The dolls are Old-Fashioned Candy Containers Dec. 26, 2002. . .My old friend, Rose Hauser, who used to live on East Park before she moved away, grew up in a little town in the Black Forest of Germany. She recalled that they first saw the tree on Christmas morning, and under it would be one toy for each child: skates or maybe skis made by her father from the staves of a cider barrel. There would be clothes for school and always “a nice new hair ribbon”. Her mother baked
Springerle, Lebkuchen and Pieffernuesse. The cookies were tied on the trees and could be eaten all during the holidays. There were real candles on the tree, but when they were lit someone had to sit and watch them. For entertainment there was a family sing, with her brother on the zither and her father directing. Rose is gone now, and I miss hearing her tell stories about her childhood.
Frank Slish once told me that he remembered being threatened with a bag of coal or onions if he didn’t behave: either one would make you cry. With ten kids in the family, clothing was the usual gift. But they ate well on holidays, with ham or turkey and all kinds of special pastries, and no limit on how much you could eat. His mother baked so much that she had to spread sheets on the dining room floor and store it temporarily. It didn’t last long.
The late Eugenia Plewinski told me that her Christmas dinner was special with mushroom soup, pickled herring and sautéed fish. The dessert was nalesnike, a paper thin crepe with a special filling. Christmas Day breakfast was equally important with citrus fruit, kiszka (a sausage) and poppyseed strudel. The sharing of the Christmas wafer, the oplatki, was a big part of the holiday celebration.
Attorney Luke Owens of Grand Island has childhood memories, too, but he also has done something few of us have a chance to do. Fresh out of the service and in law school, he found work at the old J.N. Adam Department Store as a section manager, to help pay his way. When they needed a relief Santa, Luke got the job. Stuffed with pillows and with his eyebrows lightened, he made a fine Santa. He told us, “At that time Betsy Wetsy was the popular doll and all the boys wanted trains. I remember taking the #8 trolley down Main Street to get to work. It was the Metro of my day.”
We always had a tree at home, but sometimes Pop waited until the last minute, buying a crooked little evergreen for half price at the local tree lot. After we moved to the country, my brother and I often cut one from the woods, wispy and drooping, not like those on the greeting cards. Pop would shape a tree stand with a couple of boards. The tree couldn’t be watered, but then the house was never warm enough for it to dry out in a hurry. We decorated it with everything pretty we could find.
There wasn’t a whole lot under the tree Christmas morning. One year it was a book, “The Littlest Colonel,” when Shirley Temple was in her hey-day. Pop was disappointed when I finished it by nightfall. Another time I got a desk, just like my cousin’s, only a different color. The paint wasn’t quite dry so Santa left it in the basement. I wondered how he could carry it in his pack. On our next visit to my cousin’s home, her desk was missing and my doubts about Santa were confirmed.
Christmas stockings were a big deal, even after we learned that Mother filled them. They contained fruit and nuts, a candy cane, maybe socks or hankies. They looked as lumpy as our legs did when we pulled our ribbed cotton stockings up over our bunched up long underwear.
If we had a goose for Christmas, the fat was saved for chest rubs to relieve winter colds. Dessert was plum pudding or mince pie. We didn’t have a lot, but they were happy times. What do you remember of Christmas past?
The old stone post office in Tintangel, Cornwall Dec. 12, 2002. . .Cornwall, England is a county or shire that sticks out into the English Channel and the North Atlantic. It’s a lovely place with its green pastures, neat hedge rows, flocks of sheep and old stone structures. Driving a car there is a different story. We rented one with hard-to-find automatic shift, but it turned out to be a British Vauxhal SUB, almost too large for the narrow roads.
The driver sits on the right hand side so has to shift with the left. Keeping all that under control is bad enough, but most of the roads are less than two lanes wide, so you must keep toward the center to avoid stone walls and rough hedges, but be constantly aware of oncoming traffic. We came pretty close to the walls and hedges but managed not to scratch our brand-new car. Sometimes we had to come to a standstill while a car from the opposite direction inched by. There are “lay-bys” every once in a while where you can pull over, but not always when you need one.
Roundabouts can be disconcerting, too, because you go around clockwise and must exit at the right spot. More than once we missed our turn, finding ourselves in some farmer’s yard. Once you’ve made the wrong choice, it is hard to find a place where you can turn around. (Or park, for that matter.)
Our only real mishap occurred in an “escape lane,” meant to stop vehicles that lose their brakes when going down hill. We pulled over at the start of one to study our maps, and when we pulled out, I drove over what I thought was a gravel path. Wrong! It was a sink hole, filled with pea gravel, and really stopped us. We sank in over our hubcaps, and I thought, there goes our budget, paying for a tow truck to get us out. I was mistaken, because a fellow stopped and tried to scoop away the stones. He just got us in deeper. Then came a van with two workmen. They hooked a skinny clothesline to our car. “Don’t you think that will break,” I said. “Oh, no, it won’t,” said the chap. Pop! It snapped on the first try. A third vehicle came along, a fellow with a cell phone, prepared to call for help. But with two pushing from behind, one in the van, and one in our car, we finally got out. The men would take no money for their efforts but said, “Just don’t do it again!”. Our car shed stones for days, and before we left, all of Cornwall knew about the two American ladies who got stuck in the escape lane.
Dec. 5, 2002. . .Islander Joan Staub is shown hanging wallpaper, which is the same on Grand Island as it is anywhere else. The differences are on the time line---today versus 60 years ago. At our house it began with my mother requesting fresh wallpaper in the kitchen. She knew enough to wait until all the outside work was done, so December was a good time. Pop managed the budget and did most of the work, so his O.K. was necessary.
The drive to the city to choose the wallpaper was a family affair, and although my brother Harry and I had to hang around the wallpaper department at Sattler’s or
Sears, we had little say in the matter. Those were depression years, so Pop usually went for the “room lots”: the last of the run, leftover rolls and half rolls tied together, just enough to do a room. The price was right and he was good at figuring out just how much paper and paste he needed. None of the paper was pre-pasted nor was it fabric-backed. It was fragile stuff and could tear easily if you weren’t careful.
It was the fashion then to paper the ceiling as well, and here there was little choice. Most ceiling paper had obscure patterns of white on white, and the price was low, about ten cents a roll. Flowers were popular in our house, so they appeared everywhere on the walls, kitchen included. Pop paid no attention to room types; if he liked a particular pattern, he’d put it anywhere.
At that time wallpaper had untrimmed selvedges, and it was my job to cut off the edge that would overlap. Pop overlapped the strips because the walls in our old house were too crooked for butting the edges. Mother always cooked up the paste, and it had to be just right. Heaven help us if the paste turned out lumpy!
Painting a ceiling is bad enough, but papering one is torture. Why was it such a popular practice? When Pop did the ceiling we all had to hold the strips after he got them pasted and folded. There were ladders and planks and sawhorses to move, and lots of paste to wipe up. Everyone gave thanks once the ceiling was done. After that the sidewalls were easy, and borders covered up any unevenness of the upper seam.
When Pop papered a room it was up to stay, so he put the new right over the old, tearing off just a few loose bits ahead of time. He always rounded the inside corners and it was great fun to poke through those places if you knew fresh wallpaper was coming. As years went by, Pop put up new plasterboard ceilings (another family affair) and couldn’t bear to hide them with paper. He turned to painting, and found this easier as he went along. Eventually only the kitchen and bathroom were papered.
I learned Pop’s non-professional methods through helping, and got so I could paper my little attic room whenever I wanted a change. It’s easier now, with pre-pasted and pre-trimmed paper, stuff that is tougher and less likely to tear. (Much more expensive, too.) I can measure up a room just as Pop did, but can I still get an even line at the ceiling and nice square corners? I will soon find out because I am giving it one more try in our kitchen, hopefully before Christmas.
Knowing about wallpaper got me my best part-time job during my years at college. I worked in the wallpaper department of the big Sears store on Main Street, figuring amounts needed, helping folks pick out patterns, tearing off samples, wrapping up bundles, and selecting room lots. It’s just one more reason to thank my Pop, the once-a-year paper hanger.
Nov. 21, 2002. . .That’s “pass-tees”. If you pronounce it the way it looks, you’re thinking of the little circles strippers used to wear up top for modesty. (Today they probably don’t bother, but I’m not speaking from personal experience.) We’re talking here about what to do with all that left over turkey.
Cornish pasties have been around for hundreds of years, and some form of this food probably exists in most countries of the world. In Cornwall, England, pasties are still eaten by most families at least once a week. Here’s a little ditty that explains the routine:
“ Pastry rolled out like a plate
Piled with turmut, tates and mate,
Doubled up and linked like fate,
That’s a Cornish pasty.”
The second line refers to turnips, potatoes and meat.
A pasty is just about a complete meal but it could be dessert as well, filled with jam or fruit. Some are even double-ended with half being meat and veggies, and the other half, baked apple or other fruit. In the old days, not everyone owned an oven, so many people took whole dinner trays of pasties to the local baker to be cooked. Pasties were easily taken to work for lunch and were especially popular with Cornish miners. Oftentimes a baker would be at the site available to heat up the pasties at lunch time. They are properly eaten in the hand and become more delicious toward the end as the juices flow southward. The end is just a crust, but “a corner” saved for later is about one third of the pasty. Initials are sometimes baked in the corner to identify each person’s favorite pasty.
A pot of tea goes naturally with a pasty but they are said to be unlucky for dishermen. (No dishes needed!) Cooks are advised to crimp the corners securely to make sure the devil can’t get in. Rumor has it that Cornish pasties are the state food of Michigan but somehow I doubt that. The cooks in Cornwall have specific rules for making pasties. For them the filling is always raw and baked the same time as the pastry. Meat must be cut, not ground, and veggies sliced, not cubed. They like to use old potatoes that “go abroad” or dissolve, along with onion and a firm elastic pastry that won’t fall apart. But leftover meat and veggies are used as well and that includes just what we have this time of year. Cut up that left over turkey, use the mashed potatoes and other vegetables, maybe even a little cranberry, and you’ll have a Grand Island pasty. Here’s the basic recipe, although you may have a favorite crust:
For the pastry, knead one pound of flour, 4 ounces of margarine, four ounces of lard and 1/3 pint of water. Leave 30 minutes in the fridge. The traditional filling consists of 2 ounces of sliced onion, 2 ounces of sliced turnip, 4 ounces of chuck steak, 6 ounces of sliced old potatoes, salt and pepper.
Divide the pastry into four pieces and roll each into a 9 inch circle. Place turnip and onion in the center, meat along the top and ends. Top with potato, sprinkle with seasoning as you go. Dampen one side of the pastry and fold it to the other side, pressing firmly together so that you have a seam along the side. Fold over the edge and crimp. Make a small slit in the top for steam to escape. Brush with milk or egg, place on a greased tray and bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. Turn oven down to 325 and bake another 20 minutes. Let stand in oven another 15 minutes.
You can get really creative with variations, such as onion, turnip, cheese and potato. Or pork, onion, apple and sugar. Other combinations might include egg and sausage, corned beef and mashed potato, and liver and onions. You can make tiny ones for a party from 4” rounds. Why not make Cornish pasties out of your American turkey? The Pilgrims would approve. Happy Thanksgiving!
Nov. 21, 2002. . .About the time that Grand Island became a town, cast iron stoves were beginning to replace the fireplace as the main means of heating rooms and cooking food. The very large kitchen stove had a cook top, usually with heating shelf above it. (Take a look at the one at River Lea.) Parlor stoves were smaller, more upright, and were used to warm the occupants as well as the tea kettle, often placed on top.
Fanatic housewives were serious about spring cleaning and the first job was to dismantle the parlor stove, clean it thoroughly, and store it in the barn until fall, when it would be needed once again. Following came a complete “redding out” of the parlor: rugs taken up and beaten on the clothesline, curtains and windows washed, furniture polished. This was all necessary because of the soot left behind when the stove was in use.
But what to do with the flue hole, that ugly place in the chimney where the stovepipe was fitted to vent the fumes? Sometimes rags were stuffed in the hole, but that was certainly unattractive. Along came flue covers to be bought at the general store for a few pennies. These were decorative prints under glass, held in place with a narrow metal frame, and having a chain for hanging. This required a nail above the flue hole but at least the cover hid the unsightly spot.
Flue covers were also used year-round when a stove was relocated and the flue no longer needed. Everyone knew what it was because the cover would be hung unnaturally high on the chimney. Most of the flue covers were made in Germany, with some examples found from Belgium and Austria. They came in several shapes, but were usually round or oval. The housewife had a great choice in subject matter - landscapes, animals, flowers and fruit, children, cherubs and Victorian ladies. Later on someone developed a flue cover with prongs that went into the hole and held the cover in place without requiring a chain and nail. These are still available today. I checked around and found some at Ed Young’s hardware store in Williamsville. He has a selection of landscapes and sells them for $4.79.
The early flue covers have become highly collectible today. Author Jim Meckley has written a book about them with values, “Flue Covers”, Collector Books, 1998. Today prices for these little household items range from $50 to $100 or more. E-bay sales have a special category for flue covers with at least 100 examples from antique to modern to reproductions. I met Sylvia Hargett on this site. She, her mother, Dorothy Ward, and her daughter, Carol Summelin, make up a three-generation group of collectors who have more than 50 examples among them. You may not want a whole collection, but one or two make an attractive display hanging on the wall, reminders of early days when sooty stoves were a fact of life.
Nov. 14, 2002. . .If anything would make us appreciate the significance of Veteran’s Day, a visit to the Imperial War Museum in London would do it. The site is not only of interest to military and history buffs, but also to those who lived during the Blitz of London in World War II. The museum documents the two World Wars and the wars since then, but the mementoes of World War II were most significant to me. I was a teenager when the headlines shouted the horrors of that war. I remember rationing, recycling, war plants, and making do, even though our cities remained undamaged.
The museum is a separate branch of the Victoria and Albert Museum and is free to the public. A pair of block-long naval guns marks the entrance dramatically. Inside, on the first floor, are full-sized airplanes, tanks and other military vehicles. My favorite is “Old Bill”, a 1914 omnibus that was used in both World War I and World War II. On display is the Tamzine, the smallest surviving fishing boat that took part in the evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940.
Lower levels trace the history of World War II, especially with the bombing of London and the changes made in every day lives. The gift shop has a fantastic collection of military history books. I really enjoyed the art gallery, with its paintings done during and about the war. There are probably no masterpieces here, but these are the kinds of graphics you hear little about. America’s part in the war is illustrated as well.
My brother was off fighting in the Philippines, so I had his old 1936 Chevrolet convertible. As a student, I had the smallest allotment for gasoline, but old Windy at the truck stop sometimes had an extra coupon for me. My next door neighbor drove an old Model T, and when a blackout was sounded, he had to stop the car and run around to the front to turn off the headlights. We did a lot of carpooling because of the gasoline shortage, and one time drove to Canada to get shoes, which were rationed here, but not there. We hid them in the car, not sure whether our purchases were legal. When my car conked out halfway across the bridge, we really panicked. Friendly folks gave us a push and we got started again, thinking we narrowly missed jail time. Those shoes fell apart after about a week, so the trip was hardly worth the stress.
The war really hit home when neighbors and schoolmates were reported missing in action. It was more than 50 years ago, but some memories are still fresh in my mind. This veteran’s day we need to honor both those who fought and those who suffered overseas as civilians, too.
Nov. 4, 2002. . .One of the highlights of the holiday season on Grand Island is the Christmas celebration at River Lea, home of the Grand Island Historical Society in Beaver Island Park. Early in December the historic building is decorated by local garden clubs and quilters, and opened to visitors for the entire week. Special luncheons are scheduled for three of the days, and these are very popular so tickets go fast. If you don’t have yours yet, call Carol Moore at 773 3817 for reservations.
The dates are from December 1st to the 8th, with luncheons planned for Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. Maggie Gushue, costume coordinator, has created fashion shows around the fabulous hat collection at River Lea. You can enjoy these after lunch on either Wednesday or Saturday. I know for sure that at least one hat will be sporty because Maggie recently borrowed a croquet mallet from me.
On Tuesday, special guests Ruth and Robert Zimmerman will present a program about Albert Schoenhut and the wooden toys he made around 1900. Schoenhut came from Germany in 1866, settling in Philadelphia, where he started a business of making toy pianos and other musical instruments. In 1902 Fritz Meinecke sold a patent for a poseable animal to Schoenhut, and that was the beginning of the Humpty Dumpty Circus. A great variety of jointed circus animals, performers and accessories appeared on the market.
When former president Theodore Roosevelt went to Africa on an extended safari, Schoenhut made a complete setting with jungle animals and all the props. He made spring joints in the knees of the characters to allow them to ride horses and kneel for hunting. Collectors avidly search for these items today. In 1911 the company received a patent for a spring-jointed doll, which led to the next invention, the Schoenhut doll. The dolls are really wonderful in that they have many points of balance as they are posed on special metal stands with short protruding pins. Two angled holes in the sole of each foot increase the number of possible positions. Original clothing included shoes and socks with holes in them to accommodate the stands.
Schoenhut not only made the so-called “dolly-faced” dolls but character faces, both boys and girls, and bent leg “nature babies”, in a range of sizes up to 21 inches. They are not difficult to find today, with prices ranging from $300 to $1500 and more, depending upon condition and rarity. The Zimmermans will give you the full scoop on of these wonderful early wooden toys. After you have learned all you can about them, or vintage hats, depending upon which luncheon you attend, be sure to return on Sunday for the final open house and the raffle of the Christmas quilted throw, made by expert quilter, Lee Wroblewski of the River Lea Quilters’ Guild.
Jamaica Inn as it looks today October 24, 2002. . .Stephen King may be the writer of scary stuff today, but in 1936, it was Daphne Du Mauier, who wrote “Jamaica Inn” as well as “Rebecca”. In 1939 Alfred Hitchcock directed Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara in the first movie. It was later remade in 1985 with Jane Seymour and Patrick McGoohan. The story is set in the midst of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, England.
“Jamaica Inn” is the tale of a young homeless girl, Mary Yellan, forced to live with her aunt and her aunt’s wicked husband, Joss Merlyn, the landlord of the inn. He turns out to be a smuggler and a “wrecker”. Wreckers were criminal types who lured vessels seeking safe harbor to rocky shores. When the ships broke apart and the cargo washed ashore, the wreckers seized it to sell on the black market. Any survivors were disposed off, so that they could not squeal. Joss Merlyn kept a locked room for the loot and that adds to the mystery. In the end he gets his due and Mary finds love with his vagabond brother.
Jamaica Inn exists today and has been restored as a restaurant and inn. DuMaurier came upon it while touring in Cornwall and used it as the setting for her story. It is located in the middle of the Bodmin Moor and is made of ancient fieldstone. There is a large fireplace, stone floors and a brass plate marking the spot where Merlyn met his end. The suspense is pretty tame by today’s standards but the site is worth visiting because the author used authentic towns and geographic features for the action.
There is also a smuggler’s museum near the inn. We are told that smuggling was not considered a bad thing by the common folks because it allowed them to buy goods they would not be able to afford if the crown added its tax. Goods smuggled in were tobacco, tea, brandy and silk. It was a two-way street because Cornish tin and wool were smuggled out, sold for better prices than the crown would allow. The smugglers considered themselves free-traders and numbered 160,000 in the eighteenth century. Today the moor looks green and pretty, but maybe then it was truly a “spooky place”.
October 10, 2002. . .Pictured is former Islander, Patricia Mazzarella with one of her quilt creations. She moved to Attica where she now has her own quilting hideaway, and is producing beautiful one-of-a-kind quilts. She exhibited six pieces at the Morningside Quilt Guild show in East Aurora in September. A number of River Lea Guild members enjoyed that show.
Quite a few beautiful old quilts were on display as well as dozens of new ones. They caused me to wonder about residents of our Island at the time it became a town, 150 years ago. Did they make quilts, if so what kind? What patterns and fabrics did they use? Could they afford to buy new fabric for quilts? Did they have quilting bees?
The earliest quilts in this country were made of bits and pieces from the housewife’s remnant bag. They could be silk, wool, or cotton scraps left over from dressmaking or the “good parts” of discarded clothing. Such remnant bags might be saved for years. Although printed calicoes were available by 1850, they were there only if you could afford them. Housewives recycled flour and feed sacks for backing material and also traded patterns and scraps.
Popular patterns were wild goose chase, star, robbing Peter to pay Paul, album quilts, crazy quilts and autograph quilts, as well as many geometric patterns. Sometimes pieced work would surround a center printed block that could have been a handkerchief or small scarf. Embroidery work was popular as well.
Often the whole family was involved in the making of a quilt. Husbands might draw the patterns and cut out templates. Children threaded needles and grandmothers cut the patches. The mother sewed the pieces together and perhaps a group of friends quilted the piece. Here’s one custom that might be considered cruelty to animals. At a gathering, a cat would be placed in the center of a new quilt, with unmarried girls and boys at the edges. The cat was tossed into the air and the one closest to the spot where it landed was the next to be married. (Not my cat!)
By 1876 households in the country had purchased 162,000 sewing machines, so machine stitching is not uncommon in antique quilts. Some had quilting attachments. The ladies might use contrasting thread for their quilting just to show that they owned a sewing machine. I have one such quilt with red machine stitching on a white background. I used to think it was poor planning or a later addition, but maybe not.
In the 20th century popular patterns were yo-yo, Sunbonnet Sue and embroidered red work “penny squares”. These were common, especially around the time of the Pan American Exposition. The pre-printed squares were available for a penny each, and it was a way to start children on their sewing skills. You can see a good example of this kind of work hanging in our Town Hall. It was made by River Lea Quilt Guild members to commemorate the sesquicentennial. Today’s quilters still use the old patterns but many make original works of art using fabrics and techniques never thought of 150 years ago. I still wonder, were there quilting bees on Grand Island long ago?
Pittsburgh’s Impressive Skyline is shown left. Some Islanders on the Pittsburgh tour are shown right: (front left) Doris Rees and Betty Clement; (back) Carolyn Doebert, Patricia Mazzarella, Ruth Stahl and Joan Staub. October 3, 2002. . .
A good number of Island residents boarded a bus bound for Pittsburgh recently, taking part in the annual historical tour offered by the Teddy Roosevelt Inaugural Historic Site. In addition to those pictured above, “our gang” included Lois Kaiser, Helen and Joe Keohane, Mary Jane Conshafter, and Harry and Freida Litzel, almost 25% of the load. Friend Marcia Hutt rounded out our roster.
Why Pittsburgh? I was thinking smokestacks and steel mills, but boy, was I wrong! Pittsburgh is a city of tunnels and bridges, fascinating architecture, historic buildings, museums and galleries. It is built where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers flow into the Ohio, and is nestled mostly at the base of 600-foot high Mount Washington.
The trip took us about four hours, arriving just in time for lunch at the beautifully restored Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad terminal, built in 1901. I had Maryland crab cakes followed by sinful chocolate pate. Later that day we had a three-hour riverboat cruise that featured great views of the city, an authentic Hawaiian floor show, and a pretty good dinner. I’m not sure how Hawaii is related to Pittsburgh, but it was an entertaining show, nevertheless.
The next day we had a heavy schedule, beginning with a tour of the Heinz memorial Chapel, a non-denominational church with incredible stained glass windows. Although some have religious connotations, most are related to history or the arts and each window is a vignette depicting important events in the characters’ lives. Some of the 23 windows are 73 feet tall and they total 4000 square feet with 250,000 pieces of glass. Noteworthy is the fact that an equal number of men and women are represented, and there are 391 identifiable people depicted in them. Some examples are Pocahontas, Dorothea Dix, and the Boone Family. Digby, our guide, entertained us with stories of fabulous weddings held in the chapel.
The University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning is another fantastic building, 42 stories tall and featuring 26 different Nationality Rooms, tributes to the heritages of the city’s ethnic groups as well as being functioning classrooms. I was disappointed to find that the art galleries at the Carnegie Museum of Art were closed for repair, but we found enough goodies to compensate. My favorite small space housed the Scaiffe miniatures, donated by the estate of Sarah Mellon Scaife. Three tiny rooms were modeled after actual 18th century style rooms in the donor’s home. Eight more windows contained miniatures of furniture, silver, and porcelain from the 17th to the 20th century. Some were probably salesman’s samples, carried to show potential customers the actual product in miniature. We almost missed one of the world’s finest dinosaur collections, but had to go through it on our way to the lunchroom. After all, eating is an important part of any trip!
The famous Phipp’s Conservatory and Botanical Gardens almost did us in. It was beautiful, but humid inside, and with 87-degree temperatures we were about at the end of our endurance. (I almost called this column, “Pooped in Pittsburgh”.) Features included a rose garden, orchid room, medicinal plant garden, sunken garden, Japanese garden, desert room and more. Some workers were laying track for a little railroad that would soon be winding through another garden.
We really needed that rest before dinner. That evening we boarded the Duquesne Incline to reach the top of Mount Washington and the LeMont Restaurant, all glassed in with a great view of the city and the Golden Triangle. At one time there were 15 inclines to carry people to the top of the mountain, but now there are only two. Bob Mehl, who hails from Pittsburgh, told me that one of them could actually carry automobiles up to the top.
The next day we had a tour of the Henry Clay Frick estate, including the all original Clayton mansion, plus a small gallery on the grounds. The Frick gallery in New York City is well known for its masterpieces. Busy as we were, we missed a few attractions, among them the National Aviary, the Children’s Museum, the zoo and the Andy Warhol Museum. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater is just 90 minutes away from Pittsburgh, but we couldn’t fit it into our schedule. Altogether it was a great trip, altering forever my conception of Pittsburgh.
For information about next fall’s tour, contact the Wilcox, at 884-0095.
September 26, 2002. . .“Eliminate the piddley!” said renowned auctioneer, Stuart Holbrook. He spoke to a group of doll collectors recently but his advice is good for all collectors, whether they are seeking hot cars, early glass, jewelry, salt and pepper shakers, or teddy bears. Holbrook is the CEO of Theriaults, a first class auction house, with catalog sales as well as an internet site. He has been in the business for 30 years and is the author of several books.
Holbrook maintains that collectors spend too much on inferior items when they might save those dollars to buy one good item. “You don’t have to come home with something every time you attend a show, auction or flea market,” he said. He believes that serious collectors should upgrade whenever possible because the best items will increase in value.
“Build a war chest,” he said, saving so that you can upgrade at the right time. Watch the sales and play the market. Take note of supply and demand. Don’t buy an item when it’s hot, but look elsewhere for good examples that are underpriced. As an example, he mentioned French Bleuette dolls which are very popular right now versus German character dolls, which are at their lowest prices ever.
He advises collectors to read everything they can about their hobby. “You must be able to identify what you are buying. The more you know, the luckier you will be,” he said. He feels that we should not rely on price guides, because they could hold us back. (I use price guides more for identification and relative values, rather than expected prices.) “Look for what appeals to you, what makes your heart beat faster. Play the market and look for odd-ball items you can make a profit on,” he said. Holbrook predicted that the modern American Girl dolls with all their accessories will be a popular collectible in the future. We’ll see.
“The internet has changed everything. It is a natural P.R. machine and has brought more collectors to the market. It has wiped out global variations in price. Prices for common collectibles have gone down because it has created a saturated market. But the good stuff has sky-rocketed,” he said. He advised that collectors determine how much they can spend per year and then buy just a few good things when the right opportunity presents itself. Eliminate the piddley, the insignificant purchases. Good advice for all who want to build a great collection. The website for this auction house is www.theriaults.com.
September 12, 2002. . .
There are no flies on Islander Vivian Smudski. Despite her status as a senior citizen, she is not only in full control of her life, she has mastered her computer as well. She has had a computer for about ten years but recently began gathering family pictures, those of her own family and her many in-laws. Members began sending photos and family history from all around the country.
Vivian has divided her project into three parts: The Smudski family (her husband’s side), the Lightbody family (her father’s side—he had 12 brothers and sisters), and the Skyrme family (her mother’s side). She has finished the Lightbody series by putting 600 captioned photos into her computer and then on to a compact disk. (That’s called “burning a CD” Vivian told me.) She has another set of 600 photos of the Smudski family, just waiting to be put on a CD. And she has now started work on her mother’s family.
Vivian enjoys the work because she has been contacted by many relatives, some she only knew as a child, others she didn’t know she had, by email and snail mail. She has one photo of her grandfather with his second wife. Vivian had fond memories of his first wife so she cleverly substituted that face in the photo. She has a room full of equipment and knows how to use it: a digital camera, a scanner, copier, two printers, and more. When she finishes a disk, she sends copies to family members along with a detailed printed text. Before working on the photo projects, Vivian wrote her life story for her children and grand children.
Vivian has always been adventurous. She was born in Superior, Nebraska. “In the early days my father had a horse and buggy sort of taxi service. We got our new Ford car in 1917, and by that time he was building barns for the farmers. My mother was born in Wales in Great Britain, and trained at Peru State College in Nebraska to become a teacher. Vivian’s three brothers were born in Daykin, Nebraska. “Our kitchen was large with a wood-burning stove. We did our homework on the dining room table and played card games there, a favorite being Flinch.” Vivian liked to climb trees and windmills, too, the better to survey the world around her. Both parents were gardeners and she got to know the names of all the wildflowers. Vivian has been an avid gardener for over 40 years, although her computer has cut down on her gardening time these days.
Vivian earned a degree in nutrition at Iowa State and went on for a master’s degree at Ohio State. In March of 1943 she was finished with her schooling and the army recruiters were knocking on the door. She signed up and was stationed at Camp Campbell in Kentucky for about a year. “There were German prisoners there. One of them left me a love letter and a ring made out of a silver quarter, which I still have. I never knew who he was,” she said.
In January of 1945 Vivian went overseas attached to the 251st General Hospital, crossing the Atlantic in a convoy. “Our ship carried ten women and 10,000 troops. We landed at Le Harve, France. We had a lot of patients who had been wounded and also men who had been prisoners of the Germans, and they were pretty emaciated,” she remembered.
While in France, Vivian was able to visit Switzerland, the Riviera, Luxemburg and Paris. She was discharged in 1946 and went back to work in Cook County Hospital in Chicago and then at Cornell University in Ithaca, where she met her husband, Allen. When he finished his doctorate, he found work at DuPont in Buffalo. That’s how they happened to come to Grand Island. Vivian’s three children attended school on the Island and all finished college. Vivian eventually went back to work as a dietician, first at Roswell, and then at Buffalo School of Nursing for 13 years. “After retirement I started my hobbies. I did knitting, sewing, made dolls and bears, tried tatting, and when son Jan left art supplies when he went off to college, I tried my hand at painting. I like water coloring best. I joined the quilter’s guild and made quilts for my grandchildren. I’m a Jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. I like to try things,” she said.
But Vivian has staying power, too. She has been a member of the East Park Garden Club for over 40 years, treasurer of the Grand Island Art Society for 20 years, and treasurer of the Grand Island Historical Society. Vivian seems to be busy every minute. “I love Grand Island. I love Western New York. My favorite color is that lovely green of New York State. The climate is just right and this is a great place to live,” said Vivian Smudski. We’re certainly glad she thinks so.
September 5, 2002
Porch Painters, Rich Little, left and Steve Buchanan.
Our summer porch is my favorite place from early spring through late fall. It may be chilly in the spring but breathing fresh air while checking the budding trees and greening grass tells me that summer days are soon to come. On the hottest days the front porch usually has a breeze off the Niagara River, and when it is cool, the side section offers protection from that same breeze. And there is no better place to be during a thunderstorm. In the fall I hang on as long as I can. When finally the geraniums freeze and the furniture is stored away, I know that winter is coming. Still, I always leave a spot for drinking my morning coffee on brisk winter days.
A covered porch is the ideal spot for an endless variety of activities. It is a favorite place for reading, maybe a magazine on a rest break or the evening paper as soon as Janet Mumm delivers it. I enjoy my first cup of coffee on the porch, and lunch as well. Our cat and dog like to be out on the porch so we spend time smoozing with them there. Our bug-free summer has made porch-sitting especially enjoyable this year.
I tend my plants on the porch, hanging baskets and potted ones, and sometimes do some repotting there. A porch is an ideal place for projects like basket-making, woodworking and sorting photos (but not on a windy day). Amongst my collections is an old wooden rooster on a base, fitted out as a sewing accessory. My brother Harry cut some out for me, following a pattern I gave him. The roosters had to be painted, adding a hook for scissors, spokes for thread and fabric wings as pin cushions. This was a great project for working on the porch. It is also a peaceful place for piecing quilts. River watching goes along with every activity.
Keeping a big porch clean is a daily task, especially when you are near the water. We seem to have hundreds of spiders which I try to knock down every day. I have a special duster called a “Webster” that really does the trick. Cleaning up spent blossoms and sweeping fallen leaves are all part of the job. Our porch is five years old now and was beginning to look dingy, with some peeling paint, but not too bad. I originally painted it, all 144 spindles when it was first built, and considered doing it again. But not for long. I found a painter (Paul Lenzner) whose crew did a fantastic job, scrubbing, sanding, priming and painting. I couldn’t believe how dirty our porch had become, but now it is bright and new again, a revival of my favorite outdoor space. And it’s all ready for Halloween pumpkins come fall.
August 21, 2002
Islanders know how advantageous our location is: easy access to the city and the Southtowns, and just a hop and a step over the border into Canada. Day trips into Canada are easy and fun, and always a little bit different. One example of this is a visit to “Niagara Under Glass” in Vineland, situated on Lake Ontario between St. Catherines and Hamilton. Bear in mind when you visit that many of the plants we buy are marked “Grown in Canada”.
The “Potting Experience” is especially fun for kids, and adults will get a kick out of it, too. (I did!) Participants are seated at real potting benches with sunken tubs for soil and faucets for water. Huge chrysanthemum plants are placed nearby and we are instructed to snip off three shoots for potting. We fill our pots with the potting mix, dip the shoots into Rootone, and plant them in plastic pots. (The Rootone turns out to be baby powder for the safety of kids involved.) Suddenly we notice conveyer belts in front of our long potting benches. We are instructed to place our pots on the belt, which whisks them away. Soon they come back and we are advised to pinch the centers to increase the blooms. Away they go again. This happens once more, and when they return they are in full bloom! What a thrill, especially when we get to take our mums home. (See photo.)
If that doesn’t get your kids interested in gardening, a tour of this facility will. “Niagara Under Glass” is a fully automated and computerized huge indoor greenhouse. Plants are potted by hand, just as we did, but machines do the rest---moving, watering, fertilizing and spraying. Visitors and inspectors use walkways high above the area to view the various operations. Surprisingly only four main kinds of plants are grown here: Calla Lily, Miniature Rose, Pot Mums and indoor Ivy. Poinsettias are usually available at holiday time and small quantities of house plants are sold in the gift shop. (I bought three for $1.59 each and was able to bring them across the border, also in photo.)
This facility has its roots in the Peter Albers and Sons greenhouse business. Peter emigrated from Holland in the 50s and opened a green house specializing in English cucumbers and tomato plants. The owners switched from bedding plants to seedlings to potted plant production, specializing in Calla Lilies in the 1980s. In 2001 the Discovery Center of the facility was opened, meant to be a learning experience for visitors. There is a sub-tropical growing area, a demonstration of how gray water is processed to be used again, and other garden related displays. A gift shop and a cheerful café round out the offerings. The greenhouse is open from Monday through Saturday with a special package deal on Saturday of $10 (Canadian) for a guided tour, potting experience and crafts. The number for information is 1-866-562-4411. This is a truly remarkable operation and well worth seeing. Good lunch, too.
“A Good Life and No Wrinkles” is a title you will see in many magazines these days, just a shot in the forehead and you are wrinkle-free. But it is also the topic for February in my 1854 Farmer’s Almanac, a treasure found at a local estate sale. The author, Robert B. Thomas, claims that a good life keeps the conscience clear, and a clear conscience makes its possessor happy. To keep the wrinkles from your forehead, you are advised to be industrious, because a little moisture and dust on your brow will “bring neither dishonor nor shame”.
The examples continue. “Hitch up old Dobbin, and away to the woods with your team! Make an effort to have a woodpile sufficient for the year, and thus prevent burning up the fence in the summer in order to cook your porridge. (Who would have thought of that?) Many a wrinkle it will save, too, in the brow of your good wife. The farmer that leads a good life is he that takes pleasure in pleasing and obliging his wife.” Hold that thought!
But wives don’t get off scot-free. “My good madam if you love music, why not string up the old spinning wheel and get it agoing, to the well-known ditty that our foremothers practiced so often, namely, ‘Stocking Yarn.’ Nothing like music to take out the wrinkles.” The author was quite a wit, but he was just trying to motivate everyone to work, work, work. We have other solutions for wrinkles these days. Not only that, you can control your diet with sugar-free and fat-free foods, and if that doesn’t work you can get the fat surgically removed. All this for beauty when just plain work might do the trick.
Singles wondering about marriage can try this old custom. Pin five bay leaves to your pillow, one in each corner and one in the middle. If you dream of your sweetheart, you’ll be married before the end of the year. To ensure that you have a dreamy night, hard boil an egg, take out the yolk and fill the cavity with salt. When you retire for the night, eat it shell and all, without drinking or speaking afterwards. This might be worth trying, especially since eggs are such a bargain at the grocery store right now. Just don’t think about the sodium and cholesterol in this concoction.
The prophets of days gone by were perhaps not too far off in their advice. Physical labor is not only productive, but might be the solution for reducing the energy spent on petty crime, not to mention the high numbers on bathroom scales.
“I remember Mrs. Claus cleaning out the house and discarding a complete set of LIFE magazines. She said I could have them, but my mother told me not to ‘bring home any more junk.’ They were treasures,” said Mark Leffler, present owner of the home known as the George Bell farmhouse. It is situated at 1040-42 East River Road, commanding a view of the river and the South Bridge.
The attic window is a charmer, round, with glass panels representing a flower or perhaps a four-leaf clover. The shape is carried to the front door, where rounded glass appears in the upper section. The front porch features arches, fretwork and turned pillars. The property is noted on maps of the mid 1800s and was once a large fruit farm. The acreage has been reduced to an average-sized building lot, but the house itself is mainly unchanged. Rough-hewn timbers rest on the natural stone walls of the basement: 3x6” studs support the floors and partitions. Walls are horsehair plaster over wooden lathe. The only major alteration was the enclosing of a back shed, done by Harold Claus. The house has been rewired and the plumbing upgraded. When the old roof was torn off to replace it, old horse harnesses were found in the attic and they are still there.
“In redecorating we found five layers of paper on the walls. The original layer is still there,” said Mr. Leffler. His title goes back to 1848 when George Tallman sold Erastus Jones a strip six rods wide for a road for $480. There is a long list of owners. When Ira Bedell died in 1858, the property went to Ossian and Permelia Bedell. John W. Bell acquired it on March 28, 1864 on a quit claim deed, living there until 1912. At his death George Bell and his brother William each inherited a fourth of the property. It went from George Bell to another Bedell.
Harold and Jean Claus lived in the house until 1966 when Harold died there. He had carried on an auto-related mail order business in the house for many years. Jean Claus, a practicing attorney, was one of the original trustees of the Grand Island Memorial Library. The couple owned an early 1954 Corvette, the first one sold by Alt Chevrolet. Alt bought it back and it then went to Calabro Chevrolet. (Where is it now?)
When Russell Turley acquired the property in 1966, he turned it into a duplex. Mark’s father, Evans Leffler, bought it the following year. One side contains a kitchen, living room, dining room with two bedrooms and a bath upstairs. The other unit is a smaller one. The farmhouse has two brick chimneys for use with coal stoves, but now has central heat. The exterior has been resided , and the wooden outside cellar door replaced with a steel one. The garage and shed are later additions.
The Lefflers are an old Island family. “My grandmother, Martha Young Zahm, remembers the Eagle Park disaster. My great-grandmother worked at the Spaulding estate,” Mark said. Mark worked for Mrs. Zora Hussey at River Lea before it became the home of the Historical Society. “I had to watch out for snapping turtles when I cut the grass in the spring. James Montannari lived there then, and he sometimes invited me to sit down and paint with him. He had steamboats that belonged to the Hussey boys, and I still have some signs from their meat market. I could show you the old Indian burial grounds there,” he said. It’s nice to know that one of the early Island homes is in the hands of someone who appreciates Island history.
Overheard at a garage sale last week, one young home-owner said to her new neighbor, “Just wait until you see the Grand Island Fourth of July Parade! It’s just the best you’ll ever see!” Such enthusiasm is contagious, and well warranted, because this year the parade will be bigger and better than ever. And the weather promises to be cooperative, too---sunny and not too hot.
I had been at that garage sale buying a remnant of fabric for the River Lea Quilters’ float, our first ever. Ken Staub is providing the trailer and even driving the truck. My job was to make slip covers for the two ramps that swing upright when not in use. Ken could have removed them but we need them to hold up our banner. Betty Clement made signs for the sides of the truck and other members sewed squares together to make patchwork trimming for the float. It was a lot of work, but it should be fun. The only trouble is that riders will miss seeing most of the parade.
The parade marshals make an impressive list this year. Long time resident Kathryn Sheehan will be riding in a horse drawn buggy built by the Amish in the early 1900s. Ray Griffin, who served eight terms as town supervisor will be riding in a car. A nice surprise is Mayor Ken Gnadt of the other Grand Island, the one in Nebraska. Isn’t it great that he would come to our parade?
The parade will start off with town police, veterans and Uncle Sam, portrayed many times by resident George Rowe. (I wonder if he entered the beard contest.) I always feel secure when our firemen go marching by, followed by their shiny equipment. Of course there will be town officials and other politicians as well. Be on the look out for Teddy’s Islettes. It’s a grand reunion for former members who have been practicing for months. The Sidway reunion Float will have a memorable surprise, a portrayal of the late Veronica Connor in the classroom. Members of the Grand Island Historical Society will be marching suffragettes, and you will see featured a patriotic costume last worn in a parade in Batavia in 1918.
What’s a parade without a band? We have the Sanborn Fire Company Band, the Sikora Post American Legion Band, the Gordon Highlanders, the Calendonian Pipes and Drums, the Mackenzie Highlanders of Niagara Falls and the Erie County Pepsi-Cola All Star Marching Band. This year the Victorian Dance Society of the Amherst Museum will perform as well as other dancers, twirlers, marchers, walkers and students of karate. The parade is not going to the dogs but two canine clubs will participate: the Siberian Husky Club and the Samoyed Fanciers.
Counting all the trucks, cars, tractors and horses, over 75 units will be marching by. Ed Webb will be here with his 1950 restored John Deere tractor. We’ll have Corvettes and Porches and a 1925 Maxwell whiskey truck. And don’t forget all the Scouts and Golden Agers. Seems like every organization on the Island wants to participate. So bring a chair and don’t forget your water bottle. Have a happy Fourth!
Kilderhouse Home Click photo for a larger view June 10, 2002 Since East River Road is just across the River from the Tonawandas, it seems reasonable that it would be more densely settled earlier than other parts of the Island. Lets take a look at a few of the houses, some old, some not so old, built on East River Road, beginning in Ferry Village, one of the earliest areas to be settled.
#358 The Davern House in Ferry Village, now owned by John and Sophie Smith, was built around the turn of the century for an estimated cost of between $1392 and $1598. It was called the Queensdale Cottage by its architect, Herbert C. Chivers of St. Louis. It has an ornate porch with lions' heads, ball and spindle railings, and an octagonal turret with witch’s cap. The Daverns were its occupants for the longest period of time, from the 20s to the 1970s. They operated Davern's Tavern across the street for a number of years. The former tavern has been headquarters for the Niagara River Fishing Club since 1959 and is still going strong."
#1042 The George Bell House, now owned by Mark Leffler, is a clapboard farmhouse with curved window top and trim on the front door and a small circular window in the attic. It was once a large fruit farm, built in the mid 1800s. The house is mainly unchanged with rough-hewn timbers that rest on the natural stone walls of the basement. It has been a duplex for many years.
#1918 The Stack House at the corner of Staley Road, another clapboard farmhouse, is located on a rise at the waterfront. The Stacks were one of the original Island families. It is currently owned by Glen Herman.
#2012 The Pfohl House, owned and occupied by the Ed Pfohl family, was originally built as a summer home in 1888 by Louis LeGrange Pfohl. It has all original woodwork and windows and is in excellent condition.
#2284 The Steel House at the corner of Harvey Road is owned and occupied by Douglas and Audrey Kennedy. It was built in 1947 by Paul Schieve who was president and owner of both the Buffalo Structural Steel Company and the Buffalo Steel Erectors and Riggers Company. The house is not entirely of steel, but has steel beams and a steel façade. A garden urn was once found here that came originally from the Darwin Martin House in Buffalo, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It was returned to that site.
#4410 The Morgan House, still occupied by the Morgan family has unusual double porches with turned posts, spindle rails and ornate brackets. It is one of the oldest remaining farmhouses, built about 1860. Dick Morgan, now deceased, was a familiar figure, selling his produce at a roadside stand in late summer and early fall.
#4744 The Kilderhouse House is now owned and occupied by Robert and Ruth Stahl. A map of 1880 lists the 78 acre farm as the Kilderhouse Estate. The two-story house has solid plank walls and sturdy beams in the stone cellar, some still covered with bark. Most of the windows have arched tops and the floors are pine. Additions and porches have been added to the original structure.
#4834 The Forsythe House, owned by Betty Forsythe Killian was possibly, one of the oldest houses on the Island. Betty’s father, Clark Forsythe, was born here in 1897. He was a farmer who raised wonderful fruit, chickens and turkeys. A massive hand-hewn beam supported the house from front to back. The outside of the house was once covered with tin to imitate brick. This home became unstable and was demolished last year.
As you walk or drive along East River Road, you will notice other vintage houses that hold secrets of Grand Island’s past. There is a lot of history here; we’ll explore more of it in the future.
June 6, 2002 Do you think the inhabitants of Grand Island had geraniums in their gardens 150 years ago? If so, where did they get them? Did they propagate their own plants from year to year? Somehow I doubt it. I think they were so busy trying to make a living off the land that they had little time to fuss with flowers they couldn’t grow from seeds.
Perhaps they did as my mother did. She gathered seeds in the fall from hollyhocks, marigolds, zinnias and others, dried them, and used them the following spring. Pop did the same with beans and peas. He planted sprouted potatoes from the pantry but did buy cabbage and tomato plants and seeds for lettuce and chard.
I have saved seeds for flowers from year to year but they don’t always do well because so many are hybrids today.
This year I bought my geraniums in a round about way. Neighbor Betty Killian ordered a baker’s dozen at a garden club sale along with two pots of ferns. She was then scheduled for hip surgery at the end of this month and decided she couldn’t use them. Lucky me! Not only are they beautiful plants, but Betty delivered them to my door. I learned something, too. Betty noted that the ferns could be divided to make several plants, and it worked. I fixed four large pots for the dock, adding a marigold and a petunia to each one.
I’m still looking for hanging pots of geraniums for the porch, hoping they will go on sale soon. Geraniums are truly my favorite flower. Maybe it’s because when you see them, you know it’s not winter. I’m happy to have Betty’s geraniums but sorry she has to be laid up for a while. I’ll think of her when I admire the flowers and wish her a speedy recovery.
An idea being promoted in garden columns currently is putting plants in odd containers, such as old leather boots. (I guess it comes under the heading of “Garden Junk”.) The thought appealed to me but I didn’t think my spouse would part with his work boots for such a project. Fortunately I found a dandy pair at the Good Will for just $2.00. I pulled out the laces and substituted some hemp to close the bottom eyelets, added stones for drainage and soil, and put in my plants. Fat fingers went into one and portu laca in the other. Ivy or vinca would be pretty too. This is not working out too well however. Each time I water, it all goes out the front of the boot. You are supposed to put the plant in a pot and the pot in the boot. Next time I’ll do it right.
The pioneers might have liked this idea but they probably wore their shoes until they fell apart.
May 23, 2002
Daylog: May 18, 2002
Got the grass cut before the next rainfall even though it was too wet in the back lot. Picked a few lilacs for the dining room table. Peeled two nice looking bananas only to find them rotten inside. Remember to complain to the local market. Sent manuscript to editor. Located old journal bought at flea market two months ago.
Even as I punched the data into my computer I eyed that old journal now sitting on my printer. How would my daylog on computer disk compare to this wonderful old volume with its hand-written notes, hand-pasted clippings, and even a signed letter from a U.S. Senator? Fifty years from now which would be more enticing, an old journal from long ago, or a pile of flat disks with tiny nondescript labels?
There are just a few strings where the spine should have been, but the book still has its covers, with remnants of leather at the corners. Pasted on the front is the letterhead of John J. Fitzpatrick, Contractor, Plattsburgh, N.Y. He advertised submarine blasting (meaning underwater) sewer and water mains and roads. His business was at 29 Hamilton Street and the date was 1893. Hand-written were the words, “Other men’s figures and other things. Important and valuable. If found, kindly return at once.” I bought it for a dollar.
The clippings pasted in the journal are from a number of different newspapers and periodicals, many in New England. One, dated August 1894, begins, “Charles H. Trickey is filling up his coal bins for winter as fast as possible. A wind off the coast has prevented the arrival of any vessels for a week. He has three cargoes of coal now on the way---." Coal was essential for heat in those days so it was important that Mr. Trickey get in his supply for distribution.
Another story could have been written today. Dated 1895 and headlined, “Defalcation and Suicide”, it tells of the double crime of Cashier Isaac F. Abbott. He robbed the Dover, N.H. National Bank of $85,000, and when he was detected, destroyed the bank’s ledger and other books and then shot himself. The man was also the city treasurer.
From Canal Notes, THE FORT AND REPUBLIC, 1898, we learn how the journalist got his nickname. “Dynamite Fitzpatrick is doing the rock excavation at the Narrows and is making good progress. Dynamite is a deep water man from way back and has had extensive experience in submarine and rock excavating.”
Sometimes Dynamite worked with a partner, Col. John C. Rogers, described in this clip. “Col.. Rogers is a natïve New Yorker, short in stature and broad in the shoulders. He is 50 years old (1894) and served through the late war as a cavalryman. He lost an arm with Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley. He commenced contract work in 1870. His last big contract was the Niagara Falls Power Tunnel, 6700 feet long, 18 x 22 in the interior. For this job he received $1,250,000.
The firm of Rogers and Fitzpatrick was dissolved by mutual consent in 1896. That same year Dynamite Fitzpatrick was awarded a contract for maintaining buoys on Lake George for $485.
Most engineers would enjoy this journal. There are bids quoted for jobs from Maine to Virginia, including the removal of shoals and ledges in waterways. Sketches of equipment such as diving apparatus, pile drivers and excavators, rock crushers and street rollers liven up the pages. There is a diagram for Boston’s new water supply and a complete copy of the labor laws of Maine.
If nothing else, the journal reveals the flavor of the times and the energy devoted to improving waterways and land systems at the turn of the century. It appeared to be a long period of growth all over the Northeast. The journal also gives us some idea of what might have been topics of conversation over dinner a hundred years ago. Could all that have been conveyed via computer disk?
May 7, 2002
The call came from Peggy McNulty on Thursday. “Could you please take three Chestnut seedlings and plant them and watch over them?” It seems that Tift Farms had dropped off a few dozen of these seedlings and they needed to be planted right away. I said, “Yes,” picked them up on Friday and planted them in large plastic pots on Sunday. (They were supposed to be planted by Saturday but I didn’t make it.)
These are American chestnut trees, not Chinese, the variety we find growing along the roads of Grand Island. Once there were an estimated four billion American chestnut trees in the eastern forests of our country, from Maine to Georgia and into the Ohio valley. The trees were giants averaging five feet in diameter and up to 100 feet tall. All kinds of wildlife depended upon the nuts for food, as did the people, because the chestnuts were edible and were delicious roasted. The American chestnut was one of the best trees for timber as well. If you see a piece of furniture made of chestnut, you’ll know it to be antique. We once owned a dry sink made of chestnut and we still have an old wagon seat in the catroom made from that wood. The grain looks a lot like oak, but finer.
Disaster struck at the turn of the century. A fungus imported from Asia started killing American chestnut trees and by 1950 most were dead. A few remain in isolated locations. The American Chestnut Foundation was formed to restore the American chestnut tree by developing blight-resistant varieties. They start with the few isolated “Mother” trees that have survived, crossing seedlings with others. Chances are that the seedlings I planted will wither and die, but that’s part of the experiment. If my potted trees survive I’ll plant them in the yard. (You must have at least two trees since they are self-sterile.) It would be great to bring the American chestnut back to Grand Island.
We have Chinese chestnut trees in our neighborhood, and they are attractive, too, providing wonderful spring blossoms and leafy shade. Two very old ones graced our front yard for a hundred years, but the highway department deemed them a traffic hazard and cut them down. We miss them, but not all the raking up required when the nuts fall. One year a young man spent a good hour gathering up the chestnuts out front. He said he was going to grind them up to make flour. I dashed his hopes when I told him these nuts were inedible for humans. He took the chestnuts home anyway.
After potting up my three chestnut seedlings, I planted an Osage orange as well. Maybe these two American beauties will flourish for us during this sesquicentennial year.
April 24, 2002
“My mother bought the stove from Zora Hussey at River Lea in the early 30s. It had been in her kitchen in working order then, but I guess Mrs. Hussey wanted to replace it with an electric stove,” said Cyrena Dixon of Whitehaven Road.
Her mother had found a house with no central heating so needed a wood stove in her kitchen, not only for good cooking, but to help warm the rooms. “My mother made gorgeous apple kuchens on that stove. Her sister, Anne Schutt, was known for her apple kuchens, too,” said Cyrena.
The stove was probably made in the twenties because most of it is enameled in black and white, not all cast iron and nickel, as were earlier wood stoves. The cooking surface is cast iron with removable lids, and the wire handled lid lifters are still with the stove. The baking oven is below; on the upper section are two warming ovens and a shelf.
“Mrs. Hussey told my mother not to use stove blacking on the iron parts, but to rub waxed paper bread wrappers over the stove while it was warm. The wax would transfer to the metal, giving it a protective coating,” Cyrena said. “It was wonderful to have that big cook-top plus two warming ovens when preparing a holiday meal. I get frustrated here with just four burners. And it was comforting on cold winter days. You could open the oven door and get wonderfully warm in a hurry. That’s what my mother did at night for our little dog. She’d arrange pillows on an old captain’s chair and place it in front of the oven, with a kitchen chair next to it so the dog could stretch out. It was good for drying wet socks and mittens, too.”
The stove remained in the house for many years, even though no one was living there. When Sue and Richard Myers bought the property they acquired the stove, too. It was moved once again when the Myers’ lent it to Mrs. Harold Long in 1976 for a bicentennial display in the barn at Baseline and Bedell. Mrs. Long actually demonstrated baking using the stove. The stove was eventually returned to the Myers and placed in their garage to be saved for River Lea. “We always planned on giving it to the Historical Society," said Sue Myers.
About ten years ago the stove made one more trip (no simple matter), perhaps its last, from the Myers garage to the newly refurbished kitchen at River Lea. Its condition was still good, although it would not become an operating stove. The rust had to be cleaned away and Tony Barrett fixed a broken hinge on the oven door. It will probably still be there when Grand Island celebrates two hundred years of history in 2052. You can check it out in the kitchen when River Lea has its next meeting. (May 2).
Is an Island known by what it reads? If so, browsing at the upcoming book sale will provide a profile of Island residents. You’ll discover what diets we’ve tried, what hobbies we enjoy, what countries we have visited, what kinds of pets we have, and our interests in gardening, sports, fiction and more. I found great treasures by checking just a few shelves in the storeroom at the library; there must be at least 100 cartons that never got a peek.
One book I’ll always remember is “Me” by Katherine Hepburn in large print. It is a wonderful book, but when I pulled another down from the shelf, it came flying and conked me on the head. I saw stars for a moment, and one of them was not Hepburn. Another intriguing volume is “Great Mysteries of the Twentieth Century”, as in, What ever happened to Jimmy Hoffa? and Why did the Hindenburg crash?
How about this? An autographed copy of “How to Write for Radio” by James Whipple, 1938, gives hints on drama, sound effects, adaptations, and programs for children. Not a word about talk shows. For local history buffs, “The First Hundred Years of the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce” written by Lloyd Graham and Frank Severence in 1945 contains some fascinating stories.
It seems that we are a community of hobbiests. A real gem called ‘How to Know the Wild Flowers”, written by Mrs. William Starr Dana in 1917 has colored plates and wonderful line drawings. Another is “A Guide to Gardens in Britain.” I checked out Cornwall because I am going there in October. And since Cornwall is the locale for books by Daphne du Maurier and Rosamunde Pilcher, these are authors I am seeking out as well.
You must have heard about “Square Foot Gardening.” It might help combat the deer because you can grow a lot in a small fenced area. It includes topics such as getting plants to grow vertically (so the deer don’t have to bend over), transplanting, watering tips, and even recipes. “Starting from Scratch” is a book about indoor gardening, and that’s even better for foiling our white-tailed friends.
One special volume with beautiful endpapers is titled, “The Craftsman in America.” It is a National Geographic Publication, and I am going to go for it. It has terrific sections on textiles and native American crafts. There are dozens of cookbooks. Does everybody memorize recipes before discarding them? One that appeals to me is the “Hot Dog Cookbook” with everything from Hot Dog on a Raft to Spanish Cabbage.
Judging from the selection of books about dogs, we must have every breed that ever existed on our Island. Besides “Outwitting Squirrels” (Hah), you’ll find one called “The Cat’s Christmas.” It features Paw Dips and a litter pan planted with miniature fake pine trees. You know how long that would last.
I have a friend who just left for Paris. I wish she had seen John Russell’s, “Paris,” coffee table size. It contrasts the old and the new, with lots of art thrown in. This year it will be a really big sale. There are children’s books, computer guides, travel, mystery, sports, Gothics, all kinds of fiction, and don’t forget the 100 cartons I did not check out. The sale begins on Friday April 19 from 5 to 7 p.m. for members only. (You can join on the spot.). It is open to others from 7-9 p.m. with a 50 cent donation. Hours on Saturday are 10 a.m. to 3 a.m., and you can fill a big bag for just one dollar after one o’clock. Proceeds benefit the Grand Island Memorial Library and its programs. I’ll beat you there if I can.
“I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” is a refrain we hear from one end of the Island to the other. We all have our special spots, and Sandy Beach is one of them. Located at the north end, about one quarter mile from Buckhorn Park, it is bounded on the south by Huth Road and on the north by the East branch of the Niagara River. There are just a handful of streets: Greenway, Sandy Beach, Wallace and Warner with cross streets of South Park, North Park and Middle Road. Steeg Road and Winter, near the water, are also included.
One resident told me he bought his first house from Dick Janes, son of Jake Janes who laid out the community. He paid $7500 for his house, brand new. He remembered a few cabins in the woods and a teahouse at the corner of Sandy Beach and Middle Road. The houses had septic systems with rather poor drainage. Things improved in the fifties when the community got town water and sewers.
The boundaries of Sandy Beach are specifically set by deed because the residents may belong to Sandy Beach Park Club, entitling them to use the boat launch, dock and beach. They pay modest fees for the privilege with an extra charge for boat docking.
Another longtime resident who was very much involved in the community’s beginnings, told us, “When I moved to Sandy Beach there were 22 houses here, the population of the Island was 1000 and there were 340 kids in school in the district. The water works for Sandy Beach was a well with about 40% well water and 60% river water that seeped in. The original residents did a great deal of work developing the beach and building the dock. We gathered material wherever we could, even floating timbers from an old barn down the river, to be used for shoring up the dock. When sewers were put in, we moved all the leftover dirt down to the river for fill. One willow tree on the beach used to be 100 feet out in the water and people used to tie their boats to it. The community was very close. Nearly everyone came down on Saturdays and Sundays to work together.”
At one time a branch of the Property Owner’s Association bought lots behind Warner Drive for a recreation area. They had various fund-raisers, one being a play called, “Dream Boy.” In conjunction with the play there was a prettiest baby contest and a king and queen of the Island. The late Roger Kaiser was the king and Dodie Dekdebrun (Meyer) was the queen. Those lots were eventually sold when better facilities became available at the Huth Road School, built in Sandy Beach in 1958.
Sandy Beach remains a thriving community, with houses still being built on an occasional vacant lot. Peaceful and pretty, the streets get little through traffic. There’s not much commercial property: a hairdresser, a lawn mower shop and the popular Beach House restaurant. There’s one mail drop box, in case residents miss the mailman. The Sandy Beach Yacht Club is here, but it is a private club, not part of the Sandy Beach Park Club. Sandy Beach has a good mix of home-owners who look out for each other in this back-fence kind of neighborhood.
“Built like a Mack truck,” was a phrase used to describe something really well-constructed, including men and women. The truth of the slogan was demonstrated almost 80 years ago when a Mack truck owned by John Schutt and driven by Art Killian somehow landed in the drink.
To quote an article in a 1925 issue of The Mack Bulldog, “Grand Island, N.Y., located on the Niagara River, is connected with the mainland only by means of a ferry consisting of a barge and a tug. This ferry is used chiefly by island truck farmers in hauling their produce to market, and was recently the scene of a very spectacular accident.
Á Mack truck, owned by John Schutt, Jr., bound for Buffalo with a six-ton load of baled hay, had driven the front wheels up on the ramp leading from the boat when, without warning, the slowly revolving rear wheels, still on the deck, actually pushed the barge outward, breaking the hawsers that held it. The driver, Harry Killian, jumped just in time, for the current, being very swift at this point, quickly swung the barge into the stream, plunging the truck into 15 feet of water.
“For ten days it lay on the bottom, until Mr. Schutt succeeded in procuring the services of a professional diver. After several hours work, the truck was hoisted on to a barge and then lifted ashore. Mr. Schutt actually expected to see it totally wrecked, but close inspection revealed nothing more serious than a dented hood and slightly twisted cab.
“The truck was towed to the Mack Service Station in Buffalo, where, after the water had been drawn off, the truck thoroughly lubricated, it was found to be in perfect running order. Aside from straightening the hood and cab, there were absolutely no repairs required, and inside of three days from the time it was taken from the river, it was again making daily trips to and from the island. Needless to say Mr. Killian is now very careful to inspect all tie ropes before driving off the barge.”
The late Fred Killian researched this story for more details. He discovered that the accident took place at the Tonawanda ferry landing, just across from the landing near Holiday Inn on the East River. He was not able to pinpoint the date of the mishap, except that it was prior to 1925. He found that it was Art Killian (father of Joe Killian) who was driving the truck, not Harry Killian. Art was part owner of the company, as was Joe Killian, eventually. Joe worked 40 years for the company himself. The company was sold in 1979, purchased especially for its route rights.
Elmer Kaegebein once told me about the day the truck was recovered. “My dad was doing work for the power company and it was the Niagara Falls Power Company that hauled the truck out of the river. It was interesting to me to see the diver go down in his diving suit and how they pumped the air for him. The truck had lain on its side in the river bed. The bales of hay just floated down the river when it sank. If it had had four- wheel brakes the accident never would have happened,” he said.
John Schutt pioneered farmlands in Riverside and Grand Island back in 1875, and in the 20s, John Schutt Jr. gave up his 40 teams of horses and motorized his transportation firm. He was enterprising in the trucking business, especially in gaining rights to far-flung routes.
Fred Killian’s father worked for John Schutt for 70 years, 50 years in the trucking business and 20 years before that. Vehicles were built to last in those days. Can you picture one of our modern trucks after ten days at the bottom of the Niagara? They surely aren’t ‘built like a Mack truck” anymore.
2/28/02 The little wooden rack has a note on the back, “Made from wood of Black Walnut Tree felled on Niagara Reservation by Cyclone, Sept. 11, 1920, C.F.Eder, 413 Ninth St.” I picked it up at a sale and was curious about its origin. It looks like a rack for test tubes or maybe pipes. It is well made and the black walnut is hard as a rock. I bought it because of the label, so visited the local history department of the Niagara Falls library to find out more about it.
The storm struck about 4.15 on a Saturday afternoon, but folks could see it coming. There was no loss of life, just a few injuries. Most of the damage was to trees and wires, with some places flooded by the accompanying rains. Electric power was cut off for several hours.
The Superintendent of the Niagara Reservation (State Park), E.L. Waldenberger, estimated that 2000 trees had fallen, among them elms, basswood and black walnut. People were seen picking walnuts from the ground and from the fallen trees. One large elm fell in front of the park building, striking a parked automobile. “ Two hundred years of forest growth destroyed in five minutes,” said the Superintendent.
Goat Island was hit the hardest and on Sunday morning “had the appearance of a lumber camp where the cutting had been half finished and the lumber jacks gone on holiday.” Forty automobiles had been trapped there by fallen trees on Saturday. Waldenberger gathered the park workers, the crew of the Cave of the Winds, and the stranded auto parties, equipping them with saws and axes to clear the roadways. By 7:30 P.M. the motorists were able to drive out.
Goat Island was still closed on Sunday and Waldenberger put out the word. “Any persons who want to aid in the clearance can have all the wood they desire for cutting and hauling, except for the large timber. A great amount of large valuable timber is lying all over the reservation and it will probably be sold according to regulations.” That must have been when C.F. Eder got his black walnut. He probably supplied the souvenir shops with novelties for several seasons. It was reported that he also made dollhouse furniture, small tables and chairs, medicine cabinets and pipes.
The only building smashed on Goat Island was a patrolman’s shed. The Superintendent was going to take refuge there but luckily the patrolman with him couldn’t find the key. Eighteen spans of trolley wire were either knocked down or torn loose. The elevator at the Whilrpool was stopped and several women at the bottom had to wait until power was restored to get back to the top.
Many cellars were flooded throughout the city, and the main post office was inundated when torrents of rain drove through open windows. “It was as bad a storm as ever remembered by the oldest inhabitant.” The wreckage from the storm was soon cleared away and shortly after, new trees were planted. Meanwhile Superintendent Waldenberger sang a familiar refrain, ”Much of the damage could have been avoided if my requests for appropriations for tree trimmers had been approved.” But C.F. Eder made out alright. He had enough black walnut to keep him busy for years, and his products are still bringing in money. He may not be around anymore, but somebody got my dollar.
Does it all sound familiar? It happened more than 80 years ago, but the only thing different is that we have chain saws today.
Oldtimers will remember November 2, 1951. Folks came out of church across the street to discover their cars stuck in two or three feet of snow. They couldn’t get home, so struggled over to Carline’s store, buying items like bread and bologna to make lunch on the spot. Elmer Webb had cattle over on Whitehaven Road at that time and he came by in a huge truck, on his way to feed them. Instead, he put the stranded folks in his truck and had them all safely home by 5 P.M. The Loders' baby girl was born that day and a plow had to take her mother to the hospital. She made it in time. On election day, two days later, most of the roads were cleared, although Bedell Road was snowed in for about a week.
The Carlines lived upstairs over the store, so their kids were usually around. “Hans Boettcher was the salesman who brought Sealtest products to the store and we had Mesmer’s milk as well. Mrs. Boettcher came one day with her youngest daughter, who went out back to play with our kids while she shopped. The mother rushed out the door with her groceries, leaving the child behind. I had to call her up and tell her she had forgotten something,” Ray told us one time.
Wilma Greenwood remembers working at the store. “I worked in Kresge’s in the Falls for a year before I went to Carline’s. I was there for 2 ½ years. It was hard work, because sometimes we had to lift heavy cases, but Ray was a real kind man, soft spoken and always smiling. He would get up early to go to market in Buffalo for fresh produce before he opened the store. He was known to have good meat and poultry. When he could no longer get eggs from Forsythe, he bought them from the Will Poultry Company, still in business. Most of the salesmen came from Buffalo. I think there was a small cleaner store next door and then the Webb farm house. There was a field on the other side. Joey Anderson and Jim Fleming also worked there for a while,” remembered Wilma. Ray and Mary Carline had three children, son Peter and two daughters, Susan and Mary Lou.
During hunting season, Carline would butcher deer for his customers. He would even put purchases “on the cuff” occasionally for regulars who were temporarily out of cash. Ray was one of the first advertisers in the Grand Island Pennysaver when it started publication. He had to buy water from Ray and Carl Schutt who bought it from the town. There were very few good wells on the Island and most places did not have town water at the time. The cost was $3 for 1200 gallons, and that lasted about a week. Water is actually a lot cheaper today.
Eventually, the supermarkets came to Grand Island, squeezing out smaller stores like Carline’s. NuWay opened in Ames Plaza, and Bells at Drago Plaza. Carlines was closed in 1965. The family continued to live upstairs until Mary and Ray built their new home next door. Ray’s brother, Ben, had a fish store there for a while but then moved down the line. The old store eventually burned. Ray then worked for many years with Federal Markets. He is gone now, but his wife Mary, and son Peter still live next door in the family homestead.