According to the Troy, N.Y. Record’s reporter at a Troy Trojans-Albany Senators game, Aug. 15, 1910:
“Scramble the yolks of four eggs in a quart of mucilage, add a bottle of scarlet ink and some nice green-roofed paste and fry slowly over a fire of green wood and season with mock turtle soup and catsup, and the result would give some idea of the kind of baseball which let the Albany club win the opening game of the present series on the local grounds.”
And I thought Cubs fans were bitter.
(From the Record’s ongoing This Day in 1910 series. h/t to Joyce on the NY-TROY-IRISH list.)
It was a dinnertime ritual enacted with gusto whenever my mother’s cousins Alma and Cecelia were in town.
The front door would bang open. My dad would sweep in and declaim:
“Home is the sailor, home from the sea!”
And Alma would reply, from upstairs or down:
“And the hunter home from the hill.”
Cue seven children rolling their eyes. It’s a wonder they didn’t get stuck that way, as my mother was always warning us.
Alma (1897-1981) and Cecelia (“Ceil,” 1898-1980) were Mom’s first cousins, the daughters of my grandfather John Rudroff’s older brother George. Since they were 30 years older than my mom, we gave them the courtesy title “aunt” in a triumph of seniority over genealogical accuracy. Their annual extended visits helped fill the grandparent gap in a family where only Grandpa Rudroff survived into our childhoods.
Aunt Alma was a demon worker, even when she was supposed to be having a nice relaxing family visit. After she whipped through all the laundry and ironing, she attacked the mending basket, then cooked everybody dinner. She thought my mother could use the break from dealing with the seven of us.
Aunt Ceil’s specialty was straightening out my dad’s bookkeeping. Hard to believe in today’s bloated health-care industry, but my dad, a dentist in solo practice, was truly a one-man band. There was always something for Aunt Ceil to straighten out, clucking in impatience at my dad’s handwriting as she sat at the dining-room table, paperwork piled high.
We loved them both to pieces, although Aunt Alma in particular could be gruff. One morning I happened to be alone with her at breakfast. Having an actual one-on-one with an elder was so novel that I began chattering nervously — and mindlessly.
“Tell me,” Aunt Alma said. “Are you planning on becoming a preacher?”
“Because you talk enough for two.”
It wasn’t a visit without Aunt Alma and my dad proclaiming their trademark lines at day’s end. I didn’t realize for years that they were written by Robert Louis Stevenson, in a poem he intended as an epitaph (inspiring a later poem by A.E. Houseman). Alas, unlike Dad and Aunt Alma, I don’t belong to a generation for whom reciting poetry was typical schoolwork.
Here’s the whole thing, in memory of them both.
Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he long’d to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
— Robert Louis Stevenson, 1880 • First published in Underwoods, 1887
Spent some quality time watching the hawks circle at High Point State Park, Sussex County, NJ. (And no reality TV crews in sight.)
Today’s NewsClips transcript is a great example of how the right newspaper article can save you lots of poking around. Here’s the scoop on the 90th birthday party given for my great-great-aunt Margaret Haigney Roche — and what it tells me, besides the fact that the party sounds like fun.
The Times Record, Troy, N.Y., Saturday Evening, January 16, 1960 • “Woman, 90, Honored At Verdoy”
Mrs. John Finch of Kelly Road, Verdoy, was hostess to friends and neighbors at her home Monday to honor Mrs. Margaret Roche of 2509 Second Ave. Watervliet on her 90th birthday.
Mrs. Roche, daughter of the late Sgt. Martin Haigney and Mrs. Haigney, was born in Watervliet on Jan. 11, 1870. Her father was stationed for 42 years at the Watervliet Arsenal.
Mrs. Roche is the widow of James Roche who died more than forty years ago. At this time Mrs. Roche moved to Island Park, L.I., and made her home with the late Mr. and Mrs. Robert Walker. After many years she and her sister, Mrs. Walker, came to Verdoy and made their home with their brother, Martin Haigney in Best apartment, Kelly road, and Kennette apartment. [sic] After death [sic] of Mrs. Walker in 1957, Mrs. Roche and her brother moved to Watervliet. The brother is a Spanish-American War veteran. His 90-year-old sister keeps house for him.
At Monday’s party the hostess presented the guest an orchid and the table setting was a beautiful birthday cake sent by the Pittard Baking Co. of Latham.
Following an afternoon of picture taking and gift openings, a lunch was served when Mrs. Roche cut her cake and blew out the candles. She has all her faculties and does all the business for herself and her brother.
Now, what helpful information does this article contain? Besides the part about the orchid? Just off the top of my head:
• Margaret’s address in 1960.
• Margaret’s exact birth date.
• Her father’s military rank and service (although from other records, it appears that “Sgt.” may have been an exaggeration).
• Margaret’s husband’s name and a time frame for his death date (“more than forty years ago” in 1960).
• Her sister’s death year.
• A rundown of Margaret’s other residences (contrary to what I’d thought, she moved outside the Troy-Watervliet area for a time).
• Information on her brother’s military service (“a Spanish-American War veteran”).
Not bad for a throwaway social item, right?
P.S. No Google result for “Pittard Baking Co.” in Latham, but there is still a listing for a “Pittard’s Cookie Jar Catering Co.” Just FYI.
In the newsbag yesterday came a striking update on what I can only regard as the cautionary tale of Duffy’s Cut.
“Duffy’s Cut” was a stretch of railroad line in the beautiful, hilly country of Chester County, 30 miles west of Philadelphia, Pa. It got its name from Philip Duffy, an Irish-American labor contractor who hired a crew of Irish immigrants to dig for the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad.
Researchers have long tried to find the grave of 57 laborers who died there when cholera ravaged the work site in August 1832. As a railroad supervisor put it: “This man [Duffy] has been rather unfortunate … Nearly one half of his men died from Cholera.”
The quote is from The Ghosts of Duffy’s Cut (2006), written by a team of researchers, including twin brothers William and Frank Watson. Duffy’s Cut has been a longstanding mission for the Watsons. (I got the book from my brother Jim, who lives in the area.)
The book’s meticulous evidence tells a gripping and awful story. Young, strong and dirt-poor, the Irishmen did what newcomers to America always do: the jobs nobody else wants. By all contemporary accounts, the Duffy’s Cut stretch was a particularly nasty job.
Cholera had broken out in Philadelphia the previous month. When it reached the railroad camp in the Chester countryside, hysteria trumped decency. The locals quarantined the sick workers at the site and, basically, left them. Nearly all died and were buried in an unmarked mass grave. Their families were never told what happened. The incident got short shrift in official communications, except as an explanation for construction delays. It lived on only in local memory and, as time passed, local folklore.
In 2009 the Watsons, after years of research and explorations, finally found a shin bone. Their team has now uncovered seven sets of remains — and a disturbing new twist: Four of the skulls show signs of trauma, including a possible bullet hole. As William Watson tells reporter Kathy Matheson, “This was much more than a cholera epidemic.” The Watsons now believe that many of the workers did die of cholera, but others may have been killed by vigilantes — perhaps from a mixture of fear of infection, plus contempt for marginalized, cheap laborers.
I find the story of Duffy’s Cut mesmerizing, in large part because I can’t understand how anybody could hear it and still think it’s OK to ignore the rhetoric of hate and prejudice that pulses through so many media outlets today. It’s repulsive. And it’s hypocritical. It boils down to remembering where you came from, and few of us were welcome when we got here.
Consider, for instance, the Sisters of Charity, the Roman Catholic nuns who were one of the few groups to provide competent, compassionate nursing in that long-ago epidemic, including to the victims at Duffy’s Cut. Glowing reports of their bravery were forgotten in the nativist riots that swept Philadelphia a dozen years later. The sisters’ seminary was burned to the ground, along with a number of Catholic churches and rectories.
So I guess it’s not surprising, what they’ve found at Duffy’s Cut. It’s the sort of thing that can happen when somebody decides that the wrong birthplace, or the wrong religion, can make a human … less than human.