markets location on Madison and Swan, which was built on the rather generous stone foundation of the Madison Avenue Second Reformed Church that had burned in 1930.

But with the move of population to the suburbs, the chains started to grow. Competition and demographics, and the willingness of Americans to drive absolutely everywhere rather than walk anywhere, contributed to bigger and bigger centrally-located, chain-owned stores, and the death of these tiny independents.

And the experience of shopping in them changed, too

The stores themselves aren’t the only thing about groceries that have changed. Almost everything else has, too, but in ways that are almost invisible. Everyone probably realizes that plastic grocery bags didn’t even used to exist, and that soda and milk came exclusively in glass bottles, and was all bottled nearby. Burlap has practically disappeared from anything but craft stores, but 40 years ago, potatoes, onions and oranges all came in burlap sacks. Meat was nearly always cut to order, and wrapped in brown butcher paper, tied with string, rather than laid out on a foam tray and stacked in coolers. Even something as simple as a box of cereal isn’t the same as it was four decades ago. The box itself is infinitely thinner for both environmental and economic reasons. The bag that actually holds the cereal used to be a satisfyingly thick, crinkly wax paper that would sort of stay closed; now it’s a thin plastic film that never will. Very little food came in any kind of plastic container at all.

Prices were not on little paper stickers (if those still exist) or posted on the shelves – they were stamped onto the ends of cans and boxes with heavy blue ink using a price stamper – the stockboy (that’s what we were) would spin the numbers on the stamper to the correct price, press it against the ink pad, and then punch the stamper against the top of the can or box. (This is now so archaic that it’s hard to even Google search for it.) When the prices needed to be changed (and in the days of inflation in the 1970s, that was often), the stockboy would clean the price off the can with a rag and nail polish remover so the new (higher) price could be stamped on.

(In the store I worked in, by the way, the markup from wholesale was 40%, much higher than the chains. That might seem outrageous, but that was money that paid local workers, sponsored the store’s Little League team, and built wealth in the community, rather than sending it off to a corporate headquarters in a remote land.)

When you carried your groceries up to the register, there were no scanners. The check-out clerk had to enter each item’s price into the cash register. Unmarked items weren’t usually a problem – the clerk knew the price of most things. Your receipt had prices but only categories that would describe the items, such as “Gr” for grocery, “Pr” for produce, etc.

The most subtle change in grocery stores, as in most stores, is the ambient music. Whereas now you can expect the odd experience of hearing The Clash sing “Lost in the Supermarket” while you are, in fact, lost in the supermarket, real music in retail spaces didn’t happen until the 1980s. For decades before that, there was something called Muzak, and its ilk: light, syrupy string arrangements of almost-identifiable melodies intended to give no offense and to set no pulse to racing. As a customer, it was just there. As an employee, it could make you insane. In the days before the Walkman was invented, I learned to play entire albums in my own head, note for note, so as to drown out the cloying melodies of the Muzak.

Today, the Albany area is, depending on how you count, down to three or four grocery chains with multiple locations (not counting Walmart or Target). Only one of them, Price Chopper, is local. Very few of them are within any of the city limits, catering almost entirely to the suburbanites.

But with the trend toward more and more downtown living, some form of the neighborhood store will have to re-emerge. Personally, I just hope it brings back burlap.

By Carl Johnson from All Over Albany.com

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Christmas in Old Albany

This is the text of an article which appeared in the Albany Evening News, Friday, December 10, 1926.

CHRISTMAS IN OLD ALBANY
By Parker Lloyd-Smith

Mistress Angelica opened one eye. Undeniably it was morning, for she could make out quite clearly the design of the frost on the windowpanes. It looked like a rabbit, with funny pointed ears stretching up ever so high, almost in the very top pane. Tentatively she sniffed the air, half expecting the familiar spiced odor of a rabbit which has hung on the great spit in the oven. Tentatively she wiggled one toe from beneath the gay quilt and counter pane and tested the atmosphere of the room.

Not at all tentatively she withdrew the toe, entirely satisfied by her experiment that it was a very, very cold day indeed, cold even for the Albany countryside, where cold winters were to be expected. She decided to close the half open eye and wait for something to happen; perhaps wait until summer before getting up.

But, try as she might, she could sleep no more. The truant eye simply would not stay shut, but was forever taking sly peeps about the olive and yellow walls. It rested on a sketch lying on her young friend, Philip Hooker whom the good burghers of Albany said was a youth of promise. Philip had said the drawing was of a house for a bank which had impressed Mistress Angelica mightily, for she had never seen a house before it became a house, if you know what she meant.

Around the walls swept the irrepressible eye, half awake in spite of everything, although the other eye was firmly shut. It reached the door way, peered out into the dark hall, glanced up at the sprig of mistletoe –

With a sudden decision both eyes opened at once. The mistletoe, of course. How could she have forgotten? Last night she had hung it because it was the night for hanging mistletoe, and so, of course, today must be —

Christmas! Christmas of the year 1826 in the ancient city of Albany!

Before she had time to think she was at the window and was slaughtering the frost rabbit with quick pushes of her fingers. Now she could see the barnyard and just make out the turkeys and chickens in their coops. She wondered if the had all faced to the east at midnight as animals are supposed to do at midnight of Christmas eve. Or was there perhaps one wicked old turkey who didn’t believe in such things and who resolutely looked the other way.

With a little frown she put such a shocking thought out of her mind. Cousin Van Rensselaer would be horrified and Aunt Huybertie would look pained.

At any rate she was sure that when she went downstairs she would find the kitchen had been swept by the fairies and that there would be three more faggots on the hearth, one for each of the family, a special gift of the Christmas spirits.

She dressed quickly and went out. She would breakfast with Cousin Harriet, but first she would go into the town. Thrilled by the prospect, Mistress Angelica tripped lightly through the snow into Albany.

The town was awake and busy. There were still several hours before the good Dutch folk would be going to church and they all seemed to have had the same idea as Mistress Angelica. It almost looked as if every one of the 15,000 souls who inhabited Albany had joined the Christmas parade.

The throng of apprentices stalking around with their segars and their walking sticks, lords of the day, far above work and ripe for sport.

The little darkies strutted about showing rows of ivory and the yaller of their eyes, tokens of joy for the return of the annual jubilee.

Now and then through the crowds cluttered sulky, gig or tandem with the dandies sitting in style, in true Tom and Jerry fashion. What gay and rushing life to see in this slow Dutch town, thought Mistress Angelica as she returned a charming curtsey for a most majestic bow from a passing sulky. For sure, New York could furnish nothing better on this Christmas day.

In the odd corners of the streets where there were no paraders, hung all the good things in Albany’s calendar of eatables. Fat turkeys, pigs, geese, ducks, chickens, partridges and rabbits were as plenty as blackberries. The housewifely streak in Mistress Angelica responded in the abundance of delicacies. She thought of Christmas dinner.

This would come after church, which was the most formal event of the day. Not a Dutchman in Albany would miss church on Christmas, any more than he would have missed his St. Nicholas eve dinner three weeks before. The solid citizenry of Albany would be there en masse, in their most gorgeous clothes, suitable for the festive nature of the service.

For in all truth it was a festive service. The bare walls of the church were fairly hidden by garlands of evergreen, put up on Christmas eve by the devout. Mistress Angelica herself had helped with the decoration and had thought it great fun, although some had talked of the dissenters.

Not every one in Albany approved of this gay practice in the churches. There were those of strict Calvinistic persuasion who thought such designs smacked not a little of the “old one,” and who agreed with the anonymous person who called himself “Observator.” This earnest fellow had written to a newspaper in Schenectady, the”Cabinet,” only two weeks before and had called this evergreen hanging a “futile and improper practice.”

This has been recalled as Mistress Angelica helped put up the branches on which the snow was just melting, but she had answered by telling of what she had read in Albany’s newspaper, the “Microscope.” Just ten days before Christmas, the Microscope had probed into this business of Christmas customs and especially into the Puritan objections to church decoration.

“We have ever looked upon this custom as one of the most beautiful among all the ceremonies attached to the Christian worship,” declared the editor of the “Microscope.” “To deck the house of the Lord in wreaths of joyous flowers and ever-living germs of vegetation on the anniversary of the day that gave to the world a Saviour, a Redeemer and a God, must surely be deemed an act of piety.”

With these words, prettily uttered, did Mistress Angelica confound those who were quoting from the heretical Observation, and she went on, still remembering the Microscope:

“An evergreen is the emblem of the eternal spirit; and the coming of our Savior was certainly a matter of vital interest to all who believe in the existence of a soul. What then can be more reasonable, or what more proper, than that each return of the anniversary of that event should be marked by demonstrations of joy, and acts of good will to all mankind? Shall then the temples, erected expressly for the worship of God, be the first to be exempted?”

What could they answer, the doubters. One pictures them standing with rapt attention while the face of Mistress Angelica became grave.

“Would this modern Jeremiah have all our forms of worship dressed eternally in the sable garb of woe, and banish from our sanctuaries all those wreathed smiles and looks of honest cheerfulness which are the offspring and attendants of virtue? We trust not. At all events, if he is in favor of this gloomy, dark and dismal system, we trust he will find but few to second his unnatural, and we believe un-Christian wishes.”

Thus Mistress Angelica and the girls who were decking the church with garlands went at their work with new zeal, voicing their hearty disapproval of Observation and his gloomy ideas.

And so the church was verdant with evergreen when the good men and women of Albany filed in on Christmas morning, 1826, to hear the story of the wise men, and the Child of the manger.

If church was the formal occasion of the day, everyone knew that the afternoon would be devoted to another occasion, less serious but no less rigidly adhered to. Long before Christmas day, the odor of spices could have been remarked, coming from the witchens of the old Dutch houses. The “Microscope” had something to say about this, too:

“The practice also of passing round the merry can and partaking reasonably of the enlivening and invigorating glass, is truly appropriate, and can lead to no evil tendency among people of common sense. It warms the heart and arouses those feelings of generosity and humanity, which are so becoming to the human character, especially at this auspicious festival.”

Passing around the “merry can” was part of a custom which had existed ever since the oldest burgher could remember. This was the annual quaffing of copious libations of a mixture of spiced liquor, which the Dutch residents denominated “hot stuff.” This custom undoubtedly originated with the circulation of the Wassail bowl among the merry forefathers of this Albany of 1826.

The “Microscope” likes these antique manners:

“I like them well – the curious preciseness
“And all-pretending gravity of those
“That seek to banish hence these harmless sports
“Have thrust away much ancient honesty.”

So much for the day that Mistress Angelica lived with thrilling heart. The evening was to come, an evening spent before the Yule-Log which still burned brightly in the hearth. In the servants’ quarters hung the mistletoe still, and young men were plucking a berry from it each time they caught a lass beneath its greenery, until the last berry was gone and the sport ended.

And so Christmas drew to a close in the year 1826 and Mistress Angelica went back in her room to try to put all these things out of her mind. Which presently she did, and dreamed of young apprentices with segars and walking sticks, little darkies showing the yaller upon the windowpane.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Parker Lloyd-Smith was son of the late Supreme Court Justice Walter Lloyd-Smith, a graduate of Princeton and a Rhodes scholar at Oxford. He worked on the Knickerbocker Press and the Albany Evening News from 1926 to 1928. First assigned the obituaries, within six months he was covering City Hall, where he was well-liked, and a little later he was editor of the Sunday magazine section. A forward thinker and local activist, he was Secretary of the Albany Air Board, lobbying hard for what would become Albany Airport; he also spearheaded the effort to install a carillon atop Albany’s City Hall. He wrote the above story at age 24.

In 1928, Time Magazine offered Parker a job as Associate Editor, and in 1930, as Managing Editor, he helped Henry Luce launch Fortune Magazine.

parker

Late at night on September 16, 1931, Parker Lloyd-Smith jumped naked to his death from the 23rd floor of his fashionable apartment house at 12 E. 86th Street, just off Fifth Avenue, where he lived with his widowed mother. He left her this note:

“Mother Charm: The heat is frightful – but this is a farewell – if this is waiting – I will wait for you.

“My love and gratitude always. Signed Parker.”

He was 29.

Largely forgotten today, the classicist writer left behind a modest legacy of poems, magazine articles, and newspaper pieces.

This first appeared in Al Quaglieri’s blog Doc Circe Died for Our Sins

Celebrating the New Year in Old Albany- Dutch Cake, Guns and Beer

New Year’s Day was a day of religious observance for the Dutch in Albany, as it was with for Puritans who settled in Plymouth. But for the Dutch, the rest of the day was dedicated to celebration and revelry. There was beer.. LOTS of beer; there was cake.. LOTS of cake – eating of cake and giving of cake; there was visiting among friends and family; and discharging of weapons in honor of the New Year. LOTS of big bangs. One legend persists – that the bullet hole in the rooster weathervane that currently sits atop of the First Reformed Church on N. Pearl St. occurred during one of those New Year celebrations. (Yup, that rooster is that old.)

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Over a hundred years later New Year’s customs appear to have changed very little. A French Marquis in Albany in the early 1780s describes being awaked throughout the night on New Year’s Eve by the sound of musket fire. He writes “In the morning . . . I met nothing but drunken people in the streets, but what astonished me the most was to see them not only walk, but run upon the ice without falling, or making a false step, whilst it was with the utmost difficulty I kept upon my legs.” Finally, in 1785 NYS laws banned the firing of guns on certain days, including New Year’s. There was hefty fine for violators; this tradition ended.

But the tradition of visiting all and sundry on New Year’s Day continued. In 1790 President George Washington became acquainted with it, when on a New Year’s afternoon in New York City a stream of visitors appeared to visit the Washingtons. (The house in which the President was living was on the corner of Cherry and Pearl – the site is now under the Brooklyn Bridge.) Upon learning that the New Year’s visit was an old Dutch custom, he was said to have remarked. “The highly favored situation of New York will, in the process of the years, attract numerous immigrants who will gradually change its ancient customs and manners; but whatever change takes place they will never forget the cordial cheerful observance of New Year’s Day.”

The tradition of cake continued; special Dutch New Year’s cake flavored with caraway seeds. It was made in large batches to feed the hordes of visitors and give as New Year’s tokens. Sometimes it was in the form of single cake, made in elaborate molds – the centerpiece of the table; other times it was in form of little cakes, the Dutch koekjes (cookies), stamped with all sorts of fanciful designs. A recipe printed in Albany in 1796 for New Year’s Cake calls for:

“..14 pounds of flour, to which add one pint milk, and one court yeast, put these together overnight, and let it lie in the sponge till morning, 5 pound sugar and 4 pound butter, dissolve these together, 6 eggs well beat and caraway seed, put the whole together and when light bake in cakes, similar to aa breakfast biscuit, for 20 minutes.”

Housewives competed to produce the best New Year’s Cake; some recipes called for orange zest or lemon zest or rosewater.

The tradition of visiting continued well into the late 19th century in Albany. Huybertie Pruyn, a member of Albany’s high society who lived on Millionaires Row on Elk St., recalled, “A New Year’s Day in Albany [as elsewhere] was a happy, but very exhausting one for the women, especially the lady of the house.” The best china and heirloom silver were brought out. There was a buffet on a grand scale,available from late morning until 10 pm, to serve between 200-300 male callers. “An extra man was stationed in the hall as doorkeeper, and messenger boys, newsboys with calendars, postmen, policemen and many others rang the bell. Each, man was handed a paper bag with 4 large New Year’s cookies, stamped with flowers, figures, or the State seal, as well as a dime.

For lesser mortals the tradition of Dutch New Year’s Cake continued through the 1800s as well. It was so important, that for years costs for New Year’s Cake appear in expenditure reports for the poor souls housed in NYS run institutions. While many Albany women still baked their own, using special heirloom molds, there are ads for “Genuine Dutch New Year’s Cake” offered by the City’s bakers throughout the 1800s. Tradesmen bought the cakes in bulk to give to their customers.

The tradition of cake continued until the early part of the 20th century. But after World War I the custom dies out (we don’t know why) and the last ad we find is from Drislane’s Market, an upscale food emporium of N. Pearl near Maiden Lane, in the early 1920s.

We need to bring back the tradition of the Dutch New Year’s Cake in Albany; cake is good.

The Story of Owney; Albany’s World Famous Post Office Dog

Owney has his own exhibit at the National Postal Museum in the Smithsonian and his own “Forever” stamp, issued by the the U.S. Postal Service in 2011. Owney even has his own song, “”Owney – Tales From The Rails”, recorded by the country singer Trace Adkins.

I grew up with the story of Owney. My Grandmother’s uncle was a postal clerk at the Albany Post Office downtown in the old Federal Building at State and Broadway. (That’s the huge Victorian pile of a building that now houses SUNY Central Administration offices.)

When Owney wasn’t riding the rails he would come home with various postal workers, including Uncle Charlie, and was the toast of the town. A restaurant close to the P.O. kept the choicest bones for Owney.

Owney wore a silver tag, “Owney Albany Post-Office, Albany NY” and the Post Master General of of the U.S. ordered a harness for Owney to attach the medals and tags he accumulated as he traveled the U.S. and the world.

We think we need an Owney Day to celebrate this world famous Albany dog.