January 31, 2016

The Hometown I Haven't Forgotten, and The One I Never Knew

I always had some sense of history while growing up in Syracuse, New York. I knew that the Erie Canal once ran straight through our Downtown (along what is now Erie Boulevard). I knew that our buildings were old—much older than me, and perhaps even older than my parents.

I knew that my Grampy had been a sign painter for local businesses; but after two strokes, he could no longer paint signs. Then again, nobody wanted a hand-painted sign for their business anymore, anyway.

When I was young, it was hard to put all the random pieces of information together on my own. My parents didn't teach me local history, and I don't recall learning it in school.

So a couple weeks ago, I returned to my old stomping grounds of Downtown Syracuse, where I worked for a couple of years at a discount clothing store called "One Price Sportswear," and visited (for the first time ever) the Onondaga Historical Association, down the block from City Hall and the old Syracuse Library.

And there, I met the famous Heaphy's Tin Man, a roadside advertisement for a sheet metal chain (now stationed in the toasty indoors, though equipped with a scarf just in case).

This isn't what my childhood in Syracuse looked like.

Then again, I rarely was allowed to leave my parents' house.

I couldn't tell you what most of the important local businesses were in the 1970s and '80s.

I had no idea that Syracuse was a stop on the Underground Railroad, or that in the mid-1800s, its abolitionist views and practices weren't even kept a secret.

After all, at the time, New York was a "free state," and Syracuse was a good stopover point for slaves escaping to Canada for their freedom.

I love museums like this—places that act as a repository for once-lost and forgotten items that are later found but have nowhere else to go.

Case in point: having been designed, fabricated, and installed by the Henry Keck Stained Glass Studios in 1920, a gorgeous stained glass window had been left in the St. Paul's church basement in Liverpool since 1964 when it had been removed during renovations.

The Hotel Syracuse opened in 1924 and shuttered in 2004, but at least its glassware was saved (and will most certainly not be used by Marriott when they reopen the historic hotel this year).

Dishware was always a big deal in Syracuse, the home of Syracuse China (founded 1871) until the factory closed in 2009. But lots of hotels, restaurants, airlines, and even railroad dining cars once served lots of meals on that fine china—and perhaps some of them still do.

I do remember many years at the Great New York State Fair, still the best fair I've ever been to...

...many local delicacies...

...milk in bottles...

...and salt. Lots of salt.

Just because I don't live there anymore—and don't want to live there anymore—doesn't mean I should stop learning about where I came from...or forget everything I once knew.

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