History Has Its Eyes On You, Part Deux

So, dear friends, the Schuyler statue is gone.

After being called out in the newspaper over its lack of follow through, Albany hastily arranged for the removal of Philip Schuyler to parts unknown.

They hoisted him up and carted him away, and then another crew proceeded to rip apart the statue’s base, where they uncovered a time capsule placed there in 1925. Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan was so excited, she practically danced a jig over the rubble when the workers pulled out the copper clad case that was brimming with interesting and well-preserved artifacts.

Ironic? Yes. Sheehan has demonstrated throughout the Schuyler mess that her understanding of history is like that of a fifth grader. This is the good guy, that’s the bad guy, black is black and white is white, and there shall be no gray areas betwixt the two. No context and zero nuance.

She demonstrated this again lately when a Times Union columnist asked her about Mayor Erastus Corning 2nd. “Love it or hate it, we’re stuck with part of Corning’s legacy, which is [Interstate] 787 and the Empire State Plaza.”

Huh. That’s the best you can do when discussing such a complex and interesting character as Corning? All I can conclude is that she’s pandering to her base, or — and I’m sorry to put it this way — that she’s just not very sharp.

Schuyler’s demise is anticlimactic, at best. Off he goes to some warehouse, like that big wooden crate in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Maybe if Sheehan were a bolder politician, she would have made a real statement, like melting down the statue. Then, perhaps, she could have used the molten bronze to fill some of Albany’s potholes.

History Has Its Eyes On You

Poor old Philip Schuyler. He gets short shrift in Hamilton, appearing only very briefly in one number — and he doesn’t get to sing a single word in a show with about a million words. But that’s not the worst of Philip Schuyler’s problems.

Lately there’s been a lot of controversy in Albany over Schuyler’s slave ownership, a complicated fact that makes our view of his legacy a little blurry. In Albany, they recently decided to take Schuyler’s name off an elementary school, and the city is now removing the heroic statue of Schuyler that stands before city hall.

Like a lot of prominent people in colonial times, Schuyler’s legacy is patchy. Research by a historian at the Schuyler Mansion historic site estimates that Schuyler owned something like 40 slaves at one time or another to run his household and property. There’s also solid evidence that he facilitated slave ownership by his daughter Elizabeth and son-in-law Alexander Hamilton. Yes, Hamilton.

This really complicates our view of the ten-dollar founding father and his father-in-law.

Not an easy one.

We can’t compare our world today to what was common in the late 1700s, when the people fighting our war for liberty were slave owners, most notably George Washington.

So let’s consider this for a second: If we’re going to remove the Philip Schuyler statue from in front of Albany City Hall, next have a look at the statue of Washington across from the Alfred E. Smith building. Yeah, and rename Washington Avenue. And Washington Park, Washington County, Washingtonville, the Washington Tavern. Washington D.C., too. Let’s get his ass off the quarter and dollar bill, while we’re at it. Time to wipe that wig wearing, wooden toothed, slave-owning motherfucker right off the map.

Yes, let’s do all those things and more, because it will change… nothing.

I’m not going to pretend to have any answers here. History is full of people that did great things, but whose hands are stained with stuff that can’t be washed off.

This may be going out on a limb, but I’d bet you that most people couldn’t tell you who that statue depicts, but if it makes everybody feel better, let’s pack Schuyler on a truck and drag him away. The Schuyler Mansion would be a good place for him; at least there, people would know who’s up on the pedestal and what he was all about — good and bad.

Patty Wagon

If you want to convince an Irishman that you’re an eejit, call March 17 “St. Patty’s Day.” Let’s be clear: Patty is short for Patricia, and Paddy is the nickname for Patrick.


A quick survey of the news reveals that there are a lot of eejits out there in the media using “St. Patty” — too many to count. To make matters even worse, the misuse of St. Patty is disrespectful to another saint.

St. Patricia was a 7th century noblewoman who gave everything to the poor, took a vow of virginity and devoted her life to the Lord. St. Patty ended up near Naples after being shipwrecked during a voyage to Jerusalem. She later died and is now the city’s patron saint. Her feast day — which one might call St. Patty’s Day — is celebrated on August 25. According to Wikipedia, people believe that the dried remains of her blood turn to liquid on that day — and on “every Tuesday morning.” The Tuesday part seems to make it less special.

So, let’s not mix up our Pattys with our Paddys. Do it once and you can be forgiven as a simple eejit. Do again? Then you’re a feckin eejit.

The Depot

Drive out Route 7 and you’ll come across the Rotterdam Corporate Park. It’s a sprawling complex of warehouses that are home to all sorts of businesses, and if big space is what you need, big space is what they’ve got.

It may not be an inspiring spot these days, but 75 years ago, it was bustling. Known then as the Schenectady General Depot, it was a key part of the massive war effort, a link in the supply chain that supported the most powerful army the world had ever seen.

Day and night, trains would arrive and disgorge the endless supplies of war, everything from trucks and tanks to the most mundane bits of equipment. Then, it would all be sorted and stuffed onto different trains that would speed their cargo to waiting ships at East Coast ports.

But after the war the trains started coming back from the ports with a more precious cargo: the remains of service members on their last trip home.

In 1946, the government gave families the option to have the their fallen loved ones returned to America, rather than remaining buried in the region where they died. Today we’re accustomed to war dead being shipped home; that was not always the case.

The Schenectady General Depot was one of 15 distribution points across America that handled this task. They would receive remains that arrived from either the Brooklyn Army Terminal or Oakland Army Terminal in specially built rail cars. From there, the deceased service members were sent to their final destination. Shorter trips were accomplished with custom built hearses; longer journeys saw the remains, in their flag draped caskets, loaded aboard trains.

On the last leg of the journey, each of the deceased was escorted by a member of the same branch in which they served. These escorts oversaw the final details of transportation and often met with families. When aboard passenger trains, the escorts carried two tickets — one for themselves and one the soldier, sailor or Marine in their charge.

In the years after the war, more that 170,000 servicemen and women came home this way. Schenectady served most of the Northeast, so it had to be a busy place. Many were local boys, like Edward Kalinowski of Hoosick Falls.

Today it’s just another industrial park, but with a little imagination you might conjure up an image of what it was like in World War II. So long ago, when we packed off the tools of war — and then a few years later when its tragic byproduct came rolling on home.

Read more here about the work of repatriating World War II dead.

View the complete records of Edward Kalinowski’s long journey home. This includes documents pertaining to the return of his personal effects, burial and disinterment, and paperwork related to his transit back to Schenectady.

A Visit by Erastus

It’s always interesting to see what people are throwing away, and a keen eye toward trash will sometimes yield treasure, large and small.

One day at WNYT, I hauled a bag full of crap down from my office (despite what you’ve heard, I really was the creative services director, not the janitor) and saw a bankers box labelled “archives” in the dumpster. Well, who would’t peek at that?

It was crammed with an assortment of old correspondence dating back to the 1950s — and a folder full of photos. If these are archives, I reasoned, they belong in my office, not the dumpster.

A lot of the papers dealt with the mundane matters of running a business, but among the photos were a few real gems, like the ones below. My favorite is this picture of good old Erastus Corning 2nd gamely peering into the WTRI camera for a PR shot.

And how about the look on this dogs face? Clearly, dogs have a lower tolerance for goofy photo ops than do politicians.

This photo is not quite so old. It’s from 1960 after they’d switched to the unfortunate call letters, WAST, for Albany-Schenectady-Troy. Add an “E” and you’ve got WASTE. The caption on the back identifies the woman as “Miss Nancy Doell, local Albany television actress.”

These pictures are from a time when television was still rather new and glamourous, but I think local TV still holds a certain fascination to people. I always enjoyed giving tours at channel 13 and seeing how much people loved looking behind the scenes. And the anchors and meteorologists? They’re the closest thing we have to celebrities. Well, I suppose in this town, politicians are also celebrities of a sort, just not always in a good way.

Bronx 1934

I binged four seasons of Boardwalk Empire recently. It has all the usual gangster stuff I enjoy, but there’s also a profound sadness to the show. Tragedy lurks around every corner, and as you get involved with the characters, you feel their pain.

I liked it a lot, but as the body count mounted from season to season, a nagging thought began to gnaw at me: these crime dramas  rarely show the devastating effect that death can have on a family, sometimes lasting for generations.

I know this because murder touched my own family many years ago.

I never met my grandfather, because in 1934 he was shot in a Bronx pool hall. The two men accused in his murder, described by the NY Times as a “minor politician” and a “former pugilist” were acquitted at trial.

In the movies, that would be the end of the end of the story, but in real life, he left behind my grandmother and six children. My father was seven-years-old.

Those were tough years and losing the head of the household couldn’t have helped. It changed the trajectory of the family in ways we’ll never know.

The next time you watch a scene of carnage in some gangster shoot-em-up think how each minor figure is connected to so many other lives. It moves the plot in one direction, but shifts the world in another.

Somebody’s Been In Prison Too Long

A lot of us were fascinated by the escape from Dannemora, so the 150 page report on last year’s prison break is like a wonderful gift from Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott.

The report is crammed with minute details about the incident, and much of it is served up by none other than escapee David Sweat. Matt took his side of the tale to the grave.

It’s also contains some funny things, like the instructions Sweat gave Joyce Mitchell about meeting them after they emerged on the other side of the wall:

“I told her you can leave the car running, shut your headlights and stuff off, and you’ll get out of the car, act like you’re talking on the phone, because everybody knows you’re not allowed to drive and talk on the phone…”

Yes, everybody knows you’re not allowed to drive and talk on the phone.

Anyway, I give the report two thumbs up!

Lot’s of people say that the Dannemora escape would make a good movie, and perhaps it would, but I think it needs someone to root for. Maybe we could write in a third escapee, someone forced to go along against his will, a character convicted of something less contemptible than the murderous Matt and Sweat. How about an  art thief? Then he could turn the tables on the evil pair —  and in the end get the girl. We’d glam her up a bit, of course. Hey, it’s Hollywood.

Twitter 1891

Social media? It was around long before Twitter and Facebook. Granted it moved at a slower pace; columns like this in an 1891 issue of the Altamont Enterprise contained posts that are not so much different from what we see today:


A dozen or so local towns are covered in the “Vicinity Correspondence” section, and besides word of mouth, in its day this is how small bits of news were passed about. When you think about it, “This place is now without a shoemaker,” wouldn’t be a bad tweet.

Just like today, there were certainly people who thought all this information was useless. They’d probably shake their heads and say, “Christ! I don’t care whose farm Norman Miller is going to work on any more than I care what he ate for breakfast!” That may be, but I bet most people turned to page two and read that first. It’s interesting even 125 years later.