Category Archives: State History

Connecting Kids to Parks Brings History Home

Thanks to support from the state’s Connect Kids to Parks field trip program, 30 campers  from the Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park summer camp visited the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms State Park on Roosevelt Island.

This was just one of the 4,400 field trips for students across the state funded through the State Parks grant program since it started in 2016.

During their visit in July, the 11- and 12-year-olds learned from Riverbank about the former president who led America’s defeat of fascism, and his famous 1941 speech in which he described his vision for a post-war world.

The campers participated in a lesson focused on Roosevelt’s message that people must stand up when freedom is threatened and not expect others to defend it. To better understand that, the children created their own buttons with slogans and images as an exercise in free speech, which FDR cited as the first freedom.

Campers at FDR Four Freedoms State Park.

“Their day began with members of Four Freedoms Park Conservancy’s education team leading an inquiry-based investigation into Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency and his vision of a world order founded upon four freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear,” said Ryan Lockwood, Manager of Education at Four Freedoms State Park.

The campers also explored the Park, marveling at renowned architect Louis Kahn’s final project, while also examining primary sources from the FDR era to about what it was like to be a child during the Great Depression. To do this, campers used Depression-era photos by famous photographer Dorothea Lange and an excerpt from FDR’s 1941 State of the Union Address in which he outlined the Four Freedoms.


A portrait of a migrant mother, taken by Dorothea Lange during the Depression in 1936, is one of her most iconic photographs. (Photo Credit: U.S. Library of Congress)
At FDR Four Freedoms Park, the words of the president’s 1941 inaugural speech outline the four freedoms he envisioned for a post-war world.

Following a lunch break, staffers encouraged the young visitors to see themselves as activists capable of making the world a better place, just like FDR. After identifying current issues that mattered to them, the campers created “Activist Buttons” to persuade others to join them in creating the kind of world they would like to see in the future.

Many campers made buttons that demonstrated how the four freedoms are not static, said Lockwood. For instance, while in Roosevelt’s time freedom from fear from fear likely involved war, for today’s campers, freedom from fear meant not having to be afraid of another school shooting. 

Once they had their photo taken with their new buttons, the kids finished their visit playing fun games on the Park’s lawn like Jenga, Connect 4, Checkers and more. 

Game time at Four Freedoms Park.

This year, campers from Denny Farrell also have taken Connect Kids-supported field trips to Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve, Bear Mountain State Park, and Roberto Clemente State Park.

Four Freedoms Park is among several hundred state parks, nature centers, historic sites, or Department of Environmental Conservation nature centers or fish hatcheries, that more than 200,000 schoolchildren have visited during the three previous school years under the Connect Kids to Parks program.

The most popular destinations for trips have been Niagara Falls State Park, Fort Niagara State Park, Letchworth State Park, Buffalo Harbor State Park, and Midway State Park.

Since inception, the Connect Kids to Parks Field Trip Grant Program has grown from providing 777 field trips for 30,202 students in 2016-2017 to its current level of about 2,100 field trips for 101,000 students in 2018-2019.

Funding comes from the state Environmental Protection Fund’s enhanced Environmental Justice programming approved in the 2019-20 State Budget. Information for school districts and other eligible organizations on how to apply for the grant is available here and here.



All photographs courtesy of Four Freedoms Park unless otherwise credited.

Where the Holocaust Came to America: The Last Reunion of the Fort Ontario Refugees

Now 90 years old, Bruno Kaiser remembers arriving 75 years ago at a U.S. Army base along the shore of Lake Ontario, a day that ended his family’s long struggle to escape death during World War II at the hands of the Nazis.

“We felt safe, which had been our biggest worry for so long,” said Kaiser. “At last, we felt perfectly safe.”

On Aug. 5, Kaiser returned to Fort Ontario State Historic Site, along with 18 other surviving refugees of the Holocaust, to gather for a final reunion to remember their lives at the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter.

Surrounded by a fence and guarded by military police, the base at Oswego was America’s only wartime sanctuary for escapees of Hitler’s genocide.

European refugees arrive at the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter in Oswego on Aug. 5, 1944. As part of their passage to the U.S., they were assigned military tags normally used to identify “casual baggage.” (Photo from the collection of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.)
Refugees receiving shoes, soap, and towels upon arrival at the camp. (Photo from ‘Token Shipment’ by Edward B. Marks)
The day of her arrival, Doris Schecter (Dorrit Blumenkranz at the time) has her first taste of an American hot dog. She told reporters at the time that it was “swell.” She is still wearing the military “casual baggage” tag used to track her passage to America from Europe. (Photo courtesy of International News, Aug. 6, 1944)

Kaiser was one of 982 European refugees who arrived at the fort Aug. 5, 1944, about a month after the first accounts of a liberated Nazi death camp horrified the world.

Coming from 18 different countries, the new arrivals were predominately Jewish, but their ranks also included some Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants. Having escaped annihilation in their homelands through a combination of luck and pluck, the refugees came to the U.S. under a program created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt., whose selection of Fort Ontario stemmed from his earlier time as U.S. Secretary of the Navy and later as Governor of New York state.

Gov. Franklin Roosevelt visits Fort Ontario in 1931.

Providing security, shelter and food _ but not the ability to leave _ the camp was to be home to the weary refugees for the the next 17 months. After the war’s end, their fate ended up drawing national attention over whether they should be forced to return to their devastated countries.

In late 1945 Roosevelt’s successor, President Harry Truman, gave the refugees the choice of remaining in the U.S. or going back to Europe. Like Kaiser, most chose to stay, building lives and families in their new homes.

Refugees outside their barracks. The trains that brought them to the camp can be seen in the background.
Now 90 years old, former refugee Bruno Kaiser at the 75th reunion of the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter in Oswego. A California resident, he has three adult daughters and two grandchildren.

Today, no more than 35 former camp residents remain alive, said Paul Lear, manager of the historic site and co-organizer of the reunion and commemoration. He said it will likely be the last such gathering for a group whose members are now in their mid-70s to early 90s.

More than 600 people attended the reunion, said Lear, including Ambassador Dani Dayan, Consul General of Israel in New York; Rebecca Erbelding, a historian with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.; Michael Balanoff, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Central New York; Geoff Smart, son of Refugee Shelter Director Joseph Smart; and Oswego Mayor William Barlow Jr.

Surviving former refugees at Fort Ontario pose during a dinner held Aug. 5 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of their arrival at the camp, which was America’s only wartime sanctuary for escapees of Hitler’s genocide.
A ceremony at a local cemetery where some refugees who died while at Fort Ontario are now buried.
The grave of six-month old Rachel Montiljo, a refugee who died on the way to Fort Ontario. Weakened by poor nutrition, the child died of a fever on Aug. 2, 1944, the day before the ship from Europe docked in New York City. She is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Oswego.

Kaiser’s story is both unique and similar to that of his fellow escapees, spending months or years on the run, trying to stay ahead of arrest and shipment to concentration camps. Along with his father, mother, and two grandparents, Kaiser had fled Yugoslavia in the spring of 1941 after his father had been arrested – and miraculously released after only a few days – in the wake of the Nazi invasion and takeover when Jews were being rounded up.

“My father decided we should leave _ quickly,” said Kaiser, so the family caught a train bound for the safety of the Italian-occupied Adriactic coast. During the trip, the train stopped in a switching yard.

“Across from us was another train, this one with prisoners being taken away by the Nazis. I could see their faces. That is how close we came,” said Kaiser. “The rest of my (extended) family, who did not leave, ended up being wiped out.”

His family remained in relative safety under Italian control until September 1943, when the Italian government surrendered to the Allies, which led the Nazis to attack and occupy all Italian-held territory. The Kaiser family then gained passage on a small ship that took them to an island occupied by the Allies.

From there, the family was shipped to the Allied-controlled portion of the Italian mainland, and taken with several hundred other refugees to the port of Toranto for shipment to North Africa. But the family decided on its own to stay in Italy, and was helped by a local stranger to find an apartment. And it was there, while the teenage Bruno was attending a local high school, that the family learned of Roosevelt’s program for America to accept a very small number of European and Jewish refugees.

“We applied, and because we had family in Cleveland and Chicago, were accepted. The Oswego camp was a peaceful place. I went to the public high school, with about 40 other kids from the camp,” said Kaiser, who recalled he had to “learn English from scratch” to go along with his other languages:  Croatian, Italian and German. “The people of Oswego were nice to us. There was never any anti-Jewish anything.”


Oswegians conversing with World War II refugees housed at Fort Ontario. Local people passed the refugees gifts of money, food, clothing, shoes, toys, dolls and more. (Photo from ‘Token Shipment’ by Edward B. Marks)

After being released from the refugee camp in January 1946, the Kaiser family joined relatives in Cleveland, their son finishing his senior year of high school there. He later earned an electrical engineering degree from Ohio State University. Now retired after working for various companies, he is father to three daughters and two grandchildren.

Asked what the lesson of Fort Ontario is for people today, Kaiser paused. “It is that anti-Semitism rears its ugly head every once in a while. And it is happening now.”

Tellingly, a 1981 stone monument to Fort Ontario camp was vandalized shortly after being installed, with the word “Jewish” partially chipped away and its corners knocked off. Site officials decided to leave the monument as it is as a reminder of the dangers of anti-Semitism.

The vandalized monument at Fort Ontario.

To create the camp, Roosevelt avoided rigid immigration quotas by identifying the refugees as his “guests,” a status that gave them no legal standing and required them to sign documents agreeing to return to Europe at the end of the war. In September 1944, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the camp to draw attention, writing about it her weekly newspaper column.  After the war, camp director Joseph Smart stepped down from that post to form a national campaign that pushed for the refugees to be given the choice to stay in America, a step that was taken by President Truman.

Later, the state historic site at Fort Ontario was established and opened to the public in 1953.


Eleanor Roosevelt visiting Fort Ontario in September 1944. (Photo from ‘Token Shipment’ by Edward B. Marks)

Linda Cohen came to the Oswego reunion from her home in Michigan, to remember her parents, Leon and Sarinka Kabiljo, who lived at the camp.

“My parents were married on April 6, 1941, the day the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia. They were on the run for three years, hiding in the forests with the partisans. My mother worked with them as a nurse,” she said. Once Italy surrendered, the Kabiljos went to that country, and while there also learned of the U.S. refugee program.

“My older sister was born nine months to the day after my parents arrived in Oswego,” said Cohen. “My mother told me that refugees cried when they got to the Oswego camp. They had beds with sheets, and most had not slept on sheets in years. She told me the camp director said to them: “When there is a knock on your door now, it will be a friendly one.”

Her parents eventually settled in Baltimore, where Linda was born in 1951 and where Leon lived to age 94 and Sarinka to age 92. Cohen wrote a book about their story entitled Sarinka: A Sephardic Holocaust Journey: From Yugoslavia to an Internment Camp in America.

At the start the reunion ceremony, a recording was played of Neil Diamond’s 1981 song America. “I have heard that song a thousand times,” said Cohen. “But sitting here that day, near where the refugee barracks and my parents used to be, it was like they were that song.”


Linda Cohen, whose parents, Leon and Sarinka Kabiljo, were among the refugees at Fort Ontario. She has written a book about their experiences.

Currently, the National Park Service is studying whether Fort Ontario should receive national park status, as part of the Fort Ontario Study Act passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in 2018. The site is open to the public and various activities and exhibits run throughout the year.

During his tour of the fort, Israeli Ambassador Dani Dayan praised the people of Oswego for their warm embrace of the camp, with residents often coming to the fence to visit the refugees, passing food and other gifts. “The people who welcomed Holocaust refugees into Oswego were a shining example by saying with their actions that they were not indifferent, that they cared about them and wanted them to be there while the rest of the world rejected refugees solely because they were Jewish,” he said.

Ambassador Dani Dayan, Consul General of Israel in New York, examines a section of camp fencing and a U.S. flag that flew over the fort.

During a ceremony near the site of the former barracks, Lear recalled the words of refugee Dr. Adam Munz at the first reunion in 1981: “The Oswego Refugee Shelter was and has remained for me, and I suspect for some others as well, a paradox.  It symbolized freedom from tyranny, oppression and persecution on the one hand, and yet there was a fence, a gate that locked and guards were felt necessary to contain us at the very time we longed for the kind of freedom this country stood for and professed. Our country’s immigration laws continue to be paradoxical.”

Lear also recalled General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s prediction that someday people would deny that the Holocaust ever happened. To protect against that, he ordered U.S. troops in Europe to tour concentration camps to bear witness that it did. 

Now, in a time of rising anti-Semitism and attacks on Jews, Lear said Fort Ontario, while no longer an active military base, remains “a fortress against forgetting and denying the Holocaust.”


Resources:

Erbedling, who has also written a book on subject, entitled Rescue Board: The Untold Story of America’s Efforts to Save the Jews of Europe, said given the age of the surviving former refugees: “For everyone younger than 75, it is our job to remember their story.”

In 1987, the public broadcasting station in Rochester, WXXI, made a documentary about the camp. It can be found here.

Cover Photo: During a visit to the Fort Ontario museum, Yugoslavian refugee cousins Ella, David and Rikika Levi touch a section of the wire fence that used to surround the camp. Behind the fence is a 48-star flag that used to fly over the fort during World War II.

Post by Paul Lear, Site Manager of Fort Ontario Historic Site, and Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer.

“Paper Box Mystery” at George Washington’s HQ

Every house can tell stories about the people who have lived in it, and sometimes, that story is a mystery.

Last year, a worker at the Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site in Newburgh was doing renovations when he reached behind an attic chimney and found something he was not expecting.

There, in a place not easily seen or reached, was a small paper box, discolored with age and wrapped with a now-brittle ribbon. And inside were a ring and a thimble, both made of gold and engraved with the single letter “M.”

The gold again glitters on the ring and thimble after restoration by State Parks conservation experts.

The historic Hasbrouck House served as the headquarters for General George Washington from April 1781 until August 1782. And Washington’s wife Martha lived in the house during that time as well, so could the items have been associated with her?

As it turned out, that was not the answer. Further examination of the ring, thimble and box by State Parks conservation experts Amanda Massie, Heidi Miksch, and Michele Phillips from the State Parks Division of Historic Preservation determined the items dated between the 1850s to 1860s. That was long after the Washingtons had left, and in the era after the Hasbrouck House became the first publicly-owned historic site in the nation in 1850.

Both items were likely gifts meant to represent symbolic hopes for a happy domestic life, and for some reason, remained hidden in the attic for more than a century until discovered accidentally.

The ring and thimble shortly after being removed from the box, which shows the ravages of time.

The thimble was made of 20-karat gold and likely was not meant to be routinely used for sewing. Often given as keepsakes to a bride-to-be, thimbles were recognized as a sign of romantic courtship in 19th century America. The practice goes back in history to the time of William Shakespeare.

Made of 10-12 karat gold, the ring was found to have a latched compartment, which inside held a tiny bit of red fabric, possibly silk, encased in glass. Such cloth keepsakes were common in the 19th century as a way to remember a loved one or special event.

So, who put the gifts there? And who was “M”? At this point, we do not know for sure … But State Parks researchers have unearthed some clues.

“First, we identified that stone in the ring was goldstone, which is actually glass with coppery flecks in it,” said Amanda Massie, curator of the Bureau of Historic Sites, based in Waterford. “To date the ring and thimble, I used historic trade catalogs from the 1880s and 1890s _ both jewelry catalogs and stores such as Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward to see if they had any items of the same style.”

Those searches yielded some similar objects, but none were identical. Massie then researched museum jewelry collections. “Here, I found more success in styles close to the ring with generic 19th century dates,” she said. “With the help of colleagues, I was able to contact curators who specialize in 19th century jewelry to better date the items. They believed that the ring and thimble dated from the 1850s to 1860s. Goldstone was very popular then and the thimble’s more simple design, suggested an earlier 19th century date.”

An example of a goldstone ring from an 1887 catalog entitled The Busiest House in America.
Examples of gold and silver thimbles from an 1895 catalog of Chicago-based retailer E.V. Roddin & Co.

While the ring and thimble were not luxurious, they have been considered prized keepsakes to a person of average means at the time.

These rough dates suggested a possible time-frame as to when the objects might have been placed in the attic and who might have done it, with the letter “M” as the main guide.

“We looked in census records for both Hasbrouck family members and family members of the caretakers to find candidates,” Massie said. “Mary Hasbrouck Smith was the sister of the last owner of the house and lived in the house as a child. It is possible she left the ring and thimble in the house when it was handed over to the state, but it is more likely that it is from after the house became a museum in 1850.”

The first caretaker, Levi Woolsey, had a wife named Margaret and a daughter named Mary. There was also a servant in the house named Mary Murphey. “Any of these women could have hidden the ring and thimble. Another caretaker, Alfred Goodrich, had a daughter named May who also could be our “M” in question,” said Massie. “Though we do not know for certain who left the ring, we now have a wonderful treasure to add to the collections at our first State Historic Site. “

The historic Hasbrouck House at the Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site

Parks staffers at the Hasbrouck House later brought this discovery to the attention of 9th grade honor students at the Newburgh Free Academy, who used it in a creative writing assignment on the “Paper Box Mystery.”

The Newburgh students imagined tragic tales of love unrequited or unfulfilled for how the ring and thimble came to be hidden and never retrieved.

Michael Abrams wrote a tale about a young man who bought the items for a girl that he wanted to propose to, only to be called up to fight and die in the Civil War, never to return to the home where he had hidden his treasure.

Another story, by student Megan Bell, imaged a young man named Edgar, who loved a girl named Mary, with the story told by Mary’s sister. Edgar had brought the box to the family’s home, and hidden it as a surprise. But he never got to give it, and was found dead in a nearby river only a few days later. And Mary “never found someone else she wanted to keep company with.”

And to student Anthony Manzi, the box’s secretive location suggested a romantic scavenger hunt gone sour. A suitor had hidden the ring and thimble in the attic, with instructions to his supposed sweetheart on how to find it, only to learn she was going with someone else, leaving him to abandon the box altogether. The spurned swain then “avoided every place she could possibly be. I never set foot in her house again.”

The story of the mystery box even managed to find its way around the globe _ a class from Australia heard about it in news reports and crafted their own stories. Australian teachers often seek out interesting stories from the United States to help teach American history, and this tale caught their interest.


Here is what the teacher wrote:

Hello, I am a primary school teacher in Melbourne, Australia and I showed my class the news story about the paper box that was found in the roof of the historic Washington building. We were hoping there might be an update on that find from local historians, but we cannot find any information online.

Can you help us out?

Kind regards, Linda V.


Most people might think that for a historic site like Washington’s Headquarters, opened to the public for almost 170 years, there is nothing left to learn and no mysteries to find. That is obviously not true, especially here at Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site!

Our historic preservation experts here at State Parks have developed the clues we know so far about the two items in the mystery box. Whether the mystery is ever completely unraveled, only time will tell. History is alive, and with conservators, curators and other professionals at the helm, the journey into our past will continue.

It was in this house that the General announced the cease fire that signaled victory in the Revolutionary War, authored some of his thoughts for the new republic, and created the Badge of Military Merit, the forerunner of the Purple Heart awarded to all American service members wounded or killed.

To visit these and other objects in the collection, visit Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site.  For hours, directions and/or further information, call 845-562-1195 or visit us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/washingtonsheadquarters.

Post by Elyse B. Goldberg, Historic Site Manager, Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site

YOU Were Seen Where? … At the New York State Fair!

The nation’s oldest State Fair has come a long way since it started in 1841 as a two-day event in Syracuse _ with highlights that included a plowing contest, which was no doubt of interest to an audience that was very familiar with farm life.

Drawing about 15,000 visitors then, the Fair has grown over the decades and last year, set a record with about 1.3 million visitors at the 13-day event.

This year’s fair will run from Wednesday, Aug. 21, through Sept. 2, and feature more than 80 live concerts spread across five stages, 200 food vendors, 70 rides, and more than 10,000 animals.

A $120 million plan by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to revitalize the fairgrounds wrapped up last year, when the 136,000-square-foot Expo Center, the largest indoor events space north of New York City between Boston and Cleveland, was unveiled.

Earlier work at the fairgrounds included a full-service RV park for 313 campers, a larger, relocated Midway area, a new Main Gate entrance, a new exhibit area for the New York State Police, and the Sky Ride, a 1,400-foot long chairlift ride. The Indian Village, a part of the Fair since 1928, also received renovations to its Turtle Mound, the home of cultural performances.. 

Last year’s turnout ranked New York as the fourth-largest state fair in the nation, behind Texas (2 million), Minnesota (2 million) and New England (1.5 million).

Present-day attendance is about double what the Fair was drawing during the 1950s and 1960s, as New York and the rest of the U.S. basked in a post-war economic boom tinged by a bit of Cold War angst.

So take a little trip in the time machine, and see the State Fair as it was then, contrasted with as it is today. All photographs courtesy of the New York State Fair. Click to the first picture to start the slideshow…

And will you be seen at the Fair this year?

Posted by Brian Nearing, deputy public information officer

21st century technology Recreates 18th century Luxury

When Alexander Hamilton was married at Schuyler family mansion in Albany, the residence was a pinnacle of style in Colonial America.

Home to one of the region’s richest families, the Georgian-styled mansion was decorated with luxurious wallpaper, rich fabrics, and even an ornamental papier maché ceiling that had been custom made and imported from England around 1760.

This ornate ceiling graced the mansion’s Best Parlor, where Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler in December 1780, as the Revolutionary War raged into its fifth year.

Alexander Hamilton and his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler. The couple have new-found popularity from the successful Broadway musical play Hamilton. Source: Friends of Schuyler Mansion

To get his decorative ceiling, Philip Schuyler had simply selected designs from a catalog, provided room dimensions with his order and a complete ceiling was shipped ready to install.  Schuyler could have chosen from birds, flowers, shells, moldings, festoons, musical instruments — images that represented his interests and image.

This was not made with the papier maché that people might recall making in school — no newspaper and white glue. This was cotton rag pulp and papier maché that was mixed with water into a oatmeal-like slurry, and then pressed into a variety of hand-carved wooden molds to dry and set. 

The resulting super-light and slightly flexible ornaments were inexpensive to ship and easy to install. After a little glue and few tacks to set the ornaments in place, a ceiling was ready for painting.   Once done, it gave a stylish look similar to more expensive plaster ornamentation.

During the years, the parlor ceiling at Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site was removed and lost for reasons unknown. But Historic Site Manager Heidi Hill wanted it back after part of efforts to restore mansion for its 100th anniversary as a State Historic Site. 

The challenge to the Peebles Island-based Bureau of Historic Site and Park Services, part of the NY State Parks Division for Historic Preservation, was how to recreate something that has not been commercially produced in 150 years.

Making new hand-carved molds was out of the question; it would take too much time and cost too much money.

However, the team at State Parks had an amazing resource — an existing, rare and wonderful example of a mid-18th century papier maché ceiling at the Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site in Yonkers, Westchester County. This mansion has the only complete surviving example of this type of ceiling in the United States.  

However, this ceiling was too significant and too fragile to risk being damaged by the pressure and stress of taking contact from a traditional mold. This is where laser-based, 3D imaging technology came to the rescue.

In a pioneering project, State Parks partnered with Ithaca College’s Physics and Astronomy Department and the Friends of Schuyler Mansion to have the Philipse Manor Hall ceiling 3D scanned by portable laser units that fire pulses of light up to one million times a second. Light is then reflected back to a receiver, which measures how long the light took to return, using the data to create high-resolution scans that captured details down to 100 microns or 4/1,000th of an inch.

Headed by Professor Michael “Bodhi’ Rogers, the Ithaca College team 3D scanned nearly the entire interior and exterior of the historic Philipse Manor Hall, said Charles Casimiro, an historic site assistant there.

Professor Michael “Bodhi” Rogers, right, with Ithaca College students Evan van de Wall and Ryan Fedora, using laser scanner at Philipse Manor Hall. Courtesy of Michael “Bodhi” Rogers.

“This effort for Schuyler Mansion was a very exciting project to work on … we were using this technology to do something that had never been done before,” said Rogers, who recently became the new chairman of the Physics Department at the University of Colorado at Denver.

It took three visits to Philipse Manor Hall between 2015 and 2017 to get all the scans, he said. With the newest scanner, students could use a hand-held device, wave it around the room and watch the image on the computer as it filled in, “kind of like painting with your hand,” said Rogers.

Ithaca College student Demitri Hector sets up a laser scanner at Philipse Manor Hall. Courtesy of Michael “Bodhi’ Rogers.
Lasers scan a ceiling bust of Sir Issac Newton. Courtesy of Michael “Bodhi’ Rogers
The scans are rendered into an image on the computer. Courtesy of Michael “Bodhi” Rogers.
Ithaca College student Kevin Pomer uses a hand-held scanner on the ceiling at Philipse Manor Hall. Courtesy of Michael “Bodhi” Rogers.

In 2015, Rogers’ team also 3D scanned the Grant Cottage State Historic Site in Wilton.

The scanning of Grant’s Cottage, where Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant spent the final six weeks of his life writing his memoirs, is now being used to help protect the 1870s structure from fire, said Ben Kemp, site manager for the Friends of Grant Cottage. He said the data is being used to help design a modern fire detection and suppression system.

Rogers said this kind of scanning technology also will help in the rebuilding of fire-damaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which was scanned in 2015.

When the laser scans at Philipse Manor Hall were completed, State Parks had computer images that revealed every paint brush stroke, age crack and tiny detail on the manor’s 250-year-old ceiling, which features images of lute players, bagpipers and singers, as well as busts of Sir Isaac Newton and poet Alexander Pope .

A drawing based on the 3D laser scan of the ornate ceiling design at Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site

To reproduce this ceiling in Schuyler Mansion, the original idea was to use the scans for a 3D printer to create each unique ornament in plastic. The Bureau of Historic Sites would then use traditional molding and casting methods to make new molds, which would then be used to produce the papier maché ornaments.

But Rogers’ team then figured out how to use the 3D imagery to create computer commands for the State Parks printer to instead make the concave molds used to receive the papier maché .  A total of 55 unique molds were needed to recreate the Philipse Manor ceiling.  

These molds were printed in Peebles Island’s Architectural Conservation lab at the Bureau of Historic Sites & Park Services. A printer works using a spool of bioplastic filament, which is heated into a liquid and then fed through a printer head that created the molds layer by layer.

State Parks Architectural Conservator Erin Moroney making molds on a 3D printer at her Peebles Island offices.

Many molds were too large to fit the printer bed, and so were digitally rendered into smaller pieces and then physically welded together later with a high-temperature 3D pen.  

With molds ready, we started making papier maché. Traditional cotton rag papier pulp was pressed  into the molds and the water squeezed out  with large sponges. 

A section of papier maché ornament with its mold.

More than 300 pieces were cast to make the ceiling, using over 500 pounds of paper pulp. The edges of each casting were hand trimmed. Each piece of ornament was then primed and boxed up for installation.

More than 98 percent of the ceiling was installed by three State Parks staffers in under a week. Hot glue was used to adhere the ornament to the ceiling. The ornament edges were then caulked where necessary and the entire ceiling painted. Once finished, the ornamental ceiling now looks like it has always been there.

Now installed at Philip Schuyler Mansion, this is only the second complete papier maché ceiling in the Unite States.

Erin Moroney and Bill VonAtzingen install the new ceiling at Philip Schuyler Mansion.
Erin Moroney paints the new ceiling at Philip Schuyler Mansion.
Bill VonAtzingen, a State Parks restoration carpenter, paints papier maché ornaments for installation.
See the complete process, from 3D printing of molds, to installation of the ceiling.
A detail from the ceiling at Philip Schuyler Mansion.
A 360-degree view of the restored ceiling.

Over the next few weeks the Parlor also received a crystal chandelier, an imported English loomed carpet and new custom-made drapes. The result is amazing.  For the first time in over a century—the grandeur of the Best Parlor is restored to the time of the Hamilton wedding, from the floor to the ceiling.

Philip Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site.

Post by Erin E. Moroney, architectural conservator, Bureau of Historic Site & Park Services.