It is 1901 and the dawn of a new century. The Pan-American Exposition is going on in Buffalo, a world’s fair that was attracting people from all over the world, with many of those visitors taking train excursions to nearby world-famous Niagara Falls.
During the expo, visitation was running between 10,000 to 50,000 people daily at Niagara Falls Reservation State Park. And the attention of these crowds is exactly what Finger Lake native Annie Edson Taylor wanted to grab.
A 63-year-old widow and retired schoolteacher living in Bay City, Michigan, Annie was in financial straights at that point in her life. Sensing an opportunity in Buffalo, she went there with the idea to become rich and famous by doing something no one had ever done – going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
People had been barrel-riding the rapids below the falls to much popular acclaim during a time when there were no rules in place for such dangerous stunts. Today, there are laws in place at the falls making it illegal for anyone attempting such actions, which since the 1950s have been subject to prosecution and substantial fine by both the U.S. and Canadian governments.
Inspired by the daring barrel-riders in the Whirlpool Rapids below the falls, Annie had her own barrel made of white Kentucky oak to her specifications by a local company. Cushions, pillows and a harness were placed inside for protection. The barrel had a tube through a hole so air could be pumped in when the barrel was sealed.
First, the rookie daredevil decided she had to test it. So Annie sent out the barrel with a cat inside for a run over Niagara’s Horseshoe Falls on Oct. 18, 1901. When the barrel washed to shore and was opened, the cat emerged unharmed, boosting Annie’s confidence that she too could survive the 167-foot plunge.
On Oct. 24 – her 63rd birthday – Annie set out with her two assistants, William Holleran and Fred Truesdale, to Port Day on the U.S. side of the river that led to the rapids above Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. She had announced her intentions, and onlookers had gathered.
The daredevil had changed into more comfortable clothes – a lightweight blue skirt and blue blouse for her journey. Her assistants tied the barrel to a rowboat, making sure Annie was secured inside before closing the lid. Some air was pumped inside the barrel using a hose, and the men rowed into the river with the barrel in tow. With the rope cut, the barrel floated off toward the roaring falls.
A few minutes later, several men waiting on shore drag the slightly beat-up barrel to the river’s edge on the Canadian side. They remove the lid to see how she has fared. And Annie is alive!
She gets out stumbling, with only minor injuries, for which she is brought back to the U.S. side and taken for medical treatment. Her stunt has worked, and she has made history as the first person to ever go over Niagara Falls in a barrel and survive.
Now, she must have believed her quest for fame and fortune would be rewarded. Making an appearance at the Pan-Am Expo’s last day on November 1 to sensational newspaper headlines, Annie posed next to a barrel, most likely labelled, “Queen of the Mist.”
After this feat, Annie made her home in Niagara Falls hoping to cash in. While she had some immediate fame, fortune was to elude her. She found little success on the lecture circuit and even lost her barrel after it was stolen by her manager.
Rather than becoming rich, she was able only to eke out a meager living selling postcards and other souvenirs from a stand in front of a store near the falls. She never attempted any other stunt.
Indigent in her old age, Annie ended up becoming a resident of the County Home in Lockport. She became blind and passed away two decades after her famous plunge at age 82.
The people of Niagara Falls raised funds to help provide Annie with a burial plot at the historic Oakwood Cemetery in a section called “Stunters’ Rest” for daredevils who have braved the falls, either successfully or unsuccessfully, according to an entry on the cemetery in the National Register of Historic Places.
Other stunters buried there included Matthew Webb who died in 1883 in an attempt to swim the Niagara rapids and Carlisle Graham, who survived a trip through the rapids in a barrel in 1886.
While riches eluded Annie in life, her legacy from a bygone era of daredevils lives on. Her records as the first and oldest person to survive a trip over the falls remain intact, nearly a century after her death.
While Niagara Falls are essentially the same as they were in Annie’s time, Niagara Falls Reservation State Park, created in 1885 as the oldest state park in the United States, has undergone major improvements as part of the NY Parks 2020 initiative . The park remains open during the COVID-19 pandemic. Click through this slideshow to take a look…
Cover Photo – Annie Taylor on the street in Niagara Falls at her souvenir stand. (Photo Credit – Niagara Falls Public Library)
Post by Carol Rogers, Environmental Educator, Niagara Region Interpretive Programs Office, NYS Parks
Niagara Falls Public Library History Department, Niagara Falls
Bill Bohach often walks the beach as manager of Orient Beach State Park at the wild eastern tip of the North Fork of Long Island, checking for erosion left by powerful ocean storms.
When he saw what had washed up one day in December of this year, along a remote section of beach about a mile from the park’s swimming area, he knew it was special. But there was no way he could have known it was the beginning a Christmas miracle for a family still grieving the loss of a daughter in a drunk-driving accident.
Bohach recognized that the simple wooden sign on a post, which bore the name “Erica Lee Knowles” and the word “Alou” meant something, to someone, somewhere. “The letters had been made with a router, so I knew someone had taken time to make it,” said the 21-year Parks veteran employee.
So, he picked up the waterlogged sign, carried it the mile back to the park, and took it to the maintenance shop to dry out, placing a note on it warning not to throw it away. Next, came internet sleuthing by Jorge Eusebio, a parks aide, who Googled Erica’s name, and quickly learned of her 2012 death as a passenger in a Rhode Island car crash.
“Once I saw that, it made my mission stronger, to find out whose sign this was,” said Eusebio, who started with Parks in 2017. He located what he thought might be a relative’s name on Facebook, and sent a private message, but got no response. He persisted, locating another name and sending another private message about the sign.
Eusebio had located a cousin to Shiela and John Priore, Erica’s parents, who lived in Georgia, but were heading up to New York for the Christmas holidays in a few days. And Eusebio learned from them that they had placed the sign as a memorial to Erica on Black Point in Narragansett, Rhode Island, a few miles from the accident scene. Black Point is on Block Island Sound about 45 miles east from Orient Beach.
Sometime this year, the memorial had disappeared, apparently the work of vandals who cut the post and discarded it … by throwing it into the sea.
And from there, it had floated, borne by currents and winds, to wash up months later at Orient Beach. The map below shows Orient Beach State Park, on the eastern tip of Long Island’s North Fork (left) and Black Point in Narangansett, Rhode Island (right).
“There are no words to convey how much Bill and Jorge’s act of kindness has meant to us. It was our Christmas miracle,” said Shiela Priore. “Anytime we get to share Erica with this world is a good one. On top of recognizing that the cross meant something but to take the time and effort to search for us leaves me speechless. Our family is forever grateful. We feel as if Bill and Jorge honored her life and her memory.”
Erica was studying journalism and women’s studies at the University of Rhode Island when she was killed at age 23. The driver in the car she was in was later sentenced to prison time for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Now that the memorial is recovered, Shiela said the family plans to have it placed at a family home on Martha’s Vineyard, a favorite place of their daughter’s where her ashes were spread.
And what of the word “Alou” that is on the sign? “It is how my kids said, `I love you’ when they were small children,” said Shiela.
Both Bill and Jorge recognize their roles in the amazing chain of events against long odds that the memorial would ever again find its way back home to the Priore family. And see the lesson that there is no telling how far a compassionate act might travel.
“I think during these difficult times, this is a message that everyone needs to hear. No matter how it might look, there is still hope,” said Jorge.
Cover Shot – Beach at Orient Beach State Park (Photo Credit – NYS Parks)
Post by Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, NYS Parks.
More About Orient Beach State Park
Orient Beach State Park is a natural wonderland of waterfront with 45,000 feet of frontage on Gardiner’s Bay and a rare maritime forest with red cedar, black-jack oak trees and prickly-pear cactus. Its natural beauty earned designation as a National Natural Landmark in 1980. Other natural attractions in the park include the saltwater marsh and marine wildlife. Great Blue Herons, Egrets, Black Crowned Night Herons, and Osprey are common sights in the park, leading to its recognition as an Audubon Important Bird Area.
It is almost time to put 2020 in the books, and bid farewell to a year that brought so much uncertainty and tribulation into so many people’s lives.
And to help New Yorkers do that, State Parks is again encouraging people to take part in the First Day Hikes program, now marking its tenth year in New York.
Of course, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this series of outdoor events will be a little different than before, with the addition of many self-guided hikes, requirements for social distancing, masking and capacity limits.
So, it is more important than ever to check in advance with any specific site that you may be interested in and pre-register if necessary, since restrictions on staff- and volunteer-guided events may limit the number of people who can attend.
The walks, hikes, and self-guided options are family-friendly, and typically range from one to five miles depending on the location and conditions.
So, to give people more options for 2021, many First Day events will now be held multiple times over the course of the first weekend in January.
Click here for a listing of Parks events, or use this interactive map below to locate hikes.
As New Yorkers adapted to COVID restrictions this year, which limited many forms of indoor activities, they turned to healthy and safer outdoor alternatives on hiking trails at State Parks and other state lands.
State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid, who last year took part in a First Day Hike at Thacher State Park, is again encouraging New Yorkers to take part in this annual family-friendly event.
According to the Commissioner, “First Day Hikes have grown into a popular tradition for many New Yorkers and we look forward to welcoming families and friends out on the trail at many of our parks and historic sites. While this year’s program may look a little different from previous events, exploring the outdoors is still the perfect way to enjoy the winter landscapes, unwind with loved ones and kick off the coming year.”
As always with winter hiking, remember to dress warmly and in layers, while keeping in mind this old Scandinavian saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”
And with snow and ice possible on many hiking trails, make sure to use proper footwear, and consider adding traction devices, like Microspikes, for additional stability.
Whether maintaining a safe distance in a group or hiking on your own, remember that you are still part of something that is happening across the U.S. in all 50 states, and dates back to the initial First Day Hikes that started in Massachusetts in 1992.
So, get outside, keep safe, and let’s ring in 2021 to welcome better days ahead!
Holiday cooking is one tradition that most people partake in, even those who normally order take-out or nuke something frozen for dinner. Family recipes are unearthed from the back of the recipe box or perhaps your junk drawer. The house fills with the nostalgic smells of favorite treats. Recipes are often our most evident tie to our heritage and historians can glean a lot from one family recipe.
Lorenzo State Historic Site in Cazenovia has their own treasure trove of handwritten recipes from the families who have lived there. Spanning the early 1800s to the early 20th century, these cookbooks contain both handwritten recipes and clippings from newspapers. In addition to food, there are also entries for home remedies for health and cleaning.
Recently, these cookbooks were digitized so that the books themselves, which are quite fragile, no longer need to be handled and so can be protected from accidental damage. Researchers will be able access the books digitally, helping us better understand generations of the Lincklaens, Ledyards, and Fairchilds who lived at Lorenzo. Established in 1807, the Federal style home of John Lincklaen, Holland Land Company agent and founder of Cazenovia, Lorenzo was continually occupied by the family and its descendants until the property was conveyed to New York State in 1968.
What can historians learn from recipes over the years? The foods we eat can tell us about media, transportation, technology, and trade.
For example, vanilla was used sparingly prior to the mid-19th century. This fragrant spice is native to central and South America and vanilla orchids were brought to Europe and Africa through colonizers of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, but without successful cultivation of the fruit.
That all changed in 1841, a young enslaved man named Edmond Albius, living on the island of Réunion, a French island off the east coast of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, developed a hand pollination technique for the orchid, which only blooms for 24 hours. With the agricultural production of vanilla beans now made possible, the vanilla industry was catapulted around the world, which made the spice much more affordable. Cookbooks started to fill with this popular flavor by the end of the 1800s. Since the plants are still hand pollinated today, vanilla is one of the most expensive spices, second only to saffron. Prior to vanilla being widely available, many foods were seasoned with rose water or orange flower water.
Many earlier recipes used spices that are often associated with the holidays today such as nutmeg, ginger, allspice, cardamom, and candied citrus peel. These ingredients were imported to the United States and Europe at significant expense and added interest and flavor. Nutmeg was originally imported from Indonesia. The Dutch, in addition to colonizing New Netherland, which became New York when England took control, also colonized Indonesia, primarily for the profitable spice trade. Nutmeg continues to be an important ingredient in both sweet and savory holiday recipes. How spices are used also gives a hint to your family’s heritage.
Not all the recipes in these books seem palatable to modern audiences. There are many ingredients that have gone out of fashion. Suet, the rendered fat of beef, is an ingredient in many puddings. Tongue, calves head, and terrapin (turtle) are also present in recipes. Folks were also willing to put just about anything into gelatin including little ham balls seasoned with cayenne pepper.
Whether these dishes were daily fare or for special occasions is hard to decipher from these cookbooks, although terrapin became quite popular by the end of the 19th century until overharvesting made the creatures quite rare and expensive.
It is interesting to note that a few recipes are repeated in more than one cookbook. Perhaps each generation of women passed down the recipes to the next. The recipes might have been recopied in a new book when the old one deteriorated.
Lorenzo State Historic Site can now keep these recipes safe and accessible for many generations to come. And that is something you can do at home, too.
Which recipes will you be serving at your holiday table? What do those recipes say about your family’s heritage or status?
Recipes are considered primary source documents if your grandmother or great-grandmother was the first to write it down. How will you preserve this tradition? Share a recipe with your family and friends. Tell the stories that surround your memory of that food. This is intangible history, but just as important as your recipes. Stay safe and well fed this holiday season.
Cover Shot: The first commercial Christmas card, printed in 1843 in England and sent from John Callcott Horsely to Henry Cole, shows folks dining as a symbol of the holidays. In the same way so much of our celebrations revolve around food, with recipes often a cherished tradition passed to each generation. (Photo Credit – Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
Post by Amanda Massie, Curator at Bureau of Historic Sites, Division for Historic Preservationat NYS Parks.
Want to have some fun at home with historic recipes from Lorenzo State Historic Site? Here are some to try… And Happy Holidays to you and yours from New York State Parks!
With a fire-damaged dwarf pitch pine forest at the Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve rebounding slower than expected from a devastating wildfire, a State Parks greenhouse in the Finger Lakes is helping to grow a new generation of trees.
Since fire burned more than 2,000 acres in April 2016 at Sam’s Point, State Parks staff there has been monitoring the health of this globally rare forest ecosystem in Ulster County.
This high ridge in the Shawangunk Mountains is predominantly pitch pines (Pinus Rigida), a fire dependent species of conifer. The pitch pines at Sam’s Point are dwarfed, which means they can be hundreds of years old, while still only roughly as tall as a person.
Pitch pines have serotinous cones, which means the cones require heat from fire in order to open protective scales and cast seed. These trees also have non-serotinous pine cones, which release seeds from November into the winter and do not require heat. Pitch pines take two years to fully develop cones with mature seeds, and the serotinous cones can remain sealed for years until the outbreak of fire.
The Sam’s Point fire burned hot and quick, which left parts of the duff soil layer still covering underlying mineral soil that is necessary for pitch pine seeds to germinate into seedlings. Duff is made up of partially and fully decomposed organic matter, including pine needles, branches and mulch.
While these exposed pitch pine seeds released after the 2016 fire were a nutritious bonanza for red squirrels, turkeys, and other seed-eating animals, that also meant fewer pitch pine seedlings were taking root to replace trees that had been lost.
Pitch pine forests require regular moderate fires to expose the proper mineral soil and regenerate successfully. The Sam’s Point fire was the first large fire in this area in 70 years and had some exceptionally hot patches. While pitch pines are resilient to fire due to extra thick bark, an especially hot and large fire like 2016 can badly damage or simply incinerate the trees.
During the summer of 2020, it was determined that 77 percent of the pitch pines had died within 20 different plots in the burned zone being monitored by Parks staff. This was a 17 percent increase from an initial survey done in 2016, where 60 percent of the pitch pines were deemed lost to fire damage.
At the same time, fewer seedlings were growing in the aftermath of the fire. Monitoring of the forestry plots has found pitch pine seedling growth peaked in 2017 with 85 seedlings but has continually declined since then. This year only 27 seedlings were found within those 20 plots.
And with fewer trees and lagging replacement growth, it was feared that bird habitat was being lost. Minnewaska State Park Preserve is a designated state Bird Conservation Area as an exceptional example of a high elevation forest community with a diverse forest dwelling bird population.
It also is notable that the duff layer at Sam’s Point has increased by almost three-quarters of an inch since the fire. This is due to a lack of any fire succession since 2016. Deeper duff means that the regrowth of this globally rare pitch pine forest will be very slow and difficult, as seedlings continue being inhibited from taking root.
Right after the fire, staff at Sam’s Point wrote a Burned Area Recovery Plan (BARP), using a template created by the National Park Service. Several important actions are outlined in this plan included:
Creating and monitoring 20 forestry plots to study pitch pine regeneration
Monitoring impact of the fire on songbirds which depend on the unique trees and understory found at Sam’s Point for their breeding grounds in the spring through annual species counts
Monitoring and mitigating new fire breaks for erosion, invasive species, and blocking off firebreak and recreational trail intersections with plantings or brush
This work has been carried out carefully by Sam’s Point staff and regional stewardship staff. Assistance was provided by Student Conservation Association Hudson Valley Corps interns as well as interns and staff from regional universities and colleges.
In early 2019, the Plant Materials Program Staff at Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Park in the Finger Lakes region, reached out to Palisades regional Stewardship staff to discuss restoration projects. Out of nine proposed Palisades projects, two projects were to grow pitch pine seeds collected from Sam’s Point to help regenerate this rare forest.
Sonnenberg Plant Materials Program Lead Technician Dave Rutherford and staff visited Sam’s Point and gathered pitch pine cones in mid-November 2019.
The cones were carefully selected from an area near Lake Maratanza. Specimens needed to have ‘scales’ fully closed, and have a light brown, healthy luster. Older, closed pitch pine cones are dull and grey, so to ensure viability the seeds, these cones were not collected. No more than 20 percent of the cones were collected from any individual tree. Cones were cut from the base of the tree and kept in a woven plastic bag until it was time to process them.
Back at Sonnenberg, cones were heated in small batches at 400°F to simulate the effect of a fire. Crackling and popping as resin softened and melted, cones opened up their protective scales. After the cones had cooled, staff at Sonnenberg turned each one upside down for seeds to fall out for collection.
These efforts resulted in about 10.5 ounces of seeds, estimated to contain more than 41,000 individual seeds, each one about two-tenths of an inch long. Plant Materials staff started growing some seeds in April of 2020, and now have more than 500 pitch pine seedlings in their greenhouse.
Learn more in the NYS Parks Blog about the work being done at Sonnenberg Mansion and Gardens to grow native plants as part of Parks’ mission of responsible environmental stewardship:
State Parks contain a diversity of habitats, from forest and fields, to shrub swamp, marshes and streams. All these landscapes support a wide variety of native plants. As part of efforts at Parks to restore land and protect biodiversity, it is important to have the right plants for the right habitats in order to support … Continue reading Growing the Future in Gilded Age Greenhouses→
Another area of degradation at Sam’s Point due to fire damage are fire breaks, especially when created by a bulldozer. Crews made these breaks by removing trees and other potential fuel from the path of the fire to contain its spread.
Fire managers who worked on the Sam’s Point fire added eight miles of new fire breaks around the park preserve using bulldozers. This equates to adding eight miles of new and hastily planned roads in a semi-wilderness.
Potential impacts of concern from these dozer breaks are erosion, spread of invasive plants and creation of new, unplanned, travel corridors by hikers within the park preserve.
Existing recreational carriage roads do serve as a natural fire break, but new dozer lines had to be made to control wildfire spread. There are a few places where dozer lines intersected with the park preserve’s carriage road and trail systems. These fire breaks are now open, linear, areas with knee high shrubs (huckleberries and blueberries) growing amongst the rocky duff layer.
This is potentially a perfect storm for invasive species to take hold, if people are out hiking on these new scars. People are a powerful vector for transporting invasive plant species. These dozer lines also provide a clearing for people to wander off in and get lost or injured. The intersections between fire breaks and carriage roads are a perfect place to establish re-growth of pitch pines, to hide these open scars.
These seedlings now growing at Sonnenberg will be a year old in April 2021, and hopefully can be planted at Sam’s Point sometime next year as the final piece to our restoration plan after the Sam’s Point fire. These seedlings will go into dozer break scars and hot spots.
It is important to note that because the seeds were collected from the globally rare pitch pine forest at Sam’s Point, the native biome is preserved. Once these seedlings are planted, these trees will be growing for hundreds of years, eventually blending in and keeping this forest intact and healthy for generations to come.
Cover shot – Pitch pine seedlings grow at Sam’s Point Area. All photos from NYS Parks.
Post by Rebecca Howe Parisio, Interpretive Ranger, Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve.
Learn more about the immediate aftermath of the 2016 fire at Sam’s Point and initial signs of recovery in the year following in these posts from the NYS Parks Blog:
Text and photos by Lindsey Feinberg, Student Conservation Association Intern at Sam’s Point Please ask permission to use photos. Located within Minnewaska State Park Preserve is Sam’s Point, an area of unique ecological significance encompassing roughly 5,000 acres in the Shawangunk Mountains of southern New York. Toward the end of April, during a particularly dry … Continue reading Rebirth After Fire→
In April 2016, a wildfire engulfed around 2,000 acres of the Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve in the Shawangunk Mountains. The “Gunks” (a nickname for the Shawangunks) are well-known not only for climbing, but also for the globally unique community of high altitude dwarf pitch pine barrens which hold some interesting and … Continue reading From Ashes to Awesome: Sam’s Point→