The New York Times is reporting that the Brooklyn College Library has acquired an outstanding collection of boxing history materials from boxing historian Hank Kaplan. According to his obituary (he died at 88 in 2007), Kaplan served was “founder and editor of Boxing Digest magazine, editor of Boxing World and served as consultant to such media outlets as Sports Illustrated, London Times, Der Stern and HBO.” According to the Times:
As yet unavailable to researchers, the collection — so far publicly confined to a small exhibition area in the library — consumes a 10-foot-high chamber in the Archives and Special Collections Division.
Crammed into the space are 2,600 books, 200,000 rare prints and negatives, 790 boxes of newspaper clippings from 1890 to 2007, 300 tapes of fights and interviews, reams of correspondence and hundreds of items of memorabilia, including belt buckles, trading cards and signed boxing gloves. Among the treasures is a heavy punching bag pounded by Cassius Clay in Miami before he renamed himself Muhammad Ali.
Although it might seem incongruous for an academic institution to devote space to a boxing collection, Professor Anthony M. Cucchiara said he hoped the Kaplan collection would be “a valuable archaeological dig” for scholars. “I suppose some people would want to turn their noses up at a boxing collection,” he said. “But the story of America is in this archive. Boxing is a prism for our cultural history, and is important for its associations with immigration, ethnicity, class, race and nationalism.”
Hank Kaplan received the James J. Walker Award from the Boxing Writers Association of America for “Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing” in 2002. In 2006 he was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
A number of his recent feature pieces are available online at The Sweet Science.
Incredible news from the Schenectady Gazette this morning. Schenectady City Historian Don Rittner has apparently found the first railroad tunnel ever constructed buried in the historic Schenectady stockade district. The find includes a section of the original tracks:
The 15-foot-deep tunnel snakes its way across what are now a dozen or more private backyards. But in 1832, that land was a major thoroughfare — the foundation of the city’s prosperity and growth for the next century.
Hundreds of business owners and daring families rode through the tunnel on trains so experimental that they were considered too dangerous to be allowed on city streets. They could travel so fast and their engines could produce so many wild sparks that city leaders feared pedestrians would be run over and buildings burned down.
So horses dragged the trains from the Erie Canal to the Scotia bridge along a safe, deep tunnel. It was an experiment that lasted just six years, but in that time it was guaranteed a place in the history books. Not only was the tunnel the first ever constructed for a locomotive, but the entrance was the first junction of two railroad companies, according to Rittner.
Technically, the first rail road in the United States is believed to have been a gravity railroad in Lewiston, New York in 1764. The Mohawk and Hudson Railroad, of which the tunnel would have been a part, was the first modern-style railroad built in the State of New York; it was incorporated in 1826 by the Mohawk and Hudson Company and opened August 9, 1831. On April 19, 1847, the name was changed to the Albany and Schenectady Railroad. The railroad was consolidated into the New York Central Railroad on May 17, 1853. In 1867, the first elevated railroad was built in New York.
One of the blogs I follow here at New York History is Michael Lorenzen’s American Presidents blog. he recently took a trip to New York and posted a three-part blog on the Roosevelt sites:
Part One – covered Sagamore Hill, the Long Island estate of Theodore and Edith Roosevelt.
Part Two – looked at Eleanor Roosevelt’s home Val-Kill.
Part Three – was a visit to the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park.
Interesting reads, from an interesting blog.
Morgan James Publishing has announced a new book on the Tammany Hall / Thomas Nast conflict titled Doomed by Cartoon: How Cartoonist Thomas Nast and the New York Times Brought Down Boss Tweed and His Ring of Thieves (by John Adler and Draper Hill). According to a recent press release:
In many respects, a nineteenth century story of David and Goliath. The legendary politician, Boss Tweed, effectively controlled New York City from after the Civil War until his downfall in November 1871. A huge man of almost 300 pounds, he and his Ring of Thieves appeared to be invincible as they stole an estimated $30 to $200 million—up to $2 billion in today’s dollars.
In addition to the city, county and state government, many judges and the police, the Tweed Ring effectively controlled the press except for Harper’s Weekly, American’s leading illustrated newspaper, and (after August 1870) The New-York Times.
Thomas Nast was the most dominant American political cartoonist of all time. Physically, he was a head shorter than Tweed and about half his weight. Using his pen as his sling, he attacked Tweed almost single-handedly before the Times joined the battle in September 1870. After the Ring was beaten, Nast caricatured what happened to Tweed and his cohorts as justice pursued each of them.
Where Doomed by Cartoon differs from previous books about Boss Tweed is its focus on look¬ing at circumstances and events as Thomas Nast visualized them in his 160-plus cartoons, almost like a serialized but intermittent comic book covering 1866 through 1878. It has been organized to tell the Nast vs. Tweed story so that ordinary readers with an interest in politics, history and/or cartoons—or just in a uniquely caricatured political adventure story—will enjoy it.
For those who don’t recall, Tweed was arrested in 1872 and convicted the following year. He was sentenced to 12 years prison sentence, but that was reduced on appeal and he ended-up serving only one year. After his re-arrest on civil charges he was held in debtors prison. On January 3, 1875 Tweed escaped, fled to Cuba, but was arrested there by Cuban authorities. He then bribed his way onto a ship bound for Spain but was again arrested as he entered the Spain and returned to New York where he was re-imprisoned. Tweed died in the Ludlow Street Jail on April 12, 1878 and was buried in Brooklyn.
Here is a recent news item regarding the re-installation of what is believed to be “probably the world’s largest mounted fish, maybe the largest piece of taxidermy in the world” – a 73-year-old, 32-foot, mounted whale shark caught off Fire Island in 1935 and believed to have weighed about 8 tons (16,000 pounds). It has been freshly restored was unveiled at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport, where it was damaged by water leakage that closed part of the museum in 1996.
The unveiling got us thinking about the history of taxidermy in New York. According to the great wiki.
As the demand for quality leather and hides grew, the methods became more and more sophisticated. By the 1700s, almost every small town had a prosperous tannery business. In the 1800s, hunters began bringing their trophies to upholstery shops where the upholsterers would actually sew up the animal skins and stuff them with rags and cotton. The term “stuffing” or a “stuffed animal” evolved from this crude form of taxidermy.
It should be added that taxidermy got a boost during the 18th century fascination with natural science presented to the public through exhibitions of strange and exotic animals brought from distant lands and installed in cabinets of wonder, early museums, and the like.
In France Louis Dufresne, taxidermist at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle from 1793, popularized arsenical soap in an article in Nouveau dictionnaire d’histoire naturelle (1803–1804). This technique enabled the Muséum to build the greatest collection of birds in the world.
In the early 20th century, taxidermy began to evolve into its modern form under the leadership of artists such as Carl Akeley, James L. Clark [that’s him in the photo at the American Museum of Natural History], William T. Hornaday, Coleman Jonas, Fredrick and William Kaempfer, and Leon Pray. These and other taxidermists developed anatomically accurate figures which incorporated every detail in artistically interesting poses, with mounts in realistic settings and poses that were considered more appropriate for the species. This was quite a change from the caricatures that were popularly offered as hunting trophies.
Carl Akeley has a special place in New York taxidermy. His lifelike creations were installed in dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and can be seen in the museum’s Akeley African Hall (he also is considered the founder of a New York City staple – shotcrete).
Akeley was born in Clarendon, NY, and learned taxidermy in nearby Brockport and Rochester. In 1886 he moved to the Milwaukee Public Museum where he created one of the world’s first complete museum habitat dioramas in 1890. Akeley specialized in African mammals; rather then “stuffing” the animals he fit their skins over a form of the animal’s body.
In 1909 Akeley accompanied Theodore Roosevelt to Africa and began work at the American Museum of Natural History. In 1921 he traveled to Mt. Mikeno in the Virungas at the edge of what was then Belgian Congo to try and figure out if killing gorillas was justified. According to a Milwaukee exhibit, he eventually opposed hunting them for trophies but continued to support killing them for science and education purposes. He worked for the establishment of Africa’s first national park – Virunga (home of Dian Fossey and her famous gorilla in the mist and now under serious threat).
He was also interested in filmmaking and photography. Eileen Jones’s PhD dissertation in 2004 concluded that “representations of the African landscape and African fauna in the Akeley Memorial African Hall… were antithetical to assumptions about the impenetrable wilderness of ‘Darkest Africa’ that previously had dominated American popular culture.”
The American Museum of Natural History holds the collection of his second wife and includes photos Akeley took in Africa and films of the mountings he did at the museum. He published an autobiography, In Brightest Africa, in 1923 but died on his fifth trip to Africa in 1926 and was buried there.
One of the blogs I follow here at New York History is Executed Today, which gives a glimpse of those unfortunates who have found themselves at the wrong end of capital punishment. Unlike the American-only Execution Database of the Death Penalty Information Center, Executed Today travels the world far and wide and includes notable lynchings and other extra-legal violent deaths.
Wednesday’s post “1890: William Kemmler, only in America,” traces the emergence of the electric chair in New York by following the careers of those that have made state death their business. Men like Buffalo dentist (hence the chair and not the gurney) Dr. Alfred Southwick, who watched a drunk guy die after falling into an electrical generator and then worked diligently with New York Governor David B. Hill to make execution by electricity legal. The first execution, despite the War of Currents, was William Kemmler on August 6, 1890. He had been convicted of the hatchet murder of his common-law wife Tillie Ziegler. That’s a sketch of his death at left-above.
Some other recent fascinating posts at Executed Today have included:
1916: Sir Roger Casement
Executed by the British Government for his part in the Easter Rising.
1917: Frank Little of the IWW lynched
Wobbly labor organizer abducted from his hotel and hanged from a railroad trestle in Butte, Montana.
1963: 21 Iraqi Communists
Iraq’s new Ba’ath government executed 21 Shi’a soldiers for participating in a coup attempt.
The Oneida Indian Nationhas announced that they will participate in an memorial ceremony to remember the 1777 Battle of Oriskany this evening:
231 years ago, the Oneida Indian Nation became the first ally of the American colonists in their fight for freedom, at the Battle of Oriskany. On Wednesday, August 6, at 7 pm, a solemn remembrance ceremony will be held at the battlefield to remember those who fought and those who died at what history has called the ”bloodiest battle of the American Revolution.” The Oneidas will be represented at this community-wide event by Brian Patterson, Bear Clan Representative for the Nation’s Council, and members of the Nation’s reenactment group, First Allies.
The Battle took place in what is now Oneida County on the south side of the Mohawk River. According to the great wiki:
During his march down the Mohawk Valley from Oswego to Albany, Lieutenant Colonel Barry St. Leger besieged Fort Stanwix, then under the command of Colonel Peter Gansevoort. St. Leger’s force of British regulars of the Royal Artillery, 8th and 34th Regiments, loyalist King’s Royal Yorkers and natives of the Six Nations and Seven Nations of Canada laid siege to the fort.
Upon hearing reports of St. Leger’s advance, Brigadier General Nicholas Herkimer assembled the Tryon County militia at Fort Dayton to proceed to Gansevoort’s aid. On August 4, 1777, Herkimer, with 800 militiamen—mostly poorly trained German-American farmers—and 40 Oneida Indians, began the forty-mile (65 km) trek west from Fort Dayton to Fort Stanwix.
When St. Leger learned through Molly Brant that Herkimer and his relief expedition were on their way, he sent Joseph Brant, a Mohawk chief, with more than 400 natives, and Sir John Johnson, with the light infantry company of his King’s Royal Yorkers to intercept them. Their clash at Oriskany Creek was one of the key episodes of the Campaign of 1777.
On August 6, 1777, [the] American relief force from the Mohawk Valley under General Nicholas Herkimer, numbering around 800 men of the Tryon County militia, was approaching to raise the siege. British commander Barry St. Leger authorized an intercept force consisting of a Hanau Jager detachment, Sir John Johnson’s King’s Royal Regiment of New York, Native allies from the Six Nations, and Indian Department Rangers totaling at least 450 men.
The Loyalist and Native force ambushed Herkimer’s force in a small valley about six miles east of Fort Stanwix. During the battle, Herkimer was mortally wounded. The battle cost the Patriots approximately 450 casualties, while the Loyalists and Natives lost approximately 150 dead and wounded. It was a clear victory for the loyalists over the rebels.
But the Loyalist victory was tarnished when a sortie from Fort Stanwix sacked the Crown camp, spoiling morale among the Native Americans.
The Oriskany Battlefield is located on Route 69, two miles west of the Village of Oriskany.
Capital News 9 is reporting that former state employee Daniel Lorello is expected to plead guilty today in Albany County Court. He was arrested for stealing hundreds of documents from the New York State Library and selling them on eBay.
Lorello was an archivist in the Education Department’s Office of Cultural Education. He was arrested in January after an investigation led by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo found about 200 state documents [sic: actually it was a lot more than that, read on] had been stolen for profit.
Among the items Lorello is accused of stealing is a letter written in 1823 by Vice President John Calhoun.
Officials said history buff Joseph Romito, a lawyer from Virginia, alerted state authorities after seeing some of the historic documents being sold on eBay.
A piece from earlier this year in the Albany Times Union fills-in more of the picture:
Lorello admitted selling “Davy Crockett’s Almanack” from 1835 for around $3,200 and an 1837 almanac of the frontier hero for $2,000, both to a Colorado collector late last year. Around the same time he sold a copy of “Poor Richard’s Almanac” for $1,001, authorities said.
He was thwarted after he tried to sell an 1823 letter from Vice President John C. Calhoun to a New York general on eBay, posting it as a historical document, authorities said.
Lorello, an expert on Civil War history, coordinated a three-year plan to renovate the storage of state historical records on the 11th floor of the State Library. His duties also included acquiring new artifacts and working with researchers, said State Education spokesman Alan Ray. Ray noted that Lorello is accused of stealing items from the State Library — not the State Archives, where he was employed. The State Archives and Library, along with the State Museum, are part of New York’s Office of Cultural Education. The library alone contains more than 20 million items.
Staffers have so far recovered 263 items, Ray said.
In his statement, Lorello estimated stealing 300 to 400 items in 2007 alone. He told the attorney general’s office he delivered the artifacts by way of FedEx, United Parcel Service and other shippers. Lorello accepted money orders and bank checks for the items, according to the court papers.
“I particularly liked items associated with the Revolutionary War, Civil War, Mexican War, Black Americana, WWI, anything related to the Roosevelts, Jewish items,” he told investigators.
UPDATE: From the Schenectady Gazette this afternoon:
In Albany County Court, 54-year-old Daniel Lorello of Rensselaer admitted stealing artifacts since 1997. He faces two to six years in prison at sentencing Oct. 1. He must also pay $73,000 in restitution to buyers who later returned stolen property and forfeit seized items and his private book collection.
This past week marks the anniversaries of quite a series of transportation disasters in New York History. Three of them have reached the media: the 1893 sinking of the Rachel in Lake George; the 1945 crash of a B-25 Mitchell bomber into the Empire State Building; and the crash of American Airlines Flight 1 into New York City’s Jamaica Bay in 1962.
The Schenectady Gazette has the story of the Rachel, which sank on Lake George killing ten (coincidently, the week also marks the anniversary of another Lake George sinking, that of the John Jay on July 30, 1856). On the night of August 3, 1893 the steamer Rachel was chartered by twenty nine guests of the Fourteen Mile Island Hotel to take them to a dance at the Hundred Island House.
The usual captain fell ill and went home early leaving the boat in the hands of a less experienced pilot. Under little or no moon light as the pilot steered unknowingly out of the channel and struck an old dock south of the hotel tearing a large hole in the side of the boat below the water line. Some of the passengers were caught on the shade deck and died quickly as the boat listed and almost immediately sank in 18 feet of water. “The shrieking, struggling passengers battled for life in the darkness,” one newspaper reported. With only her smokestack left above water, a number of men from shore had rowed boats from the two nearby hotels to the scene to rescue the survivors. A young man named Benedict, an excellent swimmer, dove for his sister Bertha but couldn’t find her. Nineteen-year-old Frank C. Mitchell, of Burlington, drowned while trying to save his mother who also drowned. Eight other women also drowned.
The 1962 American Airlines Flight 1 into Jamaica Bay was featured on last night episode of “Mad Men.” The series follows the lives of early 1960s Madison Avenue ad executives. If you haven’t seen it, you should, it’s an interesting portrayal of 1950s / 1960s consumerism – a time when people still smoked on TV. The storyline involves the ad guys dropping the small New York based regional airline Mohawk Airlines in an attempt to lure American Airlines in the aftermath of the crash. Mohawk had it’s own aviation disaster in 1969 when its Flight 411, a twin prop-jet commuter plane (a Fairchild-Hiller 227, a.k.a. Fokker F-27) flying from La Guardia Airport to Glens Falls in Warren County crashes at Lake George killing all 14 onboard.
The New York Times “City Room” has blogged the Flight 1 story extensively:
The real-life crash, which took place only five years after Pan Am became the first carrier to fly the 707, claimed the largest number of lives of any commercial aviation accident in the United States at that time . (In the worst-ever plane crash on American soil, an American Airlines DC-10 crashed shortly after takeoff at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago on May 25, 1979, killing 273.)
The third New York disaster in the media this week comes from National Public Radio (NPR) which reported last week on the crash of a B-25 Mitchell bomber into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building (it swerved to just miss the Chrysler Building). The plane had been trying to make LaGuardia Airport in a very heavy fog. According to the blog History’s Mysteries:
Upon impact, the plane’s jet fuel exploded, filling the interior of the building with flames all the way down to the 75th floor and sending flames out of the hole the plane had ripped open in the building’s side. One engine from the plane went straight through the building and landed in a penthouse apartment across the street. Other plane parts ended up embedded in and on top of nearby buildings. The other engine snapped an elevator cable while at least one woman was riding in the elevator car. The emergency auto brake saved the woman from crashing to the bottom, but the engine fell down the shaft and landed on top of it. Quick-thinking rescuers pulled the woman from the elevator, saving her life.
What a week – I’ve blogged before about disasters in the Adirondacks here.