Friday, May 28, 2010

Gearing Up for the Olde Orleans Erie Canal Festival

I am happy to see that Albion's downtown business community is spearheading the Olde Orleans Erie Canal Festival for the second year in a row. Having helped plan the events for last year's festival, it was great to see that they would again host the event. This year I didn't help plan the events but I was asked if I would like to help out by participating with the festival in some way, shape or form. I obliged and asked to give tours at St. Mary's Oratory at 12:30, 2:00 and 4:00.

So I spent the past three weeks or so trying to figure out exactly how I would give tours, mainly because I have never given tours before. Perhaps I am a glutton for psychological punishment, but I will manage. Anyhow, I am giving tours on a subject/building which has no compiled history written about it, minus the two page, short history of the church published with the 1991 - 100 Year Anniversary Booklet. Besides that, my analytical paper on reasons behind immigration of Polish people to America and my 10 page narrative essay on the history of St. Mary's (essentially covering the first 25 years of the church) are the only two accurate works. I say mine are the only two accurate pieces because the one published in the anniversary claims that St. Mary's had a pipe organ which is false, the church used second hand pump-organs up until the 1950s when they purchased their first new organ. My works cite numerous sources.

I seem to have trouble coming to terms with the fact that I am now a "historian" according to the degree Brockport has yet to mail to me. This means when I talk about something related to history to someone who doesn't have a degree, they should assume that I am correct...I have a degree. I will be the first to admit that I do not know every bit of information about every last history topic. I have much more to learn and that's the best part of history; there is always more to learn.

Anyhow, I hope that Sunday's tours will include a nice mix of church history as well as the history and symbolism of the numerous murals and stained glass windows within the church. Though I haven't exactly planned out how I want to proceed with the tour format, I would like for people to be able to see the interior of the church in a structured format as well as a trip to the back yard and then into the rectory for a short introduction to the layout of the home. Some artifacts and documents will be on display in the rectory and the house will be open for viewing. Overall the tour should last around 30-45 minutes.

I hope that the turn out will be decent. There is no fee for the tour so I hope to see you there.

47 Brown St. Albion, NY

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Destroying America, One Wal-Mart at a TIme

It's hard enough to forgive idiots who destroy local landmarks for their own benefit. Perhaps idiots is too harsh of a term, but I can think of several occasions in my lifetime where local landmarks were razed, destroyed or significantly altered for a variety of reasons. Those reasons usually involve an increase in parking. What happens when state and national landmarks are threatened by the bulldozer? Usually it isn't the small store chains who wish to desecrate our nation's treasures, usually it is something larger.

On May 6, 1864, Union and Confederate forces were engaged in their second day of fighting at The Battle of The Wilderness in Virginia. 146 years later, a different kind of battle is being fought on the same ground. Replace the old Stars and Bars with a giant yellow smiley face and you get the new enemy. Wal-Mart has decided that the ideal place for another super-center is on the battlefield of The Wilderness.

As it has become apparent, Wal-Mart has a business policy which requires them to triangulate their customers by putting them near 3 different stores located a combined total of 20 minutes from each other. There are already five Wal-Mart stores in four surrounding towns; two in Stafford, VA, one in Fredericksburg, one in Culpepper and one in Spotsylvania. Having a Wal-Mart located within 5 miles of each other is unnecessary and at a certain point it stops being convenient and becomes just plain absurd. I am pretty sure that this policy is a result of the endless amount of money the Wal-Mart Corporation has, it has nothing to do with Sam Walton's idea of a business.

Before I get into The Wilderness sight, I want to mention a previous case where Wal-Mart thought it would be OK to raze a historic sight to install a shopping super-center. Ferry Farm, 1996. So what is Ferry Farm? Well, Ferry Farm was the boyhood home of George Washington...significant, but not to Wal-Mart. Thanks to grass-root efforts, Wal-Mart was sent packing (I think the preservation group paid them off in some way) and they went off to find somewhere else to build. Mind you, Ferry Farm is just outside of Fredericksburg which is about 25 minutes from Wilderness, VA.

My 4th Great Grandfather, Otis McOmber, enlisted with the 76th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment one month after The Battle of Gettysburg. His brother Charles had been killed the year before fighting at Fredericksburg; struck by a shell. His father Van Rensselaer had been disabled when the 8th New York Cavalry had escaped Antietam, he developed rheumatism and kidney disease on the long, rough horseback ride. He was 45 years old and died in 1864, two years after his discharge.

The month before, May 5, 1864, Company B was sent out as skirmishers to protect the left flank. Along with two other companies, the men marched in an open field meeting several Confederate skirmishers, exchanging volleys and at one point engaging in hand-to-hand combat. The men of Company B soon realized that they were completely surrounded by Confederates in an open field. In trying to escape, many of the Union soldiers were killed, severely wounded or captured. Otis was one of the lucky men to escape death on the battlefield of The Wilderness. In his journey to Andersonville, by foot, he was subject to exposure to extreme weather conditions including cold weather, dew and rain. This led to the development of rheumatism, bloody flux and scurvy. His stay at Andersonville only made those issues worse; he was lucky to have survived, having been paroled the following year. Otis never recovered from his service in the war and was awarded a pension though he was capable of performing only a fraction of the work he once was capable of. Some of his comrades were not as lucky, having been killed on the battlefield at The Wilderness, or dying from disease at Andersonville.

Now Wal-Mart wants to desecrate this ground by erecting a super-center. Please, have some respect for our ancestors who fought and died for this country. Remember their sacrifice and the role that the Civil War played in the development of the United States. To even consider doing such a thing is disgusting.

So where next Wal-Mart? Mount Rushmore, on Washington's head? Maybe the National Mall in D.C. needs one?

Albion's Notable Victims of Urban Sprawl
1.) Dr. Orson Nichoson Manse: First Clerk of Orleans County and Albion's earliest doctor.
Current State: The house was razed and now serves as a parking lot for the Free Methodist Church

2.) Elizur Kirk Hart Mansion: E. Kirk Hart of Heart Island/Boldt Castle fame and one of the richest men in Orleans County
Current State: Originally razed for a gas station, since replaced by a Rite-Aid store

3.) Mansions lining South Main St.
Current State: Strip Mall

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Polish Tradition

It's interesting how people tend to fear what they know the least about. Islam, high fructose corn syrup, the government, you name it. Sure our fear of islam has effected the Muslim world and they have effected us, however no one notes the positive contributions of Muslims to the mathematical and scientific community, high fructose corn syrup isn't as bad as people originally thought and the government doesn't care if you are afraid of it or not.

For some reason, people fear immigrants. This isn't going to be a liberal rant on allowing illegal immigrants into the United States, mainly because I am a conservative. As in the past, immigrants today are not here to steal jobs (mainly because they work jobs that Americans typically refuse to work) but are here to improve their economic, cultural or religious situation.

What is even more sad about this is the fact that with each passing generation comes an even greater disregard for our immigrant heritage. Unless you are Native American, your ancestors immigrated to America either voluntarily or forced. It seems understandable that for descendants of Old England immigrants (pre-1670s), it might be hard to see your family as immigrants. I know it is hard to see my Spink ancestors as immigrants as my line goes back to 1640s in Mass/RI. However, it seems strange to me that people could so easily forget their immigrant lineage looking back into the mid to late 1800s.

I want to pull out three particular groups in Albion who seem to have forgotten their immigrant heritage; the Polish, the Italians and most importantly, the Irish.

Being of Polish descent, I want to remain neutral in my description of them. For each group of immigrants, it is important to understand why they came to America. It explains why they acted the way they did, settlement patterns, religious practices, cultural practices, traditions and the list goes on.

The Polish of Albion were from the German/Prussian sector of Poland. Having been divided up into three partitions in the late 1700s, then into four following Napoleon's conquest of Europe, a unified Poland was almost no existent up until the 1980s (with the exception of some time between the World Wars). The Polish, particularly in the German sector, were treated differently than those in the Austrian and Russian partitions. German-Poles had greater access to education and jobs with the advent of industrialization in Germany.

On the downside, with German efforts to unify their landholdings, culture and religion fell to the axe in German-Poland. Attempts to root out language and other cultural practices along with the emphasis on the Protestant religion pushed many immigrants to leave for America. Starting in 1875, five immigrants from Poland arrived in Albion. Five years later, the number had doubled to about 10 and about 6-8 years after that, the population had increased to over 800 (around a 7,900% increase, I know, doesn't make sense but that's how it works out).

Anyhow, I will be honest and say that I am unfamiliar with the immigrant stories of other groups. I do know the general story of the Potato Famine. I am aware of the poor state of the economy in Italy, specifically the northern area which led to many Italian "Birds of Passage." Having this understanding shows us that there was an economic explanation for Irish and Italians coming to America. The Polish scenario is far more complex, pulling on religious and cultural reasons for their arrival to America.

The Irish formed a Catholic Parish for their growing population in 1852 to which they built a small church on N. Main St.

Interesting Parallels
Earliest Catholic/Irish Catholic services (early 1830s)
Irish Catholics form St. Joseph's Parish (1852)
Irish Catholics build new church (1896)
Total Time-span = approximately 60 Years

First Polish Immigrants in Albion (1875)
First recorded regular services by Polish Priest (1890)
Polish immigrants build church (1892)
Total Time-span = 17 years

1892 Irish Catholic Population (1200)
1892 Polish Catholic Population (1100)

The purpose of this is to show that the Polish Catholics managed to accomplish in 20 years what it took the Irish to accomplish in three times the amount of years. Three years following the construction of St. Mary's Brick Church, St. Joseph's opted to build a church which was twice as large and three times the cost for a population which contained approximately 100 more members.

In the early 1940s, circa 1942, St. Mary's was celebrating her 50th Anniversary and the parishioners chose to have a large mural of the Parish's namesake painted by Jozef Mazur on the apse above the altar. Up until 1952 (when St. Joseph's was celebrating their Centennial) the altar was adorned by gold light provided by amber-colored glass placed in the ceiling of the apse. On a bright, sunny day the light would shine through the glass and provide light. It must have looked like the heavens had opened up, I have been told it was a spectacular sight. In 1952, to celebrate their centennial the glass was removed and three of five windows depicting the glorious mysteries of the rosary were covered. Now a mural of St. Joseph "Ascending into Heaven?" adorns the apse of the church. The mural is reminiscent of the mural by Mazur in St. Mary's.

Perhaps it is all coincidental, but I will leave it at that.

If you ask someone about St. Joseph's today, they might say, "Oh yeah, the Italian church." Personally, I was of the same impression up until I started my studies at Brockport. Sure, a large population of Italian immigrants lived on the west side of Albion, near the church and attended the parish as well. Yet all of the windows in the church are adorned with Irish names. Many people forget the Irish background of the parish.

I believe it is important to remember where we came from because it helps us to realize why we are who we are now and what we will become in the future. Holy Family Parish has lost many of its traditions which were rooted in ethnic culture.

One traditional practice that I can recall off the top of my head is St. Joseph's Table. Unfortunately the true meaning behind this celebration has been forgotten and the meal is nothing more than that, a meal. I do not know of any Irish-Catholic traditions which remain and I know of very few Polish traditions which remain.

Five Forgotten or Downplayed Polish-Catholic Traditions

1.) Swieconka (Blessing of the Easter Baskets)
Blessing the Easter Baskets is as essential to the Polish family as saying grace before a meal. Families fill a basket with foods which will be consumed the following day, Easter Sunday. Kielbasa, breads, cakes, Pisanki (colored eggs) and of course the Baranek (little butter Paschal Lamb) are placed in a basket and taken to a service where the food is blessed. It is a very simple tradition but one which is easily shared with the whole family and is often downplayed, especially in Albion.

2.) Wigilia (Christmas Eve Dinner)
Yes, my family celebrates the Wigilia in a sense. My father's family comes to the house but for an informal dinner. Traditionally, food is prepared days in advance for the family gathering and typically the meal is meatless; a thin layer of hay is placed under the tablecloth to remind the family of Christ's birth. Following the dinner, which often consists of numerous courses, the family sits around the table and sings Christmas Carols. Other traditions, such as the Blessing of Chalk which is used to write KMB over the front door of the home (in remembrance of the wise men for good luck) and Candlemas Day (Feb. 2 where candles are brought to church to be blessed for use in times of storm, sickness and death) have all disappeared.

3.) Gorzkie Zale (Lenten Lamentations)
I just learned of this one myself, had my father not mentioned it I may not have known. Gorzkie Zale has its roots in Warsaw around 1707 as a serious meditation regarding the Passion. Traditionally, Poles would have known the whole three part cycle by heart. The lamentation calls upon verse, chant, reading, prayer and meditation so that the participants may reflect on the Passion and death of Christ. Gorzkie Zale often coincided with Benediction or Stations of the Cross.

Example of Gorzkie Zale:

4.) Dead Jesus Statue
A statue depicting Christ, presumably in the tomb, has been an important part of Good Friday services. Though St. Mary's just began using it again, after the statue laid dormant for a while, prior to the closing in 2006, the use of this type of statue is seen in Polish parishes throughout the Buffalo Diocese.

5.) National Hymn of Poland
I found this recently too. It would be tradition in Polish churches throughout the United States to sing the National Hymn, Boze cos Polske, on special occasions. When occupying forces took a stronghold in Poland in the early 1800s, the singing of the Polish National Anthem was outlawed and eventually the hymn Boze cos Polske took its place. It was originally a poem placed to the tune of Serdeczna Matko (A traditional Marian Hymn which HAS remained in Albion). Boze cos Polske's translation means, "God Save Poland." A fitting song for the oppressed people of Poland.

For some reason people fear these traditions. All people want is for some acknowledgment to the history of a group of people who greatly contributed to the development of the Albion community; to retain at least some part of that tradition and to share it with those who may not know much about Polish culture but who share an interest in partaking of it.