Civil War Ballads: Paddy’s Lamentation

I first heard this song in the movie Gangs of New York (2002). It’s played during a great scene where Irish immigrants are recruited into the Union Army as they come off the boat. One asks, “Where’re we going?” The man behind him replies, “I heard Tennessee.” “Where’s that?” As they walk onto the cargo ship in uniform, coffins are being lowered into a line on the dock. That probably never happened because it would devastate morale, but it creates a stirring visual. From what I can gather, the song is popular in Canada and is considered an Irish-Canadian folk song. It may date from 1870 or 1880.

Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher, commanded the Union “Irish Brigade”

Well it’s by the hush, me boys, and sure that’s to hold your noise
And listen to poor Paddy’s sad narration
I was by hunger pressed, and in poverty distressed
So I took a thought I’d leave the Irish nation

Here’s to you boys, now take my advice
To America I’ll have ye’s not be going
There is nothing here but war, where the murderin’ cannons roar
And I wish I was at home in dear old Dublin

Well I sold me ass and cow, my little pigs and sow
My little plot of land I soon did part with
And me sweetheart Bid McGee, I’m afraid I’ll never see
For I left her there that morning brokenhearted

Well meself and a hundred more, to America sailed o’er
Our fortunes to be made [sic] we were thinkin’
When we got to Yankee land, they shoved a gun into our hands
Saying “Paddy, you must go and fight for Lincoln”

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Lake George, New York

Lake George, in east-central New York, is a wonderful place to get away. Here you can experience boat rides, swimming, parasailing, history, hiking, drinking, dining, arcades, mini golf, and so much more. In the spring through fall, visitors flock to this area, and it isn’t hard to see why. I’ve spent two weekends there, and still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. It reminds me of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, or Wisconsin Dells, which is where my family vacationed when I was a kid.

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Fall is a good time to visit because the leaves change color, but things start shutting down for the season. I happened to be there Oktoberfest weekend, and the main street was partially blocked off. They had rides for the kids and a beer tent. I did a wine tasting at Adirondack Winery and ended up with a bottle of their Amethyst Sunset (I like sweet reds).

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There are so many little tourist shops, ice cream parlors, and places to eat. Exiting off Interstate 87 onto Route 9, you can follow Route 9 into town or explore south for a few miles. There are things to do all along that main street. Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf, Magic Forest, outlet stores, and Six Flags Great Escape are all south of Lake George. Magic Forest has the world’s largest Uncle Sam statue (not sure if that’s actually true…).

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Romance & Mystery at Heart Island’s Boldt Castle

An unfinished castle wins the hearts of visitors to New York’s Thousand Islands region each year, but its sad history continues to linger.

  • George Boldt began construction on this magnificent mansion for his wife in the 1890s.
  • Louise Kehrer Boldt died of an illness in 1904, and George sent a telegram ordering workers to stop construction.
  • Boldt Castle sat empty until 1977, when it was turned into a tourist attraction.
  • Some visitors have reported seeing the ghost of Louise fluttering through the halls.

The stone walls of a majestic castle rise above the waters of the Saint Lawrence River, creating a romantic visage on tiny Heart Island. Today a major tourist destination, for decades the structure sat abandoned to vandalism and decay. Despite never having been lived in, rumors of Boldt Castle’s haunted halls have spread throughout the Thousand Islands Region of Upstate New York.

In 1900, George Boldt, general manager of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City and manager of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, began construction on this six story, 120 room castle. It was to be a grand tribute to the love of his life, Louise Kehrer Boldt. Louise purchased Heart Island, where the castle was to be built, in 1895 for $1. The architectural firm G. W. & W. D. Hewitt designed the castle, for which Boldt spared no expense. It contained tunnels, a powerhouse, Italian gardens, drawbridge, alster tower, and a dove cote.

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Split Rock Quarry’s Terrifying Crusher

The site of a tragic and deadly accident at a quarry in central New York has become a popular destination for legend trippers and outdoor enthusiasts.

  • The Solvay Process Company built Split Rock Quarry to mine limestone west of Syracuse in the 1880s.
  • A massive explosion at the quarry in 1918 killed upwards of 50 workers.
  • Since the accident, some visitors have reported strange encounters in the abandoned quarry at night.

On July 2, 1918, a terrible explosion at a munitions factory outside Syracuse, New York claimed the lives of more than 50 workers, injuring dozens more. 15 men were incinerated beyond recognition and over 20 reported missing and presumed dead. Today, Split Rock Quarry is largely abandoned, taken over by hikers, urban explorers, curiosity seekers, and partiers.

Evidence of late night excursions abound, and some of these nocturnal visitors have brought back stories of strange sights and sounds around the old rock crusher. Dark, graffiti covered tunnels excite the imagination. This sinister reputation led the site to be featured on the Travel Channel’s Destination Fear in October 2012.

Split Rock Quarry was originally built by the Solvay Process Company, which was founded in 1880 by Belgian chemists Ernest and Alfred Solvay, American engineer William B. Cogswell, and businessman Rowland Hazard II. The Solvay Process Company manufactured soda ash (sodium carbonate) through the Solvay Process, which combines salt brine and limestone. The limestone was quarried at Split Rock near Onondaga, New York and pulverized in a giant rock crusher.

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Red Robin Diner in Johnson City, NY

Saw this old diner at the corner of Main and Broad streets as I was driving through Johnson City, near Binghamton, New York. It was closed at the time. I don’t think it’s a Red Robin franchise, and no one has posted a review on Yelp since 2015. I love the classic design, and check out that old 7-Up sign! The neighborhood is severely depressed, but there is a cool comic book and game store nearby.

Feasting at God’s Table

Father Divine, Conspicuous Consumption & Racial Harmony

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George Baker, Jr., “Father Divine”

In American culture, health and prosperity has long been wedded to the consumption of food. At the dawn of the twentieth century, it was the ability to eat what one wanted and when that defined an American family’s assent into the growing middle class. It was no accident that there appeared in America during the 1920s a man who offered salvation through the act of eating. Father Divine, professing himself to be God incarnate, urged his followers to transcend race and poverty through the power of positive thinking. His message crossed racial lines because he appealed to shared traditions in American culture, traditions like conspicuous consumption, Charismatic Christianity, and the Protestant work ethic.

Father Divine’s movement was at its height during the Great Depression. At a time when scarcity affected millions, this eccentric preacher offered men and women a taste of the American dream―for the price of personal sacrifice and loyalty. He provided Americans across the country, both black and white, rich and poor, the perfect confluence of food, religion, and spectacle to distract them from the harsh realities of everyday life. He offered hope that racial unity and personal perfection could be achieved through the union of religion and the dinner table.

The Importance of Food in America

Americans have always given special significance to food and drink. When the first European colonists arrived in North America they encountered a land teeming with wildlife. At Plymouth Colony in 1621, a storm left the beach covered with piles of lobsters two feet high. “They were so plentiful and so easily gathered that they were considered fit only for the poor,” Waverley Root and Richard de Rochemont explained in Eating in America. The storm left pools of crabs all along the shores of Virginia. Commenting on the abundance of fish at Jamestown, Captain John Smith wrote, “we tooke more in owne hour than we could eate in a day.” The colonists wondered at the size of the salmon, strawberries, and lobsters in the New World, and the Pilgrims, finding the luxury of clams and mussels tempered by their abundance, fed them to hogs.[1]

With origins in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the act of breaking bread with friends and neighbors had long been ingrained in religious ritual. Therefore, it was a feast the Pilgrims shared with the Wampanoags after their first arduous winter in New England, which eventually inspired the creation of a national holiday, Thanksgiving, centered around the consumption of large quantities of food. John Smith celebrated his first Christmas in the New World around the dinner table with the Powhatans and noted, “we were never more merry nor fed on more plenty of good oysters, fish, flesh, wild fowle and good bread, nor ever had better fires in England.”[2]

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Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute

Located at 310 Genesee Street in Utica, New York, the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute is an enjoyable art museum with several notable pieces, including a Jackson Pollock, Salvador Dalí, and Picasso. It also has a fine collection of 19th-Century American painting and sculpture, as well as an annex showcasing the 19th-Century home of James and Helen Williams, “Fountain Elms”. I’m not a fan of modern art, but it was nice to see some pieces by prominent artists at a smaller art museum. Similar institutions would charge visitors to see such “high profile” pieces, but the M.W.P. Arts Institute only takes donations to see its general collection.

A special exhibition of Steve McCurry’s photographs will be on display until December 31st. Steve McCurry is best known for his haunting photograph of a young Afghan Girl with piercing green eyes taken in Peshawar, Pakistan in 1984.

The World through His Lens: Steve McCurry Photographs is an exhibition of more than 60 large-scale photographs by National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry. It costs $10 general admission, or $5 for students, and is free to children under 12.

According to their website, “McCurry’s evocative images reveal collective human struggles and explore diverse societies across the boundaries of language and culture. Organized around universal themes of personal adornment, place, and ritual, exhibition will include unforgettable images from across six continents and spanning ancient traditions, international conflict, and vanishing cultures.”

This a unique opportunity to see his photographs up close, as the M.W.P. Arts Institute is the only venue for this exhibition.

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