Home Games Only

“The All-Prison team plays the village team of Skaneateles on the prison diamond tomorrow afternoon. No outside team was secured for this afternoon and the scheduled contest was between the North and South wings.”

— “To Play Skaneateles,” Auburn Citizen, August 5, 1922

The Good Old Days

“Soon after the Act of 1893, the State Board of Health adopted a complete code for the protection of the waters of Skaneateles. The Water Board of the City of Syracuse approved the rules. Judging by the clipping from the Syracuse Journal of August 21, 1906, which is in part as follows…

‘Syracuse water supply befouled by filthy waste. Rules and regulations of the State Board of Health promulgated 10 years ago violated every day along the shores of Skaneateles Lake. “The water from Skaneateles Lake which we drink every day is contaminated water,” said a local physician to the Journal to-day. These are the facts: that all the waste matter from the toilet rooms and the slops from the kitchen at the hotel at the head of Skaneateles Lake flow directly into the lake; that outhouses for the convenience of those who occupy property along the shores of the lake stand over little brooks which carry the contents of these outhouses into the lake; that during the summer season, men and women and boys and girls bathe in the lake on both the eastern and western shores along almost its entire length from Skaneateles village to Fair Haven; that it is from this body of water that the people of Syracuse obtain their water for domestic purposes;’

… and also to judge from my own observation on the spot, these rules seem to be largely disregarded. There is no regular continuous inspection or control of the watershed. There are numerous villages and many summer cottages, and at least one large hotel immediately on the shore, while the lake is a favorite summer resort with several large steamers running on it.”

Operation of Public Utilities: Report to the National Civic Federation, Commission on Public Ownership and Operation (1907)

Other Than Cheese

Let it never be suggested that the people of Skaneateles lack intellectual curiosity. Just pulling an example out of the air, I cite the query of Mrs. G.E.C. of Skaneateles who, in 1899, wrote to The Boston Cooking-School Magazine and said, “Kindly tell me the proper use of individual ramequin dishes. May they be used for other articles than cheese? Give two or three recipes for appropriate dishes to be served in them.”

Came the reply: “Probably the first use of the little round or oval dishes called ramequins was in the serving of various cheese dishes, but they are now quite as often used for soufflés of meat, fish, etc., or for puddings. They may be used in place of the paper cases so often in evidence at large entertainments.”

Do you get the feeling that the Boston Cooking-School frowned on “paper cases”? I do. And then, as Mrs. G.E.C. requested, three recipes followed, for Chicken a la Béchamel, Oyster Soufflé, and Salpicon of Sweetbreads, Tongue and Mushrooms.

Next question, please.

One Night at Krebs’

If you had dined at the Krebs’ on Wednesday evening, September 10, 1919, you would have hit the celebrity jackpot. For an appetizer, the Governor of New York, Alfred E. Smith, was being hosted by the commissioners of the State Fair. Watching him tuck away the legendary Krebs’ feast, you probably wouldn’t have guessed that Smith would run for President in 1928, but you would have recognized him. However, in one of those rare twists, the Governor was the least of the luminaries at Krebs’ that evening.

At a nearby table, Mrs. O.M. Edwards was picking up the tab, as well she could. She was married to Oliver Murray Edwards, an inventor and manufacturer who was worth a bundle. Mr. Edwards had figured out a way to put windows that actually opened and closed in rail cars, and he made those windows, along with padlocks and office furniture, at his factory in Syracuse. The Edwards lived in a large house on James Street and summered at “Paownyc” their estate on Fourth Lake in the Adirondacks. They were society in these parts, but Mrs. Edwards’ party this evening elevated her almost to royalty. At her table, sat not one, not two, but three movie stars.

Norma Talmadge was one of the greatest of the stars of the silent screen. From 1917 to 1920, she appeared in an average of four to six films a year; she made more than 50 feature films in her career. By 1923, she was acknowledged as the leading star in American films; every week she received $10,000 and 3,000 fan letters. But she did not make a successful transition to talkies, and by 1930 she was too bored and too wealthy to care. She is remembered for two interesting legacies: In 1927, she started a Hollywood tradition by accidentally stepping into wet cement in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. And in 1950, Billy Wilder used her, someone cruelly, as his model for silent film queen Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.

Sitting with Talmadge was Alice Brady, an actress who was successful in both silent and sound motion pictures, making more than 80 films. Moving to character roles in the talkies, she was honored with an Oscar nomination for her performance in My Man Godfrey (1936) and the next year she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for In Old Chicago.

But if anyone was making hearts flutter that evening, it was Wallace Reid. An actor who specialized in action roles, Reid was six feet tall, athletic and boyishly charming. Sadly, he would be injured while working in 1919 and given morphine by his producer so he could finish the film. And the next film. And the next film. By 1923, he was dead. But for one night in 1919, he was making the waitresses at the Krebs’ blush, smooth their aprons and put on their best smiles.

One wonders if the Governor was even able to get a second cup of coffee.

Two More Impressions

In 1833, Timothy Flint described the lake as, “the calm and transparent amenity of Skeneateles,” in his History and Geography of the Mississippi Valley to Which Is Appended a Condensed Physical Geography of the Atlantic United States and the Whole American Continent.

In October of 1843, “an Englishman” wrote of the region for readers of The Knickerbocker, a monthly magazine in New York City:

“… every one of these lakes is a perfect gem. Otsego, Oneida, Skeneateles, Owasco, Cayuga, Seneca, and a score of others are passed in succession; and on the shores of each the lover of the picturesque might spend weeks with profit and delight. With such a prodigality of waters and especially in the vicinity of the great lakes the thunder storms engendered by the summer heats are of terrific grandeur. One would think that the dissolution of nature was at hand. Some one has justly remarked that all things here are on a large scale.”

Forlorn & Bewildered

The Rev. Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911) was a Unitarian minister, author and abolition activist from Worcester, Massachusetts. After stopping here on a lecture tour in 1855, Higginson wrote to his wife, “Skaneateles is a small beautiful village on the lake; there I stayed in a fine great house with a rich English family of Quakers (I always happen among Quakers). The old lady, a widow, touched me to the heart by constantly referring to ‘my dear husband’ so tenderly—till I at last found that she was a regular Tartar and had nearly tormented that gentleman’s life out!”

But even though the Emancipation Proclamation was less than 10 years away, an anti-slavery lecture in Skaneateles wasn’t exactly a slam dunk. A placard announcing Higginson’s lecture described him as a “leader of the forlorn-hope from Worcester.”

But for many, Higginson is remembered primarily as a correspondent and mentor to Emily Dickinson. In April 1862, Higginson wrote an article for the Atlantic Monthly, “Letter to a Young Contributor,” in which he offered advice to young writers. Emily Dickinson, then 32 years old, sent a letter in reply with four poems, from her home in Amherst, Massachusetts, and asked, “Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?”

Higginson responded and eventually became Dickinson’s mentor, though he felt unequal to the task. In 1891, he wrote, “The bee himself did not evade the schoolboy more than she evaded me, and even at this day I still stand somewhat bewildered, like the boy.”

* * *

“Emily Dickinson’s Letters,” Atlantic Monthly, October 1891; Thomas Wentworth Higginson: The Story of His Life (1914) by Mary Thatcher Higginson; Letters and Journals of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1846-1906 (1921) edited by Mary Thatcher Higginson