Outline, Plot, Notes, Scenes, etc.
The Story (in Development)
Early on the morning of March 3, 1896, a new seven story apartment building on Genesee Hill in Utica, New York was engulfed in flames as the residents slept. All but four persons fled the Genesee Flats or were rescued by passers by and the men of the Utica Fire Department. An older woman, sliding down a makeshift rope of sheets, slipped and plummet to the ground, later succumbing to her injuries. An older man, having just evening before had dinner in the building's dining room with his daughter and grandchild (also residents) suffocated from the smoke while he lay in bed and the fire burned its way up to his flat on the 7th floor.. An escaping mother and daughter, separated from the father, became lost and were never found. It is not known if these last two employed a servant or lady's maid, because newspapers of that time seldom identified men and women as such, if they mentioned them at all.
But in the graphic news accounts a young woman appeared who escaped and sat on the curb as the fire raged behind her. She told a reporter the fire had driven her to dress so quickly that she put her shoes on the wrong feet. She was not otherwise identified. The authors of this work see her as Ann Sullivan.
Annie Sullivan is cast as a domestic or lady's maid who worked for a family in Utica's Genesee Flats and who survived the tragic fire that took place there in 1896. She may be the young woman who sat on the curb as the fire raged, shoes on the wrong feet. Only a few years later a young woman by the same name died in a fire at the Metropolitan Hotel in downtown Utica. It's possible this was the same person.
To some of us, Annie represents the hopes and aspirations of working people in the very late 19th century who, while not destitute, had little control over their lives and futures. Annie Sullivan, the wispy figure from history, is an excellent ghost on which to base the fictional character of a young woman who may have grown up in an abusive family and been practically sold to the highest bidder through the use of a hiring bonus paid to her parents. Whether the character endured a short relatively easy life of work or cruel abuse is unknown until the story or stories are written.
Again, we emphasize we're speaking of a fictional character, based on a real life person we know very little about.
1. Annie Cathleen Sullivan, age 15, personal maid to Mary B.Wood
2. Mary Brandegee Wood, age 15
3. Sarah Miller - Wood, Mary B.'s mother, age 51
4. John Brandegee Wood, father, age 52
5. Seymour Dewitt Latcher, around 30, builder and owner of the Genesee Flats Apartment House
Annie Cathleen Sullivan is a fictional character, based upon a number of sources.
1. The young woman who was seen running down Genesee Street with her shoes on the wrong feet.
2. A real person named Annie Sullivan who lived in Utica NY, worked as a chambermaid and died of smoke inhalation in the fire at the Metropolitan Hotel in downtown Utica, May, 1907.
3. A very lucky chance finding of a 15 year old girl named Annie Sullivan who arrived from Ireland and landed at Ellis Island on June 30, 1895. Her name on the ships mainfest and a photo of the ship, the Teutonic, can be viewed on line at the Ellis Island historical website. (That she fit the character so closely in age and arrival dates is beyond lucky, because I went to the website after the fact and it was like looking for a needle in a haystack)
Our Annie is 15 when she arrives from acoss the water; has long curly red hair, green eyes and is a small girl. She arrives carrying only what she owns- which is essentially nothing but the clothes on her back- and a satchel which holds a picture of her mother, two pairs of socks, an extra flannel petticoat, a comb, a bar of soap, needles and thread, 3 lace hankies and two black shawls. She is proud and not a little terrified, fingering the rosary she carries in her pocket as she walks into the Great Hall in her only frock: a brown wool skirt with a large patch on the front, a plaid shirtwaist, a woven sweater, a red cotton neckscarf and heavy hand made walking boots. She is carrying a letter from an aunt she has yet to meet, a distant relative of her mother, who runs a boarding house on Hotel Street In Utica NY. The letter is a guarantee of employment. A train will bring her to Utica and from there her fate will reveal itself. I do not know where in Ireland our Annie comes from, simply because she has not told me and perhaps she has her reasons...but, I have heard that a tiny old woman smoking a pipe and all dressed in black was seen on the wharf that morning in Queenstown, weaving her way among the departing throng, and that the old one was heard to say, "The ships are on the sea. God help us all." That I heard this meself, tis true, and I have it on good account that the old one was walking there then and is walking there still...
Mary Brandegee Wood was born in Morristown New Jersey in March of 1880. She was the only child of John Brandegee Wood and Sarah Miller Wood. She was descended on both sides from prominent wealthy families, the historic Wood family of Morristown and the well known Miller family of Rutger Park, Utica NY. At some undetermined time her fathers health began to fail and the family moved to Riverside, California, where he managed orange groves. When Mary was 15 the family relocated to Utica NY so Mary could attend Mrs. Piatt's Female Academy. The school, an imposing red brick building on Washington Street, was known nationally as one of the best private girls schools in the Eastern United States.
The family most likley would have come East by train, perhaps departing from Los Angeles on the Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe line. The summer of 1895 was spent at the Miller homestead in Whitestown and later that year they secured rooms at the new Genesee Flats Apartment House, a full service building and one of the most luxurious in Utica. Constructed of red brick in 1893 by Northrup and Latcher the massive 7 story building dwarfed the palatial homes on Genesee Hill and became "THE" place to live on the hill for those persons wealthy enough to do so.
For Mary B. the move to Utica was fraught with sadness at having to leave her life in California but also ripe with the joy of once again being with her mother's family, the Millers, whom she had not seen in years. She arrived in Utica on July 2, 1895 and from the moment she stepped down from the train, she knew in her heart that this was " her town". She loved the hustle and bustle of it all. Fashionably attired in a tailor made traveling suit of light grey twill, matching silk parasol and soft kid skin boots, her bright blue eyes sparkled with anticipation. It was a beautiful afternoon, her chestnut colored curls were set off by the lovliest of hats, a black straw accented with a single white silk rose and black ribbons that ran down the back to lightly brush the nape of her neck. What more could a girl ask for?
Her little grey velvet purse held a vial of lavender salts, a small comb and mirror, a silver calling card case and a dog eared baseball card of retired National Leauge Saint Louis Brown's player Sandy Griffin whom she had a mad crush on and hoped one day to meet and possibly marry. As she stepped down from the train she not only daintily proffered her gloved hand to the porter, but flashed her ankles as well. This would have been unthinkable in polite society, but... what did she care? She was in a new place and a new time where no one could judge her and she could be naughty if she wanted too... at least for a little while.
Above the noise and congestion of the railway station, two voices, could be heard in a loud confrontation. There in front of an overflowing baggage cart a very young girl with flaming red hair tied back in two thick braids was being accosted by an older man.The girl was rudely dressed in a brown skirt with a large patch upon the front, a simple shirtwaist and a black shawl. Her voice rose and fell in the broughe of Western Ireland. The man, in rough working clothes, was very drunk and kept trying to pull her by the arm. As she resisted, her satchel fell open and the few pitiful items she owned fell to the platform. Crying out, she got down on her knees to gather them up: just as the man grabbed her arm and yanked her to her feet, a blue coated policeman was fast approaching.
"Hey there! You, Johnny Gorman, yer drunk again, damm ye and haven't I told ye to stay away from here?? And what are ye doin wi' that Lassie? Unhand her now!"
Mary B. looked and looked again. Someone should help the girl! Oh, where was Papa? Surely he would put a stop to it! But her mother, Sarah, came swiftly up beside her and putting her hand on Mary's chin, turned her face away from the scene. "It is the plight of the lower classes, my dear. You can't help them. Let us go. The carriage is waiting."
Soon the assembled family would lunch at the Butterfield House, taking rooms for the night, before continuing on to Whitestown. The hotel dining room was full that afternoon. A plump, dark haired French woman who took tea every afternoon at the same corner table laid down her knitting as Mary B. glided past. "Cest magnifique", she whispered, remembering her own lost girlhood on the streets of Paris. "Cest magnifique. Her face is surely her fortune " and sighing deeply, returned once again to her work at hand.
(*It's historically important to note that the photos are of other young women who lived elsewhere in America at the very end of the 19th century.)
Mary B. Wood
(as envisioned and borrowed*)
Sarah Miller Wood was born in 1845 and was the daughter of Mary Foreman Seymour and Rutger Bleeker Miller. She married John Brandegee Wood on August 20, 1874. The couple had one child, Mary and lived in Morristown New Jersey, the home town of the Wood family. She was the sister of Blandina Dudley Miller of Utica NY, author of "A Sketch Of Old Utica" in which she describes her sister as an accomplished musician, a pianist as well as a harpist.
Sarah's husband John was a succesful attorney in New York City but due to deteriorating health, the family moved across the country to Riverside California where he invested in and managed citrus groves. In the summer of 1895 the family once again relocated, this time to utica NY, where both had relatives and where Mary B. would attend finishing school.
"To Sarah the whistle of the train was like a mournful keening and her thoughts flew behind her like ghosts, ghosts of black smoke tinged with red fire and streaming cinders that flew from the smokestack as they sped forwards towards the Utica station.
"These are my dreams" she thought, as the shadows of cities and towns, places she had never been and could never hope to be, flew by the windows of the private parlour car. Never, she felt, since they had left New Jersey, had she been happy. The home life that wealth, status, education and social contacts had promised had faded away in California and she had slowly drawn away from John, loosing herself in music, novels and the day to day minutia of the running of a large household. Year after year she searched for a solution- she was by nature a nester, a quiet homebody, reserved. John was by nature a wanderer, a talker, a mover. She had married late, after rejecting various suitors and for many years had never regretted it. But now, all this moving... they were like Gypsies on the face of the Earth... All they had built together was behind them now, all they were ever to have was in front of them now...there seemed to be no middle, no center. She and John were forever, it seemed, coming amd going and there was nothing to cling to now except her daughter and ... the girl was growing fast, there was no denying it.
In what health would she find her 87 year old mother and would the old woman even know her? Sarah hadn't seen her for many years. Over time her sister Blandina and then Helen had written that the mother's eyes had grown dim, her hands unsteady, she was now increasingly frail and spent most of her time sleeping, taking only small spoonfulls of laudenum to ease the pain of old age and debilitation.
All this preyed on Sarah's mind. There were so many unknowns: Utica was a rough canal town where anything could happen. New people were flooding in, immigrants to work the spools of the cotton mills; flats were being built everywhere, it was not the quiet place of her youth. And the daughter... she couldn't very well keep her locked up. She was used to the warm open days of California, the Santa Anna River, the easy camadre of the Mexicans who picked the fruit, did the gardening, served the meals, cleaned the home, drove the carriages...
She thought of her daughters education. Mrs Piatt's was one of the best in the East - yet she feared for her Mary B. - she hated being closed in. And there were always those girls with more wealth, more family and political connections. She inwardly cringed at the memories of her own days at Mrs. Piatt's: The social cutting, the cliques, the afternoon calls not returned; calling cards dropped into the dish with the corners turned sharply down. She hoped it had changed but her heart was doubtful.
Her worst fears were realized at the Utica Station as she watched her daughter flash her ankle at the conductor... it was beginning...and that slovenly couple on the platform. The red haired Irish girl and that drunken man. The girl was probebly from a house of ill repute. Sarah saw how her daughter stared at the girl, wanted to help her. Heavenly God! She would have to watch her like a hawk!
Several months before the trip Blandina had sent a letter- of course one should never speak openly about such things- but the sister had strongly indicated that, knowing how Sarah was longing to attend the new Opera House- that she should be careful. On those nights the streets were full of itinerant men, slovenly women; some of the girls as young as 12 and they thronged everywhere, often rushing the carriages for money; they were like a flowing tide and their viscious habits would not be denied.
Sarah was exhausted by the time they arrived at the hotel. Though her waist was still slender and many still considered her a handsome woman, she felt out of place in the dining room, as if she were clothed in a frock from another age, another time. Her greying hair was parted in the middle, pulled back from a broad open face with full lips and lively eyes. She would have to change the hairstyle, pull it up somehow. She walked slowly, letting John and Mary lead the way. Her stays pained her, her feet swollen in low heeled shoes, she wanted nothing but to bathe and sleep.
Sarah had chosen a darker grey traveling suit with a white shirtwaist and black broad brimmed hat. At her neck she wore a simple cameo, matching ear rings hung from her small ears. Hat, parasol, purse, gloves, suit, blouse, shoes! She felt overloaded and tired. What was to become of them here? Surely she did not know.
As the waiter showed them to their seats she saw the dark haired woman who sat knitting at the small corner table. Her thoughts flew at once to Madame Defarge in a Tale Of Two Cities. DeFarge! Fate knitting while heads rolled! The woman looked every inch the Madame to her, a disguise perpetrated to lure young girls into lives of disarray and dishabille. And the darkness of the woman's skin. A foreigner obviously! Sarah felt a cold chill creep up her spine. Yes, she would have to watch the daughter every minute. Utica was not what it used to be and she shuddered at the thought.
Mary and Sarah *
A Letter to Grandmother ...
Sunday, January the First, in the Year of our Lord, 1893. Rain.
From the pen of: Miss Mary B. Wood, Morristown New Jersey
To: Mrs Rutger B. Miller, Whitestown New York
To my dearest and most loving Grandmother, Mary, of whom I am namesaked, I wish you good health, wealth and a dram of good cheer on this New Years Day. Even though we are far apart in miles, no, never in spirit, grandmother mine.
There is no moon tonight and the rain falls steady on man and beast alike. All the bells in Morristown rang out this morning to welcome in the "baby year". What a sweet sound it was; I say they must have heard it in Block Island, the tone was so lovley. We have had callers all the day and my poor head is just bursting with courtesies. I had so longed to be alone with my self and my books, yet, It was not to be! But at last I am within my chamber and can take pen in hand and be a woman on paper and share my most intimate thoughts with you, Dear Grandmother: I fear for Father's health and for my own life as we will soon be departing for California. I have no one to listen to my poor aching heart. Mother bustles about all the day supervising the packing and father is in his study with his plans. I cannot, of course, speak of it to the parlour maids or to Cook and my Governess has been dismissed, as they hope to "educate me" in California and have no further need of her. There is only Simpson, Father's man and as you know, he is quite a grump these days.
Father went out into the yard with Doctor Cox to latch the gate. They lingered long and when Father came in he was all soaked through. Mother bade him sit before the fire and had the downstairs girl bring him hot toddies and Mother clucked about and chafed his poor feet, but nothing could ease the shaking until Father had had his pipe and then he went off to sleep in the big chair. I flew to father to give him a great kiss on the cheek, but Mother shooed me away and now I am alone sending you this missive in hopes that you will hear my heart and reply with all possible speed.
It is the First Day of the New Year- A New Century will soon be dawning! Oh, what will it bring? I have my fears. Father has booked passage on a train and I am so awfully afraid of them. I have read and recall that people still speak of a most horrible accident out West in 1890. Even though time has passed the memory of it will not leave them and people speak of it still. We will of course be passing on that self same rail. I tremble and shudder to think of it, that the suffering of those poor innocents may yet linger about the place. Tell me, My Dear Grandmother,why would a just and loving God allow the little ones to suffer so? Why did the children have to die? The fairest flowers are always plucked first. But, I digress and offer you my deepest apologies. The thoughts I put on paper are small compared to the sufferings of the world.
We are Christain Soldiers all and must march on, the Wood family included!
My fear is that, not having seen you for several years, once I go to California, I may never see you more! Who knows when and if I shall return to the East. I pray for you every night before I blow out the lamp that if we two be parted off this mortal coil, if we dare shuffle off - we will be reunited in Heaven. I beg of you to write to me here or in California and if your hand trembles and you cannot do so - have Aunt Blandina or Aunt Helen do so!
Oh yes! For a Yule Tide gift from Mother and Father I recieved a most lovley watch, Sterling Silver for my neck from Tiffany's in New York. The case is accented with bold engravings and engraved: To MBW, 12/ 25/ 1892: Love: Mother and Father. Oh, Would that it were so! I do not feel It! But the piece is my treasure and shall go where I go, always and forever. I must close. All the clocks in the house are chiming nine! It's time I was a bed!
On the morrow we may walk to the Villiage Green if there is no rain.
P.S. Do you think that there are any wild red Indians in California that may attack the train and take our scalps? I have quite nice hair and this concerns me.
Yours in Christs Love, your loving Granddaughter, Mary B. Wood
Hello! Welcome to this interactive novel about old Utica as written by Fiona M. O'Downey, Dave Griffin, Jon Hynes and others. Please join us here and in the question and comments thread for a story, - or a series of them- along with maps, postcards, photos, and other art- that will grab at your heart and won't let go. The story is titled "on Genesee Hill" and all the characters are, (were) real individuals, including Ann Sullivan, who lived and worked and died in Utica NY during the late 1890's. The only composite character thus far is Ann Sullivan, all others will be presented with as much historical, factual information as we are able to ascertain. As such, this will be a type of faction, not a strict historical work. This is necessary to bring the characters into view and give them lives on paper.
For those of you who are new to the site and have not read the "History of the Fire at the Genesee Flats" thread, or the incomplete "History of the Olbiston" thread, I suggest that you at least take a passing glance at it. Most of the information we will be writing about is in there. Dave, Jon and I, as well as others, worked on it for quite a few months last year and this new work has sprung from that research. Also, for the sake of a good story, I have taken some persons who were involved in a murder on Hotel Street on Christmas Eve, 1898. This is the true story of a 15 year old prostitute named Carrie Cobb, her older lover John Karl and their murderer, Peter Wolfe, owner of Peter Wolf's Imperial Hotel on the corner of Whitesboro and Hotel street. Although this incident happened 2 years after the disasterous fire, I so was taken by Carrie Cobbs story, which I read in the Saturday Evening Globe, I decided not only to make her younger, (age 13) but also place her at Mrs. Gorman's boarding House perhaps earlier than she would have been. Later she will develop a voice of her own and speak to me the way Annie Sullivan has.
The third female character, and the actual genesis of the story, is Miss Mary Brandegee Wood, age 15. Miss Wood, the only child of Attorney John Brandegee Wood and Sarah Miller Wood, a member of the prominent Miller family of Rutger park, lived at The Genesee Flats Apartment House where the Olbiston now stands. Mary B., as she liked to be called, lost her life along with three others on March 3, 1896, the nite the Flats burned. The bodies of both she and her mother were never found.
That these 3 girls lived in Utica at approximatly the same time and all met violent deaths within a few years of each other is a story worth telling. Surely, Mary B., born to wealth and privilage, never met Carrie Cobb, the 13 year old prostitute from Hotel Street, but she may have known Annie Sullivan, the immigrant Irish girl, or someone like her, who came to Utica in search of a better life and whose lot in life was simply"to do for the quality".
The reader may ask: How did I come to this work? It is an interesting story with many twists and turns, but essentially this: I lived at the Olbiston Apartments for many years and on the 3rd of November, 2003, someone threw a bottle rocket into the garbage shed at the back of the property, (so I was told) causing a bad fire and much damage to the main hall. The main fire was on the loading dock, this quickly spread into the laundry room and damaged the main hall way. This was at 4 AM, and I was living on the 7th floor at the time, in a large loft that at one time was the Cafe. I had my painting studio up there and was used to the fire alarm, so when it usually went off, which was often, I was up and out the door in a flash. But not this time. Unbelievably, I went to my closet and began to rummage around looking for a bra. In this way I lost precious time while the fire was growing beneath me on the main floor. Leaving my apartment, I had to run down 7 flights of stairs and the halls were already filled with smoke. The building seemed to be completley empty, and it was. I was the last person out. There was nothing to be seen but smoke, apartment doors hanging open and the terrible wailing sound of the fire horn bouncing off the marble walls. On the 6th floor I doubled back to the fire escape door, which was locked. I could see below me flames shooting up in the air and the fireman pouring on water. I finally made it to the third floor, but the heat and smoke coming up the stairwells drove me back. I went to the far south side of the building and started down to the second floor. Once there I found the last exit, to the first floor, full of thick black smoke. I just stopped and stood on the landing. I didn't know what to do, then, instantaneously, I went to another place, another thought process. I don't know what to call it. This only took a few seconds - I thought all at once - "Well, this buildings going to go and it's going to take me with it. I have no regrets. I have had a good life and if this what it is, this is what it is. I have done this before, been here before. No regrets, no fear. just an acceptance of my fate. Then suddenly, I felt and saw the presence of a teenage girl come up behind me. I knew I was no longer alone. This rather plumpish girl was wearing what I can only describe as a Victorian style of dress. She had a head full of beautiful brown curls. She put her "hands" on my shoulders and "shoved" me into the stairwell, so that I had no other choice but to go through the smoke and heat to the street, where I was given oxygen. There were about 200 people out there. Total chaos. Hours later we were allowed to go back to our apartments. I fell into a deep exhausted sleep. The girl in the hall came back to me, smiled and said so sweetly "I'm glad you're fine. ". I saw her very clearly. I need to add that up to this point in time I had lived in the Olbiston for years and never knew there as a building there before the present one, much less that building had burned to the ground in under an hour. Shortley after that I became obsessed with wanting to know who that girl was. I went to the library and began to search through old records for the death of a teenage girl on that spot around 1890, which is how I saw her dressed. What I found has taken years of research and brought me to this point. I know know that that girl must have been Mary B. Wood. She saved my life and it is to her that I dedicate this work.
BACKWARDS, TURN BACKWARDS.
Backward, turn backward, O time in your flight;
Make- me a child again just for to-nite!
Mother come back from the echoeless shore,
Take me again to your heart as of yore.
Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care;
Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair.
Over my slumbers your loving watch keep -
Rock me to sleep mother, rock me to sleep.
Over my heart in the days that are flown,
No love like mother love ever has shown.
No other worship abides and endures -
Faithful, unselfish and patient like yours.
None like a mother can charm away pain
From the sick soul and the world weary brain.
Slumbers soft calms oer my heavy lids creep.
Rock me to sleep mother- rock me to sleep!
Elizabeth Akers Allen
From: Miss Blandina Dudley Miller, Whitestown, New York
To: Miss Mary B. Wood, Morristown, New Jersey
My Dear Niece:
How nice of you to send an epistle to Mother after such along hiatus. I trust the holidays were pleasent for you. Did you ever recieve the book I sent you, " Mother, Home and Heaven" by Dr. Culyer? You never indicated to me that you had. Well, what's done is done. Perhaps it was not to your liking. There are other more suitable books, I am sure, for a young lady of your caliber. Little Women? Meg, Jo and Amy are light as froth and make lovley companions of a summers evening.
Regarding your Grandmother. I will read this to her in the morning when she is fresh. Currently, she is past understanding and wanders far in her dreams with your Grandfather. She is old, old and I am not one to judge her as we will all be judged on that Great Day of Reckoning.
Upon reading of your fears, I cannot ease them or answer all your questions. However, about the trains; my Dear, do not be silly! There are always accidents and the trains today are safe as any. Put yourself in God's hands. Absit omen. As you know, I have traveled much in my youth and seen much and O, I had my trepidations, but I overcame, my Dear. I Overcame! I went by barge on the Nile in Egypt, by pachaderm in India, rode a dromedary in the Holy land- thus, regarding your upcoming trip to California: be not troubled. It will be a grand adventure.
As for red Indians- I think they are much pacified, these noble pagan savages, and, ah, my belle, they have much hair of their own and have scant need of yours. My advice to you from an old lady past 50: read, read, read and travel! Let the world be your oyster. We are too soon old and too soon gone to tarry in the pleasures life has to offer.
Your faithful and loving Aunt and greetings to all.
Blandina Dudley Miller.
Blandina Dudley Miller
Sarah Sips Her Tea
When morning came in the winter and the men fired up the coal furnaces, the sulfur would burn off the top of each fire, and for an hour the neighborhood smelled like a cesspool. When the hundreds of horses that traversed the city during the week and left their droppings behind them were added, the air would fill with a strong foul odor that was sure to increase on warmer days. It hadn't been so, thought Sarah, growing up as a girl at the top of John Street, where there was always a breeze to carry away the smells of life. But here on Genesee Hill, houses continued to go up and each night trolley cars brought hundreds of new residents up from the downtown section of the city. Genesee Flats had increased the Hill's population dramatically, as an additional 200(?) men and women and a few children were stuffed into the seven floors, as if in a giant birdhouse. When Sarah and John and Mary had first moved into the Flats, Sarah's father had playfully climbed the ladder to the large multi-story birdhouse in his back yard and with India Ink written "Genesee Flats" across the face of the aviary. Sarah didn't think that was funny. Mary, of course, did. Mary was the only person in the entire family who thought Grandpa was funny.
Seven floors above Genesee Street, Sarah sat in the tiny living room and looked out over the bleak February landscape of Utica. It was early morning and in a heavy robe she held her tea close, so that she could feel its warmth against her chest and breathe in the sweet vapors bathing her face. Looking out the window through the balcony's railing, Sarah's eyes averted the rows of the homes below her that belonged to the workers and common people of the city, preferring to gaze at a distance upon the Marcy hills on the horizon off to the right. Then her her vision turned to the Lunatic Asylum, sitting straight ahead on a rise over in West Utica. Viewed from the side, the tall pillars of the main building caught the glow of early sunlight on winter mornings as it warmed the Greek architecture with reddish tones, a harbinger of spring for Sarah, a slender woman who felt cold all through the winter. And who noticed that her winters seemed to be lasting longer. Like many Uticans, Sarah seldom thought of the occupants of the Asylum. To her the hospital was a beautiful building set on a hill overlooking a valley quickly filling with people.
Behind her, down the hallway, she could hear Mary stir and call out in her sleep, in the throes of another night time adventure the girl seemed disposed to. Sarah didn't remember dreaming very often as a girl, nor her sister, Blandina. Mary's predilection for dreams therefore might come from her father's side of the family, except John always slept like a log, with no fuss and no surprises. John always did everything with no fuss and no surprises, especially in bed. Sarah's gaze caught on something and her breathing stopped for a moment, followed by an almost inaudible sigh.
She turned her thoughts back to Mary, who would have to be wakened in fifteen minutes. Mary, the girl she wished was her sister, but who instead she bore the responsibility to mother. Mary, with the ethereal look in her eye, her always surprising and wonderful reactions to life, the loving aura about her, and the different drummer marching behind her instead of in the lead. The girl bordered on strange, without going there. As a woman Mary would be strong and unique and well suited to the new century, thought Sarah. Getting her there safely would be the problem.
color of flames from the fire and made the chief look as if he were made of fire. The green pigments in the firelight made the blackest of dark shadows, and were applied carefully on his face to make his features appear deeply carved and stone like. Every ounce of effort spent on the meticulous application of each design painted on his back, chest, arms and face helped create the impression he wanted to make on his warriors. White men would later conclude that the Indians really believed their leaders changed themselves during these rituals. But white men had a shallow understanding of human emotions, and white mens' souls could barely fathom even one dimension of existence.
"This is our land," he said to the group. "The white men we have seen on the waters say they want only enough game to survive their trips to the west, but soon they will want more. They will want our land. Their sons and wives and animals will arrive and push us away from our river."
Metettseh let his words settle on the men. He waited for the grunting assents to quiesce, and then he continued.
"We will go now in the night to their camp and kill them! Every one of them! We will take our sharp knives and flint spears and cut them up. We will set the pieces of their bodies in the canoes and float them back to the fort of soldiers at Wee-sug-sa-ha."
By the time the moon was about to show itself in the sky, the Indians had traveled down from what today is called Genesee Hill, their home from time out of mind. The white men they meant to kill that night were accompanied by soldiers, each with a gun, an instrument of death the Indians had never seen. Sharp reports and the flash of gun powder ripped through the early March night, killing many of the tribe just as the braves reached the white men's camp.
Routed, the surviving Iroquois beat a fast retreat back up the hill to their wives and families. The soldiers could be heard tramping up the hill in pursuit, shooting wounded Indians who had fallen on the trail. The tribe wanted to leave immediately, but Metettseh knew they could not travel as fast as the soldiers. The chief told his people to stand and fight, every man, women and child. This was their land. Here on the slight rise off the downward slope of Genesee Hill was their ancestral and sacred fire, which had burned perpetually for as long as anyone could remember.
The soldiers killed them all. As Metettseh lay dieing near the sacred fire, feeling his life flow out of his wounds onto the cold ground, he reached his hand into the dieing embers, hoping to grab the fire's life to prolong his own for just a few more moments. The burning pain mattered little. He cursed the white man for all time and asked the Great Spirit to have Fire forever protect this grove on the small level spot of ground. Metettseh remembered becoming a brave on this spot, marrying his wife here in the ancient ceremonial tradition and saying goodbye to the spirits of fellow warriors lost in battle. The chief rolled himself into the burning pit. He would choose his death rather than die from the holes the sticks had fired into his body. He would sacrifice himself to Fire. He would join Fire.
Fire would forever rule this piece of ground. Fire would seldom make a frontal attack, as Metettseh had. Fire was subtle. It no longer could live and dance in the sacred pit, lighting up the night and those who honored it. A new race had come to take over the land and they honored nothing but themselves. And though one day fire would burst forth to consume anything and everything, including itself in an act of self glorification, for now it comforted itself beneath the ground, burning and crackling down one fissure and then another, around a pipe, along a wire, under a tank.
Fire waited for opportunity, as do most of the gods and demons. Fire knew it would come. Fire had all the time in the world.
Genesee Hill's First Occupants
Metettseh had spent the entire afternoon at his end of the longhouse, concealed behind the large curtain of sewn skins hung there by his son. Privacy was unusual among the Iroquois, but a chief was beyond reproach for small peccadilloes concerning custom, especially in this time of crisis. His middle-aged wife painstakingly applied the pigments from his forehead to his toes, as he stood naked and patient for two hours. No male Indian would admit it, but the best of body painting was done by the women, and Metettseh's wife was indeed meticulous as she mixed and then applied each color to the chief's dark skin. Everyone tonight would know this was her work. No one would mention it.
And now as he sat through the ceremonial dancing which invoked the Great Sprit, Metettseh eyed his braves assembled around the sacred fire, looking for any telltale signs of stress or fear. Even by the fire, their breaths showed in the cold air of the early March evening. He would need to rouse their courage and focus their hate on the visitors. He knew some of his brothers would welcome the white men, but he had seen in a dream that these pasty faced explorers would be followed by herds of similar men and women who, if not stopped, would completely push his tribe from the valley.
When the drumming ceased, Metettseh slowly rose from behind the fire pit so each of the braves could see him. He was quite proud of the ceremonial paints and of his wife's work, even if it could not be mentioned. The red paints sucked up the
NOTE: This story is a work of fiction belonging to Fiona O'Downey, Jon Hynes and Dave Griffin. It is a collaboration. The title is "On Genesee Hill" and the date of genesis is September 21, 2009.
copyright 2009, Fiona O'Downey, Jon Hynes and David Griffin
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Fiona was born in Utica NY in the East end, in a house that her great grandparents purchased in 1905. There were never-ending stories told around the kitchen table, the dining room table, any table. Reading well by the age of four, she commenced to enhance her literary knowledge by stealing books from the library. Her favorites were fat tomes with lots of pictures, although these were difficult to hide under a coat. Fiona somehow managed her capers until the librarians called Mom, who was unaware a treasure of literary works was abuilding beneath Fiona's bed, where no one had cleaned in ages. A trip to the local parish church for the sacrament of confession ended the whole sordid affair when Fiona was edicted by a representative of God here on earth to cease and desist. That's the last time she took an order from anyone in authority.
Fiona says, "I am interested in the historical novel, but not of the "bodice ripper" sort. The book has to be meaty with lots of facts. I want a good story that will make me cry. I saw the movie "Tess" 20 times and I tried to read "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" by Thomas Hardy, but I fell asleep. I think "Gone With The Wind" is racist and overrated. I was upset there was no novel about the Titanic. I am currently re visiting "A Tale Of two Cities." I want to write real stories about real people." Fiona became interested in the Millers- Seymours and Conklings of Utica NY through a strange turn of events that she discusses in the research pages of "The History of The Olbiston and the Genesee Flats," a major thread on the Proboards Internet Forum, "Clipper's Busy Corner." Fiona is a visual artist, a painter, an ex hippie, and she believes, as did Horatio Seymour, the once Govenor of New York State, in a "busy life, well lived." She graduated from Utica College with a degree in Social Work and also attended Munson Williams School of Art. Living for a year in a pink cottage on the beach in Florida, she later spent 15 years living at and researching the Olbiston Apartments in Utica, NY. "I now I live in a Victorian house and lament the fact that carriages no longer roll by on the avenue. I have a cat named after a famous Utica lady, Blandina Dudley Miller. I think that's enough about me."
Dave Griffin was born in Utica and educated in local schools. He continued his education at SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University. He is retired from a career in corporate education and product planning and lives in New York State's Catskill Mountain region with his wife and her dog. Their adult children and grandchildren live in the Albany, NY area. Griff publishes his essays at www.windsweptpress.com and self-publishes a book of stories each year that is well received by those who love him. He seldom hears from those who don't.
Jon Hynes is working on his biography.