Category Archives: local history

Albany Girl Weds Prince of Spain

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As I was preparing the new section of my website, Torn From Yesterday’s Headlines!, I was organizing a set of newspaper clippings I had found in the course of doing genealogical research that had no relation to my family history but that were too interesting to ignore. And among those clippings (virtual clippings, mind you, found through online services) was this magnificent article from 1925, “Albany Girl Weds Prince of Spain.” Now, you would think that would merit more than an inch and a half of attention, but perhaps it was a busy news day. In any event, the whole story goes like this:

ALBANY GIRL WEDS PRINCE OF SPAIN

Daughter of Former State Senator Becomes Princess of San Fuastino

Rome. March 31 – (AP) – Miss Katherine Sage, daughter of former State Senator Henry M. Sage of Albany, N.Y., was married today to Don Ranieri Bourbon del Monte, prince of San Fuastino [sic]. The ceremony was performed by Cardinal Lega in the Church of San Tandrea, next to the Quirinal palace. Ambassador Fletcher gave the bride away. The new American princess has been an art student in Rome for the past two years.

Never mind the paper’s misspelling of San Faustino, the point here is that you would think that if an Albany native had become some kind of princess, that someone would know about it around here. Well, it turns out that Katherine Sage was, in fact, pretty well known.

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Albany, Dat’s De Only Town Looks Good to Me

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The things you run into when you’re cleaning up your hard drive. I’ve been holding on to this for a long, long time, torn between the campy excitement of a piece of 1904 sheet music that features my hometown (even if any town that rhymed with “me” might have worked) and the embarrassment of a slightly racist piece of ephemera from the era of blackface and exaggerated dialect for comic effect. But ultimately, it has to be shared.


I played a three-night stand
once upon a time,
In a town called Albany,
I met a sun-burnt maiden and
I gave her a ticket free.
Oh, well, she seen dat show, I met her den,
directly after matinee,
She caught my eye, now other towns
Ain’t one, two, six wid me.
We correspond, I know she’s fond
Of letters dat she gets from me
And when dis season closes
I’m a going back to Albany.

Chorus:
‘Cause dat’s de only town looks good to me,
It’s on de Hudson Riber and de N.Y.C.,
I’d rather live in dat fine old place,
Where I know I can see ma baby’s face
I’ve been in ev’ry town from A to Z,
Studied all de maps like A, B, C,
But dat is de one and only town
I’m gwine back to Albany.

I’m gwine to tell you more, well,
here I am out West,
In a town called Kankakee
Dese E flat burgs and water tanks, well
dey never made a hit wid me.
I never did four-flush, I’m in a rush,
Dat gal is waiting now for me,
She said she’d meet me at de train
Dat gets dere just a-fore three,
I’ll feel just right if I land to-night
In Rochester at half past three,
I’ll catch dat Empire express train
A buzzin’ back to Albany.

Chorus

Aircheck, freshman!

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A great thing (and sometimes a scary thing) about the Web is that, apparently, everything will be preserved forever — something that happened 40 years past can be called up in an instant, just as if it had happened moments before. Another great thing (and sometimes a scary thing) about the Web is that a simple search can sometimes lead you on a descent like Orpheus in his underwear, down into a subculture you barely knew existed but which appears to be alive and thriving on some unknown corner of the Web. It’s not always Illinois Nazis (though often it is).

I’m putting together a disc of some of the great music that came out of Syracuse bands during a very specific little slice of time, my undergrad years, when we were sure every single one of these bands was going to be the next big thing, just as soon as they got their 45 pressed. It happens that I had a couple of stray bits of radio broadcasts from the time that would make nice bookends and such, and thought maybe, just maybe, I could find a couple of others on the web – a couple of radio station IDs at the very least, maybe from old WHEN, WOLF, or WNDR. Well. Into the pit I fell – starting with an encyclopedic site devoted to WOLF, a station that I didn’t listen to very much but which apparently many others did. (This was the late ’70s, when my car radio and every workplace radio still only got the AM band, and for some reason it felt like knowing who was playing the records for us mattered.) But that site has nothing on NortheastAirchecks.com, a fascinating, wide-ranging collection of “airchecks” from radio stations across the Northeast, with a heavy dose of my hometown stations such as WTRY, WPTR and even the little station that could, Schenectady’s 3WD, where I did some hanging out for reasons that are no longer clear in my memory bank but which I think involved a girl who didn’t know I existed. The unremitting awfulness of modern radio led me to become someone who now relies entirely on Sirius for my audio broadcast entertainment (and in Little Steven’s Underground Garage, I’ve found the only station that has ever truly understood me), and as I go through my old records and look at old charts, I just marvel at the tremendous diversity that used to exist in Top 40 radio, at the songs that would have been played, a diversity of sounds and styles that exists nowhere in commercial radio today. Listening back to these old airchecks brings back some of the fun and excitement (and incredible over-annunciation) of those days when it seemed like radio really mattered.

It’s amazing to me that there’s a whole community of people who have saved these tapes for all these years, and even more amazing that now there is a way for them to share them all with anyone who might be interested, even someone who might just have been looking for a quick snippet of Captain Scott King giving the traffic report in a city where the traffic problems were the same day in and day out, but where as the sun set over Onondaga Lake, “sunglasses and sun visors are in effect.”

Where have all the bonnet bleachers gone?

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I started out on a hunt for information on a local building that’s undergoing demolition, and finding nothing on the Interwebs, turned to the historian’s version of carbon dating: city directories. Luckily a bunch of these are online now at Ancestry, because it’s tedious work going through them looking for addresses and business names. All I wanted to do was get some idea when this particular building, a former hotel, had started up and how late it had been there, because no one I knew could recall anything at all having been in the building in the last 25 years or more.

But of course instead I got lost in the portrait of a city that is no more, captured in the 1875 Albany City Directory.

For starters, it was a city that existed almost entirely in the area we call downtown. Smaller in population, endlessly more dense in those days before the automobile changed everything. Bounded as it still is by the Capitol to the west and the Hudson River to the east, Madison or Green to the south and perhaps Clinton Street to the north, it would appear there was hardly an empty office for dozens of square blocks. The place was absolutely full. And what businesses they were, a reminder of what our cities were like before refrigeration, rapid transportation, centralization and globalization changed everything. Downtown Albany was home to five cracker bakers, five cream of tartar dealers (an ingredient in baking powder), 12 iron founders, 12 marble workers, 20 news depots, and 25 printers. You wanted oysters? 14 oyster dealers took advantage of the overnight steamboats to New York City’s seafood markets. There were four piano manufacturers (but only two banjo makers). There were six sleigh manufacturers, six furriers, 5 leather curriers (a leather treatment method), and two places that exclusively pinked and marked fabrics. Bonnet getting dingy? There were five places to have your bonnet bleached and pressed. There was one foundry riddler, and if I knew what that was, I’d tell you, but he was presumably not in competition with the dealer in “Yankee notions.”

This isn’t to mention the notaries public and lawyers, who were legion. It’s hard to imagine how many people were packed into such a small space, how hectic and exciting the center of the city must have been. Now, after years and years of revitalization efforts, downtown is busy again, but the big towers are still riddled with vacancies, and the variety of services available to the lawyers and state workers who people the streets pretty much ranges from lunch to lunch, with one holdout jeweler and a couple of opticians thrown in for good measure. Even the variety of twenty years ago, with a bookstore or two, a semi-pro camera shop, and a couple of jewelers on Pearl Street, has been lost. Those spaces have mostly been taken over by restaurants and bars, which has improved the nightlife, but we’re still without the kind of destination retail that brings some character back to a downtown. Would even one Yankee notions dealer be too much to ask?

National Savings Bank

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National Savings Bank

At Howard and South Pearl Streets, the magnificent old National Savings Bank tower (and the much less magnificent corner of a modern parking garage).

This nearly unnoticed beauty that anchors the key intersection of State and Pearl Streets is the work of Marcus T. Reynolds, whose mark on Albany endures in a number of important buildings but who is most noted for the Delaware and Hudson Railroad headquarters, now the central administration building of the State University of New York.

This is shown reflected in the glassy anonymity of the IBM building across Pearl Street.