Michelle Ann Kratts

Archive for September, 2015|Monthly archive page

Letter from Fort Niagara; “Dear Edith…”

In World War I, Youngstown on September 30, 2015 at 2:25 pm

Thankfully, people are always sharing things with the library!  My friend and co-worker, Sue, was kind enough to donate an historic letter that came to her attention quite recently.  At this point, we do not know much about the soldier who wrote the letter–other than his name was “Bob,” and he was from Lowell, Massachusetts.  Thank goodness for the Red Triangle (the YMCA) for providing stationary…and for “the good” they had done for the “sailors and soldiers.”  There are mentions of visits to Niagara Falls and to Canada where it had been necessary to share quarters with some Scotch Highlanders.

Take a trip back in time and read for yourself…

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Finding the Famous

In Daredevils on September 10, 2015 at 4:17 pm

By Michelle Ann Kratts

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I love when the giants of history intersect with everyday life.  Many interesting and famous people find their way to Niagara Falls and often stay awhile.  In the winter of 1858 a man known as Charles Blondin (Jean Francois Gravelet), a tight-rope walker, came hoping to become the first person to cross the Niagara on a high wire.  By June of 1859, to a crowd of about 25,000 thrill seekers (on both the Canadian and American sides) he crossed the river while a band played “Home Sweet Home.”  I happened to come upon Monsieur Blondin (and Madame) while looking through an old church record book from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Niagara Falls.  Apparently, Blondin, along with being a daredevil, was a regular church-goer.  There is a little note stating that the couple “removed to London, England.”  They weren’t here for very long, but they were here and they walked among us…as well as over us and our beautiful river.

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“The Great Blondin” made several unusual and successful journeys across the rope at Niagara Falls.  Sometimes he carried things such as a camera (the large old-fashioned kind). Other times he did crazy acts on the wire such as walking backwards, laying down, walking with a sack over his head, pushing a wheelbarrow.  He somersaulted and back-flipped…all without losing his balance.  He performed for President Millard Fillmore on July 15th.  He crossed at night in shackles.  He ate a piece of cake (while sitting on a chair and at a table–which he brought with him…onto the wire!).  Perhaps in his most outrageous feat, he actually carried a stove and cooked an omelet from the wire and lowered the breakfast to passengers on the Maid of the Mist.  It was estimated that Blondin walked the rope over Niagara Falls 300 times–walking more than 10,000 miles.

Blondin reading a newspaper. Courtesy the Niagara Falls Public Library.

Blondin reading a newspaper. Courtesy the Niagara Falls Public Library.

We have a special fondness for our Niagara Daredevils…people who fight against the odds.  It is especially fun to know that they are like us in so many ways.

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Make sure you check out the special “Daredevil” photo collection on NY Heritage website, from the Orrin E. Dunlap Collection, Niagara Falls Public Library:

http://www.nyheritage.org/collections/daredevils-niagara

Help for a “Fugitive”– St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, June 2, 1855

In Churches, Hotels of Niagara, Niagara Falls, The African Americans of Niagara Falls, The Underground Railroad on September 9, 2015 at 7:46 pm

By Michelle Ann Kratts

Leafing through the pages of the church records from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Niagara Falls, New York, reveals, once again, that there were people in this city ready and willing to support the abolitionist cause.  On June 2, 1855, it was recorded under the heading, “Distributions“, that among other distributions of money given to various people in need, one dollar was given to “a negro fugitive.”

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Other notations could also possibly refer to African American freedom seekers–those amounts distributed to “a mother and son going from NY to Toronto,” “to mother and son returned from Toronto,” “charity to men travelling,” “alms to a negro missionary.”  I can’t help but wonder if any of these “distributions” ended up with Harriet Tubman, herself.

It is interesting to ponder the situation at Niagara Falls during this time period.  As documenting the Underground Railroad is a difficult task–because of the fact it was operated illegally and in secret–very few actual pieces of evidence have survived.  Each tangible item is sacred to our history–such as this documentation of aid by an established institution in the city of Niagara Falls to a “negro fugitive.”

By June of 1855, the Fugitive Slave Act was well-enforced.  Assisting a fugitive slave resulted in a possible $1,000 fine (equivalent to $28,000 today) and six months jail time. Slave owners were only required to produce an affidavit to a federal marshal to capture a “fugitive slave.”  Owners often came up north in order to “kidnap” free blacks into slavery.  As slaves had no right in court, they had no hope in defending themselves.    It was because of this law that Canada became a very important settling place for fugitive slaves and free African Americans.  It was during the 1850’s that the Underground Railroad was most active.

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, and the individuals who ran the church during this time period, can be revealed as supporters of the Underground Railroad.  The church records show that African Americans were a part of the congregation early on in Niagara Falls’ history.  They were married and buried by this church according to the church record books.  A quick perusal enlightens us to the very same individuals that keep popping up in other records as possible leaders of this network:  Peter A. and Elizabeth Porter and the Whitney family (James and Celinda Trott, Dexter and Angeline Jerauld and Solon and Frances Drake Whitney) who were also proprietors of the Cataract House hotel, which employed so many African American waiters and cooks who were fighters on the front lines of this battle for the freedom of man.  These men and women were the leaders of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in 1855 and obviously aware of where their charity money was going.

You can check out the records for St. Peter’s Episcopal Church at http://www.monroefordham.com.