Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dead Man's Hill

I guess a lot of towns have a "Dead Man's Hill." Albany's is located in Lincoln Park, just off Morton Avenue.

Lincoln Park lies just south of Albany's most visible landmark, the Empire State Plaza. It includes a playground and tennis courts along Delaware Avenue and a large circular swimming pool near Swan Street.

The land was once known as Beaver Park and was home to James Hall, a noted geologist and paleontologist. Hall was also director of the NYS Museum which is a key part of the nearby Plaza. Part of Hall's house survives as part of the old Sunshine School building near the playground.

I once read that Dead Man's Hill didn't get its grim name from sledding mishaps, but from the "massacre" of several Dutch settlers by local Native Americans in the pre-Revolutionary War era. I wish I could remember where I read that because I've never been able to find solid references to this so-called massacre and other accounts talk of such an incident at the opposite end of the park, near the ravine across from the Hackett Middle School (I will write more about this ravine in a future post).

Not that this region didn't have its share of such events, most notably the 1690 Schenectady massacre of 60 Dutch settlers (including ten women and a dozen children) by Native Americans (mostly Sault and Algonquin) and French soldiers under Frontenac. A man named Symon Schermerhorn famously rode from Schenectady to Albany in the dead of night to carry news of the attack, despite being wounded himself. His ride, like Paul Revere's, was commemorated in a long poem by Albany poet, Alfred B. Street (Street is hardly remembered now, but his verses - many of which dealt with nature and the Civil War - were very popular in the 19th-century and I'm very fond of his work. I'd love to editi a complete volume of his poems someday).

But, for every well-documented events like the Schenectady massacre, there are dozens of half-forgotten or heavily embellished folk stories that are quite hard to verify.

If zipping down a steep hill on a sled isn't quite your idea of fun, Dead Man's Hill is a lovely spot to sit on a spring or summer day. There are a couple of benches, the view of the Plaza and downtown Albany is impressive, and there's a Stewart's Shop just across the road if you want an ice cream treat.

The top of the hill also features a tribute to a much better known dead man...a bronze plaque in memory of John Lennon.

1 comment:

  1. Welcome aboard! You certainly live in a beautiful part of the country.