Monday, July 21, 2014

“I’m not going to pull a Ralph Waldo Emerson on you!”

            That was the promise I made to the full house that had come to the Schryer Center at the Franklin County Historical and Museum Society in Malone, NY to listen to my talk about the relevancy of William Almon Wheeler to the 21st century and to have my biography of him signed. This is the backstory to that promise.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

            In the early summer of 1867, after many weeks of fanfare in the local newspapers, the great American poet, essayist and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, came to Malone to give a talk in the newly built Methodist Church on Main Street. The lecture did not go very well.
            According to the Malone Palladium, the talk by the 64-year-old literary giant was hard to hear, “long, tiresome and rather exhaustive.”
Emerson's study
            The Palladium went on to skewer Emerson in typical mid-19th century style by saying, "We take the benefit of the proposition which the speaker laid down—that there never was a great discovery made that was not preceded by a great guess—and venture the 'guess' that this lecture was, though poorly delivered, a great literary production, and leave to subtler minds than ours, the discovery of wherein consists its greatness."

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

William Almon Wheeler book signing and talk in Malone, NY

            On Wednesday, July 16, 2014, at 7 pm, I will be giving a talk about William Almon Wheeler and signing copies of my biography of him, in the Schryer Center at the Franklin County Historical and Museum Society’s House of History, 51 Milwaukee Street, Malone, NY.

            Cheryl Learned, president of the Society, said that copies of William Almon Wheeler: Political Star of the North Country will be available for purchase.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Adirondack Park: where making a living and spiritual renewal collide

            Ever since the late nineteenth century when New Yorkers began seriously talking about creating a state park in the Adirondacks, they faced a dilemma. HistorianPhilip Terrie has phrased it this way, “Can our special corner of New York be both a spiritual retreat and a place to make money?”

            Answers to this question require difficult choices. One entrepreneur’s idea about how to make a living in the Adirondacks is often an environmentalist’s nightmare about wanton destruction of property in the park. Repeatedly, irresistible forces calling for economic sustainable communities in the Adirondack Park meet immovable objects demanding protection for park property.
Current controversial projects to make money in the park include: construction of a 60 mph zip line down French Mountain, near Lake George; mining for Wollastonite in the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area; and the creation of trails for snowmobiles and bicycles in the 119-mile Lake Placid to Old Forge rail corridor.

            The latest war of words between Adirondack entrepreneurs and environmentalists was sparked by the publication of an update to the Adirondack Park Regional AssessmentProject (APRA 2014). It painted a dismal economic future for park residents and called into question current land use restrictions.
            Predictably, the report horrified Adirondack park preservationists who promptly labeled APRA 2014 the work of the “blame the park lobby.” With a nod toward Article XIV of the New York State constitution which guarantees that the 2.6 million acres of state-owned land within the Adirondack Park “shall be forever kept as wild forest lands,” entrepreneurs could be heard calling the preservationists, “forever wild crazies.”
            Malone’s William Almon Wheeler, five-term congressman and 19th vice president of the United States, graces page one of the report. Brad Dake of Arietta, Hamilton County, the primary driving force behind publication of APRA 2014, featured Wheeler because of his influence on the report of the 1873 Adirondack Park study commission—the first official governmental building block upon which subsequent calls for the creation of a state Adirondack Park would rest.  Dake wanted to put the findings of APRA 2014 into historical perspective.

            The 1873 commission recommended that the state create a park in the Adirondacks to save its forests from “wanton destruction.” However, Wheeler and the other members of the commission refused to model an Adirondack Park after the recently created Yellowstone Park in Wyoming. The commissioners unanimously condemned the “creation of an expensive and exclusive park for mere purposes of recreation” and repudiated the idea that an Adirondack park be “unproductive and useless.” Instead, the 1873 report recommended that the Adirondacks be open to careful forestry and mining, as well as fishing, hunting and sightseeing.
            In other words, as APRA 2014 put it, from the very beginning of government involvement in the creation of a state park in the Adirondacks, the goal was to create a park where “healthy forests, responsible forest management and economically sustainable communities would co-exist.”
Unfortunately, the key findings of APRA 2014 indicate that this has not happened. According to the updated report, 58% of the park is restricted from further development and 62% of the land in the park is under some form of state-authorized resource management. In addition, the park’s population is aging rapidly and dwindling at an accelerated pace. The number of public school students who live in the park is declining at twice the rate of students who live outside the park.

            And so we come back to the dilemma that continues to torment New Yorkers who love the Adirondacks. Can our special corner of New York be both a spiritual retreat and a place to make money?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Book Review: the Adirondack Explorer meets William Almon Wheeler

            Philip G. Terrie, a distinguished author and professor of American history and environmental studies, wrote a fine review of William Almon Wheeler: Political Star of the North Country in the May-June, 2014 issue of the Adirondack Explorer, a newsmagazine devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park.

            Entitled “A Reputation Rescued,” Professor Terrie’s review can be read by clicking on the tab above labeled “Reviews,” and then clicking on the words, “A Reputation Rescued.”

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Book fairs in Nassau County, Long Island, on the critical list

Evidence of this was seen recently at two such book fairs. The first was the Long Island Antiquarian Book and Paper Fair, which was held in the multi-purpose room at Hofstra University’s Student Center on the last weekend of March. This show was sparsely attended and about two-thirds of the area that had displayed shelves of books at similar shows held at the same venue in prior years, was empty.
The second book fair, the Spring Long Island Vintage Paper, Book and Advertising Show, was held two weeks later in the St. Paul’s School Field House in Garden City. The show held itself out as “one of the premier events in America” for dealers, collectors, scholars and students, and promised event goers “amazing finds.” As it turned out, the cavernous field house, which in past years had been filled with dealers selling books, was practically empty! There was only a handful of sellers displaying a pitifully small number of books for sale. The event had more of the feel of a funeral than a book fair.

Where have the dealers gone? Where have the books gone? What has happened?
Economic answers jump to the fore. For many people, printed books have become a luxury item and former buyers have chosen not to purchase them as often any more. In addition, the contents of many collectible books, including illustrations, is available free, online. And if the book is not online, the digital version of it can be purchased for considerably less money than the printed version. For example, let's say a buyer wanted to purchase a used copy of the four-volume religious text, the Philokalia, for reference purposes. In paperback, it can be purchased for $53.99 to $80.95 per volume, or in hardcover for $142.86 to $261.51 per volume. However, all four volumes can be purchased for $1.99 in the Kindle version and for $2.99 in the Nook version!
Another economic fact of life that may be a reason for the lack of book dealers and poor attendance at these antiquarian book shows is the decline in U.S. home ownership. The rate of ownership has fallen for nine consecutive years according to reports based on U.S. Census information. As the number of renters grows, more and more people may be deciding not to fill up their living spaces with paper books. After all, books are heavy and expensive to pack up and move when their owners relocate.
Also, tastes are changing. Anecdotal reports indicate that more and more modern households, especially those occupied by people who are under 35 years of age, no longer display printed books—or CDs or DVDs, for that matter. In addition, attention spans of people of all ages have diminished and long-format books are losing ground to short-format Kindle Singles or Apple Quick Reads (aka short stories and novellas, from the paper era).
Herbert Putman, Librarian of Congress (1899-1939)
John Huckans of Cazenovia, NY, the editor of the now all-digital Book Source Monthly, has suggested in a recent column that in years to come, physical books may become scarce which in turn will result in more demand for the remaining books. Huckans added that he had heard “reports that younger booksellers are quietly buying up collections and stocks of retiring booksellers at distress-sale prices, with an eye to the future.”
Is the suggestion that antiquarian book shows are on death’s doorstep greatly exaggerated? Or has our culture posted a “do not resuscitate” order on them? Perhaps the next Long Island Vintage Paper and Book Show which will be held this coming November 1 and 2 will provide some answers.