Friday, November 30, 2007

Albany Scrapbook: Vol. 1

A montage of life and lore in
Albany, New York, through the centuries

by Kenneth Salzmann

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Albany Scrapbook is rooted in history in more ways than one. In the most obvious sense, it is a montage of stories that relate some of the small moments that, taken together, begin to paint a picture of the history and—sometimes—the folklore of New York’s capital city.
Where else, after all, do Henry Hudson, a slave named Pomp, Mario Cuomo, Philip Schuyler, the inventor of basketball (perhaps), Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, a flamboyant nineteenth century detective named Elisha Mack, a geographer named Simeon DeWitt, Charles Dickens, the putative Dauphin of France, Fidel Castro, Baseball Hall of Famer Johnny Evers, early stage star Joseph Kline Emmet, a nineteenth century renaissance man named Solomon, both Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth, and a host of other colorful and compelling characters cross paths?
They are all to be found in the annals of Albany, New York, one of America’s oldest and most distinctive cities. Steeped in a Dutch heritage that differs in countless ways from the British culture that more fully shaped the development of much of the Eastern U.S. and situated, geographically and politically, near the heart of the nation’s early development, Albany has followed its own course through American history.
As the title implies, Albany Scrapbook is intended not so much to offer a comprehensive history as to preserve anecdotes, offer precedents that might help us to a different view of this day’s news and events, and fix in time the footprints left through four centuries by some of the people who have made history here.
The book also has a history of its own. The current book, the first of what will be a two-volume collection, had its beginnings close to a quarter century ago, when the idea underlying these pieces was first suggested to me by Jay Washburn, who had been charged with the job of establishing a new periodical to be called, simply enough, Albany, New York, and who perhaps saw looking back as one step on the way to looking forward.
Many of the essays included here were first published in slightly different forms in that magazine, where Albany Scrapbook was featured as a weekly column; others, appearing here for the first time, nevertheless continue the concept and sensibility of the long-ago column. In 1985, a few years after the column began, Albany Scrapbook made its first appearance in book form.
It resurfaces now in revised and expanded form for a number of reasons (that pertain to both the present volume and its sequel, which will take up such topics as the city’s frequent and legendary political machines; a chronicle homicides through the centuries; the region's place on the Underground Railroad; Benjamin Franklin’s landmark visit here; the opening of the Erie canal; and sketches of some of the artists and writers the city has spawned).
Not the least of these reasons is the fact that, having once begun exploring the history of this city, I have found myself returning repeatedly to the same rich record over the years. Simply put, I have yet to tire of Albany’s story. Neither, I think, has a growing public eager to know more about its heritage, as witnessed by everything from the rapid proliferation of regional history titles on bookstore shelves to the popularity of cable television history programs.
Undoubtedly—while I can and do make the claim that Albany fascinates because it is unique and uniquely important in many ways—much of what draws us to examine the city’s history is simply the fact that we are in some way bound up in it, as most people are touched by the place they call home and the places they explore.
For an understanding of how we relate to the places we inhabit—and that inevitably inhabit us—I keep going back to the writer O. Henry, who may have had the final word on the matter long ago, saying that the city, any city, “is like a mother’s knee to many who have strayed far and found the roads rough beneath their uncertain feet. “At dusk,” he wrote, “they come home and sit on the door step.”
There is at least one further reason for revising and reviving Albany Scrapbook, and it is one that has tugged at me for most of the years since the original publication. Without the unforgiving constraints of time and space that necessarily hem in a column, the present book becomes an opportunity to delve a bit more deeply into some of the topics previously visited. At the same time, this more expansive format opens up new possibilities—allowing me to not only place a piece of Albany history under the lens, but also to step back now and then from that purely local focus and attempt to find a larger context for whatever event or life story has captured my attention.
In that way, the book becomes a vehicle for looking beyond some of the stories that have survived decades or centuries of retelling in the pages of local histories, propelled as much by folklore as by historical accuracy. Some are easily dispensed with: there is little likelihood that Fidel Castro ever played baseball here (although many old-timers will swear that he did), and it is highly doubtful that the heir to the French throne survived the revolution only to find himself a sickly and traumatized child in Albany, New York.
But we may find it harder to pin down just what may have been the fate of the seventeenth century Hessian outlaw who was—or was not—the first person executed here for his unspecified crimes, or to what degree we can credit a local man with helping to develop a now wildly popular game that doesn’t recall his name.
And how are we to read the many nineteenth century histories at hand, when they take up such matters as race, gender or class filtered through the sensibilities of their day? Nowhere is that question more insistent than in the often told story of three young slaves responsible for a late eighteenth century fire that destroyed much of the city. Pomp, Bet and Dinah all ended up on the gallows in the wake of their crimes, while the “lovesick aristocrat” who set them to arson went on with his life of privilege. More than two centuries later, the story continues to challenge readers to think about precisely those matters of race, gender and class, while the recorded history of the three and their misdeeds offers—perhaps—a clearer view of the writers than of their subjects.
In that story and others, history—reading it or writing it—proves to be more plastic than concrete, a series of intriguing probabilities leading to fewer certainties than we might wish. In Albany Scrapbook, then, I hope to sprinkle about some answers and at least as many questions, asking readers to draw their own connecting lines between where we have come from and where we are.

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Evers to Cubs to Cooperstown
In baseball, nothing is sacred. No achievement ever goes unchallenged when two fans meet over a like number of beers, no player walks into history without finding an army of disputatious detractors in hot pursuit. So it really isn’t surprising that there is at least one modern baseball writer who thinks that Johnny Evers and his Chicago teammates Joe Tinker and Frank Chance were probably overrated, an early product of what we now think of as hype or spin.
Evers was a gangly kid from Troy who was plucked from a minor league field in that city by a desperate Chicago scout, rushed down to Philadelphia to join the visiting Cubs as a last-minute replacement for a bum-legged shortstop and rather loosely outfitted (the 19-year-old Evers weighed only 115 pounds) for his first big league action—a doubleheader—that same day, Labor Day, 1902.
If his new teammates laughed at the sight of the scrawny little Irish kid in his man-sized uniform—they did laugh and the beleaguered scout protested, “It was the best I could do on short notice”—they wouldn’t be laughing for long. Evers (pronounced with the first “e” long) was as determined a player as baseball had ever seen. The scrappy but unlikely athlete who came up on Collar City sandlots gritted his teeth and scrapped his way into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
That first day, the story goes, his fellow Cubs were so sure that he wouldn’t make it in the majors that they wouldn’t let him ride on the team bus for the return trip to the hotel. (He climbed on top of the bus and rode there.) In short order, however, the double play combination of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance, following Evers’s move to second base, became possibly the most formidable and certainly the most famous two-away combo in the history of baseball.
Glenn Dickey, author of The History of National League Baseball Since 1876, thought that the trio’s fame owes more to hype than hustle, though. In 1910, the famed sports writer Franklin Pierce Adams tagged his column in the New York Mail one day with eight lines of doggerel, before rushing out to the Polo Grounds to root for his native town’s Cubs in a contest with the—for Adams—loathsome New York Giants.
Adams’s bad verse became an instant and enduring classic in the literature of baseball; his poem is still remembered, quoted and disputed a century after he dashed it off. What the distinguished and proudly partisan sportswriter wrote is this:
These are the saddest of possible words—
“Tinker to Evers to Chance”
Trio of Bear Cubs and fleeter than birds—
“Tinker to Evers to Chance”
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double,
Words that are weighty with nothing but trouble
“Tinker to Evers to Chance”

That poem, or so Mr. Dickey was later to claim, did more to secure the fame of the three Chicago infielders than did any of their own accomplishments on the diamond. “They should have,” Dickey suggested, “taken Franklin P. Adams into the Hall of Fame with them.”
But Glenn Dickey may have been a bit too clever, and he may have relied a bit too much on the words of New York Giants manager John McGraw, one of the meanest, if most capable, men in the history of an often mean sport, to make his case. The records speak very well, indeed, of Joe Tinker, Frank Chance, and the Capital Region’s homegrown Johnny Evers (who followed his career by opening a sporting goods business bearing his name that generations of area residents grew up frequenting for their bats and balls). For a decade or so, the Chicago Cubs were formidable, ruthlessly pricking the gonfalon bubbles of just about all comers. During Evers’s first stint with the team, from 1902 to 1913, the Cubs had only one losing season, making it to the World Series in 1906, 1907 and 1908 and winning two of the three contests.
Evers would also go on to play in that classic a fourth time, as a member of the 1914 Boston Braves, in a season in which he batted .341 and captured the equivalent of the Most Valuable Player Award. While he had only one other .300 season—1908 when he hit that number squarely on the head—he often was near the top of the list in statistical categories such as walks, stolen bases, runs scored and on-base percentage, seldom striking out along the way. As a fielder, Evers played in 1,776 games, recording 3,806 putouts and 5,215 assists and taking part in 692 double plays, the stuff of his legend, while committing 447 errors.
Overall, Evers chalked up eighteen mostly glorious seasons in the majors, first as a player and then a manager, mostly with the team that had once laughed him off the bus.

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Charter Days

The big local news in mid-summer 1936 was the Charter Celebration, several days of pageantry in commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the Dongan Charter, the document that made Albany one of the first chartered cities in the New World.
And even in those troubled times, it may be reasonable to think that the cares of the day were at least briefly suspended for the tens of thousands of Albanians who turned out to see the parades. On two successive days in July, hundreds of their neighbors took part in the festivities, recreating several centuries of city history in extravagant summer fantasies, stepping off at Clinton and Lark, turning south at Pearl, then west onto Hudson before zigging up Eagle to State Street, and on to Western Avenue where local celebrities were gathered on the reviewing stand.
The newspapers of the day brim with stories about the festivities at the same time they recount a city’s worth of reasons the day was notable for some people who never made it to the celebrations.
Forty-year-old Joseph Walsh, for one, would have done better had he turned south on Broadway after leaving his Watervliet home, contenting himself with a day of parade-watching in the summer sun. Instead, Mr. Walsh crossed the river into Troy and went shopping. The two pairs of sport slacks that he eventually selected at a local variety store—and for which he neglected to pay—ended up costing him a thirty-day sentence in the Rensselaer County Jail.
Robert Loane, a 21-year-old center fielder and sometime pitcher for the Albany Senators baseball team, may or may not have made it to the July 22 parade, but he most certainly had too much on his mind to give full attention to floats and brass bands. Within a few hours, he would marry Barbara Berg, 18. The ceremony took place on home plate at Hawkins Stadium, and was followed by the regularly scheduled game between the near-basement Senators and first-place Rochester. Mr. Loane began the evening with a season-to-date record of seven home runs and an overall batting average of .274.
Employees of Whitney’s landmark department store probably did see the parade as it passed down Pearl Street, where the business stood. The store had closed its doors to the public at a few minutes past four o’clock specifically to free its staff to take in the show, although earlier in the day Whitney’s had been packed with shoppers taking advantage of such specials as a “giant rug sale” featuring Hamadans, Kurdistans, Bokharas, Kirmans, “and other Oriental jewels”—scatter sizes and a few runners included—at prices ranging from $10 to as high as $30.
Indeed, for those who had money to spend in 1936, July 22 was not a bad day on which to spend some of it. Virtually all of the downtown stores were having sales, hoping to attract shoppers from among the parade-goers, and competition for business was intense. At Famous Shoe Store, 71 North Pearl Street, Shoes that Fit and Satisfy, regularly priced in the $10 range, were selling for as little as $4.98. Across the street at Converse-Leighton in the Kenmore Hotel Building, shoppers could shave a few more pennies off the price of shoes and pick up a pair for $4.95.
For its part, Sherry’s was “Breaking All Records,” the ads proclaimed, by selling cotton dresses for ninety-nine cents and silk for a modest $2.98. Meanwhile, men were buying two-trouser suits at Bond Clothes for $22.85, for a savings of $7.15 over the normal $30 price tag.
And if all that shopping and parade-watching was enough to render people hungry and weary, there was the elegant air-conditioned temptation of Keeler’s Restaurant, one of Albany’s finest in its day, which was offering glazed premium ham in a port wine sauce with fresh spinach and mashed sweet potatoes for eighty cents.
After an already full day, there was the option of taking in a show at one of Albany’s eleven bustling movie houses, among them the Palace, which was playing Suzy starring Jean Harlow and Cary Grant. The Strand offered the latest Shirley Temple feature, Poor Little Rich Girl, while the Paramount, the Royal and the Albany all played to a different audience, presenting the complete Joe Louis-Max Schmelling fight (the first one) in addition to such features as Ronald Colman and Claudette Colbert in Under 2 Flags and Lew Ayers in Panic on the Air.
Of course, in 1936, there remained legions of people in no position to take advantage of the sales of the day, victims of the Great Depression. Their stories, too, are recorded in the journals of the day, perhaps nowhere more eloquently than in their own plaintive missives at the back of the newspapers, in the column headlined Positions Wanted.
So many years later, we can only wonder about the writers and how their stories, barely glimpsed in a few lines of type, might have turned out. One forty-year-old widow wrote that she “needs work badly,” while an unemployed nurse still hoped to find work in her own profession but was willing to take a light housekeeping job “until times get better.”
It’s much the same for the painters, mechanics and bakers—each with long experience, each with his own tools—whose pleas for work paint a picture of increasing desperation. In fact, it may have been a desperate grab for attention, rather than the irreverent whimsy seen at first glance, that led an unemployed chauffeur seeking private or commercial work to describe himself as “inexperienced, reckless, lazy and dishonest.”
For most, however, the Charter Celebration offered a welcome, if brief, respite from such concerns, as they made time to turn an ancient and somewhat inaccessible legal document into a reason for revelry.
In two dozen pages of starchy legal language—a hundred unresolved sentences beginning with “whereas” and proving in the end that some things never change—Thomas Dongan, New York’s first Irish-Catholic governor, put quill to paper on July 22, 1686, establishing the city and at the same time setting forth the legal roles of its officials and its citizenry. Dongan (who found himself occupying a colonial office mainly because British laws did not permit Catholics to hold office within the bounds of the Kingdom proper) appointed the officers who would steer the city through its transitional period. He named Peter Schuyler to be Albany’s first mayor, and tapped as aldermen Dirk Wessels, Jan Jans Bleecker, David Schuyler, Johannis Wendel, Lavinius van Schaick and Adrian Garritse, the first three of whom would later ascend to the mayoralty.
It was commanded that Peter Schuyler would “remain and continue in the office of mayor there, until another fit person shall be appointed and sworn in the said office.” As proved to be not uncommon in Albany politics, where the job of mayor has sometimes carried a lot of job security, it ended up taking a bit longer than anyone might have expected to find a worthy successor for the honorable Mayor Schuyler. He was to serve eight consecutive terms, albeit one-year terms rather than what is now four years, before being succeeded by Johannis Abeel, who served from 1694 to 1695 and then again from 1709 to 1710.
Under the provisions of the Dongan Charter, however, being selected to hold public office may have been very much a mixed blessing, for one thing because the charter mandated fines for any citizens of the city who refused to “perform the duties and execute the office” of any municipal position for which they had been tapped, however unwillingly.
For the early mayors of Albany, those duties were far-ranging. Both the office of coroner and the position of clerk of the market were statutorily appended to the mayor’s office, as was the sole authority to “give and grant licenses annually—to all tavern keepers, inn keepers, ordinary keepers, victuallers, and all public sellers of wines, strong waters, cider, beer, or any sort of liquors by retail within the city . . .”
The charter further authorized the mayor to “ask, demand, and receive for each license . . . such sum or sums of money as he and the person to whom the license shall be given or granted, shall agree for . . .” The license fees, it was stipulated, would be applied only to public uses, although—in a breathtaking show of confidence in Albany’s politicians—it was deemed unnecessary for the mayor to offer an accounting of these monies to His Majesty.
Perhaps one of the most important duties that fell to the mayor in those years, an obligation shared with aldermen and other city office-holders, was the dispatch of justice at the Mayor’s Court, the primary judicial venue of the day. The court met for the first time just a little more than a month after its creation by Thomas Dongan.
On August 31, 1686, Peter Schuyler and his subordinates convened to pass judgment in the case of Hercules, a slave who was charged with stealing “wampum” from the home of Myndert Frederickse, his master. The prisoner confessed, the court record shows, and was sentenced to be “whipped through ye towne at ye carte tale by ye hangman.”
Indian Affairs

Strictly speaking, Orson didn’t “murder” Captain Hendrick Christiaensen.
For one thing, the early conflicts between Native Americans and the oncoming Europeans can’t properly be explained in the language of law and order. The word murder implies a breach of codes that didn’t even exist here in 1616. Laws and courts had little if any reach into the frontier that was to become Albany, and for the handful of soldiers and traders who occupied Fort Nassau, Christiaensen himself was the only authority, right up to the moment he lost his life.
As it happens, his killer had more than a little to do himself with exciting Dutch interest in the region, although probably not by his own design. The son of a Mohican sachem, Orson (along with his brother, Valentine) had traveled to Holland with Christiaensen and his partner Adriaen Block (Rhode Island’s Block Island is named for him). The natives played no small part in arousing the curiosity and inflaming the imaginations of that nation—and particularly of the wealthy merchants to whom the navigators would turn successfully for the financing of their New World venture. In many ways, the Indians may have been pivotal in focusing popular attention on this exotic, faraway land.
Over the course of their visit to the Netherlands, the brothers learned enough of continental ways to be viewed as “civilized Indians” by their hosts. (They had been “named” by the Dutch after characters in a fifteenth century story from the Carolingian Cycle of Kings: the Orson in that work had been raised by a family of bears.) After they returned to their home along the Hudson they may have retained some of that elevated status at Christiaensen’s new fort. It is at least clear that Orson remained a presence at Fort Nassau; Valentine may have as well, but it was his brother whose actions earned him a place in local history.
Late in 1616 or early in 1617 (for the first two decades or so of Albany history dates are often uncertain or disputed) the Mohican and the Dutchman fell into a violent quarrel over what one writer called a “fancied wrong” in Orson’s mind. Real or imagined, that grudge drove him to fire a gun at Christiaensen, killing him on the spot. Orson didn’t survive the captain by long.
“Before he got beyond range of a bullet,” one history has it, “he was made to pay the penalty of his bloodthirstiness,” shot down by the traders.
Interestingly, Orson’s punishment, while not the product of judicial process, was basically consistent with the ways in which his own people handled homicides. Historians have concluded that murder was rare in area Native American societies, but when it did occur the victim’s next-of-kin was granted the right to avenge the act and kill the killer—but only within the 24-hours following the crime. After that, if the murderer had managed to remain at large (which is to say, alive) the penalty was reduced to a substantial fine of wampum and the lowered status of the killer’s family, who had to “give way” to the victim’s relatives whenever they met in public.
For his temperamental outburst, Orson was turned in the pages of history from “civilized Indian” to “exceedingly malignant wretch,” according to a Dutch historian of the day (later writers added the charge of “ingratitude” as well). But, whatever his character might have been, he may be most notable for giving us the first serious incident to occur between the Native Americans and the Fort Nassau contingent. Arthur Weiss, author of an 1884 history of Albany, described the Christiaensen killing as “the only known instance of any bad feeling manifested [by the Indians] toward the Dutch [during Fort Nassau’s three-year existence].”
Be that as it may, Weiss probably overstates the degree of good will actually operating here and, with a nineteenth century sensibility, glosses over the culture shock that was actually taking place along the Hudson. Undeniably, the meeting of cultures went more smoothly here than elsewhere on the river, but serious, if generally non-lethal, conflicts did arise in and around Fort Nassau and, a few years later, Fort Orange.
In Manhattan, warfare with the Indians was frequently an issue of crisis proportions throughout the Dutch colonial period. At Esopus, near present-day Kingston, clashes were also common. From the beginning of exploration, in fact, the predictable tensions between the natives and the interlopers had sometimes flared to violence.
That was the case as early as Henry Hudson’s entry into the river. No sooner had the Half Moon passed through the Narrows into New York Harbor than the sailors’ first contact with Indians left one crewman dead. John Coleman, the unfortunate statistic, was buried on Sandy Hook, on a spot later known as Coleman’s Point. A few weeks later, on the Half Moon’s voyage downriver, the crew had another grim encounter with the same “Manahatta savages,” as described in the ship’s log, which counted up nearly a dozen Indian casualties.
In between those battles, a shipboard “theft” resulted in the deaths of two Indian men further up the river—the summary execution of the man who took from the Half Moon “my pillow, and two shirts, and two bandaleeres” and the grisly slaying of an accomplice who was attempting to make off with the loot.
“This afternoone, one canoe kept hanging under our sterne with one man in it, which wee could not keepe from thence,” it was recorded. The entry goes on to recount the Indian’s boarding of the ship, his theft of the property, which he passed along to others in the water, and his aborted getaway. “Our master [Hudson] shot at him, and stroke him in the brest, and killed him. Whereupon all the rest fled away . . .
“Wee manned our boat and got our things aginne. Then one of them that swam got hold of our boat, thinking to overthrow it. But our cook took a sword, and cut off one of his hands, and he was drowned.”
Writing about the earliest days of New Netherlands, Amsterdam historian Nicolaes Van Wassenaer—the same scholar who had thought so little of Orson—described the valley and its natives in these terms:
“The land is excellent and agreeable, full of noble forest trees and grape vines, and nothing is wanting but the labor and industry of man to render it one of the finest and most fruitful lands . . . for the savages who inhabit there are indolent, and some of them are evil thieves and wicked people.”
Hudson himself was to look back on his visit and characterize at least the upriver Indians as “a friendly people, but very much inclined to steal,” and, he added, quite adroit in the stealing.
But the story isn’t a simple one of crime and punishment, as a later writer noted. “The natives in these encounters,” he wrote, “do not seem to have acted in a savage or even a hostile manner; they appear to have been guilty only of a lack of appreciation for the sanctity of private property.” Besides, he added, it can be assumed that the crew of the Half Moon was made up of rough and unsophisticated men for whom “the simplest manner of protecting property was to shoot the thief and sail away.”
Hudson would also describe, erroneously, a land where laws and morals and religion were altogether unknown, and he seems, along with his contemporaries, to be incapable of harboring the thought that the natives might have been justified in resenting his arrival.

Here's what you'll find in Albany Scrapbook, Vol. 1


Section One: Yesterday’s News
Charter Days
Place Names
Father’s Day
Indian Affairs
More Indian Affairs
Dutch Treats
Naming Names
Swiping at “Smallbany”

Section Two: Polling Places
Voting Trends
Fighting Words
Washington, D.C., or Bust
Monumental Issues

Section Three: Public Safety
Criminal Science
Up In Flames
Pomp’s Story

Section Four: Stage Directions
Just a Stage
Glad Tidings
Curtain Call

Section Five: Character Studies
Albany’s Royal Rumor
Solomon’s Wisdom
Saratoga Summer: Odds and Ends

Section Six: Sportin’ Life
Starting Lineup
Evers to Cubs to Cooperstown
Pitching Revolution

Section Seven: Recommended Reading

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And here's a bit more . . .

Torche Song

Most of the fifteen hundred or so people assembled in the Capitol park seemed merely curious, perhaps lured out of their windowless offices at least as much by the promise of 1984’s first truly fine day than by a passion for political oratory. For some, the hot dog vendors lining Washington Avenue may have been a more compelling attraction than the presidential aspirant. Nevertheless, the crowd listened politely as Senator Gary Hart, who had come to Albany almost as an afterthought some 24 hours before the polls would open, made his necessarily ill-fated attempt to buck the solidly pro-Mondale Albany machine in his quest for his party’s nomination.
But Hart wasn’t the only would-be president in the park that lunch hour. Not surprisingly, Charles Torche was there, too, characteristically everywhere at once as he worked the crowd, sized up the competition and made his decision. By the time Hart’s limousine pulled away from the curb, Charlie Torche—Albany lawyer, pol, mingler-extraordinaire and living legend—was standing in the shade of the New York State Capitol and quietly revealing that decision.
“I think,” he said, “I’m gonna run again. In this year of crisis, they need somebody who understands politics.”
At 73, Torche had already made his mock campaigns for public office as much a part of Albany political lore as were his more sober machinations, and he had come by his own considerable understanding of politics honestly, as it were. He was a longtime associate of this town’s O’Connell boys (“I was Solly O’Connell’s lawyer”), a past delegate to Democratic National Conventions, and the courtroom champion for legions of wayward unionists over the years. And he had achieved national notoriety when such writers as Jimmy Breslin and William Kennedy pointed out in print that he had compressed the received political wisdom of the ages into six simple words:
“Honesty is no substitute for experience,” he famously said.
If authorship of such a line were not legacy enough, Charlie Torche could also boast of “close personal friendships” with just about everybody, and he did. When Joe Kennedy came to town to line up support for his son’s presidential campaign, “I drove him out to Dan [O’Connell]’s house.” When JFK came here himself, “I rode in the car with him.”
Daniel Barr, then a political reporter for the Times-Union and subsequently press secretary to Governor Nelson Rockefeller, corroborated Torche’s memories, recalling his own frustrating vigil outside Kennedy’s suite at the DeWitt Clinton Hotel.
“Kennedy wasn’t giving any interviews,” Barr remembered, “but I was hanging around, hoping to pick up something for a story. Then, Charlie Torche came strolling out of Kennedy’s room and asked, ‘Do you wanna meet the candidate?’” The resulting interview—an exclusive, Barr said—went out on the wires and “everybody ran it.”
More than two decades later, a union official in the state claimed to have stopped then-Governor Mario Cuomo dead in his tracks at a New York City political function by calling out, “Hey, Governor! Charlie Torche says ‘hi.’”
The governor, it was said, stopped in midstride and surveyed the room.
“Who said that?”
“I did.”
“You know Charlie Torche? Tell him I said hi.”
The stories were typical of the legends that grew up around Torche, whose long political career generally found him right next to the limelight but seldom in it. In 1980, however, Torche decided to change that, if only briefly and after a fashion, with his first run for the presidency. His campaign was launched over cocktails at an Elk Street bar by a politically-connected group that, Torche later recalled, included “all the characters,” and conducted—over cocktails—by a single, heavily-attended rally at the same establishment.
The event was highlighted by bipartisan nominating speeches delivered by Republican Senator John Marchi and Albany Mayor Erastus Corning, as well as by the unveiling of yet another classic of political sloganeering. Torche’s campaign poster, which remained behind the bar at Anthony’s Park Plaza for as long as the restaurant operated, read, “Throw the rascals out . . .Put the real rascal in!” The poster was illustrated by anti-Tammany cartoonist Thomas Nast, who—dead by then some 80 long years—probably was not a close personal friend of Charlie Torche (but don’t bet on it).
In 1982, Torche took to the campaign trail again. As a candidate for governor, he staged a $1.98-a-plate fundraiser at his usual Elk Street headquarters, but once again, as one campaign insider summed it up, his avid army of supporters found themselves too unsteady the next day—election day—to get to the polls.
By the time of his 1984 campaign, Torche had retooled his approach.
“For one thing, he said, “we’ll probably hafta get $2.98 a plate, because we’re running for president instead of just governor.
“And I’ve got a new campign slogan: We who sacrificed our yesterdays to make your tomorrows possible.
“That’ll bring in the Vietnam vote.”
But even as he jested, Torche’s solid, New Deal political values came through. Insisting that “[Ronald Reagan] has put this nation into more debt than all his predecessors put together,” Torche proposed sweeping economic reforms.
“To begin with, the Trickle Down Theory don’t work,” said Charlie Torche, a close personal friend of Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr.
“So we’re gonna put in the Trickle Up Theory. The poor will get it first and the rich can have what’s left.”

Copyright © 2006 by Kenneth A. Salzmann
All rights reserved.

Except for brief quotations used in critical studies or reviews, no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means without written permission of the copyright owners.

ISBN 978-0-9786621-1-0
LCCN 2006907163

"[Albany Scrapbook is] wide-ranging in topic, occasionally whimsical, always well-written, and the total effect is a montage of life in Albany, past and present."
--Wendell Tripp, writing in New York History

As a freelancer for the now-defunct magazine "Albany, New York," Salzmann dug into the capital city s history and folklore down through the centuries. His essays examine the stories (apocryphal and otherwise) of a wide variety of characters who have some connection to Albany from Henry Hudson to FidelCastro. Although Salzmann claims he is no historian, these entertaining tales are obviously well-researched and written with wit and flair.
--Hudson Valley Magazine

Salzmann gathers a posse of colorful anecdotes about the capital city sometimes maligned as "Smallbany," debunking a few urban legends (Fidel Castro was not scouted by the Albany Senators, but Troy infielder Esteban Bellan was the first Hispanic player in the big leagues in 1871).
--Chronogram Magazine

Based on a series of columns published in the 1980s in the weekly magazine Albany, New York, "Albany Scrapbook Vol. 1" (Gelles-Cole Literary Enterprises; 128 pages; $12.95) takes a look at four centuries worth of history and anecdotes of the capital of New York. Local freelance writer Kenneth Salzmann breaks these stories down into five sections: "Yesterday's News," "Polling Places," "Public Safety," "Stage Directions," "Character Studies," "Sportin' Life," and "Recommended Reading." Every section contains interesting tales and facts about Albany while addressing its history with humor and thorough research.
--Albany Times-Union

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