Monday, June 21, 2010

Chenango Darkness: the Prequel

June 7th, 1879, in the New York Times:
In the previous entry in this blog, writer Frederick Busch drew a parallel between his almost-murder in Nigger Hollow, Chenango County, NY, to a completed one in the previous century in the same place. He wrote of the murderer, "He used his rifle, this man who is a small notation in history, and he shot through an open window, and he killed the man whose chickens scratched among the onions and the beans."

Busch got it backwards.

The killer in question killed because the damn' neighbor had killed two of his pet chickens, intentionally, and had lured them to their demise to boot. That's a shooting that I, a chicken-keeper, can understand.

And, besides, a thoroughly unpleasant person played a key role in the chicken-entrapment:

The whole story is recounted in this anonymous article from the New York Times of June 7th, 1879, and is at least as good reading as is Busch's tale from almost a century later. (Beware: the PDF file linked from that page is a little odd: you have to scroll halfway down the image to get to the start of the article in the left column.)

(So, I guess I have to thank my quarrelsome neighbors here in Creepy Hollow, California, for keeping the neighborhood from stagnating. Whoda thunk it.)

A plus in this well-written and engaging article from 131 years ago is that it doesn't take a gratuitous swipe at its then-current Presidential administration, something that caused consternation in comments about Busch's article linked in the previous blogpost. I'm happy to reassure the politically squeamish that the NYT did no such thing to the Hayes administration in this article (although there are some striking similarities between that administration and some controversies about the second Bush administration.) Dann, you can read the original article linked in this post without fear that your delicate sensitivities will be trod upon.

As a more serious side-note, the murderer -- who comes across very sympathetically in the article -- has a couple of interesting connections to "SherWords" and its readers: he was an immigrant from County Monaghan to County Chenango, and he was almost stony deaf. The latter makes some of the later parts of the article even more poignant, given the significant percentage of readers of this blog who are intimately familiar with that condition.

(One little correction: the reporter says that Chenango County is North of Utica; it is actually South of Utica, and by somewhat more than 11 miles.)

Sugar is a Ft. Harrington chicken. Mess with her at your own risk. Significant risk.

Once again, here's where to go for the original 1879 New York Times article about the hanging of Felix McCann. Happy reading!


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Chenango Darkness: Disturbing Tales from Close to Home

I take this brief break from my break to pass along a find from an old Harper's Magazine that just riveted me to my computer monitor from start to finish. It's an article by Frederick Busch, who was a prof at Colgate during the time of the incident he recounts. He and his wife then lived only four miles due north of the little house where I grew up just a few years before, so I am very familiar with the territory in which the story unfolds... and with the pace of life there and then and with its flavor.

Like Busch's house, ours was very isolated (like him, we couldn't see smoke from any neighbor's chimney) on a small tributary on the East side of the Chenango River in upstate New York. Our hollow was called the "Thompson Creek Valley;" his was called, with great nonchalance, "Nigger Hollow." On maps it was called "Negro Hollow" before around 1950, "Pleasant Valley" thereafter, but the locals always called it "Nigger Hollow." As a kid, that struck me as odd, because the only people who lived there were white, and you had to look very hard to find anybody in the entire county who wasn't. Nobody seemed to know where the name came from; even my Dad, who was a great local history buff, didn't know.

Now I know.

Pleasant Valley/Nigger Hollow
(Photo by Lynn Harrington, October, 1964)

The article I'm about to link for you contains true stories of murder, pathetic KKK meetings, heroic dogs, a neighbor across the way who was said to be a pretty decent fellow when he was on his medications, and much more in a riveting ten to fifteen pages.  Busch (who passed away four years ago) weaves a stream of prose that I find enchanting.

Here it is: Standoff in Columbus: Guns, dogs and the language of totality. Enjoy.

And now I'm going back to my break, finishing the quarter and preparing for what will come right after the frenzy of a short summer session. See you in September!


Saturday, June 5, 2010

Gone Fishin' -- Back in About a Hundred Days

The residents of Ft. Harrington have a very, very busy three months ahead of us, including a lengthy return to our favorite island for some research and some relaxation, but also including some frantic times at school as we approach the fiscal year's end in a continuing sense of impending financial Armageddon. I am thus closing down most of my online activities until school starts back up in the Fall. (The wags among you, looking over the infrequent posts here this year, will be tempted to say that it's been closed down for quite a while, anyway. Don't -- or I'll send my tough-guy son after you.)

Tough-guy son. He will be assisted by the ferocious Kelsey and the bloodthirsty spaniels for the five weeks we're gone, so don't even think about trying to rob the joint then. Best plan on doing that while we're actually here.

We all -- humans and four-feet -- hope you have a great, great summer... and that you haven't completely forgotten about us come mid-September.