Michelle Ann Kratts

Archive for July, 2014|Monthly archive page

“The horse that had asthma terribly”

In Lewiston Interviews, Old Lewiston on July 31, 2014 at 4:52 pm

Hotels burning left and right, three legged dogs, the Fairbanks, the Lattas, the Powells….more stories of Old Lewiston from Herb Vaughan and Isabel and Evelyn Cornell.

The story of the Milk Cave is a humorous story…I will let Mr. Vaughan tell you about that.

My favorite story is about the poor horse that had asthma terribly. Mr. Cornell’s “pride and joy.”

Interview with Herb Vaughan, Isabel Cornell and Evelyn Cornell

Isabel Cornell

Isabel Cornell

Evelyn Cornell

Evelyn Cornell

Of Storm and Light

In Niagara Falls on July 31, 2014 at 2:44 pm
Niagara Falls, from the American side by Frederick Edwin Church, 1867

Niagara Falls, from the American side by Frederick Edwin Church, 1867



Just moments from the mighty Niagara River, on the brink of a thunderstorm, I take my pencil in my hand and write of Nikola Tesla. My head throbs with the rapid upward movement of warm, moist air while a curtain of darkness drops across the landscape. A circus of electrical charges parades through the atmosphere as lightening awakens the horizon…

Tesla is sort of a hero to those of us who live in Niagara Falls. Perhaps we aren’t particularly familiar with the details of his work but we do know that he was a wizard and that he did something spectacular with our famous waterfall. As children we have climbed onto the bronze statue that graces the entrance to the State Park—we have found ourselves in the giant’s lap. He is larger than life, this Nikola Tesla.   He is legend and myth and he is forever woven into our own story…here in Niagara Falls.

Niagara is unlike other places. Carved out from an ancient glacier she has been called a power-point by mystics. Throughout the centuries she has lured men and women into her storm-charged deluge. She is both worshipped and feared and the city that has grown around her has been burned and desecrated. There is deep and enchanting love to be found in Niagara, although it is just as well known a fact that, from time to time, people come to find solace in her white death. Niagara is also the scene of the final victory of Tesla’s polyphase alternating current (AC) theory of electricity. For it was at Niagara that nature was harnessed and electric light was dispersed to the corners of the earth.

The first photograph exposed by phosphorescent light, taken of Tesla in his laboratory, 1894

The first photograph exposed by phosphorescent light, taken of Tesla in his laboratory, 1894

Every newspaper article and text uses that same word: harnessed. Though I depend upon the alternating current (AC) electricity that has made my life so easy (and distinct from the dark world in which my ancestors lived), a part of me despises…harnessed. The dictionary defines the term with similar words…exploited, controlled…and, of course, it is linked to phrases such as…to harness a horse. A harness is necessary for fastening an animal to a cart or a plow, for enslaving. It always brings to mind a broken spirit.

And Niagara has her spirits…perhaps some of them broken, as well. The Iroquois legends reveal the god of thunder as Hino. He lives in an underworld of caves behind Niagara Falls. He is god of the sky and he destroys evil beings. Before the river was used for electricity, more water flowed through and it was said that the crashing of the water was one of the most powerful things that many visitors had ever looked upon. I think for those of us at Niagara, perhaps, Tesla (whom we just refer to with his surname…leaving out “Nikola”) has been made into another god not so unlike Hino. For as Hino controls the thunder, Tesla is the lord of lightning. They are certainly a match made in heaven.

It was said that our lord of lightning was actually born during an electrical storm sometime after the midnight hour between July 9 and July 10 in 1856 in Croatia. The midwife proclaimed that he would be a child of the storm. But his mother knew better. “No, of light,” she responded.  He was no ordinary boy. Influenced by a combination of the erudite spiritualism of his father’s clerical path, along with his mother’s brilliant mind (for she had come from many generations of inventors), young Tesla was destined for greatness. He is considered the father of alternating current, wireless technology, x-rays, the Tesla Coil and other scientific discoveries that made our modern life possible. However, as great an inventor as he was, he was also quite well known for his eccentric behavior. He had an affinity for pigeons and an aversion to pearls. He admitted to a lifetime of strange visions, manifestations and luminous phenomenon as well as a childhood ability to “leap and float in space.”

But somehow he always knew that life would bring him to Niagara. He wrote the following in an autobiographical sketch:

I was fascinated by a description of Niagara Falls I had perused and pictured in my imagination a big wheel run by the Falls. I told my uncle that I would go to America and carry out this scheme. Thirty years later I saw my ideas carried out at Niagara and marveled at the unfathomable mystery of the mind.

Tesla refused to actually visit Niagara Falls while he worked upon his theories. However, on July 19, 1896, the great electrician first arrived at the place in which his work had come to practical use. Just recently it had been announced to the civilized world that “Niagara had been successfully harnessed.” He was delighted and mentioned that this great development of electric power would eventually cause the Falls and Buffalo to reach out their arms and join each other to be one great city and “…united they will form the greatest city in the world.” He had quite a future in mind. He also inscribed within a book at the Power Station that although his stop is in New York, his “heart is in Niagara.”

tesla 3

He returned several times and had one more plan in mind for this special city of water and light. After consulting with many of the power-producing companies at Niagara Falls it was decided that Tesla would “hail Mars with Niagara’s voice.” In 1907, he declared that a “way had been found at last for transmitting a wireless message across the gulf, varying from 40,000,000 to 100,000,000 miles, which separates the earth from Mars.” He went further to add that once the Martians had “acknowledged the receipt of our signal and sent back flash for flash, it will remain to devise an interplanetary code through the medium of which the scientists of this world and of Mars will be able to understand what each is saying to the other.” Unfortunately it is not publicly known if this attempt to communicate with Mars from Niagara ever occurred. Tesla had tried to summon alien life years before in Colorado. He was sure he had received intelligent communication, although today it is generally believed that what he heard was the sound waves of a distant planet, the music of the stars. But whatever happened or did not happen in Niagara Falls, remains a mystery.

tesla 4

I like to think that Niagara Falls is a city perched at the edge of the world. Given a strange life by the river, and harnessed by wizards and gods, she is still searching for herself. Scrutinizing old dusty books containing the histories of the power years I was struck by this quote by Admiral Jouett:

I have sailed the seas and seen all the sights in the world, and now having viewed this, I say without hesitation that this surpasses them all. If ever the stars and the planets hold an inter-universal exhibition the earth will send Niagara Falls.

Perhaps Niagara is a most special place in the universe. Perhaps a man named Tesla knew this more than anyone else when he decided to change the world with thunder and lightening from within our waterfall.

The Skeleton of a Soldier

In Lewiston, Lewiston Interviews, Lewiston Public Library on July 21, 2014 at 8:36 pm

On June 2, 1976, George Vanderhoek conducted a most fascinating interview with Mrs. Gilbert Farr (Gladys Alice Perrigo Farr). The descendant of an old Lewiston family, Mrs. Farr had many stories to tell including detailed descriptions of life in old Lewiston. Her grandparents were former residents of the Kelsey Tavern (also known as the Lafayette House) on Center Street. Her interview includes an eerie legend concerning the rattling bones of an old soldier…whose skeleton and buttons may still remain in the cellar of that building. She also mentions Lafayette’s visit to Lewiston back in June of 1825. Perhaps someone today knows where his medicine basket is located?

Interview with Mrs. Gilbert Farr


Life mask, Marquis de Lafayette Courtesy Cornell University

Life mask, Marquis de Lafayette
Courtesy Cornell University

Marquis de LaFayette

Marquis de LaFayette

The Story of Niagara’s early Italian-American culinary traditions

In Recipes, The Italians of Niagara Falls, New York on July 14, 2014 at 6:19 pm
Mama D'Avolio from Macri's Italian Grille

Mama D’Avolio from Macri’s Italian Grille

If you are interested in a history of Niagara’s early Italian culinary traditions, then this is the book for you! Written and compiled by The Italian Research Group at the Lewiston Public Library this is the story of your favorite restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries, pizzerias and so much more.

Buon Appetito is now available at the following website:


A Stroll Down Center Street in the Early 1900’s

In Lewiston, Lewiston Interviews on July 2, 2014 at 8:39 pm


What was Lewiston like over 100 years ago? Mae Meacham Brown gives us an interesting peek into another world in this interview from August of 1975. Imagine walking down the “wood plank” sidewalks of Center Street with a lantern in your hand…past the sparkling Moss Hall, where music would play until 4 in the morning…if the orchestra was willing.

Mrs. Charles Brown Interview