Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Imposing Presence

Located across Washington Avenue (but by no means overshadowed by) from the ornate bulk of the New York State Capitol, the old State Education Building is one of Albany's most recognizable buildings. It's impossible to miss that stately row of massive marble columns. In fact, it is said to be one of the longest load-bearing colonnades in the world.

I grew up hearing about the old State Museum which was housed in this building until the 1970s when it relocated to the Empire State Plaza on the far side of the Capitol. Mostly, I heard about the Iroquois diorama and the Cohoes Mastodon. The Mastodon's skeleton is now on display near the newer (and much more accurate) Native American diorama at the modern State Museum and the stuffed effigy is (when last I looked) located in the lovely old Cohoes Library. (Click here for some more details on the Mastodon...and some photos of its former home in the State Education Building).

I've only been inside this building a few times when I was quite young. It was well after the Museum moved, but I remember seeing some links from The Great Chain which stretched across the Hudson River at West Point to prevent passage of British ships during the Revolutionary War and what appeared to be a replica of the Liberty Bell.

I recently read some accounts of a ghost which haunts the sub-basement of the State Education Building. Supposedly, a laborer working on the foundations of the building vanished one day. His personal effects were found and it was assumed he'd fallen into the excavations, but his body was never recovered. It's said that this man's ghost makes his presence known in the building's lowest levels. I don't know if there's any truth to the tale, but it certainly corresponds to family stories I'd heard about a worker or two falling into and being entombed in the concrete as the building was constructed.

The State Education Building was constructed by the Rochester firm of R.T. Ford between 1908 and 1912. It was designed by the Paris-trained architect Henry Hornbostel.

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