Book covers saints, sinners and both in area history
Two years ago, George Basler and this writer compiled a series of stories about some of the people of this community who we called the colorful characters who helped to shape the history and heritage of our valley — for the good and the not-so-good.
When the Broome County Historical Society published "On the Seamy Side of the Street: Colorful Characters From Broome County’s History" in 2013, we had no idea how it would be received. We knew we were interested in that type of story, but would other people hold that same interest?
We shouldn’t have worried — there were many who read the book and then asked one or both of us about when we were going to write another one. Soon after the book came out, people began to make suggestions on writing about this person or another one as a subject for another book. It began slowly, and then George and I began to think that maybe, just maybe, there were enough stories that could be told that would once again profile interesting events and people from our area.
In a few days, the result of that labor will be ready for the public to consume.
The title of the sequel was changed at least four times over the past 16 months. From suggestions like "On the Seamier Side of the Street" to some that just were not very well thought out, the final title came from George’s daughter. After being told what the book was about, she simply suggested what the book is really about — "That Happened Here?"
Perhaps the subtitle gives more clues about the book, and this one came from George. After sitting in his kitchen going over the progress and ensuring that we were on track for our publication date, we discarded our subtitle. We wanted one that made sure the reader was aware that the book was not just a series of chapters about the low-life of the community (although there was plenty of that), but that it also told the stories about those whose lives touched ours in positive ways. From that, our subtitle of "More Saints and Sinners From Broome County’s History" emerged.
But what stories would we tell? After several outlines, we divided the workload. Each of us took stories that had both positive and negative sides. A person is neither all good nor all bad, and we tried to display that. Often, they made an impact as a result of other factors. So, we made sure that we included a variety for the reader.
Some of our stories, like the chapter on Wills Sharpe Kilmer, include notables of the community whose successes in many things were tempered with failures on more personal levels. Other chapters, like the one about General William Irvine from Whitney Point, discuss a well-known attorney and military leader during the period of the Civil War, who fell into the grips of a woman who entangled the lives of many prominent men, including one future president.
Perhaps some of the most poignant stories were those detailing the events around the lives of those that represent the underside of history — women and minorities. Far too often, those stories get lost along the way. Stories like that of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, who served in the Civil War as a man, and Nellie Connor and Wanda Butts, both of whom displayed valor at times of crises.
We included stories about former slaves and street vendors Paul Mickles and Charles Morris, who displayed the resilience of those who would never be rich in money, but rich in spirit. Related to that type of stories are the book’s chapters about two divergent ends of the spectrum — from the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in Broome County in the 1920s, to the rise of a civil-rights activist with William Moore’s march to the south.
Chapters also detail the lives involved in several crimes sprees, and sports figures also take center stage for two more stories. The book even includes stories about the sensational aspects of human life like sex and porn.
We hope that when completed, the books’ readers will say, "that happened here?"
Gerald Smith is the Broome County historian. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lectures on new book
Gerald R. Smith and George Basler, co-authors of the book "That Happened Here?" will present a lecture for the Broome County Historical Society on at 6:45 p.m. Wednesday in the Decker Room of the Broome County Public Library and will repeat the same program on Thursday at the same time. Doors will open at 6. Light refreshments will be served. The meeting is open to the public. The book will be available for purchase at $19.95 plus tax.