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.

The Stairs To Somewhere

When I was little, this pair of smooth, sinuous staircases scared me. Not to the point of nightmares, mind you. But these twisty flights on the south side of the New York State Museum's vast terrace really did spook me. Maybe because they both led up to windowless doors that seemed as if they were never intended to be opened.

Once, a friend dared me to climb the stairs and see if the doors did indeed open. I refused, of course. Partly because I was ever so slightly afraid of heights and partly because I was the sort of child who didn't want to get caught snooping where she shouldn't. If I'd been a little sassier, I suppose I'd have challenged him to climb the stairs and see for himself!

The glass enclosure seen just behind the stairs on the left side of the photo was built a few years ago as an extension of the Museum's Terrace Gallery and houses a lovely antique carousel.

Years ago, the space between the two flights of stairs was used as a performance space for plays. Two of my first play-going experiences occurred there one summer in the early 1980s when I saw "A Midsummer's Night Dream" and "Tom Paine." To be honest, I don't remember a great deal about either one, but I'm sure that early exposure to the arts contributed to my ongoing love of theatre. Later, the production became the short-lived "Shakespeare In The Park" and staged what remains the best version of "Hamlet" that I've ever seen. Somewhere, in my old armoire, I still have my green-on-white "Shakespeare In The Park" tee-shirt, too. Unfortunately, it's too shabby to be worn now.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

No One To Play With

I first discovered this forlorn little playground about a year ago while wandering my way to a local Stewart's shop for some ice cream.

It consists only of these three spring-mounted rides...a vintage car, a locomotive, and a squirrel...on Catherine Street, just uphill from the beautiful and very historic Schuyler Mansion (which, no doubt, will eventually be featured on this blog, too). Nearby, there is a bench and, just beyond the squirrel, a set of metal stairs lead down a steep, wooden hill to a street below.

It's so worn and out-of-the-way that it's very hard to picture children playing here. Whenever I've walked by, the only occupants of this tiny park have been the ubiquitous squirrels and robins.

P.S. This is the first posting to my Albany (NY) Daily Photo blog. As the title says, it will be a daily collection of pictures take in and around my native city, ranging from the random (like this one) to the historic (and, since we're one of the oldest cities in the U.S. and about to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's voyage up the river that bears his name, we've got plenty of history here).