Thursday, September 26, 2013

Not-So-Scary Spirits

Last Friday evening, as the sun was setting on a beautiful late summer day in the city of Syracuse, New York, Dave and I were headed to the Onondaga Historical Association for their Fall Historic Ghostwalk. Okay, so they weren't REAL ghosts, but actors depicting historical figures from Syracuse's fascinating history. Columbus Circle (below) in downtown Syracuse is picturesque any time of year.

These days, Syracuse seems to make the national headlines when lake effect snows create record annual snowfall totals or the Syracuse University Orangemen make the cut for the NCAA basketball tournament. But once upon a time, particularly during the 19th century, Syracuse was known as the 'Salt City' and the Erie Canal brought commerce right through the city center.

The Onondaga Historical Association Museum just steps away from Columbus Circle has a fabulous display of this city's treasures. The Onondaga Nation is one of six members of the Iroquois Confederacy, an alliance established hundreds of years ago. Syracuse is situated in Onondaga County, named after this Native American group.

Out front, a banner announces the Spirit Walk!

Inside, familiar objects from distant and not-so-distant past are on display. Anybody who grew up in Syracuse in the 50s and 60s knows the Heaphy's Hardware man. He stood in front of the store of the same name in every season. With just a few bumps and rust spots, he still looks pretty good for his age!

For 60 years, salt production was the most important industry for this area, sealing Syracuse's claim to the title "the Salt City." Salt produced in this area became America's primary source for the mineral in the mid 1800s. Salt was used as a food preservative and in the tanning and pottery industries.

 . . . and, of course, it's a key ingredient in Salt Potatoes! If you aren't from around here, you probably don't even know what those are. And if that's the case, I'm so very sorry for you. You simply can't enjoy a summer picnic or clambake without them! And if you don't dribble melted butter on your chin while you're eating them, well, you just aren't doing it right!

Does this look familiar? The Brannock Device used to measure shoe size is a Syracuse original! Invented right here!

Back to the ghosts. Our little walking tour set out from the museum, stopping at nearby buildings for a chance 'spirit' encounter. Each 'ghost' in their day, made his or her mark on Syracuse's history. Our first encounter was with Chloe Merrick and Caroline Loguen, abolitionists. Next we met Fire Captain Philip Eckel (pictured below). He was our first fire chief.

 . . . then David Hotchkiss, an inventor and benefactor.

A portrait of Mr. Hotchkiss in his 'former' less phantasmal state . . .

And Mary Elizabeth Evans Sharp, her 'spirit' pictured below, who at age 14 started a chocolate business based right here. By her early 20s' she was considered the youngest businesswoman in the United States, managing several popular restaurants, including one in New York City. While food was being rationed during the first World War, she adapted her recipes to support the war effort replacing rationed ingredients with non-rationed substitutes. She died at age 100, a philanthropist, and her then-famous chocolate recipe is still being produced today!

And, of course, like any good tour, this one ended right back at the museum gift store, where Mary Elizabeth chocolates, among other things, might be purchased to commemorate a memorable evening. By the way, our fearless tour leader was my hubby, Dave.

Sometimes you only have to look right under your own nose to find some of the most interesting experiences! Don't you agree?

Happy Stitching!



  1. Yes, I do agree Joan. Right under your own nose. I enjoyed reading this post. Thank you Joan.

  2. Joan we are just reading this and really appreciate the PR and kind words. Your blog was great! Any way we can connect it with our website so our members can see your comments? Karen Cooney and Scott Peal OHA employees