February is Black History Month

It is Black History Month, so The Valley News thought it would be good to share some stories of African-American history right here in Oswego County.

Here are a few vignettes:

‘Harlem Hellfighters’ at Fort Ontario.

The Harlem Hellfighters were an all-black military infantry unit during World War I, a group that received high recognition for its heroism and fighting ability.

By the time World War II rolled around, the group from Harlem in New York City now was called the 369th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment. And before shipping out to take on the Japanese in the Pacific, these 1,800 black soldiers did their training at Fort Ontario.

Sure, fighting the Germans would be rough. But the soldiers also got a taste of rough when they arrived in Oswego for training in January 1941. One soldier said he remembers getting off the train in Oswego and they immediately lost a soldier in a mound of snow.

Even though the United States was not yet in the war, training of troops was taking place as President Franklin D. Roosevelt prepared for the worse. The men with the 369th spent eight months at Fort Ontario, practicing anti-artillery drills at the Johnson Farm, an abandoned area east of the fort, where nine Mile Point One is now located.

A history student at SUNY Oswego wrote in 1972 that the men of the 369th often went into Oswego or Syracuse when they were off duty. They would hang out at the Dunbar Social Center in Syracuse and play basketball. They would shop in Oswego and eat at local restaurants.

Adding nearly 1,800 black soldiers to the population changed the demographic makeup of Oswego. In a county of more than 71,000 residents, 55 were black before the soldiers arrived, according to the U.S. Census in 1940. By contrast, Harlem — where most of the men were from — had an 89 percent black population, the 1940 Census shows.

“Outside of Harlem, the issue of race became more immediate for the 369th,” a 1993 article in the Journal of Social History says. “Oswego was, in the words of one member of the 369th, ‘lily white.’

The most famous of the 369th soldiers at Fort Ontario was Lt. John Woodruff, also known as “Long John” Woodruff. He had won the gold medal in the 800 meters at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.

The 369th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment was at Fort Ontario from Jan. 15 through September, when they shipped out to Massachusetts and then to Hawaii.

During World War II, they engaged in defensive and tactical operations on new Georgia Island, Emirau, Los Negros Island, Admiralty Island, Biak Island, Sansapor New Guinea, Middleburg Island and Morotai Island, all in the Papua New Guinea area of southeast Asia.

Starr Clark Tin Shop

Starr Clark had a business in Mexico in the 1850s – a tin shop making stove pipes and other pieces of tin wear.

But in addition to the tin work, Clark and his family also used their house to shelter runaway slaves as they made their way north to freedom in Canada.

The tin shop building, on Main Street (Route 104), still exists and has since been renovated into a museum to mark Mexico’s importance along the Underground Railroad.

Judith Wellman, a professor emerita at the State University College at Oswego and expert on U.S. African-American history, researched the building’s role in the Underground Railroad. Her work produced enough evidence to have the tin shop named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. She said it is one of the best documented Underground Railroad sites.

Oswego Public Library

Gerrit Smith, the famous abolitionist who lived in Peterboro, Madison County, provided the money for construction of  the Oswego Public Library.

But he had two conditions to providing the money. One was that the library must be on the east side of the Oswego River. And the second is that the library should be open to everyone, regardless of his or her race or complexion.

According to the library’s history on its website, the library has had “African-American patrons including prominent members of the Underground Railroad and the local community.” Records kept on who was borrowing books from the library show that many African-American families used the library during its first years, the history states.

Grant – dentist, patented golf tee 

The Tudor E. Grant family was a well-known African-American family in Oswego. Tudor Grant’s son, George Franklin, who was born in Oswego, made a name for himself in later life, becoming the second African American to graduate from Harvard’s dental college. He later became a faculty member of his alma mater and was a leader in the treatment of cleft palates.

But he also is renowned in the sports world. He received the first patent for the wooden golf tee.

Bristol Hill Church, Volney

This church on Route 3 had many white and African-American members dating to the early and mid-1800s. The church was built in the 1830s and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Case House in Fulton

The Case House on South First Street in Fulton was well known for the Underground Railroad activity that took place there. It is at the site where the old Elks Lodge was located.

Interracial Couple in Fulton

In a book titled “the American Prejudice Against Color,” William Allen, a college professor who says he was one-quarter African American, tells the story of how he fell in love with a white girl in Fulton, became engaged to marry her and the prejudice they encountered due to their engagement.

In fact, an angry mob of Fulton-area residents who did not want this marriage to take place went after Allen.

“Tar, feathers, poles, and an empty barrel spiked with shingle nails had been prepared for my especial benefit; and, so far as I was concerned, it must be escape or death,” Allen wrote in his book.

He wrote that a mob of 400 to 500 people came looking for him after they learned of his engagement to Miss King. He wrote “Reader, the life of a colored man in America, save as a slave, is regarded as far less sacred than that of a dog. There is no exaggeration in this statement—I am not writing of exceptions.”

Allen and King were eventually married in New York City and then left for Europe.

There are many other stories about African Americans in Oswego County at http://visitoswegocounty.com/historical-info/underground-railroad/ . The county had its own Anti-Slavery Society and was known as a hotbed of abolitionist action.

Hodgepodge, by Roy Hodge

“Chick” Tallman

While recently re-reading a column that I wrote in “The Fulton Patriot,” I was reminded of a venerable Fulton character, Vernon “Chick” Tallman.

Chick had worked his way to the top of the list of well-known Fulton faces.

From that column:

“The first Fultonian I saw when I arrived in this fine city for the first time turned out to be Chick Tallman. As I approached the old Patriot building on the corner of Oneida and South Second streets on a wintry February day, Chick was in the middle of the road directing traffic.

“What a quaint uniform this city’s policemen wear, I could have thought.”

As I said in that column, I was soon to find out that if you knew anything about Fulton, you knew about Vernon “Chick” Tallman.

“Serving as a traffic cop wasn’t a strange role for Chick. I soon found out that Chick was also Fulton’s foremost ambassador.

“He was always somewhere to be found on the downtown scene. I got to know Chick well as The Fulton Patriot building served as his headquarters for at least part of every day.”

“He was responsible for seeing that every downtown merchant received a copy of each week’s Patriot, and he was always available to run errands throughout the area. Chick was often seen with a broom in his hand. He attended every baseball game in town, kept home plate swept clean, and often jumped on the bus for the away games.”

That column pointed out that Patriot employees had a lot of fun with Chick:  “One former employee remembers Chick studiously counting his papers out before delivery.

‘Two, three, four,’ Chick would say. ‘Eight, nine, 10,’ someone would say. ‘Eleven, 12, 13,’ Chick would continue. ‘Three, four, five,’ someone else would say. ‘Six, seven, eight,’ Chick would answer.”

Patriot employees also watched out for Chick. One year, after a particularly heavy first snowfall, employees made sure Chick had a sturdy new pair of winter boots.

The Patriot column detailed a special gift to commemorate Chick’s 70th birth-day. Fultonians responded to a drive spearheaded by Joe Arnold of Foster’s to raise funds to send Chick to New York City for a weekend of Yankee games.

Another Fulton native, Harold “Buck” Greene, who wrote a column each week for his hometown’s “Patriot,” through his connections with Major League Baseball, helped arrange Chick’s weekend trip.

“In his Patriot column that week, Greene said, ‘Well folks, it has happened, Chick Tallman has viewed the city of New York and most important, he saw the weekend series between the Yankees and the Twins.”

Greene continued, “What’s more, on Friday night Chick had the best seat in the house, behind home plate in a front row box. He could have called balls and strikes all night.

“Chick was presented with an autographed baseball by members of the World Champion Yankees, and before returning to Fulton he visited the World’s Fair.

“Time didn’t allow for a sweep-off of home base at Yankee Stadium, but after the action-packed weekend, with much royal treatment thrown in, Chick returned to Fulton with a new Yankees shirt along with the big Chick Tallman smile.”

Many Fultonians undoubtedly still have pleasant memories of Chick Tallman.

From “The Farmer’s Almanac”

Scanning the pages of the 2014 issue of “The Farmer’s Almanac,” I discover that I can:

*Buy “Fresh, Healthy Nuts” – (explanation required).

“Or Laundry balls, concertinas and old phonographs (or sell them).

*Find a “spiritual healer.”  Sister Cindy clears negativity and bad luck; Rev. Jackson is a voodoo healer, and Mrs. Annie, spiritualist, reunites lovers.

*There are several days listed during each month as the best days to: Have dental care, cut hair to encourage (or discourage) growth, or to can, pickle or make sauerkraut.

I also discovered that some folks are fond of puns, such as:

*A hole has been found in the wall of a nudist camp. The police are “looking into it.”

“Two silkworms had a race.  They ended up “in a tie”.

I was interested to learn about some “planting” folklore:

*To make a plant grow, spit into the hole you have dug for it.”

*Anything planted by a pregnant woman will flourish.

*Never thank a person for giving you a plant or it will die; in fact, the best way to ensure that plant slips will thrive is to steal them.

*Never plan anything on the 31st of the month.

*Never plant anything until the frogs have croaked three times, because there will be a killing frost before then.

*Anything planted on Good Friday will grow well.

Now You Know:

This year’s Farmer’s Almanac tells us:

*At the age of 60, fitness expert Jack La Lanne swam from Alcatracz to San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf while handcuffed, shackled and towing a 1,000-pound boat.

*As far as the weather in our area of the country is concerned, winter was expected to be slightly milder than normal, with near-normal precipitation and below normal snowfall in most of the region.

And, finally, the Almanac wants us to know that 200 years ago, the lyrics of “The Star Spangled Banner” took shape on the back of a letter, scribbled there by Francis Scott Key.

                                       . . . Roy Hodge   

Valley Viewpoints — Boosters will miss Margaret

When anyone who does wonderful things on earth passes onto Heaven, we on earth feel the void that they once filled. 

With the passing of Margaret Beckwith, that scenario could not be more accurate.

Our Fulton Athletic Booster Club lost a true leader. Someone who cared so much about an organization and what it stood for, Margaret willed everyone around her to do better and make the Booster Club what it is today.

She was extremely proud of this organization. All you had to do is work at the concession stand and you would realize how passionate she was about this cause.

She made sure the product we were selling was as perfect as it could be. The menu was simple, but it still had to be special.

Margaret taught all of us to serve it with a smile. Many times, students or children did not have enough money to purchase what they wanted and Margaret would reach into her own pocket and pay for it with her money so they could have something to eat or drink. This is just one example of her kindness.

As a fellow board member and others can attest to, Margaret’s main concern was for the student athlete and making their athletic experience as good as it could be.

On a personal level, Margaret always made you feel like you were special. I am sure I am not the only person to say this, but she made me feel like I was family. If she made me feet like this, I can only imagine the love her sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren felt. We were all blessed to have her in our lives.

After reading the article so eloquently written by Jerry Kasparek, we all were so moved. Jerry’s thoughts and memories of Margaret were so precise. As I read, at one moment I was smiling and the next crying. In a comparison that Margaret could relate to, Jerry had hit a ‘grand slam’ with beautiful words she had written.

In a world lacking in the good role model category for our youth, one doesn’t need to look any farther than Margaret Beckwith.

On behalf of the entire Fulton Booster Club Family, our hearts go out to Margaret’s family. So whoever is in charge up there, they would be wise to have Margaret help run their Booster Club. The rest of us down here will continue to honor Margaret’s wishes.

We will truly miss her.

Dan Shue

President

Fulton Athletic Boosters Club 

Oswego library offers class on Photoshop for Artists

A free two-part workshop called Photoshop Elements for Artists will be offered from noon to 3 p.m. Feb. 15 and 22 at the Oswego Public Library.

The workshop will be led by artist and teacher Bill DeMott in the Library Learning Center.

This workshop is being offered in conjunction with the Art Association of Oswego’s AAO Outreach, which is funded in part by a grant from CNY Arts of Syracuse.

DeMott, who teaches art classes for SUNY Oswego and Cayuga Community College, regularly works with students in both traditional and digital art.

“The goal of this workshop is really to get local artists up to speed on digital manipulation and rendering–which used to seem like optional knowledge, but isn’t anymore,” DeMott said.

“Manipulating digital images is something that even traditional studio artists really need to know about,” he said. “There is an expectation that most artists are already digitally savvy, and so many of us are trying to play catch-up.”

This workshop is free, but space is limited. Future classes and workshops may be forthcoming.

To register, email Bill DeMott at wdemott@twcny.rr.com or you can call the library at 341-5867

Young performers take the stage at CNY Arts Center

CNY Arts Center ushers in National Arts Education Month with a Showcase of Young Performers at 7 p.m. Feb. 28 at The Arts Center, 357 State St. in Fulton.

With a generous grant from the Shineman Foundation, CNY Arts Center will spotlight several talented young people making their marks in the performing arts.

“Our Young Performers evening is a perfect tie-in to this very important month for the arts,” said Director Nancy Fox. “These are young people with exceptional gifts ready to share their gifts with an audience. They each have high ambitions. It takes a lot of courage to perform before an audience at so young an age.”

“At CNY Arts Center we know the arts are critical for children,” Fox said. “We work hard to provide a performing arts program for children of all ages and skill levels. This national acknowledgement of the crucial role the arts play in our children’s education is the right time to introduce these young people to an appreciate audience.”

March is an annual observance of the arts for children in schools and communities across the country through national initiatives such as Art is Education, Music in Our Schools, Theatre in our Schools, Art in our Schools and Youth Art Month.

Advocating for the value of an arts education to improve academic achievement, develop imaginations,  inspire creativity, and prepare students for careers in a constantly changing world, Arts Education Month brings much needed awareness.

The focus helps to validate funding and motivates community participation.

Ranging in age from 11 to 16, an evening of talent and entertainment will run for this one performance only. Three of the young performers, Matthew Oldenburg, Kaylee Foster and Rhiannon Ellison, debuted at CNY Arts Center’s Gifts of the Season in December.

The trio will be joined by veteran singer/dancer/actress Taylor Hamer along with a featured number from the cast of Willy Wonka, Jr.

The program is free and open to the public. For more information visit www.CNYArtsCenter.com or call 592-3373.

Springside resident takes special interest in NY Yankees

There isn’t anyone looking forward to the opening day of the New York Yankee’s 2014 season more than Springside’s Mille McCann.

When the snow finally melts this spring and baseball becomes the nation’s pastime once again, she will be watching her grandson, catcher Brian McCann, who recently signed a multi-million dollar contract with baseball’s most famous team.

Brian McCann had previously played for the Atlanta Braves for eight years. His catching skills have earned him five silver slugger awards and all-star honors for seven years, with one of those years having the added designation as All Star Most Valuable Player.

As Millie waits for winter to blossom into spring and her grandson to take his position behind home plate, she certainly won’t need to brush up on her baseball knowledge.

Millie, who is a youthful 89, is known at Springside as ‘Baseball Grandmother.” She rarely misses one of Brian’s games and most nights can be found in front of her television watching a game through a major league baseball package on cable television.

She began following baseball when Brian’s father, Howie, who grew up in Oswego, took the sport up as a young boy.

“I think it was baseball that kept me young,” Millie said. “I drove all over to attend games.”

Howie would go on to both play and coach college baseball. Today, he operates the Windward Baseball Academy, in Georgia, which assists players develop their skills.

In fact, Howie and his wife, Sherry (Brown), were both inducted into the Oswego High School Hall of Fame in 2013.

It was just a natural fit that Brian and his brother, Brad, who now works at Windward, became involved in baseball.

In 2013, when Brian’s contract was up, Millie said, it was an opportunity for him to explore some options.

“The Yankees brought him to New York, where they wined and dined him,” Millie said. “I agree with his decision, it was time to move on. The time was right for another challenge.”

Millie says her grandson is kind hearted and that she is most proud of his baseball accomplishments.

Later this year, Millie hopes to trade in her Springside chair in front of her television for a real seat at a Yankee’s game. She’s never seen her grandson play professionally and with the Bronx within driving distance (as Millie doesn’t fly), it’s a possibility.

Millie said her daughter, Sue Fox and husband, Dick, are seeing what arrangements can be made.

One thing is for sure, the residents of Springside are sure to be supporting the Yankees this year.

Springside at Seneca Hill is a retirement community for active seniors age 62 and older, located between Oswego and Fulton. Springside is an affiliate of Oswego Health.

To learn more about Springside, call 343-5658 or visit oswegohealth.org

Oswego Players present ‘The Dining Room’

Oswego Players are presenting the play “The Dining Room” at 8 p.m. Feb. 21, 22, 28 and March 1 at the Frances Marion Brown Theater at Fort Ontario Park.

During the play, attendees will enter the dining room, where three men and three  women portray 50-plus diverse characters as they delineate the dying lifestyle of wealthy WASPdom, and the now neglected room which was once a vital center of family life.

Sound simple? Think again!

As comic sketch crazily succeeds comic sketch, a whole pattern of American life emerges.

“This is an actors show”, says director Bobby Fontana. While a typical show requires an actor to focus and embrace one particular character, this show requires the actor to continually change identities through accent, expression and physicality from the moment the curtain is raised!

You won’t find an elaborate set, exquisite costumes or mind blowing props… but you will experience six stellar actors who deliver a myriad of characters ranging from little boys to stern grandfathers, and from giggling teenage girls to southern housemaids.

Each vignette introduces a new set of people and events all intertwined to the plays main theme… an in-depth portrait of a vanishing species: the upper-middle-class WASP!

Come see the “sensational six” as Fontana coined them for one of their five performances.

The cast includes Brian Pringle, Knate MacKensie Roy, Matthew Gordon, Stephanie Johnson, Banna Rubinow and Tammy Wilkinson.

Log on to the players website www.oswegoplayers.org or call the box office at 343.5138 for more information.

The Oswego Players – 76 years and still entertaining!

SUNY Oswego’s Tyler Hall to get a facelift

Submitted by SUNY Oswego

SUNY Oswego’s Tyler Hall will undergo a $22.2 million rejuvenation starting this summer, welcoming campus and community about a year and a half later to a more approachable, flexible and high-tech home for the performing and fine arts.

Work will include a fully accessible Waterman Theatre with modern seating, lighting, sound and multimedia; a two-story music rehearsal hall doubling as a new venue for small performances and facade improvements that include two inviting new entrances at the building’s eastern corners  leading to a spacious and welcoming lobby.

There also will be an expanded box office, new elevator, larger and more flexible Tyler Art Gallery; a digital media lab and a recording studio; and a host of environmentally friendly improvements to the building’s heating, ventilation, air conditioning and other systems, from lower level to roof.

That comprises Phase 1 of a three-phase master plan to revitalize the 46-year-old Tyler Hall and nearby Hewitt Union as an arts district and long-planned home of the college’s School of Communication, Media and the Arts.

“There’s still a lot to do in Tyler,” said Fritz Messere, dean of the School of Communication, Media and the Arts and a key liaison articulating arts needs and ideas to Pfeiffer Partners Architects and their engineering, acoustics and other consultants.

“But this first phase really sets the stage by completely renovating the mechanicals, by reconfiguring the entrances and lobby area giving students and the public a place to congregate, and it gives music students a place to rehearse and perform, and students in art, art history and museum studies a better place to study and display their works,” Messere said.

Bette & Cring, a Latham contractor with an office in Watertown, was the apparent low bidder Feb. 5 to bring to life the SUNY Construction Fund-financed project.

The company has done higher education construction projects at University at Albany, Albany College of Pharmacy, SUNY Adirondack, SUNYIT and Hudson Valley Community College, among others.

 Alternative venues

During the renovation period for the 81,500-square-foot Tyler Hall, the SUNY Oswego art, music and theatre departments and the Artswego Performing Arts Series will offer exhibitions and performances in alternate campus and community locations — using the temporary dislocation as an opportunity to explore new ways of engaging audiences.

“We like the motto adopted by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art as they face a similar situation,” said Associate Dean Julie Pretzat. “Closed for construction, but more open than ever!”

Artswego Director John Shaffer also expressed excitement about possibilities that have arisen during the search for alternate venues.

For example, he said, negotiations are in progress with a Brooklyn-based dance company for the creation of a site-specific performance at a city park or historical site.

“The temporary loss of Waterman Theatre and Tyler Art Gallery can be a time of festive exploration for the campus and community with surprises and lasting benefits for both,” Shaffer said.

Messere said classroom and lab theater modernization and many other improvements in Tyler would need to await Phase 2 funding. The money for phases 2 and 3 of the project remain to be allocated in the state’s capital plan.

“My goal is to move all of communication studies and graphic design into a new, reimagined Hewitt Union, and to have an arts precinct or an arts district that combines visual communication, multimedia communication and the fine arts together in one place,” Messere said.

Road to renewal

Tom LaMere, the college’s director of planning and design, said he’s hopeful Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s capital plan could accommodate the remaining work on Tyler and Hewitt a couple of years from now.

In the meantime, he said at any given point in time during Tyler’s Phase 1 renovation there could be up to 60 workers employed in various trades.

Messere expressed particular excitement about the music rehearsal hall, something the college has never before had.

“The rehearsal hall has been designed in a very striking manner, so it’s going to look very interesting as well,” he said.

“It’s really going be to a kind of showplace in some ways, and I think that’s going to encourage students who want to study music to come to Oswego,” he said.

 

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