Few New Yorkers remember the night when firemen, in tuxedos and top hats, were dragged from a ball to extinguish a Waterloo blaze, or the typographical error that reported Theodore Roosevelt taking a bath"? instead of his presidential "oath."? Still fewer remember Cephas Bennett, a missionary from Utica and printer of the first Burmese Bible, or H.L. Mencken's humorous article on the history of the bathtub, still quoted today as factual although entirely invented. Seasoned storyteller Melanie Zimmer seamlessly weaves together these hard-to-believe, yet entirely true, tales. From the monster of Seneca Lake to the man who inspired the American icon Uncle Sam, discover the lost secrets of the Empire State."
About the Author
Melanie Zimmer is very active in the folklore and storytelling community. She is currently a member of the League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling, the Puppeteers of America, the Puppetry Guild of Upstate New York and the New York Folklore Society. She has published numerous books and articles and frequently presents and performs at libraries, schools, museums and historical societies.
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Oneida Castle: Forsaken Capital
One option for the location of capital of New York State was Oneida Castle, previously known as Oneida Castleton. It was considered because of its location — that is, Oneida Castle is the approximate center of New York State. In fact, not only was it considered for the location of New York's state capital on three occasions, but also oral history claims work had actually begun. Local historians say that a governor's mansion was built in anticipation of Oneida Castle's selection. It stands on Route 5 today, and its address is 50 Seneca Street in Oneida Castle. Though now privately owned, the building was for a time a bed-and-breakfast called the Governor's House and is a four-story brick building in the Federal style. It bears a date of 1826, though the owner says that the locals claim that it was built in 1846.
A mustering ground was also created in Oneida Castle, and that still exists today, serving as a local park. It is said that the grounds were used by soldiers during the Revolutionary War. Local historian Luette Hill says that the park is the exact geographical center of New York State. It is located next to the Cochran Memorial Presbyterian Church. The corner of the park is located at the intersection of Third and, aptly, State Streets, otherwise known as Route 365. The cross streets are numerical, as would be expected in a capital city.
Louis-Philippe in New York
One day when I was in Geneva, New York, on the Finger Lakes, I stopped at the Rose Hill Mansion, a restored Greek Revival home furnished in the Empire style. At the end of the tour, we were in the music room, where a large portrait of a man hung over the fireplace. I inquired as to whom the man might be and was told that he was Louis-Philippe, king of the French. I felt a little stunned and asked why a French king would be displayed over the mantel of this New York home. The docent explained that Louis- Philippe had actually been traveling in New York at one point and that stories of him existed.
One day, she said, a relative of a Geneva area couple traveled to France, and there was what she described as a "garage sale" in the Tuileries. There the gentleman discovered this painting of Louis-Philippe. She said that the Citizen King, as he was called, was so unpopular that his portrait had practically no commercial value, so he purchased it for a song and much later it was donated to the Rose Hill Mansion. It was installed over the mantle and became part of the permanent exhibit.
Upon further investigation through the Geneva Historical Society, I learned a bit more about the painting. It was originally purchased in 1848 following the two-day revolution and Louis-Philippe's flight into exile in England. The painting was sold at an auction along with the furnishings of the royal family at the Tuileries, where they had resided. Part of the purchaser's family had lived in Geneva since 1836. The painting was hung in the Clark home on South Main Street until 1975, when it was donated to the Rose Hill Mansion. Today the portrait hangs over the mantle in the music room of the mansion.
According to the Geneva Historical Society, Louis-Philippe and his two brothers arrived in Geneva in the summer of 1797 and were said to have stayed at the Geneva Hotel, which is now the Pulteney Apartments. The Geneva Hotel was quite new then. It had only been completed in the fall of 1796.
Indeed, Louis-Philippe did visit America long before he became the king of the French and left a diary of his experiences. His brother, the Duc de Montpensier, was a skillful watercolorist and painted and sketched many of the sights the brothers saw. In fact, Montpensier painted Niagara Falls, which they viewed in June 1797, and later it appears that Louis- Philippe commissioned Romney to paint the three princes in front of the upper falls of the Genesee in Rochester using one of Montpensier's gouaches as a source. Montpensier's original is now lost.
However, the three brothers were not ordinary tourists — they were exiles. Louis-Philippe d' Orléans left for America on September 24, 1796, aboard the America, accompanied by his servant Beaudoin. Louis-Philippe was twenty-three years old. The journey was not necessarily one of his own choosing, though perhaps it was better than the alternative. Louis-Philippe was a prince by blood, but he was not of the House of Bourbon but rather of the lesser House of Orléans, and upon his father's death, Louis-Philippe became the Duke of Orléans. Louis-Philippe had joined the army as a young man and is said to have served quite valiantly. He served as a lieutenant general and fought the Austrians but then proceeded to switch sides. Since that fateful decision, Louis-Philippe lived as an exile and an outcast, fleeing France in April 1793.
Louis-Philippe lived in Switzerland, Lapland, Germany, Denmark and Norway. Often he lived in the crudest of circumstances, sleeping in barns or wherever he could and always under an assumed name. Sometimes he taught French or mathematics to obtain money, and once he was turned away from a monastery because they thought he was a vagrant, so lowly was his condition. Louis-Philippe's mother found sanctuary from prison and execution in a certain nursing home, but Louis-Philippe's younger brothers, Montpensier and Beaujolais, were imprisoned. However, an agreement was at last made with the Directoire that if Louis-Philippe and his two brothers were to leave for America, they would be released.
To please his mother and free his brethren, Louis-Philippe agreed and set sail from Hamburg on a ship fittingly called the America, arriving in Philadelphia. Louis-Philippe used the name "Mr. Orleans" in America, though the captain of the America had been quick to spread the news of the prince's arrival. His two brothers subsequently arrived incognito on the Swedish ship Jupiter in November. When they arrived, Montpensier and Beaujolais were only twenty-one and seventeen years old, respectively. The three of them resided in a house in Philadelphia at Fourth and Prune Streets.
In Philadelphia, Louis-Philippe was disappointed in the rejection he received in the courtship of a young woman, Miss Abby Willings. Miss Willings's father rejected Louis-Philippe's marriage proposal on two counts. First, Louis-Philippe was currently destitute and therefore an unfitting match for Miss Willings. In the event that Louis-Philippe were to recover his position and family fortune, Miss Willings, her father thought, would not be suitable as a bride to Louis-Philippe, and so the proposal was said to be rejected. Louis-Philippe decided that the brothers would use their time to journey across America, a country so young and novel that it proved fascinating to many Europeans.
Though the family had been one of the wealthiest in Europe, the three princes and their servant were, in fact, quite without. The two younger princes had brought a small sum of money, and Louis-Philippe was able to obtain credit through a financier friend. They purchased four horses as transport and departed with $1,218.50 to sustain the four of them in their journey across America. They dressed themselves in buckskins to resemble trappers but carried their satin suits embellished with ruffles tucked away in their saddlebags so they could make a dashing appearance if the need were to arise. Their dog, who had previously been imprisoned with the younger brothers, accompanied them on their journey.
The three young men traveled down to Washington, D.C., where the President's House, as it was called, was under construction. Then they continued on to Mount Vernon and were announced to George Washington as the three Equalities (no doubt after their father, Citoyen Égalité). While there, they expressed their interest in seeing America, and George Washington himself drew an itinerary in red ink on a copy of Abraham Bradley's map of the United States. Louis-Philippe kept this map and would display it to visiting Americans while he was king, but for now this line on the map was the plan for the three princes' travels.
The itinerary was quite extensive, especially back when America was so young and roads were often rudimentary. In fact, their trip as outlined by Washington comprised more than two thousand miles, an ambitious venture for three young princes. No doubt Madame de Genlis, their forward-thinking tutor had prepared the boys for a journey such as this, making them strong by insisting that they walk in lead-soled shoes, sleep on the floor and experience other hardships. That itinerary led down through Staunton, Charleston, Abingdon, Knoxville, Nashville, Louisville, Lexington, Zanesville and then to Pittsburg. From there they traveled to Erie, Buffalo, Niagara Falls, through Rochester, down to Elmira and then back to Philadelphia. The three princes then traveled north to New York, Portland, Portsmouth, Boston, Providence and back to Philadelphia. Later, of their own accord, they would travel south to New Orleans and then to Cuba.
In this book, however, we will only hear about the princes' journey through New York, which began after Louis-Philippe and his brothers left Erie, traveling along Lake Erie and stopping at the Cattaraugus Reservation to visit the Seneca Indians. When they arrived, the chief was ill. Louis-Philippe had studied medicine among other things during his training with Madame de Genlis. He had studied under a surgeon and had served as an orderly in a hospital for a while. To relieve the ailing Seneca chief, Louis-Philippe bled him, apparently to great benefit because (to his brothers' amusement) Louis-Philippe was given the great honor that night of sleeping between two of the chief's most esteemed relatives, his grandmother and great aunt. The next day, the chief tried to take their dog.
Upon leaving, they traveled to Buffalo Creek, an Indian trading post, and then journeyed into Canada to view the spectacular Niagara Falls. Montpensier sketched the falls there. Montpensier would often make a sketch and create the full painting later, as was the case here at Niagara Falls. The painting was completed and dated years later in 1804 and hung in the Palais-Royal in Louis-Philippe's collections. Now it belongs to the Museum of the New York Historical Society and has been in their collection since 1950.
As the brothers left Niagara, they slogged through insect-ridden woods for days. By then they were soggy and ragged and wore torn clothing and boots riddled with many holes. Their money had been completely exhausted as well. There, in the swampland, they happened upon Alexander Baring, an English citizen who was engaged to Abby Willings's cousin. Upon seeing the princes in that sad condition, he asked if Niagara Falls had really been worth the trouble, and the princes affirmed that the sight of it most certainly was.
The four men traveled on, crossing the Genesee River by way of a rope ferry at Avon Springs and arriving at Dr. Timothy Hosmer's sanitarium. After being devoured by all manner of biting insects in the woods for weeks, the sanitarium seemed remarkable, offering therapeutic springs, a bathhouse and even a library. Their host, the surgeon Dr. Hosmer, was a bit of a dandy, sporting powdered hair dressed by his servant in a ponytail tied with a ribbon. His deerskin breeches gleamed at the knees with silver buckles, and he was exceedingly clean.
A day after leaving the sanitarium, the men were met by Thomas Morris, Robert Morris's son. He was the agent for Genesee Country lands. Morris spoke perfect French and had brought a skilled French chef with him to the wilderness. Morris accommodated them in a well-appointed house and took the men fishing on Canandaigua Lake. They made the acquaintance of John Greig, a clerk in the land office, and the princes donned moccasins and went hunting duck and deer. Many years later, this same Scottish clerk would find himself a welcome guest of the king of the French.
The exiles traveled to Genesee Falls, which had been highly recommended by Morris. Though Montpensier sketched the falls, they seemed anticlimactic after the breathtaking beauty and power of the falls at Niagara. The men stayed in Brighton in a log house owned by Orringh Stone.
The men did see Rochester, but quite honestly, there was little there at that early date. Later, at the Paris Exhibition in 1840, Louis-Philippe saw an enormous plate glass window destined for Rochester and famously exclaimed, "What! Can it be that mud-hole is calling for any such thing?" It must be remembered that Rochester had few inhabitants until the Erie Canal opened in 1825, and when it did, the population of Rochester exploded overnight. In 1820, the population of the village of Rochester was a mere 1,502, but by 1850 it was a city of 36,403. Rochester became known as a great milling town, but of course none of that was the case in 1797 when Louis-Philippe and his brothers passed through it. Back then, it had the appearance of a swamp equipped with a few shacks.
The group headed to Canandaigua, where they made the acquaintance of Captain Charles Williamson, land agent for the Pulteney estate. Williamson was also a builder on a large scale in wilderness territory, erecting cities along with entertainment facilities to accompany them.
By the time the men had arrived in Canandaigua, it was obvious that the horses were weary from the journey. As the men were headed to Geneva, Williamson suggested that the horses be sent through an easy overland passage. Williamson had a large, luxurious hotel in Geneva that still stands today, and it is believed that the men stayed there on July 13. From there the men traveled along Seneca Lake by foot and boat, at last arriving at present-day Elmira, then named Newtown. In Newtown, the men purchased a boat and floated down the Chemung and Susquehanna Rivers.
They came to Azilum on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, which was a colony started by French expatriates to offer asylum to those fleeing the French Revolution. Louis-Philippe expert Morris Bishop does not believe that the men would have been welcomed at the colony. After all, Louis-Philippe's father, the so-called Citoyen Égalité, had voted to guillotine the king. Reputedly, however, Louis-Philippe was entertained there in La Grande Maison, an eighty-four- by sixty-foot log cabin that some say was supposed to be the home of Marie Antoinette were she and her family to arrive there.
The men continued to Wilkes-Barre and, still apparently missing their mounts, rented horses to continue on to Philadelphia, ending this portion of their journey in America.
Louis-Philippe's exile in America was never actually a secret beyond the fact that the princes were traveling incognito; however, the journal that Louis-Philippe kept during his trip was only discovered in 1955 in the strongroom of Coutts's Bank in London when Madame Marguerite Castillan du Perron went through the Orléans family documents. While the journal does cover the bulk of their travels, it ends as the brothers enter New York.
Millard Fillmore: "The American Louis-Philippe"
Millard Fillmore was born destitute on January 7 in 1800. A Unitarian and a member of the Whig party as vice president, he became thirteenth president of the United States from 1850 to 1853 after the death of President Zachary Taylor. Fillmore was nicknamed "the American Louis-Philippe." Apparently, he earned that nickname for his love of books and his elegance. However, the nickname does seem bizarre at the very least. It was Millard Fillmore who signed the Fugitive Slave Act and appointed Daniel Webster as secretary of state. Soon after the Fugitive Slave Law was passed, Webster spoke in Syracuse during an abolitionist convention and incited the rage of abolitionists gathered, resulting in the famed Jerry Rescue.
Louis-Philippe, on the other hand, was the son of Louis-Philippe Joseph, who renamed himself Citoyen Égalité during the French Revolution. Citoyen Égalité raised his sons with a most liberal education, which included learning trades such as cabinetmaking and harvesting crops with the local peasants. When Louis-Philippe came to America, he was appalled with the institution of slavery. When Louis-Philippe visited George Washington at Mount Vernon, he spoke to Washington of the institution of slavery. Witnessing that the slaves would bow down low to whites at a distance, Louis-Philippe would shock them by bowing back. He found the condition of slaves deplorable and was much troubled by it. Louis-Philippe believed that one day there would be a horrible slave revolt.
Louis-Philippe was also not the picture of elegance that Fillmore purportedly was. When Louis-Philippe came to Philadelphia, society was quite excited to meet a real prince, but it was written by one woman who met him that he had "none of that commanding dignity, or even an ease of manner which is generally looked for." He was a penniless man at the time, living on a loan and known to have thrown a dinner party at which half the people were seated on his bed for lack of chairs. Even on the throne, he was known for his miserliness and would have the burnt stubs of candle wax sold for money. He and his wife would go shopping together when he was king and take the bus home. In a final act of frugality, when mobs rushed the Tuileries, Louis-Philippe and his queen hailed a cab and made their way into exile.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Forgotten Tales of New York"
Copyright © 2009 Melanie Zimmer.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
What's in a Name?,
Oneida Castle: Forsaken Capital,
Louis-Philippe in New York,
Millard Fillmore: "The American Louis-Philippe",
The Bathtub Hoax,
Theodore Roosevelt Taking a Bath,
The Bovine Bridge,
The Undertaker's Expanding Table,
The Formal Mill Fire,
The Eighth Wonder of the World,
Matilda Joslyn Gage: Forgotten Suffragist,
Doggie, Doggie, Where's Your Bone?,
Greene Smith and the Bird House,
Uncle Sam: Denizen of Troy, New York,
The Public Universal Friend,
The Great Disappointment,
Cephas Bennett and the Burmese Bible,
Recipe from the Dawn of Time,
The Head in the Box,
Attack of the Monsters near Marathon,
The Witch at John Chamberlain's Mill,
Drums Along the Seneca,
The Monster of Seneca Lake,
Monster of the Deep,
The Tanner Pirates,
The Panther and the Boy,
An Indian Warning,
Turncoats at Tonawanda,
The House that Didn't Burn,
The Punctual Delhi Post,
Preaching and Reaping in Delhi,
The Bear and the Hog,
Mrs. Bailey and the Bear,
Augustus Wood and His Personal Hygiene,
Church, Whiskey and Rye,
Mr. Brink, the Musical Plowshare and the Panther,
A Man's Last Breath,
Murder in Masonville,
America's First Cheese Factory,
The Republican Flagpole,
Francis Bellamy and the Pledge of Allegiance,
Father McCarthy: The Carnival Priest,
A New York Poet in Borneo,
Abraham Lincoln in Troy,
The Oneida County Medical Society,
Dr. Lewis: Innovative Vernon Doctor,
Jumping Sam Patch,
Utica: City of Gangsters,
It's Pouring in Utica,
A Gypsy Kidnapping,
The Mysterious Alice Gorman: The Wealthy Pauper,
Some Sharp Kids,
Waterloo's Biggest Chicken Barbecue,
Hitching a Ride,
Louise M. Scherbyn: Women's Motorcycle Pioneer,
One Hot Rider,
The World's Largest Puzzle,
Finished at Last,
About the Author,