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  1. We are at mid-summer now; sort of half way between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox.  And we’ve had our share of “dog days” when even Freckles, our setter, didn’t move far from a fan.  We could use some moisture; often we seem to be in a little pocket where the rain goes happily around us leaving us out there doing our rain dances in vain.  We did get some thunder showers this week, and so things are growing fairly well and the state of the gardens is  good enough that my sensible thoughts of putting some of the beds to rest next year are getting resistance from a more optimistic (and foolish) part of my brain.

    Speaking of the brain, we all have heard about the current overdosing crisis with opiates.  Sadly, we’ve had young victims even in our small community.  I had a related and interesting experience recently when I visited the pain clinic attached to the medical services I use.  I had no intention of requesting opiates ---- mostly because no pain medication I’ve tried has made the least difference.   Heat, topical applications, and specific massage were far more productive for jabbing nerves and spasmodic muscles.   But part of the procedure at this clinic was asking me to sign a document giving them permission to prescribe opiates if I agreed they were needed (really??!! Sort of a no-brainer I’d think!), and then there was a list of promises I had to make IF that occasion ever arose (the real thrust of the document).  None of the promises were objectionable, though a couple were ones I hadn’t previously considered.  I was just rather taken aback by the whole experience.  It definitely emphasized how seriously addiction is now being regarded and how much the prescription process has tightened.

    My visit there led me to think further about addiction to substances or behavior and why it is so prevalent.  Truthfully, I think we all have addictions of varying degrees.   Our sons accuse us of being addicted to auctions!  Really!!   But there truly does seem to be an increase of serious dependence on drugs or alcohol, to gambling, pornography and other risky behaviors, to food, to video-game-playing, to the omnipresent I-phones, and OCD is addiction to process and procedure.  A desperate abyss of need leads to addiction of some kind.  When I’m feeling low, I often self-medicate with a cup of tea and chocolate, both of which, thankfully, are still legal and relatively innocuous.   But that same situational need could turn to addiction if I should become desperate enough, due to pain, either physical or mental.   Research has shown that some addictions or tendencies to addiction can be inherited, either genetically or by the examples we see growing up.   The dilemma comes in finding a way to quell pain, that isn’t illegal or destroying to our health and relationships.   Most of us are not stoics nor should we be!!  Pain is debilitating, and needs easing.  It’s just too bad that fresh garden peas or delicate green lettuce leaves don’t have the same pain-numbing effect that brandy, opiates or cigarettes have. Just think of the benefits if we could develop addictions to daily walks, evening meditation or kale smoothies.

      Many years ago, I was taking an anti-depressant.  When I decided that I didn’t really like its side-effects, I found that going off that medication, even with a doctor’s plan for weaning the body, gave me three quite uncomfortable months.  My mind didn’t really care, but my body surely wasn’t happy about it.  On the other hand, chocolate candies or salty chips are not bodily cravings.  The digestive system is quite happy with chicken, carrot sticks and cucumbers, but one’s mind and sense of taste create that yearning for salty and/or sweet and it is the mind that panics when the cupboard is empty.   So craving can be either physical or psychological, or both.

    In the past two or three years, I’ve heard a variety of attitudes regarding the growing new programs out there for treating addiction to drugs or alcohol.  There are still people who think that anyone dealing with addiction shows a moral weakness that could and should be conquerable by a strong will, and they resent taxes being used for recovery centers.   This has probably been the prevailing, shaming attitude for decades.  It indicates considerable lack of knowledge on the part of those who think this.  They obviously do not understand how the body and brain work and probably have little insight into their own behaviors.   Some individuals voicing these uncharitable and unscientific sentiments are the same people who go through a six-pack every night, a half-dozen doughnuts or ten cups of coffee in a day.  Their addiction is more subtle.  Research and experience show clearly that serious addiction is a public as well as personal health issue that needs treating much as does diabetes or small pox.  And the support and love of friends and family is essential.

    If we are honest with ourselves, we should realize that each one of us could find ourselves in an addictive situation unless we are, as I mentioned, stoics who seek no easing for any kind of pain, and go through life with a perennial stiff upper lip.  Jean Paul Sartre* said: “You are your choices”.  But it is also good to remember Alexandra Stoddard’s** assertion that “the power of choosing good is within the reach of all of us.”   Even against all odds!   Ludwig von Beethoven*** said “…the mark of a really admirable man {person} is steadfastness in the face of trouble.   And he should know!  No musician regards deafness with anything but horror------ but Beethoven wrote some very fine music through the pain of his disability.

    I personally know two people who have done tough work in therapy, discerning why they were/are addicted to a substance.  They consider that they are still in recovery even after years of abstaining.  The process is never easy; it takes courage and starting over again and again.   But they are a shining light to anyone else who needs help on that path, and they inspire me.   Sometimes we find that our pain, whatever it might be, can be used to bring maturing and healing to ourselves and others.  I truly believe that nothing we experience is wasted if we choose to live in the Light.

    And regarding light, we are now on the diminishing side of our daily light cycle (daylight) in this hemisphere.  But we still have lovely evenings for sitting on the porch or gardening.   I find healing for many kinds of pain, in just being in the garden, especially between about 7 and 9 PM.  There’s a peaceful atmosphere that quiets my soul often ruffled by the day’s turmoil.  Actually lying on the ground (on a thin sheet; must remember those cats, birds, and turkeys wandering our lawn) is healing to back pain too; something about the magnetism of the earth aligning with that of the body.

    These mid-summer days are just right for hammocks, swimming holes, lemonade and thinking long thoughts.   Naturalist, Edwin Way Teale, reminds us to enjoy our summer days while we have them.  “Each year, during sweltering summer days, the same reflection occurs to me.  I remember, with a sense of wonder, how difficult it will be to recall my sensations in the heat of July when --- only six months hence ---- I am amid the cold and snow of January.” **** So take things easy and relax into summer.

    *John Paul Sarte –1905-1980. French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, political activist and literary critic.

    **Alexandra Stoddard ---- American interior designer and lifestyle philosopher

    ***Ludwig von Beethoven --- 1770-1827.  German classical and romantic composer.

    ****Circle of the Seasons by Edwin Way Teale.  1899-1980. American naturalist, photographer and writer.

     

     

  2. by Erin Doane

    One of the most famous sights at Wisner Park’s summer market is the restored antique popcorn truck that was originally owned and operated by Frank Romeo from 1930 until his retirement in 1971. Many people who remember Romeo and his truck have fond, nostalgic memories of the kind man who sold popcorn, peanuts, and other treats in the park. Not many are aware of the struggles that he went through to become a beloved fixture in downtown.

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    "The Popcorn Man" by Lori Mustico

    The website https://www.elmira-ny.com/popcorn/index.shtml has a wonderful history of the work undertaken by the Popcorn Truck Preservation Society in the late 1980s to restore the “Red Wagon” to its former glory. It is definitely worth reading about all the time and effort that went into bringing the popcorn truck back to life, so to speak. My focus here is going to be on the truck’s first life with Frank Romeo.

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    Constantina and Frank Romeo with the popcorn truck, 1971

     

    Frank Romeo was an Italian immigrant who came to Elmira in 1912 at the age of 17. He was drafted into the military in 1918 and served in World War I. In 1922, he began his nearly 50-year career in the popcorn business. At that time, he had fallen ill and lost his job. He told a Star-Gazette reporter years later that his doctor told him “if I didn’t get more air I might as well build my own box. So instead of building a box, I built a push cart. And I started selling popcorn.” The southeast corner of North Main and West Church Streets in Wisner Park seemed the perfect place to get fresh air and sell popcorn he popped by hand over a coal stove on his cart.

    In those early days, however, Romeo had not settled on that corner of the park as the only location of his business. In July 1929, he had a popcorn and soft drink stand on West Miller Street in front of the Southside playground. On the night of July 10th, a drunk driver crashed his vehicle into the stand. Romeo received $335 from the driver in $10 weekly installments to cover the damages done. A clerk who happened to be at the stand at the time also received $60 for hospital expenses and to replace his clothing that was ruined in the crash.

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    "Little Red Wagon Set" by Talitha Botsford

    In 1930, a local car dealer made a specially designed popcorn wagon on a two-ton chassis for Frank Romeo’s business. With this new truck, he settled into his corner near Wisner Park at North Main and West Church Streets and had no desire to leave. Even his arrest that year for violating section 154 of Article 12 of the city ordinances would not move him. The text of the law reads: 

    "No person shall permit any vehicle owned or controlled by him to stop upon or anywise encumber any public streets or places within the City of Elmira…for a longer period than 15 minutes along any block while engaged in selling or offering for sale any provisions or merchandise;…and no person shall erect or maintain any booth or stand, nor place any barrels, boxes, crates or other obstructions upon any such public street or places for the purpose of selling or exposing for sale any provision or merchandise."

    Romeo’s arrest came after Alderman John B. Sheehe registered a complaint on the floor of the Common Council against the operation of freelance street peddlers. He introduced a resolution directing police Chief Elvin D. Weaver to act to enforce the ordinance. Romeo’s friends and fellow military veterans rallied around him after his arrest, believing he was being discriminated against. No other merchants had been arrested even though nearly every grocer or fruit dealer in the city was in violation of the ordinance for having boxes and crates full of merchandise on the sidewalks in front of their businesses.

    Romeo pled not guilty before the Recorder’s Court and was represented by Attorney Harry Markson, a veteran himself of World War I. After the war, veterans were given state licenses to operate as peddlers. Romeo had such a license as well as a city permit to operate his business. The city’s recorder found Romeo not guilty of violating the ordinance regulating the operation of street peddlers and ruled that he had a legal right to sell his wares any place in the city at any time because of the ex-serviceman’s license he held. The recorder also noted that any peddler without such a license was in violation of the law and would be punished.

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    Elmira Star Gazette, April 26, 1930

     

    Romeo’s victory in court helped establish him and his red popcorn wagon as fixtures in downtown Elmira for years to come. There were still some bumps along the way, though. On June 9, 1931 his truck was damaged extensively by a fire that was believed to have been caused by defective wiring. A leak in the gasoline tank added fuel to the fire. During World War II, butter became scarce and rather than use a substitute that would bring down the famous quality of his popcorn, he shuttered the business and did other work. At the end of the war, he returned to his parking spot on the corner of North Main and West Church Streets. 

    Even when the city put in parking meters, public outcry led the city to set aside the parking space for Romeo for as long as he wanted it. And he stayed there until he retired in 1971. He was in his 70s at the time and had become a bit jaded by conditions in the area. His popcorn wagon was vandalized on occasion, once having its tires slit. In an interview several years after his retirement he said, “It was those park people. The hippies. I couldn’t see staying open just for them.”

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    Popcorn truck on the highway, 1971

    After retiring, Romeo sold his popcorn wagon to Kenneth White, a school teacher, for $1,000. White intended to use the truck as a source of summer income but he only ended up selling popcorn from it a half-dozen times before parking it in a garage. Nearly 20 years later, the newly-restored popcorn truck made its triumphant return to Wisner Park. Now, the truck lives full-time in a specially-constructed brick and glass building near the corner Romeo had claimed as his own and it comes out to provide warm, fresh popcorn at the Wisner Market.

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    Erin Doane is the curator at the Chemung County Historical Society. To see this and more of their blog, go to http://chemungcountyhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com

  3. Linda Roorda
    Latest Entry

    There once lived a man who faced a litany of untold suffering, whose riches could not buy relief.  It is said by some he never lived, that he was simply a character in an allegorical story.  Personally, I prefer to acknowledge Job as a man who truly lived and walked upon this earth, likely in the time of Abraham, according to our pastor.  So, what can this old man teach us today? 

     

    Job was a man who faced extreme adversity amidst his own physical and emotional frailties.  While his friends questioned what sin he might have done to cause the devastating calamities that struck him… and though Job was a man who questioned God’s faithfulness, and even rued the day he was born… yet he was a man who clung to a sliver of faith in Yahweh, Jehovah God.

     

    Studying the book of Job currently in Sunday School, though having written this poem and blog several years ago, I find in Job’s struggles and ultimate praise of God a wisdom I can look to in dealing with life’s difficulties.  When faced with our various problems in life, often our first question is why, perhaps followed by what did we do to cause this?  I’ve been there with both questions.

     

    Sometimes, we may become angry at God for allowing distressing trials.  Sometimes, we may turn our back on God… because He does not seem to embody love to our way of thinking.  Perhaps He did not prevent a catastrophic event in our life and we lost everything.  After all, we reason, haven’t we lived a good life?  We haven’t committed any horrible sins.  So why should we suffer? 

     

    My husband’s ongoing multiple health issues and blindness, my diagnosis of cancer a few years ago, the untimely death of our daughter at 25, and numerous other difficult situations have tried our faith and patience, never mind the bonds of marriage.  But, we are not alone in these various trials as the depths of tragedy and pain are evident in so many families around us.

     

    In all honesty, though I have questioned why and wondered what we had done to cause the various problems we’ve faced, I have not been angry at God.  To me, He is my creator.  He is omniscient.  He knows best why He allows the storms to happen.  He knows how all things will work out for good even though I don’t like the bumps in the road. (see Romans 8:28)  And, like Job said, shall we not accept and endure the trials just as we gladly accept our many blessings?  (see Job 2:10) 

     

    Often, these difficulties can only be viewed through the perspective of a rear-view mirror with amazement at how the Lord has walked with us, even carried us, through all of life.  And, I have found that even in the most difficult situations, including the loss of our daughter, Jenn, there was always something to be learned from living through the pain.  For they were trials by which I gained a greater wisdom and understanding, even empathy for others, that I would not have earned had I not gone through adversity.

     

    And so it was with Job.  He lost everything… except his wife… a woman who has managed to go down in history as the biblical woman who told her husband to curse God and die after all that had happened to them.  Actually, I rather appreciate Tim Gustafson’s comment in “Our Daily Bread” devotional for Sunday, 06/24/18:  “[Job] merely noted that she spoke ‘like a foolish woman.’”  We tend to gloss over Job’s reply to his wife, thinking poorly of her. (Job 2:10)  But, like Gustafson, I suspect Job’s operative word “like” intimates that he knew his wife far better than the rash statement she had just uttered.  For if Job were so highly respected and honored, it would only seem logical that his wife was also more of an upright and honorable woman than her words implied.  Spoken from the depths of her own pain and anguish, she shows evidence of her frail humanity just as we do all too often.

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    We need to remember that she lost everything too, the most painful being the loss of their children.  Their many servants were gone.  Great herds of cattle and camels – gone.  Huge flocks of sheep – gone.  All the crops to feed everyone, including the great herds – gone.  Ten beloved children, likely their spouses and children, and their homes – gone.  And to top it off, Job’s health failed and her dear husband lived a miserable, painful and pitiful existence… on a garbage heap… mocked by his friends. 

     

    Yet through it all, Job did not sin.  Soon after their losses, he said to his wife, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”  (Job 1:21b)  He did not blame or curse God for what had happened.  But, in questioning God and hearing the Almighty’s questions of him, Job was able to acknowledge an understanding of where he fit into the overall scheme of life… that God was far greater than he.  God was in control.  And, ultimately, God blessed him even more than before.

     

    I am impressed with Job’s humility as he learned to put his trust and faith more fully into the hands of our God who is all knowing, all powerful, and so loving He wants the best for us, even when that comes by living through severe trials.  And may I, too, be found worthy at the end of the journey.

    Ode to Job

    Linda A. Roorda

    (Based on the book of Job)

    ~

    One day Satan had a talk with God…

    I’ve been out walking on this earth of Yours

    And have my eyes upon those who claim

    They love Your word and follow Your way.

    ~

    But now I want to ask of You this…

    Who will they follow in depths of despair?

    Will they lose all and cling to their God

    Or will they curse You even to Your face?

     ~

    And God answered thus, Have you considered

    My faithful servant, a man of honor?

    For he is blameless, a man who loves me,

    Who heeds my words, and shuns evil ways.

    ~

    Then Satan mocked the great I Am.

    Why should he not?  You’ve blessed him richly!

    Take it away!  Strip him of it all!

    Leave him destitute!  Then learn of his heart!

    ~

    In your hands gently I will place my man,

    But one thing only you dare not commit.

    Take away all, whatever you wish,

    But take not his life while evil you bring.

    ~

    And so began the worst day of all

    When everything owned was taken by storm,

    From crops to cattle, servants to children

    All was destroyed, in mere moments of time.

    ~

    In deep humility this man bowed to God,

    Naked I came from my mother’s womb

    And naked I leave; for as the Lord gives

    So shall He take, praised be my Lord’s name.

    ~

    Friends soon came to share his great pain

    Tenderly bearing overwhelming grief.

    But then they pointed with fingers of blame,

    What evil within your soul is the cause?

    ~

    Why me, Lord God? What have I done?

    What did I do to bring on such shame?

    Even my wife says to curse You and die,

    But shall we accept the good without bad?

    ~

    Yet now I rue the day I was born.

    May its light darken, and no good recall.

    Why did I live and not die right then?

    For I have no peace, only turmoil within.

    ~

    Even my friends betray me with words

    Recalling my faith which flees from my soul.

    But where is my hope, my confidence true?

    Fleeting as wind when evil disrupts?

    ~

    These friends say appeal, to God bare my soul.

    Is it not He whose wonders we see?

    As God corrects the man He calls blessed

    Do not despise His wounding to heal.

    ~

    So will I seek and call on His name

    For what is man that He blesses much.

    I know all my sin, for mercy I’ll plead;

    Remember me God, forgive my offense.

    ~

    Another dear friend now lays on my heart,

    Does God pervert that which is done right?

    No, for your sin does penalty come.

    Plead now with God that He may restore.

    ~

    How can I dispute and come out unscathed?

    Can I be righteous before a just God?

    With wisdom profound, His power is vast.

    Were I but guiltless… but I can’t ask of Him.

    ~

    If only I had died on the day I was born

    I loathe my life and bitterly speak.

    Does it please You, God, to oppress my soul,

    To smile on evil and favor its schemes?

    ~

    Yet You formed me. Your hands shaped my life.

    Will you now destroy and turn me to dust?

    You blessed me with much and watched over me.

    Why did you hide your wrath until now?

    ~

    And still my friend is asking of God,

    Will this talker be vindicated?

    Will God speak words against His own heart

    Or will He utter His secrets of wisdom?

    ~

    Though I can’t fathom the mysteries of God,

    Can we set tests of Almighty’s power?

    Higher than heaven, deeper than the depths

    Can we yet measure how vast is His world?

    ~

    You tell me to end the evil of sin,

    Stretch out my hands with heart devoted,

    That in this hope my life is valued

    While the wicked fail like a dying gasp.

    ~

    And yet I say, do not men at ease

    Show their contempt when misfortune knocks,

    And see him merely as laughingstock

    The one who slips though still he loves God.

    ~

    How I now long for the days gone by

    When God as friend watched over my soul…

    He knew my paths, that evil I shunned,

    I feared my Lord with righteous wisdom.

    ~

    I hear them mocking, men younger than I

    Detested am I, they spit in my face.

    In my affliction their snares set a trap

    As I cry to God and plead for answers.

    ~

    Unending pain and suffering confront.

    Have I thus sinned or denied some their gain?

    Have I rejoiced at my enemy’s fall?

    No, I have not hid my sin from my God.

    ~

    So let Him hear! Let Almighty speak!

    If I have sinned to cause my deep shame.

    Let the earth cry out against me with tears,

    As the Lord my God will question me…

    ~

    Where were You when I set the foundation?

    Did you measure, its dimensions gauge?

    Did you determine where cornerstone lay?

    Did you cause stars and angels to sing?

    ~

    Did you speak orders to bring forth the dawn?

    Do you know the home where light and dark live?

    Have you set time for birthing of young?

    And provide food that all are nourished?

    ~

    Will he who struggles to understand Me

    Correct My ways and tell Me to change?

    No, Lord, I will not; no answer have I.

    Unworthy am I to even reply.

    ~

    For who am I to question motives

    And ponder means which you employ

    You draw me near, Your wisdom to seek

    As Humbly I bow before your glory.

    ~

    In my humanity I can’t comprehend

    Your higher ways from which I should gain,

    Learning by faith to grasp adversity

    Knowing Your will has my good at heart.

    ~

    Lord, now I know you won’t abandon,

    Your loving heart will gently embrace.

    Your words will guide my soul through dark days

    That through the trials I’ll praise your name still.

    ~

    You’re in control, all things You do well,

    Great wisdom is found within Your counsel.

    I cannot measure Your wonderful ways

    I spoke my turn without true knowledge.

    ~

    While I like Job of long ago days

    Cannot fathom wisdom from above

    Not mine to know, but His to decree

    The reasons and plans which He has set forth.

    ~

    So, guide my feet Lord, let sin not take hold

    May You yet impart wisdom to my heart

    That I may praise and worship You, Lord

    For my life exists to glorify You.

    ~

    November 2014

    ~~

    All rights reserved.

    May not be reproduced without permission of author.

    ~~

  4. We Americans love our 4th of July celebrations!  We especially enjoy big parades with lots of floats and marching bands.  We look forward to fireworks with their beautiful colors and designs exploding in the night sky.  We decorate our homes with flags and bunting.  And, we salute, or respectfully place our hand over our heart, as our nation’s flag is carried past us by military veterans in parades. 

     

    “…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”  What precious meaning these words have held as we take time to gaze backward to their origins, something I never tire learning about.

     

    As I contemplated our nation’s celebrations, I thought about the effort and sacrifice it took from many to give us the freedoms we so often take for granted.  I am so thankful for all we have in America which many around the world do not enjoy.  But, I also wondered if perhaps we have forgotten all that took place a long time ago, and if this day has simply become a traditional fun holiday.  Though no nation or government has been perfect as far back as the beginning of time, the early days of a young nation’s beginnings provide perspective for today’s America, this bastion of freedom.  So, it’s fitting that we ponder what part our ancestors played in the making of our great America some 240 years ago.  And, I might add, one of the best parts of researching my ancestors was the great lasting friendships I’ve made with other descendants.

     

    Several of my ancestors served in the Revolutionary War in various capacities, some of whom I researched more extensively than others.  Originally, I did not plan to bring them into this article.  But, then it occurred to me that would be fitting.  Knowledge of personal service and sacrifice often provides us with a greater understanding of the historical era and what our collective ancestors experienced. 

     

    Numerous events, political acts, and taxes over many years led to the First Continental Congress meeting from September 5 through October 2, 1774 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  It was held to counteract the British Parliament’s Coercive Acts (commonly called the Intolerable Acts by the colonists) which were intended to punish the colonists for their Tea Party held in Boston’s harbor.  (see timeline at end of article)

     

    But, among the early precipitators of the American Revolution was the import ban in 1774 against firearms and gunpowder enacted by the British government.  Next came the order to confiscate all guns and gunpowder.  The aptly named “Powder Alarm” took place on September 1, 1774 when Redcoats sailed up the Mystic River to capture hundreds of powder barrels stored in Charlestown.  Taking the event seriously, 20,000 militiamen turned out and marched to Boston.  Battle was avoided at that time, but ultimately took place the following spring at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775.  Within these events lie the foundation of our Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as written by Thomas Jefferson in 1791: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

     

    The Second Continental Congress began meeting in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775.  That very same day, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys seized New York’s Fort Ticonderoga from the British after traveling west from Vermont.

     

    On June 14, 1775, delegates from the Second Continental Congress created the Continental Army from colonial militia near Boston.  The next day, they appointed an esteemed and experienced military and civic leader as commanding general of their new army, a humble man by the name of George Washington, congressman of Virginia.  Nearly a month later, Washington arrived in Boston to take command on July 3rd.  The Continental Congress then approved a Declaration of Causes on July 6th.  This proclamation outlined why the thirteen colonies should stand united against Great Britain’s political clout and military force.

     

    Through these early years, and with pressing urgency, the great minds of the day began formulating a bold statement of the burdens the colonists bore from an overbearing government an ocean away.  Initially, the colonists were not looking to start a war; they simply wanted their concerns heard and addressed.  But, revolt would be a relevant term regarding that which was festering.  They felt the heavy hand of tyranny over them like a smothering umbrella with their king and his government’s over-reaching philosophy of “taxation without representation.”   

     

    It did not take much for congressional delegates to think back and recall the Boston Massacre of March 5, 1770.  Several colonials had taunted the ever-present British soldiers.  Reinforcement soldiers shot into the crowd killing five civilians, injuring six others.  Three years later, the Tea Act in May 1773 was followed by the Boston Tea Party on December 16th.  The year 1775 began with several new tax acts put in place; labeled collectively as the Intolerable Acts, they were Britain’s answer to their colonists’ unrest.  And then an auspicious delegation met in Virginia on March 23, 1775.  Those present were never to forget Patrick Henry’s speech and resounding words, “Give me liberty or give me death!”

     

    Paul Revere,with his midnight ride the night of April 18/19, 1775, warned of British ships arriving at Boston’s shores.  [From the interstate, I have seen Boston’s diminutive North Church tucked beneath the shadows of modern “skyscrapers,” and walked the upper and lower decks of the U.S.S. Constitution from the subsequent War of 1812 – with a sailor in period dress uniform talking on a telephone!]  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride” (“Listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere…”) has been said to contain many inaccuracies; in reality, it was written 80 years after Revere rode out with several others on horseback, quietly alerting other Patriots, but it may also be that Longfellow simply wrote a flowing ode to Revere with embellishments as any poet is wont to do. 

     

    The British government was again intent on confiscating all weapons held by the colonists.  Bands of British troops were sent to confiscate ammunition stores in Salem, Massachusetts and part of New Hampshire.  Both times, Paul Revere, a silversmith, was among members of the Sons of Liberty who alerted townsfolk in advance of enemy troops, giving them sufficient time to hide weapons and frustrate the British military.

     

    Desiring to alert citizens, Revere garnered assistance from Robert Newman, sexton at Boston’s North Church.  To warn that the Redcoats were coming from the shorter water route across Boston’s inner harbor, Newman hung two lanterns from the steeple window.  These lanterns were clearly seen by those in Charlestown, including the British, unfortunately.  Newman must have felt tremendous fear as the Brits attempted to break into the church while he was still there.  Reportedly, he managed to escape capture by quietly sneaking out a window near the altar moments before enemy soldiers entered the church to begin their search.  And the very next day, April 19, 1775, the Minutemen and British redcoats clashed at Lexington and Concord with “the shot heard ‘round the world.’” 

     

    Two months later, June 17, 1775 saw the Battle of Bunker Hill (actually Breed’s Hill) on the Charlestown Peninsula overlooking Boston.  Per military records, my ancestor John Caldwell McNeill was present as part of the Hampshire Line.  As British columns advanced toward American redoubts, the colonists were reportedly told by their commander, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes!”  The British were shot virtually pointblank and hastily retreated – twice.  It was not until the third advance by the British that the inexperienced colonists lost to a superior military force.  As the colonists’ limited ammunition ran out, hand-to-hand combat took place on that third advance.  The redcoats took control with greater troop numbers despite their loss of over 1000 men, while the colonists counted over 200 killed and more than 800 wounded.  Yet, the inexperienced Americans realized their dedication and determination could overcome the superior British military which, in turn, realized this little uprising was going to bring a long and costly war to the Crown.  

     

    With pressure mounting, the congressional delegation met the next year in the City of Brotherly Love.  Here, they commenced to hammering out wording for what would henceforth be termed a declaration of independence. 

     

    “Monday, July 1, 1776, [was] a hot and steamy [day] in Philadelphia.”  In a letter to the new president of Georgia, Archibald Bulloch, John Adams wrote, “This morning is assigned the greatest debate of all.  A declaration, that these colonies are free and independent states… and this day or tomorrow is to determine its fate.  May heaven prosper the newborn republic.” (John Adams, David McCullough, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, New York, NY, 2001, p.125.)  The delegates felt the tension amongst themselves in the debates and wording of their declaration, and the voting at the end of the day was not unanimous.  Their tension was heightened that evening as news reached the city that one hundred British ships had been sighted off New York, with eventually more than 300 joining the initial fleet.  The seriousness of what they were undertaking was felt by every man in the delegation for they knew their very lives were on the line.

     

    July 2nd saw an overcast day with cloudbursts letting loose as the delegates met.  The New York delegates abstained from voting while others joined the majority to make a unanimous decision.  Thus, on July 2, 1776, twelve colonies voted to declare independence from Britain.  More than anyone else, John Adams made it happen.  His elation showed in writing home about the proceedings to his wife, Abigail.  “The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America.  I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.  It ought to be commemorated as the Day of Deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.  It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”  (McCullough, pp. 129-130)

     

    News spread like wildfire throughout Philadelphia.  A young artist, Charles Willson Peale, journaled that “This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States.”  (McCullough, p.130)   But, Congress still had to review what the delegation had written before an official statement could be made.

     

    July 3rd blessed the city with a drop of 10 degrees following cloudbursts the day before.  Tensions had even begun to ease among the men, but still there was much work to be done.  More discussion and deliberation ensued as they reviewed the language of their declaration.  (McCullough, pp. 130-135)  Much had to be cut and reworded to make it a more concise document which then boldly declared, “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.  When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” 

     

    Benjamin Franklin offered encouraging and comforting words to the now-silent Thomas Jefferson whose many words were debated and cut.  When their work was finished, it was still Thomas Jefferson’s words, however, which have held a firm and tender spot in the hearts of Americans ever since.  To Jefferson goes the credit for writing “…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”  (McCullough, p.130-136)

     

    Thursday, July 4, 1776, dawned cool and comfortable.  The tension was gone from the weather just as it was now from among the men of the delegation.  Discussions were again held through late morning when a final vote was taken.  New York still abstained, but the other twelve colonies voted unanimously to support the hard work they had wrought in this Declaration of Independence.  Ultimately, the delegates from all thirteen colonies, including New York, signed the document in solidarity. (McCullough, p. 136)

     

    Celebrations began on the 8th when the published Declaration was read to the public.  Thirteen cannon blasts reverberated throughout Philadelphia, bells rang day and night, bonfires were lit everywhere, and candles shone bright in windows.  The news reached Washington and his troops in New York City the next day where the Declaration was read.  More celebrations sprang up as the crowds pulled down the equestrian statue of King George III.  (McCullough, p.136-137)  But, their elation was not long in lasting.

     

    In reality, it would be several more years before celebrations of this magnitude would again be held.  In reality, though the hard work of writing such a declaration was finally completed, even harder efforts and sacrifices of thousands of men and boys on battlefields were about to begin.  In reality, the conflict about to begin would affect every man, woman and child living within the thirteen colonies in ways they could never have imagined.  And, ultimately, their great sacrifices gave rise to the freedoms which we enjoy and tend to take for granted today.

     

    The lives of the men who signed this declaration were also forever affected.  If the new America lost its war for independence, every signer of said document faced charges of treason and death by hanging for actions against their king.  In signing, they gave “support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, [as] we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” 

     

    There were 56 representatives from all thirteen colonies who signed, ranging in age from 26 to 70 (the oldest being the esteemed Benjamin Franklin).  Over half were lawyers, but the men included planters, merchants and shippers.  Most of them were wealthy men who had much to lose should Britain win.  Though none of them died at the hand of the enemy, four men were taken captive during the war by the British, with one-third of the signers being military officers during the war.  And, nearly all of them were poorer when the war ended than when it began. 

     

    There was much at stake in the days and years ahead after the Declaration of Independence was signed and the war began in earnest.  Some men abandoned the battle lines, their friends, and what once seemed like worthy ideals, and simply walked home.  Many suffered untold pain and suffering as prisoners of war.  Many suffered deprivations of food and clothing along with disease and death within their own military camps.  Many fought family and friends in the same community as Patriot was pitted against Tory, i.e. Loyalist.  Schoharie County, New York, considered by historians to be “The Breadbasket of the Revolution,” provided an abundance of food for Washington’s northern troops.  To frustrate the colonists’ efforts, the British and their Loyalist supporters, including many Native Americans, destroyed and burned crops and buildings as they captured, killed and scalped settlers throughout the Mohawk and Schoharie Valley and along the western frontier during the war. 

     

    In reality, however, we likely would not have won our independence if it were not for Washington’s spies.  Barely two months after the Declaration was signed, a 21-year-old Yale graduate by the name of Nathan Hale from Massachusetts eagerly volunteered to spy for Washington.  He intended to go behind enemy lines on Long Island and in New York City to infiltrate the British strongholds.  Instead, not being sufficiently familiar with the area and its people, and likely having a New England accent, he was caught and found to have sketches of fortifications and memos about troop placements on him.  Without benefit of legal trial, he was sentenced to death.  His requests for a clergyman and a Bible were refused.  Just before being hung on September 22, 1776 in the area of 66th Street and Third Avenue in Manhattan, Hale was heard to say with dignity, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”  (George Washington’s Secret Six, Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger, Penguin Group, New York, NY, 2013, p.1.)

     

    George Washington knew that he desperately needed spies, but he needed them to work in such a way that they would not be discovered.  His tender heart for his fellow countrymen deplored that even one should die for the cause of freedom.  Yet, he also knew that such loss was inevitable.  And, thus was born Washington’s spies so aptly named, “The Secret Six.”

     

    INDEPENDENCE DAY, PART II:

     

    Out of the realization that Gen. George Washington desperately needed spies, and hating to lose even one more life after the hanging of Nathan Hale, a ring of trustworthy spies was gradually pulled together.  Washington’s “Secret Six” included five men and one woman embedded within and around New York City and Long Island, each familiar with the land and its people.  They reported to Washington on British movements and military plans in a timely fashion. 

     

    Because they knew the area, and were known by the people, they were readily accepted as they maneuvered amongst the enemy.  That is not to say, however, that they didn’t come close to being found out.  They lived in constant fear of such, not to mention the fear of losing their own lives and destroying their families in the process.  At times they were emotionally frail, depressed and despondent.  But, because of their passion for the freedom movement afoot, they came together for the greater benefit of all.

     

    At one point, Washington’s army was entirely surrounded by the British in New York City.  With tips from his spies, and being a man given to much time and prayer with God, his troops managed to quietly evacuate the city under the cover of night at an area not under guard.  With dawn, however, came the realization that a large contingent still remained behind and would be very visible to the enemy.  An answer to prayer was soon forthcoming to allow the balance of his men and equipment to leave the city – an unexpected and extremely dense morning fog enveloped the area, allowing them to continue crossing safely over into Jersey with the British unable to do anything about the Continental Army’s escape from their clutches. 

     

    Because of the work of Washington’s spies and the “important memos” he managed to have planted with false information behind enemy lines, the Americans were able to surprise the enemy at Trenton, New Jersey on Christmas Day night 1776 after the British had relaxed their guard and celebrated the day in style.  Needless to say, the Americans enjoyed a vital and rousing victory.

     

    Because of the spies and their efforts, accomplished with great fear for their own lives and that of their families, warning was given to Washington of 400 ships arriving from England.  The spies’ insider knowledge that the British were planning to attack and scuttle the French ships and troops coming to Washington’s aid allowed him to turn the tide in a timely manner.  He was able to fool the British into thinking he was readying an imminent attack on New York City, causing them to leave Long Island Sound, thus allowing the French time to land and move inland to safety in Connecticut without battling the British at sea before they even disembarked.

     

    Because of the spy who owned a print shop which seemingly supported King George, important plans were heard and passed on to Washington.  Other spies were privy to the upper level of command amongst the British military at parties in a particular merchandise shop and a certain coffeehouse.  A circuitous route was set up for their messenger across Long Island to Setauket where packets with concealed or innocuous-looking papers written in invisible ink and code were rowed to the Connecticut shore in a whale boat (while being pursued by the British) where another member took the seemingly innocent packet of merchandise and rode his horse overland to Washington’s camp in New Jersey.  At times, someone simply traveled out of New York City to visit relatives in northern New Jersey and met up with another dependable link to pass the information along to Washington’s headquarters.

     

    Because of their courage and resolve, the spies assisted in uncovering the Crown’s Major John Andre` (who, himself, ran a British spy ring) as he worked with Brigadier General Benedict Arnold, American commander at West Point.  Despite a prior stellar military record, but due to personal bitterness, Arnold was in the process of handing West Point over to Andre` and the British.  Through a series of blundering mistakes, because of the spies’ knowledge given to Washington at just the right moment, and because of the quick thinking of a couple of patriotic guards on a bridge leading back into New York City, Andre` was captured and later executed.  Arnold’s hand-over was thus thwarted, although Arnold managed to escape behind enemy lines and ultimately fled to England.

     

    Because of the supposed loyal British support by the owner of said print shop, a little book was obtained through his work as an undercover spy.  This inconspicuous little book contained key information on British troop movements at Yorktown, Virginia.  With important knowledge gained of the enemy’s military plans, Washington was able to redirect appropriate troops and ships to Yorktown.  General Cornwallis surrendered for the British on October 19, 1781 in an American victory where total defeat for the Americans would have otherwise taken place. 

     

    Because they swore themselves to secrecy, no one knew the full involvement of all six spies, nor all of their names.  Only gradually over the last few hundred years has their identities become known, the fifth not confirmed until recently.  All five men are now known, but the woman’s identity is not; she is simply known as Agent 355.  It is believed she was captured and became a prisoner; but, there is no hard evidence by research even to prove that conjecture. 

     

    The efforts of the six spies as they secretly obtained information and passed it along (devising their own specialty codes, using a unique invisible ink, and more) enabled them to maintain total secrecy.  Nor did they ever seek accolades for their work after the war was over.  The secrets to their successful accomplishments have been among the methods still taught and used successfully by our CIA today.

     

    In the interest of sharing the spies’ courage which undoubtedly helped us win the Revolutionary War, their story (as briefly described above) has been extensively researched and written by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger in George Washington’s Secret Six, The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution.  It was one of my Christmas gifts from my husband a few years ago, and I highly recommend it to other history buffs.  It’s a read you’ll find hard to set down!

     

    While researching my ancestry over ten years ago, I purchased Revolutionary War pension application files of several ancestors who had served.  For those whose government files I did not purchase, their data was obtained from Schoharie County Historical Society, various Revolutionary War books, CDs, and documents proving their service.  Hoping that my family research might provide us a closer glimpse of the war through their experiences, I share their legacy.

     

    1) Frantz/Francis Becraft/Beacraft, bp. 06/12/1761, Claverack, Columbia Co., NY - Private, 3rd Comp., 3rd Regiment, 1st Rensselaerswyck Battalion, Albany County New York Militia, on muster roll from Berne in 1782, 1790 census at Berne.  In an 1839 affidavit, Francis Becraft of Berne stated that he “served as a Private in a company commanded by Capt. Adam Dietz in the County of Albany...” Frantz/Francis married Catherine Dietz (sister of said Capt. Adam Dietz), my g-g-g-g-grandparents.

     

    In researching my ancestors, I discovered an apparent familial tie to the notorious Tory Becraft/Beacraft.  This man felt no remorse in aligning himself with Joseph Brant’s Indians to capture, kill and scalp Patriots throughout Schoharie County, known to have brutally killed and scalped a young boy in the Vrooman family who managed to escape the house after his family had been murdered.  After the war ended, Becraft/Beacraft had the audacity to return from Canada to Schoharie County where he was immediately captured by ten men.  In meting out a punishment of 50 lashes by whip, the men supposedly reminded him of his infamous acts against the community, his former neighbors.  Roscoe notes that death did not linger for him after the final lash, and his ashes were buried on the spot.  Of the ten men who swore themselves to secrecy, apparently only five are known.  (History of Schoharie County, William E. Roscoe, pub. D. Mason & Comp., 1882, pp.250-251.)  

     

    However, in "Families (to 1825) of Herkimer, Montgomery, & Schoharie, N.Y.," a genealogical source on many early families by William V. H. Barker, it is noted that the Tory Becraft/Beacraft was Benjamin, born about 1759, brother of my ancestor noted above, Frantz/Francis Becraft.  If this is accurate and they are indeed brothers, they were both sons of Willem/William and Mareitje (Bond) Becraft.  Another source, “The Life of Joseph Brant – Thayendanegea…” notes Becraft survived his whipping and left the area (pg. 64), just as other undocumented sources indicate he survived and returned to Canada to live with his family.  So, I am uncertain as to whether Tory [Benjamin] Becraft actually died from his whippings or survived and left the area.

     

    2) Johannes/John Berlet/Berlett/Barlet, b. 05/08/1748, Schoharie, Schoharie Co., NY – Private, Tryon County Militia, 3rd Reg’t, Mohawk District.  He married Maria Gardinier, b. about 1751; their daughter Eva/Eveline Barlett married Martin Tillapaugh, b. 1778, my g-g-g-grandparents.

     

    3) Johann Hendrich/John Henry Dietz, bp 05/10/1722, Nordhofen, Vielbach, Germany – served in Lt. John Veeder’s Company, Rensselaerswyck, later under Capt. Sternberger’s Company at Schoharie.  He married Maria Elisabetha Ecker, bp. 1725; their daughter Catherine Dietz, b. 1761, married Frantz/Francis Beacraft above, my g-g-g-g-grandparents.

     

    As per my upcoming article on Chemung County’s Newtown Battle, the Indian/Loyalist raids and massacres also touched my ancestral families in New York.  In Beaverdam (now Berne), New York near the Switzkill River on September 1, 1781, the Johannes Dietz family was attacked.  Johannes’ son, Capt. William Dietz was captured and forced to watch his elderly parents, wife, four young children and a Scottish maid be killed and scalped.  (see “Old Hellebergh,” Arthur B. Gregg, The Altamont Enterprise Publishers, Altamont, N.Y., 1936, p. 24; signed by Gregg, in Roorda’s collection from her father.)  Capt. William Dietz’s father, Johannes, was an older brother of my ancestor noted above, Johann Hendrich/John Henry Dietz. 

     

    4) Johan Dietrich Dallenbach/John Richard Dillenbach, b. 1733 per cemetery records, Stone Arabia, NY; father Jorg Martin Dallenbach born Lauperswil, Bern, Switzerland, emigrated with 1710 German Palatines.  John Richard Dillenbach married Maria Mynard; their son Martinus took name of Martin Tillapaugh (my lineage), married Eva/Eveline Barlett as above.  Dillenbach reported for duty March 20, 1757 when Sir William Johnson called local militia out to protect Fort William Henry on Lake George for the British.  The Seven Years’ War, or the French and Indian War, began in 1754 and ended with the European peace treaties of 1763 during which year Dillenbach again reported to defend Herkimer with the Palatine District Regiment.

     

    James Fennimore Cooper wrote The Last of the Mohicans about the siege of Fort William Henry.  Roughly 2300 colonial troops were protecting the British fort when the French arrived with about 8000 troops in August 1763 and heavily bombarded the fort.  With additional supporting troops not found to be on their way, the garrison was forced to surrender.  The men were to be protected as they retreated by generous treaty terms.  However, as the Indians entered the fort, they plundered, looted, scalped and killed about 200 colonials, many of them too sick to leave.  In desecrating graves of those who had died before the siege, the Indians exposed themselves to smallpox, taking the germs back to their homes.  The French destroyed the fort before returning to Canada.  Fort William Henry was reconstructed in the 1950s.  Visiting this fort in 1972 with the Lounsberry Methodist Church youth group, I was unaware at the time that my Dallenbach/Tillapaugh ancestor had walked that ground, having been involved in the siege and survived. 

     

    5) Timothy Hutton, b.11/24/1746, New York City.  He married 2nd) Elizabeth Deline b.1760.  Their son George b.1787 married Sarah Wyckoff b.1793, my g-g-g-grandparents.  Timothy served as Ensign in Philip Schuyler’s Regiment of Albany County Militia, at defeat of Gen. Burgoyne in Saratoga October 17, 1777; appointed Lieutenant in New York Levies under Col. Marinus Willett; defended Schoharie County from burnings and killings by British, Loyalists and Indians.  This Timothy is not to be confused with a nephew of same name and rank, b. 1764, which many have done, including an erroneous grave marker in Carlisle, New York.  Sorting their military service out was part of my extensive thesis and documentation in researching and publishing two lengthy articles on the origins and descendants of this Hutton family in the New York Genealogical & Biographical Record in 2004-2005. 

     

    My Timothy’s nephew William Hutton served extensively in the Revolutionary War throughout New York City, Long Island, and the Hudson Valley.  My Timothy’s nephew Christopher of Troy, NY served as Ensign, promoted to Lieutenant, member of the elite Society of the Cincinnati.  My Timothy’s nephew, Timothy Hutton b.1764, served as Lieutenant in New York Levies under Col. Willett, enlisting 1780 at age 16 in the Albany militia.  My Timothy’s nephews, Isaac and George (brothers of Christopher and the younger Timothy, all sons of George Hutton, my ancestor Timothy’s older brother), were well-known influential silversmiths over several decades of the Federal period in the late 18th/early 19th centuries in Albany.  Hutton silver is on display at museums in Albany, New York.

     

    6) Johannes Leenderse (John Leonardson), b.06/18/63, Fonda, Montgomery Co., NY - enlisted as private in 1779 at age 16, Tryon County Militia, 3rd Reg’t; Corporal in 1781; served on many expeditions in the Mohawk Valley and at forts; joined Col. Willett’s company on march to Johnstown October 1781 in successful battle against enemy who had burned and killed throughout Mohawk Valley; re-enlisted 1782.  Married Sarah Putman b.1773.  Their son Aaron Leondardson b.1796 married 3rd) Lana Gross, parents of Mary Eliza b. about 1732 who married William Henry Ottman, my g-g-grandparents.

     

    7) John Caldwell McNeill, b. 1755, Londonderry, Rockingham Co., NH - at Bunker Hill (actually Breed’s Hill) on Charlestown June 17, 1775.  As Sergeant under Col. Timothy Bedel of the New Hampshire Line, John bought beef to pasture and butcher as needed for the troops.  Bedel’s regiment joined “Corp.1, Co. 1, New York Reg’t” on mission to Canada against British; taken captive with his cousins and friends at The Cedars near Montreal, an island in the St. Lawrence; soldiers were stripped of clothing, belongings and food, and released in cartel negotiated by Gen. Benedict Arnold before he became a traitor.  John served at and discharged at Saratoga, NY.  He married Hannah Caldwell b.1762; removed to Carlisle, Schoharie County, New York ca. 1794; their son Jesse m. Elizabeth Ostrom, my g-g-g-grandparents.

     

    8) George Richtmyer, bp 04/23/1738, Albany Co., NY – Captain from 1775 through end of war in 15th Reg’t of Albany Militia, defending Cobleskill and Middleburg, Schoharie Co., NY.  Married Anna Hommel; their son Henrich/Henry married Maria Beacraft (see above), my g-g-g-grandparents.

     

    9) Hendrick/Henry Vonck/Vunck, b. 03/06/1757, Freehold, Monmouth Co., NJ - served as private and Corporal in New Jersey and New York City; carried papers for American Gen. Charles Lee; joined units marching to same area of Canada as John C. McNeill; on return became ill with smallpox with others at Lake George when news of the Declaration of Independence was made; honorably discharged; called to serve again at Sandy Hook, NJ; captured by the British at Sandy Hook, taken to a prison ship, then to the [Livingston] stone sugar house in Manhattan, then another prison ship, the Good___  (writing illegible on the early 1800s pension document, possibly Good Hope).  After “one year and one month” as prisoner, he was exchanged and released.  “Having suffered while a prisoner great privations and disease and in poor clothing and severely unwholesome provisions many prisoners died in consequence of their treatment.” (Per 1832 affidavit of military service for pension.)  Conditions suffered as a prisoner left Henry in poor health the rest of his life; removing later to Montgomery County, NY.  Married Chestinah Hagaman; their daughter Jane Vunck married James Dingman, my g-g-g-grandparents.

     

    From 1776 to 1783 the British made use of decommissioned ships (those incapable of going to sea) as floating prisons.  At least 16 rotting hulks were moored in Wallabout Bay, the inner harbor along the northwest shore of Brooklyn, now part of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  Among the ships were the Good Hope, Whitby, The Prince of Wales, Falmouth, Scorpion, Stromboli, Hunter, and the most infamous HMS Jersey, nicknamed Hell by the men. (see websites below.)  Over 10,000 men, perhaps at least 11,500, died on these ships due to the deliberate deplorable conditions.  Men were crammed below decks with no windows for lighting or fresh air.  There was a lack of food and clothing, with vermin and insects running rampant, and a lack of other humane efforts to aid the ill, all leading to the death of thousands.

     

    Prisoners died virtually every day, reportedly as many as fifteen a day.  Some were not found right away, their bodies not disposed of until days later.  Often, those who died were sewn into their blankets (if they had one) to await pick up by cart the next morning.  Many were buried in shallow graves along the shore (unearthed during major storms) or were simply tossed overboard, later washing ashore.  With development of Walloon Bay area over the last two centuries has come the discovery of their bones and parts of ships.  To commemorate these soldiers’ lives and what they gave in the fight for independence, the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument was built.  Located in Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn, it was dedicated on April 6, 1808 with improvements made to it several times since.  (see websites below)

     

    At least another 5-6000 men died in the sugar houses, bringing the total who died as prisoners to more than 17,500 in the sugar houses and ships, more than double the battlefield losses.  Sugar houses were buildings meant to store sugar and molasses.  Affidavits by my ancestor, Henry Vunck, and friends note he was held for a few months in the “stone sugar house.”  This could only mean the Livingston Sugar House, a six-story stone building built in 1754 by the Livingston family on Crown (now Liberty) Street in Manhattan.  Demolished in 1846, buildings No. 34 and 36 are now on the site.  (see website below)

     

    A second sugar house, the Rhinelander, a five-story brick warehouse, was built in 1763 at Rose (now William) Street and Duane Street.  This building was eventually replaced and is now the headquarters of the New York City Police Department.  A third, Van Cortlandt’s sugar house, was built about 1755 by the early Dutch family of this name at the northwest corner of the Trinity Church in Manhattan.  It was demolished in 1852.  (see website below)

     

    10) Hans Georg Jacob Dubendorffer (George Jacob Diefendorf), b. 01/23/1729, Basserstorff, Switzerland – a Loyalist during Rev War, he left Mohawk Valley for Philadelphia and New York City, returned to a daughter’s home in Canajoharie, NY after the war rather than remove to Canada.  A patriotic son disowned his father, taking his middle name (his mother’s maiden name) as his new surname, removing to Virginia.  George Jacob married Catharine Hendree; their son Jacob Diefendorf married Susanna Hess, my g-g-g-g-grandparents.

     

    On February 3, 1783, the British government acknowledged the independence of the American colonies.  The next day, they formally agreed to halt all military operations.  A preliminary peace treaty was ratified in April, and Canada offered free land that summer to Loyalists who sought a new life.  Still, the British military maintained a presence in Manhattan.  When Britain signed the Treaty of Paris September 3, 1783 to end the war, the hated Redcoats finally and slowly began to abandon their New York City stronghold. 

     

    Next would begin the task of establishing the government and president of this new nation, the United States of America.  George Washington rode into Manhattan on November 25, 1783 with his officers and troops, eight horses abreast.  At the same time Washington’s parade began, British soldiers and ships were setting sail for their homeland. 

     

    Flags were joyfully waved, church bells rang in celebration, and cannons were fired in honor of those who had fought and for those who had given their lives, all for the independence of this fledgling nation.  The war had definitely taken its toll; but, on this day, great joy was felt in every heart for what had been accomplished.  And that is why we continue to celebrate our 4th of July heritage in style – as we remember and commemorate those who gave so much that we might enjoy so much.  And, I trust we will never forget what their efforts wrought for us.

     

    SOURCES FOR PART I:
    Revolutionary War Time Line

    Paul Revere

    Robert Newman, sexton
    Old North Church, April 18, 1775

    Battle of Bunker Hill

    United States Independence Day

    Declaration of Independence Document
    Declaration of Independence - About the Signers

     

    SOURCES FOR PART II:

    1. George Washington’s Secret Six, The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger, Penguin Group, New York, NY, 2013.

    2. History of Schoharie County, New York, 1713-1882, William E. Roscoe, pub. D. Mason & Co., Syracuse, N.Y., 1882; Paperback Reprint by Heritage Books, Bowie, MD, 1994, Two-Volume Set.

    3. Life of Joseph Brant – Thayendanegea; Including the Border Wars Two-Volumes, by William L. Stone, pub. Alexander V. Blake, New York, NY, 1838.

      Complete timeline of Revolutionary War

      History of the Fourth

      Sugar House Prisons

      HMS Jersey prison ship

      Monument to British prison ship martyrs 

  5. After the apparent suicide of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain I've seen several posts on social media apparently shaming others for feeling bad while "ignoring" the average 22 vets that commit suicide everyday. 

    You know why no one says anything about those 22 vets? Because we didn't know. We don't hear about it because of the stigma society attaches to suicide. Like a pregnant unwed mother in the 40's, it's avoided, not talked about like some shameful thing. Put away so we can pretend things are neat and tidy in our little world. We like that, it's easier. 

    Hell, what about the other people, the non-celebrity, non-veteran suicides? According to statistics from 2016, 120 people commit suicide A DAY. And reports indicate that the number has increased since. Why aren't the other 100+ people included in that meme?

    Why need to prioritize one group of people over another?

    It's perfectly okay to feel bad when ANYONE commits suicide, regardless of their station in life. EVERY death by suicide is sad. I didn't personally know Bourdain, Robin Williams, or anyone who was just found this morning. For anyone who let's that darkness overtake them, we can still feel sympathy for them; the 14 year old whose been bullied, the soldier fighting demons of war, or some rich guy on tv. 

    Like many Americans, I too have felt the loss of someone I know after they decided to take their own life. Additionally, because of my former profession I've seen the aftermath first hand. It's not easy to understand, it's not easy to see, but it can't be ignored. It needs to be addressed, and it's not something that you can just plug into a meme on social media and move on.

    Perhaps Bourdain's and other celebrity suicide deaths can bring about discussion on the topic of suicide and mental health in America. Shed that stigma and make people more aware, more open to talk about it today. And maybe, just maybe, lead to a few less self inflicted deaths tomorow. 

  6. The New York State Police and Southern Tier law enforcement agencies continue to do outstanding work to combat the resurgence of methamphetamine (and other illegal drugs) in too many local communities and neighborhoods.

    Most recently, in Steuben County, following a months-long investigation involving officers from five police agencies and Child Protective Service workers, “Operation Safe Summer” took dangerous criminals off the street.

    Steuben County District Attorney Brooks Baker said, “This cooperative multi-agency investigation led to 26 sealed indictments being handed up against 19 individuals for drug trafficking, narcotics, methamphetamine and other controlled substances in the Village of Bath, the Town of Bath and the surrounding communities." 

    Good work. Clearly, law enforcement continues to be the front line in this long-standing battle. We have to keep strengthening and updating the laws they need to be most effective.  
     
    The Senate recently approved legislation I have sponsored for several years targeting the resurgence of meth-related crimes locally and statewide. It would significantly increase the criminal penalties for manufacturing, selling and possessing meth, and targets meth labs.

    Specifically, the legislation would increase the criminal penalties for the possession of meth manufacturing material and the unlawful manufacture of meth, implementing a series of increasingly severe felony offenses.  One provision makes it a Class A-1 felony, punishable by a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, for criminals convicted of operating a meth lab for the second time in five years. The legislation also establishes the crime of manufacturing meth in the presence of a child under the age of 16 as a Class B felony.  

    Meth labs pose unacceptable risks to our neighborhoods, as well as roadsides and wooded areas where children and others can be exposed to the hazardous and toxic residues of these labs. They threaten the safety of police officers and first responders, and the public at large.  

    We need even tougher laws against dangerous and irresponsible meth cookers who have no regard for the health and safety of the rest of us. Their only byproducts are addiction, crime, overdoses, broken families, tragic deaths and violence. They increasingly burden local systems of health care, criminal justice and social services. Awareness and education, prevention and treatment are fundamental responses. But so are tougher laws and criminal penalties, and it’s time for the Assembly Democratic leadership to act.

    I’m also sponsoring legislation to:

    •  increase the criminal penalties for the possession and/or sale of meth by implementing an increasingly severe set of felony offenses; 
    • enhance the ability of local police and district attorneys to track and prosecute violations of restrictions on over-the-counter sales of cold medications that are key ingredients used in the manufacturing of methamphetamine; and 
    • target one of the worst dangers associated with clandestine meth labs: explosions and fires. The legislation would add the crime of first-degree arson, a Class A-1 felony, to the list of charges that could be levelled against a meth cooker who causes a fire or an explosion that damages property or injures another person.


    From “Operation Safe Summer” to many others, the increasing frequency of meth-related arrests and other incidents across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions is alarming. 

    It calls for imposing stricter criminal penalties for possessing the material to make or for manufacturing this highly addictive, dangerous and destructive drug.  

    "From The Capitol" is a weekly column distributed to local media by Senator O'Maras office for publication. 

  7.               In honor of Father's Day I'd like to share a story about my Dad that I posted on another blog site several months ago.

     

    Dad was one of 13 children.  I know they didn't have much in the way of material things and I'm not sure how much affection was shown while Dad and his brothers and sisters were growing up.  I would guess, based on things I remember about Dad while I was growing up, that there weren't a lot of hugs and kisses.

    I think my grandparents probably had to work so hard just to survive that there was only time and energy for the bare basics. What was yours was yours as long as you could hold on to it.  I'm no psychologist but I know those growing years and the events that happened helped shape Dad's character and personality.  Looking back now as an adult and remembering bits of conversation between Dad and his siblings I can understand how he came to be who he was.

    I remember one time when Dad and a couple of his brothers were target practicing using shotguns and he decided I was old enough to learn to shoot.  He handed me a 12 gauge, showed me how to load it, told me to tuck it in tight to my shoulder and aim; if I didn't it would kick and knock me on my rear.  I didn't tuck it in and down I went on my rear just like Dad said.  I think he knew that was going to happen and that they would all laugh, including Dad.  I didn't like being laughed at and I didn't want to do it anymore, but Dad told me to get up and try again.  He had me keep at it until I could handle that shotgun and hit the target with accuracy.  I learned not to give up.

    Bills were always paid first, a little set aside for savings, and groceries bought with what was left.  Dad called the bit of savings his "tuck".  If you wanted something and couldn't afford it, you saved for it or went without until you could pay for it.  More often than not it was go without.  As far as Dad's "tuck" went, that was generally his to use for what he wanted, be it a new gun or coon dog.  While we lived in the city, Mom would sometimes work outside the home at part-time jobs for extra money.  Once we moved to the country, however, having only one car meant Mom worked in the home exclusively so she had to work within Dad's budget and manage with whatever money he gave her.

    I applied for my first job the day I turned 16, was hired and started work that weekend.  I worked 5:00 am to 2:30 pm every weekend, on holidays and summer vacations.  If needed, I worked double shifts.  I also paid room and board.  I did not mind one bit.  I was becoming an adult and learning to provide for myself, and the money went to Mom. I learned that nothing is free, if you want something you work for it.

    Whining didn't get you out of doing something you didn't like.  There were lots of things my sisters and I hated doing like picking rocks to clear an overgrown yard so grass seed could be planted.  It didn't matter to Dad.  If he said pick rocks we picked rocks or whatever else needed to be done until it was finished.  You don't give up or do it half-assed (Dad's words). There was no such thing as "I can't" or "I don't want to".  You did what needed to be done and you did it the best you could.

    There was one exception that I can remember.  Dad would butcher chickens and we kids had to help clean them.  He'd butcher the birds outside but the worse part was the cleaning of the birds was done at the kitchen table.  A large pot of water was brought to boil on the kitchen stove.  Dad would dip the birds in the boiling water and then we plucked the feathers.  Dad would then burn the pin feathers off over the flame of the kitchen stove.  The stench of burnt feathers and chicken entrails is not pleasant and the odor would linger for a while in the kitchen after we were done.  At some point I decided I wasn't going to do this again. Dad told me "If you don't help with this you don't get to eat chicken".  

    That was fine with me.  "I won't eat chicken" I told him and after that I didn't help with cleaning chickens again. Dad's rule about not eating if you didn't help held and I was alright with that.  I learned about choices and consequences.

    Sometimes Dad would take us with him when he'd run his coon hound at night.  We always looked forward to going with him even though he'd stay out for hours at a time.  That is probably why we were only able to go with him on weekends.  Often one or more of his brothers would join us.  One night in particular stands still stands out in my memory so many years later.

    We were at another Uncle's farm; Dad, Uncle Nick, myself and another sister but I don't remember which one. We were all together in an open field surrounded by woods on both sides and there was enough moonlight that we could see the valley below us as the mists started slowing forming.

    It was late Summer/early Autumn and in my mind I can still see that night sky.  It was so clear and the stars so bright you felt you could reach up and touch them.  The night air was a mix of warm and cool breezes and carried the sound of Dad's dog baying in the distance.  I can remember the chirping sound of peepers all around us, and the earthy scent of the surrounding woods and the fresh-cut hay from the field we were in.

    I remember how we sat together on the ground in that field just being there in the moment.  Dad and Uncle Nick were talking, sometimes in Russian, and it felt so comforting to be there with them.  I wish I had the right words so anyone reading this would be able to feel that moment the way we did and I still do.  I remember laying down on the ground, looking up at the night sky and eventually falling asleep to the sound of Dad's and Uncle Nick's low voices.

    I learned that it's the simple moments in life that make the best memories.

     

     

    All rights reserved.  I hope you enjoyed my story but please remember it's my story so no using or copying any content in any manner without the express written permission of the owner...me.

  8. 5ab66e39650c2_ScreenShot2018-03-24at11_25_30AM.png.7440659bc0b77081a2495ce8e4c86613.png

    Putnam Hill in Chemung, better known as Putt Hill, sits at an imposing elevation of 1700 feet. Located in the north east corner of the town, it is part of the Allegheny Plateau Region of the vast Appalachian Mountain Range, well known for its hard wood forests, ridges, hills, valleys, streams and haunting folklore.
     
    The raw beauty of the land is equally matched by the wild elements of nature. Those who inhabit this area face hardships and challenges when winter casts a spell over the mountain; turning it frozen and barren. The reward in spring and summer is the lush green foliage that reaches up to the blue sky and white clouds. However, in autumn the artist’s palette of reds and yellows that over come the hills soon turn to warm golden brown; and the fall sky turns to gray. Daylight grows short. The air is crisp. The forest floor is covered in the rustling of fallen leaves and the stirrings in the woods are amplified, with shadows darting from the corner of the eye. It’s the autumn equinox, when hauntings are prevalent in the minds of many. Were there spirits in the forest at night haunting those who entered or were they folklore tails of long ago?
     
    Thomas Putnam a brave pioneer settler to the mountain was born August 12, 1789 in Charlestown, New Hampshire to Thomas and Polly (Young) Putnam. Lucy Bowman Morse and Thomas were married in Vermont in the year 1813. Lucy was born in Concord, Vermont on March 10, 1792. Thomas, a veteran of the War of 1812 was well aware of life in the mountains, learning as a young child the privations of the forest. He and Lucy came to Chemung with their three children between the years of 1830 and 1840. Little is known of their two children Eleanor and Charles. That is not the case for George Washington Putnam who lived next door to his parents in the 1840 census with his young bride. George W. Putnam and Eleanor Jackson were wed November 14, 1839 in Chemung, NY by the Rev. J. Piersall. Eleven children would be blessed to their household: Dean, Mahala, Wilson, Martha, Lucy, Freelove, Jahiel, Hattie, Mary Elizabeth, Clarissa (Clara), Frances (Frankie); a household of thirteen.
     
    It was sometime between 1840 and 1850 that George Washington Putnam changed his name, becoming George Putnam West. His children and wife all carry the name of West as evidenced by their sacred family bible. The family bible also lists George’s parents as Thomas and Lucy (Bowman) Putnam. So why would a young man with a large family change his name to West, yet keeping his family name as a middle name so as not to lose his identity? The home of G.P. West is notated on Putnam Hill in the 1869 map of the Town of Chemung. The land was farmed for many years by the Putnam family in the wilds of the mountain. It was here, the family faced strife and joys.
     
    Nonetheless a secret was buried deep within the roots of this family. Thomas Putnam carried his namesake throughout his life: a name that passed back through time to England in the 15th century. But it was Thomas’s second great grandfather who defiled their name in Salem Village in the year 1692.  

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       The Salem Witch Trials were well known for their accusations, trials, and executions. During the course of the year in 1692 more than a dozen persons claimed to be afflicted by spells of black magic and sorcery, allegedly cast by men and women who had enlisted the supernatural powers of the devil. The outbreak of witchcraft hysteria took place in Salem Village. In harsh reality, the Salem witch craze was largely fueled by personal differences between two families; the Putnams and the Porters.

    As the story goes, Thomas Putnam Jr. was known as a significant accuser in the 1692 witch trials. Earlier in life he was excluded from major inheritances by both his father and father-in-law and became a bitter and jealous man. Putnam, his wife and one of his daughters, Ann Putnam, Jr. all levied accusations of witchcraft; many of them against extended members of the Porter family, and testified at the trials.

    An interfamily rivalry began in 1672 when a dam and sawmill run by the Porters flooded the Putnam farms, resulting in a lawsuit. A few years later the Putnam’s petitioned the town in an effort to obtain political independence for the village, and the Porters opposed them. The arrival of Reverend Samuel Parris in 1689 intensified the Putnam-Porter conflict.

    Twenty-six villagers, who included eleven Putnams, voted to give Parris a parsonage, a barn, and two acres of land. Some villagers claimed these gifts were too generous. In October 1691 a faction of Parris-Putnam supporters were ousted from the village committee and replaced by individuals who were openly hostile to the reverend; including members of the Porter family and Joseph Hutchinson, one of the sawmill operators responsible for flooding the Putnam’s farms and Francis Nurse, a village farmer who had been involved in a bitter boundary dispute with Nathaniel Putnam. The new committee quickly voted down a tax levy that would have raised revenue to pay the salary of Reverend Parris.

    It is no coincidence that the witchcraft afflictions and accusations originated in the Parris household. In February 1692 the reverend returned home from his congregation one evening to discover his nine-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Parris, her 11-year-old cousin, Abigail Williams, and their 12-year-old friend, Ann Putnam, the daughter of Thomas and Ann Putnam, Sr. gathered around the kitchen table with the Parris family slave, Tituba, who was helping the girls experiment in fortune telling. Realizing that they had been caught attempting to conjure up evil spirits, the girls soon became afflicted by strange fits that temporarily deprived them of their ability to hear, speak, and see. During these episodes of sensory deprivation, the girls suffered from violent convulsions that twisted their bodies into what observers called impossible positions. When the girls regained control of their senses, they complained of being bitten, pinched, kicked, and tormented by apparitions that would visit them in the night. These ghostly visions, the afflicted girls said, pricked their necks and backs and contorted their arms and legs like pretzels. Witnesses reported seeing the girls extend their tongues to extraordinary lengths. After examining the afflicted girls, Dr. William Griggs, the village physician, pronounced them under an evil hand.

    Nearly 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft in Salem during the summer of 1692. Twenty accused witches were executed, fifteen women and five men. Nineteen were hanged following conviction and one was pressed to death for refusing to enter a plea. Four prisoners, three women and a man, died in jail. The trials began in June and continued for four months; the final executions taking place on September 22.

    Ann Putnam, Jr. played a crucial role in the witchcraft trials of 1692. In her socially prominent family, her mother was also afflicted and her father and many other Putnam’s gave testimony against the accused during the trials. When attempting to make a judgment on Ann, perhaps we should remember that she was very young and impressionable and thus easily influenced by her parents and other adults. Fourteen years later she admitted that she had lied, deluded by the Devil.
     
    Historians claim to have identified a pattern of accusations that strongly suggests the afflicted girls singled out social deviants, outcasts, outsiders, merchants, tradesman, and others who threatened traditional Puritan values and or threatened the Parris and Putnam families, by claiming the spirits of the accused visited them at night and tormented them.
     
    Was it the multitude of chains created by the family over 100 years ago that pulled at Thomas’s feet as he plowed his fields? Was it with a heavy heart that he lived his life? Perhaps, this is the reason his son George broke the chains and scars, freeing his family of the dark shroud of guilt and humiliation cast upon them. The name Putnam forever remains in the wilds of the mountain, where the darkness of the forest hides the whispering of the winds.

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    Disclaimer: Several on-line genealogy sites were used in researching the Putnam family. Without verifying the on line trees, there is a posibility of an error in the family tree, depicted in this story. For more information on the Putnam family: http://historicalechoes.weebly.com/thomas-putnam--west-family.html

     

    Mary Ellen Kunst is the historian for the Town Of Chemung. To see more information, visit her site, https://historicalechoes.weebly.com

    •  
  9. Most people connected to Chemung County are aware there is a serious contamination issue on the grounds of Elmira High School and potentially in the school’s surrounding neighborhoods as well. First identified more than 25 years ago, the problem remains largely unmitigated, placing scores of students, teachers, staff, residents and community members at risk for exposure to hazardous chemicals.

    Industrial Background

    Jim Hare, Elmira’s former mayor and a local historian, recently published an article in the Star Gazetteabout the industrial background of Elmira High School’s property on South Main Street, an area sits in what is now a largely residential area.

    Quote

    The Preliminary Site Assessment for the Remington Rand Plant site prepared by the Unisys Corporation, the company which has liability for the property, prepared in July 1988, provides in interesting history of the site on South Main St. The property purchased by the Elmira City School District for the new high school had been an industrial site since 1882 when 20 acres of land were donated by John Arnot to encourage business development in Elmira.  The Payne Engine and Boiler works was the first business to locate there.  From 1909-1935 the Morrow Company and the Willys-Morrow Company occupied the site.  From 1935-37 the Elmira Precision Tool Company was there to be replaced by the Remington Rand which lasted until 1972.  In 1977, the Elmira City School District took possession of the northern part of the property.

    While there were questions and comments on the street about the site and its history,  in all of the public discussion about building a new school on a site which had been used by industry for nearly 100 years, the risk  of hazardous waste and pollution which might jeopardize students and faculty was never raised as an issue.  Indeed there was no discussion about the exposure to such waste by neighbors of  the property.

    In 1952, the State Department of Health informed the Remington Rand that toxic wastes were being discharged to the Chemung River.  In January 1954, a large fish kill resulting from cyanide contamination on the river resulting from nickel plating at the plant was noted.  Further contamination was noted in 1958.  In 1965, Sperry Rand Corporation was notified that elevated concentration of zinc and cyanide were noted in Miller Creek (flows into Miller’s Pond).  By 1967 Sperry Rand had failed to meet abatement schedules to treat contamination problems.

    The 1988 Preliminary Site Assessment, referenced by Hare above, provides an incredibly detailed overview of the area’s history. It also includes a table describing the waste produced by Remington Rand in 1967, just ten years before the Elmira City School District purchased the property.

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    Public Outcry

    To the best of my knowledge, concerns about the environmental safety at Elmira High School (formerly Southside High School) were first raised in the late 1990’s by a group of parents and students over what appeared to be an unusually high number of serious illnesses, including cancers, in young people who attended the school.

    Indeed, an article published in the New York Times on on December 27, 2000, entitled “Specter of Cancer Haunts a School; Industrial City of Elmira Confronts Environmental Legacy” detailed the concerns that were raised at that time.

    Quote
    Years ago they drew little notice, the pond that never freezes, the rainbow of colors glinting off the surface of a creek, the hard-to-pronounce chemicals sprayed, painted and, yes, sometimes spilled around the mile-long stretch of factories on the south side of town.
     

    This small Southern Tier city, which promotes itself as the gateway to the Finger Lakes and the place where Mark Twain wrote classics like ”The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” owes much of its existence to the less glamorous might of industry, which in the last century turned out cars, tools, typewriters, warplane components, fire hydrants and much more.

    But as Elmira strives to rebound from years of hard times after the decline of manufacturing, residents have begun to question the legacy of all those factories as never before.

    They are especially concerned by suggestions that a number of cancer cases reported by former and current students of a high school here are linked to the school, which was built on land that has supported a diverse array of industry from the Civil War to the 1970’s.

    The State Health and Environmental Conservation Departments have conducted tests at Southside High School and a neighboring property that is the site of an abandoned plant.

    Interestingly, Hare’s recent article included a quote from Dr. Paul Zaccarine, Elmira City School District’s Superintendent at the time the high school property was purchased from Remington Rand, who stated in 1976 that “the positive aspect of having that building put up there does outweigh the negative aspect of using that particular area as an industrial site.”

    However, when he was interviewed in 2000 by the USA Today, Dr. Zaccrine had a much different outlook.

    Quote

    ”I wish I could undo it,” says Paul Zaccarine, 71, the school superintendent who oversaw the school’s construction in the late 1970s. Now retired and living in Illinois, he is watching in horror as student after student gets cancer.

    ”It’s really frightening,” he says. ”That site was the least desirable as far as I was concerned, but because the Remington Rand people had given us the land, the board voted to go ahead and take it. We got it for a dollar or something.”

    He says the long-term effects of the industrial waste were never considered. So far, nobody has found any evidence that an environmental study was done before school construction began in 1977.

    ”We just didn’t know enough about all of that to have it be a concern,” Zaccarine says. ”Every way we looked at it, we just felt it was an opportunity to get a brand-new school with a lot of the facilities we needed. If we had any indication that there was any contamination, we certainly would not have gone ahead with it.”

    An (Unfulfilled) Promise to Clean Up

    As a result of the push by community members, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) began taking soil samples from the high school’s grounds in 2000, a process that continues today, and has taken some steps to protect people who enter the property from coming into contact with what it concedes are toxic subsurface contaminants and vapors.

    In 2014, Unisys, company that owns the property and is the responsible for paying all clean-up costs, began investigating the site itself.  Based on what it found, Unisys chose to enter New York State’s Brownfield Cleanup Program. Last summer Unisys worked with the DEC and New York’s Department of Health to remove below ground PCB contaminated soils.

    However, the work is nowhere near completion. According members of the DEC at a public forum I attended last month, Unisys plans to remove 28,000 tons of contaminated soil from Elmira High School this summer, as outlined in the DEC’s powerpoint slides. This project will require the use of 35-40 trucks per day/6 days a week starting the day after school ends and finishing just before it resumes again next year. Workers will wear fully protective clothing, the trucks will be sprayed down each time they leave the premises, and the materials will be hauled to a hazardous waste dump.

    Of greater concern is the amount of work that will remain uncompleted at the end of the summer. The Brownsfield Clean-Up Program is notoriously slow, and it allows liable parties such as Unisys to delay remediation – i.e. paying for it – for years as the process drags on. The Brownsfield Program also allows companies engaged in remediation to receive tax credits each year, lessening the incentives liable businesses have to complete their work as soon as possible.

    Specifically, at last month’s public forum DEC officials stated the investigation into the extent of contamination at the school – a process that started almost two decades ago – will take at least 2 more years to complete, and Unisys will need an indefinite amount of time to mitigate the areas they acknowledge need to be addressed, as shown below.

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    What about the Residents?

    Unfortunately, the contamination problem at Elmira High School is not likely limited to the school’s grounds. Although to date there has not been a large-scale inspection of the surrounding community, some evidence has begun to emerge that raises serious concerns.

    Specifically, John and Joann Siedman, residents of Raecrest Circle in Elmira, recently received a letter from Geosyntec Consultants, a company that is working with Unisys to assess the scope of contamination.

    The letter states that environmental samples from the Siedman’s property show toxic contamination, and warns them to take precautions on their property including “washing your hands, avoiding incidental ingestion of of soil during play, cleaning any soil covered tools and minimizing digging or relocating soil in areas where routine flooding occurs…(and keeping) livestock/pets from these areas as well.” Incredibly, neither Geosyntec, Unisys, NYDEC nor any other entity alterted the Siedman’s neighbors about their findings.

    IMG_2620 - CopyIMG_2621 - Copy

    Potential Legislative Actions

    This issue highlights why our community desperately needs a strong legislative body.

    The grounds of Elmira City School District’s only high school are admittedly contaminated, and many of its residential properties may be as well. As such, a full, immediate clean-up must be a top priority for all elected officials in our county, and the legislature can do a lot to put things in motion.

    There are three ways the Chemung County Legislature could make an immediate impact on this issue:

    Pass a Strong Resolution

    The goal for our community should be an immediate completion of the DEC’s investigation, followed by and/or in conjunction with a full remediation by Unisys. Continuing to implement “interim remedial measures”, i.e. piecemeal clean-up acts that could span a decade or more,  is simply not the answer.

    The legislature introduced a resolution last month, but tabled it after members of the community – including myself – stressed during public comment period that it doesn’t go far enough. Last night the resolution passed unanimously.

    Specifically, the resolution reads as follows:

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    The language of this resolution should be contrasted with a letter signed by nearly 1,100 people affected by this issue – including several sitting Chemung County legislators – that urges New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to go much further. Indeed, the letter asks Cuomo to take the remediation effort out of the Brownsfield Clean-Up program altogether and instead pursue a far more proactive approach.

    Quote

    We, the undersigned, write respectfully to request that you immediately require all of the toxic site concerns associated with the former Sperry Remington manufacturing site in Elmira, NY to be consolidated into a single site that is given a Class 1 Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Site designation: “Causing or presenting an imminent danger of causing irreversible or irreparable damage to the public health or the environment — immediate action required.”

    This action is warranted because it has been more than 20 years since high-level toxic pollution was discovered to have migrated nearly 1,000 feet from the former Sperry Remington factory site to Miller Pond in Elmira, NY. Yet, the full scope of that contaminated property’s public health and environmental hazards has neither been fully investigated and delineated nor cleaned up in strict compliance with all applicable regulatory requirements.

    The delay in achieving comprehensive clean up in strict compliance with all applicable regulatory requirements is unacceptable given that Elmira High School at 777 South Main Street is built directly on the contaminated site and a responsible party is required to clean it up. In addition, a residential neighborhood adjoining the former factory site has yet to be investigated for toxic pollution threats.

    Continued participation in the Brownsfield Clean-Up Program is too slow, and far too much is at stake to allow further delays. Whether the approach outlined in the letter is the most appropriate response remains an open question, requiring the sitting legislators to dig deep in order to figure out what our community needs. What we all should be able to agree upon is that waiting two more years for the investigation alone to be to completed is an absolutely unacceptable way to go.

    Conduct an Investigation

    As I described in a prior blog post, Chemung County’s charter is riddled with untapped potential as it relates to the legislature.

    Specifically, the charter provides that the legislature has the power to:

    Quote

    [M]ake such studies and investigations as it deems to be in the best interests of the County and in connection therewith to obtain and
    employ professional and technical advice, appoint temporary advisory boards of citizens, subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, and require the production of books, papers and other evidence deemed necessary or material to such study or inquiry.

    What does this mean in terms of the contamination situation? It means the legislature has the power to take the lead in protecting our community. It can hire experts to conduct testing, appoint a commission of local citizens with specialized knowledge in this field, place members of NYDEC and Unisys under subpoena and have them testify under oath at a hearing, and/or demand NYDEC and Unisys produce documents and records that will help our community begin to understand what is happening and how big this problem really is.

    This approach is very similar to what is happening at the federal level with respect to injuries and deaths related to Takata airbag inflators. U.S. senators have stated they are undertaking the investigation and hearings to examine the “current manufacturer recall completion rates, the Takata bankruptcy and transition to new ownership under Key Safety Systems, and what all stakeholders including NHTSA are doing to ensure this process continues to move forward.”

    That is exactly what the sitting legislators can and should do here. A local entity needs to take the lead in this matter, and the legislature has the requisite power to do it.

    Create a true Council of Governments

    This issue highlights the need we have for a Council of Governments (COG), with representatives from all levels of local government including the county, towns and villages, the school districts, the sewer district, various public safety and public works entities and others.

    If we had a COG in place right now, it would be the logical place to take a massive issue like this, as the contamination problem overlaps many different governmental bodies. Unfortunately, Chemung County’s COG disbanded many years ago, and recent calls for a “quasi-COG” are so riddled political posturing that its hard to imagine it getting off the ground anytime soon.

    The legislature should act now to create a true COG that is unentangled by unnecessary components I have described in prior blog posts here and here. The legislators to do need to wait for approval from the Executive’s office. To the contrary, they can – and should – act now.

    There has never been a greater need for genuine cooperation than there is at this moment. Chemung County is facing a very serious problem. We need a legislature that is ready and willing to face it head on.

     

    Christina Bruner-Sonsire is a local attorney and candidate for Chemung County Legislature

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