Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sons of Onondaga in the Age of Fraternal Organizations

Months ago I found a fragmentary newspaper article from the late 1800s which mentions my great-grand-aunt. The headline was "FAMOUS SONS OF ONONDAGA", which gave me the mistaken impression that she was part of a group with that name. Eventually I figured out that she was part of a centennial celebration for Onondaga County, and that "Sons of Onondaga" was a general term that newspaper writers liked to toss around in articles about new recruits, veterans and sports figures.

By the time I figured out that my great-grand-aunt wasn't in a group named "Sons of Onondaga", I'd found two references, in newspapers from 1908 and 1912, to a group with that name. I've included images and transcriptions below. The articles—particularly the second one—were like catnip to me. Even though they had nothing to do with any of my ancestors, my obsessive brain couldn't resist researching them.

I'm fascinated at the way people in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Americans gravitated toward fraternal organizations. The Masons were just the tip of the iceberg; it seems like everyone was a member of at least one organization based on politics, business, or hobbies. So when I found these articles about a society of prominent figures from Onondaga in New York City, I was hooked. Also, I found the goofiness of the poem irresistible.

It didn't take too much Googling to confirm my suspicion that every name in that poem is a reference to a well-known person from Onondaga. They were probably also members of the Sons of Onondaga. I found out, at least in general, who most of them were. I've included notes and links below. If you have any information on those I didn't find, please contact me.

(transcription below)

Skaneateles Free Press.
Skaneateles, N. Y., TUESDAY, APRIL 14, 1908.



Collin Armstrong, editor of the Wall Street Summary, lectured last night before the New York chapter of the American Institute of Banking on "The Relation of Speculation to Business." Most of his argument was directed against the proposed legislation aimed to stop the so-called Wall Street gambling, short sales, trading in futures and on margin. Most of the agitation in favor of such measures, he declared, comes either from those who are ignorant of the workings of the markets or those who have lost money and are doing the "baby cot."

Without marginal trading, he said, it would be impossible to carry on the business of the world. Dealings on margin are simply credit transactions, he explained, and differ only in form from those made by real estate dealers and investors, by manufacturers and merchants, the world over. There is not enough money in the world to put business on a cash basis.

Mr. Armstrong blamed such get rich quick stock enterprises as the New York-Chicago Electric Air Line for a large part of the criticism which is made against Wall Street, although Wall Street and the exchanges are in no way responsible. He concluded that the exchanges cannot be legislated out of existence without driving business out of the country, and that the only solution of the problem is for public opinion to make it so hot for the gamblers that they will quit.—N. Y. Sun, Friday, April 20th.

Mr. Armstrong, who is a prominent writer on financial topics, is a native of Fayetteville, Onondaga county, and was elected president of the Society of Sons of Onondaga, recently organized in New York city. Mr. Armstrong married Miss Elizabeth Hale, fomerly of Skaneateles, daughter of W. S. Hale, who is now a resident of Neenah, Wis.


To Sons of Onondaga.

Verses to the Banquet Committee of the Sons of Onondaga, who dine at Astor Hotel, New York, to-morrow night:

I'm on the wing, with not a thing
  in shape of evening clothes.
My well filled bag begins to sag
  With what? God only knows.

Should I appear, would Sherlock jeer
  And Armstrong throw a fit?
Would Shubert, Lee, cry out in gless
  Old pal, your welcome, Nit?

Would Whelan, George make me disgorge
  As he does those who smoke?
Would my friend Gere, man of good cheer,
  Consider it a joke?

Would Marshall rare, whose "Cabinet Chair"
  Looms now up into view,
Recall the day he ran away
  And left me in the stew?

In Cedar street, he threw so neat,
  A stone of wondrous size;
The window crashed, the man we thrashed
  Much to my great surprise.

Would Sam Wandell leave his snug shell
  To save me from retreat,
As he each fall in Freeman Hall
  Talked us to sure defeat?

Would Marion, Frank think me a crank
  Unfit to dine with you?
Would Joe Tebeau appear to know
  His friend of ninety-two?

Would our good Mayor rise from his chair
  And welcome me with joy?
And say to our sons, present your guns,
  Salute! A white haired boy?

My suit of gray I know you'll say
  in cut is up to date.
For Charlie Alvord thinks he knows
Just how to cut the swellest clothes—
  He charges on his slate.

My necktie red perhaps I'll shed,
  Unless you're color blind.
With striped blue, white collar, too,
  I hope you boys won't mind.

I've sung my song, and now so long,
  Don't think this is a ruse.
Of one in need of a good feed,
  Far from old Syracuse.
                JOHN J. CUMMINS,
Scranton, February 18.

Collin Armstrong 
A famous figure in New York State finance and advertising.

Lee Shubert
A Jewish-Lithuanian-born American theatre owner/operator and producer and the eldest of seven siblings of the theatrical Shubert family.

? Is that just a reference to the fictional character, or the nickname of a member?

? No idea.

George Whelan
"Uncle George, as the family still calls him, was "a player." He loved to speculate in stocks and did so with varying degrees of success. He was usually associated with tobacco millionaire James B. Duke and speculator Thomas Fortune Ryan. Uncle George was sometimes allied with Bethlehem Steel's CEO Charles Schwab. My grandfather's most vivid memory of Uncle George was watching him conduct a complex business deal over three of those 1920s "candlestick" phones at once."

? No idea.

Marshall rare
? I'm not sure if I'm reading the blurry text correctly.

Cedar Street
? The poem seems to refer to an incident in which someone named Marshall threw a stone through a window on Cedar Street.

Samuel H. Wandell
A prominent attorney and author.

FindAGrave memorial
His book on hotel law

Freeman Hall
Elk's Lodge, corner of East Jefferson and S. Townsend Streets.

Frank J. Marion
American motion picture pioneer. Member of the class responsible for the S.U. colors.

Joseph Tebeau
Prominent figure in the Syracuse press. Was city editor of Syracuse Courier in the 1890s. Was assistant to the editor of the New York Times for many years.
According to one article, he worked for the New York sun.

Charles Alvord
Horse Racer

John J. Cummins
Leader of the Democratic party in Onondaga County.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Don't come at me with your horseshit equivocation.

Hi. My name is Hugh Yeman. I'm named after another Hugh Yeman. Here he is.

And here I am next to his grave.

Hugh Yeman died of gangrene three days after taking a Vichy French bullet during the Battle of St. Cloud in North Africa on November 10, 1942. Follow that bullet back. Roll back all that German steel across the sand dunes, across the water. All those forces were set in motion by a little man who discovered he could gain popularity by telling poor people that malignant, subhuman foreigners were to blame for all their problems.

So when you tell me there's "no difference" between the candidates, I think you're a goddamn infant who shits all over the most howlingly obvious lessons of history in pursuit of an onanist tableau featuring you looking down on my plebeian world from such a rarefied perspective that you can't possibly distinguish between the two parties. And I think you can go fuck yourself.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Running With Young People

Here's me and  my Goddaughter on Saturday. She's showing off the stains that she got while climbing a pine tree in her yard. The tree-climbing thing? Yeah, she got that from me.

To say that I get a warm feeling at the thought of her climbing trees seems inadequate. "Warmth" doesn't come close to articulating the electric tingle that surges through me as a see my childhood echoing in her. Yet even that pales in comparison to how I felt on Sunday.

I invited my Goddaughter to join me on a run, and she enthusiastically accepted. As she led me around her neighborhood, I observed her form. I asked her if she'd had any instruction in running, and was amazed to hear that she hadn't. From her fingers to her toes, I see things she's doing and, more importantly, things she's not doing, that tell me she's a natural. She's got a strong foundation, and I'm thrilled at the potential I see in her.

On the way back she talked about her running, and she said something so familiar that it was like a bell ringing in my head: "...I can't keep up..." The way she phrased it, I assumed she meant that she'd been out running with a group, and couldn't keep up with them. When I asked her about it, I found out that's not what she meant. She wasn't referring to any group runs. She simply felt that, when she ran by herself, she couldn't keep her speed up.

Is there a word for "hilarity" that carries a deep undercurrent of empathy? There should be. That's what I felt when I heard this. Her childhood was nothing like mine, yet the way she compared herself unfavorably to some imagined benchmark was instantly and deeply familiar.  There was no one telling her she wasn't running fast enough. No one but her.

I told her about the decades I spent feeling like I was too slow, too this, too that. I told her how I finally learned to relax, let go of my expectations, and give myself the room to explore. I struggled to articulate the paradox of finding my speed and stamina only after I stopped looking for it.

As soon as I got her home, I went out again to get in my weekend distance run.  As I ran, I thought about what I'd attempted to convey to my Goddaughter, and how to distill it down to something pithy. Suddenly a new aphorism popped into my head: "Come at running with a feeling of exploration, not expectation." That's good. I'm going to start using that with the young people I run with.

I've expended a lot of thought on that distillation process, but it's easy compared to articulating the joy I feel when I share running with the young people in my life. That's because I'm not just nurturing the next generation. I'm reaching back to the younger me and healing us both.

Forty years ago there was an obese little kid who was already busy constructing the sort of expectations my Goddaughter voiced. He was telling himself what he was, what he was not and what he would never be. He was furiously carving the lavish filigree of his own limitations.

I spent half a lifetime hating my body, which was unfair because nothing about my situation was my body's fault. I was the one shoveling food into it. Only during the last few years have I cultivated a collaborative relationship with my body. And as magnificent and rewarding as all that work feels, the greatest part of it all is sharing it with a young person.

When I was a kid, I couldn't see the bars of the prison I'd built around me. And now I get to take all that pain and turn it around. I get to make something positive out of it. I get to show my nephew and my niece and my Goddaughter that there are other ways to be: that we're always capable of more growth than we imagine. I get to present to them options I didn't have.

And as I reach out to them, I get to reach back. I get not only to reconcile with the young me, but to cherish and comfort him. When I run with a young person, I feel like I'm saying to that young me "Hey, you know what? We turned out OK."