Category Archives: history

What I Read in 2015

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With just a couple of weeks left in 2015, I thought I’d compile my annual list of “books I read”.

I keep the list every year, but I don’t always share it. Lately, though, I’ve found myself recommending a lot of books or just discussing what I’ve read, even if it I didn’t love it. So I thought it worthwhile to share my list with you.

The books are listed in the order that I finished them (vs any kind of ranking order), along with some general thoughts. Don’t be misled by the “finished reading” dates. I’m often reading several books at one time, so it’s not unusual to finish a couple of books within days of each other – although I have definitely been known to stay up for a few days straight reading (“Dead Wake”) or read a book in one day (“Nothing But The Truth”). Also understand that inclusion on the list isn’t necessarily an endorsement; a book is on the list simply because I read it in 2015.

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A history of the Charlotte lighthouse

The historical marker at the Charlotte cemetery, citing its notable residents, including the first lighthouse keeper.

The historical marker at the Charlotte cemetery, citing its notable residents, including the first lighthouse keeper.

If there’s a cemetery tour happening in Rochester, you can be sure I’m there. For anyone interested in local history, there’s no better place to find unusual stories and bits of trivia, and I’m fascinated by the history buried all around us. (Plus, I’m writing a book about people buried in Rochester who changed, intrigued or just amused the world, so I’m always on the lookout for more stories.)

A few weeks ago, the City of Rochester hosted the annual Genesee River Romance weekend  celebrating the Genesee River and its surrounding trail and gorge system. In 2014, I took full advantage of the weekend of events that include tours of the old subway and aqueducts, the Rundel Library, the Falls, and cemeteries. Somehow, I missed the adverts for this year’s event, so I only had time to catch one thing: the tour of Charlotte Cemetery…

You can read the rest of the story at RochesterSubway.com.

Notes from the Fringe: Off the Fringe and up, up into the sky

Me, four floors above the city!

Me, four floors above the city!

The great thing about covering events like the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival? I get to meet the most interesting people, and often we stay connected.

And that’s how I found myself high above the streets of Rochester yesterday, in a construction bucket on the side of the Powers Building.

I met artist Scott Grove and his wife Nancy last week at the festival opening; Scott did some of the pieces in the Spiegelgarden. We got to talking about the myriad talents Scott has, one of which is historic restoration for old buildings. He’s currently working on the Powers Building, and he invited me to check it out.

So I did.

This won’t be a post about the history of the Powers Building – I can do more of that later. Today, I just want to give you a quick peek at my adventure, how Scott cares for the historical integrity of the building, and some of the little treasures I found that beg more investigation for another day. Continue reading

Writing for Rochester Subway

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One of my goals for 2015 was to pitch a story to RochesterSubway.com, my absolute favorite local website. It’s a great source for local history as well as current affairs.

I pitched it, and the site’s founder Mike Governale liked my idea! So I set off to write about a building next to where I do improv, on East Main St in the city of Rochester. The name “Martha Matilda Harper” is etched over the front door, and I thought it might have been a school. But a quick google search told me there was a much, much more interesting story to be told. You can read more about Martha Matilda Harper here!

And for National Nurses Week, I did a short piece on Ida Jane Anderson, the first registered nurse in New York State. A reader who liked the story sent me a photo from the 1920s of his aunt, who worked at the Park Avenue Hospital; I’m working on a follow up.

You can check out more at RochesterSubway.com. And if you’re in town, check out RocCity Transit Day flash mob!

 

 

Memorial Day at Lake Ontario

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On this Memorial Day weekend, I took an impromptu trip to Charlotte, on Lake Ontario, to walk on the pier.

Actually, I had just picked up my new car the night before and wanted to take it for a nice long ride, since I’m getting 35 mpg instead of 13 mpg. But I digress. Continue reading

Harry Houdini and Rochester

Screenshot of film showing Harry Houdini's jump, handcuffed, from the Weighlock Bridge in Rochester. It was his first manacled stunt. (Click image to be taken to the video.)

Screenshot of film showing Harry Houdini’s jump, handcuffed, from the Weighlock Bridge in Rochester in 1907. It was his first manacled stunt. (Click image to be taken to the video.)

Here’s a fun fact that I couldn’t pass up sharing: On May 7, 1907, Harry Houdini performed his first manacled bridge stunt by jumping off the Weighlock Bridge, near Court Street in downtown Rochester. He was wearing two pair of handcuffs which, as you can see in this film, were secured by Policeman Decker (as identified by the Rochester Union and Advertiser).

According to an article in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, in the 1890s Houdini had actually been offered a job in Rochester, ironically as superintendent of Sargent and Greenleaf, a lockmaking company then located here.

That’s just Rochester, making history again!

UPDATE: Just what is the “Weighlock Bridge”?  Turns out, it was a covered area where boats would come in to be weighed to determine their toll. The weight of the empty boat was subtracted from the weight of the boat full of cargo. According to ErieCanal.org, “it was located on the west bank of the canal, on the east side of the Genesee River, just south of Court Street.”

Weighlocks on Erie Canal, Rochester, N.Y. (214976 -- [Leighton & Valentine Co., N.Y.]) - From: Rochester Public Library Local History Division. -- A postcard view of the weighlock, looking north with the city in the background, approximately 1910.

A postcard view of the weighlock, looking north with the city in the background, approximately 1910.

Title: Erie Canal weigh lock [photograph]. Photographer/Artist: Stone, Albert R., 1866-1934. Date: 1911? Physical Details: 1 photograph : b&w ; 7 x 9 in. Collection: Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, Rochester Museum & Science Center, Rochester, NY Summary: The weighlock (or weigh lock) was built in 1852. It is located on the east side of the Genesee River, just south of Court Street. Canal boats enter the covered area, where the toll is determined by the weight of the loaded boat. Rochester Images image Number: sct11583 http://www.rochester.lib.ny.us/rochimag/rmsc/ scm11/scm11583.jpg

Collection: Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, Rochester Museum & Science Center, Rochester, NY

And the next book is …

Mt. Hope Cemetery, October 2014 (c) Joanne Brokaw

Mt. Hope Cemetery, October 2014 (c) Joanne Brokaw

As regular readers of the blog know, for some time now I’ve been fascinated with Mt. Hope Cemetery – the geography, the peace, the history, walking the dogs there. It’s spurred my own genealogical research but also research into some mysteries and murders, locals ties to national stories, interesting stories about everyday people and just random weirdo stories.

I’ve blogged about my adventures in the cemetery and I’ve always been surprised by the number of people who are as fascinated as I am with the things I uncover.

Well, if that’s you, then you’ll be happy to know that my next book is a go, and it’s going to be about people buried at Mt. Hope! It’ll be published once again by Wordcrafts, whom I adore working with. Continue reading