Archive for May, 2009


Historic Cemeteries Struggle To Preserve Their Past And Bury The Future

Vale Cemetery was opened on October 21, 1857 in what was then a portion of  the undeveloped outskirts of the City of Schenectady.  Vale grew out of the Rural Cemetery movement, a movement that began in the 1830s with the purpose of making cemeteries look like, well not look like cemeteries. Rather than the traditional row and row of graves separated by gravel and marked by similar row after row of headstone, these were replaced with gracefully curving ground features with broad vistas, valleys, lakes, and broad wagon roads. In the Capital District three rural cemeteries were developed:  Albany Rural (1844), Oakwood Cemetery in Troy (1848, 3rd largest in the US), and Vale in Schenectady (1857).

Vale was developed as the former Dutch Reformed Church cemetery on Green and Front Streets in the city’s Stockade district became neglected and overrun with weeds. On July 2, 1856, the city goverment decided to use the former hospital farm on Nott Terrace as a 38-acre public cemetery. On June 16, 1857, then Mayor Benjamin V. S. Vedder appointed a committee to oversee the work but decided to abandon the idea and deeded it over to a private organization created by fourteen lot holders and formed the Vale Cemetery Association on February 25, 1858. The 38 acres were purchased by the common council for $800 under the condition that a Potter’s Field also be created to serve the poor. Access to the new cemetery was provided by Dr Eliphalet Nott, the President of Union College who donated an entrance from Nott Terrace into the grounds.

Google Map of Vale shows location within center of the city.

Google Map of Vale shows location within center of the city.

Vale Cemetery presently consists of about 100 acres now near the center of the city.  It comprises an irregular outline of parcels that have been added since the inception of the original 38 acres in 1857. The cemetery is a contiguous parcel bounded overall; by State Street Catherin and Moyston Streets on the south-southwest, Nott Terrace on the west/northwest, the top foal steep ridge on the north and Brandywine Avenue on the East/southeast.


This reinterred Dutch Reformed Church cemetery lot was the reason why Vale was created. The oldest grave stone resides here.. Photo by Don Rittner.

This reinterred Dutch Reformed Church cemetery lot was the reason why Vale was created. The oldest grave stone resides here.. Photo by Don Rittner.



Later in 1863, land was purchased from the college creating what is now known as Vale Park and is where the earliest burial sites are located today.  In 1879 the Dutch Reformed plot in the Stockade was relocated to Vale.  The entire site was excavated and the remains and stones were reinterred.

A few of the sites are labeled on this Google Earth view of Vale Cemetery.

Aerial View of Gale (Google Earth) in Schenectady, NY

The present entrance on State Street was donated by the First Reformed Church in 1867.  This became and is the formal entrance and was lined with shade tree and was named the Cathedral of Trees.  The Superintendent’s house was built in 1889-90 and is located immediately inside the State Street entrance and currently serves as the cemetery’s main office.  It was designed by Ogden and Wright, well known Albany architects

Nearby other cemeteries were erected; a catholic cemetery to the east near Swan Street and a Baptist cemetery across the street from the entrance to Vale.  Other denominations created cemeteries a few blocks to the south. By 1914, the city had spread east and development –  mostly residential – surrounded Vale.

The grounds were originally designed by surveyor Burton A. Thomas and landscape Gardner John Doyle by laying out many winding paths and planting over 1000 trees. Cowhorn Creek, a large stream that ran from the Pine Bush to the Mohawk River, was dammed to provide a lake within the grounds.  Additional lands were purchased which now totals  approximately 100 acres and holds some 33 000 people many of them notable scientists, politicians, business people and others.  You can download a PDF of notables at:


Some of the residents include Ernst Alexanderson, inventor of the TV, fax and radio. My favorite is Charles Steinmetz, the electrical genius and whose grave I adopted.  By the way you can adopt a grave by sending a donation to Vale caretakers.  Their address is Vale Cemetery, 907 State Street, Schenectady, NY 12307.

The main entrance to Vale from State Street was given by the Dutch Reformed Church.  Photo by Don Rittner.

The main entrance to Vale from State Street, known as the Cathedral of Trees, was given by the Dutch Reformed Church. Photo by Don Rittner.

Vale Cemetery is guided by a board of dedicated volunteers. At the helm are Dr. Bernie McEvoy and his wife Barbara and they are two of the most hardest working people I know. They are there every day and Bernie can be seen mowing, cutting brush, righting fallen headstones and doing whatever it takes to bring the cemetery up to its original 19th century splendor.  They get little credit for their dedication and hard work and struggle to keep the cemetery beautiful.  They could use some additional volunteers and financial contributions.

One June 5, 2005, Civil War Medal of Honor winner was celebrated at the cemetery.  Photo by Don Rittner.

One June 5, 2005, Civil War Medal of Honor winner George W. Tompkins was celebrated at the cemetery. Photo by Don Rittner.

Vale Cemetery was placed on the National Register in 2004 and Bernie applies for grants when available.  Each year they have a series of walks by local experts.  I usually do the last one in October and we cover everything from the earliest graves to some of the more interesting residents like Silas Watson Ford, a 19th century telegrapher from Troy who was a famous Cambrian Paleontologist during his time, or Moses Viney, a run away slave who worked for Union College’s president Nott.  One of Germany’s most prolific authors Amalia Schoppe is buried there and it would appropriate if a local German American association would adopt her grave.  A large biography of her was just published in Germany.  I try to mow Steinmetz’s grave during the summer and planted some Lilly’s a few years ago. When I was writing in Troy years ago I use to visit Oakwood Cemetery and have lunch with some of the notables buried there.  For example, you can read up on one of Vale’s notables, pack a lunch, and go to the site and have lunch. I admit it’s a one-way conversation but you do get to feel like you have a personal connection.  Try it and report back.


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Sunken Treasures on the Erie Canal

Most people have never heard of William McAdoo (1863-1941), unless of course they are students of economic history and even then there is no guarantee.  Yet, Mr. MacDoo has left a lasting impression locally on the Mohawk River – actually several  of them.

McAdoo was the Secretary of the Treasury from 1913-1918 under President Woodrow Wilson.  He also married Wilson’s daughter in 1914 and had two daughters, one of which killed herself.  But I digress.

McAdoo was made the first Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board and closed Wall Street down for four months during July to August 1914.  This little event prevented America from going into recession and was instrumental in allowing the U.S. to enter World War I with some money in the bank.

In April 1917, Wilson formed the U.S. Railroad Administration to run the country’s transportation system during the war.  Apparently the trains could not keep up with moving the goods for the war so McAdoo was appointed Director General of Railroads and held the position until after the armistice was declared in November 1918.

In April, 1918, McAdoo and his Railroad Administration took over control of the Erie Canal and other inland waterways.  Along with this takeover, a fleet of concrete barges was ordered to be constructed to haul coal and grain for the war to relive freight traffic on the railroads.  He gave the helm to carry out these orders to G.A. Tomlinson of Duluth, Minnesota who became the General Manager of the NY canal system under the Railroad Administration.

Tomlinson is quoted as saying, “We are going to build a lot of barges and operate them on the Barge Canal.  If the first ones work out all right we shall build more like them. If they need improvement, we’ll improve them. You see we haven’t any experience to go on, because there isn’t any other inland waterway like this anywhere as to size, depth of channel, length, and many other factors. Nobody knows exactly what sort of boat is best adapted to canal navigation under these new conditions. We have not set up any theory about it; we are simply going to build some boats that we know can be utilized and operate them on the canal and study the result very carefully.  It will not take long to get a lot of boats into the water – I don’t want to commit myself to any definite time- and then, if there is need for a change or design, increased size of anything else, it can be met. The main thing is to get traffic moving over the canal , and that we are surely going to do as quickly as it can be done.”

When asked if he was going to build concrete barges he replied: “Concrete and steel, both. Concrete boats can be built quickly and cheaply. They have the disadvantage of weighing more, size for size, and the matter durability is as yet undetermined. They will undoubtedly outlast the war emergency, however, and I am of the opinion that their operation in fresh water will be even more satisfactory than in salt water, as there will be no possibility of corrosive action on the concrete as from the salts in the sea water.  I see no reason why they not last and give good service for many years after the war.”

US 107 concrete barge and two more just west of Lock 9 in Rotterdam Junction.

US 107 concrete barge and two more just west of Lock 9 in Rotterdam Junction. Photo by Don Rittner

He went on to describe the size of the barges. “Both concrete and steel boats will be 150 feet long, 21 feet wide, and 12 feet deep. The concrete boats of that size will weigh about 310 tons each, the steel boats about 200 tons.. They will draw, loaded, about 9 ½ feet of water and will have a cargo capacity of 400 to 500 tons.“  He also stated that “Instead of rivets, it is our purpose to have these barges assembled so far as possible, by electric spot welding, which is the latest development in ship construction.  It is quicker and cheaper than riveting and makes a stronger joint, and allows of laying on plates like wallpaper, since rows of rivet holes do not have to accurately matched.

Building concrete ships and barges was not a new thing.  They had tried it as early as 1910. E. W Hartman who built 36 such vessels for use on the Panama Canal and inventor of this type of boat was contracted to build nine of them for a river transportation company. The sides and bottoms of barges were made of concrete six inches thick and were 73 feet long by 32 feet wide and 7 feet deep.  They were divided into concrete walls into 60 airtight compartments making them practically unsinkable.  The cost of each barge was $5500 compared to traditional wooden ones that cost $7400 each.  These concrete barges also drew less water than wooden ones and held 190 tons more.


Here you can see the iron mesh that is the skeleton before they poured concrete over itl

Here you can see the iron mesh that is the skeleton before they poured concrete over it.

These barges were built by riveting up the steel or iron frame and then completely covered it with concrete.  Portland cement and crushed quartz was applied by compressed air.  Each section was reinforced independently by networks of light steel bars and wire mesh.

In 1917, Redwood Harbor under a secret process developed by Kenneth McDonald and his brother built barges that were 300 feet long, 46 wide, and drew 24 feet of water.


Hard to image when the water is full that you putting your boat line on an old WWI barge. Photo by Don Rittner

Hard to image when the water is full that you putting your boat line on an old WWI barge. Photo by Don Rittner



In May 1918, the Shipping board asked Congress for $50 million to build concrete ships with the blessing of the president shortly after McAdoo took over control of the Erie Canal.


several square compartments 15/12x15/12 feet carried grain, ore, coal, etc. during war time.

Several square compartments 15/12x15/12 feet carried grain, ore, coal, etc. during war time.


Tomlinson announced on May 14, 1918 that there were 165 barges available with 40,000 tons at their disposal for immediate use of the canal and that a contract was out to build 75 steel and concrete barges.  Thirty tugs had been purchased to move them.  The concrete barges were toted as faster to build, meaning one-fourth the time and one half the cost of steel barges.

Unfortunately, these concrete barges had a short life – in two ways.  They only lasted about 5 years in use – the 4 inch hulls quickly sank if they hit something. Secondly, America went into World War I on April 2, 1917 when Wilson declared war on Germany.  One November 9th 1918 the Armistice was signed, only six months after McAdoo took over the Erie Canal.

What ever happened to those hundreds of concrete barges? According to the New York Times  the canal fleet would be sold to private owner to carry 20 million tons of freight every year, such as coal, grain, ore, stone, and cement. Several of them however ended up staying in the canal and sunk to be used as erosion control and as docks for boats waiting to enter the locks. Five of these barges can be seen at Lock 9 in Rotterdam Junction before the canal season opens. 

I measured one of the barges (US 107) and it was 133 feet long, 20 1.2 feet wide and 15 deep.  It had several bays that were 15-½ foot square.  You can see the steel and iron mesh structure on several of them where the concrete has washed away.  All of them have a number preceded by US.  The five at Rotterdam are US 107, US 109, US 120 (west of the lock),  and US 116, US 112, both east of the lock.  On top of these barges were built concrete blocks with bollards so that boats waiting to enter the lock can tie up.  When the canal is in full season all you can see are the bollards.

There is a picture of US 107 with the caption New concrete barge U.S. 107 tied up at Ellicott Creek Boatyard, Tonawanda, NY, midsummer 1919. Scaffold hanging from port bow indicates the boat was there for repairs,” at http://www.tonawanda.ny.us/history/Erie_Canal.asp.

Concrete barges are also in other parts of the canal system. For example,  US 102 is located at Lock 13 in Randall, NY.

So next time you tie up your boat before entering the lock, look carefully.  You may be tied to one of the country’s rich World War I era artifacts – the concrete barge.

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Proctor’s Isn’t  Just A Theater

For anyone who has traveled throughout this country statistics show that you probably visited a museum, historic site, or cultural event.  In fact, 58% of you included a historic activity or event on a trip during the past year according to the Travel Industry Association. This translates to an estimated 84.7 million U.S. adults. Moreover, 41 percent of past-year travelers say they visited a designated historic site such as a building, landmark, home, or monument during their trip. Three in ten (28%) visited a designated historic community or town.


Proctor's in its prime around 1920.

Proctor's in its prime around 1920. Courtesy Rensselaer County Historical Society


One of the driving forces behind heritage tourism is a “sense of place.” A number of scholars have defined this sense of place and “place” has been defined by a number of disciplines. Biographical, historical and familial sense of place has to do with being born in and living in a location, where the connection develops over time. Talk to anyone who grew up in Troy and went to Proctor’s Theater on Fourth Street and they will be the first to tell you how special it is.  There is spiritual or emotional sense of place that is an intangible feeling of a sense of belonging – it’s felt rather than created. One can sense this standing on a high dune in Albany’s Pine Bush.

There is the ideological sense of place based on moral and ethical ideals. For example, one may feel they need to live in a particular neighborhood based on ethnicity or cultural identity.


Many Trojans enjoyed Vaudeville and later movies at Proctor's for nearly 64 years. Courtesy Rensselaer County Historical Society.

Many Trojans enjoyed Vaudeville and later movies at Proctor's for nearly 64 years. Courtesy Rensselaer County Historical Society.





There is narrative or mythical sense of place where one learns about a place through stories, myths, or family histories.  One may need to live in a region because the region has the best “history.”  Troy, Albany, or Schenectady fits this bill too.

There is the commodified or cognitive where you choose a place based on a set of certain traits and lifestyle preferences, for example, a type of suburban housing development. 

All of these influence humanity and their choices through time. One or two of these forms have developed importance in the environmental and historical preservation communities.

While philosophers have been debating the subject for years, recently “place” has been used in public policy to justify programs and regulations for environmental protection and cultural/heritage preservation. The powerful sense of place that people associate with a historic or natural site such as Gettysburg National Battlefield, the Vietnam Wall, “Ground Zero,” or locally the Pine Bush, is used often to argue for special treatment as “sacred or hallowed grounds.”   These special places have been under attack by developers who want to capitalize on the growing number of visitors. Fortunately, saner minds have prevailed and there isn’t a Wallmart at Gettysburg. Nor has the Taj Mahal been turned into a fine Indian cuisine restaurant – yet!


Notice the mural above the ticket booth by Albany muralist David Lithgow.

Notice the mural above the ticket booth by Albany muralist David Lithgow. Courtesy Rensselaer County Historical Society.

In the Capital District, there is no scarcity of locations that evoke emotion, or a sense of place for what nature has given us or our ancestors have built.  A trip to the Helderbergs, Cohoes Falls, and Pine Bush will satisfy anyone’s curiosity on the powers of nature.  Likewise, a visit to the many museums, historic sites, and cultural institutions feeds the hunger for knowledge or sense of place that local history provokes. 

Yet, many of these locations are under invasion by those who see dollars instead of purpose.  It appears that a few of our elected officials fail to realize that preserving these natural and human resources means dollars AND sense.

We are told that place is socially constructed; it doesn’t come as a biological or historical mandate. Instead, place is made by people, both individually and collectively, creating constructs of place with a combination and consolidation of narratives, histories, personal connections or experiences, and emotions.

One of the more obvious battles between these dueling concepts of place and profit is the new proposal to tear down Proctor’s Theater by the city, RPI, and a local developer.  A local developer wants to leave the facade of the theater but gut the theater.  While I’m not surprised that this is supported by the city or the developer, I must say I am a bit stunned that RPI president Shirley Jackson sees this as a good idea?  My impression over the years of Dr. Jackson has been one of extreme intelligence and common sense but this proposal is neither.  I can only guess that some lower rung academacrats have convinced her there would be no opposition to this.  There is a great deal of opposition as evidenced in the public hearing at Troy City Hall a few weeks ago when 150 people all spoke out against the idea of tearing down the theater.

Opponents have rightfully argued that this is not preservation. Here the concept of sense of place can be illustrated clearly.  Imagine standing on the outside and admiring the beauty of the theater’s facade and then walking into a modern plain Jane boring same old run of the mill office complex? In which location would you feel better connected? In the beautiful theater or an office? Talk about shell shock on the senses. Yet, this plan is no more questionable than putting a McDonalds at the foot of Mt Rushmore, a Wal-Mart’s at Gettysburg’s National Monument, or other attempts by developers to destroy historic sites in the false pretense of lowering the tax rate, etc.

Fortunately, government officials and citizens have battled back. To the relief of many Americans, on December 20, 2006, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board denied a license for a slots parlor a mile away from the Gettysburg Battlefield, where 10,000 soldiers lost their lives.  In May, the city of El Paso, Texas apparently had enough. After watching a 1907 mansion deteriorate for years, the city council voted to seize the Albert Bacon Fall house by eminent domain—its first exercise of that power—in order to preserve it.  In 2005, voters in Ogunquit, Maine, passed an ordinance that bans chain stores in their four-square-mile coastal town. About 79 percent of voters in the town of 1,300 supported the measure. Residents of Sauk City, Wisconsin said no to a developer’s plan to tear down seven houses in a historic neighborhood to make way for a Walgreen’s.

There are hundreds of theater restoration projects across the country that has restored theaters in worse shape than Proctor’s.  Taken the Temple Theater in Saginaw, Michigan. According to their published history, several individuals tried to revive the facility but despite their efforts, the Temple was weakening after 75 years experiencing a failing boiler system from 1927, which had burst pipes and many leaks. The roof was deteriorating with water leaking through and damaging plasterwork in the theatre, destroying walls and the domed ceiling, crumbling plaster appeared along the stairways. Seats on the main level were chipped and torn, all of the carpet was worn, and the electrical system, from 1927, was overloaded and not large enough to handle the amount of electricity required to operate the theatre. Without heat in the building, one more winter would have drained the Temple of its lifeblood.

The theatre known as the “Showplace of Northeastern Michigan” was now facing demolition but in 2002, the family of Dr. Samuel Shaheen purchased the Temple Theatre and the adjoining three-story building that contains a Grand Ballroom, Premier Room, Leopard Lounge and a commercial kitchen. After an investment of more than seven million dollars the “Showplace of Northeastern Michigan” has been returned to her original glory.

Proctor’s is not just another historic site. It appeals to Trojans of all ages from those who saw their first movie or performance there, received their high school diploma, got their first kiss, to those young people who admire the quality of construction and realize you simply cannot build these anymore.

It makes more sense for “adapted reuse,” rather than “crumble and abuse.” There are many ideas floating around on making it a multiuse multimedia center.  However, around the country theater restorations have usually been successful when they were done by local community groups banding together for the common cause.  Rarely (but it has happened) does it happen by government alone. And yes there are cases where the developer took the lead. The city of Troy has never tried to work with any of the several community groups over the years that wanted to save Proctor’s. It has always looked for a private developer and there are several carcasses along the 20-year road, RPI being the most recent.

If ever there is truth in the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” it applies here. There is a will and a way to bring this theater back to use without the absurd idea of leaving a facade and calling that the “best we can do.” Restoring this site in total is the most common sense approach. As poet and novelist Robert Penn Warren wrote: “History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future.”

Developing a strong sense of place helps us identify with our community and with each other. Fostering a strong sense of place can lead to more sensitive stewardship of our cultural history and natural environment.  I call on Shirley Jackson to be the leader on this.

In other words, as Harriet Beecher Stowe succinctly put it, “Common sense is the knack of seeing things as they are, and doing things as they ought to be done.”

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Abe Lincoln and the Capital District Connection

On February 14, we celebrated Abraham Lincoln’s two hundredth birthday.  While most agree he was one of the greatest presidents few Capital District residents realize there is a local connection to “Honest Abe.”


Abe Lincoln Portrait from the American Archives.

Abe Lincoln Portrait from the American Archives.


When Lincoln made his inauguration trip via the railroad from Illinois to Washington D.C., he stopped in Albany on February 18, 1861. Lincoln went to the Albany Gaiety Theater with his wife Mary Todd, Senator Ira Harris and his wife, and Major Henry Rathbone. Harris and Rathbone were from Albany.  Rathbone was also a graduate from Union college and member of the Sigma Phi Society, currently the oldest fraternity in the country.  While at the Albany Gaiety Theater, it was there that Lincoln first saw John Wilkes Booth who was performing as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet and as Pescara in “The Apostate.”  A few days before the Lincoln appearance, Booth accidently fell on his knife and if it had gone deeper history would be quite different today. As a result of the injury, Lincoln saw him perform with his right arm tied to his side while fencing with his left. 


Abe Lincoln first met Booth in Albany.

Abe Lincoln first met Booth in Albany. From Wilkipedia.


Ironically, days before Booth was given a verbal warning by the Stanwix Hotel manager, where he was staying, because Booth was expressing his secessionist feelings rarely freely. The Stanwix was only a block away from the Delevan House on Broadway (site of present Union Station) where Lincoln was staying.

On that eventful night on April 14, 1865, Rathbone and his fiancée Clara Harris, daughter of the U.S. senator from Albany filled in as guests of Lincoln at the Ford Theater and was with the president when booth shot him.  Rathbone quickly stood up and was knifed by Booth before he jumped over the Balcony.

Ironically, on the other side of the seats, a Schenectady man had witnessed the whole event due in part of the generosity of Booth earlier in the day. Schenectadian David Cox was a recovering veteran of the Civil War.  John Wilkes Booth gave him a pass five hours before the show.  Cox was a member of the 7th NY Artillery and was in Lincoln General Hospital recovering from wounds.  Cox and friends were sightseeing the city and visited Booth in his dressing room where Booth gave them the free passes.  Cox sat in the booth opposite Lincoln and witnessed the assassination.

During the night of the assassination Union College graduate and Secretary of State William Seward was brutally stabbed in his Washington home while in his bed by Lewis Powell, a co-conspirator with Booth, and who injured five people in the nighttime action. Seward had graduated from Union College in 1820. Seward recovered from his injuries and continued to serve as Secretary of State for President Andrew Johnson. Seward was also New York Governor and an outspoken critic of slavery for many years before the War. When Lincoln stopped in Schenectady on his way to Washington during his inauguration ride, he was prevented from speaking from the Schenectady crowd.  Schenectadians had earlier favored Seward for nomination as president. Seward Place in Schenectady is named for him.

Few know that the person who killed Booth for his deed was an eccentric former hat maker from Troy, Thomas P. Corbett. Corbett originally from England came to New York with his family in 1839 and settled in Troy where he became a hatter.


Boston Corbett From Troy Shot and Killed Booth with one shot. Photo from Library of Congress.

Boston Corbett From Troy Shot and Killed Booth with one shot. Photo from Library of Congress.


Mercury compounds were commonly used in felt hat making to kill bacteria and prevent rotting. Hatters developed the “shakes” and became unstable by breathing in mercury fumes and getting it on their hands, hence the term “Mad as a Hatter.” Most writers attribute Corbett’s later bizarre personality to having Mad Hatter’s disease.

Corbett married but his wife died in childbirth. He moved to Albany, Boston, Richmond and New York City, where he enlisted in the NYS militia. While in Boston, he changed his name to “Boston,” after being converted to Methodism. Trying to imitate Jesus, he grew his hair very long and in order to avoid the temptation of prostitutes, took a pair of scissors on July 16, 1858 and castrated himself. Corbett’s religious zealous behavior landed him in trouble many times when he would brandish his revolver, sometimes discharging it, at people who blasphemed the Lord in his eyes.

Corbett showed remarkable marksmanship and bravery and reenlisted three times during the Civil War. He was with a detachment of the NY 16th when surrounded by the famous “Gray Ghost,” confederate Colonel John Singleton Mosby. All surrendered except Corbett who stood out and fired all of his bullets from a pistol and rifle before he finally was forced to surrender. As admiration for his bravery, Mosby ordered his men not to kill Corbett. While at Andersonville prison, Corbett tried to escape but was caught. Of the 14 prisoners, only Corbett and one other survived the imprisonment.

Corbett later became Sergeant and was one of the 26 cavalryman selected from the 16th NY regiment on April 24,1865 to pursue Booth after Lincoln’s assassination. On April 26, they cornered Booth and accomplice David Herold in a tobacco barn on the Virginia farm of Richard Garrett. The directive from command was “Don’t shoot Booth, but take him alive.”

The barn was set on fire, Herold surrendered, but Booth remained inside. According to Lt Edward P. Doherty, Corbett “asked permission to enter the barn alone, which I refused.” Instead Corbett went around to the back of the barn. When he saw Booth through a crack in the barn, he took his Colt revolver from a distance of a few yards and shot Booth “on the back of his head, very nearly in the same part where his own ball had struck the President,” according to Brig Gen Henry L Burnett. Booth was paralyzed and died a few hours later. Corbett disobeyed orders, proclaiming, “God Almighty directed me,” and was arrested and thrown into the brig. Charges were dropped by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton proclaiming, “The rebel is dead. The patriot lives.” Corbett received his share of the reward money ($1,653.85). In his official statement of May 1, 1865, Corbett claimed he shot Booth because he thought he was getting ready to use his weapons.

On his way back to Illinois for burial, the dead president was taken in a special death train, preceded by another special pilot train that cleared the way.  This pilot train to Schenectady was the famous old engine Chauncey Vibbard and the engineer was Henry Harvey from Schenectady.  The death train itself was driven by another Schenectady engineer, Alonzo J. Wemple, from Troy to Schenectady over the old Troy & Schenectady Railroad line.  Wemple went on to become one of the oldest train engineers in the country retiring in Texas, after a brief stint in Illinois.

At noon on Wednesday April 26, 1865, a special grand procession got underway in Albany with Mr. Lincoln’s coffin resting in a specially built catafalque. Lincoln was drawn by six white horses. The funeral train departed Albany headed for Buffalo and a 298-mile trip via the New York Central Railroad. Great crowds gathered as the Lincoln Special passed through Schenectady, Canajoharie, St. Johnsville, Little Falls, Herkimer, Utica, Rome, Oneida, Syracuse, Rochester, and others.  Lincoln’s body arrived in Schenectady on the 26th shortly after 1 P.M. As the train rolled in, the Rev Father Faivey, pastor of St. John’s Catholic Church told the crowd “Hats off, gentlemen, hats off.” All obliged.

When Lincoln was president several events were witnessed by Schenectadians.

Major Austin. A. Yates, who lived on Washington Ave in Schenectady, was assistant advocate general in Washington D.C. and often brought papers for Lincoln to sign. He was the “official” executioner of Mary Surratt who was hanged for being a participant in the conspiracy to kill Lincoln, although he was not present when the execution was carried out. Surratt was the first woman executed in America.

Yates was captain of the 134th regiment during the Civil War.  He was at Brook’s Farm in 1862 when Lincoln visited the troops all of which were in terrible shape, with little food, no clothes, and taking a beating.  As he approached the 134th he was not greeted with cheer but mutterings and profanity. Yates also saw Lincoln under fire at Ft. Massachusetts in 1863.  Yates was captain in the 14th Reserve Union. General Jubal Early’s Confederate forces were on one side and they could see Lincoln. A Southern sharpshooter nearly killed Lincoln as he stood on the battlements.

On a lighter side, Schenectadians A.R. Burtiss, brother C.W. Burtiss, and Martin Sitts formed part of Battery K, First NY light artillery at Falmouth VA on June 1, 1863.

One day the troops were being reviewed and the Battery K fired a salute.  Lincoln’s horse was not an army horse and reared and plunged. While Lincoln stayed on his horse, his high hat went flying and his aides had to go running for it.  During 61 and 63 their camp was just east of the Capitol building where the bread for the army was baked in the basement of the Capitol and transported to the soldiers.  They often saw Lincoln among the bread line.

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Check here for articles, reviews, announcements, and posts about local history and environment in the Capital District of New York State. However, don’t be surprised to find postings on just about any topic.  I may not know everything, but I’m working on it!

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